Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Behold the Beautiful

Sometimes when something ugly happens, I think one of the best things we can do is turn our gaze to beauty. 

There's something transcendent about feasting with our eyes and filling our minds with as much as beauty as we can hold so that it brims over and flows into our souls. 

Last week from my office window I watched a cavalcade of media trucks, parked one after the other, reporting on the devastating events of Orlando. The streets I travel every day were eerily empty of traffic yet filled with intense commotion.

I work on the communications team for the hospital where many of the injured patients were treated.

I walked out to the corner with my colleagues to check out the scene and saw hordes of cameras and tangled cords and studio lights.

Reporters from national and international news organizations stood under tents while staffers held fans to make them look as if they weren’t sweltering on our first 94-degree day of the summer. 

When we returned to our office, we passed more of our coworkers heading out to the scene. One of the managers told us to take off our hospital badges so the media wouldn’t see who we worked for and ask us any questions about the conditions of the patients.

It hadn't occurred to us to take off our ID badges, but that’s not what happened while we walked among the media tents. 

When people saw we worked for the hospital, they wanted to do something for us.

A funeral home official told us they wanted to offer their services at no charge to the families of patients. 

A group pulling a wagon full of bottled water offered us water. When we declined, they insisted, expressing their appreciation.

At the deli where I often take out lunch, the cashier told me all week long she’d taken calls from places like Boston and Newtown, Connecticut. 

She said people ordered $800 and $1,000 worth of sandwiches and asked for them to be offered to the media and hospital staff and everyone who was out on the street just doing their job. 

I thought about how generous people’s hearts were. 

And then I remembered why they were here.

And that’s why we need beauty.

Beauty is a soul-restorer and heart-healer. 

Last summer I traveled to Bellagio, Italy, for a faith and art retreat. 

I’ve shared many of the photos I captured here on my blog, but Cathy Walters, a professional photographer from Denver, traveled with our group. She offered some of her official photos to us as a keepsake, and her expert eye captured the loveliness of Italy.

So I’m sharing them here with you. 

Because I'm not sure what you're looking at these days, but maybe like me, you might want to behold a little bit of beauty.

There was rich beauty in the landscape of Italy, the rugged mountains, and lush hillsides beside the ancient buildings.

There was peaceful beauty on the waters and in the surging waves churned up by the boats. 

There was luscious beauty in the food of the region and in the ripe, gorgeous gardens. 

There was a harmonious beauty in the new friends I met, imaginative beauty in the art we created, and spiritual beauty in the prayers we shared together on our last day of the retreat.

If you are feeling discouraged, disheartened or overwhelmed just now, I hope you gaze on what captivates your heart with beauty.

Until you’re filled up to overflowing.

{All Italy photos in this post are by Cathy Walters Photography.} 

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there for more posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Flights of Peaceful Fancy

My travel plans this summer don’t require a suitcase or even an overnight bag. I don't have any plane tickets or hotel accommodations booked.

I'm not going anywhere on vacation this summer. 

But I did travel across town for brunch. {Does that count?}

When my sister and I confabbed about a place to take my mother for her birthday brunch a few weeks ago, her love of art and interesting food led us to a place that combines very quirky art and exceptionally delicious food.

When we invited two of her friends to join us, our conversation might as well have been a feature on the Travel Channel. Linda had just returned from China and Mary got in the night before from Chicago. 

They both had a summer full of more travel planned and my mother would be joining them for a ladies junket to California. 

Even my sister {who doesn’t like to travel} will be jetting off to the west coast in a few weeks. 

I was the only one without any travel plans. 

And really it’s my own fault. I just couldn’t decide what to do or where to go this summer.

So what do you do when everyone’s summer plans look a whole lot better than yours?

Maybe it’s time to appreciate the stillness. 

I live in Orlando. Our beautiful city has experienced tumultuous days of late. 

I sit in an office just one block away from the nightclub where last week's tragic event occurred. Years ago before that building became a nightclub, it was an Italian restaurant where I'd often eaten lunch. I work for the hospital that received so many of the injured patients. 

Maybe it's time for some peaceful pondering.

It seems as if every day there are a handful of ways God has grabbed my attention and I let them slip through my fingers because I'm moving on to the next thing that distracts me. 

