Monday, August 1, 2016

It's a Beautiful Life

Rain drizzled out of May clouds.  Just opening up my car door I glanced to my left and saw a very elderly lady sitting inside her old car.  Her smile caught my attention.
It was so restful and real.  The smile traveled past the curve of her lips and threaded through her wrinkles finding its resting place in her pair of twinkling eyes.
The smile beamed past the oxygen tubes weaving around her face and helping her breath.
I looked and saw her adjusting a cellophane wrapped spring bouquet.  Bright blossoms spilled over her lap.
Now I was curious.  Why was this very old woman sitting in the passenger seat of her car holding a bouquet, beaming?
I assumed it was probably a token of love by her very geriatric husband.
Closing my door I walked over to her and stepped inside the arc of the open door.
"Hello. I noticed your flowers."  I didn't add and "Your electric smile."But I wanted to.

She didn't hesitate nodding enthusiastically, "Isn't life beautiful?"

A simple statement.
I let her words sink into me and finally nodded.
A nursing aide came up behind me to shut the lady's car door.
There was no geriatric husband.
The little woman with the shining eyes seemed to suspect my question. The one I didn't have time to ask.
"These flowers are for my hair dresser."She explained smiling.
The nurse's aide didn't seem nearly as delighted as I was and quickly tried to shut her door.  I managed to squeeze the old lady's hand and say, "Thank you."
The old car door heavily shut and the lady was gone.
I sat in my car letting the rain cut paths down my windshield.
It had been hard to nod my agreement to the old lady.

It was almost like she was heralding some great truth I had forgotten in her simple sentence of , "Isn't life beautiful?"

Life hadn't seemed beautiful to me for so long.  Or it seemed so long.  At that point it had been ugly, uncomfortable, and seemingly unending sadness for seven months or so. But those seven months seemed so much longer.  Every day seemed to snail pace.  Occasionally my face would form a smile, but it wasn't often and my mind seemed locked into a permanent frown, or furrowed brow of despair. A smile never reached my heart.
I needed that sweet lady to speak those three words to me.
Because for all that life was filled with ugly and shot through with pain and heart ache it was still vividly and undeniably beautiful.
I needed the hope of those simple words.
If I would look past my personal storm and try to recognize it.
I knew a few other people deep in personal darkness of their own of different kinds and when my eyes would catch theirs I always tried to bravely smile. I knew it was hard for them to smile too, to remember that life is beautiful. That it had once been beautiful and it would be so again.
And honestly that even in the here and now the beauty didn't stop...
It appeared in the skipping of my girls feet as they dashed out the door to their new school.  They loved it.  Their enthusiasm evident.
Life was now more beautiful for them. New friends to share the day with, new people to know and love.
I had been careful to watch for beautiful displays of splendor in nature and hadn't been disappointed all winter and spring.  Life was beautiful and the rebirth of spring confirmed it over and over.
The wisteria dripping down trees and cascading lavender blossoms intermixed between patches of weeds.  The vases on my mom's table that housed all the blossoms she had cut from her own yard.
If I ever needed a tangible reminder that life was beautiful I needed only to look outside again.

My sister had found joy in new things unfolding and I had quietly listened.
She was beautiful to me and life was still beautiful and filled with possibility.

New friendships had blossomed even in the soil of sorrow fed by other people's wisdom, love, and most of all mercy.Old friendships had been reignited and cords had grown tighter.  Compassion on both sides pulling us together and helping to ease hearts and cushion confused minds.
People were still reaching out and love was offered. Yes, life was beautiful.
Things had died in ugly ways, but new things had bloomed beautifully.

God was still here reaching out to me in the thick of my ugly.  Offering me something different than I had known.  I knew Him in a way I hadn't before.  A deeper, dependent way.  I understood things about Him that I had only talked about but not known.  He was more beautiful to me. I knew in an unshakable way that God loved me now.  And I had never really understood that before.
Yes life was beautiful because it was conceived and created by Him and crowned indelibly with His beauty.  Everywhere.
Lastly, my baby had grown up.  He had many firsts.  Though the year had seemed barren, a bitter long drink my baby had thrived.  His eyes bright blazing with newborn glory moving from an infant to a squealing, laughing dimpled boy pulling up and crawling everywhere.
Life was fresh for him and life was beautiful.  He was beautiful. His squirming, curious self bearing the beautiful image of a beautiful God.

