Friday, January 29, 2016

"The LORD your God is with you..." ~ Zephaniah 3:17

Guess what? This is my 100th post! I started this blog eight years ago in June 2008 and I've varied over the years what kinds of things I posted about and how often I would post and then two years ago I started writing about my faith journey. It's been a wonderful process sharing my thoughts and struggles and emotions through these posts. I am so thankful for the encouragement and support I've received from friends and family who read these words, and I'm also grateful for those who read and remain silent. I do that a lot and I know how meaningful other peoples words have been to me. I've challenged myself in the past year or so to make connections with those bloggers whose work impacts me by leaving comments and it's been a blessing to see some friendships begin to blossom. I'm excited to hit this milestone post, and I've been thinking about future posts and what I might write about this year. I have some ideas and look forward to continuing this journey and sharing here with you.

“The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”  ~ Zephaniah 3:17

This has always been one of my favorite verses and I'm beginning to think it might be a life verse for me. It seems to touch on the issues I struggle with - fear, worry, feeling overwhelmed, needing to please, being afraid - and address them with the truth. God is with me so I am never alone. He is strong and dependable and will save me. He delights in me - He made me exactly as I am and delights in the things that make me, me. He provides rest and quiet when I'm overwhelmed. He loves me. He rejoices over me. It is a beautiful reminder of His promises, His truth, and His love.

“Build altars in the places where I remind you who I am, and I will come and bless you there.” ~ Exodus 20:24b

“The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.” ~ Kate Chopin

For me, the ocean has always been a special place of wonder and amazement. In particular the town of Cayucos holds a special place in my heart. My first visit was the summer of 1996 and it was the place where we debriefed for several days after spending 7 weeks traveling the United States on a mission trip. It was a busy summer full of new people, new experiences, lots of change and growth, lots of service and ministry, and we were tired. This town was a haven of rest. Quiet, peaceful, slow-paced and right on the ocean - it was beautiful and I loved it. The summer of 1998, I spent 10 weeks as a nanny for the team leaders three children on another summer mission trip and once again we debriefed in Cayucos. Once again, this was a place of rest, peace and beautiful surroundings. One night, I went for a walk and found a special place on a little rock hill where I could hear the ocean waves and only kind of see them since it was dark. I sat there and talked to God about things I was dealing with, about my feelings and thoughts and I don't even really remember exactly what. The important thing was that this became a special place to me - an altar in a place where I was reminded who God is, how big He is, and I felt so close to Him there.

Over the years, when I had the opportunity to visit Cayucos, I wondered about that special spot and looked for it on occasion but never seemed to find it. This past year, I found it! I was not only blessed to spend a week in Cayucos with my family for the week of Thanksgiving, but I was overwhelmingly amazed to have the opportunity to stay five extra days on my own! I had never vacationed completely alone before and although I was excited about it and knew I'd enjoy the time by myself, I also felt a bit of guilt at doing something just for me. But Josh was very supportive and so I booked a room at the Cayucos Beach Inn which is just across the street from the Cayucos Community Church where our team stayed those summers of 1996 and 1998. And just down the street from the church is a coastal access point which led to my spot! Back in 1998, it was just a small hill, but now there is a wooden platform with benches and a railing and it was wonderful to rediscover a place that has such meaning for me. The first morning of my solo trip, I got up very early and made my way to my spot and settled in to watch the sunrise. It was VERY cold and windy and I began to wish I'd worn slippers and brought a blanket, but it was so peaceful and wonderful. The quiet and stillness, the waves crashing on the shore, the sounds of birds, and the lovely sky changing color from blue to purple to pink to peach...and then the sun coming up and making the water look like diamonds. It was gorgeous and breathtaking and it meant so much to me to be there.

I spent every morning in my spot over the next few days - enjoying my coffee, interacting with a few people who obviously consider it their spot too, and never tiring of the beautiful ever-changing view. My heart felt so at peace. Being near the ocean was like a balm for my soul and to have several days alone was a beautiful gift. Although at times the silence in my room and the absence of conversation was a little much, in general I was surprised (but not really surprised) to find out how much I enjoyed the sense of quiet and the ability to do anything or everything on my own time table. I didn't have to ask anyone else's opinion, I wasn't truly limited to a clock, I could spend as much time or as little time on each thing as I wanted. I did use electronics a bit more than I had the previous week on vacation with my family, but that was only because I had to do some work on two different mornings and I did watch a couple movies as well. But most of my time was spent quietly reading or just sitting and thinking/praying/talking to myself & God.

