Uncategorized

Early Morning Adventure

I got up super early this morning and took the camera out. I am not one to get up early unless I have a good reason, and this morning I wanted to get to the creek before all of the swimmers and fishermen showed up. It is so peaceful in the early mornings with the sounds of the water and the birds. I even heard an owl and some frogs. And you can’t beat the smell of a creek. It brings back so many memories of fishing and swimming as a kid.

I arrived at the creek around 5:15am and it was still pretty dark. First, I walked around with my camera and an 18-55mm lens and scoped out the best place to set up. I did snap a few pictures of the clouds and the light reflecting in the water.

I picked a place to set up the tripod and camera to try some long exposure shots of the water flowing over the rocks and began shooting. I used anywhere from 1″ to 4″ shutter speed with a very low ISO to create the smoothness of the water. I switched over to my 70-200mm lens so I could zoom in on the “rapids”.

For long exposure photography, it’s really important that the camera doesn’t move while the shutter is open for extended periods. Instead of using a remote shutter release, I used the shutter timer for these shots. It’s a pretty simple trick to use if you don’t have a remote handy.

I had around 30 minutes of some great light for long exposures before I would have had to get the ND filters out of my bag. This was the perfect time of day for creating these shots!

This last photo is how the creek looks using “auto mode” to capture the scene. Still beautiful, but I love the smoothness the long exposure created.

While I was shooting this morning, there was a crane on the other bank looking for breakfast. The lighting wasn’t good enough to get a photo of him without using the flash and scaring him away. Maybe another time.

~Sondra

gratitude, Life, Uncategorized

Tornadoes & Rainbows

tornadoes and rainbows

A little backstory on the name of the blog:

I teach preschool and work with children ages 3-5 years old. Last year one of my students drew me a picture. If you’ve ever seen the art of this age group, you know that mostly it is straight lines and some circles. You can’t tell what the picture is unless you ask. And, for future reference, it’s best to ask in this way: “Tell me about your picture.” When you ask “What did you draw?” or when you assume and say “You drew a dinosaur” when in reality they drew a picture of their mom, well, it could end badly. So say things like, “Tell me about your picture.” Just trust me on this.

On this particular day, a five year-old girl brought me a picture that she drew on a half piece of construction paper. There are linear scribbles and what looks like a squiggly line. I said, “Susie (not her real name), tell me about your picture.” She said, “It’s tornadoes and rainbows.” I said, “You drew tornadoes and rainbows.” She then launched into a story about a storm recently when she was afraid of a tornado and at the end there was a rainbow.

And then it hit me. It’s all tornadoes and rainbows. Some days the storm clouds form and we might worry. Some days there are ligit storms that we must go through. And some days are rainbows. A beautiful, colorful, peaceful rainbow.

I’ve seen many tornadoes and rainbows in my life, as I am sure that you have as well. I’ve had storms. I’ve had emotional storms, health storms, financial storms, relational storms. As a mom and preschool teacher I’ve had days that feel like I’ve walked right into the path of a tornado. As a woman I’ve faced the storm of cancer. And I’ve rainbows. Rainbows like that friend who took my kids for an afternoon so I could catch up on housework. Rainbows like a hug from a preschool friend at just the right time. Rainbows like a friend who took every Tuesday off to take me to chemotherapy appointments. Rainbows like a day-trip to a baseball game with my adult sons. Rainbows like a peaceful Saturday spent with my husband. I could go on and on, but you know what I’m talking about and can fill in your own.

That day in preschool I learned something profound. Life is all just tornadoes and rainbows. Embrace them. The tornadoes help you grow, the rainbows give you peace. Without the tornadoes, you won’t appreciate the rainbows.

Uncategorized

De-Cluttering My Stuff

William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” While I love that quote, I have not lived by it.

I’ve been de-cluttering for what seems like 25 years. Seriously. I got married, acquired all this junk, and I’ve been trying to get rid of it for the past 25 years. I throw something away and three things immediately appear in its place. No joke.

