Wednesday, 31 October 2012

"make my prayer pray"



"My prayer-bird was cold--would not away,

Although I set it on the edge of the nest.

Then I bethought me of the story old--

Love-fact or loving fable, thou know'st best--

How, when the children had made sparrows of clay,

Thou mad'st them birds, with wings to flutter and fold:


Take, Lord, my prayer in thy hand, and make it pray.
"
    
    -George MacDonald (Diary of an Old Soul p. 113)
                     
image a little blurry but still beautiful..........KIND OF LIKE MY PRAYERS.

I've been reading Philip Yancy's Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference?  And I'm grateful that he begins with the same questions I do about prayer. Admittedly, if I spent less time reading about prayer, and actually just doing it, I'd certainly learn a lot more.  Isn't is always easier to think about doing something, rather than just doing it?

I don't always pray to get my prayers answered.  I don't pray because I'm trying to speak his promises into fruition.  I don't pray because I'm always confident that it changes the course of things in my life or the lives of others.   While these admissions may raise eye-brows,  I'm just speaking from my heart.  I believe that He hears my prayers. I do not question that God is all-powerful and His will ultimately prevails at all times, I simply don't understand yet, the role my prayers have in all of that.

I pray mostly because I can't help it -- my soul calls out to the One who knows me best.  I crave intimacy with Him.  I long to be known and understood, even in those places deep within my own being that I do not understand myself.  Also, I long to know and understand Him --Prince of Peace, Perfect Love, Heavenly Daddy, Mighty Warrior, Creator of All, Keeper of my heart.  

I pray because I love God and because He loved me first.  I want to be with Him.  When I'm tucked close to Him I know I'm safe, secure and no forces can stand against me.  My heart feels like it's praying all the time -- even without words.  Usually without words.  

I understand Macdonald's plea:
"look deep, yet deeper, in my heart, and there, beyond where I can feel, read thou the prayer."                                                   (Diary of An Old Soul p.114) 

I think I sometimes have a skewed view of what prayer "should" look like, or sound like.  I get thinking about what "effective" prayer is -- stuck in a rut where my imagination is imprisoned.  It seems ludicrous that my mind narrows when I think about how I should talk to God.  Shouldn't my thoughts expand....out past all the known universes....out into the farthest expanses of human imagination -- AND THERE, MEET GOD?

I love the words of Nicole Nordeman:
           "Oh, Great God, be small enough to hear me now."
                  (from her beautiful song Small Enough) 


There is much more I'd like to say.  But perhaps right now, instead, I will pray. 


photos and text (except citations) © melody armstrong









Monday, 29 October 2012

ugly beautiful

my favourite lone tree
more broken now than ever
wind-beaten
and still standing
barely.
bare.
final leaves cling
in frosty
cocoon
to the branch last living
hanging splintered now
pointing to earth
instead of sky.
Living and losing 
pressed so close and hard 
it hurts to breathe
yet
dare I say it
all is Grace 
even the ugly beautiful.

taking a closer look

same tree, different view

sometimes you have to move in closer to find any beauty at all

if you look hard enough.........just please, keep looking!

photos and text©melody armstrong













Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Who I am on a snowy October day...


I'm sprawling journals


and scribbled words
I'm tones of white and cream
   and charcoal grey
I'm splashes of big, bold
   blues and greens and
  purples and yellows.
I'm piles of books
and heart-shaped rocks
I'm forests and oceans and
   bright white birch
I'm boisterous hollers
  in hockey rinks
    on gym side benches
 on spring's green sidelines
I'm toenails pink and purple
  and blue and red
  and sometimes one for every toe.
I'm high-fives and competition
  in knee pads at net
I'm laughter and silliness
and original song
I'm daughter and mother 
and wife and friend
I'm peace in solitude,
  in stillness, in quiet
I'm wide-smiled, 
   gentle-breezed solace
I'm trickling brooks, tumbling
  rapids, whispering streams,
    and glassy lakes
I'm creative soul searching
  and hungry and longing
I'm well-watered garden, 
  lovingly planted, and pruned
I'm harvest, ripe and ready
  to be picked
   and seed needing to be
       replanted
I'm clay in potter's hand,
  treasured vessel of beauty 
   and purpose 
in the making
I'm arms and heart outstretched to
One who knew me by name
  before I was
   and calls me His very own.



