Beside Still Waters

 

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Still waters near Pulaski County, Arkansas. Photo by Steve Nawojczyk.

I long each day to live beside still waters, to dwell in serenity, to find peace in the depths of my soul. Not such a simple task, that. 

The problem is that life is not that much about still waters. It’s more often about churning waters and swelling currents. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sound of waves crashing in the ocean and then coming to the shoreline with a special kind of energy. I love the rolling of a mighty river, the trickling sounds of creeks, and the splashing sounds that streams make as  they ripple over stones.

But the sheer silence of still waters . . . That’s when you can skip a rock across the top of the water and watch its antics. In still waters, you can hear the sounds of fish flying up to the surface and turtles paddling almost silently acreoss the waters with only their heads visible in search for a morsel of food. In still waters, a family of ducklings can move through the waters with just a hint of a sound and the graceful swan can glide by with hardly any sound at all while its webbed feet move swiftly to push the waters aside.

Those still waters! Their silence and their calm show us how to be.

The truth is that rushing waters do describe our lives at times. That is our reality. Life brings what feels like raging storms. Life assails us with a power that reminds us of the breaking waves of the ocean. In this life, we come upon rivers too deep and too wide and too turbulent to cross. We will feel a force against us that may come because of serious illness or the loss of a loved one. It may come with the pain of broken relationships or with devastating financial hardship.

Life brings brokenheartedness, but it brings brokenheartedness in the midst of grace. For on this journey we call life, we travel with a divine guide, One who does lead us beside still waters. And it is there that our soul is restored and comforted in the midst of green pastures of sacred serenity and holy calm.

I am thinking, of course, of the words of the Psalmist.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

       he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me;

        your rod and your staff — they comfort me.

— Psalm 23:1-4 (New Revised Standard Version)

I also think of my friend, Steven Nawojczyk, who is finding his much-needed peace in the forests, mountains and valleys of Arkansas. His stunning photograph illustrates today’s blog post. With his beautiful dog and companion, Feebi, he follows a path of serenity and healing, hiking through nature’s beauty most every day.

His life has not been an easy one. As a public servant — many years as Pulaski County Coroner — he has seen far too much anguish for one person. He was integrally involved, literally in the trenches, with ending and preventing Little Rock gang violence, and has been a staunch champion for young people.

He faces serious illness and harsh treatment in his retirement. but he knows that life really does have a pathway that goes around the dangers, toils and snares. He knows that he and Feebi will find lightheartedness in exploring a forest or watching a flowing stream. He knows that the simple joy of a mountain view can bring transformation. He knows about peace, and he has chosen to follow the life path that passes beside still waters. I admire him. I have always admired him, but even more so now as I witness his unwavering commitment to serenity.

That’s what it’s all about in the end — a commitment to serenity, a firm resolve to walk beside the still waters of life, and in that intentional journey, to find our souls.

May the grace and peace of God fill your soul, and may your journey, wherever it leads, bring you serenity.

 

 

 

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Just to Be Alive

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Another day to be alive! It’s a day without the need to prove anything or to accomplish anything. It will be enough just to be, to enjoy the brilliant sunlight, the warmth of the day, the colors of the autumn trees. It can be a day to refresh and renew. If we let it.

Bishop Steven Charleston writes, ” Make doing nothing a value.” Here are the rest of his wise words.

Turn your light within that you may shine that much more brightly for others. Do not neglect the care you give to yourself, the time you need to rest and be renewed. No hamster wheel of expectations is as important as minding your health: body, mind and spirit. Draw in the hours around you, making space for doing those things that help you the most. Give a priority to having fun. Make doing nothing a value. The best of our lives is rarely spent at the grindstone. Allow yourself the space to be, to think, to dream, to wander. Discover again how good it feels just to be alive.

Good Things Happen

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Good things happen. Life is filled with them, but sometimes we hardly notice. My husband and I woke up this morning, ready to enjoy another day of life. The mockingbird in the neighborhood is still singing his ever-changing song. The hummingbirds are still buzzing around the feeders. The leaves are beginning to take on fall colors. The morning breeze has a new Autumn crispness.

Sure, life has its challenges. I am dealing with health issues every day. I worry about my husband. I worry about the future. I miss my grandchildren who live far away. Most of all, I feel a sense of dread about life changes.

But I don’t want to let those feelings overshadow the good things. Yes, most of us fear change. I like to remember, though, that every good thing that has happened in my life happened because something changed.

Maya Angelou wrote, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

So let the changes come, as inevitably they will, and I will embrace the good and beautiful things they bring my way. Good things happen!

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.    – James 1:17

Small Things

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I find so much beauty in small things. Nothing delights me more than the hummingbirds that zoom across my front yard feeding and playing chase with one another, daring each other to approach the feeder.

How often we forget the message of small things, especially when life’s big things are in disarray. But the small things help us focus on special moments, special people, special events that we take for granted.

I cannot express this message better than Bishop Steven Charleston.

The message is in the small things. Sometimes when we are focused so intently on the major issues of our lives, we walk right past the small signs of hope scattered around us like wildflowers. The beauty of a summer sunset, the kindness of the shopkeeper, the call from an old friend, the playfulness of the family pet: all of these things and a thousand more are the steady stream of grace that flows past us each day.

Indeed, we are greatly blessed by the small graces that stream through our lives.

Celebrate!

