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In Live more simply

Why you never want to be without a friend

“There never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to, once you find them,” sang Jim Croce. Summer days are like this. Even though the sun lingers long after the children are tucked in, there is not enough time to do the things you want.

My husband and I spent a handful of wonderful days listening to the lake lap the shore while we lay in our bed – windows flung open, inviting the cool night in.

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tiny boat

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It was idyllic summer caught momentarily in four days. Tender grass, emerald water, soft sand, bright cherries, vines in rows and padded chairs in deep shade. We could hear life grow.

Yet, all this would have been dulled without that one important ingredient – friendship. We shared a few blissful summer days with friends – and that made all the difference.

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Here are some things I observed about friendship:

Thing # 1: Ice cream is better when licked by a friend. The best ice cream parlor in all the world was discovered. Overlooking the meadows where the very cows that provided the cream grazed the good grass, we licked their bounty. Then we offered each other a lick, flavors mingling. I discovered that salted caramel is delicious and now I can order something different from my usual chocolate chip. Friends lead us to discover parts of our self, previously unknown. Friends see us in ways we cannot see ourselves and through encouragement or challenge or acceptance, they draw us closer to what the Spirit wills for us.

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Thing # 2: Deer pop out of nowhere when you travel with friends. Driving down a country lane, the canopy high above and dappled shade all around, a deer gently stepped out of the tall grass to greet us. She looked at us and we looked at her. Windows were wound down quietly and Nature whispered in. Calmly she stood, her home all around us. Tiny blue flowers, sweet foliage and soft ears, tipped to their highest, mesmerized us. Unexpected pleasures are a part of friendship. Stepping out of the shadows and allowing our self to be vulnerable in the light brings a beauty so gentle, so healing, so profound it can only stem from the Perfect Friendship of the father, son and holy ghost.

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Thing # 3: The fire is warmer where friends gather. When the sun finally plopped into the lake at night leaving the air cool off the water, we gathered around the fire pit, toes barefoot and close. The warmth came not so much from the flames but from the voices and the laughter. We spoke of all things and of no things and the love of God danced in ebb and flow. Friends bring warmth into our life. It is a glimmer of the Trinity after which we are shaped.

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True friendships are forged through patient paths and rough roads, through celebration and sorrow, through trial and heartbreak. Each smile, each tear, each misunderstanding and each full understanding is worth the strength deep in our core that others, once strangers but now friends, gift to us.

“As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” – Proverbs 27:17

In Live more simply

This, every parent should do this summer

This is the first time I am fully experiencing summer in the United States. That steady slowdown until schools closed was reminiscent of my lifetime of summers in the Southern Hemisphere.

Summer is for childhood.  Long days to plan games without end, barefoot climbing, soft T-shirts and turn-up shorts, blankets laid in deep shade upon which dreams of nothing and everything are formed. Family trips to the beach, digging holes to China, ice cream, sunburns and soothing aloe lotion. Staying up way beyond your bedtime and finally drifting to sleep between cool sheets, the quiet content of mom and dad in the background. Summer … that idyllic time of childhood.

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crawling in ocean

surfing together

fishing

And so it should be.

Childhood is when we are protected – from ourselves and from the bad things that go on in this world. We adults know that the world continues being wicked and cruel and terrible evils don’t stop for summer. War, hate, famine. We know all too well that these continue.

Yet, summer is for childhood and for savoring parenthood. For making memories for children and for protecting them for as long as we can from noticing that the world does not stop when school is out.

Summer is for helping them notice fat bees and pollen and floating clouds and the neighbor’s funny dog. It’s for chasing cats up trees and riding bikes and visiting with grandparents.

bee on nasturtium

pollen

sunflowers

Parents, please savor this time. Be intentional. Make memories. For us who live in the the world of adults, we know that childhood ends all too quickly and reality is about shootings in Orlando and hating needlessly.

But, we don’t burden our children with this yet. Their time will come. In the meantime, we protect them and we cover over the truths by redirecting them to the joys of this world. Joys that summer brings in basket loads. Peaches and watermelon and juice dripping down chins that will forever remind them of the taste of a season that is warm and soft and full of glorious potential.

