Wednesday, February 28, 2024

God's Masterpiece

"Sometimes the biggest things God does start out in the smallest, most ordinary acts of daily faithfulness. The things we do so often and with so little fanfare that we don't even think about them anymore. We can spend so much time wondering and worrying if we're fufulling God's primary will for our lives. Yet ultimately, God's will isn't about the things we achieve, its about the people we become. Life is more about how He uses us to make a difference to the people who cross our paths, even while we are just going about our normal, sometimes boring lives.

God's primary will for our lives isn't about a particular job or circumstance. It's not about the city we live in or whether we're married or single. We are in God's will when we awake with a willingness to go wherever He leads that day, to seek Him in the ordinary, and to love and influence the people around us.

Life is what is happening all around us while we're waiting for the thing we hope will give us some inner peace, contentment and joy. But the problem with that is when and if it happens, we usually enjoy it for all of about three and a half minutes. But when we really start to pay attention, we realize life is full of small wonders that can make all the difference in a day, an hour or a lifetime. And those small, ordinary moments are no less holy than the big ones. In fact, maybe they are more holy because it is the million little pieces of our our lives that really shape the people we become.

In J. R. R. Tolkien's, The Hobbit, the wizard Gandalf says, "Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I've found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay."

The true joy of life is found in the every day. It's the moments that don't necessarily take our breath away at the time, but often become the ones that matter most. When we look back on our days we realize such moments are the very threads that make up the tapestry of life. Taken together, these seemingly ordinary threads of joy, sorrow, conflict and laughter make something exraordinary. With every small thread, God is carefulyl and thoughtfully weaving a masterpiece."

Church of the Small Things

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Somber, Beautiful Season of Lent

Tomorrow is the first day of Lent. I'll be sharing more about how I am observing this beautiful season of the church year with you in the coming days, but for today, here is a lovely passage on Lent from one of my favorite books, The Dance of Time by Michael Judge. The labyrinth in the picture is just a short walk from my daughter's apartment. Last year I walked it on New Year's Day, and weather permitting I hope to visit it again this weekend as part of my Lenten observance.

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent lasts for forty days, in imitation of Christ's self imposed exile in the desert at the beginning of His mission. During this time the faithful are expected to give up vices or pleasurable habits, pray and attend mass more frequently, and meditate on the state of their souls. In medieval times people donned sackcloth, smeared their faces with ash and water, flogged themselves and foreswore most food and drink during the Lenten observance. In spite of its severe customs, Lent is a hopeful time. The word comes from the Middle Earth word, lengten or "lengthen", a reference to the fact that the days grow mercifully longer during this time.

Of course, people being people, all of this Lenten-self sacrifice had to be rewarded before it even began. Throughout Europe for three days before the beginning of Lent, businesses closed, streets were blocked off and everyone headed for church, where they went to confession. Afterwards, kegs were tapped, bottles drained, and sweet meats and other foods, soon to be forbidden, were consumed in a bout of wild merrymaking.

Eventually these pre-Lenten revels became concentrated into the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, called Pancake Day, after the sweet pancakes traditionally eaten during the party. In Medieval France where the day was known as mardi gras, or Fat Tuesday, a vast carnival was celebrated during which an enormous ox was paraded through the streets of Paris, surrounded by common folk dressed blasphemously as priests and nuns. The people banged drums and kettles in an unconscious imitation of a Roman triumphal parade. Years later in France's former debauched colony of New Orleans, the party known as Mardi Gras became America's most famous orgy, and a raucous song in the depths of winter. Eventually, however, in New Orleans as in all christian lands, Lent arrives with the grey dawn of Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is calculated backwards forty days from Easter. It is so named because on that day Catholics stand before the church alter and receive on their foreheads a smeared cross of ash from the priest. along with an admonition, that in some churches is still whispered in Latin.

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es
et in pulverem reverteris.

(Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust though shalt return.)

The ashes come from a very specific source. On Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, members of the congregation hold palm fronds, in imitation of the crowds who welcomed Christ into Jerusalem. Afterwards the palms are ceremoniously burned, their ashes collected and stored. They reappear the following year on Ash Wednesday, to be daubed on the foreheads of the faithful. The symbolism of Ash Wednesday's is circular, striking and sublime. A year after the Savior's symbolic entrance into the city, the very ashes of the banners once held forth to honor him now prepare the faithful for the season of His crucifixion. 

- from The Dance of Time
by Michael Judge

Monday, February 12, 2024

The Betsy Tacy Book Club
- Book 1 - Betsy Tacy Discussion

Good morning, friends! I am back from my social media fast and ready to discuss all things Betsy-Tacy with you this morning!

If this is your first time reading this delightful series, I hope you have enjoyed getting to knowBetsy Ray and Tacy Kelly! In reading this series again for the first time in many years, I was reminded of the first time I was introduced to it and how much I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am happy to report that my enthusiasm has not waned in the least! This series remains one of my all time favorites!

For the sake of turning this post into a short story of its own, I thought I would just highlight a few of the happenings in the first book that I particularly loved.

