Beauty Balm

Enlight487

With Krista Wallace, on the drive back from Big Blue Trail, CO, following our 13 mile hike.

There are 2 significant things I have been learning this year – presence and expectancy. I have my continuing struggles and frustrating patterns, but I have come to expect God to meet me in the middle of them. I expect him to work on me and show me things, and I, in turn, try to be agreeable to the process. The “work” I have been called to when it comes to my own healing and growth can be hard at times, but there is a part of it that consistently brings me immense joy. That is the work of paying attention.

Richard Rohr draws a wise connection to these words from the gifted photographer, Ansel Adams, who said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Rohr continues the train of thought, “So the waiting, the preparing of the mind for “chance,” the softening of the heart, the deepening of expectation and desire, the “readiness” to really let go, the recognition that I really do not want to let go, the actual willingness to change is the work of weeks, months, and years of “fear and trembling.”” –Breathing Under Water

I was struck to the core by all of this – It wipes away every bit of the shame of struggle. In fact, it is the struggle itself that allows grace to do its best work!

I have taken some lovely photos the past couple of years. Someone asked me recently, “Why do all of the beautiful things find you?” I was a little taken aback, and as I glanced over my photos, I thought for a moment that there was some truth to it. But I quickly realized that’s not really the way it works.

I am astonished at times when beauty finds me, but it is easier for beauty to find me when I pay attention to the urging to get up at 4:30 in the morning, climb out of bed at 2 a.m. to see the stars, listen to the birds and educate myself on their migratory patterns, work on a writing or editing project till 10 p.m. instead of watching T.V. so that I can spend the next morning at the state park, or sacrifice a little physical comfort.


“Softest of mornings, hello. And what will you do today, I wonder, to my heart?” ~Mary Oliver, Devotions


None of these “sacrifices” guarantee that I will find beauty, but I sure give myself a better chance. In all of the photos in the slide show below, I gave up something to get them – I got up early, stayed up late, stood still for a long time, turned off the TV, hiked a long way, got hot, got cold… something kind of hard, or really hard. I did nothing to make the scene beautiful, but I was willing to put myself out there.

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Sometimes working with God means I wake up early, read challenging books, step into tough but necessary conversations, place myself among people who are not like me, vulnerably confess my struggles to a friend, or say I’m sorry, frightened or hurt. None of these things is guaranteed to make me beautiful, but all of these things, in cooperation with a caring God, give beauty a fighting chance.

Job 12:7-12 The Message (MSG)

7-12 “But ask the animals what they think—let them teach you; let the birds tell you what’s going on. Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics. Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. Isn’t it clear that they all know and agree that God is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand—Every living soul, yes, every breathing creature?”

 

Put a Frame Around It

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I spend a lot of time creating things. Some days I catch myself wondering if it’s a waste. Why do I write the words and melodies, snap the pictures, write the blog post, or dream about the book I’ll finish one day? I don’t make a dime. I am certainly not a writer in demand!:) And yet… I think creating is a big part of what I’m called to do.

For any of you who have read my blog, it will come as no surprise that I found my answer in a Frederick Buechner book.  I have always felt a deep connection to Buechner’s writing. He gives words to the thoughts that swim between my dreams and my waking – things that drive to the very core of me but I cannot name. 

This quote from The Remarkable Ordinary sums up why I wander in the woods and struggle with my pen and paper.


“So, art is saying Stop. It helps us to stop by putting a frame around something and makes us see it in a way we would never have seen it under the normal circumstances of living, as so many of us do, on sort of automatic pilot, going through the world without really seeing much of anything.”


That is why I wrote this post, why I get up before dawn and ignore mosquitos, heat or cold to take my photos, why I spend hours trying to get a melody just right. First, it is for me. It is my way of telling my heart, “STOP! Look at this. Really look at this.”

 

Then I share some of these things with you so that you might say to yourself, “STOP! Would you look at that? What a wonder!”  I don’t want you to look at my photo of the moon and say, “Look at my friend’s post. She is a great photographer.” My hope is that you think, “I can’t believe she saw that in Magnolia, TX. Hey, I can see stuff like that, too!”

Next time you see a beautiful moonrise, consider that no one who has ever lived or who ever will live is standing in the exact spot as you, at that exact time, with the specific memories and emotions and dreams you bring to the moment. That moment is a gift from the universe, from The Creator, in my opinion, for you and you alone. 

When we create, in our feeble attempt to capture this magic, we get to participate in the divine dance. We are framing tiny miracle moments.  If my art influences a handful of people and deepens their desire to find their own such moments, I am contributing to the very work of creation – I am bringing wonder, love, and peace to the world in a way only I am equipped to do.