Fill that potential for your children. Make this summer multitudes of moments that will forever be remembered. A summer where backyards become pirate ships and that blanket under the tree becomes a secret passage to the moon.

collecting berries

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Turn off the technology and, this summer, turn on the magic. For childhood is but fleeting and summer does come to an end and yes, the world is crazy.  Until then, give your child the harvest of this season: Love that covers a multitude of sins.

“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 3:12-13

In Live more simply/ Worship more fully

Finding Christmas on the Railroad

The sun glowed gold behind the barns as we traveled west through Illinois and into the plains of Iowa. Long afternoon shadows rested on the fallow soil. The farmers were now busy elsewhere during this cold season and I gave thanks. Thanks to Jesus for farmers and for food and for growing things and for rest from growing things.

My husband and I were taking a trip. To rest from growing things.

Two days and two nights across the United States in a train. To rest from ministry and growth and work.   To simply enjoy the gift of creation as we gently swayed on two tracks. From Illinois to California. This was to be our first American Railroad Trip.

California track

The Great Hall of Union Station in Chicago testified to the grand old days of the Railroad. Amidst the tall skyscrapers of this modern city, the majestic Great Hall warmly embraced us, dressed up in her Christmas splendor. She was built during the era of prohibition and gangsters. In my imagination I saw Al Capone lurking behind her marble walls and her Corinthian columns. I was reminded of how shallow earthly kingdoms truly are and how easily they fall.

Chicago Union Station

Our sleeper coach was smaller than expected. Knees touched as my husband sat opposite me. The bathroom facilities and shower are probably best suited to an elf. (Offer me grace – it is Christmas time and elf is what comes to mind.) Two tall people in a small space for two days took a bit of management. I have a few bruises on my elbow that speak of the times we moved around without prior thought. They are battle scars of an adventure we would gladly take again. Besides, we spent our daytime in the Lounge with its huge picture windows and ever changing scenery.

Iowa slid away into the setting sun. As we stepped into the dining cart, Nebraska became our nighttime home. White tablecloths, friendly staff and a surprisingly decent dinner was made all the more enjoyable as we swopped stories with fellow travelers. Everything on a train is compact so you don’t get the luxury of dining at a private table.

Nebraska track

Dining Cart

Our armchairs had been turned into beds when we stepped back into our berth – a bottom double bed (for two elves or one human wife) and a top stretcher type bed (for one husband). We fell asleep talking to each other like school kids at camp as the train swayed on her tracks.

Morning saw us leave the desert beauty and climb the majestic Rocky Mountains. The tracks wind their way along the Colorado River. We saw bald eagles, coyote, deer, rugged rocks, flowing rivers, tall trees and not a single human or vehicle. Just our train, our God and our quiet thoughts.

Rockies from window

Top windows

The second morning we had breakfast as Utah slipped behind us. The long mornings of winter darkness prevented us from seeing much of this State. I settled down in the Lounge for a day of reading, pre-judging Nevada as desert and neon cities.

I have never been more wrong.

Fresh snow had fallen during the night. It gently covered the landscape and enveloped our train into a Christmas scene of which carolers sing. As far as the eye could see, the untouched snow sparkled in the sun that snuck through the heavy clouds. Brilliant patterns were carved into rivers that had frozen mid-stream over rocks. Tracks from a lone animal trailed across fields of wonder.

Tree and sun

River and sun

Shadows in snow

I am beyond grateful for this unexpected Christmas gift of Nevada in the snow.  All I could think was “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to all men.”

Christ-mass is about celebrating His glory and the peace he bring to Earth. I found that celebration, that peace, that Christmas in a place I had initially scorned.

Somewhere Nevada turned into California and the beauty just kept coming until we slowly wound our way down into the valley and the snow turned into city and Sacramento came all too soon.

