20 September 2017

Autumnal Wishful Thinking


This afternoon light is glorious, and it is fading a bit sooner each evening. The way it casts a glow into my kitchen invokes feelings of autumn (or in my case, wishful wonderings, ponderings, and dreamings of autumn). If I adorn my table with chrysanthemums, will that usher in autumn? This is my wishful thinking.


When we arrive at this time of year, when I start to see the northern places showcasing their first pumpkins, squash, apples, and sweaters, I long for autumn sometimes with the sudden desire to jump on a plane to the north. Of course, that doesn't happen, but in my head I do this. Is it a jealousy of northern areas? You bet. Am I done with this southern heat and humidity? Absolutely. 

In church this week, we sang one of my favourite hymns - For the Beauty of the Earth. It was certainly appropriate in the midst of our hurricane recovery. It is a hymn I can play on my piano, and for some reason the tune and the words are so lovely to me. Perhaps it is because I try to find beauty in all things - whether it be view-able beauty of the earth or subtle moments of beauty in relationships. I feel like the refrain has been my anthem - 

Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

To listen to my favourite piano arrangement of the hymn, click HERE.

When autumn rolls around, I begin to see the shift in seasons (albeit slowly) from the longest summer of heat, to a cooling season of transition to winter. Paradoxically, the falling leaves of autumn bring life to me as one who needs seasons and chilly weather. The leaves fall that I might be lifted up. God's wondrous beauty of creation has many paradoxes.

May the autumnal glow warm our hearts, and may the feeling of autumn get here very soon.

18 September 2017

Hurricanes are not good for writing


Hurricanes are not good for writing.
They steal my time and my focus.
They break trees, normalcy, and my electricity,
forcing me to leave my home.
Missing my home to quietly reflect,
leaves me off track.
I am ready, now, to get back.

This very elementary poem kind of sums up my past week and a half. When a hurricane is heading your way, especially when it's the biggest and most powerful hurricane (let's not forget it had 185 mph winds for several days), it consumes your life. Pre-storm you try to prepare. You fight the crowds to get water, food, gas, and batteries. You try to figure out what to do around your house. You might have to figure out where you are going to go. 

And hanging above it all is the big question mark of where that storm is actually going to go. Because nobody knows. Not really.

When it comes over your town in the middle of the night and destroys hundreds of 100 year old trees and takes away all sense of civilized living in the heat of summer - no a/c, spotty phone service, no internet, debris all over the streets. You begin to look at life a bit differently. When you have to rely on family to feed you and let you stay with them, you feel grateful at the same time as feeling like a nomad. When your tires have 4 holes from the debris (yes, that's 4 holes and 4 visits to tire store) you feel like nothing seems to be able to go back to normal.

And yet...

It could have been worse, and we will get through it. We are slowly getting through it. My electricity was restored, and I was able to sleep in my own home for the first time in 5 days. But there are still others who do not have electricity yet and my heart aches for them. I know their pain. 

I spent some time this morning in reflection, in a much needed time to write. I will keep on writing to clear my head and see what comes out. This storm has weathered me (I think it has weathered all of us), but if I am flexible, I will be better to have bent in the wind rather than stay rigid and break from the wind. 

After time in reflection, the matter of the storm diminished from the mountain it was, to a molehill. I am able to see over it now. It looks surmountable. I will not be stuck here, but will move forward with a heart more thankful and more open because of getting through the storm, letting it teach me to be flexible, to be okay with needing others, and to know it is short-lived. 

I feel sad about the circumstances we have had to endure, but I am still blessed and not lacking in good. Emotions go up and down with the events of the hurricane and its aftermath, but God is steady. He is my centre.

13 September 2017

Hope After the Storm




Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.
 Psalm 62.8

I am not sure I can adequately put into words the mixed emotions that have swirled these last several days, but I will try. From the stress of the pre-hurricane preparation and not knowing exactly where the storm would go, to the overnight experience of going through the eye wall of Hurricane Irma after it decided to make landfall in Marco Island (Naples), experiencing 100 mph winds sitting in a closet with my mom, to the aftermath of my historic neighborhoods where the debris was absolutely everywhere and huge fallen trees blocked roads and leaned on houses. Thankfulness abounds that everyone is okay, but our lives are disrupted in ways I have not known before. 

