psalm 121 for children

The theme for children’s church this month is, “God is always watching over us.”  The preschool curriculum I purchased didn’t quite hit the target — even though most of our kids are ages 2 to 4 it needed a bit more weight.  So I created a very simple version of the psalm with motions to supplement the lesson. Week by week we act it out; I think they are getting it!

PSALM 121 for Children
 
My help comes from God! (Point and look upward)
He made the heavens and earth. (Arms extended upward, spin slowly in a circle)
He guards my steps. (Stomp-walk in place)
He never falls asleep. (Shake head and pointer finger as in “no, no”)
He protects me. (Cross arms over chest, move into crouch for next line)
He keeps me safe. 
He is with me wherever I go. (Arms extended upward, spin slowly in a circle)
God is always watching over me! (Hand over eyes)

I developed two additional crafts for this unit to reinforce the main point: God is always watching over us! The first was created with North Country landscape. I printed several photos on card stock. Children pasted lines of the psalm (numerically ordered) on top of the photo. The second was footprints which will be ready for Father’s Day. We traced in pencil then outlined with a sharpie. They applied paste and glitter. This week at home I’ll apply a cutout of the amplified version of Psalm 121:3, with a small spacer in between to layers to add dimension. Next week children will sign their names to the front.

Both were simple, low cost crafts to reinforce the central message, God is always watching over us. I hope these ideas are useful with your wee ones!

~ René Morley

 

costumes, cathedrals, and old cars

Throughout our tour of Cuba, the U.S. government-approved program required participation in prearranged tours. We’ve no complaints; we understood the deal going in. However, it was important and refreshing to have some free time, too. We only wished there were more of it!

We had flexibility to explore on our own only in Havana. On Monday, we wandered around Old Havana and enjoyed a lovely lunch at la Moneda Cabana. On Monday evening, we enjoyed the Tropicana Cabaret. On Tuesday afternoon we enjoyed another meander around the old city, some shopping, and an old car tour. Each brief experience further endeared this place and these people.

Initially, I’d wavered on purchasing tickets to the Tropicana. The show didn’t start until quite late. It was yet another bus ride. We were running low on energy reserves. But the Hubs urged me on, “You’ll regret it.” He knows me so well. He was right. It was worth it!

This world-renown celebration of Cuban culture did not disappoint. Elaborate costuming, intricate choreography, powerful vocals and Cuban rhythms in a lush tropical venue under the palms and the stars. In a word, fantastic. Loud and proud seventy-five years in the running, this cabaret knows its business. It was conducted completely in Spanish. We hardly noticed.

Our tickets came with prime seating and beverages — much more than we would care to consume. We gifted excess Havana Club Special to a couple of Russian tourists at an adjacent table. They were very appreciative, their rudimentary English much better than my (non-existant) Russian! It was cool to make another international connection.

We were fortunate the weather cleared enough after Tuesday’s programmed tour for an old car excursion late that afternoon. Initially, we’d booked this tour through the ship. It was relatively expensive and, as it turned out, completely unnecessary. Old cars tours are widely available in Havana for 40-50 CUCs per hour. We were relieved the ship canceled our tour and refunded our money due to lack of interest in their extended version. We negotiated independently on the fly for less than one-quarter of the cruise ship price. Granted, it was a shorter but still quite sufficient.

There is no shortage of old cars but we took our time selecting both car and driver. The Hubs was determined for a convertible and we hoped to find a driver who spoke English. Most drivers use a predictable route unless you request otherwise. We didn’t mind as this was an entirely different vantage point from the open back seat of a 1954 Dodge.

The car was in great shape — inside and out — and original except the battery, he claimed. We had no reason to doubt him. Glossy vinyl upholstery in cream with contrast trim was meticulously maintained, covered with clear plastic protector. It was clearly an old car; every time we cleared a corner, the driver’s door swung opened. He nonchalantly reached out to haul it back in as he hand-signaled the turns. There was the distinct smell of exhaust trailing our progress around and about the city. It was never clear if this was from our vehicle or the many others we encountered emanating black smoke. Probably both.

Our driver welcomed questions and supplied frank responses, his perspectives notably different from state-employed guides we’d encountered on programmed excursions. Yes, Cubans are free to travel. But who can afford to? Yes, Cubans receive monthly rations and government paycheck, free childcare, education and healthcare. But it is not nearly enough to live well or thrive. Yes, Cubans may be approved to pursue private enterprise. But taxes and licenses are formidable hurdles.

His wife is a doctor; he is a private businessmen. He is also an expert mechanic, required to keep his car running. (Cubans are the best mechanics, we heard time and again.) They struggle with two children and aging parents. His father worked forty years for the state and receives a measly pension, half the meager current wage.

I asked about leisure activities; for example, how would he spend a day off with his family, just for fun? He seemed confused by the concept of fun, or day off, perhaps both. Did they go to the beach? Perhaps picnic? He hesitated. “It’s expensive.” I was reminded of the privilege of leisure, lost on much of the world.

He supplied ample commentary on the sights we passed. One building he pointed out was an incredibly ugly Russian concrete housing structure with twin towers rising 17 stories. His uncle lived there, he noted. No elevators, by design. Yikes.

