Wednesday, April 29, 2015

We're Meant to Live Free

Today is day 29 of my 30 days of free coffee. I’m not exactly sure how I even qualified for this perk. 

I got an email from Panera on April 1, inviting me to stop in for a free coffee every day in April. I thought surely this must be an April fool's joke.

I checked with my cubicle colleagues, asking if anyone else got the email. Nope. Just me.

So when I finally got around to stopping at Panera on the fourth of April, I hesitantly held out my phone to the cashier, “Ummm, I got this email that said I get a free coffee in April?” 

I expected her to laugh and say she didn’t know what I was talking about. But she nodded and handed me a cup. “Here you go.” 

I figured I should order something to say thanks a latte, so I stayed for lunch. 

{Surely you knew there'd be a coffee pun or two?}

I realized that buying something to go with the coffee was probably the point of this little promotion, but I tried it again the next day, a little bolder, “I’m here for my free coffee.”

“Anything else?” the cashier said. 

I was brave now.  “No, just the coffee.”

Even though I felt a little sheepish at the coffee station, I was warming up to this idea of free coffee for a month.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little suspicious of free. I wonder what’s expected in return. I’m skeptical of no strings attached. 

Maybe I shouldn’t entertain this perspective. Because I think we’re meant to live free.

Your version of living free probably looks different than mine does, but maybe you can relate? 

I know my single-girl life frees me to have a white couch and pink chairs in my living room, arranged however I'd like {as a friend who admired this freedom told me, since her husband's world is turned upside down if she tries to move the TV}. 

I'm free to read all night, eat cereal for supper, leave cosmetics strewn across the bathroom counter and devote an entire dresser to jewelry storage.

I mostly treasure these freedoms until I mistake these sweet liberties as limitations, thinking I'm entitled to what I don't have.

Because sometimes I confuse what truly makes me live free.

God doesn’t need me {or any of us} to carry out his plans. He invites us into his purposes and designs, and we freely choose to be a part of them.

God plants passions and dreams in our hearts, giving us hope and courage to pursue them, offering the choice {and freedom} of trusting him with the outcome. 

That God freely gives those who come seeking him access to his heart with the opportunity to experience him in every circumstance, every season of our lives, is a freedom that's priceless.

Through faith, we approach God with freedom and confidence. {Eph. 3:12}

The world doesn’t need another blog. It certainly doesn't need my blog.

But if I don't write a blog, then I miss out on the way God freely invites me into his plans. 

Writing frees my soul to create my own personal kind of art and to experience God through it. 

And maybe your blog, your writing, your art or your passion of caring for your family that you think no one notices is the very way God freely invites you to join him in his plans for you, others, and maybe even the world.

During one of my free coffee days, I sat near the order-line and listened to the cashier ask customers if they wanted a Panera rewards card. 

When they declined she’d say, “Are you sure? Some of our customers are enjoying free coffee for the entire month of April.”

All of them still said no. They turned down free.

I wanted to spill the beans and tell them there might not be any such thing as a free lunch in life but there truly is free coffee.

But I figured they might not appreciate me espressoing myself. 

{Last coffee pun, I promise!}

I’m going to miss my free coffee. Maybe some of the best things in life are free. 

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join us there for more inspiration for your day!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Blueprint for Interior Design & Renovation

I’m sitting at lunch listening to a friend talk about buying a 1940s bungalow that needs some updating. She says she and her husband don't know that much about renovation, but they aren’t intimidated by the endeavor since they have friends who will help.

I get excited with her, talking about ripping out the old and replacing it with new, until I remember my own house-buying adventure. Several years ago I stood in front of an empty lot in an artsy historic neighborhood, captivated by the idea of a house-building project.

The exterior of the house had to look like its 1920s bungalow neighbors but I could choose how everything would look inside. Visions of hardwood floors, arched doorways and French doors danced in my head as the builder showed me the blueprints.

I was completely inexperienced but I thought I knew what I liked so maybe the decision-making process would be a breeze.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

As the months went by and the house progressed, I had new selections to make every week and I was overwhelmed. 

What kind of plants did I want for the yard? A straight sidewalk or curved? Arched doorway or a pocket door from the dining room? Cookbook shelves or a bar counter in the kitchen?

I constantly worried I’d make a choice I’d later hate. 

I agonized endlessly over paint colors for my walls, comparing swatches of creams, whites and yellows until my realtor said I was out of time and flipped through the palette to her favorite butter color. I chose it on the spot.

Even though I knew there would be snags along the way, I still cringed when I saw gold cabinet knobs and door handles instead of the silver ones I’d chosen. 

