Wednesday, October 26, 2016

When You're Afraid to Hope

I’ve had two big storage bins taking up space on the shelves of my garage all year. 

I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to my garage until suddenly I notice stuff on the shelves that doesn’t look familiar. 

I mention this to my sister and she says, oh yeah, I ran out of closet space so I brought another bin over to your garage.

The bins hold two life-size skeletons {although that sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?} and an assortment of ghoulish Halloween decorations belonging to my niece and nephew. 

I don’t really mind since I have space to spare in there, but finally the skeletons got picked up last week since I guess Halloween’s the day they’ll work their fingers to the bone. 

{I couldn’t resist that pun.}

But more than skeletons and goblins and big hairy spiders, something else has me quaking in my boots this Halloween. 

It’s hope.

Sometimes to hope is the scariest thing in the world.

I’d rather live my days staying a little guarded and reserved, cautiously keeping an eye on the future to ward off any stray disappointments. 

I've always thought it's a little dangerous to live downright hopeful. 

If things don’t go well, it could get kind of messy here, right in plain view of anyone who cares to peer into my life. Pieces of a heart can get broken, confidence will surely falter, and I'm left looking a little silly. 

I've got a long track record of letdowns and I know things always turn out this way. 

{Maybe you're saying it too?}

But what it really comes down to isn't my mistrust of hope. It’s that I’m afraid to trust that God is working all things together for good. 

I’m afraid that God’s idea of good isn’t my idea of good.

I think about the story in the gospels of Jesus's disciples heading out to sea without him in a wildly rocking boat in the middle of a fierce storm. 

They see a figure off in the distance, but it's dark and rainy and they're not sure about what they're seeing. 

Instead of recognizing Jesus coming toward them, they think they're seeing a ghost. 

I wonder if we’re just like those disciples.

Is it easier to believe you're seeing a ghost than to believe God is at work in your life, your circumstances, and your heart?

Whether good or not-so-good, all that happens in our lives comes under his guiding, sovereign and holy hand.

So why do we fail to recognize God in what we fear the most? 

We jump to rational conclusions and look for easier solutions that seem much more logical to our flawed way of thinking. 

We can’t believe what we’re seeing and instead we look right through what obscures our vision, all the while missing the one who reaches out his hand to steady us and walk with us in the storms. 

And sometimes, just when we need a miracle, he invites us to come, walk out on the water and join him.

The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. - Ps. 147:11 {NIV}

I suppose my niece and nephew's skeletons will be returning to my garage come November 1 to rest their weary bones for another year. 

{You weren't tired of Halloween puns, were you?}

I've saved the space on my shelves awaiting their return, even though I could have easily filled it with the two dozen empty plant pots and half-filled bags of dirt I have strewn across my garage floor.

I mean, I certainly don't want those skeletons becoming a bone of contention between my sister and me.

So I guess I've decided it's a good thing to hope for the best.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there for more posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Farmer Girl

I went to Atlanta for a weekend in a big city.

But I ended up at a farm.

I’m not sure how I keep finding myself taking on the persona of a faux-farmer since I’m really more of a glam-girl. 

The closest I’ve ever come to yearning for country life was during my childhood, when I read about my favorite farmer-girl Laura Ingalls and her adventures in the big woods.

But the appeal wore off as I grew up and discovered lipstick and high heels.

So every year when fall arrives, my sister and I head north to Atlanta, looking for a chill in the air and a few brightly colored leaves, but mostly we go for the shopping, dining and culture of a big city.

A few years ago we thought my niece might enjoy staying at an inn near mid-town that had goats and chickens and turkeys. That was the scene when for the first and only time in my life I held a chicken. 

{You can read about it here, if you’d like.} 

But this trip we stayed at Serenbe, an organic farm village in the Chattahoochee Hills just outside Atlanta that made the other inn look more like a children’s petting zoo. 

The New York Times calls Serenbe a utopian experiment in new urbanism, and it’s certainly a unique community with farm-to-table restaurants, shops and activities.

I ate breakfast at the 1905 farmhouse, strolled around the farmer’s market, visited an organic coffee shop and bakery, and ate dinner cooked by a chef recognized by Food & Wine magazine. 

{Where by the way, I had battered tempura bok choy that was so scrumptious I could have easily eaten another plateful.}

But mostly I met donkeys, pigs, one lone rooster who wouldn't stop digging for bugs to let me take his picture, and some mischievous goats, who were determined to see if I had any snacks for them in my camera bag.