One of the most interesting components to our conversation was religion. We drove past the cathedral from which Pope Francis celebrated mass just a few months prior. An enlarged image of the leader of the faith still adorns one side of the structure. It struck me as odd and hopeful at the same time. Nearly every image we saw in public was of a limited selection of national heroes; a few of artists and many of revolutionaries. On the Venezuelan embassy we saw a large poster Hugo Chávez. Comadante, the sign read.

Pope Francis spent several days in Cuba and gave personal audience to Fidel Castro — or vice versa? I’m not sure. Oh, to be a fly on the wall. How powerful to hear the Pope proclaim the gospel to the multitude at Revolution Square, if also an ironic setting.

Our cabbie confirmed that Cubans enjoy freedom of religion and remarked that he is among a minority practicing Catholicism (Christianity) in Cuba. We heard several times how, in deference to their masters, slaves made pretense of worshipping the Christian God while using church time to worship African gods. Most Cubans continue with African traditions.

I’d become somewhat familiar with Santería via Celia Cruz series on Netflix  in advance of our trip; one of her contemporaries became deeply involved. We were exposed to several “saints” up close and personal at the African Cultural Center in Santiago de Cuba. These encounters left me feeling unsettled, uneasy. It seemed dark, foreboding,

In our Caribbean experiences, it’s easy to find hand crafted religious artifacts. Despite several market inquiries, I was disappointed not to locate a Cuban Christian cross. I’ve a small hole on my world of crosses wall, waiting for Cuban completion.

~ Renê Morley

Complete Cuba Series: Countdown to Cuba | Crash Course Cuba | Santiago de Cuba | One day in Havana  | Another Day in Havana | Costumes, Cathedrals & Old Cars | Cienfuegos | Sailing with Celestyal | Lessons in Cuba

open house, open hearts

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On the first Saturday of December we hosted an open house with Santa. It was one of those stars -have-aligned sort of opportunities. First Christmas in our new home. So many people to thank and so many reasons to be thankful. Young grandchildren and great-nieces and wee friends from children’s church experiencing the magical wonder and holy awe of Christmas. New friends in the community. Lots of good reasons to plan a Christmas party.

Most importantly, this will be the first Christmas since our beloved Betty passed over. She loved the Christmas season more than anyone I’ve known. Christmas a la Betty was a sight to behold. She trimmed the tree, the house, the yard, until every nook and cranny was graced by Christmas spirit. She spent an entire year preparing, purchasing gifts well in advance and baking sweets and treats for weeks leading up to the big day.

By the time I entered the scene the family was so large that gifts were exchanged in family groupings over the course of a week leading up to Christmas. Even then, she always exceeded expectations with beautifully wrapped packages spilling into the dining room from under the front room tree. On Christmas Eve, the entire brood gathered at the farm before church services. Santa made an appearance to the delight of the children as adults battled over Betty’s famous dill pickles in a gift exchange. Christmas was a celebration of family as well faith.

On the days leading up to our open house, it was almost as if my mother-in-law was shadowing each step. She felt very near as I was baking spiral hams and dozens of rolls, trimming with lights and baubles and scents of the season, wrapping packages to fill the gap under the mammoth tree that the Hubs, a.k.a. Clark Griswold, couldn’t resist — he carries her Christmas torch. I knew she would be pleased with our preparations for sixty guests. My sisters-in-law and others showed up with helpful contributions just as I knew they would because they also know family matters. Betty’s example and joyful celebrations of family life and Christmas will serve us well in to the future.

In one important way, as the song below so beautifully illustrates, this is her first Christmas. Listen in… and if that doesn’t boost your Christmas spirit, then spend some time with my Christmas playlist!

And it was just (February) past 
She said goodbye, and breathed her last 
And the great-grandchildren miss her so 
But if she could she would let them know … 
This is my first Christmas 

First time to hear the angels sing 
Glory, hallelujah to the risen king 
And a holy night is what this is 
‘Cause this is my first Christmas 
This is my first Christmas

 

 

 

I’m pleased to report the open house with Santa a grand success and a ton of fun. The house was buzzing with conversation among family, friends, and neighbors. Twenty children leaned in one by one, wide-eyed and eager to bend Santa’s ear — except for our three grandgirls, who each preferred to keep their distance! Santa gifted each child with a Little Golden Book retelling the first Christmas story.

I crouched low on the carpet, observing each of the children up close in their moment of joy on Santa’s lap. They were just precious. One of the most memorable was in 3 year-old Henry’s Santa exchange. It was a very short conversation. “I want a bounce house” (trampoline), Henry proclaimed. I prompted him to continue on his sister’s behalf, just as he’d practiced, so Santa would know Anna Bea would like “something that squeaks.” Alas, he’d changed his mind about sharing this detail. “No, GiGi,” he said. “She’s fine. Beasy don’t need nothing.” Well, huh. I sure hope Santa doesn’t forget her!

Long into the eventing we ate, drank and were merry in the making of memories and start of a new Christmas tradition.

 

Merry Christmas!

~ René Morley

journey to bethlehem

We’ve had so much fun with children’s church this fall! The first quarter is drawing to a close with a Journey to Bethlehem. The curriculum was a free download, which is always appreciated. Unfortunately, it wasn’t age-appropriate for our mostly preschool-aged group. So we borrowed weekly themes and customized lessons and crafts for wee ones to follow the star and learn the story of the first Christmas.

