31 October 2016
Fair is the world, now
- William Morris
It is all about the pumpkins and candy today. All the autumn delights come forth as decorations of the spooky kind and costumes so silly emerge. After this sugar-driven day, autumn will take over fully leading up to the feast of Thanksgiving. We eat our sugar first, though, and ask strangers to give us such treats.
Pumpkins are not just pumpkins.These burnt orange globular gourds stir within us the desire for autumn air, chilly evenings, leaves crunching underfoot, plaid scarves emerging from closets and showing up around necks, fresh-baked cookies or pumpkin pie, gatherings of friends and family, wearing boots, lighting candles on a nightly basis, and snuggling up with a good book in the company of a soft blanket.
Candy is not just candy. These individually wrapped treats tucked inside candy dishes and pumpkin pails bring us back to childhood when it was the one night when eating an abundance of sweets was "acceptable" behavior regarded by the parental figures. Even though I desired to eat all the sweets, I always hesitated to eat more than a couple of pieces of candy, as it went against my grain to suddenly loose all inhibitions just because I was dressed up as a witch (really, just a black cape and pointy hat). I wasn't one of those "all in" kinds of kids, who had elaborate costumes and/or ate all the candy in sight. I was hoping I would get some good chocolate, and spread out my treats for the next week or so. Funny, that's what I still do.
Wishing you a fun filled Halloween!
28 October 2016
If you are a hobbit, you know what Elevenses is. It is the meal between second breakfast and luncheon. It usually involves tea or coffee and a biscuit or some kind of tea cake. In my case, I selected a cinnamon crumb cake. It is a lovely time to stop and enjoy a little break, which might be troublesome if you are on a long journey to destroy the one ring.
I take my elevenses on weekends, if I am able, but for me it is between breakfast and lunch. I do not have quite as many meals as the hobbits. Thankfully, I don't have to go on a long journey into Mordor, either, so I can take a short hiatus from the weekend activity for a tea break.
To prepare for elevenses, I recommend heating some fresh water to a boil in your kettle, and using a favourite teapot to steep some Yorkshire English breakfast tea (always pour the hot water over the teabag in the teapot). Set the table with a lovely tea cup and small plate. Do not be afraid to use your best china. My little blue and white plate is a favourite (I found it in Oxford earlier this year at a thrift store), from the Churchill Willow collection (made in England, of course). Grab a good book (my selection was C.S. Lewis' Studies In Words), and enjoy the delightfully slow moments of elevenses. A perfect pause in the day.
26 October 2016
He changes times and seasons;
He removes kings and sets up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;
He reveals deep and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells within Him.
- Daniel 2.21-22
We have all heard (I am sure) the phrase that says (something to the effect of) being thankful for the small things, right? It is a universally acknowledged phrase now, but I think it is something worth thinking about, because most people use this phrase as a reminder to themselves that they need to pay attention and be thankful for the small things because there are blessings that occur everyday we might overlook.
I find that many times, it is the small things that I remember most vividly - such as something a close friend said to me in a conversation a year ago, an unexpected hug or kind gesture, the outfit I wore to a big financial licensing exam, the first meal I ate in England (breakfast in a friend's family farmhouse in Kent), the sounds and announcements of the train stations around England, or the way the wind whipped around me standing on the cliff looking at Kilt Rock on the Isle of Skye.
These tiny details become etched in memory for some reason. Not because they make a huge impact or change anything on their own, but because I noticed them. They might surround a larger event, such as a travel adventure or life events/changes, but sometimes there is more to be said within the smallest details.
Am I the only one who is like this? I could be out on my own limb, here, so if that is the case, then just make allowances for my oddness, look the other way, and keep moving along.
I suppose it is part of my personality to notice all the tiny details. I like to observe, piece things together, and notice things. When I write in my journal, I have observations to note in detail. If I am writing about an adventure, I want to be able to write about the weather of the place, the details of something someone might have said, the architecture of a building, the colours of the sky, and what street my favourite book shop is on. So, I pay attention, and store it in memory baskets for later.
To me, details are small things not to be neglected. I am generally inclined to notice the details, which is why I enjoy editing writings and solving problems/mysteries. Things that make one think. Seems to be a recurring theme in life. Sorry if I am making you think too much right now. Maybe all these details give you a headache.
A change comes along, like the change of a season; even in the smallest ways Florida does change gradually. Leaves do fall off trees and some even change colour a little bit (see my evidence, above). Humidity decreases, and cool air floats down to our southern roots. This southern state gives way to the season it resists for so long. I am thankful for that, and part of my prayers of thanks include all the details I am thankful for, like the beautiful sunrise I view from my kitchen table as I drink coffee, the flickering candle at dusk, enjoyable walks outside, the birdsong in the darkling hours of morning, and the fresh air I breathe deeply of.