I have remembered that declaration of the old lady frequently.  That she needed a nursing aide, relied on oxygen but still believed life was beautiful and wanted to bring spring beauty to her hair dresser.
She didn't realize at that moment how much her reminder would mean to me.
I've found myself trying to hope that for others.
Recently I got more ugly news.  Very ugly.  It wasn't my news but I knew the pain it would bring to someone I loved with all my heart. I couldn't speak for the first minutes following knowing the pain that was coming. I didn't want my loved one to have to face it.  To be met with great loss.
My heart hurt knowing the crushing weight she would feel and yet she survived it.
One day at a time.  Sometimes she would laugh and sometimes her eyes would spill the tears.  We would do simple things together.  Like eat pizza or cuddle on the couch together and laugh at little kids.  We would do retail therapy as she called it and think about the way this dress looked on her rather than all the grief churning within.  We would once again discuss this new outfit she got or watch her bake her symphony bar brownies.   I squeezed her hand and found myself saying gently to her, "Life is still beautiful."No this current situation wasn't beautiful, but the God who held us together was.
Life is still beautiful because God is beautiful and He is here.
I have to repeat that to myself.  Then have others repeat it back to me.
Life is beautiful because God breathed it into our lungs and paid everything to spend it with us both now and forever.  That eclipses all of this temporary ugliness.  Even mine. His beauty renames us, remakes us, restores us.  His beauty covers us if we will wear it.  I'm so thankful.

For the Love of Books
Story Time.
Those two short words always meant wonder for me.
I loved story time the most.
My mom said our story time began after her weekly grocery shopping trip.  There she would let me select one Golden Book and we would read it all week.  She kept a tiny toddler library in a lower kitchen cabinet.  While she cooked I rested on the kitchen floor and thumbed through the Golden Books.  
Later there were longer classics like Johanna Spyri's Heidi or Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.  
Hours slid by as she flipped childhood biographies page after page drawing the timeline of history. 
At school I loved the first ten minutes spent listening to the teachers' words nail down the protagonist, antagonist, and the climax of a good story. I loved the details included. If a story was filled with descriptive language all the better.   
My mom took us frequently to the library filling up our arms with books of all kinds. 
I still remember much of the books I had to read in school.  I looked forward to looking at a syllabus and seeing what we had to read. 
I remember the first day I brought my Meredith home.  She was a mere one week old and I had no clue of what to do with a baby.  So while my husband slept the afternoon away I decided I would read to this tiny newborn.  I did.  We started off with a Max Lucado treasury and I felt some fleeting moments of certainty in that season of new parent paralysis. In fact because I was so nervous about being a mother I found reading books to my baby cathartic and really an anchor for me.  This I knew.  Perhaps this snoozing baby in the curve of my arm couldn't discern a story line, but my voice told the story and I felt calm.  So much time was spent reading to my oldest girl on my days off of work that by the time she was three we had read Little Women together and she pleasantly asked myriads of questions and made her own observations.  
It's so funny to think now.  My current three year old would never let me do that.
I don't have all of that uninterrupted time to give everyone.
I still try just usually with competing noise and general controlled chaos. 

.I was asked recently what my favorite children's books were.  The ones I remember long after the binding snapped shut and the book was shelved

My favorite books I was read as a child include The Beatrix Potter Story Books, Ginger Pye, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Little House Series, the endless archaic series of American biographies my mom spent most of my first and second grade year reading to me, and The Bronze Bow. And most of all the Golden Books my mom purchased for change back then still fill her shelves.  I watch my girls pick those thirty year old books out now and flip through them.
I think the Eloise Wilkins Golden Books remind me most of being a child because my mom particularly liked those and we had may of them. All of the stories sweet and focused on family relationships or filled with poems and prayers.  The drawings of the children mirroring cherubs with rosy cheeks and tiny bite sized noses.  They were simply innocent and sweet.

My little girls' favorites include We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Michael Rosen), Fancy Nancy, Dr. Suess, Nancy Drew, Lady Bug Girl, The American Girl Series.  (It's quite obvious its a mostly girl house), The Max Lucado story books, Kevin Henke books like Chrysanthemum, All of the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie Collection, and the list could go on indefinitely.

My personal favorite is Gyo Fujikawa.  The illustrations are beautiful.  I loved flipping through the board books with the girls as babies.  

We also enjoy all sorts of educational books, books on animals, nature, artists, musicians, and even cookbooks.  My girls like to thumb through cook books and debate over the bakery they want to open every other week.

A few weeks ago to pass a summer afternoon I passed out Southern Living magazines to all three girls and we found ourselves in some really interesting conversations.
"Look at these cupcakes! Can we make them?"
"Look at these huge trees?" An article on the Live Oaks of the South sparked.
The most intriguing article was on the live mermaid shows held at a special theatre in Florida.
It was simple.  Just three young girls and their mama looking at some old magazines and discussing all sorts of topics.  I smiled seeing the future a bit and what I might have to look forward to.