Our journey is based on the Christmas story as told in Luke 2:1-20. In week 1, we explore the journey Joseph took in trusting God, a leap of faith that changed the world as he led his new wife to fulfill 500 years of prophecy in Bethlehem. In week 2, we drop in on the lowly shepherds, the first people to learn and act upon the good news of great joy available to everyone. In week 3, we consider the long and expensive journey of the magi, they who were wise in watching the signs and following the star that led them to worship the Christ child. In week 4, we learn about the long journey the baby Jesus took to Bethlehem, giving up heaven to become the ultimate Christmas gift.

The children are learning cute hand motions to familiar carols like Away in the Manger, Drummer Boy, and Silent Night. The favorite, by far, is newcomer, “Oh, What a Special Night.”  You can’t help but sing and move along! I invite you to share the wonder and joy of Christmas with the little ones you love through these fun activities.

TOP LEFT of CENTER and FAR RIGHT: Joseph and family of popsicle sticks and cloth (week 1) TOP FAR LEFT and RIGHT of CENTER: Baby Jesus in popsicle stick and paper manger  (week 4) CENTER: Soft sheep reminder of the shepherds (week 2) BOTTOM  Sparkly clay star; we used this recipe (week 3) Please use comments for craft assembly questions.

As always, Carolyn Arends inspires my advent preparation. Come and See, is a joyous accompaniment to our journey! I guarantee if you like that you won’t want to miss Story of StoriesLong Way to Go, and It Was a Holy Night. Listen in and be inspired by those and many other original, thought-provoking lyrics by launching her delightful Christmas Jukebox. Do you lack Christmas Spirit? Get it here!

 

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Bonus! A sweet reminder of the first Christmas with M&M candies. I wish I knew who to give credit for this clever poem. Please clue me in if you know the original author!

 

Happy happy and merry, merry! May your Christmas be especially blessed.

~ René Morley

deep and wide

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I love fall. It is a sentiment shared with nearly every North Country neighbor. You wouldn’t likely live here otherwise, knowing what is ahead!

Who doesn’t love breathing deeply of crisp air scented with sun-warmed apple, or looking long at forest and hedgerow ablaze in autumnal display? Paper birch, sugar maple, red maple, black cherry, black walnut, white oak, poplar and other hardwoods burn brightly interspersed with cooling conifers: white spruce, Norway spruce, blue spruce, balsam fir, scotch pine, red pine, white pine, and white cedar. No wonder the woods smell so good!

Nights are cool for sleeping. Days are bright, perfect temps by noon, and oh, so inviting. It’s a wonder I get anything at all done inside. Except that this is also an especially intense time of year at work, headlong into our busy season.

This month and next, my bandwidth is running thin, calendar clogged with compulsory appointments and meetings including some at a distance. I can hear our home calling for a thorough cleaning, which I continue to ignore. I missed my exercise class again. And again. Even as I was preparing a welcome meal for neighbors, an activity I thoroughly enjoy, I felt myself running low, lower. Kaput!

I truly thought I was out of steam but no, I rallied for the grands. It’s highly unusual to see them all in the same week, even in a weekend, much less on the same day. Yet for some reason, as the day unfolded, there they were, by one or two or three. It was the best kind of day, largely spontaneous and unplanned. An entire day pushing swings, pulling wagons, assembling puzzles, serving snacks, preparing meals, singing songs, reading books, building block towers, setting up train tracks, kissing and hugging, snuggling and comforting. In other words, full on GiGi. It doesn’t get any better. 

Then I awoke aching midway through the night, fumbling for ibuprofen. Ohhhh. I did not see that coming. On Monday morning, I was just plain tired but determined to start the week off right, prioritizing ‘quiet time’ before launching my workday. Which led me to a familiar passage in Ephesians. Still, somehow, if was fresh and new. Just like God’s daily mercies, eh?

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,  the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Oh! How wide, how long, how high, how deep his love! How unlimited his resources;  he never fails to bolster and support me. I close my eyes and breathe slowly, willing my roots deep, deeper, into this infinitely abundant place of love. Pressing in, my heart fills. My soul lifts. My spirit sings in gladness.

Meditating on this passage is like a drawing deep breath in autumn: rejuvenating, reinvigorating, refreshing! May God increase our understanding of his great love for us. I’m making Pauls’ prayer my prayer for October. How about you?

~ René Morley

 

art of neighborliness

We had a guest pastor in church this Sunday. I’d heard of the Reverend Juanita once and I liked what I heard. “She is a spitfire!” Pastor P commented. Sounds like my kind of girl! I was looking forward to hearing from her heart. Indeed, I knew from first glance of her awesome shoes — 4-inch heels in a jazzy pattern of gold, green, and blue — that she had something to teach me. Rev. Juanita inspires confidence in every step.

Rev. Juanita’s subject was the art of neighborliness. My thoughts turned immediately to  my mom; who, as I’ve mentioned, was an excellent teacher in this regard. Mom made it her practice to show neighborly love. Throughout my childhood it seemed she was always pedaling off with a gift of home made bread or cookies for a neighbor. But this week I was fascinated to hear from the pulpit: what does it mean for a congregation to practice the art of neighborliness?

Rev. Juanita’s message was terrific, rich with media and personal stories I can’t replicate. She imparted a history lesson of the 1938 reunion at Gettysburg, where veterans of the Blue and the Gray met again and embraced in brotherly love and amazing display of neighborliness. The essence of her message is one that settled in my heart long ago — I just didn’t know it by that name. The art of neighborliness is essential to building the kingdom of God.

