Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Changing the Tune from Taunts to Truth

All summer long, a toad has been taunting me. 

I can’t seem to pinpoint his exact whereabouts, but every night I hear his unmistakable chirps {think of a smoke alarm needing a battery change}, goading me into a frenzied toad hunt.

He’s been living somewhere on my screened courtyard, circumventing the strip I had specially installed on the bottom of my door to keep creatures like him out.

I’ve overturned planters, dug through dirt with my shovel, and blasted water into the corners of my courtyard.

This toad makes a fool out of me.

One morning I did actually see him emerge from underneath a planter so I grabbed my broom and swept him down the sidewalk. 

I slammed the door, elated that his annoying chirps would haunt me no longer. 

But my euphoria didn't last long when that night I sat out on my courtyard to read, cracked open my book and my calm was crushed.

The chirping began again and it sounded as close as ever.

How in the world could he have found his way back? Couldn't he go bother my neighbors instead of me?

I have a traumatic history with frogs and toads. 

From finding a bullfrog on my kitchen ceiling in the middle of the night, to experiencing a frog jumping down my shirt as I watered a hanging plant, to discovering tiny toads hopping under my bedroom curtains at midnight, they have successfully terrified me.

But this toad on my courtyard is mocking me. He's obviously scoffing at my efforts to evict him as he blithely chirps night after night. 

It's kind of like the derisive voices that want to drown out the softest of whispers rustling around in my soul. 

Because when I'm distracted by the noise of the foes {or toads}, I can't seem to hear anything else.

Maybe you hear the taunts in your life too? 

Those rumblings in the back of your mind that dare to ask who you think you are to consider doing that brave thing or explore that new possibility or take that first step out of your comfort zone. 

If they can cause enough of a distraction or rain down doubt on your aspirations, then maybe you'll shift your focus elsewhere and forget all about what's stirring in your heart.

I think those heckling voices are really trying to create a space between us and God. 

They seek to draw us away so we’ll think the gap is too big to bridge and we’ll give up our quest to move closer to his heart.

And if we're too far away, we'll miss all the glory, all the splendor, all the magnificence that there is to find when we seek God.

The only way I can drown out the taunts is to tune into truth.

There's the truth of how God sees me -- as a royal daughter, the beloved, a precious life -- but there's also the truth of how I see myself. 

And the truth is that I'm learning to be kinder to myself. In word and deed. 

I'm speaking words to myself that I usually reserve for others. It feels a little strange to make myself say, it's okay, or that was a great effort, or how brave of you, or dust yourself off and get back out there.

I'm also resisting the urge to berate myself for errors in judgment, embarrassing moments and the trifling missteps I make throughout my day. 

Because after all, what do I think I am? Perfect? 

{Said to myself in the silvery softest of tones.}

This a work I have needed to do for quite some time. 

Won't you join me in this quest to become the women God already sees {the God who calls into being what is not as though we were}, with a gorgeous array of gifts bubbling in our creative souls, with kind hearts and unique imperfections, purposing to live a holy life, wholly loved and fully known?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the toad on my courtyard must be hiding in the trenches of my storm drains. 

I plan to spend the rest of the summer ignoring him, even though his chirping tune is still maddening.

But if I happen to see him he should beware, because I’m coming after him with my broom, hose and shovel.

I'm on to his little schemes.


A little note on the photos: I captured them all at Leu Gardens, Orlando, FL.

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Power of Humility

I was pretty sure I hated Brussels sprouts.

But the menu at the farm-to-table restaurant where I was having brunch last week described them so beautifully, they sounded delicious. 

Actually all the offerings on the menu were presented as food and drinks that were humble, yet powerfully impressive. 

It was a thought-provoking tagline.

The trendiest places to dine these days declare they feature organic, artisanal, seasonal and local fare. The server said the eggs came from a nearby farm and the juice was fresh-squeezed from Florida citrus groves.

There was croissant bread pudding on the menu, along with lemon ricotta pancakes and blueberry cream cheese-stuffed French toast. 

So I’m not quite sure why a Brussels sprouts salad tossed with golden beets {another food I dislike}, avocado and grilled pineapple appealed to me. 

I remember my mother making me try Brussels sprouts once as a child and I don't even recall what they tasted like. That memory was probably overpowered by the noxious odor that filled the house as she cooked them because I’ve never eaten them since.

But I wanted to give them a second chance to impress me. 

So I ordered the salad.

It's a little humbling to discover you're wrong.

My natural tendency is to view things in my life with a practical and straightforward lens. I'm quite emphatic when I think I've settled on the right approach

But sometimes the higher ground I've staked my claim on and dug in my heels about, turns out to be a bog filled with quicksand.

I realize how little I really do know. And how much more I need to know of God, who knows me so well.

Surprisingly, this brings a refreshing shower of humility.

When I'm so sure I'm right, I can stay closed in and refuse to keep my heart open and tender. I can cling to the feelings that whine and whisper, hey girl, no one understands you

And my heart begins to harden a little with a protective mask of self-pity and arrogance. 

But this posture unnecessarily weighs heavy on me. It lets me take the credit if things go my way and it also lets me place the blame on myself when things don't work out the way I think they should.

