Thursday, May 31, 2012

Coffee on the Courtyard

When I moved into my townhome a few years ago, one of my “must-haves” was a covered porch or patio. Non-negotiable. Couldn’t live without it. The house I was moving from was a new-construction bungalow, styled to match the surrounding homes in the historic neighborhood. It had a welcoming front porch and a small screened patio that opened to the backyard from French doors. 

Even though I loved that house, I was ready to move to a place with less yard work and new rooms to decorate. But it had to have some kind of outdoor area. And it had to be covered. I didn’t want my vintage twig porch furniture ruined by the Florida afternoon thunderstorms. I wanted a shady spot from the sun if I wanted to enjoy the outdoors at any other time than dusk or dawn. I wasn’t budging on that point.

I was excited to move to the other side of town into my sister’s neighborhood. I would be just down the street and around the corner from my niece and nephew. My new townhome’s floor plan was totally different from my house, offering exciting new options for decorating. Except it didn't have a covered porch or patio. Instead, the townhome had glass sliding doors that opened to a screened courtyard. Screened. Not covered. But I put my porch furniture out there anyway. Rain poured in. The sun beat down. The cushions on my twig furniture got wet. Brown spots of mold dotted the fabric. The twigs started to break from constant moisture.

I got an estimate to partially cover the courtyard with corrugated aluminum. But the homeowner’s association denied my request because any cover had to have tiles on it to look like a roof. It seemed kind of difficult to put roof tiles on top of aluminum, so I gave up the idea.
This stone candleholder from a discount store
 looks like a piece of interesting architecture.

Several months later, my sister and brother-in-law graciously offered me a gift of patio furniture. Made of white specially-treated aluminum that doesn’t rust in the rain. The cushions are made of fabric that dries quickly and fades slowly. I’m not sure about it. I’m convinced my courtyard has to look a particular way for me to enjoy it. My porch has to resemble the pages I’ve torn out of magazines of my dream outdoor space. I sadly retire my beloved twig furniture to the garage. 

My new love seat, chair and table arrive. I’m surprised at how nice it looks. I’m relieved of worrying about my twig furniture. The new furniture is made of heartier stuff. I decorate the space with plants, flowers, lamps and candles. This is where I enjoy my morning coffee or read a book in the evenings. It looks enchanting twinkling by candlelight.  

I still keep a vintage table and chair set on my courtyard, 
with a vintage gate hanging behind it, despite the weather.
So often I get bogged down with wanting things in my life to proceed according to my plan of perfection. I seem to forget that being receptive and open is better than being stuck on one rigid idea. I’ve found that when I consider a shift of perspective or make an adjustment to my viewpoint, I expand my possibility to appreciate and enjoy. 

The alternative could be different from what I originally thought. I might get used to it. In fact, it just might be perfect.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Planning for Paris

It seems almost unbelievable to me that Paris and I can be in the same sentence. Such as “I am going to Paris.” I’m going to PARIS! But I am. Going. To Paris. This summer. Plane tickets booked. Hotel reservations made.

I have long been an admirer of all things French. I first studied the language for a year in high school. Dazzled by the poetic tempo of the words, I thought I would minor in French in college. The first day of class, everyone got to choose a French derivation of their names that sounded similar to their actual names, just with a French flavor added to them. But the instructor said my name didn't sound French. Instead, he dubbed me “Brigitte.” I didn’t much care for the name but I had to answer to Brigitte for the next two years.

I was excited to start studying my favorite language, dreaming of stringing French sentences together like a native. Until we covered everything I had learned in high school during the first six weeks of my initial semester. And I made a D on my first test. French dreams swirling down the drain, I changed my minor to history.

I still was required to take two years of a language for my Bachelor of Arts degree and I stuck with French. I spent many an afternoon in the language lab, listening to a female voice drum French verbs and phrases into my head. I put in a lot of hard work and managed to pass the classes. But I don’t remember much French now. Certainly not enough to navigate the arrondissements of Paris. (Ah, I do remember something! The French word for neighborhoods.)