I have to admit that after I met all of these new friends and visited them in their habitats, I sat down on a bench and rested my weary feet in my possibly-too-high-for-a-farm-stroll-heels and let my niece run off to see the rabbits, sheep and llamas. 

{And of course, now I'm sorry I have no photos of the llamas.}

Sometimes you find that where you end up is really where you were supposed to be after all.

Our life's journey might travel over winding roads that seem to be too far from our desired destination. We settle somewhere else and wonder what we’re doing there because we just don’t feel at home.

We wait impatiently to move to a place that’s more our style, that has what we want to do and who we want to do it with. 

We cry hard tears and then cry out to God, asking why we’re in a place that just doesn’t fit us, when really, he’s fitting us for our place in his plans.

We trudge on dusty paths and through barren fields, looking for a harvest, hoping for an open gate, not realizing that God is bringing us into a good land.

He beckons us onward to have a pioneering spirit, blazing trails where we’ve never gone before. 

And he waits for us to get out of the old ruts to respond anew, consider creatively and refute toxic mindsets for an enriched and organic way of life, that puts him at the foundation of our thoughts. 

What if we plow under the crumbling leaves of discouragement? What if we sprinkle the soil with a determination to wait for the ripening of what God is sowing in our lives?

It may take a season, it may take several seasons, but maybe what God matures and brings to fruition is a harvest worth waiting for.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior. -Hab. 3:17-18 (NIV)

As it turns out, I actually did find a little luxury in the country. 

We stayed at an apartment called the Nest, next door to the Bakeshop in the community of Serenbe that lived up to its reputation of elegant urban comfortable sophistication. 

I could have easily called it home.

And I did find some fall-ish weather in Atlanta, which was really just Florida fall weather minus the humidity. 

I even saw a few colorful leaves.

Which leads me to believe I could fall for farm life, but only for a weekend or so.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the image and join me there for more posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Weathering the Storm

There’s nothing like a hurricane warning to send you into frantic mode, bringing your normal everyday routine to a screeching halt. 

You join your fellow neighbors and race around gathering supplies. You ponder what you might want to eat over the next five days that doesn't require cooking or refrigeration.

You wait in line at the gas station to fuel up your car, unearth your flashlights from under the kitchen sink, and buy 67 {or so} packages of batteries in assorted sizes. 

You move every single plant and piece of outdoor furniture into your garage, then carefully park your car in between the dangling legs of the stacked patio chairs, dodge the potted palms {that didn’t look so big until they were in your garage}, and make your way into your house.

You’re ready to hunker down so you turn on the TV to stare at the enormous swirling satellite image of the storm for the next who-knows-how-many-hours and watch reporters yell over the wind and waves at the beach.

You get yourself a drink {but not one of the precious water bottles you’ve managed to procure} and you wait. 

You’ve now got plenty of time on your hands.

I get started on my own personal hurricane preparation that also includes doing laundry and washing my hair. Because I remember the last hurricane {actually three in a row one summer} that swept through Central Florida.

The winds whipped around my just-purchased brand new house after midnight and sent my neighbor’s tree crashing into my yard, taking the power lines down with it. I was without power for a week and without TV or internet for three weeks.

Although I live in a different neighborhood now with buried power lines {with lower odds for a power outage}, I wanted plenty of coffee-comfort on hand, just in case.

I managed to grab the last thermos at SuperTarget since it guaranteed to keep 8 cups of coffee piping hot for 24 hours. 

So at 4:30 am when the winds started howling around my house, I raced downstairs to brew the coffee and poured it into my new supersized thermos. 

I figured since I was awake, I might as well have a cup, grab a scone and keep an eye on the TV reports.

That’s when I heard the news that the storm had wobbled to the east just a smidge and that slight jog would prevent hurricane force winds from coming inland to reach Orlando. 

Rather miraculous, I think.

I realized a storm sure can brew up a host of challenges but it can also wash in a tide of opportunity. 

It calls on us to trust and get a tighter grip on our faith so it won't slip when the waves surge.

It offers us the opportunity to have peace that's beyond our understanding despite the chaos raging around us.

It summons courage from a reservoir we didn't know was filled and ready for us to access, and it calls forth grace that we didn't know we wanted to offer.

And it invites us to begin again.

Because after the storm subsides, we find the wind gusts have blown through our hair and the floodwaters have soaked our shoes, but we're still standing.

Then God cracks open the storm shutters in the midst of the wind and rain and gives us a glimpse of where he might be taking us, and we take a deep breath and plunge ahead.

Our storms have created more space for us to experience and deeply soak in what he's doing. 

