let there be space for beauty

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I tore at the dirt with hands and spade, pulling out clump after clump of daffodil bulbs almost angrily.  What a waste, I thought.  Who needs flowers in the soil when one could grow herbs and lettuces, zucchini and beans?  Someone planted all this beauty that is in the way of all my productivity.

It’s the indignity of need and desperation–to tell you that utility trumps beauty.  What good purpose does beauty serve, anyway?  What good purpose?

And so I felt virtuous and proud, eliminating all those wasteful flower bulbs and filling the soil with vegetables and herbs instead.  I had chosen the more sensible, practical thing.  Surely this would be more life-giving.

I’m reminded of those planting days every time I see daffodils pushing through soil.  To think of it now, I chuckle a bit at my foolishness.  Chuckle and also mourn, because it’s a narrative I still find myself listening to sometimes.  Yes, there is still the need for lettuces and beans, zucchini and herbs.  But let there be space for beauty.  For flowers that make our hearts sing.  For color and scent that exist for nothing else but to be enjoyed.

Let there even be space for fallow ground and weed, emptiness and void.  Not everything must be about producing.

on birthdays and finding joy

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My birthday last week was a fairly ordinary “workday” for me, and also not the easiest day with the children.  I found myself scrubbing toilets and floors, folding laundry, settling sibling disputes, feeding hungry mouths–all the usual work that fills my days up to the brim.  Of course there is a part of me that wants to just rest and be free from all work for a day (unrealistic), but then I also don’t mind taking care of these little ones that I love so much and this home that keeps us all together.  I share my birthday with my mom, so my gift to her this year was to buy a few skeins of yarn for her to choose from so that I could knit her a shawl.  She picked the color I had had on my mind for her, a rustic-y soft light red called Bergamot, and helped pick out a shawl pattern.  I wanted to wind up her yarn on our birthday and cast on.  I realized as I began knitting it that I was knitting this exact pattern just about this time last year on a road trip to upstate New York with Brandon’s family as a commissioned shawl for a friend.  How funny and coincidental to be knitting it again at the same time a year later.  It’s such an enjoyable pattern–all knitting and yarn overs and no purling!

I had planned on making a yummy dinner for my birthday since Brandon would be working a normal work-day and since we never really eat out with Phoebe and her dietary needs.  I wanted to make Against the Grain’s Pesto Prosciutto Chicken with a GF pasta on the side, and creme brûlée for dessert, which is my favorite.  The dinner took longer than I expected and once I got it in the oven, the kids and I and Brandon decided to go for a walk while it baked.  It had been raining and we had felt a bit cooped up.  The kids splashed in all sorts of muddy puddles so B bathed them quickly when we got home while I finished up dinner and it was late and nerves were a bit raw by this time.  My dinner didn’t look at all like the lovely cookbook’s pictures, which is always annoying, but it was still delicious.  I had made a creme brûlée earlier in the afternoon and infused it with culinary lavender because I love love love lavender especially in desserts.

We lit candles and I turned on french music because somehow everything felt like a french sort of dinner, and we ate at nearly 8pm.  I had some cards to open, and then B put the finishing touches on the creme brûlée, the kids sang happy birthday to me which was the best part.  The fuzzy photo of me with phoebe is the only such picture I snagged on this day, but its worth including since this is me, turning 33.

I had received word in the afternoon that Brandon’s grandfather had died.  He had been in the hospital after some falls and other health issues so we knew it was coming, but it still felt so soon.  Sadly we weren’t very close with him, but it’s still surreal and strange to consider death on your birthday.  Probably quite healthy.  Really that’s what we’re all marking–here’s another year, gone.  Another year comes–bringing me closer to my own end.  Time is passing, time is coming.  Let’s stop and celebrate and remember and pay attention.

We quickly got the kids to bed, then got cozy for a movie of my pick.  We watched “Florence Foster Jenkins” which was so interesting and funny and also a little sad (based on a true story).  I cried and cried at the end.  I don’t want to spoil the movie for those of you who may want to see it, but I will say I commiserated with the protagonist (Meryl Streep).  She loved music and in her mind she had a beautiful singing voice, but in reality her voice was terrible.  She pursues singing and her husband tries desperately to protect her from the truth of her real performance.  It makes you wonder: Is this reality that we know of ourselves the reality others know of us?  Aren’t so many of us afraid that maybe everyone is really laughing at us and about us behind our backs?  What if we are really quite terrible at the things we think we’re good at, at the things we most love?