I’m a reluctant traveler. If I have to go somewhere, I’d much rather drive than fly. My idea of a long trip is an hour drive to the beach. Or at the most, I’ll tolerate a seven-hour drive to Atlanta. And only because I love the culture, history and shopping there. It coaxes me, leading me forward.

I'm apprehensive about flying. Packing items in appropriately weighed and sized luggage? Determining which liquids, such as my vitally important cosmetic items, will fit in a single Ziploc bag? Putting my belongings on a conveyor belt through the airport scanning machine? It all unnerves me. Makes me anxious. I’d rather stay safely at home where I have all my lotions and potions available to me in generous quantities.

But I really want to go to Paris. My favorite author is F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve read all of his work. I'm captivated by every letter he and Zelda penned to each other. I'm intrigued by the correspondence between Scott and his editor Max Perkins. I want to see the apartment on the Rue de Tilsitt near the Arc de Triomphe where Scott and Zelda lived. I want to experience all that the most romantic city in the world has to offer. The famous fashions of the Parisians, the French pastries, the cafes, the museums. I want to see it all.

But I’m a little afraid. My knees are a little shaky and my heart races a little. A lot of little fears sometimes stand in the way of a life more beautiful. A life I was meant to experience and enjoy, despite the risks and insecure places I might find myself in. I won’t let my limitations and fears take precedence. I’m going to stretch. I’m going to move forward. But I’m also going to trust. I’m going to lean into God’s promises. Because there in that place of promise, I can find calm. Reassurance. Confidence.

Paris is my next place of promise on my journey. The French have a phrase to describe the enjoyment and exuberance of life: joie de vivre. 
I want it too.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. 
Romans 15:13

Monday, May 21, 2012

Tiny Toppers Stand for Big Dreams

I love studying the interesting details of my vintage wedding cake toppers. The flowers, the style of the bride’s dress and hair, sometimes with a tiny piece of real fabric or net attached, the groom’s suit, even the expressions on the diminutive couples’ faces. Some look happy, others are worried, yet others stare blankly, as if they are looking into the future, without an inkling of what their lives together will hold.  

These miniature replicas that stand atop the wedding cake of the real-life bride and groom illustrate all that a wedding day represents. A promise of dreams to pursue. Hope of a good life. Joyful anticipation of what the future holds. A sense of exhilaration for the adventure. Excitement for the journey of life. 

I want those same things. Whether I’m married or single. Sometimes it seems that slogging through the dating prospect pool isn’t worth it. Downright disheartening. I feel like I’m under evaluation. And I’m not measuring up. 

Like the date who asked me if I ever wore jeans. When I was wearing jeans. As I pointed this out, he said, “No, not THOSE jeans. JEANS.”  

Or the date who was my neighbor and often saw me jogging and was disappointed I showed up for our after-work dinner date . . . in work clothes. Not workout clothes. 

Or the fix-up prospect who told my friend who introduced us that he didn't like my makeup. 

No potential model grooms for cake toppers here! But I reject rejection. I refuse to let discouragement and discontentment prevail. I choose to follow the one who promises to never leave me. I search for the one who calls me by name. I want to be with the one who says I am precious and loved in his sight. Worth more to him than priceless jewels. 

This is what I set my heart on. Chase after. Hope for. Dream of.

". . . I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

"You are precious and honored in my sight and . . . I love you . . ." Isaiah 43:4

Read my Guest Blog Post on (in)courage!

Have you ever had anyone ask you the very question about your life that you often wonder about yourself? Join me there to read more!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beneath the Paint

There it was covered with dark brown paint. I noticed it as soon as I drove into the crowded antique fair. A mantel.

A man with a toothless grin had a few items for sale spread out on a patch of grass, but nothing near as grand as the mantel standing there. The fact that it was indeed standing by itself was a bonus since so many vintage mantels are taken off the original base and have to be attached or leaned against a wall. But not this one. It was connected to a black base and had the tin surround still intact. Painted muddy brown, it certainly wasn’t attractive, but I couldn’t believe that any of the hundreds of shoppers at the fair would have been deterred by an ugly coat of paint. I figured it must be expensive for everyone to have passed it by.