As of today, I still do not have power, and the reason is pictured above. From my home (you can see the top of my car in the corner), the neighboring garage apartment narrowly missed major roof damage from this fallen tree, that then fell onto the power line pole and transformer. Notice how my next door neighbor has power lines strewn across their driveway. We hear that there are four pages filled with locations in our neighborhoods that have this issue, and we don't know when our power will be restored. Just across the alley and that fallen tree, another tree fell on the roof of a neighbor creating serious damage.

The drive around my neighborhood and the lake means driving over debris and around fallen trees. I could not even bring myself to take photos as my eyes were too wide open to the sad, broken trees and homes. The power of nature is a fearful thing, indeed. I slept in my home last night, and it was very hot, and extremely creepy in a completely darkened neighborhood and only a few candles burning. Tonight, I am accepting the hospitality of my sister-in-law's family where I can charge my phone, login to get work done, and appreciate air conditioning and good company.

Last night as I drove around the lake, the rainbow had just emerged, and I really needed the reminder of God's presence amidst trials. My home made it through the storm, but as that 100 mph wind was shaking my brother and sister-in-law's house that night, I didn't think that my tiny home from 1950 would make it through unscathed, but it did.

My heart feels heavy and sad for this lovely city. The trees, the historic homes, the lives disrupted. But the way that everyone has worked together to clean-up, clear messes, neighbors jump in to help neighbors has left me feeling hopeful from the showcase of the true human spirit to help one another. I have been on the receiving end of help in multiple ways in these last few days, and I thank those kind souls with a humble heart, and direct my praise upward to the Lord, because He heard my prayers.

Before I left my home to take shelter elsewhere, I wrote a prayer on my little chalkboard in my kitchen that said -
Lord please watch over this little treehouse. No storm is too big for You.

05 September 2017

Wisdom From Above


My mind is more at ease,
my heart is more at rest.
A bird calls to greet the day,
puffing up his chest.

I gather leaves that scattered,

when my heart felt scared and weak,
infusing truth and honesty,
through every moment, seek.

What of the wisdom from above?

First, it is pure, then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine.
- James 3.17

Oh, that eternal perspective. It is hard to maintain because our own selfish needs/wants kick in so automatically, but it is essential. I cannot hold onto joy without it. I cannot hope with my heart at ease without it. I grow weary without it.

These kinds of qualities help lead me to that hopeful eternal perspective, even if I am not fully present there yet. I can at least get there with my actions and words, then my heart will surely follow. Maintaining the obedience in faith. 

Suddenly, I feel uplifted as I dust and vacuum. Sometimes it is in doing the simplest of things that my heart finally gets there, catching up to the trust I had already been harboring. It lingers with me, and I don't wonder why. I know why.

01 September 2017

Meditation on Psalm 16


Meditation on Psalm 16

I have no good apart from You
In my soul, this nourishing meditation
reassures me, it is true.
Each corner of emotion grows smooth
when I place my trust and hope

and bestow You all the room
Of my heart that holds my portion.

Falling inside the lines of pleasant places,
with blessings undeserved in motion.
When my Lord is the instructor true
and circles of love draw into that centre

my heart swells with less me, more You.

30 August 2017

But First, Oxford


On that initial visit to England I wrote about in a recent post, I visited Oxford for the first time, which was eight years ago.

I remember when my brother and I were making plans for our days in England. He asked me what I wanted to see. My number one priority was to go to Oxford. I didn't even know much about it, except that C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, and other authors I enjoyed had all lived there and taught there at Oxford. I knew I had to eat at The Eagle and Child Pub where the Inklings met each week. I knew Harry Potter had been filmed there at various locations. I didn't know what to expect, though. I didn't know what it would look like, as I had never been to a place so old and rich in history and tradition. I couldn't predict the feelings it would rise in me.

We took the train up from the country, through London Paddington, and an hour from there into Oxford. Taking the train is the best way to travel, I quickly learned. I loved watching the English countryside glide by as the train sped along.

