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Prayer why?   Leave a comment

I know, in our culture praying is often presented as an excuse to not take any action.

But that’s not what we see in the bible. Over and over, people call on God. That’s prayer. The Bible is full of prayer itself, in the Psalms and quoted elsewhere, and in the New Testament, we get a plethora of encouragement to pray. And of course, as you probably already know, even Jesus prayed. He’d get away to pray, and when he was facing his final hours, he cried out to God for mercy and for some other way. That’s prayer.

So it follows that there is not only a reason to pray (maybe opening our hearts more to God and being led by him) but there is a purpose.

Sometimes we’ll see the answers. And sometimes we won’t. So often we won’t know the purpose. But what we do know is that God wants us to talk to him, tell him everything, thank him for what he’s done, and ask him humbly to take action where only he can take the action. The amazing thing about all this that follows logically is that our prayers are part of what God is doing. We don’t know why or how that could possibly be the case, since it’s not like he needs us to accomplish his perfect and loving will, but he asks us, encourages us, even commands us to pray and work with him. Pray without ceasing, as we go about life. All of this means, he’s hearing and responding to our prayers, and they–make–a–difference.

Our prayers are part of the plan. They do good when we can see the outcomes, and even more when we can’t. We can’t know exactly what part of the plan they are, how we are praying with the Holy Spirit and in alignment with God’s will, but the panoramic view of history says we’re part of God’s plan.

Of course, I’m not advocating inaction for needs you see that God calls you to step up and answer. Not at all.

I’m just saying: don’t underestimate what your prayer is doing. From what I can see, it appears it is the foundation upon which God’s work in us and in the world rides. “If you remain in me, and I remain in you, you will bear much fruit, for you can do nothing without me.”

Posted January 10, 2021 by swanatbagend in prayer, waiting

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DON’T follow Cat Care Advice   Leave a comment

When our family adopted simply adorable kittens in the summer of 2019, we were thrilled. It was impossible not to fall in love with them. One of them, Shadow, is very chill, and only got into trouble when he followed his wild brother Simba into partaking in bad activities. Some of these were pushing dishes off the counter top and then picking up the broken pieces, and playing with them in other parts of the house. Another activity was using claws to hook the floor air vents and pull them out of the opening in the hopes of getting into the duct work.

Given all this activity doing things I’d never had a cat do before (and I’ve owned/known/had thirteen other cats in my life), you would think that our family was not providing an environment of interest to kittens, with toys, climbers, scratch boxes, bouncy mice that hung from door frames, etc.

No. That was not the case. Over the course of the time we tried in vain to have them be purely indoor cats, all of these toys, and more, were provided. My kids played with them often when they were little, sometimes spending hours at a time hanging out with them.

When that wore off, I spent time with the cats every day, playing with them with their favorite chasing toy. Then there were the additional toys I bought from Amazon, after studying carefully curated lists of the best toys for exceptionally active cats. These toys were looked at with boredom and confusion, to be returned to Amazon. Thank heaven for their return policy!

Every morning, still in my bathrobe, I would scour the spaces under the furniture everywhere in the house, pulling out crinkle balls and fuzzy mice with a yardstick, tossing them for the cats to play with again.

So…would you like to guess what the outcome of all this effort to entertain them was?

Yes, it was for the cats to assume I was going to entertain them!

Toward the end of the time in which they were solely indoors, they would literally come up to me while I was cooking or working on something, meow, and then proceed to sit and look at me. They had food, they had water, they had toys and I had already played with them. I could not believe what I was experiencing!

Needless to say, at this point, we rapidly worked out a safe transition for them to be partly outside cats, assuming that if they didn’t find the outdoors to be fascinating enough, we would at least have a place to put them when they were about to get in to trouble inside! They’ve been able to go outside for months now, and they do like exploring there and becoming ever more familiar with their territory, but there are still times when Simba wanders in and and then back out as if not sure what he can find to get into.

If you look online for articles about cat care and how to be an attentive and caring pet owner, you will find dozens and more talking about how you need to play with your cat on a regular basis. Now, before these cats I would have thought this advice was reasonable.

But now? My advice? Love your cat, care for your cat, but please–don’t follow the standard advice.

Posted January 2, 2021 by swanatbagend in cats, humor

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The Greatest Commandment   Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking about this commandment over the past couple weeks.

The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

The second, so Jesus said, is like unto it. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

We’ve heard these words so many times that it’s become difficult to internalize them in any other way than we have already. But I think there is even more depth to it, when you look at the whole of the Bible, especially when you see the evidence of God’s deep and abiding love for us in the New Testament.

The really good news about “love the Lord your God” is that he is now, has, and always will be the source of the loving. We can think of all the ways we can exhibit our love for God, and of course that has its place, as we observe the fruit we bear. But the place to start from the very beginning of time has always been the reality that God loved us first.

So I would say that the place to start in order to live out this command is to let God love you first.

Then the other details will follow, and the second greatest commandment will follow.

