The Work Of Gratitude

Sometimes being thankful is hard. Seeing the good in the midst of pain, sadness, illness, loss, grief, disappointment or even everyday inconveniences is sometimes a difficult task to accomplish. Life is messy. The holiday season is in full swing with the movies and television shows that portray a version of the happiest time of the year that many people simply cannot identify with or want to participate in. There are a myriad of reasons for this, all personal and no one else’s business; however, if this is you, I have been where you are, I understand.

To my aging vision, so many people seem hyper-focused on how they have been marginalized, slighted, ignored, overlooked, mistreated, or wronged. I don’t mean to dismiss them or their feelings; that is their reality and I would never deny someone’s experience. What I know about me and my thought process is when all I do is focus on how others have hurt, offended, or mistreated me I get bitter, resentful and more angry; I then allow my imagination to create scenarios that don’t even exist. It becomes a vicious cycle that steals the joy and peace from my life. There is no room for thankfulness. Because I understand my weakness for this mindset, I work really hard to focus on the good, the pure, and the kind things of life. It changes my perspective. It changes my mood. It changed my life.

Brain Filter

I guard my brain. Please be careful who you listen to and what you allow into your head. Don’t let just anyone or anything make themselves at home in your brain. Be ruthless in this area. Change whatever needs to change to only allow the things that build you up and fill you with peace and love. The issues you used to stew over will still be in the world, but you will be equipped to tackle them from a place of love rather than anger. In my case I have stopped listening to political news. I keep up just enough to know what is happening but I don’t allow the pundits of either side enter my consciousness. It wasn’t healthy for me. I pray and I vote. I have peace of mind. I spend enough time being mindful of myself and all that usually gets me is worry and anxiety — over thinking is a true buzz kill. Now I write all those worries down and throw them away.

Pull Out The Pen & Paper

This might sound trite, but writing down all the thoughts in my head has transformed me. It goes by many names, but it is basically “stream of consciousness” writing. You don’t censor yourself. You just put pen to paper and write whatever is in your head. Sometimes there isn’t much, other times you will fill pages and pages with the thoughts that rob you of peace and mental quiet. Do a web search for this and give it a try. What you write is for no one else to read. In fact, the best thing to do is to think of the paper or journal as a trash can. Write then destroy. There is also something important about writing by hand on paper that seems to really work for most people. But no matter how you do it, get that crap out of your head and then refill it with the good stuff. This process is how I am learning to live in the moment which makes me more aware of those around me. Now I see the world through the lens of loving kindness; what used to annoy me I more easily overlook; what I used to ignore now calls my heart to action.

And finally, if you are the one in need—let others help you. You will actually be giving them a gift by allowing them to give. Accept what is needed today then pay it forward when you are able.

My hope for you is that this holiday season, no matter what that means to you, is one of renewal, hope and joy.

Escape To The Woods

The Inner Voices

As the day grew nearer, I began to experience some very familiar sensations and thoughts. Questions began to pop into my head in the most unexpected times and places.

“Are you sure?”

“What if you need something or someone?”

“You don’t know who else is going to be around…if anyone.”

“You’ll be a woman alone. You will be vulnerable.”

Fortunately I have come to recognize all those inner voices as my brain’s way of working through the anxiety of doing something new. I had planned for this getaway and looked forward to what it might reveal. I have traveled alone many times, and have come to enjoy being by myself in public places. I can absorb the environment without care or concern for someone else. It is very freeing. This felt different; I was going to be alone in the woods. There are just too many movies about the bad stuff that can happen to a woman alone in the woods for me to enter unguarded. So I took Maggie with me. At least I knew that no one would sneak up on me with her around. She is my emergency alert system.

You Are Not Alone

As is normally the case, my fears were unfounded and I was in good company. There are forty six cabins on this property but because of how they are arranged, and the sanctity of quiet, it is hard to know there are other people a few feet away. I had the benefits of seclusion with the knowledge that help, should I need it, is a phone call away. Each cabin is equipped with a red phone through which visitors can contact someone for help. As I type this I wish I were back there right now. I can still see and feel everything.

It didn’t take Maggie long to feel at home.

