Some Pictures of Hope

The landscape in Pennsylvania, for the most part, still frowns with the weight of winter. 

Trees raise their arms in surrender to a blank sky.

After church this morning, my youngest daughter pulls on a double layer of pants and says, “Mom, let’s go on a hunt for daffodils.”  (How can I not follow her outside?  I’m struck by how I need to listen to and follow children more often.)

The hunt!  I put on my winter coat, and my old camera dangles from the strap around my wrist. 

We journey to the side of the house, the hidden territory in front of the gate.  With frozen fingers and faces, we hunt.

We hunt, and we find.

Lilies burst forth; daffodils announce victory over winter.

To hunt means to chase relentlessly.

Lord, let me be relentless in my hunt for hope. 

__________________
Journal:  What gives me hope today?

Share

Keeping Hope Alive

Yesterday, this little girl (the one who lost her first tooth) brings home a homemade bird feeder.  She announces that the bagel was “a rotten one, leftover from her teacher’s kitchen,” and the birdseed and spread cannot be eaten by humans. 

Noted.  

We hang the bird feeder on the winterberry bush.  And we wait.

And we wait. 

We wait, wait, and wait some more. 

I read somewhere that it takes backyard birds a few days to find a new feeder. 

All day today, we stop every few minutes and glance out the kitchen window just in case a bird has arrived.  We talk about who might be the first to catch sight of that first little bird. 

No birds yet.  But the desiring of them, the wait, delights us. 

We remember another wait, last April, for a hibernating turtle to emerge from underneath our deck.  It feels just like that, this waiting, and we love it.

It feels like the wait for a first loose tooth. 

I want to construct more apparatuses designed to teach me the beauty of hope.  A backyard bird feeder reminds me to hope today.  I wait patiently with my daughters, peer into the landscape ahead, and keep our longing alive.  Tomorrow might be the day! 

___________________
Journal:  What am I hoping for, and how do I keep my hope alive? 
 

Share

What Good Is This?

I’m trying new recipes from my 5 Ingredient cookbook, and today I attempt “Ginger Beets.” 

Ginger Beets

I’ve never roasted beets before. I scrub off the dirt, chop off the stems, and roast them for an hour.  When cooled, the beets slip right out of their skin.  I slice them in quarters, toss them with fresh ginger and olive oil, and finally sprinkle a dash of salt. 

Beautiful!  Delicious! 

I’m amazed that roots, buried deep in the darkness, can produce such vibrant color.  That deep red paints everything:  my fingers, the counter tops, and the kitchen sink.  This winter kitchen has bright red flair!  One would never know, just by looking at those old roots, what a beet can do.

No other vegetable has such color.  I learn that, at first, the leaves were the only parts of a beet considered edible. The roots, tossed aside and wasted, weren’t enjoyed as they are today. 

But now we know differently.  The beet root, beautiful and vibrant, nourishes.  

The parts of us we toss aside–viewed as waste–or bury deep await God’s use:   beautiful, vibrant, nourishing to others.  

____________________
Journal:  What skills do I toss aside, thinking they have no use? 

Share

2 Secrets of the Wandering Albatross

Last night, my daughter wins a book about winged creatures at the school’s Bingo Night.  We read all about butterflies, bats, hummingbirds, flying squirrels, bees, and ladybugs.  Then, I turn the page and learn about the magnificent Wandering Albatross.

I learn that the Wandering Albatross stays in flight for months without landing.  I stare, stunned at the page, as I consider the lonely, distant travels of this bird who never finds a secure place to land.  And even when she does, the awkward bird tumbles over her own feet, crash-landing into the others, and somersaulting several times before finally standing.

She prefers the flight to the landing.  

I have to check my facts this morning.  Is it true that this bird stays aloft for months?   How is this even possible?

I discover that the Wandering Albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird.  I also uncover the bird’s secret:  she knows how to sharply swing into air currents to let the wind blow her to great heights. She lets the wind do the work for her. 

As I consider the Wandering Albatross today, I realize how often it feels as if we wander–for months–unsure of where to land.  As lonely travelers, we struggle to stay aloft.  And we must.  Our survival depends upon our ability to soar in the midst of our wandering.  Sometimes, there’s no land in sight.

You spread wide your arms, turn sharply into the wind, and you let it carry you to great heights.  I think about a life lived with God’s power.  I think, too, about adversity being a stronger air current.  I throw myself against it, leaning hard against the Lord.  What a magnificent flight!