photos © melody armstrong



Monday, 22 October 2012

beauty to be touched


I was looking through one of my old journals the other day and found the words above, which I'd ripped out of a magazine and glued onto a page.  These words mean even more to me now than they did at the time.  I want the beauty in my home to be tangible, touchable, something for everyone to grasp and hold.  I hope it's as easy as it sounds, since that which is truly beautiful may not always be as obvious as "pretty objects."  

The beauty in our home is framed in the masterpieces of my grade-school artists.


Or, the gifts of nature sprinkled around - precious treasures given with love and rich with memory.



Beauty in our home is the hug between brothers that I catch out of the corner of my eye, the music ringing out from the other room as my joy-girl sings and plays piano, and our ten hands clasped at the table while giving Jesus thanks. 

It's my husband cheering loudly for our football team and the little 1st-grade neighbour boy ringing the doorbell to see if my teenager wants to come ride bike with him (which he often does!). 

It's the "I forgive you" after the "I'm so sorry," the five of us piled on the bed talking about how amazingly huge God is, and the view of my husband and his father working together on a project in the yard.


It's my children huddled on the bed around Gramma Maxine on her weekly sleepover, reciting verses they've been learning.  Or, the huge grins on everyone's faces as Gramma Carol arrives with fresh cinnamon buns and other tantalizing goodies.

Beauty is in God's grace, mercy, tenderness and love. Beauty is snuggles and tickles and laughter and forgiveness. It is friendship, family, and freedom to be who you are, flaws included.   Beauty in our home has little to do with expensive art, perfect style and the latest fashions ---and I'm so relieved.  

Yes...yes...and absolutely yes!  To my family and neighbours and dearest friends: "BEAUTY IN THIS HOME IS MEANT TO BE TOUCHED. BEAUTY IN THIS HOME IS MEANT TO TOUCH YOU." 

photos © Melody Armstrong






Tuesday, 16 October 2012

noticing...



Today I walk.  It's cool outside but I need to breathe -- deeply.   I huff and puff up the hill as fast as I can till my legs burn and I feel like I am coming alive again - rather than going into hibernation.

I crawl through a fence, an old habit that I haven't yet kicked of needing to explore the boundaries, and follow coyote tracks across fields to the edge of dense far-away woods.

As I make my way across the barren, ice-dusted praire grasses.....
I NOTICE   


this leaf
like me
so many colors
parts alive next to parts dead
sitting beautiful 
in an imperfect way
letting the snow melt


this tree
like me       
branches bare today
stripped of decoration
the shape of 
what was
what is
and what tomorrow 
will be 

this post
like me
wrapped in barbs
sometimes
old and new
rusty-sharp
piercing those close

this pretty weed 
in seed
like me
transforming, shedding
readying for winter
and spring


photos©Melody Armstong



Saturday, 13 October 2012

angels anyone?

Who are the angels in your life?  Those special people who make your spirit soar just at the thought of them?  Who inspire you by the way they've chosen to view the world, the obstacles they've courageously pushed through,  the choices they've made to create a world of beautiful in the midst of ugly?

This particular angel of mine sits perched next to the spot where I make coffee every morning --reminding me of what an amazing person I have been blessed to know.  No wonder her students presented her to the world in this particular piece of angelic artwork.  

We met back in university while studying for our education degrees.  I recently found a letter she'd written me all those years ago that broke my heart again.....the way her questions go right to the heart of painful topics with honesty, courage and a forthrightness that is remarkable.  Truly!  

She has taught me so much about childlike trust in God, courage in the face of evil, strength in weakness, and grace that meets all of us right where we are.