As a Christian, neighborliness is putting people before ideology. It is throwing wide our doors and our arms to embrace and serve the other. It is loving and not judging. It is being the hands and feet of Jesus every day in the community. It is maintaining a focus on the Church rather than our church. Rev. Juanita reminded us that the kingdom of God (i.e. “Big C ” Church) is mentioned 121 times in the new testament, compared to less than a handful mentions of the church (i.e. “little c” church).

The art of neighborliness is exactly what Jesus was talking about in Luke 10. It is not complicated although it can be very difficult. Those who are generous in spirit are well equipped for this work. Not too long ago I shared my perspective on this basic truth.

The foundation of Christian faith is as simple as it is solid. There are a handful of basic tenets and nothing much to argue about. Jesus is God’s son, resurrected. God provided a way because He loves us. He wants to be in relationship with us. In accepting Him, we are adopted into his family. He sent his Holy Spirit to guide us until His return.

Beyond that, it doesn’t much matter. 

Although God provides the way, modern-day Pharisees continue to throw up gates, personally standing guard. But to what end? Christian faith isn’t a checklist of do’s and don’ts in order to be admitted. It’s about love. Seriously, it’s that simple.

‘LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, ALL YOUR SOUL, ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND ALL YOUR MIND.’ AND ‘LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’

That’s it, Jesus said. “Do this and you shall live!” And this is brilliant. Because when I do this — and when I trust that you will, too — everything else takes care of itself. 

[excerpted from March 2013 post, 40-watt Jesus]

Rev. Juanita’s secret to building a thriving local church in a small, remote community is embedded in her great love for God and consideration for the other. “I don’t need to tell them all that’s wrong with their lives; they know most of it anyway.” This is grace and a wonderful example of God’s graceful nature. She alluded to needs in the community that run deep, some of which may be generational or systemic. Neediness of this nature often overwhelms me.  Then she spoke of partnering — I love that term — with God, with church members, with others in the community to meet these needs. These are acts of mercy, just as God is merciful. In practicing the art of neighborliness, she and her church congregation are building the Church, investing in the kingdom of God.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” 

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” 

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” 

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  

[And here’s what Jesus had to say about that…]

Who is my neighbor? Who is yours?

~ René Morley

bea happy

Labor Day is always bittersweet, as we are turning the corner on summer into autumn. At North Country latitudes, daylight hours are noticeably skittish this time of year. (It’s doggone near-dark at 7:45 p.m.) Evenings cool dramatically and most mornings are slow to warm. I know it’s only early September but something deep in me begins to brace, turning to face the long, cold winter ahead.

But this Labor Day was refreshingly different. In a word, it was a gift. I didn’t give a single thought to the  winter ahead — not one! I relished the toasty-warm weather — hot flashes be d@mned and turn up the AC! I took a few days off to spend time with my family and extended family. I did nothing by routine and everything by opportunity.  No regrets.

My sister, my cousin and I had a ball out and about in the No Co. But I must admit that the very best part of the past week was spending quality time with my Aunt Bea.  If you know me, then you know about my aunt. I will be forever grateful for her influence on me and my family. Time together is always sweet and always too short.

I don’t know anyone who has maintained a more genuinely contented outlook — despite the circumstances and this is key. I have no doubt that this is what draws so many people to my aunt: she is as happy as can be! She is quick to make an impact, wherever or whomever. She doesn’t wait for things to change. She doesn’t need someone to make her feel good about herself. She is always the first to embrace, welcome and affirm. She is outwardly focused and intentional in service to her family, church and community and has a lot of fun while she’s at it. I can learn a lot from her example.

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My cousin, Sally, said it best: “Mom, you’ve always been content.”  It’s true. My aunt has had her share of suffering and struggles but she doesn’t linger in that space. I believe her secret is in trusting fully in God — for yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is good. It’s all good. Every cloud on Aunt Bea’s horizon does have a silver lining yet she is not particularly focused on the clouds.

“I’m almost 81, you know!” my aunt has reminded us for the past 10 months. It has always been this way — no matter her age she reminds us repeatedly of how old she is going to be. But it has also always been the case that her age doesn’t matter. Nothing can stop her from fulfilling her destiny.

imageOur youngest grandchild and my mom’s ninth great-grandchild was Aunt Bea’s first namesake. Anna Beatrice was born one day in advance of my aunt’s 80th birthday in late October last year. This week we held an impromptu surprise party for the bee-some: Queen Bee, Baby Bee and Mama Beekeeper. What a year we’ve all had! What joy for our Beas to finally meet!  Sweetness complete. It was extra special that two of my aunt’s three siblings (my mom and her older brother) could join the celebration.

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When I was a very young child I knew beyond doubt that my Aunt Bea loved God with all of her heart. I also knew she loved and cared for me. Eventually, I understood that I was part of her destiny. Better yet, my family became part of her destiny. What a legacy. I only hope we do her proud.

~ René Morley

 

beloved betty

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betty-rosieTomorrow we will bid adieu to my mother-in-law, Betty. As a woman of faith, it’s an honor and a privilege to commend one so dearly beloved into the hands of God. We’ve known for a long time this day would come, her health in gradual decline over the past few years. And yet, it’s still too soon.