Nevada track

This world, this creation, this planet is a gift of astonishing beauty. From human ingenuity in the cities that we have built to the sacred sanctuaries of nature we are charged to protect, this world, this life, this very breath we breathe is a gift.

May you be reminded of the true gifts that only Jesus can give this Christmas season.

As you give gifts, may you give them with the generosity of spirit and the heart of love with which God has given to us.

Merry Christ-mass.

snowy berries

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply/ Worship more fully

Dorothy’s Oil – what is this oil that brings healing to so many?

Top Village lies in the African dust on the North Eastern side of a road that goes to more important places. The village itself is unassuming and barely noticeable by the fast moving cars; a few corrugated shacks, some government low cost houses and a remnant of mud brick homes that testify to a bygone era. To the experienced eye it is these mud homes that differentiate Top Village from the countless squatter communities that pain South Africa. You see, Top Village is a village in the true sense of the African word. It has a long history, a tribal authority, a Head Man and villagers who remember the old ways. Granted, it is mostly the senior inhabitants that know how to properly greet one another and who remember the terrible droughts that killed the cattle. Yet, it is these seniors who, with a quiet dignity, keep the community together.

One such senior was Dorothy.

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I met Dorothy through her sister, one of our patients who died of AIDS. Dorothy, like the rest of the village at that time, did not truly understand what was happening to her loved ones. The disease that was ravaging her people took her sister and all three her daughters.

This is an unspeakable pain.

Dorothy is of the old ways where you dig deep during adversity and you stand straight and you roll up your sleeves and you get to work.

And so she did.

She found out all she could about this disease, her enemy. She volunteered her services and like a solider on a mission, she faced her foe with bravery beyond measure. Every day Dorothy walked along those dusty village paths, seeking the sick. When she found one, that one was truly found. With a relentless love, Dorothy would care.

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One of the weapons in her arsenal was what we dubbed “Dorothy’s Oil”. From a nurse on a mission trip Dorothy learnt how to give therapeutic massages. Nobody was safe after this. Every patient was slathered with oil and persistently rubbed. If you happened to be a friend or a relative visiting that patient, your shoes and socks were promptly removed and your feet too got a dose of Dorothy’s Oil.

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Another of her weapons against the enemy that was taking her loved ones was joy. Dorothy had a way of drawing laughter from those in the very company of death. Her eyes would twinkle mischievously as she told an old, forgotten story of some village antic and a smile would come to ward off the pain.

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The truth is that the real balm, the true oil of Dorothy was her love. Dorothy loved Jesus and Dorothy let Jesus love through her. This is how Dorothy became one of the best Care Givers I have ever seen and by far one of the best people I have ever known.

This balm, this soothing oil has been poured out to each one of us – freely. God, through his infinite love, poured himself out for our healing. Sometimes He uses people like Dorothy. Sometimes he reaches us through writings like this. Sometimes through our pastor or our friend. Always, He simply loves us in the quiet of our heart – no matter what we have done or where we have been. His love is a soothing, healing oil.

The last time I saw Dorothy was two weeks ago. She was leading a group of us through the village, from patient to patient. She walked strong and true and never faltered.

Dorothy Mogapi died a few days ago – a soldier of Christ to the very last breath.

I believe that Jesus is anointing her feet with oil.

Mama Dorothy, we salute you.

In memory of Dorothy, Orchard: Africa has started a fund called “Dorothy’s Oil“. It is a fund to be used for the continued work, training, equipping and the care of Care Givers. Care Givers work in the homes of the poorest of the poor, the sick and the forgotten. They provide palliative care, support family members, care for the orphaned children and are a beacon of hope to thousands upon thousands of people dying of AIDS. Care Givers are the hands and feet of Jesus. In honor of Dorothy, you can make a contribution to Dorothy’s Oil Fund here.

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

What On Earth Are We Doing?

When NASA recently released its second Blue Marble photo in 43 years, I was captured by the intense beauty of planet Earth. When they released their first Blue Marble photograph in 1972, I was a child and oblivious. Now I am an adult and I am enraptured.

Earth.

What an extraordinary gift God has given to mankind.