The other thing about loving your neighbor as yourself, besides that it brings to mind the parable of the Good Samaritan, and rightly so, is the second part of that second greatest commandment.

It says, and I quote, “as you love yourself.”

There, I said it. You’re allowed, no, you’re actually commanded to love yourself. I think this goes beyond the given understanding that most people love themselves and care for themselves and put themselves first. Of course we do, because we’re human. So it makes sense to say we want to love others as we would like to be loved. But I can’t get over the assumption in this phrase. God assumes that we understand that we love ourselves. If we don’t currently love ourselves, offer ourselves mercy, give ourselves encouragement, then all to do is to turn back to the reality of the first commandment and remember what we already know.

God loved us first.

We thus love others.

And we love ourselves.

Posted December 8, 2020 by swanatbagend in Uncategorized

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Burden   Leave a comment

It just seems to be one of those days. Yesterday morning, I was fine. I woke up normally and in good spirits. I don’t know what happened, but today I am trailing along in the wake of the same old depression that has been routinely dogging me for the past two years. Not every day or month, thankfully, but it just keeps coming back.

I hope this will be a one day version and that tomorrow will be better, since I was on the upswing. We’re doing work on the house that is supposed to get rid of mold and thus help my mental health, and that remediation is finally over and we will get the final clearance from the assessor that the house is mold free, soon, we hope.

But for now, it’s the same old fight, fighting the inner voices that tell me I can’t do this or that, or that it’s too much trouble, or I don’t have what it takes to overcome this, or that it will never change.

And going into this winter, with the virus having totally swamped the boat of normal life, knowing that it’s getting worse and not better, it’s hard to bear even the thought of going into a lock down again. It was bad enough last spring. If I can’t get out and see friends all winter, it will not be a good thing.

Most days recently, what I have been doing when a worry comes forward in my mind, is to just start praying about that exact thing. It does drive it away. It does give it to God. I want to be doing that today. But the burden isn’t moving so easily today.

Posted November 14, 2020 by swanatbagend in Uncategorized

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Remaking my Brain   Leave a comment

I’m a skeptic on anything smacking of positive thinking. I seem to have been born with a bent toward negativity and thinking things will probably turn out for the worst. I don’t know why–a combination of genetics and life experiences and brain chemistry is my best guess, since these things are never simple.

However, at an opportune truly low spot, I read a book about a process called detoxing your brain. As I looked into it, it seemed in some ways like more positive thinking. What made it worth trying in my view was research that showed that it was not just that thoughts are different if you meditate, but that the brain itself actually changes, growing new and different connections and letting go of the old. People the author had done research with had positive effects from trying the process.

So I decided why not?

I picked a negative belief that kept running through my head. There’s a five step process you go through, the key part in my opinion being when you write/draw/scribble your negative thoughts and replace them with the positive truth on paper, thus literally letting your mind process and make choices about what to focus on and what to let go of. It’s basically written meditation. You finish with an “active reach” which just means a phrase or action you will take when you fight the negative thought in order to combat it.

I started with “Life is too hard,” and used as my replacement thought, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I repeated the process taking about ten or fifteen minutes each day. Believe me, some days were pure torture. I didn’t want to do it, and I barely got myself to do it. I just didn’t feel like doing it.

And honestly, at the time, I didn’t notice any particular benefits beyond having a verse or phrase or reminder of truth to go to that day when my mind would go back to the old habit. It didn’t seem to be doing anything.

After the first 21 days on one negative idea, I went to the next one that was really bothering me, which was that bottom line, I was alone, responsible and had to figure everything out by myself.

And I went through the same process again. Painful, hard, boring, tedious, repetitive, yes.

After four rounds of doing this with different fears and concerns, as I look back, I cannot say it has completely erased these un-truths. But I can say that it has worked in that it has dimmed them. They no longer hold me as much, nor do the negative thoughts stick in my head as long. I’m able to boot them out much more expediently.

So, this skeptic is glad she tried something that she thought was just a bunch of hooey.

It was definitely work worth doing.

Posted November 3, 2020 by swanatbagend in Uncategorized

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Down by the Waterfall   Leave a comment

In August, when our vacation to New York’s Adirondacks was cancelled by Covid, we took a short getaway to Cincinnati and saw some attractions, went out to eat, and did our best to enjoy ourselves. It was fun, but it wasn’t what we usually do.

We’re used to camping, but that wasn’t going to happen in August, when we had planned for New York weather.

So last weekend we went to see the Niagara of the south, Cumberland Falls. We were only gone for a few days, but I felt relaxed pretty much the moment we arrived. A campground, wood smoke, turning leaves on trees, and a hike down by the Cumberland River to Eagle Falls helped, but weren’t even necessary. It was just so good to be away with my family, enjoying time. Peace. The outside. The routine of our life camping.

We stayed four nights during which we did very little, other than hike, eat, read, and toast marshmallows. We climbed up to Cumberland Gap in a day trip east, which was lovely. If you hike on up to the Tri-State Mountain you can stand in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee at the same time. And the views from the scenic drive overlook were amazing.

