Friday, March 28, 2014

Hope Springs Eternal in Every Season

My friend Kristen VanderHoek blogs over at The Lydia Life. Kristen lives in Canada and we’re both posting today on celebrating the change of seasons in different regions. Even though we live hundreds of miles apart, we're both eager to welcome spring. 

Click here to read her post.

Springtime in Florida doesn’t last for very long. Last week was already full of 80-degree days and I know the sweltering, steamy days of summer are just around the corner. That's why I'm spending as much time as I can now outside on my courtyard enjoying early morning coffee and late evening stargazing. 

Even though there were a few cold days here this winter, there are never enough for my favorite flower to grow. I love peonies. They need a long cold spell to bloom and Florida winters are just too short and warm for them. Growing up in Pittsburgh, my mother had a section of our front yard filled with pink and white peonies that I loved to see and smell. But since there aren't any peonies in Florida, I have to choose something else to fill up my little outdoor courtyard. 

Last weekend I decided it was high time to put away my winter berry wreath and get ready for spring. I cleared out the straggly plants and dead sticks and got two ruffly-flowered hibiscus shrubs for my planters and a pot of petunias.

As I swept the leaves and dirt out of my courtyard, I only wished I could sweep the dust from some of the seasons of my life as easily. But I’m realizing that I need all of those seasons, even the ones that are cold and dark, to get ready for what’s ahead.

It’s in the fall, a season of ready, when some of what’s in my life needs pruned and trimmed. Old ways of doing things that weigh me down need raked up and collected into a pile to be discarded. The hard work of this season is worth it because I know that someday soon things will come to life again. Flowers will once more bloom where now there are only dead branches. 

Even in the uncertainty of what feels like an autumn season. 
It’s in the winter, a season of bleak, when I feel God’s consideration more than any other time. When I’m asking and asking and I think I surely must try his patience. It’s from this very cold place where I hear him more clearly and feel his presence more warmly. And as hard as these places are, I don’t want to leave this season because it’s here that my relationship with him puts down roots and grows so much deeper and richer. 

Even in the dead of what feels like a winter season.

It’s in the spring, a season of bloom, where I dare to believe that the plans God has for my life will eventually blossom. My character is growing stronger through persevering and not giving up hope. The cold places are starting to thaw. It’s here that I remember that his promises are true. That new possibilities are getting ready to come to life. That my experiences haven’t been wasted but tenderly cultivated. 

Even in the awakening of what feels like a spring season.

It’s in the summer, a season of steady, that I realize I’m here and what I’ve been longing for has arrived at long last. Now I can see what seemed like a pile of dead plans and frozen dreams is blossoming and thriving. And I remember with a heart overflowing with joy how I wasn’t sure I would ever get here. 

Even in the bliss of what feels like a summer season. 

If my favorite little peony flower can withstand a season where it’s cold and dormant, and not just tolerate it but require it to thrive and bloom, then I can press on, through any season. Because after the cold winds blow across my soul and the sun’s rays are warming up my life again, new purposes and plans will blossom in due time, season after season.

As I look at my outdoor courtyard, it still needs some work to fully celebrate spring's arrival. I have chair cushions to recover and more flowers to buy. I'd like to hang some cute cafe lights too. I want to enjoy it now since I know the hot months of summer are just around the corner that will send me running for shade. 

That's when my friend Kristen in Canada and I will be exchanging our seasons. Swapping our winters for summers. Right now as she's longing for spring and not seeing any sign of it, she decided to ignore yet another snowy day and bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers for her living room. To remind herself that spring will surely follow winter.

And this summer, while she's enjoying the great outdoors and Canada's lovely weather, I'll be inside under my ceiling fan with the air conditioning cranked up, taking refuge from the heat and humidity. Wishing for a season of cooler days ahead. 

So here's hoping that spring has arrived wherever you are. And if you happen to have a flower bed filled with peonies this spring, just know that I am green with envy but truly hoping you are enjoying this season in your little corner of the world.

These flowers are from Kristen VanderHoek's post on welcoming spring. Click here to visit The Lydia Life to see more photos and read her post!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The View From the Top

When I visited Paris two summers ago, taking the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower held little appeal for me. Although I’m not exactly terrified of heights, I'd much rather avoid them. Standing at the foot of the tower, it seemed so enormous. Much more massive than it appeared in pictures. I only went to the first-level observation deck, but as I walked along and looked down, I got a little dizzy. But when I looked out, the view was quite different. All I could see was beauty. Paris was all around me.

As I talked about my trip with a friend recently, he thought I had definitely missed out by not going to the top of the tower. Since he’s extremely adventurous, he told me I'd gone all the way to Paris so why not experience it all? 