The beauty, the depth, the intensity and the pure genius of this planet are far beyond the most talented artist or brilliant scientist.

Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene Cernan has been quoted several times in articles about the Blue Marble photo. It is a worthy quote, repeated here:

“…you’re looking at the most beautiful star in the heavens — the most beautiful because it’s the one we understand and we know, it’s home, it’s people, family, love, life — and besides that it is beautiful. You can see from pole to pole and across oceans and continents and you can watch it turn and there’s no strings holding it up, and it’s moving in a blackness that is almost beyond conception.”

Earth.

I write this as I sit and watch zebra drinking a few yards from me. I am beyond privileged to visit this National Reserve. It is one of the most beautiful places on this planet and sacred in it’s task of preserving Africa’s wildlife.

zebra

jackal

giraffe

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As I sit in the shade of this African rock, and I look at the stunning image of this Blue Marble rock we call home, I am compelled to ask, “What on earth are we doing?”

We live in a world where baby parts are harvested then sold over lunch. Where abortion clinics purport to care for the safety of women, but do so at the expense of their babies. What on earth are we doing? I want to live in a world where women are optimally cared for as well as a world where babies are born. Not one or the other but both.

I recently visited two women who live in tin shacks. One had a two-roomed shack made of rusted corrugated iron and broken pieces of cardboard. The roof leaked badly above her as she lay in her sick bed. This is living at its worse. Or so I thought until I visited the second woman. She lived in a cardboard hovel with no windows and no door. She, too, was sick. The rain poured in. The bed on which she lay, as well as her thin blankets, were soaking wet.

“Dear God!” I cried. “Why?”

What on earth are we doing?

I am happy to report that both women received homes made from new corrugated iron with windows and doors and no leaks. This is a huge step forward but … I want to live in a world where nobody has to live in a tin shack.

This I write, not to make anybody feel guilty for what they own. In fact, I urge you to get as educated as you can and work at the best organizations and earn as much as you can so that you can help women like these who will never have the same opportunities.

We live in a world where people shoot each other, almost any time and any place.  Where churches are not held as safe and sacred places and where authorities randomly shoot and get shot. What on earth are we doing?  I want to live in a world where communities stand together and build up not tear down, where children are safely and wonderfully educated and where all have opportunities for development and growth.

This amazing Blue Marble plant called Earth is filled with animals, both small and large, full of majesty and dignity. We live in a world where beloved animals get lured out of their safe sanctuaries to get shot and beheaded. For no good reason. Or they have their horns hacked out and sold for the lie of extended sexual pleasure. Seriously? What on earth are we doing?

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What about our role as keepers of this planet? What happened to that?

Mankind is a steward of planet Earth. According to scripture we have been given the responsibility to rule over this beautiful creation. God has made us in his image. If we are like him, then surely we are to rule with love and with justice?  Surely?

Where is the love when babies are legally hacked up? Where is the justice when protected animals are beheaded? Where is our humanity when a sick woman lies in a soaking wet bed under a leaking roof made of cardboard?

I know that beautiful acts of compassion happen every day.  I know that love and justice exist and I know that good abounds.  But, today, as I look at our stunning Blue Marble planet, there are just too many issues that bother me. Deeply.

Surely we should ALL be asking, “What on earth are we doing?”

I know I can’t save the whole world. Neither can you. But, each of us can have influence in our circle. Each of us can make a change, no matter how small. We can speak up for those who have no voice. We can come alongside those who are fallen. We can stand up for those who have no platform. We can join together and with each contribution, large or small, we can change this planet we call home. Then, when we ask, “What on earth are we doing?” we can answer with certainty and with clarity, “We are about our Father’s business.”

“And he [Jesus] said to them: How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?” Luke 2:49

If you want to do something meaningful, but don’t know what or where, how about here?

Blue Marble image, NASA.  All other images belong to Michelle Tessendorf.

