Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Familiar Territory

Sometimes it’s nice to return to a familiar place when you travel. 

There aren’t as many decisions to make about where to stay and what to see because you’ve seen it all before.

I think my family’s tradition of spending Thanksgiving in St. Augustine for the past 25 years might confirm this. 

It started one year when my sister and I spent the holiday with friends, leaving my parents alone and restless. 

They drove two hours north of Orlando to St. Augustine and later told us it was the most festive holiday they’d ever spent filled with fellow tourists, historical houses and lots of lights. 

They said we just had to try it the next year and go along with them. 

They were right. 

And we’ve been going to St. Augustine for Thanksgiving ever since.

Sometimes though, as I pack my little weekend suitcase I wonder if something new will catch my eye among all the familiar sights. 

But this year it was those well-known spots I wanted to check out.

I was curious to see how the nation's oldest historical city fared after Hurricane Matthew blew through in October.

I'd seen the reports that the storm hit at high tide, flooding the streets with nearly four feet of water.

As I walked along the bayfront {with some of it cordoned off for repairs} I saw gates unhinged, peeling paint from water damage, yards filled with debris, and front doors waiting for repair. 

Some restaurants and a few hotels on the waterfront were still closed.

But the resilient locals were carrying on with their annual festivities of trolley rides through town and candlelight tours for the holidays, even though some areas still looked a little under the weather.

I was most anxious to see how my favorite gate fared.

It's the famous red door so often photographed, that's across the street from the inn where I stay every year. 

Engaged couples, brides and tourists are always lingering around it, cameras poised to catch the best light.

But there it was. 

Still standing.

Even though it looked pretty much the same, there was still something different about it and I couldn't figure out what it was. 

Then I realized it was the house next door that made the gate look different. 

Built in the 1890s, it always looked run-down and disheveled, but now there was a No Trespassing sign tacked to the porch and the fence was torn down.

With the side open to the house, the gate looked smaller and a lot more fragile.

Our innkeeper Pat, told us the elderly woman who had lived there recently died after living as a recluse in the house for decades. 

She said the house was filled with trash and heavily damaged by termites since it had never had air or heat installed.

As she described the inside of the house after being neglected all those years, I imagined it must be fascinating.

Then Pat surprised me as she said, “I bought the house. Do you want to go see it tomorrow?”

I felt like I was a character in my beloved Nancy Drew books being gifted with a tour of the mysterious house across the street!

The next day, Pat unlocked the door and showed us the entry way filled with trash and the light fixture dripping with cobwebs. 

We saw the old bathtub and the walls covered with peeling wallpaper made out of fabric.

There was a lonely dresser standing in the corner of an otherwise empty room.

We saw the stained glass window, dirt covering the jewel-colored panes, on the landing of the old staircase.

Pat led us up the steep steps of the attic where we stood under the turret.

We caught a glimpse of the bay from the windows that once probably had an unobstructed lovely water view.

There was even an artesian well out back that at one time drew water from the bay.

Old houses captivate me with their history and character. 

I wonder about the stories of all who lived within the walls or walked through the halls.

I imagine the grandeur they once experienced before they were abandoned or left in disrepair.

I probably ascribe too much heart into a structure made of wood, bricks and stones, but isn't an old house a mirror of our own lives sometimes?

How do we restore what’s crumbling? Revive what's worn out? Repair what's dilapidated and neglected?

Photo of how the house originally looked at the turn of the century.

Maybe it takes more effort and determination to find a fresh perspective along the way than to let our frame of reference go to ruin and do the clean up afterwards.

The work of transforming the familiar into something new isn't easy.

Waiting in the same frustrating circumstances takes perseverance. Working diligently in the home or at the same job for years takes commitment. Praying for season after season for what hasn't yet changed takes bold faith.  

Sometimes even my connection to God seems frayed at the edges and a little worn out. 

I've asked the question {and maybe you have too}, when everything seems to stay the same how can I change what I'm seeing?

What I don't realize is that there's new all around me because I am becoming new.

 I have changed from who I was last week, last month and last year. 

We are never stagnant but ever-changing, moving in the installments of our lives from one episode to the next, growing in experience and expanding our faith.

What if instead of going through the motions of the mind-numbing familiar, we searched out a new side of God? 

What if we dipped our pens in fresh ink to join him in how he’s writing {and rewriting} our stories? 

What if we took him at his word, despite the shabby view our eyes are drawn to?
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. - Is. 43:19 
“From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. - Is. 48:6b

Pat told us she isn’t sure yet what she'll do with the house since the city will ultimately decide the course for her plans. 

But the carriage house next door to the house is in much better shape and she’s already begun the renovations there for an apartment that will be completed soon.

I can't wait to see what beauty she'll create from the dirt and debris.

Before I left, I took one last look through the grate of my favorite St. Augustine gate. 

Last year my niece grabbed my camera and captured my first-ever photo of the garden on the other side of the gate. 

But this year just as I thought my eyes couldn’t take in one more new scene in St. Augustine, I caught a glimpse of the gardener herself {pictured center above in navy blue} as she worked behind the gate.

