Contentment and Seeing the Gift in Stormy Times

Powerful wind gusts keep hitting the house tonight. Rain seems to fly sideways in sheets of water on nights like this. So thankful we have warmth, shelter and His Presence with us.

When we first moved into this home, I would lay awake during big storms wondering if everything outside would withstand the surprisingly strong winds and rain battering the house. I’d go outside and check after the storm, relieved that the shingles remained on the roof, and everything looked okay.

This past year or more has been a storm of another kind. Around the globe, lives have been altered by a pandemic that has left very few untouched in one way or another.

Maybe one of the lessons for many people during this strange time in history is the opportunity to learn to be content with simple joys, with quiet time, with those God’s given us to love.

While a global pandemic tests the limits of many people psychologically as stay home orders and other restrictions impact life, and a second wave of the virus emerges in various places, many people have struggled emotionally.

The high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide have been a serious concern. The west coast fires raging through our states also added major stressors and we have met some who lost their homes or businesses during that intense time as well. As a retired counselor and writer, I’m always concerned with how people manage to cope with tough times.

But I’ve talked to a few friends who have cultivated a different sort of mindset, one which serves them well. They’ve invested in their marriages or a few close relationships.

One friend describes this past year as a wonderful gift. She and her husband are closer than ever and she’s enjoyed being home on their beautiful century farm, living differently than usual, but joyfully.

My husband and I have come through this year closer and stronger, not without some storms along the way. However, our marriage has been ultimately strengthened by the unexpected blessing of more frequent and intensive time together.

We’ve learned how to support one another and work through conflict better. We’ve identified areas where our needs weren’t getting met very well, and we’ve worked on improving these areas.

We’ve found renewed joy in simple pursuits. We’ve healed and grown and changed. We’ll emerge from this time a better team and more aware of the gift we have in each other.

We’ve also grown closer to some of our extended family as we’ve navigated these strange times together. The issues that come along with aging parents and other life stages don’t just disappear because of the added layer of a pandemic. We sure don’t take time with loved ones for granted right now and we often pray about ways we can support them better as they face their own tough storms.

We’ve also taken time to deepen friendships that are life-giving and deeply encouraging. Having weathered some intense storms in terms of major losses to grieve and adapting to challenging health, we are reminded anew that life is a precious gift.

I hope we’ll never take for granted the gift of those God has given us to love.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen

Peace

As I sit by our fire this morning, I pray that God will guide us today. I am thankful that as believers, have His Presence with us, and we have the Word of God to help us make sense of the times we are living in.

Sometimes trying to understand the world around us these days becomes a very complex thing. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers or full insight into what’s going on at all. I am prayerfully seeking to understand more. In truth, we’re in an intense spiritual battle.

But none of what is going on in the world surprises God. His ways are higher. He is all-knowing. He created the heavens and the earth. He is sovereign. He will not allow anything to happen that does not ultimately move us towards His eternal purposes. Even if what He allows is painful and seems very terrible, He will ultimately redeem it and set all things right. He told us in this world we would have many troubles.

But again and again His Word tells us not to fear.

“My peace I leave with you,” Jesus said.

That’s a powerful gift He left with us.

Rest in His peace, abide in His love.

mental health during this pandemic

I was pondering today the reality that around the globe we are all faced with some strange realities simultaneously. Who would have guessed this was all ahead a year and a half ago? I want to say that I acknowledge the pandemic is very real. We have lost loved ones who died from COVID (thought these two women were elderly and had other issues as well), and we know younger people who have been very ill with this virus. We’re praying hard for one man who is very sick and in ICU, and others. So there’s no denial that this is a serious illness.

The origins of the illness and how various leaders around the world are responding (and opportunistically trying to control people beyond their legal authority and impose socialist policies) are worth pondering, however.

In many places, elderly have been isolated from loved ones for months and months now, and depression and other mental health impacts are serious. Kids are hurting too. They are missing out on contact with teachers, other kids and other benefits of in-person education. The mental health crisis is as serious as the pandemic, and these are inter-related. We need to create ways for meaningful connection. We need to consider the whole person, and also we need to stand up to leaders who are abusing their positions and harming many in the process.

Rise up. Find ways to care about the people in your sphere of influence.

Yes, we need to avoid spreading this blasted virus. But we also need to remain engaged in life and find and preserve connections with others that are life-giving. A friend has brought her dogs over sometimes and she stayed for dinner recently. Another friend came over for a visit and stayed for dinner in the past few weeks. We enjoyed music, prayer and conversation, and we don’t take time with others for granted at all right now. We do what we can to protect our health. But we also know that these interactions are good for health, and we trust others are encouraged as well.

Feeling Overwhelmed? These ideas might help:

I heard from a friend yesterday who shared that she felt overwhelmed with all that’s going on right now. I think this is common. In terms of major stressors, most of us have a fairly significant list right now. Here are a few thoughts on things you can do which might help:

Be kind to yourself and others.

Recognize that some people are grieving significant losses.

Honor the grieving process and don’t invalidate the emotions others feel, or which you are experiencing.

Be curious. Look into the truth and go beyond the surface. Don’t assume.

Some people feel very concerned about what’s going on politically, morally, and in many other ways right now in the world. Validate those concerns.

Take an interest in learning the truth–go beyond the narratives that the world is pushing so hard.

Many voices clamor for your attention. Listen for God’s still small voice. Ask Him for wisdom and discernment.