I asked the man how much he wanted for it and he said $140. I thought the price was good but asked him if that was his best price and he said he’d take $80. Sold! We loaded it into my sister’s Jeep with just an inch to spare on either side. I felt like I had just won the best prize at the fair.

I think a mantel can be the centerpiece of a room. Along with adding charm, it offers display options for candles, pictures, mirrors or books. Just about anything can be showcased on a mantel.

With my mother’s help, I stripped off the coats of brown paint, then cream paint, down to the original wood. It was a tedious process, loosening the paint with liquid remover, then peeling it off with paint scrapers. But when we got to the area just above the surround, we noticed that under the paint were flecks of gold mixed with the black to imitate the look of marble. Carefully removing the brown, we kept most of the gold highlights intact and gave the rest of the mantel a fresh coat of white paint.

Who knew there was a pretty pattern waiting to be uncovered beneath that dreary brown exterior? Instead of uncovering flaws concealed by paint, the good stuff was underneath.

What treasures are waiting to be uncovered in your life? Do you have dreams you keep to yourself, tucked away in your heart in case others make light of them or don’t take them seriously? Maybe an untapped talent is lurking below the surface, lying dormant because you don’t have time for it.

Although my work in communications revolves around writing, writing a blog is new for me. Taking photos for my blog is new. But I find myself looking at opportunities and challenges through a new lens (pun intended!). I reflect on blog post topics and think about staging photographs. It feels rejuvenating to pursue a new interest. It’s fresh, creative, invigorating.

I’m wondering if there are other plans for my life waiting to be uncovered. Layer by layer the paint is continuing to flake off and peel away to reveal an unexpected design. The canvas is stretched. The tints, stains and pigments are mixed. The artist is painting the story of my life. I am a representation of his image. An original masterpiece in the making.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lessons from Kindergarteners

Avery’s mom said he had something to give me as she dropped him off in my class at church, where I’m a volunteer teacher of kindergarteners. He handed me a card with a picture of a church he had colored and glued on pink construction paper. Inside it said, “I’m sorry for being rude."

Usually Avery is an eager listener and energetic participant in classroom activities. Except for one week, when his five-year-old self got the best of him and his mother saw him throwing a toy across the room when she came to pick him up. This was the behavior that resulted in the apologetic note.
This vintage children's book has two covers
with two stories, "The Sunny Side" and "The Sulky Side."

I can think of many occasions when I needed to offer a similar apology for a flash of five-year-old behavior. Acting churlishly instead of graciously, reacting with sarcasm when kindness was called for, finding it easier to make the negative remark instead of a favorable comment. I’ve been guilty of all of these and much more. But even though I remember these unpleasant moments, sometimes reliving them with painful clarity, God doesn’t. He promises not to remember them and says he has put as much distance between my wrong-doings and his merciful thoughts of me as the east is from the west. This is a lesson I review often, repeating it until it’s written on my heart.

My favorite part of teaching is telling the kids in my class the stories of the characters of faith. I want them to know they're not just words on a page from long ago. I love seeing their wide-eyed expressions as they hear about David fighting Goliath or Daniel escaping without a scratch after a night in a den of lions. I want them to know they can talk to God anytime about anything. I love listening to them offer their heartfelt prayers. Telling God they hoped he had a good Christmas and was enjoying his presents, or that they hoped their grandma in heaven was having a good time with him.

But they give far more to me. They show me the very attributes of God I'm trying to teach them. I see in them strength and determination, courage and resilience, exuberance and acceptance. There’s Abigail whose mother died a few months ago and barely spoke above a whisper when she first came to class. Now she asks me to sit beside her to help her color and playfully wants to know what she can cook for me in the kid-sized kitchen. There’s Sarah, who went through a round of chemo treatment when she was just a four-year-old. She leans over to whisper to me, “I had cancer but I’m better now." Life's heartaches that five-year-olds shouldn't have to experience yet.

Every year before the next group of aspiring kindergarteners is promoted to my class, I entertain thoughts of taking a break from teaching. But then I wonder who the next Avery, Abigail or Sarah will be. I don’t want to miss meeting them. That's an assignment I don't want to fail. A lesson I definitely want to learn.