Heart in the Clouds

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Grateful - July 28, 2010

I've been doing a lot of thinking about my attitude and where I'm headed in life. Lately, I've really been trying to have a positive outlook. I've noticed that amazing things seem to happen when I'm choosing joy and when I'm open to what God puts in front of me.

I was reading Brennan Manning again on the plane trip home and I came to a section where he was writing about what he calls "The Second Call". He says that many people reach a point between the ages of 30 and 60 where they have a reawakening of their faith, but that many also experience a divine change in direction. The things that used to satisfy them spiritually and their youthful spiritual fervor have changed into a spiritual maturity and a peace they didn't have as younger Christians. Their spiritual interests often change. They become more open to truly KNOWING God rather than just learning about Him. When I read through this particular chapter, it really struck a chord with me.

You all probably know that I've been having a very interesting year and that God has been teaching me a lot through gratitude. I truly feel that I've begun to experience this "reawakening". There are times when I look back on how passionate I was about God in the past and how I longed to experience him more, but I've noticed a change in myself in the last year. I don't want to know him like I knew him before. I want more. I want depth. I want the wisdom and wonder than come with being his friend and seeing the world through his eyes.

I think about the days when I would dance in worship like a happy madwoman and intercede loudly from the depths of my spirit. There were times when I wished I could recapture the essence of the fervor I felt then, but I have begun to feel God speaking new things into my life. I am realizing that God doesn't want us to stay in the same place with him, but he wants us to grow and change and blossom.

So, as I said, the one thing I am asking from God for this year is wonder. I want to experience the true amazement of being loved by the divine Being. I want to see all the wildness in his heart and the unexplainable aspects of his personality. I've only seen a glimpse. I want more. I think that when we're truly in touch with Him, our hunger arises and we're left wanting more. We care less and less about what people think of us. I am not going to be down on myself in the moments down the road where I DON'T feel hungry for more because I'm going to choose to trust that he will give me what I seek. I don't think you can truly love someone unless you know them. I want to know him.

I'm grateful for...

Answered prayers. On the trip back from KC, I asked God that I would meet people on the plane whom I could talk to and learn about (because nobody usually talks to me on airplanes). On both legs of the trip home, my prayers were answered. During the first leg, I was sitting on a full plane with an empty seat next to me, so I actually felt a little sad. Then, from the back of the plane, came a woman who sat down beside me. As it turned out, the seat she was sitting in wouldn't recline, so she was assigned to move next to me. We had an interesting conversation about our families and about where she grew up, her children's lives and about the death of her husband. She is the type of person I could see myself being in another 30 years. On the second leg of the trip, I sat next to a really great guy (Sam Garloff) and we had a conversation about everything from music to careers to religion to the wonders that are Pittsburgh. He was a very uplifting person to talk to. God is good and I truly feel that meeting random people isn't really random. There are no coincidences.

The "surprise" party. While I was away, Sean planned a surprise party for me with all my church friends. Tonight was the party and, even though I actually knew about last night (shhh), it was so great to see my church family and hang out with them. I'm so blessed to be part of such a wonderful group of people. Each person wrote me a card or letter saying what they're thankful for about me...so sweet. I love things like that. Most of them mentioned my "gratitudes"...which was really cool, as well. I have prayed that my learning to be grateful would inspire other people, too.

Thinking about things. This whole gratitude journey has been leading me to begin really thinking about life and about what I want out of it. I believe that being more aware of your life and of your blessings can only be a good thing.

Realizing how crappy I am. Yes, I said crappy. Obviously, I know that I'm fearfully and wonderfully made, etc., etc. But I think that getting a grasp of how "full of it" I truly am, but also knowing that God loves me anyway has been humbling. There's nothing more humbling than being lavished with love that you know you don't deserve.

My family. Sean is a good man and my kids are going to be good men like him someday. They're already wonderful boys and I couldn't ask for more than what I already have.

My hope today is that you realize what a blessing you can be to those around you - not in a cocky way, obviously, but in a way that leaves you with the knowledge that without Him, you are nothing. From what you've said, many of you feel the way I do - I just want my life to be encouraging to other people. I'm still learning, but if my being real and honest about the crap in my life (but also about the love I receive from God despite the crap) helps one person to know that God loves them, it will all be worthwhile for me.

To you, from God.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Grateful - July 24, 2010 (35th Birthday Edition)

When I think about the huge blessings I've had, the miracles I've seen, the ways God has changed my life, the people with whom I've come in contact in my short 35 years - I am truly humbled. I am amazed at his grace in my life, and I know I am truly loved.

