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!