After unpacking, storing my food and feeding Maggie, we went on our first walk. It was Wednesday. Middle of the week and just a smattering of campers were spending their hump day in the woods. The smell of camp fires filled the fall air making the whole experience complete. I knew I would not trust myself to build a fire, so enjoying the aroma of my neighbors was as close as I would come. I inhaled deeply and kept walking.

Throughout the trip I chose to take no pictures on my walks. I was determined to really see and experience what was in front of me without trying to capture an image. The image now lives in my head. As I walked I allowed my thoughts to become a descriptive narrative of what I was seeing and feeling. It is an amazing game to play to try and describe with words the magnificence of nature. Words, like images, can never do justice to the reality.

Eventide

Darkness comes early in the forest. Forest darkness is not like suburban darkness. This is the ‘can’t see my hand in front of my face’ darkness. Maggie and I retreated inside as the day had been warm and the mosquitoes were coming out for a snack; I, too, was getting hungry.

Having cooked my food at home I just had to heat and eat. I opened my bottle of wine, warmed my food and sat in bed to eat. What a delicious way to live.

Did I say there is no television nor WiFi in these cabins? The goal is to disconnect. I took this seriously. I left my iPad at home. I did not download anything to watch. I had music, but even that seemed out of place. Rather, I chose the silence of solitude.

Once dinner was consumed and the dishes done, I settled in to read. I brought my Kindle because I knew I could read in little to no light with it and the e-ink system allows me to feel as though I was not breaking the no technology code I had set for myself.

In this degree of quiet, every single thing makes a sound. The breeze floating through the trees caused something, possibly a pine cone, to drop onto the roof of the cabin. I jumped. What was out there? Maggie didn’t react so I assumed it was nothing. I continued to read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open a moment longer.

Time For Sleep

I never sleep well the first night in a new place. This was no exception. I moved in and out of consciousness vaguely aware of my surroundings when I heard a rustling sound. I didn’t have to freeze as I was already still. I kept listening and wondering what in the world was making that noise. It was coming from inside the cabin and very close to where we were laying. Once again, Maggie did not react so it couldn’t be too serious, and yet the curiosity was causing my imagination to create some version of the Graboids from Tremors. Was it possible that a worm like creature with gnashing teeth had hidden in the cabin just waiting for the opportune time to attack? I summoned what little bravery I possess I turned on the flashlight on my phone to investigate.

At first I didn’t see anything unusual. I looked on the bed platform near the window where I discovered, not quite a Graboid, but nearly as disgusting, a two inch flying roach. The rustling sound had come from it crawling around, under or through a pile of plastic grocery bags I had put on the side of the platform. I am in the woods surrounded by pine trees; I was not surprised by my visitor. I lived in Texas long enough to know where it came from and that it was no more enamored of me than I was of it.

Weighing all options, I knew the roach was not going to eat me alive or inject me with venom, I turned out the light to try and sleep. I would deal with it in the morning. However, as soon as I closed my eyes I envisioned it crawling across my face during the night. I either had to get rid of it or stay up all night. I chose annihilation.

This time, when I turned on my flashlight, it had crawled up the corner of the walls. I waited. Soon it moved onto the window shade; my opportunity had arrived. I rolled up some papers and slowly moved toward the window. I didn’t want to scare it back into the corner. I took aim and gave it everything I had. Whack! The sound of the paper hitting the blind caused Maggie to jump from the bed in fear for her life. I think I may have closed my eyes because when I looked the roach was gone. I looked between the bed and the wall. No roach. No roach anywhere I could see. I must have just stunned it and I hoped that was enough to keep it far away from me for the rest of the night.

Holding my phone close I finally fell asleep. When we woke the next morning I looked in Maggie’s water bowl, and there floating motionless, was the roach invader. Maggie looked at it then at me. I think she wanted a drink but wasn’t going near this creature. I carefully picked up the bowl and dumped it outside the door and filled it with fresh water. Now it was time for coffee and breakfast. A beautiful new day was waiting to be discovered.

Lessons Learned

After spending so long at home it is easy to become anxious of everything beyond the front door. I don’t work. I leave home to go to the grocery store and out to eat once a week. I love being home but there is a side effect to my lifestyle mixed with my natural introverted socially anxious nature; my world has become very small. This adventure reminded me of truths I used to know and live by; I am capable to do most anything I set my mind to doing. I can go into the world, try new things and face my anxieties head on and emerge a better version of myself.

