Wood and Flame

“Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.”― Henry Ford


Something is taking over the mountain!  Wood piles!  Piles of wood are popping up everywhere this time of year.  They line driveways and paths.  They are piled high against houses and sheds.  I see them growing under trees and in meadows.  Everywhere!  Like flowers blooming in Spring the landscape is blossoming into wood piles.  It is a harbinger of warm hearths and winter fires burning the chill away on the Winter days ahead.


Wood and fire – a cozy relationship unless you are the one being burned.  As the fire turns the log to ash we witness the final contribution of a life that began as just a small seed.  The tree-that-once-was is diminished to black dust.  The tree that weathered and changed with the seasons has sacrificed itself to the fire. Jack Gilbert, an American Poet of the last century says this about the fire and wood relationship: “We think the fire eats the wood.  We are wrong.  The wood reaches out to the flame.  The fire licks at what the wood harbors, and the wood gives itself away.”  Somewhere in what Jack says I hear a message of sacrificial giving.  It is as though in its final burning, the wood has achieved its sacred mission…to offer what it is made of in order for the fire to bring light and warmth in the midst of a dark and cold world.


Beyond this mountain that I call home there is a dark, chilly world waiting for my contribution – and yours.  Am I  willing to share the talents and treasures that lie within me, collected from seasons of growth and change?  Am I willing to give myself away to that Holy Spirit Transforming Fire of God?  And what warmth and light could this sacrifice of mine bring to another?

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Proverbs 26:20 says, “For lack of wood the fire goes out…”  In the midst of all these piles of wood waiting to be consumed in the cold of winter, may I be mindful of the sacred transforming generosity that resides within each of us.  May I, too, reach out to that Holy Flame to offer the gifts God has harbored in me.
If you would like to more about GraceStone Sanctuary, please visit our web site at gracestonesanctuary.com

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She Leapt and Walked

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” ― Nathaniel Hawthorne


Today I walked.  I mean I really walked!  Outside…for a long time as the sun was just beginning to embrace a new day.
I walked because of an invitation from someone this past week.  She said to me “Come and walk with us” and then told me about the group she walks with.  She told me the time and place to meet.  Something about her invitation reminded me of Paul’s invitation to the lame man in the 14th Chapter of Acts: “…Stand upright on your feet and walk.”  But as soon as my friend issued her invitation my inside gargoyles got busy with their discouraging voices.  “It’s too early!  It’s too far! You’re too old!  You’re too busy! What if it’s too hot, cold, rainy, snowy, storming, freezing,” and on and on and on went the chorus inside my head.  But my voice (and my faith) responded, “OK, I will see you there.”  I thought again about the lame man’s response to Paul’s command.  The scripture tells us “he leapt and walked.”  I knew my response was very different.   No, I wasn’t leaping at this opportunity to walk with a friend and to meet some people in my community.  Last night, as I set my alarm to go off at “way-too-early” o’clock I reminded myself that I could always hit the snooze button and go back to sleep.  It would not matter if I chose not to go.
But something amazing happened!  I woke up twenty minutes before the alarm was set to go off.  I mean I REALLY woke up!  Wide awake…and ready to go.  I think my gargoyles must have still been sleeping because there was no inner discouragement or negativity.  I was dressed and out the door with coffee in hand just as a sliver of sun peeked over the mountain.  I paused to take in the cool air and dawning light, offering a praise prayer for this moment of joy before continuing on to the meeting place.
This morning, only one other walker came…someone I did not know.  After some brief introductions we set out on our journey together.  She led the way as our conversation flowed and our feet strolled along paths strewn with autumn leaves.  We talked and walked.  We talked about our families and homes.  We talked about our community.  And we talked about our faith and love of God’s Word.  I learned from my new friend a new way of making scripture alive by telling the sacred stories as if they were my very own.  And I was reminded that we all share similar struggles and joys along this journey of life.  All that in a single morning walk in autumn!


