Category: Appreciating Small Miracles

Finding Beauty in Ordinary Moments

I discovered a meatball under the china cabinet this morning. We haven’t had meatballs for two weeks in these parts, and I found it surprising that I saw the meatball before I smelled it. I pondered it while I continued my search for hidden treasures beneath the rest of the dining room furniture, and I also pondered the ordinariness of my daily life.

Ten years ago I spent my days teaching students with disabilities inside the walls of a respected high school. I used the knowledge attained through my master’s degree on a daily basis, and every day brought new challenges and changes in my schedule. My husband and I traveled overseas often, and when we had a week off, we regularly took off across the country with our camping gear in the back of the SUV. Life was filled with adventure and possibility.

To finish reading this post, join me at Her View from Home. . .

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How to Start Seeing What’s Right Instead of Seeing Only What’s Wrong

 

October has come with its warm, mild afternoons. It has come with clear skies and seventy-degree days – with rolling fields of gold and beige and tawny wood lines and promises about what’s to come.

I used to dislike October because it felt like the slow death of summer, and summer was the season I loved most. In October we said goodbye to any possibility of dipping our feet in creek water.  In October we stowed away all but our favorite pair of shorts and pulled out boxes of sweaters and scarves.  In October we snuggled under fleece blankets on cool, rainy days that foreshadowed the winter months to come.

Sitting in the sun on a cloudless October afternoon, I’m reminded that every day of my life, I face two choices: Look for what’s right, or look for what’s lacking. I can complain, on this sunny October afternoon, that it’s not warm enough for swimming in creeks, or I can give thanks for the beauty of leaves changing color and geese overhead.  I can focus on the long months of winter that will soon come and keep me from sitting on the deck in the sunshine, or I can embrace the ebb and flow of seasonal changes.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

It’s noteworthy that this admonition is spoken on the heels of Paul’s encouragement for the people of God to live in harmony. It seems two women among the Philippian church were at odds, and it was stirring enough controversy that Paul saw fit to address these women from afar in his letter.  I’m reminded that dwelling on whatever is pure, lovely, and good can be applied to October afternoons as well as to the way we think about the people in our lives.

Surely this applies across the board of my life. Surely focusing on what is right, instead of dwelling on what is wrong, will have a positive impact on my parenting, my career, my marriage, my friendships, my current living situation, my financial state, my health, and more.

When I focus on what is right in my life as a mom, I’m immensely thankful for the opportunity to invest in two little lives and pour into them on a daily basis. Amidst the yelling, hitting, and occasional biting, reminding myself of what is right helps my perspective when it seems everything about this is difficult.

When I focus on what is right in my career, I give thanks for the moments that assure me that my words really do make a difference in the lives of others. I give thanks for the way this season fulfills a greater calling on my life, and I’m grateful for the lessons I am learning through the difficult parts.

When I focus on what is right in my friendships, I’m grateful for women who have walked alongside me through the valleys and cheered me along over mountaintops. Looking at the good in relationships reminds me to extend grace, hold shortcomings loosely, and believe the best about my friends when conflict arises.

Finally, sitting beneath the sun as bulldozers unearth pipeline across the road, I consider the struggle we’ve had with our current home and the longing to move to a cabin somewhere in the woods. It seems our neighborhood is constantly changing, and one construction project after another leaves our backyard anything but quiet.  It’s easy to focus on what’s wrong with our situation and squirm to change it.

A hawk screeches high above the poplar tree by the deck, and I resolve to fix my eyes on what is right about this moment. Suddenly, the roaring engines of the excavators across the road feel far less obtrusive, and I couldn’t be more thankful for waving fields of goldenrod and hawks circling above.

 

 

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The Power of Margin Time

 

I asked Caleb what he wanted to do for his birthday, and he wanted hotdogs and marshmallows for breakfast and a trip to the sandy beach. He settled for powdered doughnuts for breakfast, but I came through on the trip to the sandy beach.

