Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How to Fill Your Life With Wonder & Awe

Back in January when I realized Milan was the city I’d be flying into for the art and faith retreat in Italy last month, my heart happily skipped a few beats. 

Of all the works of Leonardo da Vinci, the one I wanted to see the most was The Last Supper. And it was painted on the walls of a church in Milan.

A year ago, I’d read a fascinating book by Ross King on the history of the painting, never dreaming I’d ever be able to see it in person. 

I’d heard that tickets had to be reserved months in advance, so I planned a few days in Milan before leaving for the retreat in Lake Como and booked a city tour that included the painting.

I waited patiently through the tour of the Duomo cathedral in central Milan, a walk through the Galleria shopping area, and a stop for a snack before we arrived at the church, Santa Maria Delle Grazie.  

I found it hard to believe I'd be in the same building that Leonardo da Vinci once entered and I'd soon see the painting he devoted years of his life to completing. 

I had to pinch myself that I had crossed the ocean, traveled from Florida to Italy and now was going through the door of this rather unremarkable-looking church that housed a masterpiece, compared to the majestic Duomo I'd just toured.

The tour guide told us we’d have just 15 minutes to view the painting and warned us not to even reach for our cell phones since photos were strictly prohibited. 

As if to reinforce the reverence of this visit, our group was ushered into two dehumidifying rooms before we stood in front of the doors that would finally open into the room with the painting on its walls. 

It was quiet and still and the tour guide spoke in hushed tones that she would identify the apostles for us and then let us silently experience the painting.

The room was much smaller than I thought, but when I finally stood in front of Jesus and his disciples, I was overwhelmed.  

This work of art inspired my awe. 

A few years ago I didn’t think much about awe. 

If I had any thoughts that could be classified as awestruck, they were probably about a miraculous come-from-behind finish by the underdog in a football game. Or I might have been in awe of God for a few minutes while I was at Sunday worship at church {if the music was particularly good}. 

But awe or wonder weren’t words I’d use to describe any part of my own life. 

I had a routine of ordinariness. Work, friends and a host of hobbies filled up my days and nights. 

I took figure skating lessons, volunteered teaching kids, beaded jewelry at a boutique and wrote for a news syndication company to earn extra money. But on the inside, I was resigned. 

I was used to the way my days were rather undistinguishable, and I was okay with it.

Months melted into years until one day I found my soul starting to stir. It was a slight rustling within — an awakening of sorts — but I didn’t realize it was something holy. 

I hadn’t realized God was inviting me to experience the extraordinary in my own ordinary life.

I wondered if I could approach all of my days — not just the ones in Italy or Paris — but the days where I’m sitting in my cubicle, walking through my neighborhood or having coffee at the bagel shop — with the same awe and wonder. 

What if I asked God for these days to have the same potential to leave me wonderstruck as that day in front of The Last Supper? 

At the beginning of this year, I decided to ask God to show me something new for this year. Something to revive and renew me and fill me with awe. 

And he showed me Italy. 

He showed me The Last Supper.

But really, he showed me more of himself.

I’m beginning to understand that what’s conventional and typical and ordinary can become exceptional, remarkable, and yes, even miraculous, when I bring my experiences and hopes to God. 

This coming to him in prayer invites me to know a little bit of his wonder.

He continues his work and artistry in my life and then gives those very things that I’ve offered him through requests in prayer, back to me, in ways that fill me with awe.

As our Milan tour guide finished talking to us about The Last Supper, she pointed out that experts argue that the numerous restoration efforts through the years have ruined the painting. But the bright patches of Leonardo's original paint that remain are enough for it to still be regarded as one of the greatest works of art in the world.

What if this is the time is to develop the awe, the reverence for what God can do through something in your life that you once thought was mundane and ordinary? 

What if this is the time to develop something sacred in what you haven't highly regarded before? 

I wonder if you'd consider gazing at your life through the perspective of a holy awe. Would you be surprised at what you’d see?

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there for posts from some of my blogger friends!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Seeing Past What's Ahead

Choosing a new pair of glasses doesn’t rank up there with one of life’s most difficult decisions, but somehow it always trips me up. I have four pairs of glasses and I don’t like any of them. 

These glasses are for at-home wear only {since I wear contacts for the public version of myself} so I guess I don’t think it’s that important to take someone with me to help me decide.

I always think I know exactly what I want. 

But it's not been very successful.

I love the glasses at the store, but when I try them on at home and look in the mirror, I get this sinking feeling. Yep, I hate them. Again. 

I was in a hurry choosing this latest pair {#5} and now I’m second-guessing my choice while I wait for them to arrive.

So I asked an expert to weigh in {even though it's after the fact that they've been ordered} because she happens to have a high success rate of being right.

I asked my eight-year-old niece Devon what she thinks. 

She claimed she could tell what I’d look like in them if I showed her a photo of the new glasses. When I asked her how she could do this, she said, “Because I have a picture of you in my mind wearing your glasses.” 