I was shocked when the microwave I’d meticulously selected was ripped out of the wall and stolen during construction. 

And I misunderstood the builder about the alarm system, causing a hubbub that had to be undone.

It was only after I was in the midst of the project did I realize I was a rookie in this adventure, woefully unprepared and ill-equipped.

I wonder if you’re like me and ever try to do a little interior renovation and redesign work on yourself? 

I’ve been ripping up ancient habits and outdated patterns in my life, revamping old mindsets and making blueprints for new perspectives.

It takes all of my energy and focus just to make minuscule progress and I wonder why I’m surprised at how much effort it takes.

I have to admit that I really can’t do this on my own and I need help.

I petulantly ask God why I have to work so hard to change. I send a heated stream of words skyward and I dare to ask him if my attempts even make a difference. Is it worth it?

Eager to walk into a new land of promise, I discover that instead of the place of milk and honey, I’ve somehow entered into a training program. There's hard work to do here.

This isn't the place where I choose light fixtures and countertops. 

I'm here to flex the muscles of my mind and renew my thoughts. I'm here to carve out time in my day to search for God so I'll know his heart. And only when I know his heart and get closer to him, will I know his plans and thoughts for me.

That's my assignment while I'm waiting to see the blueprints for something new.

Maybe you're waiting for something new to take shape too?

But while I thought I was waiting to move ahead, I realized I’ve been practicing perseverance, learning how to sort through setbacks and redirect my efforts.

I’ve been conditioning my heart to take risks and pursue my dreams.

I’ve been rehearsing the art of resilience and gathering courage. 

And I finally understand that I’m going to need these skills to thrive and face the giants along the way. 

Maybe that’s why after a fresh revelation we're confused when we find ourselves waiting. Most of us don’t view a waiting period as a time of valuable preparation. 

Instead it seems like a hindrance, an obstacle and an inconvenience. Complaints and grumbling aren’t far behind.

But just when I think I’m left alone to wander in the desert of misdirection, at a loss for making decisions, I start to find my way again. 

God whispers, explore it, take the step forward, do the work. Trust me and see what happens.

After all, I’ve had a lot of practice by now.

During the months of my house-building adventure, my builder continually advised me to make decisions based on resale value.

My inexperience caused me to mostly ignore his wise words. 
“I know you think you’ll live here forever but I assure you, you won’t. Your life will change and you’ll move on.”

He was right. Five years later I sold that house.

My realtor told me the first thing the new owner did was paint over my beautiful butter-colored walls with a gloomy shade of purple.

I'm not sure I have any advice for my friend who is thinking about remodeling a house, but I might tell her that after the hard work of renovation, she just might be home free.

{A little note on the photos: none of the houses pictured are mine!}

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join us there by clicking the image!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Your Life's Beautiful and Practical Purpose

I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the past. I tend to focus on what's in front of me and I suppose I have a straight-forward, no-nonsense approach to most things in life. 

I'm never quite sure if that's a good thing or not.

A former boyfriend once told me that what he liked best about me was that I was so . . .

{I waited breathless, eyes staring into his, wondering what he would say. Beautiful? Witty? Kind?}


Oh. Hmmmm. Not what I expected.

He must have noticed my disappointment because he followed up with a very long explanation of how GOOD it was to be practical.

So when pieces of the present start reminding me of the past, I imagine that I should take a practical approach {like a good, sensible pair of walking shoes} to my uncertainty, knowing that somehow things will in due time make beautiful sense.

Even if I can't quite see it right now.

I wonder if your life's resume might look similar to mine?

Through the years I’ve held an assortment of jobs since I graduated from college, eager to embark on a writing career equipped with a degree in journalism. 

But it didn’t unfold quite the way I’d imagined. 

Years ago after working monotonous days at a banking software company, I thought I was getting closer to my profession when I landed a job with a helicopter company that flew local TV reporters to wherever news was breaking.

I took frantic phone calls from news desk producers bellowing for a helicopter to race their reporter to the scene so their station could be first to break the news.

After the pilot was dispatched, the producer would call back firing questions at me, “Have the other stations called yet? Are we first? What kind of a head start do we have?”

Every day was filled with urgency, chaos and plenty of barking orders. 

As exciting as this job sounded when I took it, it was demanding and stressful, 
and I begged God to help me find a new job.

Even though it was hard to see at the time, there was treasure buried deep in that difficult place. 

It was there, while I was desperate and stuck, that I had my first encounter with a Macintosh computer {a rarity at the time}. As I created marketing materials, I learned valuable design skills that I’ve carried with me to every job afterward. 

