Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Gift of Presence

I just love those surprise boxes that are fashioned around a theme and filled with all sorts of lovely things, don't you? 

Although I’ve never actually bought one {or received one}, my eight-year-old niece Devon snared one of those goodie boxes when we were in St. Augustine over Thanksgiving.

While my sister and I browsed around a sweet boutique called Declaration & Co., I looked up to see Devon at the counter being handed a big box. 

I wondered what my sister was buying her, but instead my sister waved me over and said, “Look what she just won!” 

For finding two mouse ornaments hidden around the store, Devon was gifted a box with a label that declared, “Cute Things Inside.” 

Filled with chocolates, leggings, wrap, ribbons, cards, and a hairband, Devon couldn’t have been more excited. 

I’ll admit I had a hard time not wanting to steal it from her. 

As I looked through it longingly, she warned me that she wanted to keep EVERYTHING that was inside.

Maybe she gets her love of tiny surprises from her auntie. 

When I went to Italy this summer, I think I was more excited to see what was inside the swag bags waiting on our pillows at the hotel to welcome us to the art and faith retreat than I was about some of our excursions. 

{And those swag bags filled with journals and vintage postcards and everything we'd need to make a keepsake necklace didn't disappoint, by the way!}

But maybe even better than the gift of presents is the gift of presence. 

I’m finding that no matter how long I know him, I still can’t measure the innumerable ways God chooses to be present with us. 

When I sense a shift in my circumstances and a confirmation of my tentative faith-risks, I see the vision he {still} has for my life.

That peculiar plan, purposed just for me, eclipses my fears, infuses me with courage and beckons me forward.

It may take months, it may take years, but as he authors my story and while I wait for God to move, I'm moving ever closer to him. 

Because for reasons unfathomable to us, as we celebrate God coming to earth as a man to be present with us, he waits for our presence.

{Yours and mine.}
You will make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. - Ps. 16:11 NIV
For you who are waiting for something, don't give up hope; keep holding on. 
For you who are afraid to take a chance to start the new year with something new, take the risk and step out.
For you who are looking for a miracle, know that with God nothing is impossible; lean into him. 
For you who are uncertain and doubtful that God could still have a purpose for you, he will not let you go; know that you are so very loved and so cherished by him. 
{I'm holding on to these truths and pray that you will too.}

Our last shopping stop in St. Augustine was at a vintage store where I deliberated long over a chippy painted table. 

My sister and niece both told me I’d love it {and got tired of waiting for me} so I finally believed them and loaded it in the car. 

Settled in my dining room and flanked by my favorite pink velvet chairs, I'm looking forward to the gift of sharing coffee and a scone at this table with those in my life whose presence I'm celebrating.

What presents are you unwrapping this holiday season? Or whose presence are you gloriously grateful for in your life?

I'm celebrating all of you, my lovely readers! Happy holidays and I am so grateful for every one of you! xoxo

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me and my blogging friends there by clicking on the image!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What's Your Life Style?

Instead of joining the maddening crowds at shopping malls or discount stores, I spent the day after Thanksgiving browsing the small businesses in St. Augustine, hoping to discover a charming new boutique. 

This is part of my usual {for the past two decades} Black Friday routine since my family spends the holiday weekend there just a two-hour drive from our Orlando hometown. It seems there's always a gem of a store hiding among the tourist-y stores and this year I found one full of treasures with a generous heart.

Philanthropy, Fashion + Compassion is a mix of vintage-look and rustic decor, clothing, gifts and jewelry, where you can shop, pray and support global causes through your purchases. 

I fell in love the minute I walked the door. Barrels were styled into tabletop displays, chandeliers hung from the ceiling and the tops of armoires were styled with pillows, art and stacks of vintage books. 

Since I love wrap and ribbons and bows, I thought I spotted an entire wall of gift tags, but as I got closer I realized they were little notes hanging under a sign that labeled it the prayer wall. 

The tags were actually prayer requests, handwritten on little cards and hanging on nails, inviting other shoppers to pray for them. 

I read a tag from a student who wanted prayer for a test and a daughter asking prayer for her sick mother.

As I stood before the wall, I wondered if all these vulnerable written expressions reflected a type of stylish beauty on display, giving strangers a peek into graceful hearts. 

