Wednesday, February 25, 2015

When Waiting Comes in Handy

I’ve always wanted to be the kind of handy-girl who can make minor repairs on my own house, but the only tool-related action I can seem to handle is pounding nails in the wall to hang pictures. I can’t be bothered with measuring, and trying to follow directions only confuses me.

I want to be the girl who can change the flapper on the toilet. {But I get distracted when I hear the word flapper and my thoughts drift to bobbed hair and F. Scott Fitzgerald.}

I want to be the girl who knows where the water shut-off is located in case a pipe breaks. {But I can never seem to remember  — is it in the garage, under the sink, or out by the curb?}

But for a girl who only dreams of being handy and does few repairs, I have plenty of tools. 

I have hot pink wrenches and screwdrivers, mini tools that fit inside a spiffy black case the size of a makeup bag, and a set of full-sized ones in a case emblazoned with STANLEY on the side {whoever he is}.

A few weeks ago when my refrigerator stopped dispensing water, my online research said the line could be frozen and a hair dryer might thaw it. I wanted to try it but since I had no idea where the line was located, I called a repair man. 

I couldn't believe it as I watched him unpack a hair dryer and steamer from his tool bag. I wished I had been brave enough to tackle it. {After all, a hair dryer is my kind of tool.}

So I knew I was being rather daring when I decided to change out the window treatment in my guest room and install a curtain rod.

I set up my vintage ladder {that I'm rather fond of since my dad used it all through my childhood} and tried to hang the curtain brackets with my hammer and hot pink screwdriver.

Soon my walls were riddled with nail holes with my repeated attempts to find a place where the brackets didn’t fall out of the wall. 

My handy-girl hopefulness was fading fast.

On my way to get toothpaste to fill the nail holes, I texted my friend Scott {who is the handiest man I know} photos of my pitiful ladder and tools and told him I wished he were here to help.

Coming to my rescue, his long-distance advice was to soak bread in sugar water to fill the nail holes. Although I thought this might attract ants, I trusted his expertise and had the bread nicely soaking when he said he was just kidding.

I think he might have felt a little contrite that I took his Mr. Fix-it tip to heart because later he checked in to see how my walls were doing. 

He said he’d been wondering if they were minty fresh.

{With my affinity for cleanliness, I think nearly everything can use a little toothpaste, even my walls.}

Although I may not be able to fix much of what goes wrong at my house, I’ve learned what to do when I’m confused about what’s not working in my life. 

I turn to the only how-to book filled with the words that can breathe life and hope into what feels broken-down and beyond repair. 

I’m practicing speaking these words of scripture out loud so my head and my heart can hear them. I can’t explain it, but somehow it makes a difference. 

Sometimes I think I expect God to act only in ways that I’m familiar with and this very act of confining him to my assumptions limits my perspective of him.

Maybe you, like me, wonder how much of our circumstances are about the work we should do ourselves and what we should leave up to God. When we've expended all the effort we can, is our role then to pray and hope?

I feel a little foolish when I hope. 

The very heart and soul of hope — expectations and desires — are precarious and unpredictable. I've always believed that if what I hope for never occurs then I’ve wasted all that time hoping. So wouldn't it be better not to hope at all?

But I don't think hoping is wasted. Because hoping is really trusting. Abraham is described as believing with hope that God would give him son, even against all hope. 

These are the words I'm saying to myself {and maybe you need to hear them too}.

When there was no good reason to hope, he hoped anyway. Because he believed what God had promised him.

Hoping opens myself to God to experience new ways of treasuring and experiencing him. Hoping leads me to prayer, and prayer invites me to encounter him in ways I never have before. 

When it feels like I’m speaking my prayer requests into the empty space of my bedroom where it seems as if they’re carried only as far as my curtains, I remember that God hears them.

I love the Lord, because He hears my voice and my prayers. Ps. 116:1

No, hoping is not in vain. And maybe there’s hope for me after all. 