Libraries are a sacred place for me.  When things get tough or life seems unfamiliar or startling I usually find myself back in a book store sitting on the floor reading books to my kids or in the library doing the same.  It's like walking back into time and taking my kids with me and it feels safe, innocent, and sure. 
If I'm anxious or trying to steady a shaky mind I usually do the physical act of picking up a book and forcing my mind to concentrate.  
I believe that reading books to your kids and reading books in front of your kids increases their capacity and desire to keep learning about so many things.  Letting little fingers flip through so many pages about so many topics, people, and ideas.  Showing them gentle peeks into different things that comprise our world. Even if it is just looking at an atlas and talking about so many different places we could go and why we would want to.  
People recommend different twenty minutes a day, or read this book or that....
You have to find what your kids like and what you yourself will enjoy listening to and retelling again and again. 
It needs to be worthy of the time. If we start a book that no one is into we simply shut it.  No sense wasting time.  
I used to take my girls once a week to purchase a book of their choice to reread over and give a sense of ownership.  Sometimes I cringed at the pick, but it was their decision.
Oftentimes we find a book unrelated to anything capturing our attention like architectural picture books or something about constellations or different cultures.  

Have a favorite book? ( I can't ever nail that down) I have so many I like...but I have a handful that stand out. Of course at any given time I have a running list of any I would recommend.
My favorite books to read for myself are personal memoirs.  Real life stories birthed in the thick of real life told with guts and vidid detail.  Vulnerable and inspiring. 

What's a book that really spoke to you and left you different?  Don't be afraid to try different ones.  Different genres. At the moment I'm reading some business and entrepreneurial themed books and I have enjoyed those as well. Even one on organization (not my thing) but it is peppered with stories so it is doable for me.  I usually can't stomach a romance novel.  But I do like Charles Martin. I've found some beautiful words and perspective in some very old books that hid on the shelves of the church library over the years by people of other centuries long gone.  I remember the first time I discovered Catherine Marshalls's spiritual books or read some Hannah Whitehall Smith.  Very rich. 
And we need humor.  Jen Hatmaker is so good for that!  

What book reminds you of being little and curled up tight to your parents listening to the cadence of their voice? 
For me it's hearing my mom's North Carolina flavored voice narrate adventures on Pike's Peak, Kit Carson, Molly Pitcher, and George Washington Carver, Julia Ward Howe, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, Helen Keller, Stephen Decatur and it left me with the lasting feeling that I was thankful. Thankful to be an American.

It was my dad with all of his coffee table books about every national park and how one day we might be able to see Yosemite and maybe venture to Glacier.  Even though we didn't we dreamed with him.

Some books I have really enjoyed this year...

And sometimes books and their shelves have other uses, like housing Lamby and other treasured dolls :) 

Friday, July 29, 2016


Five Minute Fridays

Silently creeping along the carpet, stilling our breath so we couldn't be detected.  I remember our deliberate steps around our childhood house as a group of kids scattered to find a hiding place in the complete dark.  My sister and I always stuffed pillows in all the basement windows so no one could see the hand in front of their faces as five neighborhood children blended into corners or angles of the house undetected.  It was how we passed hot summer days.  Days too hot to be outside.  The games would last for hours.
 Our long games continued when we moved into middle and even high school.  Our dad would participate.  It didn't really matter that we weren't necessarily children anymore.  I remember the way we ran away screaming as teenagers as we searched the dusk to find my dad.  We had to really look to find him. He finally dropped out of the apple tree we were standing under sending my sister and I sprinting off into the almost dark screaming like small childen.
One night in college after boredom set in roommates began turning off all lights and our four girl town house turned into a hide and seek playground.
It seemed kind of funny to be doing, but we all had fun and hid the night away.
One thing I always remember about hide and seek was the way my back tingled whenever someone came almost into my hiding place, stared, and I hushed my breathing and willed myself not to move.
The game never got old.
My girls play it and every time someone isn't caught the same look of delight spreads across faces as one of them ends the game declaring to everyone, "No one found me!"
Even in our games now I believe dads are always the best at hiding.
In the past few months the word hidden has been a frequent guest in my mind.
In different contexts...
Hidden sin...
Hidden pain....
Hidden hurt...
Being Hidden in God...
What does it mean for God to be out Hiding place?
The idea of God being our Hiding place, our refuge appears several times throughout scripture.
I haven't really thought about it in years past.
I've prayed many times over the past year for God to teach me what that means.
Our sins aren't hidden from God (Psalm 19:2, Psalm 69:5), our longings aren't hidden from God (Psalm 38:9), our body was hidden from sight and created in secret by the God  who has an intimate knowledge of every millisecond of our lives and fabric of our being (Psalm 139), we cannot hide in a place where we can't be found by God (Psalm 139).
And yet..
God wants us to hide in Him.