Yesterday, on the plane between Cleveland and KC, I was reading more of "The Ragamuffin Gospel" by Brennan Manning (of course). The nearly two hour flight went so quickly because God was reminding me of his love for me. It was seriously like a sudden flood. It started out when I recalled the experience I had last year, almost to the day, on an airplane coming home from KC (Story here: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=128054755515). I was so overwhelmed that I had tears streaming down my cheeks, and I felt so affirmed and free. God showed me again that all I have to do is just "be". He loves me exactly the way I am and he meets me WHERE I am.

I don't have to jump through Christian hoops or pretend to be something I'm not just to please other people or Him. God despises the proud, the fakers, the haughty, and the people who look down their Christian noses at people who they consider to be on the "outside", but he gives grace to the humble. (God, help me to learn to be humble and to be your fragrance in the world.) I think that the smell of a judgmental Christian is the worst smell with which people can come in contact. I don't want to stink.

One of my MANY, MANY favorite sets of quotes in "The Ragamuffin Gospel" has to do with with how we lose sight of our awe and wonder and of the grace of God that is constantly flowing around us. (The quote skips around because the different parts I quote span a couple of pages.)

"By and large, our world has lost its sense of wonder. We have grown up. We no longer catch our breath at the sight of a rainbow or the scent of a rose, as we once did. We have grown bigger and everything else smaller, less impressive. We get blase' and worldly-wise and sophisticated. We no longer run our fingers through water, no longer shout at the stars or make faces at the moon. Water is H2O, the stars have been classified, and the moon is not made of green cheese...We miss the experience of awe, reverence and wonder...So often we religious people walk amid the beauty and bounty of nature and we talk nonstop. We miss the panorama of color and sound and smell. We might as well have remained indoors in our closed, artificially-lit living rooms. Nature's lessons are lost and the opportunity to be wrapped in silent wonder before the God of creation passes. We fail to be stretched by the magnificence of the world saturated with grace...We must rediscover the gospel of grace and the world of grace."

God help us. God help ME. Do you ever feel like you look at your life and it feels like it's just flying by and you're missing it? Do you often think to yourself that you've wasted time on the unimportant? That's what I'm reflecting on today. I am not being down on myself, but I am asking God for one thing this coming year of my life. I want wonder. I want to be in awe of him and his creation again. I want to look at a person walking down the street and remember that there is so much more to them than what I see. I want to see the beauty in every face and in the world around me. It's not all about me...I feel like it's so easy for us to get focused on the inner turmoils of our lives or the day-to-day workings of our little worlds that we lose the whole purpose for which we were created.

We were created to love. To me, love means that I consider the time I spend with people I care for, or the daily walks I take, or the next breath I inhale to be a gift - an act of grace from my creator. If you're not feeling that love, you have to learn to be grateful. Since I started being grateful for everything, even the mundane, I have realized the bounty of grace and love and joy in my life. The times I have stopped being grateful, and instead have chosen to focus on myself or on things I'm unhappy about have been the lowest times in my life.

I have so many gifts in my life - the people, the memories, the places I've been. I have asked God for wonder. It's all I want from him this year. I want to cherish my life in the years to come and I want to be able to say someday, as I'm taking my last breath, "Thank you, God, for everything."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Grateful - July 18, 2010

Today, I'm grateful for...

Losing track of time. Have you ever had one of those summer days where the day lazed on and you didn't really know (or care) what time it was? Today was one of those days. Today was a long, pleasant, happy family day.

Hot and sunny. It's not Winter!

Long, sweaty walks. I had my usual hour and a half walk this morning, but it was a little later than I normally go...so it was HOT! But I was happy to be out in the fresh air, walking, listening to music and feeling the sun on my shoulders. I'm blessed.

Now. I am often one who lives in the past or in the future, but I'm learning to embrace "now" and live more in the moment. I find the times when I'm the most down are the times when I'm living in the past. I'm learning, though. I think that gratitude is the key to living in the present.

Brendan's belly laugh. It makes me smile no matter how I'm feeling.

New chairs for the front porch. Sean took me to Home Depot this morning to look at new chairs and cushions. He likes it when we sit on the front porch together and chat or just watch the world go by, so he wanted me to be more comfortable sitting out there. He bought some great wrought iron chairs that rock and he bought me some cushions for them, as well. We sat out there tonight eating dessert with the kids and listening to them talk and laugh. I think I'm going to like my new chairs.

