Sewing Seeds for the Future – Queen of Ordinary April 1, 2015

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Photos from Pine Mountain Settlement School – Pine Mountain, Kentucky USA

It is very easy to look at spring’s beautiful blossoms popping up and take for granted that they were there last year, are coming up again this year, and will be there next year.  Some are from seeds, some from bulbs, all carefully planned and arranged.  While we appreciate the loveliness, we may not think any deeper about how they got there.

At some point in time every flower garden, every manicured lawn, every contained patch of blossoms was planned and planted by someone.  While nature’s profusion of springtime beauties grows wild and amazing, reseeding the land and returning every year without human hands, flower gardens are not so.

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Someone had to have a preference for certain flowers to take time to plant them in a flower garden.  They may have liked the color, the length of staying power of each flower, or the season in which the flower blooms.  It takes thought, working in the dirt, tending the plants, and pulling weeds to make a flower garden a picture of beauty.  Often, the person who took such great care with their plants passes away and someone else picks up where they left off, perhaps adding other specimens from time to time. 

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Photos from Biltmore House and Gardens – North Carolina, USA

As we go through life, we are planting seeds of good or evil along our way.  Some we can tend and get to see the blossoms for ourselves.  Others will bloom when we aren’t looking.  And still others will be tended by hands we know nothing about.

The spring delights I have seen in the last few days reminded me of the parable Jesus spoke of about the sower of seeds.

Matthew 13 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Parable of the Sower

13 On the same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea. And great multitudes were gathered together to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore.

Then He spoke many things to them in parables, saying: “Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Let us sow our seeds of faith, love, and goodness as we have opportunity to do so, knowing that not all will survive, but in confidence that there will be seeds the spring up gloriously, grow, and bear fruit long after we know about it.

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The Abbeys of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – Queen of Ordinary – November 17, 2014

DSCN5209DSCN5214 DSCN5215  The abbeys of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are amazing.

Even though most of them are now in ruins, the beauty of design, the layout of the structures and the locations compared to the lay of the land are stunning.  Some are more memories than reality, and some are still in tact, but most are somewhere in between.

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I could only imagine what these places were like in their full glory days.  I was fascinated with the stone work, the precision, the beauty, and the endurance of these structures that are hundreds of years old.  The fact that this incredibly beautiful places were built and consecrated to those in ministry who had given their lives to serve God says something about the value set on relationship with God in that time frame.

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Most of these ancient abbeys are currently under historic protection and the grounds are maintained through government programs.  In these photos were The Abbey at Cong, Creevelea, Kylemore, Dryburgh, Jedburgh, and Melrose.  The buildings may be crumbling, but the sense of being in a holy place is still very strong.  But then maybe the buildings put is in such a reverent frame of mind that we were more acutely aware of the Spirit of God within us.

Facing the Fear of Heights and More – Queen of Ordinary November 16, 2014

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An Irish View of the Ocean

On this day in Ireland we were heading to Slieve League along the Sky Road and to walk across the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.  We took a wrong road somewhere, but just look what we found by mistake!

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I don’t know who took the time to write “I love you” with the rocks at the bottom of the cliffs, just beyond the ocean’s reach, but I’m so glad they did.   When I saw it, it felt like it was a message from God to us on our journey.  We thought we had made a wrong turn, but perhaps it was just because God wanted to share this unscheduled beautiful view with us.

We did make it on to our adventure at Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.  It was one of the toughest things I made myself do on our whole trip.  I have a deep rooted fear of heights.  Just looking at photos of things at a great height make my liver quiver!  Looking over the edge of something, even if I’m behind a railing, makes me woozy.  But I made myself take the long hike out to the rope bridge stretched between two cliffs about 100 feet above the ocean surging against the rocks below, and forced myself to face my fears and walk across anyhow.

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For someone as afraid of heights as I am, it’s a miracle that I ever crossed the bridge in the first place.  I kept saying to myself, “Help, me Lord…” and “Look at her back, and don’t look down,” about the person in front of me from our group.  But on the way back, there had been children jumping up and down to make the bridge sway and bounce, so the fear was doubled.  I had a death grip on the ropes on both sides and was only able to make my feet move about six inches at a time.  I was too afraid to be embarrassed about holding up the people behind me!  I truly thought I had made a mistake by crossing over in the first place.