He desires to illuminate our darkness when we hide ourselves in Him. We spend time hiding in him and then He reveals the hidden to us.

We enter into quiet honest time with Him and while we hide we are actually seeking Him.
Our real life, our true self is made within the hidden.  That's the only way our spiritual life is authentic.  When the deep hidden space between our hearts quiet and hide from the rest of the world to listen to His voice.
We hide from the rest of the world to seek Him and he promises this,

"Call to me and I will answer You, and tell you great and mighty things which you do not know." (Jeremiah 33:3)
He reveals the hidden to us.

Perhaps something that was obvious becomes clear. Somethings that we were too busy, too loud, too noisy, too distracted, or too arrogant to understand when we neglected to pull away and know Him.

"Prayer - secret fervent believing prayer-lies at the root of all personal godliness....No learning can make up for the failure to pray.  No earnestness, no diligence, no study, no gifts will supply its lack. Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still.  He will never talk well and with real success to men for God who has not learned well how to talk to God for men.  More than this, prayerless words in the pulpit and out of it are deadening words." (Ouch!)
Those words struck me deeply written boldly in The Complete Collection of E.M. Bounds on Payer.
Matthew 6 calls us to this secret, hidden from the world time of communing with God.  It's in this secret that we are made...

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. " (Matthew 6:5-7)

God promises to reward us with the gift of Himself when we hide ourselves in the secret, seeking Him.  It's the ultimate and most rewarding hide and seek.
Some every day hiding places....

Friday, July 15, 2016


Five Minute Fridays

Genesis.  The rich verses that detail the beginnings of all that is center on the God who created then and creates still.
Different people have different favourites in scripture. Genesis is one of mine.
I always come back to it.
I want to reread it all.  It never gets old.
The cradle of history, the birth of time and all of that encompassed and recorded in two short chapters.
Last month I read the first three chapters over several times and tried to notice different things...
One thing that struck me is how the limitless detail and enormity of creation is so simply summed up.
Each day God speaks into being a certain aspect of creation and there it is. And it is good.
I like to imagine the inconceivable mind of God speaking out "Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night...And it was so."  That everything included in the incomprehensible expanse of a universe.  Every detail can emerge through the spoken word of God.  Created by His voice, conceived in all detail in His mind.
From that small command billions of galaxies unfurl across a gargantuan universe.  Unimaginable stars spoken immediately into being forming the constellations we see.  Nebulas, comets, entire solar systems, and we are gently placed in the tiny pocket of Milky Way...all in an instant.

God so simply sums up all of this creative mind blowing work in a short 31 verse chapter of the Bible and calls it simply "Good".  While we devote entire lives in the study of one minute piece of his creation.  Entire documentaries on a species of bird.  Entire quests or professions center on one tiny puzzle piece of it all and His voice just calls it into being effortlessly.

That's why it never gets old to read, to ponder, to marvel at.
God still is creating.
One definition of create is, "to cause to come into being as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes." (
God is still creating and that never gets old either.  The wonder over a brand new baby, a new heart that starts beating, a new hand to hold, new blazingly clear baby eyes to look into.
New skies to watch.
God is still in the creative process with more on His drawing board...
Like the climax of His own story, the carrying out of His purposes on earth, and the weaving of all stories into His epic anthology of History.
The creation of a New Heaven and a New Earth.
And despite all of this magnificent and complicated creative endeavors that we see mere glimpses of and barely understand He still creates things within us that we cannot create ourselves.
Things that do not occur in us "naturally or are made by ordinary processes."
He can still create a pure heart within us and renew a steadfast spirit within us. (Psalm 51).
It is still God's creation of Spiritual life within us that saves us, remakes us, recreates us, and ushers us into the hope of living in our original created glory.
We live out the image of God in us when we create ideas, projects, and yes even relationships.  It brings us joy, gives us goal and purpose, and confirms the stamp of image bearer of God that we all carry.
 Lastly, we get to carry out the complexity of creating mostly in relationships.
It takes creativity to relearn, reconnect, refocus a heart to love the same ones we share life with over and over and over.  We must be creative to accomplish this task.  We must constantly find ways to see the same thing anew over and over again.
And we can.
May God create within me the eyes not too thick and the heart not too hard to always look for ways to create love when I don't see them anymore.
When I have become dull.
After all like Vincent Van Goh says, "There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people."
Perhaps thats why God created the objects of His love last.  His people.
Maybe that's why He has spent all of history creating the saga of love and redemption that will bring them close to His heart and one day bring them Home.
And maybe the way I refocus my heart on knowing God and loving God is to look for Him over and over in all of His creation.  To not miss Him here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Five Minute Fridays