The sandy beach is the name the kids have affectionately labeled a stretch of sandy shoreline along the creek behind our house. In winter we build fires at the sandy beach, and the smoke wafts up through a thick canopy of hemlock trees.  In summer we swim in the waist-deep water with the rock wall on the far side of the swimming hole.

We’ve been known to catch bluegills and crayfish in the shallow part of the pool, and surrounded by wilderness, the sandy beach feels like an escape to a different world.

The day of celebration dawns clear and cool.  I leave the calendar wide open and free of plans, and so our walk to the sandy beach is slow and filled with frequent stops. We stop to rescue a caterpillar from the middle of the dangerous road.  We pick goldenrod and ironweed and joe-pye weed for a late summer bouquet.  I gather a handful of green acorns for him to throw off the bridge when we reach the creek.

When we finally make it to the bottom of the hill and past the red barn, we notice that we’re not alone at the creek. Our neighbors made the half-mile trek to the creek as well.  The boys’ grandpa doesn’t get around as well as he used to, and so he drove the scooter down the road with his grandsons close at hand.

The boys are quick to tell us that they didn’t catch any fish today. Even worse, the fishing pole broke, and an essential part of the reel is submerged in the clear water just below the bridge.  We gaze down from above, and the lost part sparkles from the depths of the clear water.

“Go get it, Mama!” Caleb commands, and I know he’s onto something.

It wasn’t safe for the boys to head into the water on their own, but this is a task we can handle. Grandpa laughs and tells me it’s not necessary, but the pleading gaze of the little boy who is like a second son to our family captures my heart.  I don’t need to think twice.

And this is how I find myself wading across Wolf Creek on a sixty-degree morning in search of a piece of fishing reel.

The boys take off their shoes and stand in the mud along the creek, and I manage to wade into the thigh-deep water, reach to the bottom, and secure the treasure.  There are cheers and hugs.

An hour later, sitting along the bank of the sandy beach with Caleb, I consider all the times I’ve missed opportunities to bless others because I’m in too big of a hurry. My to-do list daily threatens to rule my life and dominate my decisions, but this is never God’s best.

God’s best is a life without hurry – a life that leaves margin time between activities: time to pick goldenrod, save caterpillars, and show kindness to neighbors. Surely, there are seasons when margins are narrower, but when there’s a choice – and there’s often a choice – wide margins hold the power to bless.  When there’s a choice, I decide to choose the wide margins and live with eyes wide open for what God is doing in my midst.

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How to Boldly Step into the Next Season

 

It’s an overcast evening with light air hanging over the black-eyed susans that blanket the fields behind the house. The Conservancy planted them when they bought the land, and despite the fact that they tore down the old white barn, we’re blessed by the wildflowers.

Among our favorite parts of summer is dinner on the deck. I like it because the spilled honey and tiny pieces of shredded cheddar don’t end up plastered to the dining room floor for weeks on end.  The kids like it because the last bite of the meal is permissibly tossed off the deck to our three hungry chickens.  We all like it because the open sky and chattering red-winged blackbirds fill us with a deep sense that we are free.

I’ve spent most of the day cleaning the house, dealing with a frustrating computer issue, and searching the basement boxes for size 3T sweatpants, and I’m a bit frazzled by the time the food is on the table. After Caleb’s garbled prayer to give thanks for chicken nuggets, buns, and spoons (he thanks God for spoons twice), we eat with few words.  The company of family and the space to enjoy silence is a gift.

I feel myself unwinding from the frustrating parts of the day when it happens. Our sweet little girl winds up with a banana peel in her right fist.  I know she’s aiming for the weeds behind me, and I know exactly what’s about to happen before I have time to swallow my bread and speak a word.

She throws the peel as hard as her six-year-old arm can throw, and the peel smacks me in the center of my face.

Silent stares watch my face for a reaction, and in a split-second, I make a choice that will set the tone for the rest of the evening. I choose to unleash hysterical laughter.   We all laugh until our eyes water, and I consider throwing something in return, but I know where it could lead and resist.  The moment is priceless, and I’m thankful I chose laughter.