I need to do this more often. Take a couple of days and just go somewhere and have new experiences. I think I should go to public places as well; find ways to be around more people then retreat back home where I am always safe and secure.

Seeking The Still Small Voice

Planning

In less than a week I embark on my three day retreat in the woods. As is typical for me I am planning my entertainment first. I will take care of other details such as food and clothing after I know I will not get bored and resort to driving to civilization for a quick dopamine fix. The weather is not cooperating so no flannel shirt and matching bandana for cute matchy-matchy pictures with Maggie, but I will find temperature friendly attire in which to document our big adventure.

Going Analog – Almost

I am vacillating on how much technology to take with me. The cabin does not have WiFi, so I will have to download entertainment should I choose to watch. But…I am leaning towards leaving it all behind and only use what is possible without a connection to the internet. I will have my phone so the possibility exists to partake should I choose to do so. I must download media first so there has to be forethought and intent. Today, a week away, I am resolutely in the camp of music only. I’ll let you know how that goes as the week progresses.

Currently this is my entertainment packing list:

• Kindle

• Sock knitting project plus a back up if I get bored or finish

• Journal with favorite pen

• Morning pages notebook

• Books: The Artist’s Way, The Creative Cure, Faith Of A Writer, Bird by Bird, On Writing Well, and American Primative by Mary Oliver

• Bible

• Binoculars for nature watching

I am craving solitude and silence. The guest house has a special box for phones. It isn’t mandatory and the phones are retrievable at any time, but it is a tangible act; a willingness to set aside the attachment to devices for a prescribed period of time. I will keep in touch with my husband who will worry the entire time I am gone. I will text him each morning and evening to let him know I am alive and well, but then the phone goes back into the box. I will wear my Apple watch which has a locator on it so that if I am walking Maggie he can see where I am. I consider this as much for my safety as his peace of mind.

What Lessons Are In Store For Me?

For one thing I hope to be reminded that I am enough. I am capable and I can survive on my own. It is one thing to be safe in my home alone; it is another to be in the woods, possibly with no one around for miles. I have lived in a large and often scary city most of my adult life and I have succumbed to the fear. I need this adventure for me.

As you can probably tell by my reading list I want to learn and grow as a writer. I hesitate to even use the word ‘writer’ about myself as I don’t have, what I perceive to be, the requisite education for such a title. And this is precisely the fear I am seeking to overcome. I believe I have been given a gift. Writing gives me a sense of purpose and fullness unlike any other creative pursuit. I have pursued many things; all have led to a sense of emptiness and defeat. I write and I feel fulfilled. I click ‘publish’ and I have accomplished my daily goal. Therefore, I suppose, I am a writer. My seeking is about the direction of my writing and am I doing all that I am able and born to do? My heart’s desire is to write even one blog post, story or essay that resonates and makes a difference.

I want to be ensconced in God’s creation while leaving myself open for whatever it is I need to hear. Reassurance. Direction. Guidance. Comfort. It could be any mix of those things or possibly something I haven’t even thought of yet. I am open. I want to be still and sensitive to the still small voice of God. That gentle nudging or the sudden confirmation that I am going in the best direction for me. I don’t want to miss anything because I am distracted.

As I stand poised on the precipice of a new chapter, I feel like a dandelion puff. I am full of life experiences and ready to send them out into the world to plant, germinate and grow to repeat the cycle. If I send forth seeds of love, empathy, kindness, and humor there are no boundaries to what God can do with my tiny little effort.

Cries From My Soul

For more years than I can recall, my soul has longed to write. I start blogs, then I give up. I journal for a while then I give up. Why? Fear…fear of what might happen if I succeeded and the expectations that come with that success.

We all have those things that cry out from the depths of our souls; passions, drives, those themes that seem to recur regularly as we travel the path of life. I believe we are all created to add to and make this world a better place. Our lives are not without purpose or value. God placed us here at a certain time and in a certain place for a reason. Ours is to stay connected so that we may live out that higher purpose and complete the task we were assigned.