I’m sure it was the combination of watching that movie, it being my birthday, and also processing the news of Brandon’s grandpa’s death.  It made me think and wrestle a bit with life, with the things I love and spend time on, with my role as a stay-at-home mother.  I sometimes wrestle with this blog.  I don’t know why, it seems so silly in the light of day.  I love sharing our little life here.  It helps me keep track of things, our lives little record for now.  I’m not sure if I’ll do it forever.  It’s important to reevaluate frequently what I give myself to.  I enjoy taking pictures and capturing these fleeting moments.  I’m thankful to have a space to write and share with you whatever God seems to lay on my heart.  I’m not trying to “make it big” or be somebody, I’m not making an income doing this.  I don’t mind it being mostly small and personal and shared with those few who happen to find this place on the internet and with whomever it resonates.  I leave it to God to use it as He chooses.  But then sometimes I doubt myself.  Are my motives wrong, self-serving?  Is this a huge waste of time and a distraction?  Is it too personal to share our family life so openly in such a dangerous and dark world?  My blogging has brought occasional criticism, but mostly I feel it from my own inner critic.  Brandon is relentless in support of it, which is always so odd to me because he is so anti social-media-anything.  Anyway, for whatever reason this is where my mind went after watching that movie.  Wrestling with the silliness of my spending time photographing, knitting, writing words, creating.  Who has time for all of this when you have little ones and when the world is full of pain and need?  Am I spending my life on what really matters?  Are my little endeavors to bring beauty and joy and even occasionally to write words–are these small endeavors mattering?

I crawled into bed and picked up my book and opened to these words.  (The author was sharing about finding a little resale boutique in her neighborhood, a beautiful little gem and yet she went in and found herself to be the only customer.  She imagined being the store owner, the way the woman had attractively laid out her wares, rearranging and bravely taking a risk to run this little business that wasn’t really garnering that much attention.  She wondered if the woman got discouraged on the days when there was no business.  What makes her think things will work out?  Why does she return to it day after day?):

“She returns to what she loves to do, because she loves it and she can’t not do it.  She goes back to the joy of pursuing her passion.  Because its not likely that anyone is coming in and exclaiming, ‘I’m so glad you’re here!  I’ve been waiting for you to sell secondhand clothes in this space all of my life!’  It’s not likely that anyone is affirming her passion or holding her hand through those moments of sheer panic.  I’m also pretty certain people aren’t stampeding to her door to say thank you or to make spirit tunnels for her to run through at the end of the day after she’s vacuumed the floor and locked up for the thousandth time.

This is what I’m getting at: joy isn’t in the response of others based on what we do.  Joy is in doing what God created us to do and has given us to do.  Joy is in pursuing with faith and abandon the passions God has laid in our hearts, and doing them in his honor.  We serve for the smile on his face.

And joy begets joy.  When we serve God with joy, we in a round-about way encourage others to serve God with joy.  Artists appreciate another’s art, joy is derived from another’s joy, and passion feeds off and grows from another’s passion.

So whatever you’re doing–homeschooling, event planning, cake baking, medical research, substitute teaching, diaper changing, coaching, putting words out into the world, or yes, running a small boutique–do it with joy as unto the Lord.  Don’t look for appreciation from others or a spirit tunnel at the end of the day as an indicator of whether or not you’re on the right track.  Look to God, who created you to be a creator that flings tangerine passion and joy into the world.  He is smiling as you do what you do for him.

There is no mold, no one right way of showing Jesus, for where the Spirit is, there is freedom.  He has made us each different, combining us all to make a collage, a collage that when you step back and look you suddenly see: it’s Jesus!

Different mediums.
Different brushes.
Different strokes for reaching different folks.
You there, with your unique talents, passions, and gifts.
Go in freedom.
Tell them about Jesus with your life.
Do it with grace and tangerine joy.”

-Christine Hoover, From Good to Grace

Isn’t that so sweet of God, to speak right to what I was struggling with at the long end of the day?  He affirmed me, affirmed His love for me, affirmed my freedom in Him, affirmed His smile over me.  What more could you ask for on a birthday?  I hope you are encouraged, too, dear reader.  Whatever you do, do it for Him, do it as unto Him, do it with joy and gusto and don’t worry about the response or affirmation or notice of others.   Take risks.  Live boldly.  Be brave.  Be a pioneer.  Follow where He leads.  When we get our eyes off of Him we get into all sorts of trouble, don’t we?  It’s His good-pleasure over us that we’re after, it’s His approval alone that matters.

At the end of the Florence Foster Jenkins movie, after criticism about her singing voice, Florence on her deathbed said:  “They can say I can’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing.”

So, sing, friend.  You go on singing, and I will too.  His ear is tuned to hear our voice.