As we returned to our cars and shared good-byes I thought of a quote by Karen Kimsey-House in her book Co-Active Leadership:  Five Ways to Lead.  “When someone is walking beside us, we have more courage to walk into the unknown and to risk the dark and messy places in our journey.”  As these words passed through my mind I silently offered a prayer of gratitude for my new friend and sister in Christ AND for the lame man’s example of leaping and walking by faith at Paul’s invitation.
This evening as the sun has traveled throughout its course and is sending out it’s last rays of the day I am reflecting on that sweet, simple invitation to walk. I am glad to have been invited. I am also glad for Christ’s invitation to come and walk with Him.  My prayer is that in the coming days I will be wide awake and ready for opportunities to pass along the invitation to “walk in love, as Christ has loved us.”  (Ephesians 5:2).  Whether that invitation is to share a morning moment or a lifetime of discipleship may it bring the renewal of spirit of a fresh, cool autumn dawn.
Photo: Timothy Hernandez

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” -John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

If you would like to more about GraceStone Sanctuary, please visit our web site at gracestonesanctuary.com

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THE Master Artist of Autumn

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn.” -Emily Dickinson

IMG_1051“Fall colors are funny. They’re so bright and intense and beautiful. It’s like nature is trying to fill you up with color, to saturate you so you can stockpile it before winter turns everything muted and dreary.”  ― Siobhan Vivian

God is THE Master Artist.  I am reminded of this every year when Autumn begins to roll out her magical colors.  Deep burgundy reds against golden yellows bordered with fiery orange hues are a feast for the eyes of the soul.  Just when the heat of Summer has browned the grass and left beautiful blooms withered and spent God dips his brush into the warm hues and spreads vibrant color across nature’s canvas.  As Siobhan Vivian, author and editor writes, “It’s like nature is trying to fill you up with color, to saturate you so you can stockpile it before winter turns everything muted and dreary.”  Even my knowing that this burst of beauty is a herald to the snows and cold of Winter does not make the Master’s painting anything less than stunning.

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These are the days I revel in, when the nights lengthen and the days chill.  Nature redressing herself in fiery shades  is only one piece of what nurtures my soul this time of year.  Autumn is a combined feast for the senses…the smell of the smoke from fireplaces that hangs over a cold morning and the aroma of my pumpkin spiced coffee also warms my spirit.  This is the time of year when the spices come out of the cupboard and dance in a curry soup or snickerdoodle cookies.  These are the days that my heart sings the Psalm “This is the day that the Lord has made, and I will be glad in it.” And in that spirit, today I completed an annual ritual of bringing the glories of God inside GraceStone Sanctuary.  Placing a spray of leaves or mums around autumnal candles was a celebration of joy as my favorite Autumn mood music, like Shaker Loops by John Adams and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – Autumn filled the house with sounds like leaves trembling in the wind.


Ecclesiastes teaches that everything has a time and a season.  This season brings a refreshing hope and joy to store up for the drearier Winter days ahead and a reminder that “God makes all things beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) My prayer is that when this season of celebration is past and my windows frame snow covered trees and gray clouds I will remember this day of vibrant color and know that THE Master Artist is always at work creating beauty in all things.  May my senses be open to the blessings that surround me.


Would you like a little autumn music?  Here are my favorites:

Shaker Loops Live performance of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School Of The Arts Chamber Orchestra directed by Matthew Cmiel.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons-Autumn Live performance by Detroit Symphony Orchestra

If you would like to know more about GraceStone Sanctuary, please visit our website at gracestonesanctuary.comlp.aspx - Version 7

Whittled Into Holiness

“…they climbed their ladders to whittle and prune the trees into holiness”
― Catherynne M. Valente, In the Cities of Coin and Spice

The Old Unpruned Apple Tree

Were you praying for me this morning?  Yep!  I knew you were because I had one of God’s angels show up at my door this morning…even before my coffee was done brewing.  Well, maybe not an actual angel, but he did carry a Godly message when he introduced himself as the guy from the Tree Care Service.  I looked at his card, then back at him.  Did he know that this morning I had been reading John 15:2?  “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

Actually I have been thinking a lot about pruning lately.  Looking over our property I noticed several dead trees and branches.  The pear tree that produced so much for us was looking thick and bushy.  And I wondered about the old apple tree at the edge of the lawn.  It had produced nothing except one misshapen tiny green apple.  The branches were twisted and void of many leaves.  It looked hopelessly lost sitting in an untended weed patch.  I had it marked as “ready for the firewood pile”, that is until the Tree Care Guy showed up today looking for work.

After checking credentials and asking key questions we took a walk discussing the trees in question.  Stopping at the old apple tree I told him my plans to add it to the firewood pile.  He asked me why I didn’t want to keep it and I told him it looked pretty hopeless to me…fruitless dead wood struggling to just stay standing.  And then he said (and this is the God message part), “It is not hopeless.  You just can’t see what’s living and green inside.”  He told me that by pruning it back and fertilizing it a bit we should have a blooming apple tree in a couple of years.