I just wanted to take a moment to say a special "thank you."  Words are not adequate.....you will always be one of my most treasured REAL LIFE HEROES.  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for your immense courage, hope, sunshine and beauty.

For anyone else reading, I invite you to take a quick moment and send some love to an angel in your life today.

photos © Melody Armstrong 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

giving or receiving, which do you prefer?



I read it in Donald Miller's book Blue Like Jazz (p. 84) and it smacked me right between the eyes:
"I love to give charity, but  I don't want to be charity."

I knew the moment I read it that his comment describes me too much of the time.  I would rather be the one giving.  I would rather be the hero.  I would rather think my way into believing that I don't need - that I have so much to give.

How foolish.

Whenever I consider myself to be in the "giving" role more than the "receiving" role, I have blinders on.  Not only is that perspective naive, it is arrogant, ugly and completely mistaken.

I am constantly in need.  Why is that so difficult to admit?  I am continually on the receiving end of grace, mercy, and love, every moment of every day.  How could I think otherwise?

I have not earned this life.  I have not earned the love of my family, friends or my Creator.  I have not earned my health.  I have not earned my birth place in Canada.  I have not earned my freedom.

All of these things have been GIVEN to me.

ALL THAT I HAVE TO GIVE, HAS FIRST BEEN GIVEN TO ME. 

ALL IS GIFT.

There is one specific instance where I distinctly remember REFUSING CHARITY....and ultimately refusing a chance at deeper friendship.  It is an occasion I have regretted ever since, and although I asked forgiveness of this friend, it remains to me a painful and powerful lesson about the importance of receiving.

I was a mess!!  I was flat on my back, hurting with back pain and trying to cope with a newborn baby, a 14 month old, and a 3 year old. My lovely neighbour arrived at my house one day with a meal in her hands and a casual "I've come to clean your house."  She was exuberant.  But instead of being overjoyed and  accepting her offer with gratefulness, I refused her with a sort-of joking but overly harsh: "You are not cleaning my house!"  And that was it.

Her countenance changed.  Her excitement fizzled into politeness.  In that moment, a budding friendship was halted because I refused her gift.  The joy that both of us could have experienced, her in giving and me in being super spoiled by such a caring gesture of friendship, was lost.  

I could spend all day trying to justify my refusal:  Why should she have to work so hard?  Her offer was too generous to accept.  Such a kind thought but I'd be fine on my own.  

THE TRUTH WAS,  I NEEDED TO DEAL WITH MY PRIDE. 

I didn't like that I was needy.  I didn't want someone else to have to do my dirty work.  

No, I wanted to be strong, capable and in control.  I didn't want to be laying on my back in pain....I DIDN'T WANT TO BE CHARITY. 

These days, I'm learning to say it out loud.......to caste aside my pride and declare:

I WANT GRACE.  I WANT CHARITY.  I WANT TO BE LOVED.  I WANT MERCY. 
I WANT GIFTS THAT I HAVEN'T EARNED.  I WANT TO RECEIVE. 
 I WANT TO BE FILLED TO OVERFLOWING.

And then, the outpouring of my love to others will be fragrant with humility and a beautiful understanding of ALL THAT HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME.

THANK YOU, JESUS, FOR BEING THE ULTIMATE GIFT -------- I WANT ALL OF YOU, ALL DAY LONG, EVERY DAY.



(And Hope, if you read this.....please know that although I apologized to you long ago, I have never forgotten this lesson and I have worked very hard since then to remember that  IT IS JUST AS IMPORTANT TO GRACIOUSLY RECEIVE AS IT IS TO GENEROUSLY GIVE.  And I promise to accept if you should ever offer to clean my house again!!!  oxoxox) 

I invite your comments and reflections in the comment area below.

words and images © melody armstrong 2013













Tuesday, 9 October 2012

when the fog rolls in....



I can't seem to make up my mind about fog.  