I’ve read books, I’ve watched episodes of Horders for inspiration; and yet, I still have a junk problem. What gives?

This fall my husband and I bought a camping trailer. It isn’t fancy. In fact, we have a lot of work to fix it up. This summer it will be ready for me to live in. I’m a teacher, so I have the summer off and I’ve decided to do a little experiment in which I live in the camping trailer.

A little backstory. My husband works out and is gone through the week. And my two adult sons still live in our home. I need space. I need room to breathe. I need to be able to have a “no-pants” day when I want!

So I’ve decided to live in the renovated camper for the summer. When I decided this, of course, the first thing I thought of was, what can I take with me? And then I thought about all the stuff I have and what I could and could not live without. Oh my!

I have no idea what I’m going to take with me into the woods this summer, but one thing is for certain, I can’t take much.

Faith, Uncategorized

I Used To

I’m sitting here in my favorite chair. It’s dark. Everyone is asleep. Except for the humming of my heated back massager, the house is quiet. I can’t really be this old.

But I am this old. It’s not old as in “at the end of life” old. Or “silver-haired” old. More like “mid-life” old. Not quite “over-the-hill” old, but “I can see the summit from here” old. That’s where I am. At least I don’t have any gray hair yet.

As I sit here in my favorite chair, sipping my Coke Zero, and listening to the hum, I am thinking about something that stuck out to me in Bible study tonight: Seasons. It wasn’t the point of tonight’s lesson, but it’s what I took home. At one point in the lesson, the conversation went to the fact that we are all gifted in some way. God has given us special talents and gifts to use in ministry and for His glory. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do the works He had planned for us from the beginning. God created us to do certain things. All of us have different gifts, of course, but we’re to use them collectively to advance the Kingdom. Makes sense.

What struck me, however, was when the teacher of the class started asking us what we thought our gifts were. She asked the oldest one in the room first…a mighty woman of God who has lived for Him all her life. Her answer was, “Well, I used to teach, but I can’t do that anymore.” Next up was another senior citizen. Her response, “I used to bake bread, but I don’t do that anymore.” Next was another older lady who said, “I used to sing, but I don’t do that anymore.” All of these women are prayer warriors and encouragers and helpers now. Just because they can’t do what they used to do doesn’t mean they no longer do anything. It’s those three little words that hit me, though. “I used to.” Why? Because I can say those words, too. “I used to teach.” “I used to be a youth leader.” And you can say those three words, too. “I used to take care of the nursery.” “I used to clean the church.” “I used to _____________.” You fill in the blank. We all have things we used to do.

Is it wrong that we don’t do them anymore? Not necessarily, and that is what I am thinking about tonight. Life is made up of seasons. And God sometimes only calls us to a certain thing for a season. It’s not a bad thing when the season ends. It’s sometimes a hard thing when the season ends, but it’s not bad. It just means that He has other plans for you and needs to move you somewhere else.

And so I was curious and went online to do a spiritual gifts test. I hadn’t taken one in a few years, and I wanted to know if my giftings had changed. They have changed dramatically. When I was in the youth pastor season, my giftings were leadership, administration, teaching. Those gifts fall somewhere in the middle now and have been replaced by faith. Faith was one of the lowest scores I had the last time I took the test. That was before cancer. I definitely needed faith to get through that.

My point is, God equips us for the season we are in. Embrace it. God created you to be exactly where you are right now and He wants you to walk in the gifts He’s given you.

Uncategorized

Passionless, Powerless, Prayerless

I’m supposed to be writing today, but I can’t really find a direction to go in. Writer’s block? Perhaps. That’s what I thought it was until I read something this morning in Priscilla Shirer’s book “Fervent.” 

Passionless. Powerless. Prayerless.