I heard God’s message loud and clear.  God can see beyond my weary dead branches, past what feels dead and hopeless to me.  He knows there is life hidden inside that can still produce fruit.  AND He knows when and how to prune my particular heart and mind and life.

I read that pruning is an essential gardening skill and that when it is done correctly, it will enable new and healthy growth as well as an abundance of crop producing flowers.  As I look out my window now at my properly pruned apple tree I try to envision buds and blossoms, fruit and pie.  That’s hard to do today.  My Tree Care Guy has whittled and pruned back the dead and dying to the green and living wood, leaving not much more than a bare trunk with hardly a branch for the birds.  But because of his knowledge and skill he told me confidently it would bear good and abundant fruit again.


So, I thank God for my unexpected visitor this morning and the reminder that God is the Great Gardener who sees the potential within us and knows what needs to be pruned away in order to be fruit-bearers for His Kingdom.  I am ready to be “whittled into holiness”.

I knew in my heart that I wanted to know the garden intimately, to know all the flowers in each season, to be there from spring through autumn, digging, pruning, planting, feeding, rejoicing.”  -Elizabeth Murray

If you would like to know more about GraceStone Sanctuary, please visit our website at gracestonesanctuary.com

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Fruit That Lasts

“A man watches his pear-tree day after day, impatient for the ripening of the fruit. Let him attempt to force the process, and he may spoil both fruit and tree. But let him patiently wait, and the ripe pear at length falls into his lap!” ~ Abraham Lincoln


Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.”  That may sound like an exaggeration, but as I have watched the fruit on our pear tree ripen I’m beginning to believe his point.  Soon after the snow melted the tree stood alone at the crest of the hill wrapped in spring green leaves, beautifully dressed in her frilly white blossoms.  By mid-summer the branches dripped with the promise of buttery fruit as blossoms took the shape of tiny pears.  As August ended the limbs of the tree bowed with the weight of the fruit and now I watch like a sentry waiting for that day when the fruit is perfect for picking.
But each day brings new threats that the fruit will not last until that ten minutes of perfection.  It seems that others also have been watching and waiting in hopes of a taste from the tree.  Little by little I am noticing the fruit I have guarded is disappearing and I have spotted the thieves!  One evening as I passed by the window overlooking the fruit tree I noticed a beautiful young deer nibbling some of the fruit that had dropped on the ground.  I watched as she munched away clearing the ground around the tree.  And it was ok when she nibbled a fruit off of a lower branch.  But when she suddenly danced up onto her hind legs to reach a little of the higher fruit I felt conflicted.  The tree was loaded and I was glad to share with nature, but my less-than-generous side felt alarmed and afraid that she might go tell her friends of her find and there would be nothing left for me to enjoy.


And tell her friends, she did.  The next evening she came back with a friend.  The following evening there were three of them.  Others have been coming, too.  Several evenings a doe and her wobbly fawn dined at our tree.  Other times a red snarly-looking fox cleaned the grounds.  And when none of the others are there I have noticed the rabbits nibbling on left-overs as well as large black crows taking their portion from the top.  You would think that with all these visitors having their meals for the past few weeks that there would be little left for human consumption.  But, ironically, as I let go of the fear of “not-enough-for-me”, the pears in the middle branches are beginning to ripen to a perfection that I would not have enjoyed if I had hoarded the fruit from the animals.  The joy of sharing is making that portion all the more sweet.
I love that pear tree in every season, but it is most enjoyable at harvest time when I can share the abundance with the animal community that surrounds GraceStone Sanctuary.  I have learned much about nature as I have observed these evening dining rituals.  And my belief in fearless generosity is expanding as I am learning to graciously share with my human community as well.  My prayer is that I, too, may bear fruit that will last.


You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. – John 15:16

If you would like to know more about GraceStone Sanctuary, please visit our website at gracestonesanctuary.com
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A Timeless Mission

“The beauty of collaboration between older and younger generations is that we combine strength with wisdom—a surefire way to accomplish more for the glory of God.” ― Brett Harris


My father was a minister for more than sixty years. Sharing Christ in Community was his mission. After he passed away I was given the briefcase he carried to church every Sunday. I consider this one of my “holy belongings” that has found a new home in the Peace Chapel here at GraceStone Sanctuary. In it are all kinds of papers.  There are prayer lists and ministry plans, worship services and lesson outlines.  I found articles about the Kingdom of God and old church bulletins from the 1950s.  But what I am most drawn to are the hand written notes…his words recorded on paper….his thoughts for a sermon or class or for congregational needs. As I read the words on the pages he wrote, I realize how the message of mission is beyond the limits of time.