One Word / Five Minutes

Rest.  When I read this word prompt it was yet another time I've been reminded of this short word.  I kind of feel like this about the word rest...
It sounds lovely.  Like falling asleep beneath a cool lavender scented quilt and sinking into a satisfying deep dream free sleep. The one you wake from and actually feel like rest merged with you. Like eating a truly enjoyable meal and pushing your plate back satisfied, rest would mean lifting your head off of the pillow, stretching your toes to meet the floor and rising to greet the day satisfied with the sleep. Feeling actually rested. Kind of like sleep actually worked.
It's been awhile.
Four kids squeezed into eight years (none of which have slept well) means that I haven't really felt rested in a decade.  Not to mention all of the high ups and deep downs those years have packed.   Before that there was all that rush and hurry of cramming full loads of college courses in to sprint towards a finish line of school in an unnecessary rush to start grown up life.
Maybe it was high school when I knew what deep sleep rest was.
Physical Rest.
Here's the rub with me...
I've never been a good rester. Ever.
Not physically, not spiritually.
Rest is hard for me.  It actually kind of sounds like work.
I remember from the age of seven and then on when I couldn't rest easily. Those years when even as a little girl I couldn't sleep, troubled, anxious.
Something I couldn't do was let myself rest in Jesus.
I was His daughter but something robbed me of the rest and I began to jump through spiritual hoops early on.  I didn't know how to relax into the arms of grace. Part of it was a deeply ingrained spiritual dysfunction where I viewed God as never ever pleased with me.  I heard about words like grace, but the idea of them eluded me.  Completely.  Almost like referring to a city I had never seen.  I could tell others about rest and grace, but only from my head.  Rest was stymied.  A blockade formed around my heart.
I didn't grasp that all my doing prevented me from seeing what He had already done.
One April day in college I sat in my parent's blue Queen Anne chair dutifully doing my devotions.
In Repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. (Isaiah 30:15)  
Something about those words struck me.  Kind of like I switched seats in an auditorium and viewed the stage of life very differently.  It was a simple verse, but the idea of resting and repentance meeting together was something I didn't know.  I also didn't know what a quiet soul was.  I knew how to be a quiet girl, but I didn't know how to have a quiet, resting heart.  The last phrase, "but you would have none of it," pricked me.  I felt like Jesus was saying that exactly to me.
Years have passed and that was a starting point to understanding the necessity of resting in the spiritual sense.
What I had always done was struggle kind of like C.S. Lewis says in A Grief Observed,
"The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can't give it: you are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs."
That was me.
It still is me many times.
It is still not my nature to rest.
Sometimes we are frightened of the quiet, the rest because it forces us to face others and ourselves and we would rather hide behind the busy then actually be known.
I've been through a dark storm lately.  One I believe happened to me because I let myself become so depleted that I was starving for rest.  Even if it was false rest.  A counterfeit rest.
I also now see the link between quietness and trust and spiritual strength.
If we are empty of quietness and trust we won't be strong and we will be an easy target for our Enemy and given to cave beneath our own fatigue of life.
In the aftermath  of this most recent storm  I have some good days and then meet the bad days just around the bend.  I find myself trying to right it all and think of all angles and mentally berate myself and punish myself to assure me and God that it will never occur again.  Totally figure my weaknesses out so I'll only be strong. Pray, pray again, kind of like spiritually beating myself up.
Recently I felt God whisper to me gently, "Let it rest and leave the rest to Me."  I almost didn't catch it and quickly dismissed it.  But as the days stretched on I felt the phrase take root within me. I kept hearing the whisper and I started whispering it to myself.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is rest and leave the rest to God.
If I don't rest, I'll miss the rest of what He has planned to do.
In Psalm 46 David tells us that God makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.  He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire. He says ' Be still and know that I am God.'
Sometimes God silences the war in me and I'm supposed to drop it, let it go, give it up, rest in His work.  I get to rest, to be still, to know in my depths He is God because I see Him make the war within me and around me cease.
I'm trying to be better at resting in Him that I may not miss the rest of His story in me.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Pantry List