Our tour guide, Coty Sloan, had crossed way in front of us and positioned himself on a cliff overlooking the bridge to get a group photo of us crossing together.  It surely didn’t happen.  Karen went on ahead of me and left me far behind with blank space, bride, and ocean staring up at me.  Sandy was behind me waving at Coty, and I was too terrified to look anywhere besides at the boards in front of me.

IMG_6606 Coty is the speck on this cliff facing us and no good photo for his trouble!

Sometimes we question the path that we are on and wonder if we are on the wrong one.  At times fear may paralyze us when the gulf between where we are and where we need to be is so great.  But, if we ask Him to go with us, God is there every step of the way across that divide and to the safe place we are heading.

I didn’t think I was going to make it back across that bridge without fainting, but I kept reminding myself of Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.”

I Have So Many Photos, I Don’t Know What to Do – Queen of Ordinary November 16, 2014

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I have been home one month from our big adventure and I’m still sorting through photos.  I tried to categorize them by date, but my camera went wackydoodle and every time I changed SD cards, it went to some random date from the past.  Complicate that with the fact that I had two cameras going – a small one for shooting out the car window and a bigger one for tours, etc.  Needless to say, I have some issues with getting things in the right place.

Considering that I took over 10,000 photos in the month I was away, I’m doing pretty well with working through them in this length of time.  I’ve already deleted over 2,000 because they were blurred or duplicates.  I think I’ve seen them all, then I discover another little batch with one or two amazing shots in it.  The photos I use in my blog are not necessarily the best ones, but  ones that bring back the feeling or the memories of having been there.  I’ve included a few in this blog from one file – Driving through Scotland.

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Looking at all of these images has burned the experience into my heart and brain.  I know where home is and where my heart is, but Scotland and Ireland have taken root inside of me as well.  I miss the people I traveled with as if they have become part of my family.  A month with strangers has a way of turning them into friends.

This mountain of digital photos I’m still working through will certainly keep the dream and the people alive.  But I want to get them organized, categorized, filed away, and give it a rest.  I have a novel to finish, the holidays to manage, and all the demands of day to day life, so I really need to be able to have peace about all of these images and let them go for a while.  I’m so very thankful for God’s blessings on this journey, for being able to make the trip, and for having the privilege to photograph such a wide variety of beautiful things.  With this in mind, it seems like having this ton of images organized in a way that can be useful is part of my responsibility after having made the journey.

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I’m wondering how other camera crazy people decompress after such a journey and so many photos to work through.  Any good advice is welcomed.

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I’ll Pick Door Number – I Don’t Know! – Queen of Ordinary – November 13, 2014

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Most of us have probably watched the TV game show where the contestant tries to figure out which door has the greatest prize behind it.  Sometimes the door opens to reveal a fabulous trip, a new car, or a brand new kitchen.  At other times behind the door is a giant box of cereal, a donkey, or a broken down bicycle.  A laugh or a thrill was behind every door (as long as we were the viewers and not the receivers).

Wouldn’t it be great if all of the RIGHT doors with the biggest pay offs were  flaming red?  As hard as we might try to make the best choice, sometimes we get the donkey instead of the car!

On our recent trip to Ireland and Scotland, I found the doors fascinating.  Where I live, doors are usually not that notable.  They are metal or wood, usually a drab color, and sometimes dressed up with a wreath.  Not so in those two beautiful countries.  Doors were as many and varied as the landscape.  It made me want to come home and paint my own door some brilliantly cheerful color.  (Which I haven’t done yet.)

There are times in life when it doesn’t matter which door we choose.  They all lead to the same destination from different approaches.  But there are other times when choosing the right door makes all the difference.  Those are the doors I wish were painted red or enhanced with something so ornate it immediately would get our attention.

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Door are symbolic of so many things… as many as our imagination produces.  The Bible has a lot to say about doors.

Revelation 3:8 -“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with him.

Matthew 6:6

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

John 10:1

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Many times we pray after we have opened the wrong door in our lives and desperately trying to go back to the moment before we opened or search diligently for the right door only after we’ve opened the obviously wrong one.  Wouldn’t it be so much better if we learned to pray and seek God’s voice before we open any new door in our lives including new relationships, new business ventures, new job choices, or major purchases?

Father, lead us to the right doors in our lives that no man can shut and only You can open.