My Father’s Writings

To me his old leather briefcase is a sanctuary, a holy place, containing a sacred story. What is contained within it reveals a deep and somewhat hidden part of my father.  I knew him as “Dad” and all those things, good and bad, that go with that relationship.  But when occasionally I pull out one of the random papers from this sacred satchel I feel quite in step with the minister side of my father.  It holds a history of one man who had a desire to understand God’s message and mission, who had a desire to share the love of Christ in his community.  My father wrote about it decades ago. I write about it now. Jesus’ disciples wrote about it thousands of years ago. The Good News is eternal. The call to mission…timeless.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.  Psalm 145:13

If you would like to know more about GraceStone Sanctuary, please visit our website at gracestonesanctuary.com

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Dog Days of Summer

 “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the blue sky, is by no means waste of time.” ~John Lubbock, “Recreation,” The Use of Life, 1894
IMG_0881These are strange and breathless days, the dog days…” ― Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting
It’s August.  Hot, humid, sticky August.  It’s the “dog-days-of-summer” and everyone is just trying to stay cool.  Lemonade and iced tea flow through the kitchen like a river over shiny, cold stones of ice.  Even the occasional rain shower is cause for celebration.  The heat of summer begs us to pause in the shade and be still.
As I sat on the porch this morning and looked out at the flowers struggling in the heat I was reminded of a scripture in the book of James.  It says, “The sun rises with its blazing heat and burns the plant; its flower falls off, and its beauty is destroyed.” (James 1:11)    Sounds fairly hopeless, doesn’t it?  But a little later James talks about tests and temptations and gives a message of hope… “Happy are those who remain faithful under trials, because when they succeed in passing such a temptation, they will receive as their reward the life which God has promised to those who love him.”  (James 1:12)
As I sat there in the morning summer heat pondering James’ words I heard a swift strong breeze rustling the leaves of the trees as it approached.  It’s coolness blew through me and went on its way.  That is when I found my own hope for the day.  That “pneuma” or Holy Spirit is what keeps me refreshed when the going gets tough and I find myself in some sort of heated challenge or trial.  When I am open to the wind of the Holy Spirit I am refreshed and renewed.
So just for today, grab your tall glass of lemonade and a friend.  Find some shady spot to strengthen one another in faithful living.  Remind someone today of God’s promise of love and the Holy Spirit’s refreshing gift.

If you would like to know more about GraceStone Sanctuary, please visit our website at gracestonesanctuary.com

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Healing Hankies

Acts 19:11-12 (MSG)  God did powerful things through Paul, things quite out of the ordinary. The word got around and people started taking pieces of clothing—handkerchiefs and scarves and the like—that had touched Paul’s skin and then touching the sick with them. The touch did it—they were healed and whole.

Handkerchiefs – a symbol of God’s healing power.  A simple square of cloth, plain or fancy, can be used for many things.  Paul’s handkerchiefs and scarves were used as sacred tools for healing.  Throughout history hankies have been used, not only for wiping sweaty brows or runny noses, but as banners, bandages, and tokens of love.
When I was a child all proper girls would carry a handkerchief where ever they went.  Tucked into a pocket or waistband, it was an ever-ready tool for living.  I used my hanky for many things besides wiping a runny nose.  Sometimes it was the perfect fabric to fashion a doll dress and then the next day it became a fluttering flag on my bicycle handlebars or a tiny basket for gathering clover flowers to make garlands.
I still have quiet a few of those old handkerchiefs.  And my mother gave me some of hers.  As I unpacked them from our moving boxes last summer I marveled at these small works of art, each one different than the rest.  Some were surrounded by tiny stitched hems and others with fancy crochet or tatted edging.  Though some carried stains from years gone by, they were all beautiful and unique and held memories for me of times long ago. I knew then that I would find a special place for them in our new home, GraceStone Sanctuary.


And I did! I hung my “gallery” of handkerchief art as a valance above the windows on our enclosed back porch.  I used all that I had and then gathered some from flea markets and on-line stores.  I love watching them flutter above the open windows and they bring back those wonderful memories of my mother and me carefully folding and tucking a hanky in a pocket or purse for the day.
Those things alone are healing and uplifting and make me smile.  But when a guest comes and sits with me in the hanky gallery I inevitably watch a sort of healing take place.  Eyes begin to sparkle as stories of their handkerchiefs unfold.  I often hear about a time of sorrow when someone offered a hankie to wipe a tear or stop a bleeding wound.  I hear stories about creative uses of these simple pieces of cloth…as a strainer for drinking water or a simply fashioned hat for relief from the sun.  And I am reminded again of Paul’s humble cloths by the images of water and relief.
I also think of a quote by music composer Robert Schumann.  He knew the beauty of the healing hankie when he said, “Nature best teaches how to pray, and how to reverence all the gifts the Almighty has given us. She is like a vast outspread handkerchief, embroidered with God’s eternal name, on which we may dry alike our tears of sorrow and of joy; she turns weeping into ecstasy, and fills our hearts with speechless, quiet reverence and resignation.”


