Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Splashes of Color

I have a tendency to tell it like it is. I like to give my opinion. Some of my friends kindly say that I’m honest. My mother has often told me that everyone doesn't really need to know what I'm thinking all the time. But my personality leads me to see things as black and white. All or nothing. When I meet new people I really make an effort to balance these troublesome traits. At least in the beginning. I have a new helper assigned to the kids’ class I teach at my church. He’s from Russia and since I’m always eager for an opportunity to see how single men think I thought it might be a good time to dust off the sweeter, softer version of myself. This alter ego has been dormant for quite awhile. She last resurfaced when a widower insisted on sitting with me in church. I thought he was a bit annoying at first, but despite my lukewarm welcome, he persisted. 

During our weekly conversations, I tried to take the edge off my sometimes-sharper-than-intended tone. I forced myself to pause and thoughtfully consider my words before saying something. I found this was much more difficult than it seemed. My seat-mate would ask me a question. I would hesitate before saying the first thought that popped into my mind. Abandoning my first inclination, I would consider option B. Then discard it as probably too opinionated. I’d reflect on option C, then decide against it as maybe too negative. By the time I finally made up my mind on what would strike the perfect note as pleasant and positive, he had grown bored with my silence and moved on to a new topic. With new potential answers that I had to run through the impossible wringer in my head to twist out all the words I deemed unfavorable. Sometimes while I pondered, he’d stop talking altogether, figuring I was never going to speak and turn his attention to the church bulletin. Which I suspected was far more interesting than I was. I’m sure he thought I had the personality of a pencil. A dull one. That desperately needed sharpened.

I decided maybe this unrecognizable version of myself might need a few splashes of the old me mixed with it. In future interactions with single men, I would be mostly positive and upbeat yet perhaps allow a sassy remark or two. Maybe even an occasional opinion. Full of my fresh resolutions, I walked into church to find my Russian helper sitting in the lobby waiting for me to arrive. Instead of the pleasant hello I had intended, I found myself saying far too sharply, “What are you doing sitting out here? Have you already set up the classroom?” Unperturbed, he stared back at me, “I’m waiting for you, of course, to tell me what to do.” Well. At least he had the right idea. Over the next weeks as the Russian told me his life story and trials of dating American women, who he didn’t fully understand, I appointed myself his consultant. Serving in this official capacity, I could freely offer my opinion. He needed my advice. I had a job to do. He proclaimed himself born under a lucky star to have me as his guide.

I started with the most important issue I could think of after listening to one of his dating flops. “Do you use deodorant?” I asked him point-blank since I knew some Europeans didn’t. He huffily said of course he did and just for my information he even showered too. Moving past personal hygiene issues, I told him his emails were too long, his stories too self-promoting, his notions about American women were mistaken, his schemes to meet women were off-base. I told him some of his ideas about God and the church were misguided. To my surprise, he came in last week and said, “I’ve been thinking about what you said when you told me to grow up and take responsibility for my own life.” I thought I might have taken my truth-telling too far when I told him that. But he told me some of the things I've said to him made him think.

Although I have plenty of personality quirks that I can spend time improving, I don’t think I can change who I am at the core of my being. These traits that God created deep in my soul can sometimes be okay. Good enough. Even acceptable. In spite of my verbal missteps, tone blunders and word choice faux pas. Maybe splashes of color in my black and white world can be beautiful. In the way that all of us are a subtle reflection of the one who made us in his likeness. And created all of the vibrant characteristics that make us who we are.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thoughts of Love, Hope and Purpose

When I was in Paris last summer, I passed several flower shops as I walked through the neighborhoods and city streets. They looked just like I'd pictured them from the movies. Gorgeous bouquets spilled out onto the sidewalk, handfuls of flowers in pretty buckets and lots of green plants in pots filled the shops. Men and women hurried in and out with flowers tucked under their arms. Flowers just make a girl's heart skip a beat if she's lucky enough to receive them, but if she's not, does it mean she's not worth remembering?

Will you read the rest of my thoughts on flowers and what they seem to speak to a girl's heart over at incourage today? I'm thrilled to be the featured guest blogger today and I invite you to click here to read more!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Signs That Point the Way to Life

I really like pieces of art that are just words written on canvas in a fancy font or beautiful handwriting. I've looked for the ideal word or poem or scripture that I think describes me or inspires me, but I haven't decided on anything yet. I look for pillows and plates and towels that say something I think is meaningful. The words might be a declaration of who I am. Or a proclamation of where I'm heading. Maybe a commemoration of something I don't want to forget. Or an affirmation of what the future might hold. I have two plates I received as a gift with words scripted on them that wish me a life filled with bliss and joy and peace and love. If words on a plate could speak a blessing over my life, those are the words I would choose. But then I realize how hard that is. To have a life filled with bliss and joy and peace and love. 
Because there are the stressful times, when I worry about making the right decision. Whether I'm buying a car or buying a new pair of shoes. There are the days that instead of bringing peace to those I interact with, instead I dig in my heels in disagreement, from how to solve a work conflict to the choice of a restaurant for lunch. There are the times when I don't feel very lovely or act lovingly, with snide and snippy remarks when I could have said just one encouraging word. There are the times when joy is nowhere to be found and all that's left is a big bowl of self-pity. So along with those words on a plate, I also have a few signs adorning my house that call attention to the glorious ordinariness of life. To point me to the way of bliss and love and joy and peace.
I have part of a Merita Bakery box that held bread and cakes. The box is marked with the small town of Anderson, South Carolina, very close to where I went to college so it reminds me of my school days. When I moved to Orlando and drove through downtown, I could smell the fresh bread baking in the ovens of the Merita Bakery. So from South Carolina to Florida, the bread box reminds me of where I came from and where I am now. Bliss.
A friend gave me a sign that's made to look vintage and says "Evening in Paris." She gave it to me before I went to Paris and I wondered what memorable nights Paris might hold. Now when I look at it, I remember the nighttime boat ride on the Seine and watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle at dusk from all around the city. Love. 

In a vintage shop, I found a little piece of cardboard with a girl wearing a chef hat that says “pastry board” but I think it was probably part of a child’s baking playset. I fancied that the pastry-chef-girl spoke to my love of baking. Joy.
I have a crafty kind of sign that asks the deep, pondering question, "Is there life before coffee?" It hangs on the wall above my cookbooks and I use its hooks to hang my aprons on. The aprons also effectively cover the drab gray electrical panel box that is so unattractively prominent in my kitchen. Peace. 

These signs point the way to a real life. Where I realize that bliss is the attitude I can assume while I'm at work, at leisure or asleep. That joy, peace and love are states of mind that I can choose to have, not fleeting emotions that I pine for. As I reflect on these words that fill signs and plates and towels, I can come to only one conclusion. Days filled with bliss and a life filled with joy, peace and love, along with an evening in Paris, are even better with bread, pastry and coffee.