First off, I just loved Betsy and Tacy's first meeting, and in many ways I so relate to Tacy, especially, who darted at the sight of Betsy running towards her, and then in her own way, trying to push past her shy fears and shouting out her name just as she closed herself safe behind the door.  But of course, Betsy didn't know at the time that Tacy was terribly shy, and not understanding what she said, she mistook it for name calling. My heart always breaks for Betsy in that moment, too, who was so excited to potentially have a friend just her age, only to be disappointed when things not only didn't turn out as she had planned, but mistook her for being rude. Of course, eventually they make things right and all is forgiven.  Being an introvert, I've been misunderstood a time or too, myself, so I'm so glad that Betsy was able to reach a place of understanding, and all the more so as she came to know Tacy better.

There are two other passages in this book that I always find especially sweet and endearing and the first is in Chapter 8 - Easter Eggs. Tacy's little sister, Bee, has just passed away and the two girls have not played together for awhile and Betsy has grown especially lonely for Tacy's company.  In the story Betsy dresses without disturbing anyone and walks over and stands outside Tacy's house.  Eventually Tacy comes out and the two walk together up to their little bench at the top of the hill where they decide to climb a tree. After awhile Tacy begins to open up about Bee's death and funeral. How pretty she looks surrounded by candles, and how sad her mama was, and at some point Tacy started to become emotional. That was when Betsy did what she often does, she begins to tell Tacy a story of how beautiful heaven is, and when Tacy questions whether Bee can see them, Betsy assures her that she can. Eventually they climb up a little higher in the tree and place a lovely purple egg for the birsds to take to Bee in heaven. 

The thing I find particularly lovely about this part of the story is how Betsy, even at her tender age, didn't push Tacy for information.  She simply wanted to be with her friend doing the the things they had always done together, and that created a safe place for Tacy to open up. When Tacy became emotional, the author says that it made Betsy "feel queer", but rather than asking Tacy not to cry or completely changing the subject, Betsy begins to speak of all of the positive things that Bee is now experiencing in heaven, and assuring her friend that Bee is safe and well.

I think so often in life, especially during seasons of grief, even well meaning people can bombard others with the inquistions and their odd way of wanting to know all the details. If you've experienced the death of a loved one, you probably know that after awhile you really do become weary of answering all the questions and rehashing it all. It is good to have a friend who is comfortable enough to sit with you in silence, or even just invite you to lunch and not even bring up the heartache you are experiencing, but at the same time, remains open should you feel the need to discuss it. That kind of friend can be hard to find.

And then later in Chapter 12 - Margarent, Tacy has an opportunity to return the favor.  Betsy has just come home from spending the summer away to find that she has a new baby sister. With the time frame of the first book being roughly 1898 or 1899, I assume that in those days families did not discuss such things as pregnancy, and with Betsy being away most of the summer I suppose it woud have been easy for to have no clue that her mother was expecting. Still, I remember when I read this the first time thinking it was a little odd that Betsy had no idea her mother was pregnant. Regardless, what we do know is that Betsy did not warm to the idea at first, in fact she became quiet upset about it. As was the case when Betsy went and stood outside Tacy's window after Bee's death, Tacy instinctively knew where to find her friend, and, as Betsy had done for her, she did not make Betsy feel she was wrong for being upset. Instead she comforted Betsy with her own experiences of having younger siblings; "You can't keep on being the baby forever," Tacy said. That statement alone assured Betsy. To know that Tacy had once been the baby herself and she seemed ok. Tacy also assured her that even though the baby was funny looking now, it would get prettier, and after awhile Betsy was feeling much better about her new baby sister.

I love that in this part of the story it is Tacy who is the comforter, which is very different than the shy, reserved little girl who often has nothing to say. The author even points this out; "All of the sudden she thought how odd it was that Tacy should be talking like this. Usually she herself did most of the talking.  But now Tacy was doing the talking. She was trying to comfort Betsy. And she had comforted her. All the sore hurt feelings were gone."

I am in season, even this late in my life, in which God is growing me. He has placed me in situations recently where I mayself have been called on to comfort and encourage others, which is as odd a thing for me as I'm sure it was for Tacy. And isn't it lovely how often in life love compels us step out of our comfort zone to be there for another?  I also relate very much to Betsy in this chapter, as well. I was almost seven when my brother was born, and while I had known for awhile that my mother was expecting, I really had my heart set on a sister and recall being visiblly upset when my father came home from the hospital with the news that I had a baby brother. But like Betsy, it didn't take long for me to push past my disappointments. Almost seven years separated us, so we never had a lot in common, but I have many wonderful memories of the things we shared together as children.

So now it's your turn! What were some of your thoughts, favorite chapters, passages as you read through this first book in the series?  Are you enjoing it so far, looking forward to move on to the next book, Betsy Tacy and Tib (who we were introduced at the end). I'd love to hear from you! Just leave your entry in the comments, and then join me here again on Monday, March 4, as we continue the discussion!