Three simple words, but oh, the punch they packed as they took aim right in the middle of my forehead. That is where I am at this moment in my life. Don’t judge just yet. I took a break from everything during cancer, for obvious reasons. And I extended the break from most things after cancer so that I could rest and focus. I did not want to return to the pre-cancer pace where everything felt just a degree away from chaotic. That’s not when I’m at my best. I wanted to really focus and be able to devote my whole self to the task at hand instead of just throwing what I had leftover at it and hoping for the best. So, for the past year, I’ve been practicing “the best yes.” I’ve turned down a lot of things—good things, but not the best things for me. And now I’m ready to jump back in the game, but am not sure where. The passions I had prior to taking a break are no longer there. That season of my life is over, and that’s ok. That’s natural. But when I sat down and asked myself, “What are you passionate about?” I came up with nothing. And so, when I read those three words this morning—passionless, powerless, prayerless—they hit with frightening accuracy. 

I know what you’re thinking and no, I don’t mean prayerless as in no prayer at all. I pray. I pray in the mornings and when I need God to help in a certain situation. I sometimes remember to pray before I eat, but not usually. The prayers I pray are not passionate or powerful. They don’t have a lot of substance. They are surface prayers, much like superficial conversation with an acquaintance you meet on the street. They are safe prayers. They are prayers that don’t cost me anything. They are prayers that don’t require action from me. And I’m not okay with that anymore because to move out of this place of passionless, powerless prayer, I have to begin to pray bold prayers.

There was a time in my life when I prayed those kinds of prayers. I drew a circle and staked claim on things in prayer. After all, you have not because you ask not. Not long ago, my prayers were passionate. I prayed fervently for people and situations. I prayed for God to use me and I meant it.

There was also a time when my prayers were powerful. Things happened when I prayed. I look back through the prayer notebook I kept a couple years ago and see the answers in response to my prayers. That was exciting. It was thrilling to know that God heard me and that He was at work in each of the situations. I couldn’t wait to see what He was going to do in the circumstances I invited Him into through prayer.

So why did I stop? Did God change His response? Did He stop answering? Did God change how He communicates with me? No. I changed in how I communicate with Him. Why? Perhaps it was because of fear that He’d ask me to do another hard thing. Maybe it was because after coming through cancer, I felt like I could stay with the stuff while everyone else went to the battle. But that’s just it. It’s because I’ve gone through cancer that I should be in the middle of the battle. It’s because I’m a victor in that battle that I should be out front in the next one. God didn’t heal me from cancer so that I could sit on the sidelines and do nothing. If He didn’t want me to do anything, He’d have taken me home. He has something for me to do, but before I can do it, I must change those three words that characterize my life at this moment. I must change from passionless, powerless, prayerless to prayerful, powerful, passionate. 

Passionate, powerful prayer gains much. 

Uncategorized

On Assignment

You gotta love Facebook’s “On This Day” app. If you don’t use it, you should. 

Let me give you an example. On this day in 2014, I posted this status update:

“‘The outcome of your life will be determined by your outlook on life.’ (Mark Batterson, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day)

Your perception becomes your reality. If you see yourself as a victim, you will live defeated. If you see yourself as a victor, you will live victoriously. Sounds almost too simple, doesn’t it?”

I still totally believe that, but I think I might even believe it more now than I did when I posted it. It’s almost like I said it and then God said, “Show me.” He does that sometimes. Not because He needs to know if we mean it. He knows our hearts. He does it so that we can see if we really mean it. He does it so that we can bring Him glory.
You see, a year after I posted that, I started chemo and if ever I was going to choose to be a victim or a victor, it was in that journey. There is nothing glorious about chemo or cancer. There is very little dignity when you are lying in a hospital bed in one of those stylish gowns, pusing the call button every time you neded to go to the bathroom. If I wanted to be a victim, I would have certainly been justified. 

Maybe you’re going through something right now and you feel like a victim. Maybe you’ve been cheated or hurt or you’re going through health issues. You feel like you’re justified in being a victim. Don’t stay there. Give yourself 24 hours to grieve and yell and whatever you need to do and then move out of the victim pit. Continuing to view yourself as a victim will cause the pit of bitterness and resentment to grow so deep that you cannot get out. “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5). 