 

 

 

the language of flowers

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“The earth laughs in flowers.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

A little while ago I typed this question into google: “what is the purpose of a flower?”  Interestingly, most of the links that came up talked about the scientific purpose of a flower in the process of reproduction and pollination.  In fact, many of the articles said that the “sole purpose” of a flower is for reproduction for the plant.  Of course, on a scientific level, that is true!  But if I were to ask you what the purpose of a flower is, would that be the first thing that would come to mind?  I find that to be a rather sterile view of the world (never mind the irony).  Surely art has something of value to say to us and not science only.  I was a little surprised that nothing about the cheering effect of flowers was mentioned.  Or their smell.  How about the way they are used to make perfumes?  Or the fact that they have long been acknowledged to have medicinal and therapeutic benefits?

My little Phoebe-girl loves picking flowers and creating little bouquets and arrangements.  I asked Brandon to make her a flower press so she can begin keeping them in a more lasting way.  Maybe it’s just my quest for permanence, my longing to hold onto these fragile days that are blooming and fading so quickly.  How these kids are growing!  How I cannot seem to hold them down and keep them still and just this way for just one minute.  To keep Noah just as he is, trotting out of bed early in the morning, always playing “lion” and referring to himself as the lion (such as, “the lion wants a snack,” and “lions don’t like thunder,” etc.).  Or this game that phoebe and noah play together frequently called “boswell” where noah is the cat, boswell, and phoebe is his owner and walks him around on a “leash.”  Or how philippa is talking up a storm and constantly bowling us over with her personality, always trying to keep up with phoebe and noah, loving to read the “fock” (fox) book every night (“I love you Because You’re You”).

These days are so weary and exhausting and full and busy just with the simple work of running a household and keeping everyone fed and happy, and then all of a sudden everyone has grown again and I just want to hold everything down for a minute and keep it still so I can take it in.  But the days just keep going, time just keeps ticking away.  I suppose thats part of why I snap so many pictures, this quest to hold onto these days and not forget them.

Anyway, as for the press, Brandon made it for phoebe this past weekend and she loves it!  She felt pretty special that daddy made something just for her, and she has been busy pressing flowers.  I want to get her a little simple journal where she can glue the flowers in, but she also may make some cards with them for thank you notes and such.  It’s a simple thing, but one that I think helps her pay attention to the natural world around her, the beautiful things that God created not just for the holy work of reproduction, but also for the holy work of beauty.  I can’t wait to use the flower press as a way for Phoebe to begin a nature journal and as a way for her to catalog different plant species in the future for educational purposes.  But for now, I want her to pay attention to and simply enjoy the beauty she finds around her.

He created our souls to be moved and affected by beautiful things.  It’s why we give flowers to someone who is grieving.  It’s why we bring flowers to someone who just had a baby or who accomplished something great.  It’s why we spend a fortune on fresh blooms for a wedding, sprinkling them all around, signifying new life is beginning.  It’s why a girl gets a fresh bouquet and immediately breathes them in deep.

Beauty has a high and holy power to turn our heads and turn our hearts.  It is a beam, a shaft of light in the dark, and if we trace the beam back to the source, we see the beautiful God whose incredible mind created all of us and all of this, and we sing, Glory!

Last weekend my soul was aching to get up into the mountains, to escape the heat wave we’ve been suffering through, and also just to feel like we got away a bit from the house and our ordinary routines.  We went with my parents for a picnic on Sunday afternoon to nearby Craggy Gardens.  After dinner Noah kept begging us to go for a hike, so we meandered through one of the little hiking trails, walking slow, looking for things to wonder over, exploring and discovering, and phoebe collecting treasures, of course.  Feathers, rocks, found string, pretty leaves, flowers.  I find her little treasures all over the house, tucked in pockets, drawers, baskets.  Fancy that, how to a child, every little thing can be heavy with significance and beauty and purpose.

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(If you want to make your own flower press, some simple instructions can be found here or this is a cute one for purchase if you don’t have a handy man around.  The book I snapped pictures of is this one here, a seasonally organized simple craft book using everyday items found around the house.)

 

Where to go with your Question

“You see, every little girl–and every little boy–is asking one fundamental question.  But they are different questions, depending on whether you are a little boy or a little girl…Little girls want to know, Am I lovely?  The twirling skirts, the dress up, the longing to be pretty and to be seen–that is what that’s all about.  We are seeking an answer to our Question.”
(Stasi Eldredge, Captivating)

You are beautiful, my girl.  Beautiful.  You take my breath away.

I watch you dance in the sun, twirling in the twirliest dress you can find, usually with a few tutus layered underneath to make it more poofy.  I delight in you, my girl.  I delight in the fact that right now, you are unashamed in your asking of the question: am I beautiful?  Do you delight in me?