Everything. You know, I have so much more in my life than I'll ever deserve. I am so thankful for another day, for my kids, my husband and for the experience of being human. It sucks sometimes, I know, but life is a gift.

My hope is that you realize what a gift life is. No matter what struggles you may be going through, your life has been given to you. Do the most with it that you can. I have to remind myself once in a while to make the most of the gift of life and to really appreciate what it means to have the opportunity to take another breath, to see another sunset or to hear my children laughing together. Appreciate your life. I guarantee that if you focus yourself ONLY on being grateful, you will see all of your blessings plainly and be able to see the good in every situation.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Grateful - July 17, 2010

Today, I'm grateful for...

Wonder Woman...okay, this was ACTUALLY from last night, but I felt compelled (by Alice mentioning it) to put it in my gratitudes. I love Wonder Woman. Who wouldn't like a curvy, raven-tressed girl fighting injustice, right? I love her. Anyway, last night after we got together at Panera for M2M time, a few of us went to Wal-Mart. As we were walking past the clothing section, I looked over at one of the racks and gasped loudly. There in front of me was a Wonder Woman t-shirt. I love all things WW, so I had to buy it. Sometimes God knows what you like. :)

A fun day with the kids. We had a whirlwind trip to Idlewild Park today for the Plumbers & Pipe Fitters picnic. It was a lot of fun and it was something we wouldn't normally do. I love spending time making my kids happy and doing things they like doing.

Work. I got a little job for this evening assisting Don at a family photo session. It was fun and I needed the money. Good timing!

Turning 35. It's exactly one week away and I am looking forward to it. I hope it's as life-changing as my 30th birthday was.

My birthday trip...the countdown begins. I leave on Friday! Yay for "Mama's Birthday Trip"...hooray!

Cold watermelon and blueberries. My favorite snack of the summer...mmmm. Fruit makes me happy. I wait all through the Fall, Winter and Spring for watermelon season. Plus, it's more a guilt-free midnight snack.

Knowing God LIKES me. He doesn't just love me. It's possible to love someone, but not "like" them. So I'm glad that God likes me. Brennan Manning says that tenderness is something you feel when you know that a person genuinely LIKES you. I think that's why I've always had a tender heart where God was concerned. Even as a child, I always knew that God liked me. I've never been one of those people who felt I had to strive to earn his love...He likes us!

So my hope is that you realize that God LIKES you. He thinks you're cute. He likes the way you laugh. He likes your voice. He likes hanging out with you, even if you don't know he's there. You're not just his beloved, you're his friend. Think about that...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Grateful - July 16, 2010

Today, I'm grateful for...

Brennan Manning. One of my favorite authors, Christian or otherwise, of all time. I "get" him and I can totally relate to his writing. He has helped a lot of people realize how God feels about us and what we should feel about ourselves. Today, he reminded me that all that God requires of me is to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8). It's just that simple, people.

Girl time. I had a fun and encouraging time with the M2M ladies tonight. We sat around and chatted at Panera...when Panera kicked us out, we went shopping at WalMart. I enjoy getting to know new people and these are some awesome ladies.

A turnaround. The sad events of this past week have left me profoundly affected, but they have brought about a positive turnaround in my life. My spirits are up again, and I'm back in touch with my gratitude. Life is too short not to savor every moment.

Hot, sticky, steamy Summer days. At least it's not snowing, right? I HATE humidity, but I am just grateful that it's not Winter.

The library. Yeah, it sounds lame, but I love that I can get books and movies for free. To an avid reader/movie-watcher (and cheapskate), the library is a wonderland. Don't roll your eyes...it's MY gratitude list, not yours. :P

Fitting into my old jeans. There's something encouraging about putting on the size you wore last year and having it fit with no sucking in of the belly and with no "muffin top". While I may not be getting much thinner, at least I'm maintaining. That's okay with me.

Myself. I go through times where there are things I'd really like to change about myself, usually the major character flaws that I see on a regular basis. But, at the end of the day, I am grateful that God made me who I am and that he's making me MORE myself every day. I want my "self" to look more and more like him as time goes on, and I'm grateful that he's always working in me.

My hope for you is that you love yourself. You are just as worthy of love and respect as anyone else. If you treat yourself that way, other people will treat you that way, too. God loves you, so be kind to yourself. It's not about what you DO for Him, it's about knowing that He loves you and that you're safe with him. It doesn't mean life will be perfect, but it does mean that you have a soft place to fall.God

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grateful - July 15, 2010

I'm grateful for...