For beyond those storms, we catch a little peek at our very own promised land.

It may not look anything like we've imagined and it might be a completely different location than where we originally thought we were heading, but it's there waiting for us to conquer the giants and enter into it.

But not just yet.

The vision isn't very clear yet, but we can see it out there in the distance. 

It's not meant for right now, but for a future time. In God's flawless and impeccable timing, he will bring it to pass.

And that gives us the courage to persevere. 

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the sea were hushed.

They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven. 

After the worst of the storm passed, I realized I didn’t need the brewed-ahead coffee after all. I never lost power at my house. 

But I wondered if I could depend on the thermos when it counted, so twelve hours after I made it, I poured myself a cup. 

The coffee was still piping hot. Promise kept.

So I’ll just hold onto my giant thermos and {nearly} 67 batteries for next time.

Because when you live in Florida, you know there's probably another fierce tropical storm coming your way in the future. 

But for now, in the aftermath, I'm rejoicing and reveling in the exquisite, delicate and very restful calm that only comes after the storm.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there to read posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What's On Your Canvas?

My sister gave me a French market bag for my birthday. 

It’s a darling little net shopping bag, perfect for filling with a French baguette, some flowers and maybe a few rounds of cheese, if I lived in Paris. 

But I live in Florida and I could have used it today as I shopped for last-minute foodstuffs in case the hurricane headed to the east coast knocks out our power.

I roamed the aisles of SuperTarget and most of the bottled water shelves were already empty. 

I thought I’d pick up some granola bars or trail mix but I ended up with a jar of sun dried tomatoes, a package of cheese tortellini and a jar of basil pesto. 

I guess I can cook it up ahead of time and I really don’t mind eating cold pasta.

I also picked up an extra bag of pumpkin spice coffee too {just in case there’s a pumpkin shortage once the storm passes}. 

And I grabbed another box of cranberry scones to have with my coffee. 

Assuming there's power to turn on my coffeemaker, of course.

These items would have fit nicely in my little French shopping bag, which was from a new restaurant and market in our neighborhood called Canvas, where my sister took me for dinner on my birthday.

With a name like Canvas, I thought there might be large pieces of abstract art hanging on the walls or maybe an unfinished canvas as a painting in progress, but I didn't see any obvious pieces of art. 

Instead the dining room was framed in floor to ceiling windows that offered spectacular views of the lake.

The market was stocked with boutique gifts and vintage items like chandeliers, pillows and chairs. There was even a sandwich counter and a coffee bar.

It seemed it was all part of a larger work of art of community -- a familiarity, a friendly vibe, a place for celebration.

I feel like a work in progress too, but it's hard to see sometimes that I'm part of a bigger story of how God works in all of us. Yet I know what stretches me is what is at work in me.

I start my day with a mug of coffee and my Bible open on the kitchen counter. I pray for those God-breathed words to saturate me and produce a kindness I don't always feel to cloak my words and a grateful perspective to color my conduct. 

Yet I’ve hardly left the parking garage on the walk to my office when someone {anyone really and no one in particular} brushes by the circle of my imaginary boundaries and I feel irritated. Then a task or project or conflict sinks me lower down the stairs of disgruntlement and I wonder where in the world did my best intentions go?

I wonder why progress with what I so desire to change seems impossible. Why is the new path so difficult for me to forge on top of the same old worn down tracks? Why can’t a lifelong demeanor be transformed? 

And then I see it.

Just as the gifts and the food and the people -- even the French market bag --  of the Canvas Restaurant & Market make it all a work of art.

So are we. 

The canvas isn't finished. We are a work in progress, in the hands of God, shaped for his purposes.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. - Is. 64:8 
But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. - Jer. 18:4

There will be storms to weather, trials to withstand and challenges to ride out, but we don't do it alone. {Thank goodness.}

So I asked my sister if she had enough gas for the generator and propane for the grill in her outdoor kitchen. She said of course, they were all set since my brother-in-law is always fully prepared. 

The last time there was a hurricane and the entire city was without power, I walked into her house to find my sister and the kids sitting in the living room watching TV with lamps lit and fans blowing. My brother-in-law said he considered turning on the air conditioning for a while but he didn’t want to overload their generator. 

So that’s where you’ll find me if the power goes out {along with the rest of our neighborhood}. 

I know for sure I can make some pumpkin coffee there {courtesy of the generator, of course} and eat my cranberry scones. 

And I can pack them all in my little French shopping bag for the walk over to my sister's house.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the image to hop over and read more posts from my blogger friends!