In Live more simply

This One Simple Life Change Will Help You Be More Successful and Fulfilled

He stood in the dappled shade, leaning against the bark of a tree. The meadow grass curled around his ankles and cattle grazed under his sleepy watch. The stress-point of his day was probably when I moved in too close to one of the calves, intent on getting my photo just right. He meandered over, slapped the animal on the rump whilst making eye contact with me. I took the hint and stepped back. The herder slowly made his way back to his tree while I continued my photography from a more acceptable distance. Bright clouds hovered around the surrounding mountains and migrating geese called to each other overhead. I’m not sure if life gets any slower than this.

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cows in field

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Slow.

Our current culture sees the word ‘slow’ as negative and to be avoided. Life is lived in a hurry, with many tasks to be accomplished in our allotted 24 hours. Yet, we all know that this produces stress, anxiety, bad eating habits, sour tempers and a deep desire to simply slow down.

Slowing down is a life change that will help us be more successful and fulfilled.

There are so many positives to ‘slow’.

Elite long distance runners find benefit in running slow during training. It builds aerobic fitness and endurance. To lean on a cliché, life is a marathon, not a sprint. If these elite athletes know to slow down, then perhaps we should take heed. Slowing down helps us make better decisions, pay better attention, see details, and avoid pitfalls. There are so many ways we can slow our life down that will help us win, like elite athletes.

Taking time to prepare a wholesome meal from naturally grown produce slows us down and creates an appreciation of the life cycle of seeds and their fruit and God’s bounty given especially for our sustenance.

Talking to our family over a meal slowly consumed opens pathways into our loved-one’s lives that may not even be noticed when we are in a hurry.

egg shells

cheese crackers

Allowing young children to walk along their own chosen path, discovering and collecting treasures along the way, builds curiosity in them and rediscovery of simple life pleasures in us.

Unhurried dates with our spouse produces understanding, compassion and desire – ingredients that go a long way toward a fulfilling marriage.

Careful attention to our work, taking time to do it right, kindles a seemingly forgotten pride in a job well done. Focusing on a few things will help us master them and be truly successful.

Starting our morning off slowly, with time set aside to wake up with God, with ourselves and with our family sets our day in the right direction.

book and tea

feet in water

flowers and bee

Intentional acts of ‘slow and steady’ produces a different pace in our inner being. A pace that is simpler, smarter and more sustainable. A pace that is in tune with creation and all its’ goodness. A pace that values the beauty of life and sets eternity in our heart.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

 

All images belong to Michelle Tessendorf

In Lead more gently/ Live more simply

Why Your Next Small Endeavor Should Not Be Ignored

I am walking with my two-and-a-half year old grandson. He is small and, whilst in the stroller, he is even closer to the ground than usual. He chatters and comments about every little thing he spots lying around. From my high vantage point I can see ahead and there, to my dismay, lies a dead squirrel. I push a little faster and point out the berries in the tree above. It doesn’t work. We are no sooner past the dead critter when a little voice loudly shouts for me to stop. “Backup!” he instructs. I meekly comply because I know that arguing with him will accomplish Absolutely. Nothing. I back the stroller up to the sounds of beep-beep-beep coming from below. The two of us contemplate the dead squirrel. The creature is laying on his back, mouth gaping open, eyes stock-still in his head, legs sticking out like pegs. The once fluffy tail lies bedraggled beside him. I gape in horror, thankful that there is no blood and no guts hanging out anywhere. The child inspects the small creature for some time and then in a soft, sad voice he says, “Aww, the little squirrel.” Shamefully, I kick into overprotective grandma mode. “Oh, don’t worry,” I soothe. “Perhaps he’s just taking a nap.” My grandson looks incredulously at the stiff-as-a-plank, wide eyed squirrel and frowns at me.  Then all nonplussed and matter-of-fact he says, “Naaaah, I think he’s dead.”

Okay then.

We move on.

The moral of the story – small can be just as smart as big. (In this case, smarter.)

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I’m not sure where the phrase “go big or go home” originated but I’m not particularly impressed by it. I see God in the small all the time. The honesty and smartness of small children, the life changing effects of small kindnesses, the small daily choice to not loose our temper, or the small step of asking for forgiveness when we do. God, in all his magnificent glory, is in each one of these small acts.