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever." 
— Jacques Cousteau

“I could never stay long enough on the shore; the tang of the untainted, fresh, and free sea air was like a cool, quieting thought.” ~ Helen Keller

My lovely days were spent eating breakfast at the inn, enjoying my coffee each morning at my special spot for a few hours, then back to my room to read or work. When I got hungry for lunch I took the opportunity to try the local pizza place one day and ate by the pier, I ate snacks in my room while watching a favorite movie (Bridges of Madison County) another day, took myself out to lunch at the Sea Shanty across the street once and then enjoyed my leftovers for lunch the next day. Afternoons were spent in my room reading or coloring and then around 3pm each day I'd walk down into town and take a long walk along the ocean. I watched the waves, enjoyed the swing set, looked for special shells, rocks and sea glass and every day waited for the beautiful sunset to arrive. After the beautiful art show God puts on every evening, I'd decide what to do for dinner. My favorite dinner was spent treating myself at Schooner's Wharf to a delicious meal of snow crab legs - it took some time to eat, but it was so amazingly yummy and was definitely the best meal of the week. In the evenings, I watched movies a few nights, listened to music one evening and just spent time reading. I didn't really stay up late or sleep in each day, and I felt very well rested and refreshed. It was a wonderful gift.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” 
~ Mark 6:31

One of the most important things I have been learning in the past year is the importance of rest. Our lives are so busy and everything seems so important and necessary right now and we very rarely actually allow ourselves to rest. I began to discover last year that our bodies can only handle going, going, going for so long and then they rebel. We are made for rest and God (who does not need to rest) even made time in creation to rest and appreciate His creation. For me it was an emotional breakdown, for some it might be sickness or depression or something else. I want to make sure that going forward I recognize the need and necessity of rest and make time for it - make it important and necessary. My time in Cayucos, both with my family and alone, was such a gift of complete rest. Time away from work, from my home, from my day-to-day life where I could focus on sleeping, eating, reading, spending time with family, walking, and enjoying the beauty of God's creation. I had time to talk to Him and more important to listen for His voice because my life, my heart and my head were quiet enough to hear Him. I know that not everyone has the opportunity to get away for so long and I feel incredibly grateful that I was blessed enough to have that time. But even in our daily life we can try to make time at least once a week to rest and relax and just be.

“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise.” ~ Hebrews 10:23

The photo above was taken at the Sea Shanty restaurant. In the women's bathroom, the walls are filled with framed embroidery and cross-stitch pictures, many of them look fairly old and like they might have been family heirlooms or picked up at antique stores. This one caught my eye because I loved what it had to say. It's full of God's promises to us and it was so wonderful and encouraging. Such a wonderful reminder of God's truth and how He feels about us. To me it was a confirmation of His love and made me feel His presence once again in my favorite place.

I had a running conversation going with my beloved friend through text about my time in Cayucos and she was very encouraging and supportive of the good things God was teaching me. She currently lives in New Jersey, but is a California girl at heart and asked me to take a photo of my feet at the beach to send to her. This photo has become a wonderful symbol of love and peace and contentment - love for our friendship, love for Cayucos and the beach, and love for God. It makes my heart happy to see and I made magnets for us for Christmas so that we can always be reminded of this special time and place and meaning.

“Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.” 
~ Native American saying

Going forward this year, I don't know exactly what will happen. I have no idea about the new things God will be teaching me about. I don't know what opportunities, or difficulties, or blessings are on their way. But I have confidence that God is in control and that He has a plan and a purpose for me, for this year, for my life. I want to be open to His leading and be open to continuing in this path of vulnerability and courage. I'm excited to see what things He will lead me to share in this blog and the ways in which my story will coincide with your story. Community is the key and I'm thankful to share one with you.

“But I talk about my life anyway because if, on the one hand, hardly anything could be less important, on the other hand, hardly anything could be more important. My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally” ~ Frederick Buechner

“Others need you – your story, your words, your example. Your plan isn’t just about you; it’s also about everyone He’s already prepared to see and hear you.” ~Deidra Manning

Thank you for taking the time to read my posts. Thank you for sharing your comments and insights and thoughts with me. Thank you for the times you said "me too!" and made me feel less alone. Thank you for encouraging me and being touched by the words God has given me to share here. Thank you for reading even if you never post or comment - I have faith that these stories mean something to you too. If you decide to be brave and reach out, I will be thankful, but I will also understand if you don't. Know that I appreciate each and every one of you. Even though it's taken me 8 years, it's still hard to believe this is my 100th post. It means a lot to have this space and this opportunity to share with you. 

Thank you...thank you...thank you.

I'll end with a lovely promise from God that sounds like a prayer to me:

“Trust me – I gave my life for you because you are so precious to me. You trusted me at the beginning of your spiritual journey; trust me now. Nothing is beyond my power. Trust me – I love you and I love those you love more than you will ever understand. You always have been and always will be my beloved. Trust me – I can carry you and yours. I long for you to lean on me with the utter restfulness and assurance of a sleeping child. Trust me – I am your shepherd and I will lead you in the right paths. I will see to it that you lack nothing that is good for you to have. Trust me – even when you can’t understand my dealings with you. Don’t give a moment’s thought to turning back.” 
~ Marion Stroud

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