If you would like to know more about GraceStone Sanctuary, please visit our website at gracestonesanctuary.com

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Let There Be Light

” Genesis 1:3-5  God said, Let there be light; he willed it, and at once there was light…And in the new creation, the first thing that is wrought in the soul is light…The day and the night are the Lord’s; let us use both to his honour, by working for him every day, and resting in him every night, meditating in his law both day and night.” – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary


From all the chaos of creation the first thing to emerge was light.  This says to me that light is an important thing when talking about healing and nourishing the soul.  So when my husband and I were creating GraceStone Sanctuary one of our chief aims was to fill it with as much light as possible.  We removed dusty tired drapes and cleaned the windows until they sparkled.  We polished dull wooden walls and floors until they shone fresh once again.  We exchanged dark and moody paneling with drywall painted antique ivory.  And we replaced smoky light fixtures from the 80’s era with vintage glass and crystal ones.
Finally the day came when the electrician had finished wiring and hanging each light.  That day is one we will remember – always.  As we went from room to room flipping on the switches, the house resounded with the kind of silence that is emitted during moments of deep reverence.  Each light seemed more beautiful than the next.  The house came alive with light.  The antique chandeliers and old pendant lights that had been discarded by previous owners had found a new place to shine with a new mission of welcoming strangers, friends, and family to receive regeneration of soul.

photo courtesy of Tim Hernandez

How often have I needed to do the same thing to my internal spiritual home? Shaking off what no longer fills my soul with light and polishing the glass and wood of my spirit allows me to grow into a new spiritual brilliance. And I find that filling myself with song and scripture and other good words does the very same thing as all those refurbished lights hanging from the ceiling.  It brings out a more light and bright “me” to be welcoming and caring for all those I meet in my life journey.
Our prayer is that our home, GraceStone Sanctuary, will be a “light on a hill that cannot be hidden.”  (from Matthew 5:14)  May it be filled with the light of the Grace and Love of Christ.


“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

If you would like to know more about GraceStone Sanctuary, please visit our website at gracestonesanctuary.com

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Silly Fences

“Some of us may just, in one-on-one conversations with our family, with our friends, over the back fence with our neighbors, talk about the reality of our lives and realize that we’re not alone.” –Patricia Ireland
If we could only see the irrationality of a fence
We would soon come to know what complete nonsense
It is to think that we could hold close inside
Behind a gate those things we wish to hide.
Or that sharp pickets fail to defend
Against relationships we do not wish to mend.
So break the lock, open wide the gate
Reach out, reach in for those that wait.
– by Trish Hernandez (2014)


Fences…everyone builds them.  Some put up a fence to keep things out and some to keep things in.  We needed one to keep our small dogs safe and to give them a little space of their own.  It was one of the first things completed after we moved in to GraceStone Sanctuary.
Putting up a fence isn’t easy work…all that measuring and post hole digging; then setting the posts, attaching rails, and finally nailing up the pickets one by one.  It is tedious hard labor.  And no matter what the purpose of the fence, someone always comes along and leaves the gate open so that very thing that you were trying to keep in or out gets through anyway.
It makes me think about our own internal fences we create as an attempt at protecting ourselves.  We go to great lengths to put up borders between us – huge privacy fences surround our hearts so no one can see our wounds.  Long clanging metal chain link provides a strong barrier against further hurts and vulnerability.  Even sharp pickets painted bright white send a pointed message of “keep away”.  Out here in the Shenandoah Valley long rail fences run alongside highways.  They mark territory.  “This is mine”, they say.  “Keep Out!”
Fences do often serve a purpose.  But what if we took a look at our inside barricades that keep us apart from one another?  What would happen if we once-and-for-all opened the latch on the gate of our heart and gave – fully, vulnerably, without fear?  I believe that it could be a beginning of honest conversations about the real things we have in common.  We may just discover we are not alone.


If you would like to know more about GraceStone Sanctuary, please visit our website at gracestonesanctuary.com

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