I think there might be a better way to do life.
Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 
- Col 3:12 VOICE

When I give God access to all those weak expanses in my life, he brings the results.

Sometimes they are what I want; other times they are what I need. But all the time, he is working what happens in my life -- the good and the not-so-good -- together for my ultimate good. 

I'm invited to taste and see that God is good (Ps. 34:8) and that even the bitter things in life can taste sweet (Prov. 27:7).

When I finally come to the conclusion that a change in course or a judgment reversal is called for, I'm surprised at what follows.

The air clears, peace reigns, and least likely of all, joy and hope spring up.

Because humility bows a heart low enough to be lifted up in God's upside-down kingdom.

My batter-dipped Brussels sprouts arrived perched on my plate.

They were crunchy like cauliflower and the taste reminded me of fried green tomatoes {which I most definitely love}.

I am happy to report that I was quite wrong about Brussels sprouts. 

I thought the salad was scrumptious. 

But my sparkling drink being delivered in a silver French press and my water arriving in a vintage milk jar might have had something to do with it too.

I must admit I’m drawn to stylishly arranged dining spaces.

White booths, gray brick walls, art that could be food {or is just a geometric shape that reminds me of food?}, luminous curtains, lamps and candles.

It all makes me feel as if I’m in the midst of a glamorously chic page of an Anthropologie catalog.

Even while I’m eating Brussels sprouts, the humblest of food.

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Freedom in Garden Variety Days

I got to the botanical gardens early but after just a few minutes on the winding pathways, I was feeling wilted like a flower crumpling in the hot sun.

I was here because I couldn’t resist free admission, especially on the fourth of July. 

And apparently I wasn’t the only one the idea appealed to, since I had to wait in line to park and follow the crowd decked out in their flag finery to the entrance gate.

I’ve been to these gardens before. But even during cooler months somehow my memories of it are always very hot. 

But I know that can’t be completely true since I was here once for movies on the lawn and shivered all night since I hadn’t brought a sweater.

That tells me something about truth as I see it. That’s it not always so true. 

So I’ve been searching for truth about God’s words to me and how they’re relevant to my life. I thought about the place where it all began so long ago. 

In a garden called Eden.

Where the beginning held all truth. And life, and love, and purpose.

Where God made man and created a woman to accompany him through life.

Where God gave humans a purpose with plants to tend and animals to nurture. 

Where God’s garden was cool in the evening as he went looking for the man and woman he loved, but they were hiding, tempted by a snake who twisted God’s words and convinced them to eat a forbidden fruit.

In that garden trust was shaken, intention was questioned, and God’s love was doubted. 

And sometimes I find myself doing the same thing.

But I’ve been posing my questions to God. The answers don’t come immediately. This search for truth can stir up a lot of dust.

A few weeks ago the same verses from Matthew 6 kept showing up everywhere I turned.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? 
What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. 
People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. 
Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
-Matt 6:30-33 MSG

I imagine Eden might have looked a little like the garden I'm visiting, full of branches and vines, waters and rocks, flowers and shrubs offering up their beauty maybe for just a day or maybe for decades.

But whatever their lifespan, I want to be like them, vibrant in this day, this ordinary here and now. 

Their leafy branches reach for the heavens, their flower-faces turn skyward, and the gnarly roots delve deep. They will not be shaken.

And neither should we.

Could that be the freedom that’s waiting on the other side of trust?

Free from trying to find the answer to questions that might never be understood. 

Free from trying to peer into the dim days ahead and predicting what they might hold. 

Free from trying to control the outcomes of what only God has purposed for our future days.

There's a peaceful freedom in staying in the confines of today and responding when God comes in the cool of the evening, looking for me.

And maybe that freedom waits for you too.

So when the sun hit high noon, I made a beeline for my car. 

Where it was now the only car left in the lot when just hours earlier I’d gotten the last spot. 

I suppose everyone else realized that a July day in Florida is no time to be wandering around a garden.

Except for the beautiful bride I walked by, who was wearing a long, lacy gown, taking photos with her groom. 

I imagine she thought this garden was the perfect spot to place her trust, declare her love and delight in every minute of this very hot July day.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. My blogging friends are sharing their posts there if you click the image!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Single and Searching

I’m often asked why I’m still single and I never really have a good answer. 

Maybe I didn’t try hard enough during my years at a Christian college to snag a mate. Maybe I gave up on singles groups at church too easily. Maybe it’s because I’ve never gotten on board with online dating. Or maybe there just aren't enough single men for all the single women out there.

All I know is that I just haven’t met a man I could imagine spending my life with.

I know it wasn’t the man I came close to marrying just after college. Not the divorced youth pastor. Not the widower with two young children. 

Not the man I met at work who didn’t want to come to church, but on our third date invited me to see him performing a nude scene in a local play. 

Not the man friends fixed me up with who asked me on our first meeting if I’d be content to just hang around the house with him or did we actually have to go out on a date. 

Some of the men I’ve dated were Christians and some weren’t, but honestly I didn’t always see much of a difference between them.

I'm writing over at my friend Alecia Simersky's blog today for her series Calling All Men. Will you click here or click the image below to read the rest of my thoughts on the single life?

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. If you click the image, there are more posts to read from my blogger friends!

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!