From the train station, it is about a mile walk to the city centre, and the reality of stepping onto those streets and seeing the dreaming spire-adorned buildings (libraries!!) awakened in me a new feeling -- that of being part of history, which I had never felt until Oxford. The history of the States seemed so modern in comparison. I was going into buildings dating from the 13th, 14th, 15th centuries, which astounded me, as England's (and Oxford's) rich history was even older than that.

Here was this beautiful city of cream-coloured stone buildings (many looked like castles) that had been witness to centuries of history with its traditions intact to this day. Much of the city looks exactly the same as it did hundreds of years ago. Some sections are more modern (outside of the centre) or have additions/updates, but the core looks the same. I loved that immediately. I had this feeling that I had found the place I had been searching for, but didn't know I had been searching for.

Oxford was like an awakening dream for me on that first visit. Sure, I did some of the more touristy things like tour Christ Church College where all the crowds went to see the Harry Potter dining hall (I was a bit more interested in all the Alice in Wonderland connections to be honest), but then we toured Magdalen College where C.S. Lewis lived and taught for 30 years, and we walked in his footsteps. It was quiet there. The chapel (dating from the late 1400s) was where he went to morning prayers every morning once he became a Christian. The walking path beyond the building he lived in (Addison's Walk) was the now-famous path where he walked and debated late at night with J.R.R Tolkien and Hugo Dyson about myth and Christianity (Christianity is the true myth, Tolkien explained to Lewis), which greatly influenced him leading to his belief in Christ.

I knew somehow deep in my soul that some place like this existed on our planet. I just had to find it, and I found it in Oxford.

Like proper English folk, we had afternoon cream tea at Magdalen, sitting outside by the river. We watched punting boats glide by, and the Magdalen bell tower rang 4 PM, then 5 PM. I felt like I was part of the city. It held so many meaningful connections (in the literary sense as well as my own Christian faith) that I had only briefly encountered. It thrilled me that there was so much more to discover, which I have been able to do almost every year since. It has become an essential place for me to return to each year. 

While I love to travel and explore other places as well, my heart is always saying 'but first, Oxford.'

28 August 2017

Soulful


I want to learn to walk in the dark as much as the light...to be less afraid of that dark and to be more willing to explore it and find treasures within it.
- Brian Draper

These recent several days have been dreary, rainy, moody. It is so suited to my inclinations to be quiet, still, reflective. For some reason the sunshine and blue sky is not the environment that renders inspiration in abundance for me. But weather does. I am able to dive most deeply while at home, or at a coffee shop. Something about the solitude at home is restoring. Something about the ambient sounds and sense of community at coffee shops is inspiring.

I've been reading this book Soulfulness by Brian Draper, on the importance of being mindful in our everyday. This is already how I aim to live, and the book helped remind me of even more reasons why I need to. Just as we need a Sabbath day, we need to be restored by the soulful acts of listening well, breathing deeply, noticing the tastes and scents of our food, taking walks outside, and sitting quietly in thankfulness. This is especially important when we are going through a dark time, when our souls seem more drained and strained. The book describes the good practices of meditation, which is simply 'calming abiding in the present moment'. It's so simple, and yet we too easily miss the mark (I am looking at myself here). 
We all have so much to attend to, and it is all too easy to just keep going while pushing aside the quiet, soulful times. But we need that. Before we fall into the depths of thinking and attending constantly to work, chores, activities, etc..we have to make a choice to be mindful and engage in healthy letting-go times to feel renewed. This is to avoid a soulless rhythm. 

I like his suggestions in the book. They are all so simple, but try to get everyone you know to stop, sit quietly, and breath for ten minutes, and I bet you cannot. The world tries to get us to keep moving, keep buying, keep producing. But taking time to be soulful should be a daily thing for us all.

24 August 2017

A View of England


Miraculous are the effects of Divine wisdom.
- Thomas Traherne

As I was drifting into and out of sleep on recent morning, I had a sudden unsolicited mental time travel back to my first visit to England, staying on the family farm of a friend, eight years ago.