Whether it’s a wall, an armoire, a ceiling, or a life, isn’t its look determined by how we design it? 

Sometimes it’s easier to adorn our mantels and our armoires than it is to adorn our lives.

I think offering our souls to God, opening our hearts to compassion, and extending grace to our neighbors might be the fashion for a stylish life. 

I don’t know about you but I have a few problems, circumstances and situations that need a fresh approach, change of perspective or maybe even a complete makeover.

Could that dark corner of critical thoughts {toward others and ourselves} stand to be a cleared out? 

What if we blew the dust off those nooks and crannies of time-wasters that overwhelm our schedules {and our hearts} and gave ourselves space to breathe? 

Could we make over that shelf of staid and stale perspectives that keep us doubting and disillusioned {with God, ourselves and others} and infuse them with a fresh burst of hope?

Styling our lives reveals the heart of who we really are.

The website Chairish, asked me to create a style board if I were to top off one of their vintage armoires. This pretty site brings together buyers and sellers of vintage furniture and decor items, jewelry and accessories.

Even though I was a newbie at creating a style board, I was excited to give it a try with Canva (thanks to Crystal Stine’s online course I took earlier this year). 

I pulled some of my favorites - candles, mirrors and pillows from Anthropologie, and a lantern and wire basket from Chairish. I'd put a mirror {or two} in the center, fill a basket full of colorful pillows, open up a couple of creamy white candles and even put one inside of a vintage French lantern.

My vintage armoire is topped with holiday decorations now but I'll eventually pack them up to pull out my everyday pieces come January. That's when I'm going to be rethinking the style of my house. 

And the style of my life.

{You too?}

Maybe like me, you'll even discover a treasure of a store with a heart to help and a place to connect that's always in fashion.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart and the #RaRa link-up at Purposeful Faith. Join me there for more posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Secret Garden

It’s the most photographed door in St. Augustine.

Red and weathered, standing under a stone arch, it looks as if it could have been around when Ponce de Leon landed in Florida.

It’s my first sight of St. Augustine every year when I arrive for Thanksgiving since the door is just across the street from the inn where I’ve stayed for the past 25 years.

The door is an artist's dream.

Pictures are painted of it. 

Brides stand in front of it. 

I take new photos of it every year. 

{I’ve even used one of the photos on my blog banner.}

But I always thought the gate led nowhere. I wasn’t sure if it belonged to the run-down house beside it or the rather ordinary house on the other side of it.

This year, I took photos of it every day, capturing varying degrees of shadows and light.

And before leaving the inn to head home, I grabbed my camera for some final shots. I waited for a slow-poking tourist couple with their fanny packs and cameras to move along so I could shoot my photos. 

They gazed at the door for so long I started to get impatient when I saw the man push open the door. 

How brazen! Didn’t he know it was private property? 

For as long as I’ve been visiting St. Augustine, I have never seen the door open.

I watched him take a few steps in, then back out, shut the door and finally walk away. 

It never occurred to me to get that close to the door before. I always took my photos from a safe distance, but now that I saw that audacious daredevil tourist {I'm pretty sure he was pushing 80} do it, I was infused with a bit of bravery.

Here was my chance.

I ran across the street and peered through the iron grate.

To my surprise, I glimpsed beautifully manicured pathways that weren’t visible at all from the street. 

My niece Devon grabbed my camera and laid on the ground to shoot a photo through a hole in the planks near the ground.

All these years, I had no idea there was a hidden garden behind the door. I’d never gotten close enough to see it.

It takes a long time to uncover the hidden secrets of God. 

He is like a treasure that I have to go deep to unearth. Layer by layer, the experience of knowing him just gets richer.
I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. -Is. 45:3
He is not in a hurry. He can’t be rushed to reveal himself. 

From the baby we adore at Christmas, to the savior we exult at Easter, and the king whose return we await, this God-yet-man has countless facets to his character that takes days turned to decades to know. 

When we get next to him and offer him the best part of ourselves -- which can only be accomplished with great effort, dedicated time and gritty determination -- then his whisper is like a secret we savor.  

He has invited me to come closer, then steered me on a new footpath, sometimes urging me to keep up with him, sometimes asking me to wait on him, but always accompanying me, never leaving me alone.