Sometimes it's dreamy and delightful.....like the morning of my birthday this August when my husband woke me early on our summer holiday to go out on the lake and watch the sunrise.  The fog sat low in the valley, hovering between mountains on either side.  It drifted in heavy...rolling and teasing and curling around us as we floated.  I loved it.  The morning was straight out of a fairytale.  And when the haze cleared and the sun rose,  a bright and glorious morning unveiled before our eyes. 

Last week the fog stretched past our home and settled into the nearby river valley as if it were sinking into lazy-boy chair.   The river was still there but I couldn't see it.  So was the farm just on the other side of the river, and the hills rising beyond that.  Nothing had changed.  The permanent things that I always count on being there - were still there, I just couldn't see them.

Fog is like that.  When we're in the middle of it, beneath its heavy cloak, we just can't see.  It's unnerving --especially when we tend to rely more on what we see than what we know.  Sometimes our lack of vision even makes us doubt the things we know.  

I have experienced times in my life when the fog has settled in, thick and heavy and bewildering.  I want to see and I can't.  Nothing is clear, nothing is obvious, and I grope and stumble my way through obscurity.   It's not dreamy.  It's not delightful.  

If only I could recognize the hazy times in my life as an invitation to sit in awe and trust.  To rely on what I know, rather than just what I see.  To be still. To cease from striving and planning and pressing forward and controlling. 

 To simply BE.

when life is dusty dirty

when it's dark and lonely

when I'm chipping and cracking everywhere
when the papers pile

when the work piles

when I'm soaked in the rain
JUST BE.
Because EVENTUALLY THE FOG LIFTS, revealing what was shrouded. Clarity comes.  My eyes are able to see what my heart has known to be true all along.

And I give thanks - again.  
For God's faithfulness.  
that I can trust - even when I can't see.  
For His invitation to 
BE STILL AND KNOW THAT HE IS GOD.



text and images © melody armstrong 2012



Monday, 8 October 2012

Thanksgiving......and the love dare

When was the last time you made a list of things you love? 
This Thanksgiving season, I challenge you to the love dare.  

Take a few moments and begin your list.....write down all the things you love....write and write and hopefully your list is too long and you can't fit it all in one sitting and it keeps growing and bursts and overflows till your words somersault off the bottom of the page in exuberant celebration of all things precious and meaningful and hilarious and glorious and beautiful and magical and loved by you.


Write the huge things.  Write the minuscule things.  Just write.   
pages of things of I love in journals past

Add details or write single words.  If you get stuck, look around.  Look inside and outside. List your favourite smells, sounds, feels, touches, tastes. Look at the people in your life, past and present.  Look up and down. 


But whatever you do, watch and look and search and seek to notice the countless things you love.


And then re-read your list and pay close attention -- notice that you are actually reading that ways that God loves you, the ways He pours his soul-filling beauty into your life.
THANKSGIVING. GRATITUDE. SOUL MEDICINE.
Counting the ways you are loved.
And for those of you who, like me, struggle with an aching, just-below-the-surface feeling that an apology should follow our "love list" because we have so much to be thankful for, please consider Ann Voskamp's words in her book one thousand gifts.  She admits what, at first glance, might seem offensive:
"to focus the lens of a heart on the minute, in a world mangled and maimed and desperately empty." 
But then she continues:
"I have lived pain and my life can tell:  I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the sound of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives.  Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us?  Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering.  The converse does.  The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.  When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows.  How can this not be the best thing for the world?  For us?  The clouds open when we mouth thanks."  (p. 58)(emphasis added)

SO HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU ALL - AND LET THE LOVE DARE BEGIN.










Friday, 5 October 2012

Are there questions God can't answer?




My first son Chase was about three years old when he asked me a question that I have never forgotten:  “Mommy, how many ways can you squish a marshmellow?” 

I still chuckle when I think of it. Though it wasn’t really answerable, the question was  adorable and imaginative.  It reflected the way he saw the world, the things that mattered to him, and his curiosity about how life worked.  That was so precious to me.