The morning is not a literal 24 hours, of course. It’s a figure of speech to describe when th darkness ends and the light shines through. On Morning is when you wake up and see yourself as a victor because when that happens, you invite God into that circumstance and allow Him to change you. To strengthen you. To be glorified through you. That is our assignment. That’s what we are here to do…to point to God. That is true worship. Don’t let what is wrong with you–your circumstances, your struggles, your pain–keep you from worshipping what is right with God. 

It’s human nature to ask why when we find ourselves facing difficulties. Some even say, “If God is good, why does He allow this to happen?” When I look at the circumstances in my life in terms of assignments God has given to me, my whole outlook changes. I’m here because this is where God wants me. I’m going through this because God has a grand plan for me. I’m here to point to God and bring Him glory. 

And when we’re finished with our assignments, He’ll say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

~Sondra

Cancer, Survivorship, Uncategorized

The Finish Line

I crossed the finish line today. This past year’s journey has been a long, grueling marathon. There were hills and valleys, there was scorching heat and cold rains. The wind tried to knock me off course several times. But today I crossed the finish line.

I’m not a runner by any stretch of the imagination. I like the thought of it. I’ve started the couch to 5k plan a few times, but never gotten past the second week. So I don’t know what a runner feels when they cross the finish line in a long race. I imagine there is elation. I would think there would be a sense of accomplishment. Pride. A need to celebrate the victory. And then a crash from exhaustion. That’s exactly how I feel after finishing the year-long battle. I’m elated that I won. I feel proud that I made it through everything I’ve gone through this year. It is true that you don’t know how strong you are until you are tested.

There were so many times I wondered if I’d ever cross the finish line. There were nights when I wasn’t even sure the finish line was real. And then I could see the finish line, but didn’t seem to be moving toward it with any amount of speed at all. But I finally crossed it today.

And I feel tired. I feel like I can finally let my defenses down and just rest. Pretty sure I hear a beach somewhere calling my name….

~Sondra

Uncategorized

Ice Storm

Today is an “ice day” home from work. The company (and most schools in the area) called off yesterday afternoon in anticipation of the coming weather. It didn’t come. At least not here. There is no ice. There is barely even any rain. I wonder if there’s some sort of game the weather guys play…predicting and talking up the ice storm of the century, and then sitting back and laughing when everyone buys it. Possibility.
I’m amazed at how many people flock the stores when they hear of an impending storm. Bread, milk, and eggs fly off the shelves in record time. Pallets of ice melt are staged at the enterance of the store, right in front of the snow shovel display. Who needs to buy a snow shovel EVERY TIME it snows anyway? What happens to the ones we bought the last time it snowed???

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to predict and prepare for impending life storms? For instance, would I have done anything differently if I had known that cancer was in my future? What would you do if you knew a job loss was coming? Or a relationship fail? Or a car accident? Would you want to know the storm was coming, or would that cause anxiety and paralyzing fear? 

Proverbs 31:21 says this: “She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes.” She’s wise. She knows that storms and seasons come and go. That’s life. But instead of dreading or fearing or freezing in hopelessness, she prepares not only herself, but her household. “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” In other words, she’s done everything she can do, and she trusts that God will do the rest. There is strength in the quiet trust we place in our Heavenly Father. Instead of waiting until the storm arrives and then running to God in desperation, there’s a peace in walking with Him and trusting Him with every moment of every single day.

Face the storms of life head-on with confidence that God’s in control. Unlike us, He knows the exact time and circumstances. Nothing surprises Him. Nothing sneaks past Him. When the storms of life come, we can rest in the knowledge that He has already prepared for it.

~Sondra

Faith, Health, Uncategorized

Fit and Lean in 2017!

Fit and Lean in 2017!

That’s what a friend has deemed her mantra for the new year. As I thought about it, I discovered that it could cover all aspects of life. So I stole it (sorry B!).

Of course, I don’t have to go into great detail about how “fit and lean in 2017” can apply to the physical body. It might look different for you than it does for me, but it means to get healthy. Period. Maybe you’ll eat clean, maybe you’ll low-carb. Maybe you’ll join Weight Watchers. Maybe you’ll join a gym, or the Y, or sign up for C25K. What’s important is that you find something that fits you. Make sure it’s something you enjoy and can continue. Otherwise, you’ll be done by February.

