Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Living a Life with Promise

I’m always on the lookout for a new muffin recipe. One called uber-berry muffins in last month’s Better Homes & Gardens catches my attention. It looks promising because I am convinced that a muffin can never have too many berries. I’m excited that I even have a container of blueberries and a bag of cranberries leftover from the holidays in my refrigerator.

But the recipe calls for buttermilk and that’s one ingredient I don’t regularly stock. I search my refrigerator for anything remotely similar and find ricotta cheese and half and half. I decide to substitute half and half for the buttermilk. 

As the muffins bake, I brazenly expect them to live up to their promise. Even without the buttermilk. 

But I have a habit of extending this same guarantee to my life. In the form of expectations of my family, friendships and circumstances. If something shows a little promise, I tend to think it's a sign of things to come or I'm hopeful of what I might expect. 

But I can easily get caught up in the promise. Dazzled by potential hints of bliss. Excited when all signs point heavenward. Hopeful when I see suggestions of a promising future. But that’s the surest way for me to feel disappointed, discouraged, and disheartened. 

Maybe there’s a difference between a life filled with promise and living a life with promise. A life that shows promise puts the pressure on me. As if I make one misstep, one mistake, one stray word, then I’ve blown it. And how could I ever fulfill the promise to be perfect?

So I do the only thing I know how to do. I find my way back to the promises of God. It’s here in this sacred place where God treasures my heart and shows me that expectations, predictions and potential can’t lead me to a life filled with promise. 

Perfection isn't very promising. In this season of my life, I feel God inviting me to open my heart more. So I trust a few pieces of it to those who I hope will value it. It feels wildly unsafe and I realize that I’ve set myself up for the very things I am determined to steer clear of  -- disappointment, rejection, questions and critiques. 

But God whispers that nothing – not even my deepest doubts and fears can separate me from his love. And no matter what happens -- even if rejection and disappointment come my way -- he promises to walk through it with me. 

So I boldly take a step toward risk and change and love and friendship and deeper relationships. I’m not sure what this commitment promises but I’ll take the chance.

Because I’m no stranger to the most promising plans going awry. When they do, sometimes I discover a new place of promise. 

When I first moved to Florida, I thought it would be perfect to spend my September birthday at the beach. But instead of fun in the sun, it rained almost every year around my birthday. 

Finally, I figured out that the height of hurricane season isn’t the best time to be at the beach. Unless I liked sitting inside watching it rain outside. So my sister proposed we change venues and take a fall weekend shopping trip to Atlanta instead. 

I wasn’t sure how I felt about a busy city weekend instead of unwinding at the beach but my sister was sure I’d love it. We ate burgers at The Varsity, got tickets to the symphony, toured the art museum, stopped at a trendy candlelit café just for late-night dessert, and lunched at the Swan House. 

If it rained during any of my trips to Atlanta, I don’t remember because it didn’t matter. I fell in love with the city. It was everything my sister promised. 

I’ve found that the places of promise I’ve experienced don’t always look like I think they will. The changes, risks, substitutions in life can all bring the promise of hope. The promise of faith. The promise of joy.

The uber-berry muffins are ready to come out of the oven and I'm surprised that they are quite good. But they might have been a lot better if I had used buttermilk. 

I think I’ll save the recipe and try it again. Because I think it holds a lot of promise. 

This week I am linked up with Bonnie Gray, the Faith Barista, sharing our posts on promises.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Snapshots of the Extraordinary

My life is not an extraordinary story, by any means, but lived out day by day, in small scenes. I think the pages of my story are filled with a fair share of lovely occasions and remarkable moments, but the pages chronicle far more ordinary days. 

Yet I think it's out of the ordinary that sometimes I see snapshots of the extraordinary.

My niece Devon and I spent a day in my kitchen making peanut butter cups for Easter dessert. I was trying a new recipe and the chocolate turned out far too thick to dip the peanut butter dough in. 