As I drove home I realized there were so many unexpected additions to the itinerary this visit that I ran out of time to eat lunch at my favorite restaurant. 

I'm already looking forward to going back again next year.

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there by clicking the image to read more posts!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Myth of More

You couldn’t miss it.

The sign was posted on every entrance, on every post, sure to be noticed from whichever direction you arrived at the gate.
Please do not pick the vegetables and flowers from the garden, as they are for the restaurant.
Despite the sketchy grammar {the grammar-girl in me would have worded it a little differently}, the sentiment was perfectly understandable, of course. 

The garden can't be plundered by wandering tourists when a chef needs a handful of basil or a fresh tomato for a culinary creation.

But the message was clear.

What you see here is for someone else, not you. 

Peering through the slatted gate into a protected little garden patch is a little like observing the lives of those with more blooms on their vines  - - or more happiness, purpose and abundance in their lives. 

{Or so it seems.}

I think I’ve fallen for this myth. 

The myth that I need more of something in my life that I don’t have right now for me to be happy and satisfied and live the abundant life Jesus talked about in the Bible.

When it seems as if so many others around me have more, I wonder what I'm missing.

{Maybe you do too?}

Maybe you’d be happy with more time, more peace, more friendships, more money, more inspiration.

Or maybe it’s not more of some-thing, but it’s the one-thing that you don’t have.

Like a spouse, a baby, a home, or a job.

I fall for this false impression more often than I'd care to admit. It's the misconception that somebody else’s life looks a lot better than mine does. 

But maybe that's because I'm looking at it through slats that slant my view.

If Facebook and Instagram are my only mirrors, then those thoughts are probably justified. 

Everywhere I look are photos of beautiful children, exotic locations, amazing food, and extraordinary friends.

These carefully curated photos are accompanied by superlatives that magnify the lens of happiness for those of us looking. Bestie! This guy - - isn't he amazing? These kids! 

Sure, they’re just clever captions on social media, but they can drive me a little batty when I think about staging photos to tell the story of my super-long workday at the computer, salad-for-one eaten over my kitchen sink, and weekend errands to nowhere.

My head knows things aren’t necessarily what they seem, but my heart feels otherwise.

So I turn my thoughts {and my view} to what's in my own little garden and I think about being grateful.

I first imagine scenes of my life filled with all that I think I’m lacking. I think realistically about these scenarios. 

What would my days look like with a husband or kids or a full house and a fuller schedule?

Are they really as captivating as they look? How would I feel if things were different? 

And when I contemplate how my life would look if I did have what I think I'm missing, I start thinking that my life is pretty nice just the way it is.

That salad-by-the-sink? It's quick and easy, giving me time for writing, reading, praying and thinking without having to create and cook a nightly dinner menu.

The workday at the computer? It beautifully pays the bills and I'm so thankful for all the opportunities that an income provides. {Not to mention my travel budget!}

The weekend errands that seem dull and a little lonely? They're just my speed and style for how I like to relax after the workweek.

My days, my years, my story may be different from those that fill my social media streams but I’m living this one beautifully crafted story of my own and it suits me. 

So despite the sign {since it didn't prohibit entering}, I opened the gate and walked into the vegetable and herb garden anyway, just to have a look around. 

I had no intention of picking a flower, vegetable, or even a leaf. 

But truthfully, the garden looked a little dead to me. I saw lots of brown stalks and a few green things here and there, but it looked as if it needed some tending to. 

I wasn't sure if it was supposed to look this way since it was fall, or if maybe it wasn't quite the robust, blossoming garden that the sign implied.

Maybe appearances are a little deceiving sometimes.

I walked right back out the gate, without the faintest desire to pick anything.

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, November 9, 2016

When Hope Seems Out of Left Field

It’s our brushes with hope that shape how we think when the odds are stacked against us.

I remembered this last week as the Cubs came from behind to win the World Series, because I once had a front row seat to see what happens when you keep hoping. 

Well, it was actually a second row seat. 

Behind home plate. 

I went to game 4 of the 1979 World Series in Pittsburgh when the Pirates played the Orioles. 

My ticket cost $12. 

I'm pretty sure today $12 wouldn't buy me a hot dog at the World Series.

But I was an eighth grader then, crazy about baseball and I remember my parents debating whether or not they should spend the money on the tickets. 

My mother told my dad that we should go since who knew if we’d ever get a chance to go to another World Series game? So we went.

But the Pirates lost the game and were down three games to one in the series. 

The mood was somber as we disheartened fans trudged out of the stadium that day. It seemed silly to even hope we could pull off such a miracle. 

I mean, there were only three teams in the history of baseball, since 1925, that came back to win the series after that deficit, and the Pirates would have to win two on the road. 

But who was crazy enough to think that far ahead? They just had to win the next game.

But the next day they did win the game and that tiny flicker of hope still alive in my heart got a little stronger. 

They traveled to Baltimore and won the next two games, winning the World Series in the best come-from-behind style you could imagine.

So I thought maybe like me, you could use a little story about hope today.