Nonetheless, as the Hubs would be quick to remind us, our hearts are full to the brim. “If she lived another decade,” he said, “there is nothing she could add.” This is what it means to be rich, I think.

Even as an out-law (as my sis-in-law, Joan, would quip) I have miles of memories to rummage through and cherish. I wrote a poem for her 85th birthday to try to convey my admiration and appreciation. Betty taught me a lot about how much family matters. I was sometimes a slow student but she never lacked for grace or kindness, much more than I deserved.

DSC_0090The proof is in the pudding, eh? Certainly her six girls did her proud, demonstrating love and remarkable resilience through several years of around-the-clock care when she became housebound. The three boys as well, carrying on the farm after Lloyd died and, most recently, transitioning into a third-generation dairy. Indeed, the way they have all worked together and hung together despite inevitable tensions and differences is a testimony to both Betty and Lloyd.

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Among my most precious memories of Betty in recent years is that moment G’ma welcomed each new new great-grandchild into the family. Oliver Lloyd joined at #16, Henry James made #18, Sadie Nadine was #19, Rose Elizabeth #20, and Anna Beatrice, #23. Betty, always the mother hen, would tuck each precious wee one into her wing and sigh with contentment. She established the gold-standard in grandparenting legacy, knowing as well as anyone that it is among God’s most precious gifts.

I know she is free from pain today, for the first time in a very long time. I like to think she is dancing in newfound freedom and joy. Ours is the sorrow to bear but only until we meet again. Godspeed.

~René Morley

HER CHILDREN STAND AND BLESS HER. HER HUSBAND PRAISES HER: “THERE ARE MANY VIRTUOUS AND CAPABLE WOMEN IN THE WORLD, BUT YOU SURPASS THEM ALL!” CHARM IS DECEPTIVE, AND BEAUTY DOES NOT LAST; BUT A WOMAN WHO FEARS THE LORD WILL BE GREATLY PRAISED.

Proverbs 31

 

 

 

 

 

carry me

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Have you ever felt your life spinning darkly, spiraling out of control? Have you ever been overcome with dread, filled with a sense of doom? In other words, have you ever experienced a panic attack? Me, too.

A week or so ago, a friend called with an urgent request. “I need you to pray for me.” I could hear the panic she was trying to suppress. I know that feeling — as if the bottom is about to drop out and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. “Of course, yes!” I responded. In all sincerity, it’s an honor to lift a friend in prayer. But what she needed most was to know that God is near. He hears. And He has everything under control.

One of the worst panic attacks I’ve experienced in recent years occurred while on vacation. I’d completed a huge, high profile project just before leaving the country. My work involved a lot of data which required manual manipulation, so the potential for error was real. I did everything I could to get it right. But still, I awoke in the middle of the night a few days later in a full blown panic. Surely I’d messed it up! Certainly it would implode! In this age of connectedness, unfortunately, a minor mistake can blow up online in no time flat with exponential embarrassment. I couldn’t even revisit my work to ease my mind, given our remote location. There was nothing I could do.

At one o’clock in the morning I was convinced that my fate was fixed and I’d be fired by the time I returned home. I was overcome with dread, adrift on a sea of hopelessness. I turned to my playlist and selected a song to play over and over, praying, breathing, my way through the panic. Hours later, I finally fell back asleep. The Hubs was none the wiser for my tsunami of mid-night angst.

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That was the most recent worst but not nearly the first. I’ve experienced many panic attacks — most especially as I’ve climbed the hill of middle age. One summer I was in the emergency room twice with symptoms I didn’t understand — each time misdiagnosed. I finally came to appreciate that I was experiencing panic, amplified.

I’d so often been irritated by exhibitions of irrational fear in others that I suppose there was an ironic justice in developing personal problems of this nature. If nothing else, I’m much more compassionate with panicked people suffering alongside me.

The good news is that we don’t have to suffer alone. God is near, very near. He does hear.  Through my struggles, I’ve learned to pray and praise my way out of panic.* I use a combination of breath prayers and song to realign my spirit with my Heavenly Father. Only when I release control into His capable hands do I find peace. He has never failed to carry me across the abyss of my panic.

There are lots of resources available on breath prayers. My own approach is very simple. “Lord, Jesus,” I pray, breathing deeply in … “Grant me peace…” I pray, breathing slowly out. I pray as I breathe over and over, as long as it takes to settle myself. I vary the out-breath prayer as circumstances warrant, perhaps requesting healing, protection, or some other petition for divine intervention, whether for myself or another. If you’re new to breath prayers, you’ll find these resources helpful.

Shortly after I spoke with my friend, I emailed a link to a song that helped me through that most acute distress on a mid-night ocean of fear. I hope it helps you, too.

Josh Wilson “Carry Me” (2013)

 

~ René Morley

*This is certainly not to discount anxiety medication, which may be a useful and necessary aid in some circumstances.

 

 

 

it came to pass

This week I read the Christmas story in the second chapter of the gospel of Luke online. YouVersion Bible app’s Christmas Story Tracker follows the activity of people reading this passage across the world. The last I checked, more than 66 million people had done so this month. Remarkable — for one app! I love watching the globe virtually light up, star by star, as readers join me in my journey back in time.

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In one particular version, I was struck by the repetition of a phrase: It came to pass.