Life is seldom determined by big, bold, over-the-top decisions. It is mostly small, daily moments and daily choices that set us on our path. When we, step-by-step, follow Jesus we find ourselves on the right path.

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Our ministry – that unique work that God wants to do through us – is typically not large and complicated and unattainable. It is one-step-at-a-time simple. It’s when we are overly impressed with wide and large and big that we miss the point entirely. It is not that big is bad and small is sacred. It is that both are immaterial to God. Jesus had immense impact in the lives of small groups as well as large crowds. He went about his Father’s business, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come, to the outcast and to the king and neither was more important than the other.

It is not that big is bad and small is sacred. It is that both are immaterial to God.

I’ve noticed that in creation, God has taken as much care with tiny flowers as he has with large trees. Both reflect his glory and his character. Both are beautiful beyond measure.

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small flowers

soft grass

orange berries

We live in a world that seems to disparage small and honor big.  This cultural trend can lead us to ignore small beginnings or small decisions or small moments.  Yet most endeavors big started off small.  If you truly look you will find that it grew large through the small, faithful steps of a few.

The small moments and small steps that are taken in obedience to God are important. They matter. These small steps deserve our attention when we take them.  Also, our support is needed when we see them taken in others. It is often these small steps that are the biggest leaps of faith.

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.” -Luke 16:10

In Live more simply

How Rainy Days Can Help You Move Forward With Clarity

A storm blew in during the night. Over the mountains surrounding our home the wind rushed, attacking with force. The sky poured down swords of ice water. Tall trees sagged under the weight of the onslaught, losing limbs in the fray. The battle was short but fierce.

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The old homestead and garden are experienced warriors, battle scarred but sturdy. In the light of day, we gathered around the warmth inside, watching water now softly fall from the sky, soothing the critters outdoors and calming the one’s inside.

Rainy days, both literally and figuratively, can be difficult. We are constrained by the pouring around us that makes everyday tasks a little more difficult. Protective gear gets hauled everywhere we go. Avoiding deep puddles requires that we pay more attention than we normally do. Should we, despite our best efforts, still get soaked, the feeling of being bedraggled is discomforting and constraining.

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What if, instead of seeing rainy days as a burden to be carried about and endured, we see them as a gift from God?

The Southern hemisphere is deep into winter, so I sat beside a fire, listening to the crackling in the hearth. The sound was comforting. Not so the jarring noises that are found online, on TV and on my phone. My rainy day was a gift to myself away from outside distractions.

Family gathered around warm drinks and spoke to one another – enjoying the exchange of ideas and opinions. The art of conversation is an endangered species in our world of short sound bites in less than 30 second videos. Talking a matter through from every angle broadens the mind and makes us understand our world and our problems a little better.

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Playing ‘pretend’ with my grandchild took me to foreign shores in our sofa car cum-boat-cum-space rocket. We explored the far regions of the galaxy where the good things of life, like cookies and candy, magically grow like flower petals ready for the picking. Stuffed animals speak out simple solutions to problems encountered along the way and you never run out of fuel to get where you want to go. In this land of Pretend, there are no rules and nothing is insurmountable. We are limited only by our imagination.

Cleaning out my desk drawers while the rain splattered on the windowpane was comforting. Deciding what was actually needed and what was simply being hoarded was a satisfying exercise. Tidying up and making sense of clutter is a liberating experience.

I wrote a few letters. There are people in my life who support me, encourage me, speak straight with me, who pour unconditional love into me – people who are quite simply my friends. I wrote to them and loved them back.

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At this point the rain stopped and my creative side kicked into full gear.  Looking from a different perspective will do this for us.

If we see them as a time to change our rhythm and lean into the tasks laid before us, rainy days can truly be a gift from God.  A gift that refreshes us, strengthens us and sets us on our path with new eyes and clearer vision.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

Featured image (first one) by Taylor Leopold.  All other images belong to Michelle Tessendorf