When I get discouraged about where I am today or wonder what tomorrow might hold, I take a look at my past.

Because in the midst of those miserable days at the helicopter company, I was asked to join a volunteer committee planning a charity event starring Kathie Lee Gifford and Regis Philbin.

It was at these meetings {where I sat terrified that the committee would discover I really didn’t know much about promotion and publicity} that I learned how to handle a myriad of details to pull off a successful event. 

And it was the recommendation from a fellow committee member for a new job planning education courses that was finally the answer to my prayer to leave the helicopter company.

Only on the other side of these tight spots where it seemed I was in such a hard place, could I see that God did answer my prayers and work out his purposes, just not as quickly as I wanted or exactly how I thought.

Because I think God sometimes asks me to get my feet wet first. And then he shows me the next step.

I work and I wait and I pray, thinking that my dreams don't look like I think they should. 

While I'm restless to move on, God is working out his purposes to make me ready for what's coming next. Whatever that may be.

As I've learned to trust his timing, God is doing a work in my character while he unfurls his plans for me. 

Sometimes he just says, Not yet. 

Does he say it to you too? 

Stay put, it’s not time to leave the job yet. 
Be patient, you’re not ready to start that business right now. 
Trust me, the timing’s not quite right for that relationship.

It’s perseverance he’s after, and it’s trust we’re to lean into.

And then we remember that he tells us that his ways are not our ways. {Is. 55:8}

Maybe I wouldn't have been able to handle any of the experiences God had for me later without all the time spent being refined and matured in hard, dusty, parched places. 

But there's always some refreshment, even in the arid places.

During my year at the helicopter company, I sometimes went flying with the pilots, once just to have lunch at a resort, landing at a hotel helipad like a celebrity. 

And after serving on the charity event committee, I sat in the audience, star-struck as Kathie Lee and Regis stood beside my table on their way to the stage and lit up the jam-packed ballroom with their performance.

Even the worst jobs and the most intimidating events have something to offer. 

And that's the practical purpose of life's experiences I'm trying to keep in mind.

Even though I might have a practical approach to life, one thing I'm really not practical about is my shoes. I stubbornly insisted on wearing heels to walk all over Paris {that's me on the right and you can read about it here}, and I'll wear high heels over sneakers any day. 

On the rare occasion I do pull out a pair of flats, they’re sure to have a little bling. 

So I guess for all practical purposes maybe I’m just a down-to-earth girl with her head in the clouds looking for the beautiful silver lining. 

And maybe that's not such a bad thing after all.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Come join us by clicking the image!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

For You Who Are Thinking About Giving Up

I wanted to get my nephew a sweet treat for Easter so I asked my sister for his latest favorite. She said he liked Peppermint Patties but to be sure they were milk chocolate, not dark. 

I scoured the shelves of one store, finding only bags and bags of dark chocolate Peppermint Patties. 

I sent my sister a text to confirm {was she sure he didn't like dark?} but she said no, look for the milk chocolate ones. 

I went to another store and again found only dark chocolate. I was beginning to feel as if I were searching for a bonbon at a Parisian chocolatier instead of a common candy. 

But just as I was on my way to a third store, it struck me. 

Weren’t Peppermint Patties only coated in dark chocolate? A quick consult with Siri on my iPhone confirmed it. 

There are no milk chocolate Peppermint Patties. 

I'd already passed up what I needed and was ready to spend a lot more time and energy searching for something that didn’t even exist.

It made me wonder about all the time and effort I spend chasing elusive things in my life that seem to be behind a locked gate or just an iota out of my reach. I think it’s quite possible that what I think I’m looking for doesn’t even really exist.

Have you ever looked in the mirror of your life and found what’s looking back at you is a little {or maybe a lot} different than you imagined and you wish it were different? 

Are you working at a job that doesn't match your God-given talents? 

Perhaps right now you're a stay-at-home mom when you thought you’d be working. 

Or maybe you and your kids set out for work and school every morning when you'd rather teach them at home.

Are you thinking of giving up your blog or your art or whatever it is that brings you joy because you think it doesn't matter?

What do you do when your dreams are a little faded and washed out, your plans are riddled with leaks and cracks, and your ideas are frayed and tattered? 

Maybe it’s hard to even recognize your calling this late {or early} in the game and you’re questioning your purpose.

Even though I try not to compare, I sometimes feel as if I’ve been chasing somebody else’s measure of success that I just can't keep up with and then I wonder if I should just give up.

But I’ve come to realize {again and again} that I either trust God with my future days or I don’t. 