When the dishes are washed and the kids are busy making bubbles in the yard, I reflect on the banana peel. Something about the moment felt like I’d just encountered the heart of the Father, and I can’t put my finger on it.

For years, I’ve claimed Philippians 3:8 as my life verse: More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.

Thinking of the verse, I unlock the truth wrapped in the shriveled banana peel: I come to know Christ more deeply when I let go of my agenda, my rights, and my expectations of how circumstances should unfold. I come to know him more when I can laugh at the ridiculous and let go of what doesn’t really matter.

I recently read Emily P. Freeman’s post on 10 things she learned this summer.  Her words, combined with the banana peel incident, have prompted me to consider what we’ve learned around these parts this summer.  Her words remind me that sometimes the best way to close the chapter on one season and step into another is to reflect on the lessons learned.  This is my list:

1. Whenever possible, choose laughter over angry words.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25).  And this is the kind of woman I want to be – not the kind who takes herself too seriously.

2. When the pace of my life feels out of control, I have the choice to deliberately step out of the raging current and recalibrate.

We spent quite a few weekends in the hills of northern Pennsylvania this summer. For most of my life, our family’s hunting camp has been a place of solace for us.  Darrell and I have often discussed our longings to move permanently to a cabin in the woods somewhere.  It was while reading Shauna Niequist’s book Present over Perfect that I was struck with the truth behind our longings.  Shauna writes about similar feelings as her family regularly seeks reprieve at a cottage on a lake:

It’s at the lake that I realize how far I’ve come, or how far I have yet to travel. Both, maybe.  It’s at the lake that my priorities reshuffle, aligning more closely with my true nature.

I’ve wondered from time to time if we should move here, permanently, to this small Michigan town. But it seems to me that we’d bring our bustling and hustling here, and pretty soon we’d need a new place to escape in order to recalibrate.  Part of the magic of the lake is that it isn’t home – it’s away, and away allows us to see the rhythms and dimensions of our lives more clearly.

Shauna’s words remind me that I have the choice daily to decide if my life will be frantic and frenzied or serene and steady.  My pace is about a mindset, not a place.

3. My life is richer when I’m increasingly aware of the small miracles in my midst.

I was struck by this quote in a blog post called “Chasing Smallness” by Shauna Shanks this summer:

These past few years God has been re-ordering my life. Rather than bigger is better attitude, He has asked me to stop all the chaos, hand him over my crumpled-up mess I’d made, and start again. Smaller this time.

These words remind me that bigger, faster, and more glamorous are not always best.

4. Hard doesn’t mean wrong.

I’m inspired by the words of Tsh Oxenreider. Tsh and her husband embarked on a 9-month journey around the world with their three young children.  Before leaving on the trip, she wrote a note to her future self – the self that would be doubting the decision at the beginning of the trip.  The note read:

You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things.  You won’t be here long.  This month is the foundation for the year.  Lean in to the struggles: give thanks for the easy times.  Hard doesn’t mean wrong.  You’re on the right path.

Her words remind me that difficult doesn’t always mean wrong.

5. Confidence and vulnerability can coexist.

My time at the She Speaks conference in July prompted me to question many things about calling, life, and authenticity. Greatest among the lessons from this weekend was the realization that it’s possible to walk into a crowded room of gifted women and be honest about the difficulty of the journey.  This kind of vulnerability might be the bravest and most confident way to live.  My confidence doesn’t come from my own gifting.  It comes from the One who created me.

6. There’s only room for a miracle when I am unable to produce the outcome on my own.

I’m currently reading Unashamed by Christine Caine.  Christine reminds us that we are unable to measure up in our carnal, human selves.  It is the power of Christ in us that is sufficient in our weakness.

7. I’m not defined by the outcomes I am able to produce in my life.

I could list twenty more lessons from the summer. For the sake of illustrating this final point, I’m stopping short.  I’m stopping short as a reminder that none of us are defined by the outcomes we produce in our lives.  Coming up short doesn’t classify a person as lacking, and every failure is an opportunity to grow.