It came to pass that angels visited ordinary men and women to ensure God’s perfect plan would prevail. It came to pass that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that obligated Joseph  to travel with his wife, heavy with child on a dangerous journey to Bethlehem. It came to pass that a baby was born into the most humble of circumstances and yet his arrival was heralded from the highest heavens.

Was this supernaturally bright star  the comet of the ages, a strategically aligned planet, or something else? We may never know but it had a powerful impact, along with a host of angels celebrating the good news with great joy. It came to pass that lowly shepherds tending flocks nearby and learned wisemen from afar were compelled to find and worship this child. They just couldn’t help themselves, given all that came to pass!

Perhaps we know the story so well that we take it for granted. Yet as dramatic and fantastic as they seem, these angelic visitations and heavenly proclamations in the midst of a Roman Empire census might have come and gone without our awareness — except for the babe. His arrival was a disruptive force extending far beyond his place and time. The way the Christmas Story Tracker lights up across the globe is a simple illustration of how everything changed when God came near.

This Christmas I’m especially thankful for my faith. It is a gift I did not earn and cannot repay. It grounds me every day midst the ebb and flow of local circumstances that often challenge me and global disruptions that sometimes frighten me, all of which are far beyond my control. I’m thankful for faith to believe that it all came to pass.

~ René Morley

grateful

Thanksgiving this year was easier than most, given a new strategy for smaller dinner parties, house-by-house, followed by an all-family dessert. This modification wasn’t my idea but I think it was a good one.

Preparing for Thanksgiving is a lot of work, no matter how you slice it. The day comes and goes in a blur of cleaning and cooking, bustling and baking and eating, inevitably too much. I have a hard time downsizing any meal, but especially so when the World’s Best Stuffin’ is involved.

This Thanksgiving was unique as we celebrated in a home no longer our own. We closed on the Friday before Thanksgiving. Now we’re houseguests, watching our new home rise quickly on the adjacent lot. This week,  windows and hopefully doors. Heating and plumbing can’t be far behind? We’re just a few weeks of fast tracking from the Big Dig to a Big Move. Fingers crossed!

The past few months have been inordinately stressful. As autumn winds down and Thanksgiving weekend draws to a close I feel tired but also grateful.

For a loving partner in marriage and life, 35 years and counting.

For five beautiful and vivacious grandchildren who brighten our lives. For their parents, who chose to live and work in the North Country and bless us with grandbabies.

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For our own parents who extended grace to us through our growing pains. For our moms, who carry on bravely.

For siblings who are also girlfriends. For girlfriends who are like siblings. For aunts and cousins who are women of courage and faith. For the opportunities to connect with all periodically, especially in person.

For the ability to read and freedom to write. For a formal education. For lifelong learning opportunities — all too often taken for granted in the good ol’ USA. For home office privileges in a job I enjoy, working with colleagues I admire.

For the four full seasons we enjoy in the North Country and — especially this year — for a mild autumn so conducive to construction!

For the beauty of the day and rest in the night. And for you also, I am grateful.

This old hymn says it so much better, eh?

For the Beauty of the Earth

For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flow’r,
Sun and moon, and stars of light,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild,

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

~ René Morley

 

Hymn Text: Folliott S. Pierpoint, 1835-1917
Hymn Music: Conrad Kocher, 1786-1872

anna beatrice

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On October 26, a sweet cherub joined the family. She is our fifth grandbaby and third grandgirl. Her name is Anna Bea. She is an itty bitty girl, weighing in at 6 pounds 12 ounces and only 18.5 inches long, but healthy as can be. In fact, her mama said she was wailing even before they lifted her from the womb in surgery. (I’m sure that’s why her Apgar scores were so high!) By all accounts so far, she is an easy baby. If these early days are any indication, she is destined to sweetness.

IMG_2903Anna Beatrice was welcomed home by big brother Henry James, who is quite proud to call her sister. If I am holding her as they are getting ready to go out somewhere, he is quick to tell me, “Don’t keep her, GiGi.” He likes to hold her himself and is generally quite sweet with her. Of course, he is also two year old boy who doesn’t fully appreciate the potential impact of a digger or a dump truck, so we keep a close watch.

Anna Beatrice is named for my mom’s only and elder sister. My Aunt Bea is beloved by the entire family and a blessing to anyone who knows her. However, it wasn’t until she and my uncle moved to back to our area, early in their retirement and in my early 30s, that I truly got to know them. They lived with us for three months as they were purchasing a home and settling into the North Country, which says a lot about their fortitude. For nearly two decades thereafter, they lived just a few miles away. I am so thankful for that time we had with them.

It was a wonderful but chaotic season in our lives, raising three young children on a shoestring budget and some big dreams. On numerous occasions when I was strapped for childcare, trying to complete my education or establish my career, Aunt Bea stepped into the gap. I don’t know how I (we) would have done it without her and my uncle’s ready assistance.

The Hubs and I will never forget our first cruise, which originated in Aruba in 1992. We left our chids, ages 6, 7 and 9, behind with Aunt Bea and Uncle Chuck. It was no small task but the chids were in great hands as we enjoyed our first real vacation and celebrated our 10th anniversary. As a grandparent now, I have even greater appreciation for what we asked of them then. Typical for a young-ish parent, I didn’t think a whole lot about it at the time. I am amazed they were willing and so generous!