I wonder sometimes about the questions I ask God.  I have so many.  Are they precious to him, just because he is my loving heavenly Father and he adores me?  I'm constantly asking how...? why...? when...? can’t you...? where will...?  And then there are those times that I behave childishly, stomping my feet and getting pouty when He doesn’t seem to answer.  
Not only do I want the answers, but I also prefer them to be instant and gratifying.  Thank you very much!

Three years ago, after my dad passed away, I read C.S. Lewis‘ A Grief Observed in which Lewis grapples with the agonizing loss of his beloved wife, Helen.  His raw and tender writings were never originally intended for publication, they were simply his own personal reflections and a way to process the pain and questions arising from his own “dark chasm of grief.” (see introduction)  He addresses this idea of questioning God in one particular passage which has come to my mind many times since I first read it, especially in my own seasons of intense introspection and questioning:

“When I lay these questions before God, I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’  It is not the locked door.  It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze.  As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question.  Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.’

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable?  Quite easily, I should think.  All nonsense questions are unanswerable.  How many hours are there in a mile?  Is yellow square or round?  Probably half the questions we ask--half our great theological and metaphysical problems--are like that.” 
(p. 685 in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics.  Copyright 2002 Harper Collins Publishers.)
I think Lewis is right. Many times, I’m just not asking the right questions.  Not that there’s a trick in it - I can come before God with all the questions of my heart and know that I am received and loved by him.  However, I readily admit that my questions are laced with ignorance, more often than not.  They are sincere, certainly.  But no matter how sincerely I come before my Creator, if I am honest, I can see that my questions reflect a limited and often skewed understanding of who He is and how He works.  Is it any wonder that many of my  questions are not answered?  How does God answer nonsense questions with anything but compassion and love?
being surprised by his stunning
perspective 
I’m beginning to ask the best question:  what is the right question, Lord?  

If I want to get closer - to know Him better, am I willing to surrender my perspective and seek His when asking my questions?  Beyond that, am I really willing to listen for his answer?

I'd be honored to hear your perspective in the comment section below.

photos © melody armstrong

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

when your path is bumpy....



Bow Valley Provincial Park

Last week I joined my daughter and her class on a field trip to Kananaskis Country.  It was such a gorgeous fall morning and the kid's eager anticipation of a day playing in water and exploring outdoors was contagious.  I had such a great time.  But truthfully, I'm not the greatest parent volunteer.  While 30 grade 5 students were booting it through the woods at mock speed, probably being chased by a bear or something, I was lagging behind - again! - down on my knees taking photos.

For some reason that day, my eyes were so drawn to the paths, the constantly changing terrain that made the day so interesting.   There were long, flat trails that stretched out before us.  There were winding, curvy parts that wove through dense trees and tall grasses, where we couldn't see around the next bend.


beauty for the soul
For a while, we walked single file along a narrow path that traced the reflective edge of a glassy smooth  mountain pond; a feast for the eyes and the soul. It's nice when the way is flat and smooth. The morning dew had draped the woods in an earthy fall fragrance and all was wet and glistening. Even the striking contrast of perfect stillness with the echoing laughter and hollers of far-away children (whoops! ha ha!) only intensified the beauty surrounding me.

when the way is flat and smooth


But there are always bumps on the path.  Large roots of massive trees studded the trail here and there, causing a downward shift in my focus that day. Bumps do that - they force us to watch where we step, to put our heads down and pay more attention to our footing.  And yes, sometimes we roll an ankle or trip and even fall when the path is rough.   

the bumps
  How is the path you're travelling right now?  Is it smooth and flat?  Are you clipping along at a good pace and moving steadily toward your destination?  Or have you encountered some bumps and had to slow down a bit, watch a little closer?  Maybe your path is strewn with obstacles that make your journey difficult and painfully slow?  Perhaps you're even pushed up against the unyeilding face of a sheer, rocky climb and you don't know how you're going to get up and over it.  Has the path you've followed taken you out on a ridge that plunges steeply on either side and you're trembling inside for fear of falling?  