Just as I like to find details to solve mysteries and contemplate questions, I like to notice the blessings in the details. I am always looking for those.
24 October 2016
Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
The season of autumn has finally made a sweeping visit and it has been absolute bliss. These are the days I long for, for so long. All the longing and waiting is met by a few days of loveliness. This is when I head outside, and try to spend as much time enjoying the autumnal air, which does not have a lengthy stay.
Among a few other outdoor things, I spent a long while sitting on my favourite stone bench in the garden (Hollis Garden) reading this book. The air was still chilly as the morning hours grew onward; I was in the shade. A gentle breeze, cool to the touch, shifted through my hair and the pages of my book. Visitors to the garden walked by me, talking about the plants and their own gardens. Classical music played (it happened to be Bach, my favourite). I read until the stone bench become too cold and then went home to warm up with a pot of Yorkshire tea and cinnamon crumb cake. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I was sitting in the garden, reading. Something I can only really do when the weather is like this. I love to read outside, and in this exquisite garden, it is a treat, indeed. It's one of my favourite spots to read outside here in town. It is usually quiet and peaceful. I don't have a yard, per say, nor do I have a porch. So, I head to a beautiful spot I know so well.
I have been enjoying reading this book, published in 1861-1862. It has turned into a mystery that has really intrigued me. When I picked up this book at Blackwell's Bookshop in Oxford this past Spring, I didn't know anything about it, so I went into the story with all windows of my mind open wide.
The first several chapters had me wondering where the story was going to go. I got to know the characters, but didn't see where it was heading. The story took a little time to roll, but now it is going, and it is quite a mysterious tale, with travels across England in search of clues to piece together a murder. Or, an assumed murder, but so much is left incomplete thus far, with clues gathered to mark Lady Audley as the chief suspect, however, I sense there is much more to find down this rabbit hole. And that mysteriousness keeps me turning the pages.
21 October 2016
Here is where I dwell. A small corner of a historic neighborhood, down an alley, in a tiny tree house home. In this small space I add a few touches of autumn with pumpkins in a variety of colours. Cosy places to sit are in each room. I don't have big, spacious rooms, but I aim at creating a cosiness that is so welcoming, you forget how small the dwelling is.
I am so thankful for the small place that I get to call home. It has been the first home of my own that I have felt the most at home. It is small, to be sure, but I do love to create a space that is comfortable and that provokes inspiration, conversation, imagination, and relaxation. When you come over, I hope you feel this, and I hope you enjoy the pot of tea I make.
On these slightly cooler mornings (our version of autumn) I have the a/c turned off, and I admire the quiet, peaceful environment that is my home. I can hear birds chirp down the alley. I can hear the distant echo of some cars on a main road sometimes. The trees are very still. The sky is slowly brightening as the sun wakes up. No rain on the horizon, and cooler temperatures for the next few days thrills me.
My home is about sixty-six years old and has charm as well as quirks. I love living in a place that has history. Sliding my sock adorned feet on the original pine floors sets my mind wondering about who lived here in the 1950s, the 1960s, etc... The little details are what I love, in my little dwelling.
19 October 2016
The scent of old books is one of the best scents in the world. I will pull old books off my shelf and open them up, and suddenly I am transported to a wonder-filled used bookstore or the oldest of libraries with every nook and cranny stacked with books to explore.
As I pulled this book by C.S. Lewis off my shelf recently, I felt the urge to read it again. As the old, thick pages in between hardback covers from 1961 flipped open, the scent of old pages rose and I sat down with it. It seems like a book written for me, and indeed, C.S. Lewis wrote Studies In Words for his students, which is what I imagine myself to be. I am taking a course with Professor Lewis by way of his book.
But it is not enough to make sense. We want to find the sense the author intended. (pg.5)
I am savoring these pages, and grasping onto his words as if I was in a lecture taking notes. I study what he says and see so much depth to help me become a better reader. Reading Lewis well will help me grow into a better reader and thinker. His style is blunt and thought-provoking. He removes himself from the equation completely, and acts like a conduit of history amidst the modern mindset.
I cannot gloss over these sentences; they are so rich with lessons applicable to an eager reader and lover of words.
...if in fact, we are content with whatever effect the words accidentally produce in our modern minds - then of course we do not read the poem the old writer intended. (pg. 3)
It is hardly a notion most readers pay any attention to: those of us who read poems or old works. What perspective is the writer writing from? What was happening in that time? What do certain words mean in that time? Words change in meaning over centuries, so are we mis-reading sometimes?
I am only in the introduction and have underlined and written in the margins frequently. The slow enjoyment of such meaty and sustaining words by Lewis keeps me focused. These are lessons to reflect on as I become a more attuned reader, one that might have been sitting in a lecture hall while Lewis's booming voice echoed off the ancient stone walls. Lewis wrote this book when he was at Cambridge, but I imagine him at Oxford, where he taught for 30 years. (I am sure Cambridge is lovely, and one day I will visit and will love it.)