But sometimes I listen to the loud voices of my fears. I hear them telling me to stay where it’s safe. I hear them warn me not to get in a precarious spot. I hear them shout that it’s too risky to go out on that limb since there's a lot that could go wrong out there.

Fear of disappointment tells me to avoid having any hopes so they can’t be dashed.

Fear of regretting what I’ll say tells me to keep quiet so I won’t make a mistake.

Fear of not being perfect tells me to control it all so everything will meet my unrealistic expectations.

Fear of looking foolish tells me to stay guarded to avoid being vulnerable in my friendships and relationships.

But those voices of fear don’t tell the whole story. I can choose to listen to them beat a drumbeat over my life. Or I can lean a little closer to listen to what God is whispering to me.

Last week I had lunch with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. I always enjoy our time together but I just didn't feel like sharing. I was tired of talking. I was thinking about postponing it. Then I heard the words, This lunch isn't about you. I thought about ignoring that nudge but instead I kept the lunch on my calendar. 

When I asked my friend how she'd been, she said she was in the middle of a difficult situation but she wasn't sure she wanted to share it with me. But we both decided to talk and promised to pray. She sent me a text as soon as she left the restaurant that she prayed for me as she drove out of the parking lot. And I felt ashamed that I had almost let my selfish feelings take the lead. Even though I tried to encourage her, I left our lunch feeling more encouraged by her words than I had in weeks. 

I wonder when I'll realize that God always has more for me than I can imagine.

When I tell God that I don’t have anything anyone would want to read, he unearths a long-ago memory or brings an idea to mind. And I start to think that I have a story worth telling.

When I tell God that I don’t have what it takes and I can’t do it, he whispers that he is enough. And I start to believe that He’s given me what I need to live out what’s required of me today.

When I tell God that what he’s given me is too hard, he whispers that I’m strong in him. And I start to believe that he’s beside me in what I’m walking through.

If I had listened to my fears, I wouldn't have traveled to Paris. If I had listened to what fear says, I would never have started writing my thoughts and posting them on the internet for all to read on a blog. If I had listened to fear's clamoring, I would have never said yes to a first date. But in taking all those first steps forward, fear takes a step back. 

Instead of looming large and blocking my way, fear shrinks back to the periphery, back to the edges of my life. It's still there, but just a shadow of its former self. A poor imitation of something large and powerful instead of casting a shadow over my life as big as the Eiffel Tower.

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was what I was most excited to see. At lunch in the first-level restaurant I found it hard to believe that I was actually sitting inside this world-famous monument. As I took my first taste of an exquisite French dessert, the view on my plate was pretty spectacular. 

And now when I remember that extraordinary panorama, I think the next time I go to Paris I’d like to take my fears for a ride and see what the view is like from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

I'm linking up with the wonderful writers over at God-sized Dreams today. Click the image to read their stories about their dreams and their fears.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When the Dog Days Bark at My Dreams

My niece Devon celebrated her seventh birthday a few weeks ago and my sister transformed her patio into a puppy playground for the birthday party. Devon's friends were asked to bring their favorite stuffed dog and my job was to help the girls string beaded collars for their dogs and scoop out pup-corn into their doggie bowls. 

The girls played pin the tail on the puppy, paraded their dogs around the pool and ate pup-cakes and dog bone cookies. But a few days after her party Devon told me she just doesn’t feel like she’s seven yet since she was six for so long. She says she forgets that she's grown up a little bit.

I understand what she means because sometimes on the hard days, I feel like I've fallen backward and my dreams have long gone to the dogs. Things aren’t working out like I thought or hoped. I pray and God doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want him to. 

I feel like a petulant child when I don’t get my way. When I ask why. When I want to know how much longer it’s going to be until I get there. Even though I’m not quite sure where there is exactly. 

It's on these difficult days that I start to wonder if my dreams are really from God. Maybe I'm wrong about what I thought I heard him say. I feel squeezed in and stretched out beyond what I can stand. 

I'm not sure what I'm waiting for, where I'm headed or if I should keep going. But the weight of my dreams isn’t resting on me. I have to remember that my dreams call for me to do the hard work but to ultimately leave the outcome in God’s capable hands. That means the how, the why and the when aren't up to me.

So I pull out my journal to read what I've written when the dream was fresh and new. For all the difficult days to come, I can look back and remember.

I remember all the God-moments that happened along the way. Even now when it seems so dark, I still see those moments glowing, just as bright as they were when they first dazzled my heart.

I remember the times God whispered to me. When the dream was new and I asked him what to do, he whispered, pray. So still I am praying, even though it seems discouraging. 

I remember a verse he showed me saying, Forget the past. Look, I'm doing a new thing, do you not see it?

Even though I can't know for sure if my dreams are really from God, I think if they help me know God better while at the same time ask me to grow, stretch and face my fears, then I can take a risk and step out. 