I liked to give people gifts.  Way more than getting them.  I remember one time telling my mom, "I wish I could be funded by a philanthropist to give gifts."  I forget her response, probably a chuckle and a raised eyebrow.
But I do.
It hovers right at the top.  Giving people gifts is me loving them...
Weird, because its not how I receive love.  I don't need gifts, I just need to give them.
I remember once having a good friend get married.  My whole plan was to get her all the things she needed for a fully stocked pantry.  You know the little things that make a meal come together.
The things we forget about.
Especially when you get married right out of college where you bought the most sparse ingredients possible like oatmeal and granola bars to power through your days.
I remember not having really a clue about what was needed to make a good meal.
I used to love pouring over cookbooks and making new things.  Until I was on my own and realized that most of the ingredients were not actually in my house.
If you ever look at a Southern Living recipe you realize that you are going to have to do a fair bit of grocery gymnastics to have it all before you can then proceed to try to execute the actual feat of the recipe. You know, you buy it all and unload it all and find yourself eating frozen pizza because you're now too tired to make it.
I thought a cute basket of all the odds and ends that most single people never consider would be a good spring board for cooking adventures.  Good olive oil, sea salt, good real non imitation extracts, etc.
I still think its a good idea.
Thirteen years after moving out of my parents house I still feel a bit of an amateur at having things on hand I need. I think its because when I get to the store all the decisions and "Please, don't put that into the cart" admonitions leave me a bit hazed.
I finished reading a cooking memoir the other day and in the appendix the author listed the staples that comprise her pantry.  The ingredients always replenished and resting inside the cupboards that provide the skeleton for a great meal.
She provided a weeknight pantry must have list as well as ideas for an entertaining pantry shelf.
I scanned through the ingredients and her directives and laughed at her normal.
Cannelini beans
Brown Rice
Feta cheese
Goat Cheese
Dried figs and cherries
Balsamic ....
The list went on.
The list sounded marvelous to me...
If it was just me....
I kind of marveled that her kids gobbled up bowls of roasted broccoli and quinoa.
That got me thinking about what I regularly reach for and place in my basket.
What gets me through the week.
It also reminded me of the necessary building blocks I leave out of my list and then find myself running back to the store to get.
For me things I always forget are sugar, oil, and salad dressing.
Lately I've been making other lists.
Lists for Hope.
I keep thinking about Hope.  The word.  What it means. How I haven't been living with it for a while. How to Hope again.
When I think about Hope certain words find themselves on my list.
My list keeps growing...
Ways to hope, ways to be healthy enough to hope, ways to allow for hope...etc.
But at the base of the list, at its root are a few staples that everything is being built upon.
Kind of like a pantry list to craft hope...
Heart...Who am I really? I mean really, Not who I want to be, think I should be, but really who did   God purpose me to be? Am I willing to take of masks and honestly say what I think? Am I willing to live from the heart of me?  Not the deceitful part but the personal to me part?  Authentic
Humble ... I know that being lifted up to hope involves being humble, pride accompanies a fall, and when you have fallen a humble spirit is key to being able to look up at Hope
Happiness... I do think we are made to be happy, I don't mean that we live to be happy but I think we can find happiness when we are looking for it and at the base of happiness really is thankfulness.  A thankful heart births happiness.  It's just true.  Happiness is elusive without it.
Honor... Seeking to honor people means I'm being hopeful about the best in them instead of hanging on to the worst
My list is long and some items that are on it are a bit different and not as frequently used, but kind of like that teaspoon of extract you must have to make a cake taste right or the baking powder and soda and yeast they are crucial.
Some pantry items are fun and more flashy like fragrant cardamom or salty kalamata olives but some are more boring and standard.
On my Hope list there lies Health...
Something I can honestly say that I have neglected.  My personal health.  For years.  Refusing to allow myself to rest and to ask people for help.  Not eating meals, thinking I don't deserve to be healthy. Where is my margin?  What do I do for just me that makes me healthy?  A counselor asked me that recently and I could barely even list anything. "Seeing you," I stammered out.  Then I swallowed.  No wonder I felt empty on the inside.  I didn't do things I loved and kind of just let myself diminish, deplete, drain.
Heal...Am I willing to let God heal me?  Heal me of all the hurt? Heal me from all of the past?  Heal me so I can hope again.  Heal me so I won't hurt others? ...
Here... Am I fully engaged here, to this moment, this season, this time?  I don't want the regret of the past, the hurt of the past, or wishing for the future to steal this moment.  This here and now. Here is very important.  Hope hinges on what I do here.

