Beauty Break

I’m using our Monday School time to introduce a new feature on my blog called Beauty Break. It was inspired by one of my favorite authors, Karen Swallow Prior.

Beauty is to the spirit what food is to the flesh.     Frederick Buechner

Mostly we live in a routine, which is good and necessary. But routines can turn into a mindless going through the motions. If we aren’t careful, we forget to notice the beauty around us.

A Beauty Break is a spontaneous reminder to pay attention, a chance to stop and observe when something catches our eye. To look and see and wonder, then praise the Maker of beauty and the Giver of gifts.

Even a fleeting glimpse of beauty offers joy. Like when a delighted 4 year old points to a tree in the park and squeals “Look!” as a squirrel scampers to the top.

For a moment we can enjoy the intricate design of a seed, a burst of color in a sunset, a towering granite formation, or the creative expression of an artist. Maybe Beauty Breaks will help us learn to be still and pay attention.


I noticed this sweetgum ball in the middle of the trail where I walked last week because it was green and extra spiky. I picked it up and walked around the park several times as I rolled it around in my hand, switched it to the other hand, rolled it around, and switched again. I liked the way it felt in my hands, but I’ve stepped on plenty of sweetgum balls in my time and I’ve never once liked the way they felt to my bare feet. This one would have caused an extra bit of discomfort.

There are hundreds of tiny seeds inside a sweetgum ball. Scientists discovered not too long ago that the aborted seeds contain shikimic acid, which is used to make Tamiflu. No need for them to gather the pointy ornaments though. They found a way to make it in a lab.

Thousands of them will fall in the coming months wreaking havoc on small feet and annoying the meticulous yard owner.

We’ll just have to watch our steps.

 

Especially Now

My thoughts for Monday School are all about Advent….this season of waiting and hoping.

I wrote part of this last year. I share it again because I’m even more aware of the longing……the deep ache within my heart…..

And I know I can’t be the only one.

“Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. 
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might;
come and save us.

Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

How long, Lord God Almighty……….”     Psalm 80:1-4a

The nation of Israel cried out for hundreds of years waiting on the Promised One. My favorite Christmas hymn expresses the same longing for salvation.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The promise was kept.

Jesus came. Emmanuel.

He is here. God with us.

Jesus, come into our world. Come and change our hearts. Come into our brokenness and apathy. Come and shine your light into our darkness. Come and awaken within us the wonder of the babe in a manger.

The One who has come now asks us to come.

He invites us to peace and rest. Even now.

Especially now.

In the midst of the decorating and parties, Christmas programs and overindulging. In the traffic, long lines and shopping malls. In the middle of our desire to give out happiness in perfectly wrapped boxes. …….He asks us to come.

Come and reflect on the miracle of God becoming man. Come and remember. Come and follow Him with all our hearts.

Jesus says, “Come.”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”       Matthew 11:28-30

I’m reading an Advent devotional from Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts. You can check it out here.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Negative Space

 

Look What You Made Me Do

Like millions of others, my daughters anticipated the new song by Taylor Swift and they weren’t disappointed. While most critics have bashed Look What You Made Me Do, millions of fans have helped Swift break streaming, download, and video view records and it’s predicted the song will hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart next month.

I like the song. Maybe it’s easy for me to like it because my girls literally grew up with Taylor Swift. Every single one of her songs has been played over and over and over in our house, on the computer, in the car, or on their phones. Wherever they could be played, TS songs were played. So in a way, I grew up as a mom with Taylor Swift. From Teardrops on My Guitar to Look What You Made Me Do is a lot of growing.

As I listen to Look What You Made Me Do, I’m reminded of a time as a young woman when I had the same attitude as the one played out in the song. After some heartbreaks I vowed I would never be hurt again. I didn’t trust others and kept everyone at arm’s length. I was strong and independent and ready to take on the world.

Like Taylor, “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time.” Only my heart became harder and harder because with every hurt a wall was built around my heart. Another hurt, another wall. Walls of sarcasm and suspicion. Walls of bitterness, pride and stony ambition.