Although I write for a career, I didn't think I could write a blog. I thought I couldn't keep at it. I didn't own a camera or know how to take photos. I didn't feel confident to even get started. But a friend helped me build the blog template, buy a camera and showed me how to shoot photos. I decided to write about being single and experiencing God more deeply through a disappointing friendship when I had hoped for more. 

Now as I look back two years ago when I started writing my blog, I can clearly see God's fingerprints on this dream because it was more than I could ever imagine doing on my own. I found I really could find something to write about every week if I thought about God's goodness to me. 

Even though opening the door to parts of my soul for anyone to read is terrifying, it's here in the middle of my dream, that I look up and realize that I've moved forward. Stretched and grew. Faced down my fears.

And the man who I felt rejected me? I ran into him a few weeks ago. He said we really should grab coffee to catch up. And I realized that I was no longer the least bit interested. I no longer felt rejected because I was doing the declining. 

I was reminded again how God knows just what we need. He cares about the details and I love how he works specifically and personally in my life.

I know my life's journey is more about experiencing God than reaching for my dreams. Even though what happens may surprise me, I know that God has planned it or allowed it. I have to trust that he has something to teach me, show me or change in me.

I‘d like to approach what happens in my life with the spirit of the seven-year-old girls at Devon’s party. With wide-eyed hopes and a zest for life. Instead of letting discouragement and unbelief crawl up and lick my feet, I want to put on my party hat and pull up a chair to the beautifully decorated table of my life.

There are still some dreams waiting there for me. Dreams of adventure and travel, friendships and relationships, accomplishments and experiences. I’m grateful for what’s already here and for what will come. I trust in God’s purposes for what he has planned for my life and I’ll follow where he’s leading. 

So in the midst of those dog days of my dreams, some encouragement along the way is always nice. When Devon is at my house, she likes to pretend she's a dog and types notes in my phone for me to read later. 

On one of those hard days, I find a new one. It says, You are the best aunt in the world. I love you. Your friend, Pup

And that's the kind of puppy love that takes the bite right out of the dog days and tells me to keep on dreaming.

I'm linking up with God-sized Dreams today. Click the image to read their stories about their dreams!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Once a Dreamer, Always a Dreamer

I’ve been dreaming since I was a little girl.

I dreamed of being a figure skater when I was 5.

I dreamed of being a ballerina when I was 8.

I dreamed of being a writer when I was 13.

I dreamed of getting married when I was 23.

It seems like sometimes those days of dreaming are long gone. Lost among the everyday ordinariness of living life. 

But the dreamer in me hasn’t gone anywhere. I think part of me will always be a dreamer. 

Throughout my life, my dreams have expanded and changed, some were realized while others remain incomplete. But along the way I’ve discovered that my dreams aren’t only about what I want to do. They’re far more about my relationship with God because he first whispered them to my heart. 

Sometimes it’s the dreams that I’ve thought I’ve abandoned that send me running fast to him. It’s there that I pour out my heart and he turns my gaze away from the circumstances of the dream that have become a little fuzzy. What I thought I saw so clearly isn’t understandable anymore. And what comes into focus is God. Every dream draws me to him where I unexpectedly find new and different and deeper ways to know him. 

I’ve never been the kind of girl who dreamed of being a princess bride or who thought she would walk down the aisle in a belle of the ball gown. I get uncomfortable as the center of attention, when every eye is turned on me. But what seems like too many years ago now, I thought about a wedding of my own for awhile. But it all fell apart and we went our separate ways and I got busy. 

With my career, with friends, with many other things that fill up the days and weeks and months. Before I knew it, years went by. But sometimes, a tiny glow from that dream still flickers.

I’m very sure that I didn’t take the wrong road. I’m not on a detour. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I tell God that I want to follow after him. That I’ll go where he leads. Then I find myself in a place I didn’t want to be. I tell God I'm wondering how I got here. 

It's there I hear him whisper, You didn't just end up here, I led you here. 

I realize he’s with me in those places of doubt and discouragement. I picture him calling my name, with all the love he has for me. And when I turn to him, then he will lead me out. To new places of promise. 

My dreams were meant to lead me. Not to the dream itself, but to the one who is the giver of my dreams. I remind myself that whatever God brings to my life is better for me than anything I could dream of on my own. Trusting him is better than chasing after any dream I could yearn for. I know that God wants me to keep dreaming new dreams for as long as I live.

As a little girl I was in awe of ballerinas and ice skaters. For my fifth birthday, I wanted to go to the Ice Capades. My mother said I fell asleep halfway through the show, but all I knew was that ice skating was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. And I wanted to be a skater.

I was a teenager when I took my first skating lesson. It quickly became clear that there were no Olympic medals in my future. My weak ankles turned over and wobbled in my skates. My uncoordinated moves made it difficult to execute even the simplest elements. But I refused to let that girlish dream die. 