I was back in the farmhouse, upstairs in the craft room where I slept. The room was stocked with supplies and some storage, but a desk sat under the window, and on the ledge sat pretty pin/pin cushions, sewing materials, threads, etc. A twin bed rested against the wall to the left of the window. The little upper latch window was always open, and I had never experienced staying in a place with the window open all day and all night. In Florida, you just cannot do that, at least without a screen to keep out the bugs and lizards. But in England you can, and it is glorious.


That first night in England, light rain fell as I lay in bed. At first, I was worried the rain would come into the room since the window was open a bit, but it was silly to worry that the English windows were badly designed. No, indeed, they are actually quite perfect I came to realize.

The sound of the English rain falling into the garden below my window lulled me to sleep, and the air was chilled coming into the room. This was early September, so it was the autumn feelings that arose. I quickly grew to love those windows, as the spot afforded a view of the lawn/garden and it allowed the fresh country air of Kent, England to reach me all night. Little did I know in those nights that my love of England was already growing exponentially.  

England was a land that somehow felt familiar to me (as if from a dream or story), and yet these were the days I was experiencing it for the first time. A place I felt at once at home, and yet with so much to discover because I knew so little.

I remember once waking in the middle of the night, chilled, so I pulled the blanket up closer and tighter. What I realized was how deeply I had been sleeping every night. It was peaceful, deep sleeping with the only sounds being the soft patter of raindrops and early morning bird song. There's nothing better to sleep to.

These memories kindle a deeper love and appreciation of England and the time I have spent there in the years since that first encounter. I began to reflect after that first night upon how special the experience was. I could feel that the trip was much more than just a touristy holiday. It was an introduction to some of the places and ways of life I hold closest to my heart. It is all so much a part of me now. Is there a place like that for you? 

22 August 2017

During Summertime...

During Summertime...



You go on a few weekend road trips and read books that make you chuckle (this is a P.G. Wodehouse).



You celebrate your little nephew's first birthday at his shark-themed party where he played in splash pools, ran around, ate pizza and cake, and was as happy as can be.



You enjoy the evening glow of the pre-sunset light each night and feel a deep thankfulness for every beautiful moment of every day.



You watch your niece at your place, and she ends up falling asleep after all morning and afternoon is filled with completing puzzles, playing piano, reading books, watching Star Wars, and writing a story.



You watch the partial eclipse with everyone at the office (using a carefully crafted viewing box) and marvel at the eclipse-shaped shadows! I know I'm not the only science nerd out there who really enjoyed it.

17 August 2017

Inner Place of the Heart


To trust in God is action's highest kind;
Who trusts in God, his heart with life doth swell;
Faith opens all the windows to God's wind.

- George MacDonald

The inner place of the heart muses upon the state of life at present. This path that we are on today is littered with broken pieces. Contemplating scenes flash like slides in the head. Each slide (like an old fashioned photograph) holds some different action or outcome (welcome or unwelcome), as a result of other actions. Only pieces are grasped (past and present collide and crumble), with each slide providing a glimmer of what happened or what is happening.

A darkling landscape of questioning sweeps in. This doesn't mean despair (though it could feel as if it is), as a sudden warm feeling of comfort comes in the good light promised as the darkling scene begins to showcase the light. Each step is a struggle because we can barely see, and it leaves us eager to find a way out. But sometimes the way of ease isn't the way God guides us to go. It is at the darkest point that the pivot comes, back toward the light. It comes to greet us at the edge of darkness. Through the cracks, a beauty emerges. 

Going to a place we would usually not dare to venture may be our path. A place outside of comfort, that exposes us to elements we are afraid might batter us, but a place leading to joy unknown to us from our present perspective awaits us. We are left with circumstances that force us to move this way, as we cannot go back. It means we must keep going. Hold onto the hope of good. Hold onto it with a grip beyond your own strength.

Trust in God and all His light and love. He is there, waiting for us. He is providing shelter if we do feel battered. That, at the centre, is what holds us close. This, we rest in, knowing that darkness may cover us for awhile, but we are taken care of by our loving Lord, who goes through it with us.