Disengage from the news, social media and instead connect with loved ones face to face. If that’s not possible because of the pandemic or life circumstances, find ways to connect which are life-giving to you.

Journal. Pray. Re-create.

Spend time in solitude and nature. Today fog hangs in the air outside. I’m going to take a shower and then go for a drive with my camera. Fog creates some beautiful scenes in the countryside all around us. Barns and trees hold a mysterious beauty as the mist shrouds some of the landscape.

I’ll listen to some worship music and God’s Word.

I’ll allow Him to infuse my spirit with His hope, His transcendent peace, His joy.

The joy of the LORD is my strength.

Be Still

In a world flooded with words and opinions, find time to be still and know that He is God.

Remember, when we pray we can simply listen to God, as Mother Teresa once said. When asked what God does then she replied, He listens, too.

Companionable silence.

In a world where quiet and solitude so often get neglected, be still.

Connect with the peace and sheer power of our Almighty God who knows the future. He holds the Present. He heals the past. Gentle is strength under control. Marvel in His gentle beauty, His tender compassion and grace.

Cease striving. Quiet your heart.

Rest. Be renewed.

walk quietly

“The soul is like a wild animal—tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance.”– Parker Palmer

In this information age when people are bombarded with words, news, social media and way too much stimulus for quiet reflective lives to prosper, solitude demands intentionality. We have to plan for it, fight for it, withdraw from the rat race, and revel in it whenever we can. But more than that, we have to choose solitude and find ways to “walk quietly into the woods,” as Parker Palmer so wisely wrote.

Father, help me turn off the distractions and come to the secret place to meet with you each day. Renew me in Your love. Transform me into Your image. Refresh me from the chaos of this world as I seek Your face continually.

Fires and other major stressors? Here’s some help:

Feel like you’ve been through the wringer? Well most of us in Oregon have been in fight or flight all week, and although in some areas things are calming down a bit, it’s not over yet. The fires continue in many parts of the state and the air quality is very poor. Take time to breathe deeply (indoors with air purifiers on if possible) and connect with the LORD. This calms your nervous system. Take time to hug your family or loved ones or ride an indoor exercise bike. This produces endorphins and bonding hormones that make you feel better. Drink lots of water. This helps flush the toxins from breathing smoky air. Your mental health matters too. There are some simple things you can do to help. Gratitude helps you to turn on the relational circuits in the brain. Even giving thanks for simple things, like the fact that you woke up to another day, can help. Pain turns off relational circuits, making it hard to relate to God and other people well. But you can turn those circuits on with interactive gratitude and worship or thanking God, so these tips might help.


There’s also an exercise we call the “Five Bar.” When your phone or laptop has a strong connection, you can see five bars signifying that. If you have a few minutes, close your eyes, pray and think of a time when you felt a strong connection to God. (If you don’t believe there’s a God, you can improvise, but this is more powerful because God’s Presence in healing and powerful. He is love.) Then when He brings a memory to mind, remember that time of deeper connection with God. Marinate in those memories, using all five senses if you can. Take as long as you want. Then, once you feel connected, share this with someone else out loud if you can. This will help create better neural pathways in your brain as it turns on relational circuits, too. A simple thing you can do also at this point is ask the LORD, “Is there something you’d like me to understand?” Or you can invite Him to come with you to the thoughts that are troubling you. He may minister to your heart in a way that can be very healing. These principles come from something called the Immanuel Approach, which Janet Taylor and I taught to some counselors in Asia a few years ago. I still offer Immanuel prayer ministry to others sometimes. Remember God is with you. He is mighty to save!

Just had a shower and washed the ashes and smoke out of my hair, enjoying the warm water and emerging clean and fresh. Now I have God’s Word playing in the background as I get some daily chores done. Feels like being washed and renewed, too. In a very distracting time, we need His Word more than ever. In a time of crisis, His Word is a light unto our feet…a refuge, a source of power and strength. We can rest on His promises, and where faith and promises unite, we see God move powerfully and lovingly.

a minty evening, memories, wild turkeys and a flock of ewes

This evening I went for a ‘roll’ over to JW Ranch and enjoyed a visit with the ewes. On the way, I saw a family of wild turkeys with ‘a gaggle’ of young turkeys roaming around the pasture with them. (Do you call a group of them ‘a gaggle’ like geese?) The ewes came up to snuggle a bit, poking their faces through the fence to say hello. I went out to the gravel road along the fence line where I’d mended fences earlier this year. Many happy memories of time with Ramsy the bummer lamb, and other times in the pasture this spring flooded my mind and heart.


How I love living in this farming community. The mint fields were just harvested and the smell of peppermint still floods my senses as I roll on by. I pray that our lives will be a fragrant offering unto the LORD. When we live for ourselves, with selfish intentions, it smells more like the manure from the nearby small dairy farm. But the peppermint fields really remind me of the minty fresh cup of tea I often enjoy on fall mornings. I can feel fall in the air now, as summer draws to a close and soon kids head back to school. Or in this case, during a pandemic, kids pull up a chair next to a laptop to begin the school year. May God draw hearts closer to Himself during this time in history. May we find joy in His Presence, and abide in His peace and joy despite the turmoil in the world around us. Just as the sheep enjoy grazing on the pasture or eating the bale of hay together near the fence line, may we enjoy what God places in front of us, finding nourishment and strength as we encounter His loving Presence in these memorable times.