Years later, I met a coach who was willing to take on adult students. I was excited to learn everything, even if they were half-jumps and two-footed spins, the most basic of skating elements. I picked myself up and tried again every time I fell. Eventually I competed in an adult competition. (I wrote about it here.) It didn’t matter what I looked like to anyone watching, in my heart I was a figure skater.

Dreams are meant to change and grow along with us. Dreaming of being a ballerina or figure skater were girlhood fancies that weren’t meant to come true. But they showed me what dreaming was all about. 

And many of my dreams have come true. My dream of writing for a career has come true with a job in communications. My dream of writing for pleasure has come true with my blog. My dream of decorating a place of my own has come true several times over. Along the way surprising dreams that I didn't even know I had have come true.

Today my dreams are much different than pink ballet slippers and gleaming figure skates. My dreams hold the same things I’ve always yearned for. Beauty and grace and loveliness. But joining them are dreams of courage and hope and faith. 

I'll always hold my dreams of yesterday very close to my heart because they helped shape the dreams of my future. And I'm still dreaming. Of new adventures. New opportunities. New journeys. 

Those are my dreams today, tomorrow and maybe for the rest of my life.

Today I'm linking up with God-sized Dreams. Click the image to read their stories about their dreams!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Small Changes Spring to Life

With spring already here in Florida, I wanted to refresh the decor around my house. So I started with my guest room. Although I have two guest rooms, I can really only make changes to one of them since my niece Devon thinks she owns the other one. She doesn’t like anything moved or changed or added, so that leaves me just one room to rejuvenate and revive. 

I decided to do some rearranging. I swapped out the rose floral bedspread with a little-used silver and white one I had in the closet. I replaced the red and white pillows with soft gray pillow shams. I added a cranberry blanket to the foot of the bed. I moved a pillow from my couch to the guest bed since it has similar colors as the bedding. (The pillow is actually a towel I bought at a museum in Paris that my mother refashioned for me.)

The bedspread, the pillow shams, the blanket, the Paris-towel-pillow. These little restyling changes perk up the room. It feels fresher and I didn’t even have to paint or rearrange the furniture to give the room a lighter, brighter atmosphere. 

Even though I know that small changes can make a world of difference in decorating my house, I sometimes think I should do significant reconstructive work in my life to make a big impact. These projects I fabricate in my head tend to be more on the scale of attempting to totally remodel my disposition or transform my temperament. But these major renovations seem so daunting that I don't know where to begin. And maybe that's a good thing.

Because I'm also realizing that making huge changes is quite pointless. Because I'm not here in this place, at this time, to be someone else. There's no one else exactly like me. And God meant it that way. So instead of a total redesign of myself, maybe I could start smaller. Lean in when I want to turn away. Press on when I want to hide out. Stand up when I want to shrink back. And I find opportunities every day to give these tiny efforts a chance to blossom, when I start looking for them.

I start to say something unflattering about a friend to another friend. But I pause. She asks me what I'm thinking. I tell her I think I’d better keep it to myself. She nods understandingly and we move on to the next subject. I realize I’ve just captured an unkind word before it made its way into my conversation.

I am deliberate about writing posts as I co-lead a small group with some Facebook-savvy women. I carefully type in my post to schedule it and  automatically hit a hard return. Just like that, my post is live to the group. It says “Happy Friday ladies!” Except that it’s only Wednesday. 

I frantically think how ridiculous it will look if anyone sees it. But then I calmly delete it. And I realize that this means I just made a simple mistake, not that I’m a social media flop.  

I like to drive a clean car but I don’t like car washes because I'm not always sure exactly how they work. The attendant tells me to wait in line, then motions me forward. He opens the door for me and I get out but the car keeps going. “Put it in park!” he yells at me. 

I start to wonder how I could have done that, but then I decide to laugh. I tell the attendant I just wanted to give him some excitement for his day. He laughs too and tells me he’ll take it from here. (Whew.) And I realize that I've just shrugged off an embarrassing moment.

It feels refreshing not to regret stray words and have to clean them up with apologies afterward. It feels like progress not to critique myself for a trivial mistake. I think not taking myself so seriously is good growth. And my niece Devon has even decided she wants to perk up her room for spring too.

As she walks into my house I'm surprised as she pulls a pink Eiffel Tower hook out of her bag. She says she needs a place in her room to hang her robe. She admits that she rarely brings a robe but still, she'd like a hook for it anyway.

I'm realizing that it doesn't take major alterations to see refreshing transformations springing to life. And I especially love it when that small change seems as big as the Eiffel Tower.

I'm linking up with Holley Gerth today with coffee for your heart. Click here to read their stories of small things that make a big difference!