But the thing about walls around our hearts is they don’t work. Not if we want love and joy and peace. Walls keep these away.

So what do I tell my young daughter when she’s betrayed by a friend? Or when someone calls her a name? What do I do when I’m lied to? Or ignored? Or uninvited?

I can tell my daughter to treat those who mistreated her the same way. I can tell her to ignore them and never talk to them again. I can snub those who ignore me and unfriend those who no longer welcome me.

But there is a better way. I’ll be kind to them. I’ll smile and speak when I see them. And I’ll forgive them. I’ll tell my daughters to do the same. Forgiveness may be a process and one I have to work hard at but it’s the only way to do it if I want to love and live well.

And I will tell my daughters to fight to keep their hearts soft. “Become wiser. Don’t give in to what you want to do at first. Don’t let this song or all the others like it become the anthem of your lives. Don’t give in to how the world says to treat those who hurt you. Instead, be kind and brave . And forgive them.”

 Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.     Proverbs 4:23 NIV

While lessons learned should make us wiser, they shouldn’t make us harder. Hearts are meant to be soft and without walls. That’s the only way we learn to love. That’s how we give it and get it. That’s how we learn to trust. That’s how we learn to forgive and become compassionate and kind.

Maybe smarter in the nick of time. But not harder.

Photo by Gabriele Diwald on Unsplash

Love It or List It

In my last post, I wrote about the different kinds of lists we have. Whether they’re written down on paper or just floating around in our heads, we all have them. Our daily tasks and weekend projects. Our work assignments, the household chores, yard work, and the bucket list. The things we have to do and the things we want to do.

I love lists. I’ve been a listmaker since I could write my ABCs. They help me remember and keep me focused. And then, of course, there’s the ultimate joy of crossing off the things that are done.

Lists are good, but we can’t be bound by them. Our lists can’t be our driving force.

The main thing about our lists is not the doing, but the loving of the people around us while we’re getting them done. Love is the point. Loving the people God gave you or the people He gave you to. Loving those you’ve known for years and the ones you’ll meet next week. Loving your family and co-workers and friends. And the nice neighbors across the street and the ones two houses down you wish weren’t your neighbors. Loving your kid’s good teachers and the ones jaded from years of teaching.

Love compels us. Loving everyone who comes in and out of our lives. Even the most brief encounter is an opportunity to show love in some way.

Life is not the lists we make, no matter how grand the lists. If at the end of my life I’ve accomplished every single thing on my bucket list but have no one to share it with, it means nothing. The joy comes with shared experiences and memories. Not checking off the items. 

Let us make our lists, especially the ones of the places we want to see and the dreams we want fulfilled. And let’s pursue those things. Just not at the expense of the most important thing – the people in our lives.

Enjoy them. Share with them. Love them.

Because at the end of our lives, it won’t matter what we’ve crossed off our lists. What will matter is how well we’ve loved the people in our lives.

 

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

 

 

Something More

“Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open.”  C.S. Lewis, Day 47 in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter

Easter Sunday has come and gone. The season of Lent is over but my journey of reflection continues with the daily readings from the devotional. I’m in the “New Life” section of the book now.

Frederick Buechner writes on Day 52:  “In the end, his will, not ours, is done. Love is the victor. Death is not the end. The end is life. His life and our lives through him, in him. Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction than the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream. Christ our Lord has risen.”

God has something more for us. But it’s not out there somewhere. It’s not tomorrow or in a few years or decades from now. It’s not when you finally have the family you’re praying for. It’s not only when your marriage gets better or when the cancer is gone or when the kids behave. It’s not just when you’re free from the addiction. It’s not only when you’ve reached your goal or when you’re living your dream.

It’s here and now.