“The Quiet Man” – Queen of Ordinary – November 10,, 2014

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One of the best surprised on my recent trip to Ireland was on the day we went to fly falcons at the school of falconry.  We had parked the car and were walking toward the facility where we would work with the falcons when we realized we were standing in the very place where part of The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara had been filmed.  What a joy!

The Quiet Man has long been one of my favorite movie classics.  I loved the images of Ireland, their customs, lands, and homes portrayed in the movie.  I don’t know if the little lady inside heard my squealing with delight, but she came out of the Danagher’s home and started talking to us.  She is the daughter of the man who owned the cottage when the movie was filmed way back in its day.  John Wayne and her father had become friends.  Maureen O’Hara had been a lovely young woman who was kind to everyone and had returned in recent years to visit this woman’s mother before she passed.DSCN5329 DSCN5318

Every detail was a delight.  She and her family along with community members had been extras in the movie.  Then she took us inside her house!  There was the table where Squire Danagher knocked the dowry money to the floor!  There was the China that Maureen O’Hara had served her brother and works from in the film.  All around the room I saw things I recognized from the movie.  The suitcase John Wayne had carried at the beginning of the movie was sitting on an honored shelf.

She was the sixth consecutive generation to live in the house!  When a door unexplainably opened and closed by itself, as if someone had come into the room with us, she looked, but never missed a beat in her story telling, and never made reference with what had just happened.  Maybe some other family members had dropped in on the fun.

It was all such a blur and we were in a rush to get to our appointment at the School of Falconry that we cut short what I would have loved to lingered with.  BUT I surely didn’t want to miss the lesson in falconry.

My brother had said if he was going with me, the only place he really knew he wanted to see in Ireland was the place where The Quiet Man was filmed.  I had no idea we would be there.  In the village, the bar where the big fight scene took place was still standing.  A statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was on the square.  A shop was named for the movie.

Our tour guide had not arranged this lovely encounter.  Truly, it was a gift from God – a point of joy for us and for the Danagher daughter.  Sometimes we plead with God for things we think we want and sometimes he just surprises us with a gift because He knows the desires of our hearts.DSCN5289 IMG_5939

Praising God Makes a Difference – Queen of Ordinary – November 9, 2014

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Pictured above is Coty Sloan, travel guide, Christian recording artist, violinist.  Spending nearly a month with this young man was a joy.  His passion for the Celtic lands we visited (Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales) coupled with his enthusiasm for sharing these lovely places with us made our journey delightful.

Part of our planned activities included visiting old abbeys, castles, and churches.  Sometimes the medieval structures still had a chapel in tact.  Of all the things I loved about our journey, finding those holy places still standing and safe to enter was right at the top of that list.  The acoustics in such places are phenomenal.

We were blessed to have Coty with us, a young man with a heart for God, and an anointed voice to sing God’s praises.  There were times when he sang that it literally sounded as if the angels of heaven joined in the songs.

I have had this impression before in other places, other churches, where the worship was so sincere, whatever person or little hand full of praise team that was singing would suddenly sound like they were joined by a heavenly choir.

It made me wonder about the designs of the ceilings and walls in these holy places that were formed to bounce the faintest sounds off of the walls.  Did they know the effect the stones and shape of the room would have on the human voice?  Did they realize that one person’s voice echoing from stone to stone would be so glorious?

Even so, in those moments when we align our worship and sing our songs in true adoration of God, I believe the angels may truly join in with us.

What if the angels are praising and worshipping God all around us?  Perhaps their voices are just out of the range of human hearing.  Maybe there are those among us who can sometimes hear those voices, capture those praises, and then translate them into melodies and phrases of worship which the rest of us can join.

We are as children of God called to worship Him.  Worship is one of the mightiest weapons of our warfare in this life.  Fear cannot stand in the presence of worship.  Anger and doubt melt away when we enter into worship.  Unsettled hearts are soothed by worship.  The enemy of our souls will flee from the presence of true worship.  What is glorious in Our Father’s ears becomes torment in his.

There is power in praise.  Remember the story of Paul and Silas who had been taken captive and thrown into a Roman jail, shackled, beaten, and assumed to be broken?  They responded to their circumstances by singing and offering praises unto God with miraculous results.

Their story is found in the Book of Acts, Chapter 16 (KJV).

And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,

20 And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,

21 And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.

22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.

23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:

24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.