After six years of needing nail hole filler, I just happened to walk past it in Target {on my way to the nail polish aisle} and I congratulated myself on remembering to purchase it. 

No more toothpaste in my walls.

Every time we talk, Scott reminds me that he will keep his promise to fix a crooked lantern on my courtyard that we’ve laughed about for the past year. It wobbles every time a breeze blows and the winds of March are just around the corner, after all. 

But I’m still hopeful that someday I'll become a bonafide tool-toting handy-girl. 

Then maybe I can fight tooth and nail to avoid making extra holes in my walls and filling them with toothpaste because I'm pretty sure my walls don't need to be kissable.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the image for more inspiring posts!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Live and Learn

In my exuberance to refresh my decor and donate things I no longer want to a resale shop, I somehow got rid of a thrift store painting my mother is convinced was a masterpiece.

She came over recently to check out my decorating changes and when I proudly showed her the new pictures I’d hung in the guest powder room, she looked alarmed.

“What happened to the painting I gave you that was in here?” she asked.

That strange painting in shades of muddy silver, red and purple that looked like black squares painted over a vase of roses sitting on a table? 

I told her I sent it to the resale shop. 

“What? How could you give it away without telling me first?” she said. “I found that in a thrift store and I just know it was SOMETHING. Like a Picasso.”

I protested that it looked like it was painted by an amateur art student, but she claimed that it was in the Cubist style, very much akin to a Picasso.

Although I have several paintings from thrift stores around my house, I could never decide if I found that painting interesting or just plain weird. {I don’t even have a photo of it since I never really liked it.} 

And I had no idea she loved it.

“I guess I’m going to have to buy it AGAIN,” she told me. 

The next day I got a call from my sister. I told her she wouldn’t believe how upset our mother was about the painting.

“Oh, I know,” she said. “She called me last night and I’m on my way to the resale shop now to see if it’s still there.”

I anxiously waited for word from my sister, but she said no, the painting was gone. 

I knew there was a valuable lesson there somewhere but I wasn’t sure exactly what. Never throw anything out? Check with my mother before redecorating? Or don’t tell my mother what I'm giving away and hope she doesn't notice?

Fortunately, the section “Lessons Learned” in the new book, The Beauty of Grace by Dawn Camp is a little more straightforward. 

This book is like having your favorite blog posts by many of today’s popular writers — Holley Gerth, Ann Voskamp, Bonnie Gray and Emily P. Freeman — gathered all in one place. And you don’t even have to search the blog archives for them.

This collection of inspirational stories are grouped under the sections of purpose, the big picture, surrender, trust, lessons learned, hope and encouragement, and worship, and are accompanied by Dawn Camp’s photography of nature scenes.

These writers share that the life lessons they learned were much different than they would have thought or expected when God captured their attention. And it gave them an entirely new perspective.

Some of the lessons I’m learning recently feel more like unlearning. 

For a long time I’ve let my heart listen to what the voices of doubt stirred up in my mind. I decided that what they said was true and I started living as if they were true, too. 

I started thinking -- and acting -- as if I couldn’t do this  or I wasn’t made for that. Or I wasn't capable of doing this and I just wasn't meant to be that.

Whatever those things in my life were, I let my long-held assumptions stop me cold and plant my feet in cement. I believed a narrative about myself that just wasn't true.

Maybe you have too?

So I’m relearning some lessons, and I'm writing questions for myself {and you can use them too, if you'd like}. 

What if I let God show me a new way to do those parts of my life that I thought were lacking or flawed or broken or weak?

What if I settled myself at the feet of the wisest teacher and let myself be schooled by God himself?

What if I learned by heart to do the things my mind has long believed I couldn’t do?

What if my heart started telling my mind a new story? And what if I really started to believe this new narrative?

I’m not a quick study but God has my rapt attention. 

It's taken some time but I’m becoming enthralled with his words and I’m absorbing his way of thinking. 

And I've been stunned at my assignments. 