Of vital importance is using words and reading words well. Knowing part of a word's history and usage throughout centuries helps us understand what we say and what that actually means. Let us use words meaningfully, and let us read in the light of that time period (historically and culturally).
It is well we should become aware of what we are doing when we speak, of the ancient, fragile, and (well used) immensely potent instruments that words are. (pg. 6)
17 October 2016
Light cast into my kitchen. White and pure. Freshly lit by daily light. Luminous in my sight, my windows allow the beauty to shine through. I do not wish to block it out. Let the light in. Let the quiet moments of each day be treasured.
Sunset over a parking lot. It goes unnoticed by most people who walk along the asphalt, but I look up immediately, and feel a sudden calm. How can you not look up at this colour-splashed painting of a sky? No matter what I feel at that moment, the reminder of God's good creation projects into my heart with just a momentary glimpse. The power of His light and love is immense like the sky.
Early evening nursery stop to gather new plants. A cart filled with beauty of the earth. The delights of adding a welcoming, colourful assortment at my doorstep. If I had more space I would add even more dimension. Dreams of that come in colour, and radiate at the thought.
Light at my kitchen table. The opening pages of a new book I have never read before. The light becomes softer the longer I read, fading quietly as the nighttime covers the landscapes. Lingering in the light, I dwell here as long as possible, before I run out of daylight. Then, I light candles.
14 October 2016
For God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of
His own eternity,
but through the devil's envy death
entered the world,
and those who belong to his company
- Wisdom of Solomon 2.23-24
We are made for long-term views and relationships, not just a short-term, easy lane that takes no effort. A lasting, deep relationship is what God seeks in us. The soulful longing within each of our hearts is answered by God's love and grace. Looking on a long-term scale provides hope for all of us and a reason never to linger in despair. It is a movement forward with God, not a state of being that sits, stagnant and complacent.
If we aren't in a deep relationship with our Creator, we are at risk of belonging to the devil's company, and the path in that direction is all too easy. It is the way of pride presented in loose tongues, loose morals, greed, and envy. All those sinful acts and feelings that surround us so much.
Thankfully, our hope does not lie in us. We would mess it up too easily, of course, but our Creator is merciful and loving, and made us to be uncorrupted and full of His goodness. The only reason we can be uncorrupted is because of the sacrifice of Jesus who took our place in punishment. In a lecture I listened to the other evening, the speaker made a comment about (I am paraphrasing) how Jesus is the only one who knew what it felt like to be neglected/forsaken by God. In His perfect state, He felt the blow of God the Father allowing His death on the cross to take place. And yet He knew, and trusted in the plan.
I am reminded of a favourite author/preacher's wise words -
Take comfort, afflicted Christian!
When God is about to make pre-eminent
use of a person, He puts them in the fire.
- George MacDonald
12 October 2016
At one of our office meetings, I proposed something to my fellow colleagues. I suggested we start an office book club! I was very excited to hear their concurring yes to my proposal, and I thereby presented my prepared book options for us to vote on our choice for the first book we would all read together. The first book we just finished reading is Work Matters, by Tom Nelson.
We split the book in half, and discussed the first half of the book a few weeks ago, and discussed the second half earlier this week. It has been such a joy to incorporate something I love so much (reading!) into our office, something that we can all share and discuss together, diving into thoughts, spiritual matters, and responses to questions.
I made a lot of notes in my journal as I read through the book, and I copied a few of them here; just a few nuggets to give you something to think about.
Notes on why work matters:
The only Christian work is good work well done. - Dorthy Sayers
Shift of thought: My vocation is to improve the world around me. My sphere of influence.
Our ordinary work can be brimming with God-honouring importance and done for the glory of God.
Jesus's humble service in the workplace lead to His servant hood in the Upper Room, which lead to His rising in glory.
Because New Creation has begun already (with Jesus rising from the grave), everything we do matters, and has eternal significance. That includes everything we do at work. It will one day be perfected.
Our goals at work should be:
- Care for God's world
- Contribute to the needs of others
- Foster the common good
Remember that each of us is a masterpiece of God's creation. To paraphrase what C.S. Lewis wrote - we have never met an ordinary person, we never talk to a mere mortal. Our neighbor is holy.
Our vocational call should be recognized as a:
- gift that is able to be observed by others around you
- gift that is specific to you as an individual
- reminder that God empowers the gift for a specific work that needs to be done.
The book of Daniel reminds us that at times we are put into difficult situations, where we need to be smart and present a win-win situation that does not cause you to act defiantly, but allows you to stick to your ethics and beliefs. When we are unfairly treated by anyone, be encouraged to remain morally and ethically untarnished, so there there is no dirt to find and be thrown at you.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.