As we dropped the dough balls into the bowl of melted chocolate we had a hard time retrieving them without completely dunking our hands in the chocolate to fish them out. 

Which meant chocolate on the counter, on the floor, on Devon’s clothes and even an airborne glob that dropped from Devon’s hand onto my foot. 

Devon surveyed the mess and said that this looked like just another chocolate explosion in auntie’s kitchen. 

I told her that’s how baking is sometimes. It’s an experiment to find out what works. A failed recipe doesn’t mean you quit baking. It just means you make adjustments. Do something different. Keep trying. 

There are dozens of different ways to make the same dessert. With each messy baking adventure, you learn something new. If you don't give up, eventually you will have something delicious. 

As I said these words, I realized how much my heart needed to hear them too.

What if my disappointments and failures lead me to the gifts of extravagant grace and unshakable faith?

Like a snapshot of the extraordinary.

On Easter, I went to church with my sister’s family. I sat in the backseat with my niece and nephew as my brother-in-law drove us in his new car. I asked Devon what the two small compartments in the ceiling held. She shrugged and told me to press the buttons to open them. 

We looked at each other as two tiny compact mirrors descended from the ceiling. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting. The more Devon thought about it, the funnier she thought it was. 

I laughed with her as she dissolved in giggles.  

I thought about how surprising gems are hidden in places I wouldn’t expect. How even though it's not easy, I want to persevere through difficult circumstances and not give up because when I look back I find that my faith grew stronger.

It's easy to let doubts make me question the very things that I know are true. Discouragement can leave me feeling ungrateful and restless. But God uses these times to show me a stunning new facet of his character that I haven't encountered before.

What if I realized that concealed under these difficult experiences is the outrageous hope I so desperately need?

Like a snapshot of the extraordinary.

My sister hosted brunch for us at her house. The table included a place for Floppy, the stuffed dog that arrived in Devon's Easter basket, with his own plastic food and cutlery. 

(Look closely and you'll see him seated at the table bottom left.)

The kids aren’t very interested in eating fruit cups, baked French toast or a Southwest egg casserole so they don’t stay at the table for long. They head out to the pool to wait for me to take some family photos. 

When they tire of posing, they start jumping over the little waterfall as it splashes into the pool.

Still in their Easter finery, I watch them run and leap. Unconcerned about risking a stumble or fall, they trust that they’ll make it to the other side.

I thought about how I'd rather keep pieces of myself tucked away to keep people at arm's length. Sharing parts of my story scares me because emotional vulnerability makes me so uncomfortable.

But I remember how a friend recently shared painful parts of her story I'd never heard before and it made our friendship stronger. I know if I let my guard down, sometimes I discover a valuable connection that I hadn't expected. 

What if I realized I had more emotional courage to trust others with my story than I thought?

Like a snapshot of the extraordinary. 

While I’m turning the pages of my story, I want to leave room for what God wants to write in that space. Space for fresh faith, patient perseverance, steadfast resolve, and a wider perspective to consider his purposes for my life. 

My story's plot is still unclear since I can't know what's going to happen in the future. The cast of characters may change through the years, but I'm amazed when I consider the impact those in my life have on my story. 

My story has its share of conflict, but the interruptions, challenges and obstacles just invite me to follow God more closely as the narrative unfolds. 

I hope I’ll always be looking for those moments of extraordinary in the snapshots of my story, hidden in the most ordinary of days. 

And what if I realized that the theme of my life story is to know, trust and follow God, the one who's writing my story? 

One extraordinary snapshot at a time.

I'm linking up with Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista as we share our posts with the writing prompt, Your Story. Click the image to read more!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Happy Easter Morning Egg-citement

Every so often the early morning sun glints through my windows in a way that reminds me of Easter morning. I wake up to these shimmery rays and I love holding on to this sunshiny memory for a few seconds. 

Then the light shifts and it’s gone. 