As summer fades to autumn in the subtle shift from light to darkness, warmth to chill, and green to crimson, we will keep growing deeper roots around here.  We will keep laughing at the ridiculous and smiling at the future.  This is how we step boldly into the next season.

References:

Niequist, S. (2016). Present over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

http://www.shaunashanks.com/blog/2015/9/7/chasing-smallness

Tsh Oxenreider (2017). At Home in the World: Reflections of Belonging while Wandering the Globe, Nashville, Tennessee: Harper Collins.

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A Simple Strategy for Greater Joy

 

The multiflora rose bushes are exploding with white blossoms when it hits me: I’m living on autopilot again. We all have our own versions of autopilot – the thoughtless brushing of teeth and consumption of coffee, the drive to work that’s the same every day, and the daily routines that make up the foundation of our daily lives.  We push through our days with little thought, no margin time to notice beauty, thousands of stressors streaming through our minds, and a lingering lack of simple enjoyment.

I stop along the road and stare at the white roses. Never in my life have I noticed these invasive, injury-causing plants in blossom.  I’ve grimaced as their needle-like thorns penetrated my clothing and pierced my flesh.  I’ve clipped them away from trails and dug them out of the hedgerow.  But I’ve never noticed them in bloom.  I’m astonished that something so beautiful could emerge from something so menacing.

What if there is beauty awaiting me in countless unseen corridors of my life, and I’m too busy solving problems and worrying about thorn bushes to notice?

I smell the white roses. I literally put my face into the thorn bushes I’ve cursed upon and breathe in something beautiful.  I wonder how much joy autopilot has stolen from my life.  I wonder how many sunrises I missed on the way to work because I all I could think about was how to get the progress reports finished by Friday.  I wonder how many conversations I missed because I was too worried about raking leaves or logging miles or hanging curtain rods.

Is this the gateway to the joy and fulfillment I crave? Take my life off autopilot and refuse to slip back into this thoughtless way of living.

Jesus said it like this: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In him we have peace.  Trouble will come, but he has overcome it.  He wants us to walk in peace.

He also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  If autopilot is destroying my days, it is certainly not from the Lord.  His plan is that I will have an abundant kind of life.

The opposite of autopilot is intentionality. When I live with intentionality, I slow down to notice the people in front of me.  I slow to observe beauty in the architecture of my community, the wispy breaths of high cirrus clouds, and the jade buds sprouting from the spruce tree in the yard.  Embracing these things feels like actually living.

Tasting the food I eat, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk beside the kids, and lying in the grass while geese pass overhead are each gateways to joy. And somehow, opening my eyes to what’s around me feels like opening my eyes to God.  When I see the good in it all, I am drawn closer to his beating heart.

Joe Rigney speaks of this kind of observation in his book, The Things of Earth.  He calls it indirect godwardness: “a subconscious focus on God while engaging with the world that God made” (121).  He goes onto explain that indirect godwardness increases our direct focus on God “by creating new mental, emotional, and spiritual categories for our enjoyment of God. It keeps us from being vague and indistinct in our minds” (126).

I meander slowly away from the white roses and gather a bouquet of daisies along the roadside. A barred owl calls from the valley behind, and I’m thankful for having noticed.

 

 

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How to be Happy with What We Have

Today I’m welcoming a writing friend as a guest blogger. While welcoming guest bloggers to my site isn’t something I’m regularly pursuing, Daisy and I met long before I ever imagined I’d have a blog, and her words have been an encouragement to me.  We met through Grove City Alliance Church, and Daisy passed her role as the Prayer Shield Coordinator onto me a few years ago.

We reconnected this spring, and it’s an honor to share her words with you today. Daisy is the published author of Homespun Faith, a compilation of devotionals.  She writes on her own blog at homespunfaith.com.