Don’t get caught up in the idea that only big things count as callings. Being a kind and caring person to all you meet, while important for all of us, some folks just seem to effortlessly be at the right place to help. And in so doing, they fulfill their calling. It is the simple things. It is act of doing what you feel most strongly about in a way that fulfills your spirit and makes the world a better place.

Conquering The Fear

My Fear Monster has controlled my life for too long. I may never get published, but I will write. However, writing is not my calling. Writing, the art and craft of using words for a specific purpose, is the vehicle for my calling. Every job, task, or activity that has had meaning and provided me with a sense of fulfillment have all shared one commonality. In all things I was able to help others. Professionally I was a nurse, an assistant teacher, church receptionist, and shop owner. I am a dismal businesswoman, but I excel at assisting and guiding people. I tried to stay in business for the mere purpose of selling items I had made. I hate it. I have to force myself to do it; thus I fail. My calling isn’t making and selling. I can do it but it robs my soul of joy. From the day forward I choose joy over fear.

So, how to find and live out your purpose? In a word, listen. In the stillness of the early morning light, quiet your mind, and listen. Listen for that still small voice inside. It takes practice to be fully quiet and present, but keep trying. Just a few minutes a day is all it takes. Give yourself this gift. First thing in the morning before the rest of the world wakes up, take time to listen.

Ritual, as a part of focusing the mind to hear and listen (yes, they are different), is important. Small things we do to prepare alert our mind that something special is about to happen. I am not great at setting up and keeping rituals. I love the idea but in practice am not great at it.

My sacred space.

I finally have my desk area set up and this is now where I spend my mornings. I light my candle, sip my coffee, read from my Bible and devotional books, write by hand in a journal and I listen. I wait. Because that still small voice may not arrive today, but it will arrive and when it does I want to be ready. Ready to hear and respond.

I believe there is an inner longing and purpose inside each of us. If only we, as human beings, would spend as much time looking inward to become better people as we do looking outward at what others are doing (or not doing), the good would soon outweigh the bad and the world would really be a beautiful place to live.

Until next time…

~Sheryl

Lulled From Slumber

A soft, filtered light streams in between the slats of the blinds, gently illuminating the room. It is quiet in here. No television. No radio. No other people. I am lulled into a state of peaceful contemplation by the sound of clothes as they roll around in the dryer, and just now the low rumble of thunder breaks through to remind me of the weather.

The remnants of a tropical Pacific storm are now moving through Texas. Gusty winds and rain have been my companions today. These are my favorite days. Alone in my thoughts with cloudy skies and rain to provide a soothing backdrop for whatever I choose to do. I cherish today as tomorrow is promised to be hot and muggy.

The wind comes in waves; tree limbs bend as water is shed from their leaves. Rain beats against the window with an ever quickening rhythm, lulling me into sweet slumber.

Necessary Rest and Diversions

I haven’t been sleeping well of late and it has taken a toll on me. So many things running through my mind and I wonder, how others seem to do it. How do some people live lives filled with just what they want and not fretting about the minutia. Because it is generally the minutia that wears me down. I carry thoughts, worries, and what ifs around like stones in a bag and then wonder why I am mentally and physically exhausted.

These days none of the usual pastimes help. Making yarn then crocheting, knitting or weaving with it used to fill the need to create and brought a calming peace to my soul. And, maybe one day it will again. But for right now all the stuff feels like a burden. A burden that needs to be set aside.

As I have written before I have had a life long love affair with books and reading. I set the activity of reading aside for many years as I was “too busy” and seemed to fall asleep every time I picked up a book. But the love for books themselves never left and I always feel a deep sense of comfort when surrounded by them. I believe that I am now entering a season in my life where reading and writing are about to take center stage in my life.

Quenching The Thirst

Of late I find myself hungry for knowledge. I want to know more, see more, experience more things. I am no longer content to sit passively by and just live in the status quo. My first reaction was, “I need to finally go to college.” And while that is a pursuit I have not ruled out, I don’t think that alone will satiate my longings.

At this moment in time, having fulfilled all the early life tasks, career, raising children and now a grandchild, we – I include my husband in this journey – are at the brink of a bold new life and I don’t want to leave any stone unturned. It is not enough to live a simple life, although that is a big portion of the goal, but to live a simple life fully. And for me that means learning, seeing, exploring and then sharing my experiences.