I think these familiar sunbeams remind me of the excitement of waking up early to search for my cellophane-wrapped Easter basket filled with trinkets and chocolate bunnies. There are other Easter memories, particularly those involving hats, that I'm not so eager to recall.

I carry my first purse while my sister clutches a toy.
They made my thick, stubborn hair look smashed down and stick out every which way when the hat came off. Even at a very young age, I wasn't at all happy if my hair didn't look properly styled. (A dilemma I still have today.)

One year when I was five or six my mother made me wear an aqua blue headscarf with floppy white petals hanging off of it that tied under my chin like a kerchief. I hated it and begged her not to make me wear it. She said it perfectly matched my new aqua blue coat and yes, I had to wear it. 

I remember being mortified wearing it into my church class with those petals swinging in the breeze off the top of my head. 

I think this might have been when I started forming strong opinions about what I wanted to wear, how my hair should look and what I thought was fashionable. Because that headscarf definitely wasn't.  

On Easter there was always a second basket coming my way from my aunt. She filled baskets with chocolate horses and kittens and puppies for my sister and chocolate shoes and ballet slippers and ice skates for me. She spent a lot of time painstakingly searching for what we would like.

As I got older, I started to appreciate her extraordinary efforts to choose things that would delight us. After she was gone, I regretted not always being grateful for all she did so we would know how special we were to her.

Even as we grew into teenagers, my mother and aunt still filled Easter baskets with little surprises. My first fashion magazines, my first bottle of nail polish in shades of tulip pink and my first pot of eyeshadow in a shockingly bright hue of green. 

My mother (left) and my aunt Terri show off their Easter eggs.

These little things made me feel special, cared about and oh-so-grown-up.

This individual consideration reminds me of my favorite part of the Easter resurrection story. Jesus cares about meeting Mary personally when she arrives to find the tomb empty. 

She's upset and thinks she's talking to the gardener until Jesus calls her by name. Then she recognizes his voice.

While she was searching for him, he’d been there all along. 

Just like he is for me. While I'm wondering what to do, deciding where to go, he's been there along. Calling my name.

Not out loud, but in ways that mean something only to me. In details and circumstances and words that only I would care about. Personally and especially for me. 

I could think of them as happy coincidences maybe. But I don't. I think these instances are designed to help me feel God's love.  

It's the thoughtful gift of a bracelet that arrives unexpectedly on my doorstep. It was from a friend I hadn't talked to in a while who had no idea I'd admired it.

It's the email that arrives with a blog post by a writer that seems as if she were reading my mind, my life and my heart. I feel like she wrote it just for me. 

It's the trill of my phone with an entertaining text from a friend telling me he wants to cheer up my Monday. He offers kind words exactly when my spirits are flagging. 

It's walking into a store and finding my favorite ring back in stock. Mine had lost some stones but when I looked online to replace it, it was sold out. Now a tray of rings sits on the counter, but there's just one left in my size. 

I'm beginning to think the early morning rays of sunlight aren't just reminding me of Easter memories. I'm remembering feelings of being loved and special.

As a daughter, as a niece and as a child of God.

And I've also decided that the Easter bonnets that made me feel so silly probably weren't so bad either. My mother might have been on to something. If the hats helped my wildest hairs behave, maybe I ought to do a little hat shopping before Easter Sunday arrives.

I'm linking up today with Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista as we share our Easter posts. Click the image to read more!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is There Beauty in the Broken?

When I look at what I have around my house, it seems that I have quite the assortment of broken things. My furniture and décor have more than a few chips, dents and scratches on them. And some of my things are really honest-to-goodness broken. 

I have a china cabinet that’s missing the glass in the door. I have a ramshackle dresser with all the drawers stuck closed. I have a set of pictures that match except that one of the frames doesn’t have glass. I have a broken light fixture with the wires stuffed inside that I use as a candleholder. I have an old wooden ironing board with a broken dowel rod that I use as my sofa table.