When I get close enough to his heart, hoping for a glimpse of how he sees me, that’s when I discover him, hidden, yet waiting for me. 

He invites me to share my secrets with him, promising to hold them all very close to his heart. 
You are my private garden, my treasure, my bride, a secluded spring, a hidden fountain. - Song of Solomon 4:12

What would it take to crack open the door of your heart and really get to know God?

Maybe you’re hiding from the adventure God wants to take you on because you fear it’s too big of a risk. 

Maybe you’ve closed your heart to love because it’s not worth risking the disappointment. 

Maybe you fear the future, afraid to leave what’s convenient and comfortable because you're just not sure that God can really be trusted.

Come close enough to really know him. 

That’s the secret. There you’ll find hidden treasures.

As I drove past that old red gate on my way out of St. Augustine, it looked the same as it always did. 

But it seems different to me now that I know what’s behind it. I know its secret.

And I wonder how I could have waited so long to discover it.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart and Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista. Join me there for posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Let's Talk Turkey

All week long my feathers were ruffled. Or maybe I was just in a foul mood. 

I overreacted when a colleague told my boss something I’d said to her privately. 

I introduced myself to someone who said she’d met me several times while I stared at her blankly thinking I’d never seen her before in my life. I couldn't think of a thing to say, except an inelegant, "Really?" that inferred she must not have made much of an impression for me not to remember her. I felt impossibly rude.

I covered up feeling awkward with brusque and ungracious words when I stumbled into the middle of a conversation between my sister and a friend of hers.

I felt terrible about the way I reacted in all of these situations. 

{Maybe you can relate?}

In much calmer moments, I realized what I’d told my work colleague wasn’t even remotely confidential and it didn't matter if she told my boss. 

I learned the woman I couldn’t remember meeting was sporting a new hairstyle so I wasn’t completely crazy for not recognizing her, but that didn't excuse my lack of warmth.

My sister told me she’d inadvertently given her friend wrong information so she wasn’t surprised I was confused at what they were discussing.

Then I got an email from Compassion International telling me the little girl I was sponsoring in Sri Lanka had been removed from their program by her family so my sponsorship would end. 

Her picture hung on my refrigerator. I was praying for her. I’d received a few letters from her. Although I’d only been sponsoring her for a year, I felt bereft.

So I got a little upset with God.

A tiny thorn of comparison was pricking me, bleeding resentful doubts that maybe God gives everyone else what they want quickly and easily, while my progress to change stalls. Maybe it's my own fault when difficulties arise and I make a muddling mess of the opportunities I could have used to turn things around.

Then I heard the news about Paris and everything in my week suddenly seemed so trivial.

Every so often I get a glimpse of things from God’s perspective. 

That bird’s eye view that allows me to see the greater saga. 

That our lives are just a page in the enormous tome that holds the stories of those who’ve gone before us, those who walk beside us, and those who will come after us.

Thinking my indignant words might have irrevocably damaged the fellowship between me and God, he reminds me that it just isn’t so as he invites me back into his presence. 

Still filled with remorse over my outbursts, I'm the hesitant one, not him. I feel sheepish but grateful.
I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul. Ps. 31:7

Sometimes there is a long silence after God whispers a word to our hearts. There are more obstacles than we thought there would be, and we don’t realize that the fight is against the efforts to make us doubt God’s goodness.

But when I have the choice to doubt or have faith, I choose faith. 

The doubts are the catalyst that make me more sure that only God can pull off the impossible. Only God can breathe life into what’s dead in my life. 

And only God can move the obstacles that loom as big as mountains. It’s not up to me.

All these thoughts were still fresh as I watched the musical “Cinderella,” for the second time this year. My niece and I saw it in the spring, staged by her school but last weekend I saw the much more elaborate Broadway production. 

When the cast started to sing “Impossible/It’s Possible,” Devon’s eyes lit up and she leaned over and said, “Auntie, do you remember this song from the last time we saw it?”

My doubts of the past week were suddenly erased. 

I know I'm right where I'm supposed to be. 

Imprinting memories on the hearts of my niece and nephew, that years from now they will remember threaded through the fabric of their childhood.

I'm still sifting through cards from Compassion International of other children to consider sponsoring. 

I haven't decided yet but I'm leaning toward a little girl named Ana from Mexico. I'm going to think about it over Thanksgiving.