___________________________
Journal:  When I feel like a Wandering Albatross, how can I widen my embrace and learn to use adversity to carry me to higher places emotionally and spiritually? How can I remember to see God as the air current that “does the work for me” today? 

(photo, “Wandering Albatross” from photolib.noaa.gov, by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps.  Photo taken in the Southern Ocean, Drake’s Passage)

Share

From Cowardly to Courageous

My little cat, Jack, advances even further in the direction of being fully alive.  Once wounded, this now strong kitty first relearns how to purr.  Then he figures out how to meow again.   Then, he moves past his wounds and chooses to love and serve others.  Finally, he begins to master basic feline behaviors like kneading. 

My daughter asks me, “Mom, what else will Jack do as he becomes more and more like a healthy cat?”  I have no idea.  But we wait and we watch.

Recently, a friend delivers a gift to our three cats.  It’s a huge, fluffy cat bed to sit by my rocking chair.  But we have three cats.  Who will get this soft bed?   Jack has no chance, especially with that one cat (Louie,  alpha male) who dominates every household scene.  Normally, Jack cowers around the others.  The three cats stand there, observing this amazing bed. 

Then it happens.  Jack moves forward and claims the bed for his own.  He transforms from cowardly to courageous right before our eyes.  He kneads the bed, turns a few circles, and has slept there ever since. 

I watch that little cat, and I remember God’s work as Healer.  

On our way to recovering from whatever wounds us, we suddenly realize the plans in store for us.  One day, we find we have the courage to move forward, claim our dreams, and stand up to those that threaten us.  We discover our place.   We find we are so healthy that nobody even remembers where we came from or how we were wounded. 

We find we are fully alive, doing all the things we were meant to do.  Nothing holds us back. 

Share

When You Feel Like Burnt Toast

When you burn food, you apparently ruin it by overcooking.  Too much time, too much heat, and the thing burns.  This morning, I nearly incinerate the bread in the toaster oven as I attempt to make toast for my daughter.  I’m not paying attention, and before I know it, the bread loses that delicious browned toasty color and suddenly adopts the despair of burnt black waste.

But I’m standing by a grandmother who, among millions of other wise lessons, teaches me not to waste anything.  I pick up that toast and consider the truth that it’s only surface damage.  I can salvage something good from this disaster.

I scrape the charred landscape to reveal the real thing underneath: perfect toast.

It only looked like disaster.  It only seemed like despair.  

These things about my day, my life, that feel like something burnt beyond repair might be perceived differently.  Underneath the surface, the true good thing remains.  I ask God to run the butter knife over the landscape of my life, clear that surface damage, and let the real me shine through.

Living with flair means that when I feel like burnt toast, I remember what’s unseen beneath the surface. 

Share

What We Most Want

Finally, at 6:00 AM, we agree to open presents.  This is only after the 2:00 AM squeal alert that presents had arrived under the tree.

My living room sparkles with shreds of wrapping paper, bows, and tissue paper.  By now, the little girls play happily with their new dolls, and I drink coffee–lots and lots of coffee.  

Amid the laughter, I hear my husband calling out, “Can you think of any other person’s birthday party where you get the presents?”

He turns to me and says, “Isn’t that the real meaning of gospel?  We celebrate Jesus, but we end up getting the gifts.” 

Bring on the gifts, the shimmering joy, the peace, and the love.   May we unwrap His gifts upon gifts, in obvious and hidden forms, today and all year.  May we have the hope and the faith to see them, despite every circumstance.

May we lift our eyes and be led to what we’ve been waiting for all our lives.  Can it be that what we most want, we find in that manger?

Merry Christmas from Live with Flair!

Share

Light in the Darkness

In the hustle and bustle of this Christmas Eve day, I pause to think about my electric candles set in every window of our home.  Within the core of these candles, the builder placed a photo sensor that automatically responds when the light grows dim outside.  As soon as it’s dark enough, the candles light up.  We never have to turn them on–the darkness does it for us.

The darkness makes the light shine.  As I think about this day, I know that many suffer in unimaginable ways.  Friends and family members have passed on, and this Christmas, we often think about who is missing from our gathering.  Instead of experiencing a joyful holiday, some of us feel the darkness of sorrow.

I love that Psalm 18 says “God turns my darkness to light,” and the promise of Christmas, recorded in Isaiah 9, is that “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”

The deep darkness (no matter what kind) doesn’t win this Christmas. Sometimes the Builder makes it so that we pass through a bit of darkness in order to discover that light.  My strange little candles remind me that living with flair means that when I sense the darkness coming, I know the light will shine.  I don’t have to manufacture it or flip some magic switch.  God dwells within, and in the core of my being, the light shines even in–and especially because of–darkness.  By faith, I embrace the truth of it.  I rest here, let the darkness fall, and let God shine

Share

How You Know You’re Getting Better

Do you remember the story of my one-eyed cat, Jack?  We rescued this wounded kitty and brought him into our home.  He couldn’t even purr, he was that broken.  But we knew his purr was in there somewhere. 