The scent of honeysuckle on a summer evening. I took my long walk this evening and as I got to a certain area along the way, I took a deep breath and smelled the sweet scent of honeysuckle and warm summer air. It was lovely...felt good to clear myself of all the crap I've been feeling this week.

A tall glass of ice water with two slices of lemon...it was incredibly refreshing and I guzzled it down.

Being able to live without air conditioning. It's been a hot summer so far, but I have been doing well without air conditioning. We don't even sleep with it. The only place in the house with A/C is the kids' bedroom. So far, all I've needed is a window fan at night and an industrial fan in the hallway during the day. A/C gives me headaches and then makes my body go all wacky, making me overheated when I'm outside...plus, we're probably saving some money on electricity.

"Massages" from my kids. This afternoon, the boys told me to lie face-down on the floor, so they could give me a massage. They proceeded to alternately beat on my back and then rub it so lightly I could barely feel it. They were trying to make me feel loved and appreciated, like I was in a spa...so cute. My kids are so sweet, unless they're not, but usually they are.

My car. I love it just as much as I did the day we bought it, and I'm so grateful that God blessed us with it. Every time I open the door and get in, I smile a little bit.

Glee. Even the reruns make me happy. :)

So You Think You Can Dance. Don't roll your eyes. As I always say, I like to see people, in this case younger people, getting to do what they love, especially when they work so hard at it. It is inspiring.

My hope for you today is that you know that you are cared for, that God is with you and that there is nothing to fear. Fear is learned. We're not born afraid. Psalm 118:6 says, "The Lord is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me?"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Grateful - July 14, 2010

Perspective is a good thing. You can get it any number of ways, but today's change in perspective happened because of a death. A young, beautiful wife and mother to two little children passed away this weekend. She loved God, she had a life that many people would likely envy. I knew her in high school, and it's easy to see that a life lost in such a tragic way is an incredibly sad event for everyone whose lives she has touched. I think it snapped a lot of people into reality, though. While early death is a horrible thing, especially for those left behind, it provides us the opportunity to focus on what is truly important.

I've been wandering lately. I've been all over the place and my focus has been wavering. I haven't been paying attention to what is really, truly important - God, family, friends. Yes, I have been dabbling in all three, but I haven't been really living and grasping on to my blessings. I want to live again.

Last year, I had an eye-opening experience when I started writing a daily gratitude journal. I felt that I really began to live after I started to focus on the good, the positive and the true. Somewhere in the start of this year, I started to lose my determination to keep my gratitude alive. I don't want to lose that. I feel like gratitude has been the key that has unlocked my life and my faith to an even greater degree. Focusing on the bad things - anger, bitterness, apathy, sadness, resentment - brings me nothing but heartache, but I've been finding myself going in that direction.

Today, something snapped in me and I woke up. I can't live this way anymore. I've been fighting to stay afloat and the only difference between me now and me last year is my focus. So I'm choosing again to focus on the good, on the true.

I'm grateful for...

Tears. Every time I think of Megan, my eyes fill with tears and my heart is heavy. I think of her children. I think of her husband. I think of her mother, and all of her family and friends who loved her dearly. Tears wash us on the inside. Tears remind us that something was important. I wasn't her close friend, but the sadness I feel is very real. God gives us emotions because he has them, as well. We were created in his image.

Friends. My friend, Tammy, came along with me today to Megan's funeral. We shared in the sorrow of her family and friends, and we were able to talk about the feelings and thoughts that this whole event brought up in us. It's so important to have compassion and to truly care about other people. I'm grateful to have friends like Tammy with whom I can talk, and with whom I can share my feelings about the loss of someone I barely knew, but whose loss affected me so profoundly.

Lifelines. God gives them to us for a reason.

Rain. Without the rain, there would be no growth - an object lesson for every life.

A thoughtful husband. Tonight, he came home from his guys' night out with a gigantic piece of cheesecake for me. He knows I love cheesecake, and thought I'd like some after such a rough and emotional day. I did like it...a lot...but I liked even more the fact that he was thinking of me when I wasn't there.

Change. I hate it and I love it at the same time, but God is usually the one who brings the catalyst into my path that causes me to realize that he's calling me to a new thing.