You can also be emotionally fit and lean in 2017! What I mean by that is, stop over-thinking. Quit holding people liable for what you think they meant instead of what they actually said or did. Cut out the drama from your life. Cut out the negativity from your life. Purge the toxic thoughts and relationships. And for goodness sakes, get off of the emotional roller coaster. Life is too short. If you don’t like it, change it. If you can’t change it, use it to strengthen you. Don’t tell me that’s too hard to do. I just beat cancer. I didn’t like it and I couldn’t change it, but I used the experience to become stronger.

“Fit and Lean in 2017”…fiscally. This is a hard one for me, because I want what I want when I want it, and I want it now…but it’s an area I am ready to tackle in the new year. Get out of debt, cut back on spending (wasting) your hard-earned money on things that you don’t need to impress people you don’t like. Start a savings account. Even if you only save $10 a week, that’s still $520 at the end of the year. Virtually everyone can find $10 a week in their budget. Cut out your expensive morning coffee and make your own at home. Eat out less and cook at home more. You can do this! For some extra motivation, go find Rachel Cruze’s book “Love Your Life, Not Theirs”.

How about materialistically fit and lean in 2017? I’m not saying go be a minimalist. If that’s what you want, that’s great, but there’s no need to go to extremes. Go through your closets and garages and sell what you haven’t used or seen in the last year. Go ahead. I dare you. If you haven’t seen it in that long, you don’t need it and quite frankly, you probably forgot you had it anyway. Do you really want someone else to have to go through all of your stuff when you die? Keep nothing in your home that you don’t view as purposeful or beautiful. Not what I think, but what YOU think. It’s your home! Make it yours!

Be spiritually fit and lean in 2017. Whoa. What am I talking about? Stop going to church so much? Stop praying so much? Absolutely not. Those are necessary things if you want to be spiritually fit. What I mean is stop trying to live up to all of those man-made rules and the “do not’s” that we have placed on ourselves. Get back to the basics of your faith. Find a church home and attend regularly. Find a Bible reading plan you can stick to. Spend some time in prayer each day. Help the helpless. Feed the hungry. Give to the poor. Do all of those things! Live out your faith! But stop being so hard on yourself (and others) when they don’t live up to your expectations of what a Christian should look like, or act like, or talk like. Love God. Love People. Make Disciples. Basics.

Here’s to being Fit and Lean in 2017!

–Sondra

Health, Uncategorized

Wondering

Seems I’ve finally been still long enough for the sick germs to catch up with me. Not too shabby considering my weakened immune system and all of the snot I am around at work everyday. I was wondering when it would happen and how my body would react after having cancer.

That’s the thing about being a cancer survivor…you try to stay positive and put the battle behind you and move forward, but you are always wondering. Wondering if what you are experiencing is normal. Wondering when or if the recurrence will come. Wondering what people think of your new hairstyle. Wondering if strangers can tell you’ve had cancer. Wondering if they think you talk about it too much. Wondering if what you are eating is cancer-causing. Wondering when your fingernails and toenails will grow back or if they will always be brittle. Or if the numbness in your toes will ever go away. Wondering if you’ve forgotten something important because of the chemo brain. Or if people think you’re just using it to get out of doing something because you say you need to rest. You want so badly to put it out of your mind, but you can’t.

You can’t because it’s changed you forever. You are not the person you were before the diagnosis. No matter how much you try to “get your life back”, you won’t get it back because you are different. You’ve fought an enormous battle. You’ve faced trauma unimaginable. You’ve come back from death.

Your priorities are different.

Your perspective is different.

Your perception is different.

Not to mention that your physical body is also different. The chemo has killed off everything…the good and bad cells. That’s both a blessing and a curse.

Your emotions are different because the medicine has put you into menopause.

And sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes you long for the familiar. It’s not that the new normal is horrible, it’s just different and different is scary and leaves you wondering. You’re always wondering…

-Sondra