We brushed him, fed him, bathed him, pet him, and loved and loved and loved him.  And one day, he found his purr. 

But he still had no voice; this kitty could not meow.  We stuck with this messed up cat–despite the one eye, the injured mouth, and the tail that wouldn’t hang right.  We kept loving him. 

And a year later, he stood tall and proud in the kitchen and let out his first squeaky meow. That cat found his voice.  It took a year, but he learned to meow again.

A few months later, I discover that my wounded cat is serving another cat, holding her down and bathing her.  Jack couldn’t purr a year ago, and now he is taking care of others.  I couldn’t believe it. 

Well, it gets better. 

Last night, I’m reading books with my daughter in her bed, and Jack hops up on top of us and starts doing this strange dance.  He’d press his front paws in and then arch his back and press his back paws into the blanket.  He could hardly keep his balance, and he was tangling himself up in the sheets. 

“What is Jack trying to do?”  we laugh and ask each other.  We stay very still and observe him.  Then, we realize what is happening. 

Jack is attempting a behavior that all domestic cats do (but Jack never did).  He is kneading. 

All cats, when they feel content and safe, press their front paws in and out like they’re kneading bread.   Some say that when cats do this, they remember their kitten days of pressing against their mother to get milk.  Others claim that cats only enact this ritual when they feel at home.  They knead a space to mark it as their bed, usually right next to their mother. 

Jack never did this. It’s like he had no memory of even being a happy kitten or being at home.  Maybe because he wasn’t.   But last night, Jack tries to knead.  Kneading, however, represents a complex instinctual action.  Cats alternatively flex each paw, press in, and then retract their claws as they lift each paw.  Only the front paws knead. 

Jack has no idea how to do it, but some kitty instinct kicks in.  We watch Jack attempt to knead the bed.  He starts, falls over, and then tries again with his back paws (all wrong!).  Eventually, as he purrs loudly and rolls all over us, he gets it right.  He presses his front paws in, alternating between left and right, before he curls up and falls asleep beside my daughter.

He found his purr.  Then he found his voice.  Then he found a way to serve despite his wounds.  Then, then, he began to remember his true self–becoming fully alive and doing what he was meant to do.  Finally safe, finally at home, Jack starts to act like a real cat in every way. 

There’s hope for us all, no matter how wounded.  

Share

Christmas Estuary

Estuary Mouth

Yesterday, I read a book that mentions the word estuary.  An estuary is the part of a river that nears the sea.  In an estuary, salt water and fresh water mix.  As one of the most curious habitats, estuaries house creatures that learn how to live in impossible contradiction; they must survive in overlapping environments–fresh and saline.

Salmon, for example.  Salmon start their lives in freshwater, but they were made for the ocean.  Something enables them to get there.  I read about how when salmon transition between freshwater and the sea, the cellular structure of their gills changes.  The gills learn to secrete salts (not absorb them) just like a normal salt water fish.  The process has a name:  osmoregulate.

A new verb!  Osmoregulate means to maintain that perfect balance–that harmony–necessary to live in environments that threaten to either dilute or saturate the body.  And in estuaries, salmon learn how.  They slowly adapt themselves for what’s ahead.  Then, they journey on towards their lives in the great ocean.

How confusing that place must seem.  

As I consider that journey, I can’t help but think about times of estuary–impossible contradictions–places where life does not feel right.  We’ve left but haven’t arrived.  We see the future but aren’t ready to embrace it.  It’s as if we are left alone to adapt for what’s ahead.  We are becoming something. 

Estuaries, because of their in-between status as both freshwater and saltwater, contain the best nutrients.  Scientists tell me that estuaries are among the most productive habitats in the world.  The swirl of confusion, as wild as the tide, ironically provides refuge and rest for marine life.  They strengthen their ability to adapt and regulate in that estuary.

Life feels like an estuary when I consider the miraculous Christmas claim that I’m meant for another world.  And, by design, I find myself here, becoming something for there

Living with flair means I don’t despair when I’m not at my destination.  I’m osmoregulating in my perfect estuary for what’s ahead.  

(Photo, “Estuary Mouth,” Public Domain, US government.)

Share