- Psalm 4.23
Be content, not complacent.
- To find a place of contentment with God's plans enriches our daily lives, helps us with creativity, teamwork, productivity, being fully and faithfully present, while remaining teachable.
11 October 2016
I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do. But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law. The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that. I warn you as I have already warned you, that those who do these kinds of things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.
- Galatians 5.16-23
These verses express the constant battle between two ways of living. So much of what our world values is satisfying the flesh but not the spirit. If we live by way of the world, we live for today, in a selfish way, because that is all there is for us. In that, there is nothing else to look forward to. This is the life we have, so live it up. Do what makes you happy in that respect because there is nothing after this life, and there are no guarantees.
The way of the spirit, and following Jesus, in contrast, lives life to the fullest today because we are already in the beginning of New Creation and we are building that beauty now, which will be perfected one day, when all of creation is redeemed. There is a promise of what is to come, of the joy of Jesus returning and raising believers to bodily life again in a new creation, as the old sinful world melts away.
It is an image hard to conceptualize because we have to rely so heavily on our imaginations, but Scripture tells us of Jesus' coming, and it is not just something that will happen in time, it will end time as we know it, to enter into something better than we could possibly conjure in our finite minds.
So, this way of the spirit looks beyond our present situation of the flesh, to that which is eternal and good. While we are still here in time, we have these qualities of the spirit to focus on, to keep us God-centered rather than self-centered. If we let God give us the desires of our hearts, our intentions and actions will reflect that purity, and the fruitfulness of that will spread to our family and friends.
Thirsting all the long night
For a drink of light.
- George MacDonald
10 October 2016
Friday was a hurricane day. We were expecting to get inundated with rain and tropical storm force winds from Hurricane Matthew. The grocery stores were packed with people buying water bottles, bread, and other non-perishables. Everyone was closed in expectation of the hurricane, including our office. However, it was almost a non-event for us here. I know the coast got a lot of weather, but we (here in the center of the state) had some gusty winds, and very little rain. I was not mad about it, as that meant I could still have everyone from my office over for dinner, as planned.
It started with a proposal (a written invitation) for the first Autumn Assembly at my home. Everyone accepted said invitation. Then, I selected three menu options for the main course, and like our office does for all fun decisions, we voted on what we wanted using poker chips. Tacos won by a huge majority, which didn't surprise me. We are a Mexican-food-loving bunch.
I value the art of gathering with a deep sense of appreciation. God gave us the need for a sense of community with each other that needs to be nourished every so often. To keep each other encouraged as we go through seasons. In my small way, this is how I foster that.
05 October 2016
That means- it's pumpkin time!
Our annual visit to our church's pumpkin patch was an essential after-church activity. Watching my niece walk up the rows of pumpkins, pointing to one "I want that one, mommy!" and then point to another one she likes and then spot one a few rows over that she must inspect, is such fun. I love to share this little adventure with my brother, sister-in-law, and niece each year.
I realize that in Florida, a pumpkin patch is completely out of sorts, especially when it is almost 90 degrees each day. But there is something so fun about the rows of pumpkins on the front lawn of our church, leading down to Lake Morton. It is a beautiful sight to behold, and a reminder that we actually to have another season to enjoy that will eventually come.
We welcomed autumn with pumpkins! Maybe the autumn weather will follow....
04 October 2016
Lord, forgive our hedonistic minds,
filled with scraps of self-importance,
pursuing that which is temporal, in time.
Notwithstanding the feelings that shout
through the chaos of fog and sand,
the shifting deities we tend to think about.
The hole gaping expansively deep,
every article thrown in to fill it up
falls through, and resists collecting as a heep.
As only eternal things catch and hold,
becoming solid as they fill the space;
illuminating and restoring; a richness
better than gold and full of grace.
03 October 2016
Do we look upon the changes as exhilarating? Or are we weighed down by it?
We should feel the exhilaration rise in our imaginations, feeding off the elemental graces, embracing the visual and poetical, with Christ always at the center.
I think in wonder as I gaze out my window, at the trees and their wavering leaves. A gust of wind comes through and a whole rain shower of leaves flutter down and scatter along the ground. Leaves fall and bud according to each season, as they know inwardly, instinctively how their time comes to shed and become bare, or blossom and grow. It is not a hindrance for them to grow accustomed to changes. We have a much harder time with that.
The harbinger of autumn is the arrival of pumpkins. Suddenly, they show up in grocery stores, on doorsteps, and in grassy makeshift pumpkin patches. They are the signal of an approaching change. A change I yearn for all summer long. I look forward with hope, toward the good that is to come.
To borrow a favourite phrase from George MacDonald - A great good is coming, is coming....