Maybe this little hollowed-out space of a season is the place where I can listen to the echoes of my soul. The reverberations ringing with whispers to rest, unwind, unbend. 

A time of soul rest can reinvigorate beauty and creativity.

I used to get excited about writing stories. Fiction instead of facts. 

I liked making up characters and seeing what they’d do as they came to life on the page, since I was never quite sure where my characters would take me. 

It was fun creating histories for them and exciting experiences that were so different from my own. I wrote short stories all through my girlhood but when I went to college, the idea of calling myself a creative writer was intimidating. 

I thought I should major in journalism to give myself a wider range of job opportunities

It seemed safer, especially after I took the required creative writing class for journalism majors where I felt intimidated. I'd sit with fingers crossed, hoping class would end before it was my turn to read what I’d written. 

I’d listen as the other students read their pieces for critique and I thought they were beautifully written and riveting.

I told myself that I’d made a good choice to write about facts - - the who, what, when, where of reporting — and I wouldn't worry that my writing wasn’t all that creative.

But this summer even though I'll be staying close to home, I might capture a few fanciful thoughts that travel through my mind. Maybe I'll create a character, a scene and some dialogue and let my imagination run away with me.

Maybe my flight of fancy will take me to the banks of the Thames in Shakespeare’s London, or Fitzgerald’s Paris during the roaring 20s, or maybe I'll even find myself in California, too, but during the gold rush of the 1800s.

Sometimes this mode of traveling is the best kind, don't you think?

Maybe your summer is busy and you’re off to explore new destinations. Or maybe like me, you’re staying close to home. 

Whatever you do, I hope your soul finds a sacred space of peace. I hope your art brings renewed joy. I hope your journeys are enriching. And I hope your prayers bring you a deep communion with God. 
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. - Phil. 4:8

I think I might try to squeeze in another brunch across town, though.

At my mother’s birthday shindig, we feasted on jambalaya, crab legs, maple-glazed bacon, salads in Mason jars and French toast made from croissants. 

They were cousins to the scrumptious cronuts topped with rum whipped cream I wrote about here on an earlier visit to the artsy restaurant.

Whatever you do, may your summer days be fancifully and peacefully inspired. 

I'm joining my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there to read more posts from my blogger friends.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Long and the Short of It

When it’s June and I’m out walking in the muggy Florida twilight in my hot black yoga pants, I wish I could wear shorts. 

But I can't. My sister won’t let me.

If it sounds as if she has some sort of power over me or way too much control {especially for a sister who is younger than I am}, you should know that she is the boss of me.

She tells me what to do with my hair. She tells me to wear lighter lipstick. She tells me my sunglasses are too small. She tells me to wear higher heels. 

And she’s almost always right. 

So I don't mind abiding by her rules since she just wants me to be the best possible version of myself.

But when she saw me out walking one night she said, “You know, those shorts aren’t a good look for you.” 

I wasn’t exactly sure if it was just the particular pair I was wearing that she didn’t like or all shorts in general, so I bought other styles of shorts. 

Longer ones that went to my knees. Flared ones. Straight ones. 

But she didn’t like any of those either and finally said, “Everyone in the neighborhood knows you are my sister so when you’re out walking, I don't think you should wear shorts at all.”

Got it.

I make sure my neighborhood walking wear is long yoga pants, no matter the weather.

{Just so you know, I am not in this photo.}

But I did buy what I thought were some trendy shirts to go with my yoga pants and debuted one of them on my evening walk when I spotted my brother-in-law talking at the curb to two men. 

I had just finished what I refer to as a jog-trot {not exactly running}, with a clip in my hair and I was especially sweaty and disheveled. 

I tried to give him the eyeball-stare-signal that it was perfectly fine if he pretended not to know me. 

I breezed by him as he stared at me puzzled and hailed me with a hearty greeting. 

{I guess that mental telepathy thing only works with my sister.}

He introduced me and I chatted for a few minutes and was on my way. 

I sent a text to my sister that I met my brother-in-law’s friends and she wrote back, “OhMyGoodness, were you wearing shorts?”

I told her of course not, but I was wearing my new shirt with the word Wanderlust emblazoned across the front that I’d found in the junior section. 

{And I’d already decided not to wear it again, since it really was intended for juniors.} 

But I wouldn’t dare break the rule about shorts.