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When Anna was born, Aunt Bea and Uncle Chuck were celebrating their birthdays together in Aruba. Talk about full circle! (We also celebrated earlier this fall in Florida.) It was pure joy to send good news of Anna’s arrival almost to the equator on my aunt’s 80th birthday. It blessed me immensely to announce the wee lass who bears my aunt’s name. Somehow, I just know Anna Bea will grown into the kind of woman who will make both her GiGi and her Great-Great-Aunt Bea proud. I can’t wait for them to meet!

~ René Morley

the seashell speaks

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Captiva Island, on Florida’s gulf coast, is known as a great place for shelling. I imagined big intact shells of all shapes and sizes and easy picking after the tide rolled out. Maybe that happens in certain places or seasons, or maybe knowledgeable locals scoop up the big ones before tourists roll out of bed. I don’t know. Instead, we found gazillions of small but intact shells in shades of pink, corral, gray and pearly-white spread over miles of sand. En masse, they were stunning.

I was especially fascinated by the miniature creatures washing up on shore with each roll of the surf. At first I thought they were tiny stones in a beautiful array of colors — orangey-corral, peachy-pink, lavender, grey, even yellow. But they were very much alive. As soon as the wave receded they burrowed in like mad, leaving a tell-tale hole on the seamless surface of wet sand. Meanwhile, an unending parade of small birds peck-peck-pecked away at this feast, waves lapping at their spindly legs.

Nonetheless, we continued to look for big flashy seashells. We combed the beach morning and afternoon, hoping for a lucky break. Nada. Mile after mile, only fragments of larger shells and many more millions of small shells. Until one morning, as I walked and prayed. “God, my sister really wants a nice seashell to commemorate this trip. Would you toss one up for her?” A few moments later, I caught sight of a fairly large shell coasting through the surf. I lunged, plunged and snagged it. Perfectly intact.

Well, that was easy, I thought, as I handed it off to my sister. No big deal to the God of the universe. I’ll try again. “One more, Lord?” But then, don’t we always want just one more?

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As it turned out, there was one more, also perfectly intact. I found it upside down in the tide-line, tangled up in seashells and seagrass. It was a beautiful burnished copper color but looked like an old man of the sea, covered in crusty barnacles and green moss. Inside was a snail, startling me in his emergence. I couldn’t resist closer observation. I swooshed him in the surf to get a better look. “I don’t think he likes that” she said, as he ventured out of his shell again. I dropped him in surprise whereby she, most compassionate, scooped him up and tossed him back into the sea before I could protest.

Maybe we are the only two people on this planet who will ever lay eyes on this fellow? Indeed, there’s an amazing array of beauty in our universe, most of which most of us will never see and some of which none of us will ever see. The beauty of this place — from the highest heavenliness to the intimacy of a single seashell — speaks to me as a powerful testament to our Creator.

Praise the Lord, O heavens! Praise him from the skies! Praise him, all his angels, all the armies of heaven. Praise him, sun and moon and all you twinkling stars. Praise him, skies above. Praise him, vapors high above the clouds. … Let everything he has made give praise to him. And praise him down here on earth, you creatures of the ocean depths. ..For he alone is worthy. His glory is far greater than all of earth and heaven. Hallelujah! Yes, praise the Lord! (Psalm 148)

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)

~ René Morley

this old house


We moved into this house early in 1987 with three small children. A classic American farmhouse, built in the 1800s, it perches on a knoll overlooking the river, presenting some nice views. It certainly offered more space, which we desperately needed. But it was in rough shape.

We were young in parenting and in life. I was quite comfortable in our first home, a tidy little bungalow in the nearby hamlet. I had misgivings about a move further into the country. It wasn’t the condition of the place or the work ahead but that I liked having family so close by. One sister-in-law’s back yard bordered ours. Another lived across the street. I felt connected and protected in between.

Despite my objections, the Hubs insisted on this move to what I disparagingly called the Cordwell Ranch. In retrospect, it was the right move. True to form, he had a longer field of vision. So many times it has happened that way: he has had the courage to take the risk and press forward or encourage me onward.

It truly didn’t matter to us that it was so rough; we hardly noticed. Looking back, however, it is clear why nearly everyone who visited said something like, “Well, it has potential.” It was the kindest thing they could muster.

The kitchen was terribly out of date, with uneven cupboards that wouldn’t close properly (the mice loved — eek!) and an ancient wooden countertop with long grooves that caught everything (mother-in-law hated — a health hazard!). The yellowed linoleum was torn and worn and looked dirty, no matter how much I scrubbed.

The one room that could serve as a family room was more like a man-cave; once an attached woodshed, now complete with bar. Its walls were authentic barn wood, flecked with cow manure. The corner wood stove was absolutely required to compensate for its lack of foundation and the biting wind blowing across the open field through the icy cold north country winter. But we didn’t know that, yet.

The second story was one large open room, roughly finished, the stairway steep and narrow. The main floor was a series of small rooms, some daisy-chained together. The walls were lathe and plaster. All the windows and doors needed replacement, as did the electrical wiring, as we would soon discover. The ceilings sagged, the floors sloped, and the pipes froze in the winter. And that’s only on the inside! Outside was a scraggly yard as rough as a wagon trail abutting a barb-wire fence. The house was covered in deteriorating masonite siding. What’s not to love?

Oh, yes. There was also a grandfather maple tree gracing the back yard — the redeeming feature of an otherwise scrappy place. The grand-maple has been present through the seasons; ablaze in glory every fall and a reminder of God’s good gifts spring, summer and winter. I treasure this tree like no other!

