nancy williams

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Archive for November, 2007

From my Thanksgiving table to yours

This week holds the day set aside as Thanksgiving: a time for us to gather together with friends and family as we express gratitude for the blessings that are ours. Oh, how we need that focus. The reality is, all too often our minds are drawn to our problems, things we are doing without, opportunities missed, relationships lost, promises not kept, dreams not fulfilled, fears of what may lay ahead. Yes, life brings its share of challenges and disappointments. But it also brings us joy: solutions to some of the problems we face, things we do have, opportunities seized, relationships built, promises made and kept, yesterday’s dreams becoming today’s reality, hope to cling to in the face of our fear. Blessing upon blessing.

A few years ago, my husband and I ventured to the tip of Cape Cod, Mass. As we neared the town of Provincetown, our gaze was set on a slender tower reaching heavenward and marking Pilgrims’ Point. Stories about the Pilgrims and the voyage of the Mayflower whirled in my mind as I began to imagine what it might have been like for those travelers to anchor on that coastline in 1620. As I uncovered the story of their voyage, I realized Cape Cod was not in their original plan. They were headed further south along the coast; however, storms prevented them from reaching their intended destination. So, they made their way along the Massachusetts coastline around the tip of Cape Cod.

I can imagine their dismay at plans thwarted. Disappointment. Discouragement. Despair. They sacrificed so much along their journey and fought through so many challenges, determined to turn dreams into reality, only to find themselves in a different place. Not at all what they hoped for. Not at all what they planned. As I consider what life must have been like for them at that point, I recall storms in my own life that have set me on an unexpected course. Perhaps you can as well.

Yet, they didn’t give up. They didn’t turn back in defeat. They paused and took time to collect their thoughts, replenish themselves after their arduous journey and gather information about other options. Then they moved ahead with courage, with hope, with optimism – on to Plymouth, on to the future in a new direction.

The next fall, 1621, they gathered together with family and friends – not to mourn dreams unfulfilled but rather to give thanks for blessings bestowed. Their first year in this new land was filled with challenges, uncertainties, hope and heartbreak. Historical accounts report that they built more coffins than huts; over half of their original population died from disease or starvation. Yet, these Pilgrims set time aside and gathered to celebrate life and give thanks to God for His provision in difficult circumstances. They shared their bounty with those around them, and they graciously received the gifts that were brought to the table.

As we approach this holiday season, many of us also face challenges, uncertainties, hope and heartbreak. We can learn much from these men and women about being grateful for what we do have and not taking God’s provisions for granted, about setting aside time from the busyness of life to express that gratitude, and about sharing our blessings with others.

An attitude of gratitude provides a lifeline to carry us through the darkest moments and uncertainties of life as it reaches into the depths of our souls with awareness of God’s faithful provision for us. That same spirit of thankfulness causes our hearts to overflow with joy that spills over onto those around us as we celebrate the goodness of life that is ours. Such a powerful life benefit should be experienced far more frequently than merely one day of the year. It costs nothing but a little time and attention; yet it brings richness and fullness to our lives and promotes our physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

From my Thanksgiving table to yours: may we take time, not just this holiday but daily, to express gratitude to the Giver of those gifts and to those around with whom we share the bounty of life.

What’s That Ringing in Your Ears?

A few years ago, I wrote about a dear friend who was struggling with an incessant ringing in his ears. At that time I couldn’t relate to his challenge. Oh, I’ve had water sloshing around in my ears after a swim. And I’ve had cold viruses maneuver their way into my ear canals and muffle sounds. But I never had that frequent ringing I hear people complain about. That is, until now. The nuisance I’ve heard so much about has now begun to make its presence known to me personally. What a distraction. What an annoyance. What a frustrating challenge to try focusing on desired sounds while being sidetracked by unwanted, unpleasant, uncontrollable tonal clutter in your mind.

Think for a moment of the devastation it could be for a music director like my friend who relies so heavily on clarity of pitch and tone. I remember working with him as he strained to tune in to the resonance coming from the choir and orchestra while fighting the distortion that had planted itself firmly within. In the stillness of his heart there must have been songs of sadness as he struggled to hear the fullness of sound flowing around him, without interruption. His love of music and his desire to serve the Lord fueled a determination that carried him on in his ministry, in spite of the challenge he faced every day.

As I relax in the serenity of my backyard on this glorious fall afternoon, the only interruptions are the songs of birds perched in trees high above and the trickling of water cascading from the rocks in my pond. I don’t seem to mind those breaks in the quiet. They actually become a part of the experience, blending together with times of stillness to create a rich tapestry of both sound and silence that renews my spirit as it rings in my ears.

Sometimes I sit at the piano and the music flows, creating a seamless connection from my mind and heart to my hands. My focus is sharp and there are no interruptions, no distractions from the pureness of the melody. But sadly it doesn’t always flow that smoothly. There are times when I find focusing on the task to be a challenge. Interruptions appear as uninvited guests, from the chatter of conversation that distracts my ear, to movement that draws my eye away, or perhaps to unwelcome sounds that vie for my attention. Sometimes I’m victorious in the battle and can move ahead with the music before me. Other times, I must stop and deal with the distractions before continuing on.

There’s another sound that sometimes rings in my ears: the chatter of my own voice. Encouragement to hold on to the hope that lies within my soul. Confirmation that I’m indeed playing the music that has been written for me. Sometimes it can be a call for me to reach for the music waiting to be discovered. Often it comes as a challenge to be still and listen for God’s voice as the music plays.

Sometimes, however, there’s my voice of doubt, questioning my ability to succeed. A voice of remembrance, recalling prior music that didn’t flow as written. A voice of resignation that encourages playing only what’s before me without consideration of new possibilities. There may even be a voice so focused on performance and evaluation it drowns out the sound of enjoyment in the moment. Sometimes I hear the voices of others, questioning, criticizing and attempting to shift my focus to music that was not intended for me. These voices become an unwelcome ringing in my ears and I find myself discouraged as I struggle to continue the music.

Each day, as you and I sit before the keyboard of our lives and prepare to play the life songs before us, we have various sounds all drawing our attention. We may not always be in control of the sounds around but we do have a choice about what we will tune into with our minds and our hearts. For the sounds we choose to let resonate the loudest will, indeed, impact the music of our lives.

Shhh. Listen: what’s that ringing in your ears?