How to be Happy with What We Have

By Daisy Townsend

Recently I became obsessed with finding a rug just the right size for a floor area we wanted to cover in our bedroom. The size rug we needed wasn’t easy to find, not being a standard size. I measured several times and pictured what the different-sized rugs would look like in our bedroom. I hunted at Ollie’s and online.

One day I noticed the carpet remnant on the family room floor left over from when we’d had our upstairs carpeted four years ago. The longer I looked the more sure I became that this carpet remnant was exactly the right size for the area we wanted to cover in our bedroom. (A standard size rug would easily replace the remnant in our family room.)

When Donn and I carried the remnant to our bedroom, we found it was a perfect fit! I kept thinking of the irony of how hard we’d tried to find the perfect rug when we already had exactly what we needed. I wondered how often in life we do the same thing─go out searching for what we think we need when we already have it.

One woman I knew had been married many years to a good man but decided she wasn’t happy. Eventually she left her husband and found the man she thought she wanted. Things didn’t turn out well. I asked her gently, “Do you have regrets?” Sobs shook her whole body as she nodded. “So many regrets.”

I read of a similar case of a woman who spent many years complaining to her calm, easy-going accountant husband and her friends about the unexciting life they led. When Tim died of a heart attack in his forties, Diane found the man of her dreams. He was debonair and charming, an exciting date. However, after they married, she discovered he wanted to party every night and cared little about managing finances. Later, Diane told a friend, “I wish I had married someone who was content to stay home and good at managing money.” Her friend looked at her and said, “Someone like Tim?” God had given her exactly what she needed, but she’d been too blind to appreciate him.

This reminds me of two of my favorite children’s books: Old Hat, New Hat and The Best Nest. The moral of each story is the same. In Old Hat, New Hat the bear sets out to buy a new hat. He tries on or looks at 31 different hats, but finds something wrong with each one. (Do you remember? “Too big. Too small. Too flat. Too tall. etc.”) In the end, he puts on his old hat, looks in the mirror and says, “Just right! Just right. Just right. Just right.” He leaves the store wearing his old hat with a smile on his face.

 

In The Best Nest, Mr. Bird loves their nest and sings often, “I love my house. I love my nest. In all the world, my nest is best!” Mrs. Bird has a different opinion but in the end, after looking at many other nests, Mrs. Bird also realizes that the nest they have is, after all, the best nest.

Old Hat, New Hat and The Best Nest have happy endings because the “people” come to appreciate what they already had. However, in the real world, as in the other two stories I shared, the endings aren’t always happy. We may leave a marriage, a job, a house, or any number of places or situations, and later, when we realize the value of what we had, we discover it’s too late.

Charles Stanley recently said many people love to quote Psalm 37:4 (Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart), but fail to understand that the promise has a condition we must fulfill. Psalm 90:14 says, “Satisfy me early with your love that I may delight in you all the day.” As the Lord becomes our delight, He aligns our desires with His.

If we find ourselves unhappy and dissatisfied with our marriage, our job, our church, our home, perhaps the first step shouldn’t be to look for a new man/woman, job, church, home. Perhaps the first step should be to ask God to satisfy us with His love so that we can delight in Him and trust Him to give us the desires of our hearts. In many cases, we may discover that He already has.

Father, forgive us for trying so hard to find what we want that we’re blinded to the fact you’ve often already given us what we need. Amen.

 

–Daisy Townsend

 

 

 

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Giving Thanks for the Wearying Workload

 

There’s a pile of luggage at the bottom of the stairwell.  An array of minion-decorated backpacks, colorful duffels, and pink handbags adorned with flowers and fairies.  We’re leaving town for two short nights.  Two nights.  And the pile is taller than our toddler and large enough to fill a small moving van.  I have no idea how we’ll fit it into the hatchback trunk of the CRV.

My mind races through the contents of the bags. There are lists in every room of the house.  There are enough snacks to feed a small family for weeks, enough emergency medical supplies to last our family close to a year, and enough extra diapers for a week.  You just never know.