27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.

29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.

33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”

Paul and Silas had a choice to make.  They could have sat down, felt sorry for themselves, railed against God, and let bitterness set in.  Instead, they chose to sing praises unto God, which set off this miraculous chain of events.

The next time you are faced with difficulty, you have a choice about the way you respond to it.  Praising God in the midst of our challenges is always a good choice.  Not matter what else is going on in our lives, God is ALWAYS worthy of our praise.

** Anyone interested in contacting Coty Sloan regarding upcoming tours may do so at: http://sloantravel.co/

Anyone interesting in joining Coty on his musical journey of praise can listen to his music or order CDs through a Google search for Coty Sloan MusicIMG_5848 (2)  IMG_1389

Spiritual Dreams and Their Relevance Today – Queen of Ordinary – November 7, 2014

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Glendaloch Monastic Settlement – Ireland

Have you ever had a dream that haunted you for years?  Have you ever dreamed anything in such vivid color and specific detail that you knew it was significant the moment you woke up?

In our Appalachian culture, dreams are still considered significant.  Not all dreams have a message or deeper meaning, but I am convinced that some definitely do.  I believe that all people probably have dreams in the course of their lifetime that are for warning, instruction, or revelation, but not all people take them seriously.

I saw the tower above in a dream that I will share in this post over THIRTY years ago, but the dream remained with me and vivid ever since.  It has often replayed in my head like a giant movie screen, reminding me of the instructions it held.

The Bible actually has a lot to say about dreams.

Acts 2:17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

Amos 3:7 “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.”

Incredible Rock Formations: Giant’s Causeway – Queen of Ordinary – November 6, 2014

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Wikipedia Describes The Giant’s Causeway:  The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns – the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.

It is located on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland about three miles (4.8 km) northeast of the town of Bushmills. It was declared a World Heritage site in 1986. In a 2005 poll of Radio Times readers, the Giant’s Causeway was named as the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven or eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres (39 ft) high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres (92 ft) thick in places.

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Can you imagine standing on the edge of creation, watching continents collide, oceans roar, and lava ooze upwards from the center of the earth?  Giant’s Causeway is in incredible place with the evidence of shafts of lava that pushed upward and against each other to form this extraordinary place at the edge of the ocean.

Being there was awe inspiring.  Why don’t these formations form everywhere there are volcanic eruptions?  Why did they form in this place?  Just as it pleased God to create such a diversity of plant and animal life in the earth, it seems to have pleased Him to make even the rock formations varied and unique.

If a person doesn’t believe in God, they probably would not be impressed by these things.  But for those of us who do believe in God, the Earth declares His glory.  Giant’s Causeway is definitely one of those places.

We Don’t Always Need to Question “WHY?” – Queen of Ordinary – November 6, 2014

IMG_1743  DSCN5522DSCN6843  Photos from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales

I am a person who always wants to understand the “Why?” of things.  I want to be able to logically sort through events and make sense of them.  Like a child, I usually have more questions than answers.

On a recent trip through the countries of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales I was tempted over and over to try to figure out the “why?” of it.  Why was I there?  Why had I had such a deep inner longing to be there for decades?  Why had God sent me on this journey?

It hit me very hard one day that if I didn’t quit trying to figure out all of the “whys” in this big adventure, that I was actually going to miss some of them.  The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart that I was supposed to enjoy the journey in the journey.

I was there to taste life in a different place, absorb as much of the beauty, the culture, the people, and the landscape as I possibly could.  It would take a very long time to seek out the whys and I could do that after I got home.  So, I let go of trying to figure it out and just enjoyed what was in front of me.  I’ve been home almost three weeks and there isn’t a day that I don’t think of something we saw or did in a new way, or process it with a new understanding.

I wonder how many other people in this world fail to enjoy the “now” instead of picking it apart looking for the “why”?  Since I consider myself to be quite ordinary, I dare say there are many others who are guilty of the same thing.

If someone hands us a gift, “Why?” should not be the first thing that comes to our mind.  When God showers His great love and gifts on us, we shouldn’t waste the gift or our time trying to figure it out.  Just enjoy.

I Corinthians 2:12 says, “12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

Even though I am borrowing this verse out of context, there is so much that God has freely given us in this world just because He loves us.  May we learn to embrace those gifts without staining them with the constant question of “why”.