Because I’ve seen with my own eyes from my almost-front-row-seat what happens when you keep hoping when everyone says it's next to impossible. 

I think this early training ground in the stadium of hope was a valuable coach for me. 

Because to be honest, I’m not naturally all that hopeful. 

I tend to look at the glass half-empty. I wait for the other shoe to drop. I expect if something could go wrong, it probably will.

These days I'm a little unsure if I’m following a game plan or a life plan, some other kind of plan or no-kind-of-plan.

But I know when I lose hope it’s because I’m looking too far in the future, worrying about all the what-ifs when just taking the next step is what’s required of me. 

God is the miracle-maker and wonder-worker, not me. 

He asks me to pray, look for him and follow, but I make it more difficult with all the pressure I put on myself. 

Sometimes I need to remember the game’s not entirely mine to win or lose, but I do have a role to play.

It's to step up to the plate and take a swing at the curve balls in life.

It's to run down the foul balls because you never know when the wind shifts and the ball might turn fair.

It's to look up when I'm brought to my knees by a wayward pitch, because maybe on my knees is a good place to start to pour out my heart's lament.

And it's to come from behind when I'm down and out and my hope is barely breathing and realize it's a whole new ballgame. It's possible that my next turn at bat could serve up the winning pitch.

So I'm wondering if you want to join me in hoping {for whatever you're hoping for}, even though it seems hopeless?

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." - Rom. 4:18

Have you ever played those icebreaker games in groups that ask you to share three facts about yourself, two true and one false? 

{I'm not a fan of them.}

For the truthful tidbits about myself, I always say I've ridden in a helicopter and gone to the World Series. 

{Separately of course, since I did not ride in a helicopter to the World Series, although wouldn't that be something?} 

No one ever believes those two things are true about me.

I'm not sure if it's because I don't look sporty enough to be interested in baseball or adventurous enough to ride in a helicopter, but {ha!} looks are deceiving. 

Maybe the next time I'm asked to play the icebreaker game I should say I'm hoping to sell my 2,000 baseball cards.

{Just between me and you, that’s true, too.}

I'm having coffee with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the image if you'd like to read more posts from my blogger friends.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Story Isn't Over

“Hey lady, are you coming down to help me make coffee or not?”

It’s early morning and I open one eye to see my nine-year-old niece Devon standing over me. I'm in Atlanta for the weekend and she wants to serve her mother coffee in bed but she's not sure how to make it.

{By the way, it’s our little joke that she calls me lady when she thinks I’m being particularly bossy to her so I'm amused when she says it.}

But now it was my turn to be bossed out of bed to provide instruction for the little barista-in-training.

The minute we arrived at the loft apartment we booked for the weekend, Devon ran ahead, checking out every room and telling us how beautiful she thought it was. She said she wanted a place just like this one when she’s a grown-up.

She reminded me of myself.

When I was in fourth grade, I visited the apartment of a friend’s sister and was captivated by it. 

There was a tiny balcony where a wrought-iron table and chairs were set up just beyond the sliding glass doors. 

The closet doors looked like shutters {and even back then I had a thing for shutters} that were so different from the closet doors at my house. And it had the tiniest, cutest kitchen I’d ever seen.

I dreamed of living in an apartment just like that one when I grew up.

The future couldn’t come fast enough back then so I could get down to the business of making my dreams come true {which mostly consisted of decorating my own place}.

But at what point do we start to look in the rearview mirror and think the best might be behind us? 

Maybe you're like me and see a sheaf of blank pages of the life in front of you but the inkwell is dry. You worry the exclamation points are pointless and only the question marks are what now mark your future.

Where now? What then? If not, then how?

Whether a chapter is closing, or you’re in the midst of pages bursting with action, or you’re on the brink of just beginning your story, we’re all part of a bigger story that starts and ends with God. 

Sometimes I need to remember that.

I’ve seen enough pages re-written, new chapters begun and surprise endings in my own life story to know that our stories aren’t really ever over.

God’s always writing something that’s powerful and breathtaking and fathomless, a deep mystery that invites our investigation, consideration, and exploration. 

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. - Ecclesiastes 3:11

There are still pages in this life-book to fill, chapters to author, scenes to script, and words to write. 

Even -- and maybe especially -- through a weekend in Atlanta, making coffee with my niece.

And that's why I know your story has new plot lines, too. Because we're all a living story.

So even though I’d like to stay in bed a little longer on my weekend away, I head to the kitchen of the apartment and make coffee with my niece. 

She carefully measures the coffee but spills some grounds in the filter, so we dump it out and start over. She waits impatiently for it to brew and tells me I’d better pour it in the mug because she's worried she'll spill it. 

She picks up the little digital camera her dad gave her and takes a picture of the coffee. 

{She’s taken her own photos during the trip --see the squirrel she captured below! -- and says she wants to make a photo album to remember the weekend.}

She pours too much cream but I send her upstairs anyway and I hear her announce to my sister that she made the coffee. 

I remember just how magnificent the feeling of a future filled with glorious and brilliant things can be.

Because sometimes I still feel that way too.

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!