Trying to remember everything for a short family trip with young children is enough to induced mild chest pains in my anxiety-prone diaphragm. I once decided to compile a master list of needed items, which is a great idea – in theory.  The problem is that the needs of my two-year-old are entirely different than his needs a year ago.  A year ago, he needed jars of runny baby food, the baby chair, multiple bibs, and baby spoons.  This year he’ll eat the same foods as his older sister.  In addition to the changing needs the come with passing years, winter trips are entirely different than summer trips, and the packing also depends entirely upon the destination.

The pile looms in the corner as the sun peaks over the pine trees out the window. I pick a cuticle and open God’s Word for some truth to center my racing mind.  I’m reading in 1 Chronicles these days, and the thin ribbon opens to a page I must have read before.  The black ink is highlighted neon yellow: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples” (1 Chronicles 16:8).

I chew on the words and drink down black coffee. Fuel for the day.

Too often, I forget to chew on the words. Too often I take them in like one more task to complete – like dishes that need cleaned or pillowcases that need folded.  He doesn’t want it to be like this.  He wants it to be like a love letter – pondered and memorized and cherished.

I think of how life would be without these two small people bouncing about in need of snacks and dry pants and crayons. I look at the worn blue backpack at the bottom of the pile.  Ten years ago, that backpack was the only luggage needed on every weekend trip.  Ten years ago, I could fit all I needed for five days in that pack.  Things were simpler.  But simpler doesn’t mean better.  There was less work at home, but it wasn’t better.  It’s better now.

I ponder these things and forgive myself for disdaining the work that sometimes comes with parenting. I give thanks.  I call upon his name.  I commit to make his goodness known.  Are opportunities to serve others not opportunities to give thanks for the honor of sharing in Christ’s heart for investing in others?

The work set before me today is stacked higher than the bags on the steps. There is laundry, cooking, and an article assignment that will take at least three hours.  I’m not looking forward to it.  It’s the gritty kind of work that feels more like a college research paper than a soul-satisfying outpouring from my heart.

I give thanks anyway. I thank him for the opportunity to create with my hands and bless others.  I thank him that there are words to write and dishes to wash.  I thank him that though it feels like a heavy weight, it’s more like a minion backpack filled with purpose and blessing.

 

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How to Live Fully

 

The tulip poplar leaves are just beginning to emerge – tiny hands waving at the cobalt sky. I consider their short lives.  For six fleeting months, they greet the dawn with their flapping waves.  When October comes they’ll grow worn and weathered, thick and leathery, and they’ll fall black to the deck, swept away by the autumn winds or the broom that comes to prepare the worn boards for winter.

Six months isn’t long to stand under the sun, to dance wildly in the breeze, to laugh in the rain. Six months feels so fleeting – like a vapor.

You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away, James writes. We’re much the same.  These tiny waving leaves and my oh-so-short life.   Am I really using it well, I wonder as I watch the shadows flitter on the pollen-smeared boards.  Am I wishing away these days that will never come back?  Am I chasing something that’s been right here all along?

How do I live this one life well?

A red-winged black bird glides over the field behind the house, and our caged quail calls for a mate. I turn the pages for words about how to live this day to its fullest, and I find them: This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Could it be so simple?  I ponder the implications of these words and strain to apply them to my life:

I will acknowledge that the Lord has brought this day to pass.  I’ll receive it all as grace and count the blessings and the trials as grace.  Unmerited favor.  His hand working all things for his ultimate glory and my ultimate good.  I’ll give thanks for the muffins baked in the light of early morning, and I’ll give thanks for the little hands that drop all dozen eggs in the middle of the kitchen floor.  I’ll choose to believe that the long line of traffic is all part of some divine plan, and I’ll leave space in my days to talk to strangers.  I’ll hurry less and take photos of flowers in the yard.

I will rejoice. I will rejoice when we hold hands on the way to meet the bus, all three of us linked together in love, and I’ll rejoice when the littlest one falls down on the way back to the house.  I’ll rejoice over the food in the cupboard and the crumbs scattered across the kitchen floor, imitating the line of ants that will soon carry them away.  I will rejoice as I wipe fingerprints from the faucets and smudges from the mirrors.