In my real life, in my buggy every week I always find myself buying...
Milk, Bread, Eggs, Nutella, Tomatoes, Peppers, Onions, Apples,  Cheese, Almonds, Romaine, Pasta, Muffin mix, tortillas, chicken breast, etc.
*Not nearly as exciting as the aforementioned pantry list...but what works for me.
My mom's list has several all important others that I never haul across the store and slip inside my fridge door. Hers include Virginia Best Flour to pat out her biscuits and bags of lemons to fresh squeeze lemonade and lots of odds and ends things to roll out fruit pies and to whisk up soups of all kinds that are thick with items I don't own.
My friend Kristen's list is filled with everything to make on the whim pasta salad and lots of italian and sometimes dishes that nod to her Lebanese background.
Then theres Jenna that is always producing the cover cake on Southern Living.  She has an active pantry...

What items do you find necessary to build a weeknight of normal meals? To entertain with?
What words, ideas, and practices do you tap into to craft a beautiful life?
What word or idea are you trying to bring forth this year? To produce out of your heart?  At the end of this year, the day, the minutes what are you focusing on this year?  To pull out of the heart of you and enjoy when it's done?

* I so enjoyed reading Shauna Niequist's Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table with Recipes.  Highly recommend.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sarah sees the Sea

"I've never been to the beach." Simple sentence.
"You've never?" I remember stammering back at her.  I couldn't wrap my head around it.
I stated the obvious back to her in question form, "You mean you have never seen the waves? You've never seen an ocean?"
She nods back.  Of course that is the truth.
"But you're nineteen."  I tell her what she already knows.
 She's nodding back, laughing at me telling her her own age.
She fits into a small group.  A handful of people I know.  People that have never seen the ocean.
I guess that used to be common place; however, when you live only five hours from the nearest shore line it's not too common.
My great grandmother (the one who lived long and always seemed to be my grandmother) never saw the ocean.  I remember someone saying this at her passing and my seventeen year old heart saddened.  "She never left the state of North Carolina save her few trips to Virginia," my mom told me.  I guess it made sense to people who lived off of their land entirely.  No time to leave hundreds of chickens and fields of produce.  No time when honey had to be harvested and butter churned out.
Still even then it made me sad.
I remember meeting mid westerners that had never seen an ocean.
"We've been to lakes.  They look as big as oceans."  They explained.  That seemed better.  At least they knew the feeling,  though nothing will ever convince me that a lake is an ocean substitute.
I knew it could feel like the real deal.  I had seen a Nicaraguan lake that was so expansive that it seemed to be an endless sea.
But Sarah my  nineteen year old friend had never been to a lake of that size before.
I felt sad when she told me and from then on I wanted to take her to see it.  I remember whenever ideas of beach vacations came up I wanted her with us.  Some how it never worked out.  A few years passed without us going to the beach as a family.
This year when we decided to plan our beach vacation the idea resurfaced.  My husband suggested it immediately, "Let's take Sarah."
I nodded.  She had to go.  We could take her. But before we could take her...
She told me simply,
"I'm going to the beach next week."
My eyes rounded, smiled big, "Really?! Really, Sarah?!"
She sketched out plans for a weekend away with her still new husband.
Just like that she was going to the beach for a weekend of rest.  Away from so much stress and pressure of care taking an invalid grandmother and crazy busy work schedules.
Just like that she was going to see the beach.  Experience it.  This great omission of life experience would be finally met.
"Ok, Sarah.  I mean it.  I want you to try to remember for me what it was like to see the beach the first  time.  I want to know it. All of it.  Could you try to remember the details?  What you first noticed." I rattled on my requests.
She was holding my squirming baby and her brown eyes twinkled back at me.  Amused I think.
"Yes." she replied.  Indulging me.  I think she knew I'd ask.
Something in me so wanted to know what a twenty-two year old first thinks of when she sees the sand sliding beneath the weight of millions of gallons of salty sea water colliding with shore line.  I wanted to know what she felt like when she looked out and saw an eternity of water merge with the horizon line.
Part of me wanted to watch her reaction.  Wish I was there.
I remembering treasuring the reaction of my kids the first time their feet flirted with the waves and their toes timidly splashed in tide pools.
This past weekend was her beach trip.
 Yesterday,  casually we talked over moving boxes and children singing, fighting, interrupting...
"So Sarah, what was it like?"
Before she could answer I prefaced it, "What was your first thought of the beach?" I wanted to know the first impression.
Her reply surprised me.
" I couldn't believe that there was another whole world of life swimming in the water.  That I couldn't see."
Wasn't what i expected.  No comments on wind in her hair or the smell of salt, the rush of water, the noise...
I leaned my head to the side, "What do you mean? You mean all of the sea life? The fish? The water is teeming with life you can't see?"
"Yes!"  She said.  I got it.
Then she added to this observation.
"Watching the waves it boggled my mind that the waves endlessly roll in.  The ocean is constantly generating it.  Even though I've never seen it. Kind of like when you realize that people's lives are constantly moving and going on even when you never see them."