She went on to describe exactly how I look when I’m ready for bed. 

“You have a clip in your hair, your face is freshly scrubbed, and you’re wearing your glasses with black frames.”

{Hmmm — sounds lovely, doesn’t it?}

She intently studied the glasses in the photo I pulled up on my phone for her to view. She even closed her eyes and motioned to her brother to stop talking to her so she could concentrate.

“Yes, I think you’ll look good in those,” she finally decided, opening her eyes and handing me back my phone.

It seems silly to think I’m relying on an eight-year-old’s opinion of a photo, but I felt relieved when she said she liked them.

Confirmation eases the doubts. If only I always had this certainty.

When I can’t see past the current roadblock standing immovable on my life’s path, I remember how I’ve navigated the difficult passages in the past. 

When I can’t see what’s up ahead, I look back.

I see how God has not only gone ahead of me and but walked right beside me. 

I see how he’s purposed every part of my life to bring me to the place where I’m now standing. 

I see how I’m standing on the answers to prayers of long ago for a job, home, health and friends.

And I also think about those who lived long ago, during Jesus’s time. How sometimes they couldn’t see what was right in front of them.

I’ve been reading in Luke's gospel about the men on the road to Emmaus who were disheartened and uncertain after Jesus’s death. 

They told Jesus {although they thought it was a stranger walking beside them, not Jesus himself} how they had hoped he was the one, not realizing that their hopes were already fulfilled. 

They couldn’t see it, but their hearts sensed it.
“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” - Luke 24:32

I find their words to Jesus so poignant and yet so brave. 

Because when we open our hearts to hope for what's in front of us, we know there’s a distinct possibility that what we hope for may not ever be fulfilled. 

Those desires and dreams God plants in our hearts that we follow, not knowing, and yet we still dare to hope.

And it's this waiting for what God unfolds in our lives and instills in our hearts, that I think pleases him since he is the God of hope, after all. (Rom 15:13)

I wonder how many times I ask God for hope, for stronger faith, for greater joy, for more peace, and he’s standing there in the midst of my requests holding out his hands with all that I’ve asked him for, saying:
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. -Rom. 12:12

My new glasses are due to arrive next week. 

I’m reluctant to admit to you that the frames are purple and turquoise since they sound rather flashy, but they were the only ones I liked in the entire store. 

When I told the optical assistant that I didn’t care much for the color purple, she said, “Oh, no that’s not purple. It’s eggplant.” 

{A savvy saleswoman, wouldn’t you say?}

Hmmm, eggplant. I like the sound of that a whole lot better than purple. And who knows? I might even like the glasses. 

Devon thinks I will. 

And a girl can hope, can’t she?

A little note on the photos: photos 1, 4, 5, 8 & 10 are from Villa del Balbianello; photo 3 is San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore in Milan; photo 6 is San Giacomo Church in Bellagio, Italy; photo 7 is the Duomo in Milan.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Savoring the Unrushed

Now that I’m home from my trip to Italy, I’m back to my usual after-work dining habits. I grab a handful of crackers and a couple slices of cheese and call it an appetizer. 

Then I toss some olives, corn and avocado on a bowl full of greens {the kind that’s pre-washed and comes in a bag at the grocery store}. 

Sometimes I remember to take my salad outside to sit on my courtyard, but some nights I just stand at my kitchen counter and sort through the mail before heading out to yoga. 

Dinner for one just isn’t much of an affair for me.

But in Italy, dinner was a pleasurable slowly savored meal. 

Every night our retreat group gathered to eat together and three hours later we would say our good nights. 

No rush, no hurry, no haste.

Instead of crackers out of a bag with precut cheese slices, I sampled baked mounds of cheese on grilled vegetables or fresh arugula as my appetizer. 

I ate main courses of pasta or fish or chicken.

And instead of almost always declining dessert like I do at home, I lingered over every bite of tiramisu, coconut ice cream and peach sorbet.

Dessert was a work of art, where at our finale dinner, the staff created nitrogen frozen ice cream in front of us and served it with a delightful flourish.

Then after the dessert, came the coffee. I could barely keep my eyes open yet I didn’t want the evening to end.

Dinner in Italy was an invitation to relish, not race for the finish line.

I think there’s a secret in the savoring. That some of the Italians I met have already discovered.

Savoring this life. All of it. The good, the hard, the joy and the sorrow.

So often I want to rush out of what troubles, questions and stretches me, to hurry to the other side.

I find I want to say phew, that hard journey’s over and I’m now free to savor all the joy I can find in an easier, better place. 

But what if I’m missing the scent of sorrow and taste of tears that could offer me the depth of an experience of God that my soul is craving? 

What if lingering in the uncertainty without scurrying to get through it, offers the faith, grace and perseverance I seek?

What if I learned there's a cost and sacrifice that I didn't think would be required of me, but now even though it's hard, I realize how valuable it really is? 

This idea of savoring life's difficulties might seem like it doesn’t make sense. 