And, oh, yes I do.  You are stunningly beautiful in my eyes, but you are a world of other things too. You are the kindest and most sweet-hearted girl I have ever met.  You literally bubble over with love, always so happy to see others, taking time to talk with each person you see.  You love people, love to play with others, love to make others feel welcome.  You can’t stand to see someone cry without running to hug and comfort them.  You are incredibly creative and imaginative.  You are so strong physically, especially for being so much smaller than other girls your age.  You love to read more than any other person I know, and I treasure each time you ask me to sit and read with you.  (I hope this never changes!)  You forgive easily.  You tell the truth.  You love to help.

All these things are surely part of the reason I look at you and see such beauty, because we are not just our physical bodies, and we are not just our souls.  For some reason, in His wisdom God saw fit to enclose our beautiful souls in a physical form.  We don’t get to choose so many things about ourselves, physically, spiritually, emotionally.  We only get to choose whether we will accept who God has made us to be, or deny it and suppress it and fight it.

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My dear sweet girl, today I wanted to tell you a little story.  A story from my growing up years, the painful, hard and awkward years transitioning from being a little girl to a woman.  I think I was in middle school at the time, 8th or 9th grade.  My older sister was everything to me.  Four years older than me, she was so cool, beautiful, creative, everything I wanted to be.  I always compared myself to her.  What was more difficult was when others compared me to her.  She was more outgoing, funny, likeable.  I was quieter, shy, never knew what to say when put on the spot.  I hated the spotlight (still do).  Often I craved the attention she recieved, or the love really, because that’s how I translated it.  She was so beautiful and I felt so plain.  Ordinary.

I was in 8th or 9th grade.  My older sister had heard some big modeling agency was holding a model search in our town, and she wanted to go try out.  I don’t remember all the details, but I remember that my mom was going to take her, and I went to tag along.  I don’t remember if I wanted to go or if mom just suggested I come along.  I wasn’t planning on trying out, of course.  You see, I already believed deep down that I was plain.  In my eyes, my sister was beautiful, but next to her I was just plain, ordinary, common.  There wasn’t even a thought in my heart to ever try out for a modeling career.  But then we were there, and my mom was like, “why don’t you go, too?”  Who knows what her reasoning was, but I know she was only doing what she could to be the best mom she knew to be.  Hope dies slowly in the human heart, and for some reason, even after we’ve convinced ourselves we don’t care about that thing anymore, something comes along that wakes our desire up again…

(The rest of this post is over on my new friend Lauren‘s blog today!  Hop over there to read the rest of it.)

 

Beauty

Is there a purpose in beauty?  Why are we naturally drawn to it, inclined toward it?  Why are we moved by it?  Science has proven that an infant’s eyes linger longer on a more attractive face, long before socialization would play a role in their preference.  In other words, even before we could be “taught” to enjoy beauty, we do.  We inherently do.  Is this a result of sin?  Or is this a part of the image of God stamped on us?  Could it be, as N. T. Wright calls it, an echo of a Voice?  A beckoning within?  Given to us, implanted within us, to draw us toward Something?  These questions matter to me because I think often about the way I respond to beauty, the effect it has on me, my enjoyment of it, and the purpose of it all.  In my opinion, how we answer these questions may seem inconsequential, but in truth has a great impact on the way we live out our faith before the Lord.

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I love these words by N. T. Wright:

“The Christian tradition has said, and indeed sung, that the glory belongs to God the creator.  It is his voice we hear echoing off the crags, murmuring in the sunset.  It is his power we feel in the crashing of the waves and the roar of the lion.  It is his beauty we see reflected in a thousand faces and forms.

And when the cynic reminds us that people fall off crags, get lost after sunset, and are drowned by waves and eaten by lions; when the cynic cautions that faces get old and lined and forms get pudgy and sick–then we Christians do not declare that it was all a mistake.  We do not avail ourselves of Plato’s safety hatch and say that the real world is not a thing of space, time, and matter but another world into which we can escape.  We say that the present world is the real one, and that it’s in bad shape but expecting to be repaired.  We tell, in other words, the story we told in the first chapter: the story of a good Creator longing to put the world back into the good order for which it was designed.  We tell the story of a God who does the two things, which, some of the time at least, we know we all want and need: a God who completes what he has begun, a God who comes to the rescue of those who seem lost and enslaved in the world the way it is now.”

{N. T. Wright, Simply Christian}

What do you think?  Does beauty matter?

ps.  If you haven’t read Simply Christian, it is one book you should definitely read in your lifetime.  Period.  Probably on my list of top ten books I’ve ever read.