You and I are also works of art. As we expand our ability to pay attention to nature, we begin to see each other through new filters. More from Buechner from his book  Whistling in the Dark:


“So we are to see each other like that, as Jesus sees us, framed as if each one of our faces is seen by him.”


I hope for anyone who reads this, that you might have eyes to see the love infused into the corners of creation you encounter. And may we all see each other – and ourselves – as the spectacular works of art that we are!

 

Fear-Free – I’m the Daughter of the King!

“True nobility is exempt from fear.” ~William Shakespeare

I stumbled across this quote a couple days ago. I almost blew right past it, but it managed to catch a thread on the edge of my heart before it disappeared.

There was a quiet stirring inside me – a whispering, “Do you know that you are noble – far more so than any king or princess? Do you believe you are exempt from fear?”

I love this translation of 1 Peter 2:9-10 from J.B. Phillips:


“But you are God’s “chosen generation”, his “royal priesthood”, his “holy nation”, his “peculiar people”—all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you. It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called you out of darkness into his amazing light. In the past you were not “a people” at all: now you are the people of God. In the past you had no experience of his mercy, but now it is intimately yours.”


I heard J.P. Moreland say something at a conference  years ago, and it has stuck with my fickle heart like superglue: “Belief is anything you hold to be true more than 50% of the time.” THANK YOU, Dr. Moreland, for the immense grace of those words. They have saved me from despair on many occasions.

For I DO hold to be true (a little over 50% of the time) that I am a daughter to God. He has shown me, especially in the past couple of years, that he is intricately involved in particular moments, in my almost magical experience of His creation, in His unique provision for my complicated self. I have even captured a handful of these “moments” with my camera. Here is one from a morning when I felt a spiritual compulsion (as close as I get to a voice from heaven) to stay out of my warm bed because something was waiting just for me – a moment in space and time to which I would be the only human witness.

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What was Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote the word “exempt”? It reminded me of today’s ultra-rich – the multi billionaires, the handful of humans who live in a world without borders, without rules, the “untouchables”. From a physical sense, they have little to fear compared to the rest of us. Maybe that’s Shakespeare’s reasoning – the “haves” need not wonder if there will always be a next meal, whereas the “have nots” spend each day enslaved to ensuring it.

EXEMPT – to free from an obligation or liability to which others are subject

And God is telling me that my status has permanently, eternally shifted from the “have nots” to the “haves” column. I cannot do a single terrible thing to move into my old column. When Paul tells us “be anxious for nothing” in Philippians, it is because he knows God has given us an EXEMPTION from fear.

I can still refuse to live out the truth of my new identity, scrounging through life for the love, security and approval that already belongs to me. How crazy is it for me to live that way? It’s as if someone payed off my mortgage, but I still send the check to the bank every month. Only a very disturbed, sad person would do that.

I will try to act more like a princess and remember that God’s peace that surpasses all understanding (also Philippians) is available to me every moment. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll stop sending that spiritual mortgage check.

Psalm 45:13-15: “All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.”

The Phenomenal Privilege of a Particular Moment

I walked outside last night for the routine task of covering the grill. The trees were bathed in light so ethereal that I forgot where I was for a moment. But then I remembered, and I ran inside for my camera. This was the scene:

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The “snow moon” (SNOW?) was just about to reveal itself behind this beautiful cloud.

I suddenly realized that I was about to encounter a viewing, a moment, that no other soul in the entire universe was there for. As tiny as I am in the mind-blowingly enormous scheme of what is, I was the only one given the privilege of witnessing the moon’s spectacular arrival in that exact location of space time.

And here it came:

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I was struck dumb by the awareness of all the moments that I have missed because, although I was there,  I wasn’t really THERE. I was distracted, or occupied by 2 of my worst time-sucking habits – rehashing the past and planning the future.

Fortunately, I have found 3 new pastimes that unwind those bad habits and land me square in the present: beach combing, photography, and fishing. Photography is my favorite because it heightens my awareness of details and balance and color and design.

I am trying to take this lesson and apply it with determination to my time with people throughout my day, be it with my kids, or the cashier at HEB. Talk about beautiful displays of God’s design! When I see my cashier and imagine framing her for a photo, I see her in all her precious uniqueness.

I was reminded of this challenging blog post by a dear friend, Len Woods. He contemplates how we interact with strangers and says:

“I’m going to begin to cultivate the simple habit of mentioning people to God—whoever he puts in my path—as I go about my day. Not just my family and friends—I already do that. But all the strangers along the way—and especially in my way.” 

I highly recommend clicking the link above and reading his entire post. I can’t imagine a better way than this to stay present with human beings.

I would love to hear from anyone that made it to the end of this post. When do you feel most connected to the here and now? What beautiful moments have you witnessed that were yours alone in the universe? And what joyful moments might be yours today?

Isaiah 43:18-19 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past! 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.”

Amen and amen.