But I keep reminding myself {and maybe you need a reminder too?} that God’s way of thinking and working are so different from my own. 
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. - Isaiah 55:8
And most baffling of all, his sense of time is not at all like mine. 

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. - Ps. 130:5
He can’t be hurried. He doesn’t mind waiting. And he invites me to join him. 

For it’s there that I see his tender loving care and I catch the nearest glimpse of how he sees me. 

So instead of rushing, I’m savoring. 

I get to keep praying {boldly} about God’s promises to me.

I’m relishing staying right here for a while longer, perched on the edge of my seat to see what God will do.

Here is where I’ll delight being in his presence and wait for him to show me what he desires for me, no matter how long it takes.  

{And maybe you'd like to join me in the wait for the promises God has made to you?}

In Italy, one of our retreat group dinners ran extra late and we all voted to skip the coffee and start shuttling back to the hotel. 

The servers, who were already at our table with coffeepots, returned to the kitchen and the chef — who inexplicably was also the shuttle driver — drove us back to the hotel, full of jokes despite the late hour. 

Now that I’m back home, I think about that magical dinner under the canopy of vines and lamplight on that sultry summer night. 

I only wish I’d had time for a last cup of coffee to finish off a perfectly unrushed evening.

But slowly savoring the memory of it is almost as good.

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. Click the images for more posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Choose to Hope When You Just Don't Know

My bag was packed for a weekend at the beach, but since I didn't bother to check the forecast I never thought to bring an umbrella for rain. The showers started on the drive over in heavy stop-and-go traffic that made me more carsick than the curvy bus ride to Lake Como in Italy. 

The weather reports called only for heavy thunderstorms but the wind gusts and intermittent downpours felt more like a tropical depression. 

I sat inside looking out at the rain pounding the beach and roiling up the normally calm gulf into waves with whitecaps. Despite the squally weather, there were still beachgoers in the water, ignoring the glowering skies. 

I guess they were determined not to let some gloomy weather rain out their vacation. 

And neither was I. 

Finding a 30-minute break in the storms, I set off for a walk down the beach, keeping an eye on the sky filled with dark swirling thunderclouds.

But what do you do when you are feeling the storms that are raining out your weekend are also storming across your soul?

These hopes, these wild and adventurous dreams, that somehow seemed so possible when dreamed in the hollow of your home, suddenly feel like shredded confetti swept up and blown away in a single wind gust.  

When words are spoken about them outside of the solitary sanctuary where they were birthed, you think what you just said sounds so impossible and intangible that you’re not even sure what you thought was so compelling about your ideas in the first place.

Somehow your dreams and hopes and passions sound small and insignificant, even to your own ears.

And suddenly, you feel the same way.

When I'm unguarded and insecure, unsure and exposed, I feel a little adrift. Confused and unsettled, I've suddenly lost my purpose and direction.

{I wonder if you've ever felt this way?}

So when I’m wondering what it is that I even want, I can only turn to the one who knows every part of my heart. 

God is the only one who holds that answer in his hands and can plant the truth about myself deep in the soil of my soul. 

Only he can make something out of nothing, bring long-dead dreams to life and can see who we can be and what we can do, when we can’t yet see it ourselves.
The God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. -Rom 4:17b

I shouldn’t be surprised at these waves of doubt and uncertainty poised to wash over the shores of my soul for I’ve been expecting them, after all. But their force has startled me. 

Even though it feels as if I’m in the dark without a nightlight, I remember that I’ve been following God forward all along and he has also purposed these very moments for my consideration of him. 

Even the windy, stormy days serve a purpose. He invites me and seems to say: 
Try me here, even in this turbulent place, and find me steady and faithful.

Somehow I think if I’m asking God to steer my life's direction, then I won’t have to wrestle with decisions about dreams or desires because he’ll make them clear to me. And although he may do that, in time, I think he’s asking for a response from me. 

Am I willing to yield them to the purifying process that sifts these motives and intentions and aspirations? 

If this is the way to know yet another side of the God that I don’t yet know — to experience in a new way, who he is to me — then I want to follow him through the drizzles, deluges and downpours. 

To clarify what he’s making me into, to purge what can interfere, and to illuminate the way forward. 

To recognize that this refining continues from one life experience to another, realizing that I’ll never arrive, but instead I am becoming.

The rain and stormy weather never let up during my entire weekend at the beach. I'm not even sure there was one hour of sunshine. 

But there was still joy to be had with rain soaked shoes, pleasure despite windblown hair, and relaxation regardless of shower-spotted outfits. And a borrowed umbrella kept the heaviest rain in check.

For I know this to be true: the sky will eventually lighten, the storms will pass, and the sun will shimmer again on calm waters. 

And so I'm choosing to hope.

In faith, I'm trusting that the view up ahead will become clear and the way forward will become a matter of the heart.

A little note on the photos: cathedral photos are from the Duomo in Milan, Italy and the art photos are from San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore in Milan.

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