I will be glad in it. I will be glad in the midst of this actual day.  I will be glad because I’ll see God in it.  I’ll see him in the leaves bursting forth from the poplar tree.  I’ll see him in the eyes of the delivery man when he comes with his tired shoulders and forced smile.  I’ll see him in the tenderness of my child and the frustration of the computer software that refuses to download.  I will know that he loves me in all my imperfections and that he is my great reward.  I will cease from striving and refuse to live in a hurry.  I’ll leave dishes in the sink and dirt on the floor.  I will commit to do whatever I do with my whole heart, as unto the Lord, and I won’t worry about what I can’t do.  I’ll believe the best about other people and refuse to dwell on negative thoughts.  I’ll let go of grudges and let go of what I cannot change.  In all the letting go, I will be glad.

 

I commit to embrace the days in a different way, here on the threshold of spring bursting into summer.   I commit to be all here, to live fully, to still myself and know  . . .

The breeze picks up, and the poplar leaves point heavenward – tiny hands, praising their Maker.

 

 

Scriptures: James 4:14, Psalm 118:24 NASB

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Four Reasons to Ponder What Is Beautiful

 

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The awakening of spring feels like a rebirth of sorts. Something about the sound of geese overhead, the emerging jack-in-the-pulpit rising from black earth, and the pungent scent wafting from the once frozen creekbed stirs a sense of vitality in my soul.  I sense this rebirth speaks of some greater longing within me – a longing for heaven, a longing for the day when all things are made new, a longing for the face-to-face embrace with the One who created me.

Throughout the most stress-filled seasons of my life, pondering beauty has been my greatest source of relief. When college classes weighed on me, I pulled poetry books from the shelves of the library and memorized poems about leaves no step had trodden black.  When my teaching career was straining, I took walks in the bitter December afternoons – towering spruce trees ushering me into a canopy of protection.  When pregnancy rendered me immovable, Mom pulled the old green reclining chair from the porch so I could watch the wrens flutter from their box.

In this season, I can think of lists of reasons to join Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in seeking what is beautiful. Here are four motivations to ponder beauty today:

Magnifying the beautiful magnifies God

In every moment, I have a choice. I can magnify my problems, or I can magnify God.  The mouse pointer disappears on the computer, rendering my day’s plans inoperable.  In this moment, I can magnify my frustrating problem, or I can magnify God.  The kids are literally screaming at one another over who gets to load Lion King into our antiquated VCR.  I can magnify the fact that they’ve now screamed at one another sixteen times in two hours, or I can magnify God by remembering how grateful I am to be a mother.  The daily grind of my life is wearing me down.  I can magnify all the reasons I’m disappointed with my life, or I can magnify the many blessings.

Magnifying God puts my problems in perspective

The benefit of magnifying God in my life is that keeping my eyes on him keeps my problems in perspective. The immovable mouse on my computer changed my plans for the day, but it’s not as big of a deal as it seems.  The yelling kids are unnerving and frustrating, but this is part of learning to cooperate and relate with others.  I’m glad they’re learning to navigate relational frustrations in a safe place.  In the grand scheme of my life, many of my troubles are light and momentary.  Even the heavy burdens will be used for God’s glory.  Keeping my eyes on him reminds me to endure hardships with strength and courage.

We were created to crave beauty

Snow-capped peaks and waves crashing to sandy shores elicit responses of awe because we were created to crave beauty. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reads: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart . . .” We all long for the beauty of encountering God face-to-face. Until then, our hearts are set on fire with passion for him when we see the beautiful works of his hands. Encountering beauty through nature, the arts, architecture, and other people reinvents the awe we were designed to crave.

Gratitude elevates

Gratitude lifts our eyes above ourselves. Thankfulness displaces negativity.  Even the smallest flame dispels a room of darkness.  We’re called to give thanks in everything.  The more we count our blessings, the less we keep track of wrongs.  Gratefulness and grumpiness simply can’t dwell in the same space.