As I continue on my quest to live a joyful life regardless of circumstances, and I observe joy lived out in the lives of those around me who are facing tremendous adversity, the same thread of gratitude weaves through each life.  It is a theme that pulsates through my soul these days .  Everywhere I turn, I see evidence of joy through gratitude - even in the most difficult of circumstances, and I am deeply humbled.     

I am learning, through my own simple struggles and the pain of so many around me, that when the road gets bumpy and we are forced to put our heads down and pay attention to the path, we are often surprised by treasures hidden along the way.  We have a new focus and we see differently - through the eyes of our souls.  Beauty, just off the beaten path, whispers to catch our attention and calm our anxious hearts.  The quiet that comes in slowing down allows us to hear that still, small Voice urging: "just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Trust.  This is the path I have set before you, walk faithful, slow and purposeful.  Keep your eyes wide open for my gifts, my fingerprints, my creative work around you."



"Keep your eyes open for my heart.
My endless love for you." 


his gift.  his love.  everywhere.
I'd like to share part of post called "Love Your Fate" by a favorite author of mine, Katrina Kennison. (Posted on her blog in Aug 2012) After sharing three true stories of great loss and hardship, she writes:
"Amor fati. I have carried this resonant Latin phrase in my heart all summer.  Love your fate. What a challange this is, when what fate has to offer is not your dream come true but rather broken bones, stupid mistakes, dashed hopes, eviction notices, loss and pain and heartache.  And yet, surely we are shaped as much by dashed hopes as by those that come to pass.  We are strengthened not by the easy stuff, but by what brings us to our knees. And we realize our full potential as human beings as much by losing at the game of life as by winning......The pain of life isn't ever going to disappear.  But perhaps it is in our efforts to open our hearts to accept and work with what life hands us, that we grow our souls.  Day by day as we struggle to carry on in the face of grief and disappointment, we begin to see that even a great setback may contain a gift: the opportunity to discover, through practice, what lies behind sorrow.  'How can we reconcile this feast of losses?' asks poet Stanley Kunitz."  (Katrina Kennison.  Emphasis added)
when we come to a clearing
My longing for all of us is that whether our path is smooth, bumpy or seemingly impossible right now, we call out to the One who knows -who's walked this path just for us and walks beside us now.  May we: 
"THROW OPEN OUR DOORS TO GOD AND DISCOVER AT THE SAME MOMENT THAT HE HAS ALREADY THROWN OPEN HIS DOOR TO US.  (MAY) WE FIND OURSELVES STANDING WHERE WE ALWAYS HOPED WE MIGHT STAND--OUT IN THE WIDE OPEN SPACES OF GOD'S GRACE AND GLORY, STANDING TALL AND SHOUTING OUR PRAISE."  (Romans 5:2  The Message Translation. Parentheses added)

I gladly welcome your stories and insights in the comment section below.


photos © Melody Armstrong





frosty joy

Delight is a wondrous thing.
this mornings frosty offerings
We had our first snowfall fly from the heavens last night around 9:00 pm.  We may be the only household that cheers and hollers when the air turns white with dancing, twirling coolness.  
Homework gets tossed aside, hand stands in the living room cease,  jackets are rummaged through and thrown on recklessly, and kids are high-tailing it out the door.  

Delight. It makes my heart soar.  

What a gift - this unique ability to celebrate the strangest things, to have a different perspective - a different way of seeing that allows for surprise and wonder.

This is a lesson my children teach me almost daily....and when they forget, I try to remember and teach them:  it is all in the seeing.  There is always another angle from which to view our circumstances.  
always another angle
Surely an icy snowfall on the 1st of October is only miserable, cold and a mournful loss of last week's 25 degree temperatures!  But, no.  Instead its a joyful indication of all that awaits for children who are eager to toboggan, ski, skate, shovel, build snowmen AND PLAY in the white wonder.

May you be delighted today as you seek and search and keep looking for new angles....whether your day is filled with summery green warmth, or white frosty cold like mine.  

If you wish to share a story when you have been surprised by joy, I welcome you to share your thoughts in the comment section below.  

Photos ©Melody Armstong