I nodded.
"I get it.  The beach is constant. Constant motion.  Life is like that too.  People's lives, all of life is continually moving, marching on being lived out all of the time despite the fact that we mostly just see ours and the few people we most closely share life with.  But there is so much more.  Always so much more going on than we know."
I liked her observations.
I liked that she first thought of everything she couldn't see.  How the thick dark blue green of North Carolina sea water shields and houses myriads of sea creatures.  That there is so much under the surface.  So much going on and we can never even see it.
It reminds me of two things I'm trying to now hold on to.  This idea that there is so much more going on that what meets the eye.
John Piper says it best like this, "God is always doing 10,000 things in your life and you may be aware of three of them."
It's true.  We really have only a small clue of what is going on.  The way Jesus is using the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful...How He is using our sin, weaknesses, and redemption.  How He weaves all parts of our stories with others.  All of it.  All of history and its all pounding out His purposes in the end.  So much of it we can't see.  What He is doing turns out to be manifold, much and we only see it in bite sized pieces.
Sarah and I talked about her observations of the ocean and where her mind drifted immediately and I found myself interested that her heart drifted to deeper things immediately.  Not surface.  Not the physical sand and sunset slow dipping in the water, but immediately went to deeper truth.
This idea that the ocean is constantly beating, tides pulling sand back into the thick depths of water and then pushing driftwood debris and scattering sea shell confetti back in its wake while we all sleep and live, play and cry and march throughout our days....
It keeps going on.  As life does. Life is not static, its moving.  Time blurring by.  For everyone.  Our time running out, running fast
After listening to Sarah's observations I came away with this one.
Just as Sarah had only heard about the ocean but never experienced it, Heaven exists.  We hear about it in sermons, mentions of its beauty and heart healing joy within scripture, and we hear the eternal whispers of its reality within our own hearts where God has set eternity.  We ourselves know there is something better . There must be.  We know in the end we were made for it.  We are hoping wildly that there is something better than this place.  Somewhere we will be relieved of pain done to us and forever forget the pain we ourselves have inflicted on others. Where our tears will be wiped away and our desire for answers will cease as we are made whole in the presence of God Himself. All longing fully satisfied forever.  
Something to hope in, to hang onto, to live for.
But we don't yet know it.
We know of it and we may know the maker of Heaven.  Jesus.  We may be tightly holding His hands now to guide us through this life, but we haven't yet been there. We see glimpses of it.  We do experience tastes of it.
Yet we still haven't been.
Like the beach's seemingly eternal tides, Heaven is gloriously existing filled with God's light and presence now.  And yet we cannot see it.
Because we have never been doesn't diminish it's existence.
We hang on to Him now, to cross over into that very real threshold then, to be with Him there.
I wonder if God watches expectantly for the looks on faces when they first see Heaven.  When eyes widen, jaws drop, a soul who has long heard of Heaven, first tries somehow to take it in.
I'm sure He does. The vast array of emotions and awe that flicker across the face.
I wonder if He asks us, even though He knows...
"What do you think?" I'm sure He smiles, maybe laughs knowing that our minds can't contain what we see, when what we have heard pales in comparison to what will stand before us, what opens up in front of us.  When our faith literally becomes our sight.  What we hoped for is now fully tangible and as real as any reality we have ever known.
One day....
Yet today,
I'm so glad Sarah finally saw the ocean.
I think everyone needs to.
It's a sacred spot.  And that was a holy moment.  For her.
I love what she noticed, and I love that right now as I do normal things and walk through a normal day there is so much more going on in my life and in all of humanity than we know.  That God is always moving and working out His plans no matter what seems to be occurring. And that just as sure as I can take my own pulse and know my heart is beating, the eternal heart beat of God is coursing throughout all of Heaven right now with His glory and their are millions already there delighting in Him there. Now.  Right now as the ocean is pouring out all her salty gallons across thousands of shore line miles constantly, there are simultaneously people endlessly enjoying the pleasure of Jesus right now.  People we know, that we loved in this life, that we held hands with and wished to see again. They are fully alive right now, as are we.  Just hidden from us for a time. This bears important weight for Sarah.  Her mom kissed the world and those she loved good bye early.  Much to early it seemed. And yet she is fully alive existing in a very real Heaven. She didn't cease to exist when the ground swallowed her casket, she kept on existing just like that constant surf.
And kind of like Sarah all of the sudden got to go to the beach, what had dreamed of finally happened uncerimoniously, one day we will be there. One day she will be there. She will hold that hand again, see the face long lost and loved and know with full assurance she is well and has been cradled in the arms of Heaven itself.