I don't think I'll ever have the personality to take things in stride like water off a duck's back, but I know every irritation and annoyance just offers me a new opportunity to change my reactions and responses. I'm eager to practice.

So I'm pretty sure by the time it's time to carve the turkey, I'll be in a fine feather.

I'm joining my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Wisdom of Experiences

I’m driving my niece home and listening to her talk about how her third-grade class has more boys than girls and the classroom gets a little rowdy sometimes. She demonstrates how the teacher tries to get their attention and says her voice sounds pretty loud to her ears.

“At least that’s how it’s always been in my experiments,” she concludes, sounding wise beyond her years, but still charmingly childish.

I can't see her face in the backseat but I try to gently tell her, “I think you mean experience, not experiments."

I imagine the depth of an eight-year-old’s experience is fairly shallow, but then I think that maybe she’s onto something.

Our experiments make up our experiences. Doesn't that give us wisdom for the future? 

My one-time experiment to paint every room in my condo a different color only made me wish for indoor sunglasses. I realized that it was much wiser to add a pop of color from accessories than to live in a sunflower yellow den, a mint green dining room and a deep purple bathroom. 

{Thanks to that experience, I’m now a huge fan of neutral wall colors.}

I think of the time I threw a party and experimented with outdoor decor by hanging a lit candle chandelier over my punch bowl that dripped wax all night long into every guest’s beverage. After they left, I discovered the clumps of wax floating in their punch cups. 

{I now keep my punch bowl indoors and away from fire.}

Then there was the experiment of dating a man I met at work. After a few dates he told me it was nice that I went to church, but he really had no interest in God. I knew for me, it was important that someone I dated share my faith. 

{After that conversation, we amicably parted ways.}

My experiences have taught me that I need wisdom often and ongoing. I’ve always wanted to apply the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs in a practical way for my life, but I often get bogged down. 

Just this summer, I sat in church listening to a speaker say reading a chapter from Proverbs every morning and night for a month would change our lives. I was eager for change, but I didn’t even make it past the fourth chapter.

But now I think I've found some help.

The new book Proverbs Prayers, Praying the Wisdom of Proverbs for your Life, by John Mason, takes the 31 chapters in Proverbs and combines it with an accompanying prayer. 

His words are like poetry as he recasts the Proverbs passages into a more casual, familiar style, rephrasing these lovely verses from Prov. 24:13-14:
Your wisdom is like honey; it's so sweet to my soul. It assures me of a good future and that you will never abandon me. 
I'm learning to appreciate scripted prayers and how repeating the words can bring changes I'm just beginning to understand. So I'm praying these prayers out loud so my ears can hear them and they can sink down into the depths of my heart. 
Your word is the greatest thing I can imagine. It is the apple of my eye. It's so incredibly precious that I eagerly receive it into the deepest part of me. I choose to see, know and understand everything from your perspective. - Prov. 7:1-3
The more I read of the time-honored and God-breathed wisdom of Proverbs, the more I realize that it doesn't always align with what seems smart and right and intelligent and forward-thinking today. 

The wisdom of Proverbs asks us to believe that God's words can come alive, changing us to be more like him. 

But prevailing wisdom puts the focus on ourselves. 

If we make decisions that most benefit us, then we wouldn’t need courage to take that blind leap of faith into the unknown where God's calling us.

If it seems as if we're too washed up so maybe we should take it easy and retire, then we wouldn’t hope in a God who can take what’s dead and breathe it back to life.

If prevailing wisdom says what we've been trying hasn’t worked yet so maybe we should just quit, then we wouldn’t need to persevere with trust in God’s purposes for our lives.

If prevailing wisdom says we should clearly understand all that’s around us, then we wouldn’t need faith to believe without seeing.

I think I'll follow the ancient words and let them breathe life into my soul.

{How about you?}

My niece didn't quite understand the difference between experiments and experiences. When I told her she meant to use the word experience, she agreed with me.

"Exactly! That's what I said," she asserted confidently.

Maybe there's not much difference between the two, after all. 

As long as wisdom is gained from them both.

I'm part of Revell publisher's blogger review tour for Proverbs Prayers by John Mason. I received a complimentary copy of the book, but the opinions are completely my own.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your HeartJoin me there for more posts from my blogger friends!