Another nice surprise was how enjoyable it was being around other campers. Most people were friendly, even while keeping a distance, and many were talkative. As I passed one woman coming from the Falls overlook, she smiled at me, I smiled back, and I was reminded of the good old days–it lifted my spirits so much to see her smile.

We stayed four nights. I wish it could have been longer, but I am so thankful for this respite in a challenging year.

Posted October 31, 2020 by swanatbagend in Uncategorized

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I am a witness   Leave a comment

I am a witness.

I’m a witness to God’s goodness and mercy and I want other people to know that he’s real and that he’s good and that he’s love.

I’m not a witness because God has answered all my prayers.  I’m not a witness because I’m the greatest person or the most talented or most blessed or anything like that.  I’m not a witness to amazing, giant acts of God that anyone could see must be God working.  They’re pretty small when weighed against the world.

I’m a witness because although I continue to deal with chronic health problems, as I have for years, what I have found is that somehow he has kept me going through it all.  When I couldn’t get out of bed, he provided.  When I had no hope, somehow the day passed.  He is taking care of me by giving me something to do and the strength to do it, every. single. day.

Can’t say I have what I wanted, but I have what I need, and I wanted to tell you.

Posted September 14, 2020 by swanatbagend in faith, health, mental health

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Learning to Let You Go   Leave a comment

One of the hardest things to do is to let your children go.  I have two adult children.  One is on his own, the other still at home, but, probably not for too much longer.  My youngest is much taller than I am and working on getting his driver’s permit.  I’m confident we’ll see his eighteenth birthday in what will feel like just a few weeks, and he’ll be off soon as well, leaving me thinking, what just happened here?

It’s so strange to be at this end of the parenthood continuum.  It was just a few years ago that my oldest was born.  I remember thinking, with not a little panic, “I have eighteen years of this — how will I ever survive?”  How will this tiny baby grow up when I don’t know what I’m doing?  How am I going to make it through this parenting thing?  What have I gotten myself into?

But here I am with an almost 25 year old, a 20 year old and a sixteen year old.  And now I’m having to ask very different questions.  They sound a lot like the original ones, but at the same time they’re quite different.  Try this one:

“I don’t have many more years of this — how will I ever survive this change?”

Or how about, “How will I grow into this new phase when I don’t know how to empty-nest?”

And, “How am I going to make it through this big life transition?”

What have I gotten myself into?

I’ve given my heart away to three very different, very precious, very wonderful people who are no longer small.  The time that I just couldn’t imagine coming is right at hand.  For a long time, they needed me a lot.  Now they are strong, owning their lives.  It’s good, very good.

But I’m finding it hard to let them go.

Posted August 17, 2020 by swanatbagend in motherhood, parenting

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Why Else Do We Live?   Leave a comment

I wrote about this quote from Cry, the Beloved Country six years ago.  It still makes its way into my thoughts as I think about the next thing to do and what God wants me to do today.

So far of quarantine I can safely say I’m one of the non-fans.  Some people I know, most of them introverts, or at least people who are tired of the rat race, have enjoyed the opportunity to be home and do projects they want to.  Creativity and peace have been unleashed.  Then there are those of us who liked our routine the way it was, who have been disconcerted as trips, get-togethers and even regular routines have been cancelled.  Of course we have all been saddened by the news of people who are fighting COVID-19, and grieved or frustrated by the once in a lifetime events that didn’t happen.

But in the process of trying to keep a routine going, putting together what are we doing today, when the options have been so much more limited, I’ve come back to this phrase.

Some of the things we have done included trying out a lot of new trails in the Parklands (this was in the spring before it got hot), reading a book together in the evening, grocery shopping, volunteering in two different places regularly, and enjoying a family movie night with Coke and popcorn every Saturday.  I also invested time in reaching out to people I knew might need some encouragement.  I sent gifts to my nephews.  I offered help to people I knew who couldn’t get out safely.  In short, in a time of very limited options, I have worked to make a life.

Life is pretty simple these days.  I take care of myself.  I take care of others.

But then, why else do we live?

Posted July 30, 2020 by swanatbagend in community

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Waiting   Leave a comment

Did you ever consider how much of life is spent waiting?

I don’t mean in the drive thru, in the check out line, after the child’s activity for him to get his belongings together.

I’m talking the other waiting.

There’s waiting for something to change, or waiting while you’re working on a project, in school, waiting to reach your goal.  Waiting for a reason that you can’t control.  Waiting for someone to get better, or for you to get better, or for someone you love to change.

Waiting for COVID-19 to die and for us to get out of our masks and into each others’ arms.

Waiting is an art form, and I haven’t mastered it.  Today more than ever one wants to know how to wait well.

Living in the present, alive to the current moment, is ideally balanced with waiting.

We wish.  We hope.  But sometimes not.

Posted July 24, 2020 by swanatbagend in reflections, waiting

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