These lessons have been learned over days and weeks and now years of considering him as if I’d just been introduced to him. 

And I'm quite sure there's always more of him to know.

My mother was at my house last weekend so I showed her the stack of pictures I was thinking of taking to the resale shop. I asked her if she wanted any of them.

“Why would I want any of those?” she asked me. “They’re nothing like the Picasso I gave you.”

I'm sure someone somewhere in Orlando is marveling over the amazing masterpiece she bought for a song at a thrift store. 

And I guess I'll never know for sure but maybe this lesson learned is that mothers really do know best.

I’m part of Revell publisher’s blogger review tour for The Beauty of Grace by Dawn Camp. I received a complimentary copy of the book, but my opinions are completely my own.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there for more encouraging words!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Following my Heart to Italy

Every year around this time, I hear the chocolate chatter and sweetheart talk fluttering around me, but I don’t usually pay much attention to it. 

I find it ironic that on Valentine’s Day I finally get around to making a New Year’s resolution. It happens to be the same every year. I stubbornly spurn this daylong February celebration of love.

Still single when friends my age are celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries and sending their children off to college, I sometimes resent pages of my story that didn't turn out as I had hoped.

I’ve learned that yearning and hoping is just too dangerous so I happily refuse to set my heart on anything and I keep my heart’s desires carefully locked up. 

In spite of my efforts to protect myself, the realization has dawned on me that when the door to my heart is closed tight, my life is very small. 

It might be safe, but it's very small.

But those very circumstances of dashed hopes, unmet expectations, and the long days of waiting are what give me the opportunity to experience God in a way that others may not, whose lives are happily humming along.

I’m beginning to understand that God wants me to experience things with my heart. He has disrupted my life with people, places and adventures to open my heart, wake it up and revive it, even if those intruders are risky or unlikely or flat-out farfetched.

After spending last year searching the pages of my Bible but finding more questions than answers, in the early days of January I brought my hopes and dreams to God and asked if he would show me something new. 

I wondered if he would show me new insight about where I’m going, or maybe there was a new way of looking at where I’ve been. 

I poured out my heart to God and I asked him what my heart needed. I asked him to show me something new about who he is — to me. 

And I asked him if he would renew the pages of my story that make me want to lose heart.

I didn’t expect the answer that came.

Over the holidays I registered for an online course called Becoming: The Unfolding of You, hosted by Jeanne Oliver, an artist I discovered along the way of my blogging journey. 

More than 5,000 women signed up to be inspired by the stories of women in this series who listen for the ways God speaks to their hearts. 

Last week as I cleaned papers out of my desk, I clicked on Laura McCollough’s story. She’s an artist in southern California who hosts creative retreats through France and Italy. 

She said she had planned to launch a faith aspect with her art retreat in 2016, but she felt like God didn’t want her to wait and she should do it this year. 

So this was the year she was combining faith with art on her retreat in July to Lake Como, Italy, and she couldn’t wait to see who God nudged to come along. 

My head jerked up at her words and my heart skipped a beat. 

I wasn’t even sure why I was interested. 

I’m not an artist and I was dreaming of a return trip to Paris, not Italy. 

But all weekend I couldn’t get the trip out of my mind so I emailed Laura. Her warm and welcoming words in reply to my questions, along with my prayers confirmed it. This trip was for me. 

I’m following my heart to Italy this summer. 

My heart is set on living out this new faith adventure, making art and experiencing Italy, the land of my heritage. 

I grew up eating pasta and listening to the stories of my father’s Italian family, always seasoned liberally with drama. 

Since my dad’s mother died when he was young, the family folklore was that his mother was the quiet, completely reasonable one, compared to her slightly crazy sisters. 

I was always a little afraid of his boisterous aunts since my mother had once witnessed them yell and slap each other after arguing, then in the next breath calmly continue their conversation as if nothing had happened at all. 