Hymns. There are a few that I love because they articulate what's in my heart better than I ever could. Hymns have been part of every phase of my life and they mean a lot to me. I don't care if some people think they are old-fashioned. They were written by people who had deep relationships with God and profound revelations of his love. They have inspired me to keep going in times when I didn't want to and they have caused me to remember my first love (God) on many occasions.

My hope is that you embrace the learning experiences, no matter how tragic they may be. I hope you grab on to life and don't let go. Embrace it and get every little ounce of it that you can.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grateful - July 6, 2010 (ie. "A Balloon With No String")

As everyone does, I guess, I go through phases where I feel like things are swirling around me and I'm not really grounded. Yeah, it happens. I feel like a balloon with no string, like I'm floating and can't quite grab on. Even when I'm not in a phase like that, though, I still feel that there are parts of my life (circumstances, people, realities, etc.) from which I almost always feel disengaged. It's not a fun place. I'm the type of person who wants to hold on to life and really live it. But when I still have areas of disengagement or areas where things just aren't "clicking", it's uncomfortable for me. It bothers me, even to the point where I feel physically ill. Not sure why.

I wish I could avoid feeling this way. I really do. I wish I could avoid a lot of painful things, I guess. My mom spoke at church not long ago and she talked about how many Christians think that Christianity is about how much pain and discomfort you can avoid...like somehow if you have nothing going wrong that means you are a better Christian. Actually, though, it's about learning that God helps you through the bad things to bring you out the other side a better person--a stronger, wiser person with more depth of character.

While I don't like the "going through difficult things" part, I do like knowing that in the end I'm going to be better for it if I choose to hold on to the things I've learned from each circumstance and not get bitter. Everyone goes through bad times, but we all have a choice to make in each circumstance. We can get BITTER or we can get BETTER. "Bitter" is easier. "Better" is hard.

I'm working on not getting bitter. SOOOO hard for me, though. So hard. I'm not sure why, but I have the tendency to stuff things in and keep the garbage in my heart festering. I keep subconscious (or conscious) lists of wrongs done to me. I still have things from last year and even 10 years ago (and probably longer) that are fresh in my heart. It's easier to hold on to the bad than it is to let go of it. I'm not a "letter go-er", I guess. That's one of my biggest flaws...and I have many, believe me.

I wish I knew HOW to let go. I know it's something I should do. It's even something I want to do. I know all the benefits of it. So I'm asking God to teach me how to do it. I know that he's faithful. If you think of me in the next while, pray for me or even give me words of advice, if you are so inclined. I feel that to truly be present in my life, I have to be able to let go of the bad and hold on to the good.

___________

I'm grateful for...

90+ degree weather. Yeah, I know...but at least it's not snowing, right? Last week was INSANELY gorgeous. The whole week it was in the 70's and 80's and sunny. I loved it. I am a mild weather person. But the way I get through the hottest weeks on record (like this one) is to remember the Winter. It snowed like crazy last winter. It was cold. It was icy. It was nasty. It's not Winter and that's something for which I can be supremely grateful.

Sunshine. I don't care who you are, sunshine is a pick-me-up. Waking up in the morning and seeing the yellow glow on my window shades gives me a good feeling.

Work. I like working and having something to focus on. I am still learning how to balance my time working on my photo stuff and my time with my kids...I'm thinking an egg timer will help me. But I'm grateful that I have found a creative outlet that I love. I tried so many different things over the years--all the crafty things you can imagine. None of them made me feel as good as photography does. I'm still learning and growing in it and I hope I always will be. I wish everyone could find something creative that they love to do.

Weddings. They're a good thing.

Summer food. I love all the fruits and veggies and BBQ-ing I can handle. I'm grateful that summer has so many lovely things about it.

My family. 'Nuff said.

Waking up to hear "I Wuv You, Mama" in my ear. There is no better phrase coming from a child. I hope he always says it that way. My kids make me laugh on a daily basis, but there is truly nothing more heartwarming than an unsolicited "I love you" from my boys.

Myself. While I'm supremely flawed, I have love in my life and I've learned to focus some of that love on myself. God has been so good to me and he loves me despite my flaws. That's a good feeling.

My hope is that you learn to hold on to the good and let go of the bad...you'll probably be better at it than I am. :) I hope you learn that there is balance in life. I hope you know that being who you are is of the utmost importance. I'm so grateful that the older I get, the more "myself" I am becoming. I like who I am, for the most part, and the things I don't like about my character will change eventually. I won't hurry God.