It means reading history and visiting places to feel the lessons from the past. Learning about the struggles of others and changing in me whatever needs to be changed to be a more loving person. It means learning new skills, eating new foods, moving forward to do those things we have only talked about for thirty years. It means living each day in a way that honors God and who He created me to be.

Do Not Fear

Fear is an ugly monster. It lives inside all of us and takes on so many different disguises. We learn to ignore, squelch and run from our fears, but until we stop, turn around and boldly face the fear monster, we are never free.

The concepts of “trust” and “do not fear” appear in scripture more than anything else. There is a reason for this. God knows we need to hear it over and over and over again. For those of you who do not believe in God, you have the same need, you simply look for your answers elsewhere. But we all have this internal anxiety.

What is my Fear Monster? Being thought of and called out as stupid, uneducated, and unworthy of an opinion. I have cowered in the face of fear and that is not the life we are called to live. I have allowed it to stop me from doing something I love and believe I’ve been given the gift to do well.

More to come…

~Sheryl

Silence

We recently added to our family. A bouncy, happy, always loving little four legged family member moved in a few months ago. Belle has been a member of our extended family since she was eight weeks old; this was her first home after leaving her mom. She belonged to our daughter and when she left, Belle went with her.

Life is a fluid thing. Nothing ever stays the same for long—change is a constant. When faced with moving to an apartment we were asked to take Belle in for a short time. The inevitable happened, we both became attached. Actually, all three of us became attached. Her visit became permanent. Our daughter and her family decided to allow Belle to live here and they will adopt another dog who is better suited to living with children.

Our dog Maggie has ever only played with one dog and that dog is Belle. Maggie is an old soul who never learned to play as a puppy and was damaged goods when we rescued her eight years ago. She has always welcomed Belle back into her home and willingly shared all she has with her. Belle, who has now become a bit grumpy with other dogs, likewise is generous with Maggie. They are a match made in heaven.

Belle has a very specific schedule. Every morning between 5:45-6:00 she is ready to get up and is not shy about letting me know she is awake. First a couple little whimpers, then a kiss or two on my arm. If I do not respond she becomes a tad more vocal and persistent. So as to not wake hubby I get up and begin my day; I am thankful for my new alarm clock.

You see, this has always been my best time of day but since “retirement” I have allowed myself to just wake whenever or stay in bed longer than necessary. Once up I am not one to go back to bed. Belle has forced me to face the day while it is still dark outside. Dark and silent.

After seeing to the needs of the dogs, I make my first cup of coffee and sit in my Victorian wing back chair in a corner of my studio. A small lamp illuminates just this area. I am not ready for overhead lights. I wish to enter the day slowly, thoughtfully, and with just enough light to be able to read a Scripture for meditation. Once I have read it a couple of times—or as many as necessary—I turn off the light, close my eyes and ponder what I have read. Some of the pondering is active and some is passive. I think about a word or a phrase and then I wait. I wait on the Lord of move my spirit in the desired direction.

In the silence of the early morning I hear the world waking up. The birds, an occasional squirrel running across the roof, then there are the cars and other signs of life around me. But through it all my mind and spirit are resting, listening, anticipating. I know that it is here that I feel the peace and the presence of God. I really don’t want this time to end.

I keep a journal, a sketchbook, pencil, pens and watercolors on the table with my Bible and a book that guides my meditations. More on that book next week. My time alone with God is not finished until I have recorded something in my sketchbook. It is a private and visual record of what I heard in the silence. This is a new practice for me and one that has already become my sacred time. Before I know it two hours has gone by and I am ready to tackle the rest of my day.

May you find your own sacred time and practice. Until Monday have a blessed and healthy weekend.

Are You Listening?

There is has never been a time in my modern recollection that humanity has been in greater need of soul nurturing than right here, right now.

I look at this pandemic and all the chaos going on worldwide as an opportunity for a reboot. A unique moment in time when we are in a forced isolation and we have a choice. It is as if God is trying to get the attention of the entire world. We can look at the humans scrambling to fix it or we can look to God for understanding. Continue with the old way of doing things or listen to that still small voice in our heart and make changes.