I’m actually a rule follower by nature so it doesn’t bother me to add another one to my list, but I think there are some rules that I’ve long believed to be hard and fast, that might be worth breaking. 

{Maybe you’ve believed them too?}

Waiting is just wasted time. 

Vulnerability shows weakness. 

Surrendering is giving up. 

Nothing ever turns out as you hope, so why hope?

What’s over is dead and can't be brought back to life.

But when I bend these rules and see how far they stretch, they start to look golden.

My perspective on waiting has been transformed. In the past, I haven't waited well. I've acted as if it were an inconvenience, an unwanted interruption, impeding my progress to wherever I was headed. 

But far from being a wasteland, waiting has become a haven, a rich retreat I'm invited to experience, filled with lavish revelations and savory discoveries. 

When we wait, with our eyes hopeful and our hearts expectant, wanting God's yes and realizing that it might be no, it takes tenacity and tender strength to open our vulnerable selves to him, not weakness.

This offering of our desires in surrender to God is not abandoning but offering. It’s not giving ourselves up, but giving ourselves to the pursuit of holiness, not our stubborn wishes. And although it might look as if it's the end of ourselves -- our dreams, desires and wants -- these endings are just the entryway to begin again. 

It's God, not us, who can make all things new and bring what’s dead to life again.

Long story short, when these rules of mine are broken, my life looks different. And what I see changes too.

My sister told me my brother-in-law's friends that I met that night in the neighborhood are former NFL players

This stopped me short with a new idea for my neighborhood walking wardrobe.

I wonder if my sister would approve of me wearing my Pittsburgh Steelers shirt when I'm out and about in the neighborhood? 

I think I'll ask her about my sparkly bedazzled gold Steeler cap too. She might like it better than my hair clip.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there to read more posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

A Word of Art

I'm feeling unexpectedly brazen and ambitiously artsy for a few minutes.

I've got an afternoon stretching ahead of me that's completely devoid of plans so I pull out the art supplies I brought home from my trip to Italy last summer. 

I've looked at them since then, shuffled through them, but haven’t actually used them. 

Usually I put them back in the drawer.

But today before this creative mood dissipates into thin air, I spread everything out on the table and pull up a chair.

I see the postcard art instructor Jeanne Oliver gave us in Italy and suddenly notice the lovely figure of a girl she painted. 

I wonder if I could try to copy it?

In Italy my attempts at drawing during the art classes fell a little flat. 

We were encouraged to let our creativity roam free but when I looked at the piles of images and stickers and paints in front of me, I didn't have any ideas. 

I'd sit at the table studying my supplies and when the instructor would tell us to begin creating, my mind went blank. 

Except for that harping, tyrant-voice inside my head telling me in that disdainful tone I always hear that I didn't know how to draw, I didn't know what to do, so wouldn't I look idiotic trying to create something? 

I'd look around the room at everyone busily creating a work of art.

That's when I'd get up to take a photo from the front of the room, hoping to be inspired as I walked by the other artists. 

But now I have an assortment of brushes, paints and some art crayons laying in front of me. 

I pencil in the curves of the girl's figure but draw her lips too far down from the top of the page so I erase and start again. I color with the charcoal crayon and dribble water over it.

I flip through the notebook of word stickers in typewriter font. 

Words catch my eye, like happiness and heartfelt. Destination and dreamer. Beautiful and beyond

A lexicon of inventive possibilities.

I start to think of dozens of phrases and sentences I’d like to make with those word stickers and I feel a little flutter of excitement.  

What if we listened to the urge to create when we feel the least inspired and ready, ignoring the voice in our heads that tells us not to even bother? 

What if we picked up our pen or our paintbrush or opened our laptop and met the blank page or canvas or screen with a colorful piece of ourselves? 

What if we played that musical instrument or sang that new song? What if we danced or spoke poetry or sewed fabric?

What if we decided that doing what makes our souls sing from deep within our God-created cores is just as important as tending to the needs of the house or family or friends?
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands. - Psalm 90:17 (NKJV)

Maybe this was my kind of art. Art with word stickers. Perhaps it's an artful cousin of sorts to writing?

Then I started thinking it might be fun to make a few bookmarks for myself with these stickers and art crayons. 