Wherever life finds you today, may you embrace the joy of the journey, find something for which you can give thanks, and keep looking up. The geese are northern-bound.

 

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There Are No Small Moments

 

I’m on my knees, camera lens inches from a dwarf ginseng, its tiny snowflake head bobbing in the breeze, when I realize we’re not alone. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the khaki-clad elderly gentleman greets, and I’m drawn from my small moment with the ginseng.

“Sure is,” I say, somewhat embarrassed by the black dirt on my knees and elbows.

“Did you see the trout lilies?” he asks, and I notice the camera strapped over his neck. I’m less embarrassed.

We talk for a long while about trillium and bluebells, and he finally meanders off along the path. Returning to my photo shoot with the ginseng, I remember the way I once looked at thirty-somethings with cameras and wildflower books.  At twenty-two, I kept track of miles logged and elevations reached, not dwarf flora, like violets and ginseng.  At twenty-two, I mostly lived for big moments – summit moments, and the thought of bending low for small moments seemed nothing short of condescending.

We walk farther down the trail, kids running ahead in search of toads and moths, and I consider these changing seasons. When did small moments begin to take on such an authentic kind of glory?  It must have been before I dug the wildflower books out of the dusty boxes in the attic of the garage.

I remember when I started taking pictures of tiny mushrooms and sphagnum moss. I believe that was the moment.  The moment I pulled out the camera and committed to capture the miracles I miss every day, when I brush past in all my hurry, with my large-moment focus and my desire to prove something.

What if we could all live like we have nothing to prove? What if we never again needed to prove our worth through demonstrating our intelligence, beauty, humor, and talent?  What if these things were simply gifts with which we blessed others, and we were fully content to live in the midst of our quiet moments in utter contentment?

Have I really learned the secret of being content in any and every situation?

What if there really are no small moments – just quiet moments . . . And what if the quiet moments are worth every bit as much as the loud moments performed before the multitudes?

I think long on it, while the kids build castles along the sandy creek, and I’m sure of it: These quiet moments of walking with children in the woods, baking cornbread, stirring scrambled eggs with a rubber spatula, folding tiny T-shirts, and wiping down dusty furniture are the moments that will make up the bulk of our lives. There may be loud moments, platform moments, and moments that are broadcast before the world, but these big moments won’t make up the majority of our lives.

So what are we doing with our quiet moments? Because the quiet moments are the ones that seem small, but they’re really the ones that comprise the essence of our lives.

Sitting along the water, I commit to live with more gratitude. I commit to recognize the gifts that surround me and magnify God through naming them: dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, garlic mustard, and wild geranium; sandcastles at the creek, lunch on a hilltop, holding hands along the road; the mounds of dirty laundry that remind me of the gift of my family, the meat simmering in the crock-pot, the green crayon on the living room wall.  I won’t write these things off or roll my eyes.  I’ll embrace them and give thanks.

I commit to speak life. I commit to ask direct questions and bite my tongue when I’m in a bad mood.  I remember to tell the kids that I love them just because they’re mine, that their mistakes will never define them, and that they make my world a better place.

I commit to live intentionally.  We role play the whole way home from the creek, and Bekah thinks of responses to every playground dilemma I can conjure up.  We read Bible stories before Caleb naps, and I pray specific prayers over each of them before he sleeps.  We turn off the TV and dive into imaginary play on the carpet with our assortment of mini characters.  I make some calls and send some cards.

When the sun sinks low that evening, Bekah and I put together a pocket guide of wildflowers from our sanctuary at the Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area. We find Latin names and study the history of each plant.  It all feels a bit small, but when she looks at me with dancing blue eyes, filled wild with life and passion, I know for sure that none of this day was small at all.

To check out our pamphlet, just click the link below. You’ll be asked to give your email address, and it will come to your inbox.  This is actually a terrific resource for anyone up for an outdoor adventure this month!

Western Pennsylvanian Spring Wildflower Guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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