It’s in the everyday mess of your life. The laughter and tears and everything in between. It’s in the middle of your battle. When you’re fighting for faith and trying to find joy. It’s in the hard work of reaching your goals. It’s the crying out to God when you don’t understand. It’s when you’ve conquered and when you’ve failed. When you go from feeling all is right in your world to feeling it’s hopeless. It’s when you fall and get back up. And it’s when you have no strength left to get back up.

He’s the God of your every day. Right there with you in the midst of your routine and obligations. Because “what God began, God will not abandon.” Madeleine L’Engle, Day 56

Something more is here and now.

“Those who live victoriously, though they wait in great hope and expectation for the final triumph of God’s grace, live even more in present experience of what that grace in Christ can do in their lives here and now. ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’ is no idle promise for an indefinite future but a simple statement of what Christ can and will do here and now if we put our trust in him and open our lives to his presence and his power.”      Howard Hageman, Day 50

 

 

And So I Began 

I began this journey through the season of Lent today, this Ash Wednesday. I must confess I know very little about Ash Wednesday or Lent and some of what I do know has been learned as recently as today from my Google searches.

Since accepting my friend’s invitation to join her on this journey I’ve wondered why I was intrigued by the idea. But as I reread her invitation I remembered. Like her, I need to take some time to “reflect, repent and re-order what may have gotten off track.”  This is an opportunity…..a concentrated time of reflection…..a looking deep within and asking God to reveal what is there. A time of remembering God’s faithfulness and a refocusing on Jesus.

But why now?

I’m not sure except it seemed like the perfect time.

And so I began today on this journey where I’m learning as I go.

The introduction of “Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter” says that “Lent is the season in which we ought to be surprised by joy.”

I think I’m going to be.

 

 

The Road Taken

Joy

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room

Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly. This life is the kind that has a joy so deep, a joy so real, that it’s indestructible. Not that we won’t go through trials of many kinds. We will. But the abundant life is the kind of life that can smile in the midst of trouble and sickness and sorrow. Not a forced smile. A genuine one.

It’s the kind of life that can see beyond the here and now because the abundant life Jesus promises is the kind of life that knows this isn’t the end. There is more to come. A lot more. Eternity.

But for many the tension of preparing for Christmas Day increases as the day draws near. We dash here and there, from party to gathering to special programs, decorating and gift wrapping and candy making, menu planning and extra grocery shopping. 

And we wonder about the joy because we don’t feel it.

We’ve rushed here and there to do the wrong kind of preparing.

This joy isn’t found in a perfectly decorated home or an extravagantly prepared meal or the amount of money spent on the gifts we’re giving or receiving. It isn’t found in all the parties and events and Christmas bonuses.

It’s found in Jesus.

Those other things are just a foretaste of the real kind of joy. The abundant life Jesus came to give us.

We only have to make room in our hearts for him.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.                           John 10:10 (ESV)

Part of the Weekly Photo Challenge

Anticipation

Part of the enjoyment of something is the anticipation of it. Like a birthday or Christmas or a vacation.

I’ve noticed that younger ones burst with anticipation over the simplest things and aren’t shy about expressing it. An expected package can cause excited watching for days and days with my kids. And the excitement over Christmas or our annual family vacation starts months in advance.

With this anticipation comes joy and laughter and a readiness for the thing that is being eagerly awaited.

And then the day before the day comes……..Christmas Eve…….or the day before we leave on vacation……and the kids are so excited that it’s almost as good as the day.

And finally the day has come and the hearts of the ones who have joyfully anticipated it are enlarged and ready to take it all in. Then they delight in every moment and treasure it forever.

That’s how the good kind of memories are made.

In the Morning

In response to The Daily Post’s Flourish.

IMG_2321

Along my country road morning glory vines climb fence posts and spill onto the sides of the road. The sun was barely up one morning when I noticed hundreds of them in full bloom. I love the translucence of the violet petals, the lively heart shaped leaves, and the dew droplets……….

The morning glory will slowly swirl closed as the day fades.

Like the morning glory, I’m at my best in the early part of the day.

 

 ………But a shout of joy comes in the morning.    Psalm 30:5 NASB