What kind of changes? Depends on who you are and what you need. For me, I need to simplify, prioritize, and allow God to permeate every moment of every day.

I have written about my love for choral music. I believe I have the soul of a monastic. I am at my most peaceful and content when I tune out the modern world and immerse myself in music that draws me near to God; spending the first part of my day in the presence of my Creator, waiting and listening for that which is just for me, then going about my day feeling that connection. Making things with my hands is the natural outpouring of how my day begins. Whether I am making yarn, a meal or doing laundry, I am doing all as unto the Lord. Everything is sacred because it is all a gift.

How will you use the gift of today? I pray that you find something of eternal value in your day.

I Stand Amazed

There are few things that move my soul as much as the beauty of nature. Nature is where I feel connected to God and can allow my spirit to relax and decompress from the rigors of the modern world. Nature inspires my art work and fuels my desire to travel. It is truly the magnificence of God on display for all to see.

Having discovered my Scottish ancestry I am completely enthralled with this corner of the world. Specifically it is the islands of Orkney, Shetland and Fair Isle that capture my fancy. Certainly my adoration of wool has something to do with the Shetland and Fair Isle infatuation; my ancestors on my mother’s side can be traced to Orkney. While I don’t believe that my attraction is necessarily genetic, I have deep need to travel there to see if this connection is purely a romantic notion or indeed something deeper. Recently I discovered a delightful Instagram account (@shetlandwithlaurie). Laurie has quite the resume and is a native of Shetland. Among other things she runs a Shetland tour business. I asked her if I could share some photographs of this amazing place. She graciously agreed. If you are interested, her website is Shetland With Laurie . All photos in this post are used with her permission and can be found on her Instagram account.

This a view of Sumburghhead where Laurie went Puffin watching. Image from Instagram: @shetlandwithlaurie and @promoteshetland
Puffins are simply the most delightful birds. I want to see them in person.
Instagram: @shetlandwithlaurie / Shetland With Laurie

Laurie’s blog is so informative. She not only loves Shetland, but is a historian as well. I read her post on the rule of the Stewarts when they took control of Scotland and the surrounding islands. If this corner of the world is of interest to you, please visit and follow her on social media.

Since I can’t go to Shetland right this minute, I must find ways of filling myself from home. Unfortunately I live near the coast of southeast Texas and this is the most miserable time of year. I am looking for a remote Air BnB where I can just be quiet with God in His creation for a weekend. Maybe by doing that every few weeks might help nourish mind, soul and art. How will you reconnect? Whatever your belief or need level, nature is the best rejuvenation around.

Until tomorrow may you find the peace and joy of the natural world around you.

America The Beautiful – Purple Mountain Majesties

On Saturday morning as I sat, quietly reflecting and praying, the words “purple mountain majesties” floated through my consciousness. There was no context other than it was the Fourth of July, and our nation was preparing to celebrate its Declaration of Independence. In the midst of our current isolation and strife, this Fourth was not going to be like most. We couldn’t gather. Were there parades? I don’t recall any in my area. This year we were alone with our families and ourselves to observe the bold step taken one hundred forty four years ago.

As is so often the case, in my relationship with God, I knew that this thought was not random. It was a gift directly to me from God. At the moment those words crossed my mind I immediately knew that I must capture “purple mountain majesties” in my artistic medium of choice: fiber. I gathered my watercolors, art journal, and began doing quick paintings of the things that came to mind as I thought about that phrase.

I am an abstract fiber artist. I dye wool, spin yarn then crochet, weave and embroider pieces of art. Whatever the final outcome of the art piece or pieces, these are merely an attempt to record that moment with God.

Today I read an NPR transcript from last year about the author of America The Beautiful and listened to the song sung in three distinctive styles. I was moved to tears by all of them. Ray Charles’ version immediately came to mind as the first one I wanted to hear. His soulful, power filled rendition has a gritty, real life message. Elvis Presley and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir both served up the song in worship to God whose grace shone down on the founding our great country.

I don’t know the final outcome of this work, I just know I have an assignment. My job is to pick up this mantle and carry it forward; the rest is up to God.

Until tomorrow, may you have a day filled with purpose and a night of peaceful rest…