You see, I have a penchant for bookmarks.

I kind of like them to match the book I’m reading. I like the colors of the cover and my bookmark to coordinate. 

If they don't, it’s jarring to my eyes if they clash.

{Weird, I know. But maybe it's proof I have some sort of artsy idiosyncrasy?} 

Everywhere I go, I bring home a bookmark as a souvenir. I have a drawer full of them. 

So maybe that's my new little creative project. 

{Because after all, who can have too many bookmarks?} 

Especially when they're words of art.

I'm joining my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the image for some encouraging posts from my blogger friends.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On the Hunt for Hidden Treasure

My friend Marilyn is spending a month in Paris and her emails about her adventures along with photos of sidewalk cafes, spring flowers and a Parisian dog or two, are giving me a severe case of wanderlust. 

I asked her if she planned an expedition to the Paris flea markets. 

When my mother and I traveled to Paris a few summers ago, a French flea market was at the top of my can’t-miss-list {after the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower of course}. 

I was hoping to find a few French treasures there, but now when I remember that day, I think of a taxi driver, a group of men at a pub, and a delightfully delicious pizza.

Before I went to Paris, I’d seen glorious photos of stacks of French chairs with curvy legs and tattered fabric lined up on the sidewalk, rows of gilded mirrors leaning against each other and crystal chandeliers resting carelessly on the ground at the flea markets. 

I knew I could never afford to buy anything, let alone figure out how to ship it home, but I still wanted to visit an authentic Paris flea market to find something small enough to fit in my suitcase.

Concerned about pickpockets and the Metro trip, my mother and I decided to take our chances with the Porte de Vanves flea market in the 14th arrondissement instead of the much more famous Les Puces de Saint-Ouen {at Porte de Clignancourt}. It was supposed to be easier to navigate so we took a taxi there. 

Our driver spoke little English but asked if we wanted him to pick us up when we were done. We thought this was amazing and agreed to meet him in 3 hours where he dropped us off.

We crossed the street and when I spotted the gold cherub candelabra wrapped around a tree, I knew we were in the right place. 

We browsed up and down the rows of shoes and clothing, knickknacks and dishes, looking for treasures.  

My mother bought a vintage magazine. I bought a pen and ink drawing of Place de Concorde signed and dated from 1932, a page torn out of a fashion book, and a tiny painted portrait that I thought was beautiful. 

I’m sure I overpaid for all of them, but I wanted souvenirs from a Paris flea market more than I cared about getting a good deal.

I wanted to be reminded of Paris every time I saw my treasures. 

I've been thinking about what God treasures. 

I think it’s people. You and me. 

And I think he wants to be our treasure. 

He wants us to spend time looking for him, lingering in his presence, sharing our secret desires and clingy fears with him. 

He wants to be the conversation we look forward to at the end of a day, the confidante we cherish, the one we bare our souls to. 

He longs to join us in our search for purpose in life, our pursuit of holiness and our quest for happiness.

We can spend a lifetime knowing him and never unearth all the treasure that is God. 

It's a great mystery that the more we know of him, we discover there is far more to adore, more to worship. 
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. - Col. 2:2-3

In Paris, when my mother and I were done shopping, we went back to meet the taxi. But he never showed up. 

We searched for a taxi stand, asked directions and couldn't seem to find anyone who spoke English. 

We headed toward what seemed to be a cafe. But it was really a pub. Where we were the only women. 

The bartender finally understood we were looking for a taxi and offered to call one. We thought it might be better to wait outside on the street than stay in the pub.

But a few minutes later a man from the bar came out and in his limited English told us he wanted to wait with us until the taxi arrived. To be sure we were safe, he said. 

Now when I look at my Paris purchases I not only remember the taxi ride to the flea market, but I remember the kindness of men spending their Saturday in a pub.

And I think of the pizza my mother and I ordered as we chose an Italian restaurant in the middle of Paris for lunch after the flea market trip. 

We were famished after our adventure and we thought it was the best pizza we'd ever had.

By the way, my friend Marilyn said she wasn't planning to go to the flea markets since her 90-year-old mother is with her and they are avoiding crowds.

But I wonder if they'll sample the pizza in Paris? I think it's some of the hidden treasure of Paris.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there for more inspiring posts from my blogger friends!