And I can stay down and wallowing when I’m feeling a little hopeless or inferior, or I can realize they’re just feelings and keep moving forward, giving it another try tomorrow.

And maybe what I thought I wanted wasn't really what was meant for me after all.

I have a 1940s book filled with charming stories and colorful illustrations in the style of the Dick & Jane readers. 

As I pulled it off the shelf the other night, the page fell open to a story about children trying to surprise their mother by planting flowers in a kettle. The littlest girl fills her toy pail with dirt and even though it takes a long time to fill the kettle, she does not give up.

I had to wonder if those words were meant to give my heart a little lift. 

{Maybe they were meant for you too?}

Think of what we would miss if we gave up just when we're on the verge of a new vista and we didn't even realize it.

So pull up a chair while I offer you a Peppermint Pattie. {My nephew won't mind -- he has a bag full of them.} 

I wonder if you're starting to feel it too?

It's the sensation of a minty cool breeze blowing the rust off the hinges of that gate we've been circling, as it swings open wide and we walk down a path to our new place of promise.

I'm joining my friends at Bonnie Gray's place at the Faith Barista and at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the images to come on over!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When It Takes More Than You Thought

I thought it was about time to get out my red Cuisinart grill pan and give my rusty cooking skills another try. It’s been months since I attempted to cook after taking a culinary course last summer.

I had chicken skewers on my mind when I ran into the butcher {are they still called that?} in the meat department. I was hoping to anonymously spend as much time as I liked perusing the meat, but he immediately asked if he could help.

With exclusive access to a meat expert, I asked him if I could cook the skewers indoors on my grill pan.

He said of course and handed me a packet of them, but when I turned down the graham cracker aisle, he came running after me. {Maybe he sensed I needed an extra serving of advice?} 

“You’ll need to season those, you know,” he said. “And cook them for about 20 to 30 minutes.”

How lucky could a girl get with personalized instructions from the butcher for her dinner? 

But he failed to tell me that cooking on a grill pan on top of the stove is like bringing the patio grill into your living room. 

There was an awful lot of sizzle and smoke. And my entire house smelled like chicken. Even my upstairs guest room - -the farthest room from the kitchen — was permeated with the fowl fragrance.

It made me want to pack up my red grill pan for good.

What’s a girl to do?

Bake something, of course. 

I figured the only way to remove the odor of chicken was with the aroma of chocolate.

So I mixed up a batch of cream cheese chocolate cupcakes. But grilling skewers and baking cupcakes involved most of my day and took much more than I thought.

More time, more effort and more clean-up. 

This happens more often than I would like to admit. With people, events or circumstances in my life, many times it takes much more than I thought.

The problem needs more solutions than I can piece together. 

The project involves more persistence than I ever dreamed. 

The relationship requires more patience than I could have imagined. 

The friendship calls for more understanding than I can give.

Or maybe you’re like me and it’s your confidence that’s wavering and wilting. Or your hope is standing on its last leg before collapsing in a heap. Or your joy is so elusive that the moments seem few and far between.

So how do we get by when what's in our lives takes more than we thought? 

All I can do is turn to the expert. 

The one who knows my life better than I do. The one who brings peace and offers his presence. 

I don’t know what God might have around the next corner for me. But when it seems as if there might be nothing more, I trust that God is planning new things for me.

Possibilities instead of broken pipe dreams.

Confidence instead of crushed hopes.

Faith instead of failed aspirations.

And he promises to continue the good work that he started in me. Just this promise alone gives me hope for the future. 

Maybe for you too?

So I guess I’m not ready to give up my cooking dreams yet.

It’s on the agenda for my trip to Italy this summer. I’m traveling to an art & faith retreat and the travel director emailed us to ask our preference for a cooking class. 

Would we like to cook in a group with a top chef who owns a restaurant in Bellagio or would we like to cook with Mama Italiano who owns a cooking school and will take us shopping for ingredients in the village?

I couldn’t decide since they both sounded spectacular. 

But I think I’m leaning toward cooking with Mama Italiano. My Italian grandmother died long before I was born so I wondered if this class would be what it might have been like to cook with her.

The hearts show my grandparents in this 1920s photo before they were married.
I’m not sure how much cooking I’ll be doing until my cooking class in Italy, but I was thinking maybe I could grill some pineapple on my red Cuisinart pan. 

Somehow I wouldn’t care so much about the aromas of cooking if my house were filled with the fragrance of fresh fruit instead of slightly smoky chicken.

And I guess I'll hold onto my red grill pan. Unless I decide it could bring more than I thought if I sell it at my next neighborhood garage sale.

{And here's a little Easter wish from one of my vintage postcards for all of you!}

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