Since my mother is not Italian, I feel certain I have only half the tendencies toward the dramatic that I could have inherited {although if you ask my sister, she may say I have a little more}. 

But that's who I am.

I’m going to see if I can recognize myself among the Italians I meet this summer. I want to listen to their stories and look into their eyes. 

And I wonder if I could learn just enough Italian to send you a word of the day from my heart to yours.

Just in case I had any doubts that this trip was for me, I’m also spending two days in Milan, which just happens to be the fashion capital of the world. 

Ciao bella Italia! My heart can’t wait to meet you.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for Your Heart and with Bonnie Gray at the Faith Barista. Come on over and pour yourself a cup of coffee while you read more inspiring blog posts!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

That Thing Worth Salvaging

For her birthday a few weeks ago, my sister wanted thumbprint cookies from a bakery in Pittsburgh. My mother offered to make this happen, figuring she'd just call one of the bakeries we frequented when we lived there years ago.

But it turned out to be more difficult than she thought. 

Every one she contacted told her sorry no, they don’t ship thumbprints to Florida. One man she reached told her maybe, but he’d have to ask his brother first. Finally after three days of mulling it over, the brothers said okay. 

{In case you’re wondering what’s so great about Pittsburgh’s thumbprint cookies, all I can say is what's baked here can’t compare with the recipes passed down from generation to generation in the ethnic neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.}

My sister called when the cookies arrived and said they weren’t exactly what she expected. 

They arrived unfrosted with two piping bags filled with buttercream frosting laying beside them. 

Apparently these were frost-it-yourself cookies. 

She also said there was not a trace of a thumbprint on any cookie. 

So I told her to bring them over and I’d try to salvage them.

These cookies didn't look anything like the crumbly shortbread cookies we remembered, rolled in walnuts with the indentation in the middle to hold the almost-solid chocolate icing.

I did what I could. I melted some chocolate chips, a scoop of peanut butter and a chunk of butter and frosted them. 

They actually tasted rather delicious. 

{Which proves that even the worst cookies from a Pittsburgh bakery are better than the best we have here.}

My sister was happy. 
My niece and nephew thought they were surprisingly good. 
And my mother thanked me for saving the birthday.

I’m wondering if you, like me, have something that needs rescued?

Maybe it’s this year {even though it’s just begun} that already feels too full of have-to things, leaving you scant time for what feeds your soul. 

Maybe it’s your wait for that job or relationship or opportunity that your heart so craves. 

Or maybe it’s your hope for a fresh start that never seems to become a reality, despite your prayers and efforts to make a change.

Might you decide to salvage instead of scrap? Treasure instead of trash? Declare instead of discard?

Here's how I'm trying it. I’m salvaging my days by resetting my frame of mind when something small thunders a dark cloud over my mood and collides with my perspective. 

Before my day and my outlook are beyond repair, I’m trying to salvage them. And I'm extending this fresh-start idea to my expectations, friendships, hobbies, hopes, and even a dream or two of mine. 

I’m choosing a verse of scripture - - just one— that I focus on all day, speaking it back to God in my mind until its words liberate my soul. 

And I find those words I’m saying to him in prayer turn into grateful thanks for rescuing me from a life that just a few years ago I was comfortable living far too small.

I think it might be part of this stirring and softening that God is doing with my heart that just happens to be drizzling over every part of my life. 

And when I can salvage my baking endeavors, I'm in for a sweet surprise.

After years of trying red velvet cake recipes, I was ready to abandon my quest for one that stays fresh for more than a day and is worth the effort to make from scratch. 

Until I made a version by Barb Bamber, a Canadian food blogger who shares her beautiful photos and recipes at

After my futile pursuits of red-velvet deliciousness, it just happened to be the best red velvet cake I’ve ever made.

It was red-velvet-redemption with a dusting of thumbprints for me. 

And you? What will you be salvaging?

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart and Kelly Balarie's Cheerleaders of Faith. Click the images and read more posts from my blogger friends!