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Our first contractor was a retired farmer who charged us $5 an hour, God rest his soul. His first project was to create three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Al didn’t understand sheetrock and insisted on using a circular saw for every cut. I can still see him, entirely masked in white dust, peering out through safety goggles. His signature was using trim to fill the gaps in his rough finish.  There was a lot of trim!

Another image seared in my memory is of our youngest, aged two, proudly painting molding laid out upon sawhorses. All of our chids learned early how to pitch in and each became a hard worker; life lessons that continue to serve them well. I quickly learned how to mud sheetrock and hang wallpaper, thanks to my mom and mother-in-law. I was never very good at either, unfortunately but we had a lot of help, thankfully. Many nights, long after the Hubs and chids were asleep, I was painting and papering an old house into a home.

Al’s final project involved a new kitchen ceiling. We realized it must be replaced only after ordering the new linoleum, which was to be installed the next day.  At the very least, we had to get the old ceiling out of there. The Hubs took a first pass, knocking down as much lathe and plaster as he could before going back to milk on Sunday afternoon. He left me and the chids knee deep in pile of debris across the kitchen, a portion of the ceiling still intact. But before he left, he called Al.

Good ol’ Al. He arrived within the hour and dove in. He was 70-something, still strong and determined, but he ran up against some difficulties where lathe ran behind the cupboards. Suddenly he ducked out and took off in his truck. He returned with a chainsaw and fired it up in my kitchen without a word. That finished the job. There was a thick haze of blue smoke and chain saw oil splattered everywhere — including across freshly painted cupboards. As I said, that was Al’s final project!

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 6.49.35 AMIn the nearly three decades we’ve lived here, we’ve more than rebuilt the place. Our biggest project was to remove the kitchen entirely and rebuild with full basement and second story in 2000. That was an adventuresome summer of cooking at camp, our living room completely disconnected from sleeping quarters and bathrooms. We’ve added brick patios with potting shed, cozy fireplace and soothing fountain. Last fall, we created a lovely master suite. It’s taken a lot but we’re pleased and proud of the results.

Over the past few years, however, it’s become less and less of a good fit. We don’t use the space fully or well. I began imagining the adventure of building new home, single story please, and dreaming about moving this old house on to the next generation to fill with laughter and love. Last year, the Hubs came on board with letting it go. For once, if only once in 33 years, I had the viewfinder.

This morning as I write, I’m waiting for the moving truck to arrive and our dream to begin to become reality. Grandboy Henry and family will inhabit the upstairs for the next few months as we build a new home on the adjacent lot. I can hardly believe it’s happening — any of it. I am so thankful. I hope they will be as happy here as we have been. I can’t wait to see what they do with the place!

May the Lord bless and protect you; may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of you; may he be gracious to you, show you his favor, and give you his peace. Numbers 6:24-26

~ René Morley

sticky-sweet and rosie

DSC_0475This week there is no reprieve from the heat and humidity, morning to noon to night. It is oppressive. It’s tempting to complain, home air conditioning being a luxury in our northern region. But I am secretly glad for a solid week of sticky sweet and mushy heat. Like melted butter on sweetcorn or toasted marshmallows on s’mores: at least we know we had summer.

Soon enough, temps will drop sharply after midnight, dew will lay heavily on the grass and a chill will hang in the morning air. I’ve already heard a couple flocks of geese flying over. We know autumn is not far away. Today I will savor summer.

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This summer has been full to the brim with sticky sweet memories — farms and playgrounds, birthdays and weddings, mountains and valleys, visiting with dear friends and family, farm-fresh produce and patio barbecues. Oh, how the grandchids love their sweetcorn! Henry really goes for s’mores, too. (That’s his special “smile for the camera” face above. 🙂

The most perfect day of all was in celebration of Rose Elizabeth: her first birthday and Jewish naming ceremony. In deference to her parents’ preferences, I did not publish my typical “grandgirl is here!” post in early August last year when she was born. But today I cannot resist telling you a little bit more about Rosie.

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Rose is a joy. She is so capable, confident and eager to take on new challenges — surprisingly so, for such a tiny little toddler. Her naming ceremony and first birthday party were precious reminders of the importance of traditions in faith and in family. Generations of parents, aunts, uncles and cousins of both Jewish and Christian faith joined in to celebrate this precious cherub.

This was my first experience with the ceremony, which was just lovely. It was a special and unexpected honor to pray a blessing over Rosie as her GiGi and Pops on that day.

We rejoice ! A child is being brought into the covenant of the Jewish people   May she be blessed in her every act.  May she find light and happiness in each new day and may she bring joy to her parents with each new experience.
May your life be filled with unconditional love.  May you always know that your family cherishes you and values you not only for your achievements, but because you are a unique and beautiful human being whose love we are privileged to share.
Gift of God, precious child, miracle, my little one.  Lay your head on my shoulder.  It seems that it was yesterday that I held your daddy in my arms just this way.  You are a sweet blessing to me, a tiny messenger of joy.  Welcome to this magnificent life.  
May God grace you with all things that are good and shield you from all harm.  May the bonds of our family be your strength.  
May our love be your comfort.  
May our faith sustain you.  
May God be with you now and always.

I’ll treasure this sweet memory forever.

~ René Morley