I knew that all of these things were broken when I bought them. It might seem a little crazy to knowingly buy rusty, damaged and broken things. If I think too much about it, it seems that I buy broken junk, set it around my house and call it vintage décor. 

But instead, I prefer to think that I'm just giving this stuff a second chance at life at my house. It probably would have gotten hauled to the junkyard, but I've repurposed it. I kind of appreciate the rust and flaking paint and time-worn patina. I don't mind overlooking the brokenness and missing pieces. 

Maybe I'm a little like my weathered furnishings. I feel like I'm working toward a purpose. But stormy weather hits. After the clouds clear and the sun shines again, I find I've lost a little paint, grew a little rusty and had a few things broken in the process. But I find God directs me to a new purpose and I keep on going. Repurposed but never discarded.

And aren't we all really a little bit broken in some way? 

My life certainly has its share of broken pieces. From tiny fragments and slivers to fairly sizable chunks and slabs. Splintered friendships. Broken relationships. Shattered hopes. Crushed dreams. Failed ambitions. I sweep them all into a little pile. This heap of broken pieces looks a lot like trash to me. Not even fit for the recycle bin. 

I pack up some other fragments too. Circumstances beyond repair. Shards of doubt and disappointment, questions and confusion, grudges and hurt that try to splinter their way from my head into my heart. That chip away at my faith to make me doubt that God holds my life in his hands. That try to tell me maybe I shouldn’t trust him because I can’t see what he’s doing.

But I bring all of these fragments of my life to God. I gather up the little damaged slivers and broken pieces of my experiences and I hand them over to him. Because to him, nothing is wasted. Nothing is too damaged to be thrown away. 

And I find myself overwhelmed when he gives these broken pieces back to me, entirely transformed. My experiences haven't changed but my perspective and emotions have. Now they are mended and repaired, made into something better fashioned for his purposes for me. Something that turns out to be quite beautiful, unexpected and revived.

Last week I had lunch with my childhood best friend, Sammie. She entered my second grade classroom in the middle of the year after her family moved to Pittsburgh. She was always laughing and full of fun. Quite the opposite of my quiet, serious bookish self. 

We weren’t friends for long before her family moved again to Alabama. We wrote letters and our family visited hers the next summer during our vacation. I remember an endless drive to her house, getting lost and arriving so late, Sammie and her siblings were already in bed. I never saw her again and our girlhood friendship was interrupted. Broken by time and geography and the circumstances of life. 

So I was surprised to find an email from her that said she had stumbled on my blog. I was shocked to discover that we’d unknowingly lived in the same town for the past 25 years, a thousand miles from where we’d first met. 

We caught up over a three-hour lunch and it felt like we’d never lost touch. She was the same bubbly, full-of-life girl I remembered from second grade. 

She said although our childhood friendship was brief she never forgot me or my family and the connection we made. We sat there amazed at how God brought us back into each other’s lives to begin a second chapter of our friendship. 

I truly believe that God can restore all things broken. From friendships to families, from dreams to faith, and everything in between. Broken doesn’t have to mean discarded or useless. It just means there’s a chance to be redeemed. Revived. Maybe made into something different, but still beautiful. 

I think there's a miracle to be found in the broken. Sometimes I have to look hard for it. Sometimes I have to wait for it. But I think it's always there. 

It's the joy of a new friendship. It's peace finally restored after an emotional storm. It's a fresh burst of faith that breaks through the dark shadows of disappointment. It's the anticipation that good things are ahead after a journey through the wilderness. It's the certainty of God's grace and mercy even after a hard fall all the way back down. 

And I am confident that all the pieces of my life -- including and especially the broken ones -- are in the hands of the one who knows me and loves me better than anyone else can. May I always be looking for how God is making the broken things beautiful.

This post marks the 100th post of Grace with Silk. I couldn't have imagined it! Thank you for reading and joining me here in this space with your encouraging words.

I'm linking up today with Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista, where we are sharing our posts on the topic of Broken. Click the image to read more!