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How can this be a melancholy day? The sun is shining. The flowers are blooming. A gentle breeze cools the day. Yet, melancholy days can come upon us, days when we feel that discouraged feeling that something is missing. Loved ones may be far away. Physical pain may be getting us down. Any number of circumstances can make for a melancholy day.

Today, I am there, feeling a bit sad, missing my grandchildren, concerned about my health. It happens. There will always be days like this. But we learn to get past them to a more hopeful mood. Even on melancholy days, aren’t there things to celebrate? Like relatively good health, loving family relationships, a comfortable home. Osho writes about learning to be celebrators.

Be the celebrators, celebrate! Already there is too much—the flowers have bloomed, the birds are singing, the sun is there in the sky—celebrate it! You are breathing and you are alive and you have consciousness, celebrate it!

― Osho, Creativity: Unleashing the Forces Within

How true that is! Breathing and alive, we can celebrate the day. We can enjoy the blooming flowers, the singing of the birds, the bright sun in our sky. We can celebrate our life!

Into the Sunrise

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I rarely, if ever, see a real live sunrise. First of all, I am usually asleep. And then if I do wake up in time, there are too many trees and buildings to see the sun at its rising. It’s a shame, really, to miss such a magnificent act of nature, to miss one of life’s simple joys.

So I have learned that, if there are things worth seeing in life, I have to make a concerted effort to see them.

I imagine watching a sunrise and feeling a sense of new life.

The beginning of a new day might remind me of new beginnings in life.

The brilliance of a rising sun might reveal the brightness of new hope.

Since I have not seen a sunrise in a very long time, I do not really know what emotions the sight might bring out in me. So it’s worth the effort to make the effort, I think. It’s worth losing a bit of sleep just to look into the sunrise and take in the awe of the experience. I think I’ll try it soon.

Broken Crayons

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I remember the sheer excitement of getting a brand new box of crayons. It was nice to get a box of eight crayons. At least they were new and I didn’t have to search through an old, ragged box of broken crayon pieces. When I got a new box of twenty-four, I knew it was a special day. But getting the jumbo box — sixty-four crayons and a crayon sharpener — left me ecstatic.

Getting that jumbo box never got old. I never lost my sense of excitement when I opened the box. Those crayons started my love of color and the sheer joy of putting colors on paper.

Those new-box days were rare. More often than not I searched through bits and pieces of crayons that had long since lost their points. They would still color, but coloring was not such a joy when all the crayons were broken.

Still, coloring with broken crayons was a reality of life. I made the best of it and even managed to create a few masterpieces. Once in a while, I would come up with a new way to use them, like melting the pieces between wax paper sheets and making “stained glass.”

Now that I’m grown, I realize that life is filled with broken crayons. I use them anyway and do the best I can with the pieces. The important thing is not to give up on your broken pieces. Use them. Create with them. Try to enjoy them. Marvel at your own colorful masterpieces. Don’t despair over broken crayons. Broken crayons still color!

Wow!

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Boston Fern in my yard

Wow! Not the most eloquent thought for a writer. Nevertheless, “wow” is the best word I can come up with for a day with bright sunshine and gentle, cooling breezes. And I don’t even have to leave home to enjoy the beauty of nature. Flowers are blooming all around my house. Lush ferns are swaying with the wind. The leaves of the Chinese Tallow tree are glistening in the sun.

I am grateful to God for the wild and free beauty in nature, a Creation extraordinaire, available for our enjoyment. I am amazed at the shining stars at night, at the luminous moon, at the rising and setting of the sun. There is enough in this marvelous world to astound me beyond measure. All I need do is pause for a moment to take it all in.

Lord Byron penned eloquent words that express the love of nature.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods:
There is rapture on the lonely shore:
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
There is society, where none intrudes.
I love not man the less, but Nature more.

So it’s very true: “Wow!” Is not eloquent. But it really is accurate.

Simple Pleasures

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Today will be a quiet day, a day to recuperate from our 12 hour trip from Little Rock. We had rain, stormy rain, and traffic delays at every turn. The trip was exhausting. But we spent an exhilarating week with family, good friends, and our three grandchildren.

We were so tired we slept late this morning, our bodies moving toward normal through extra rest. Our emotional and spiritual selves will need their own special kind of re-creation. That part of us took a hit because we had to say goodbye to our grandchildren and our son. So today we will spend a day close to home.

We need rest and peace. We need the simple pleasures of home.

After all, I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.  ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

What Is Holy Is Not Tame

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“So tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

I love that question! And even at my age, I love being able to answer it. Even with a serious illness hanging over me, I have plans for my one wild and precious life. The passing years, in fact, make life even more precious. My goal for life is not only to make it precious, but to also make it wild . . . one last wild ride that takes in the magnificent world around me!

My goal is to have experiences that can be described with words similar to the words of Bishop Charleston:

I have seen the Spirit moving behind the gathering clouds, with wings the color of rainbows. I have watched the light of creation split the sky, as angels pound the drums of heaven. What is holy is not what is tame, what is divine is as wild as a desert rain. Love is not a timid breeze, but a storm of change, sweeping the comfortable before it like leaves, blowing the dust off our ordered lives, challenging us to dare the elements of our own vision. What is holy is not what is tame, so when you stand to pray, stand facing the wind.

I agree that what is holy is not tame at all. So blow through my life, refreshing breeze. Rearrange me, storm of change. I am standing facing the wind with great anticipation!