Raindrops on Roses

Something made me grab my camera yesterday and go out back, where I was able to snag a few pictures of my rose bush after the rain. I’ll confess to never really being a rose person. I always tell my husband I’d rather have anything but roses if he’s going to buy me flowers. But there’s something simply irresistible about shrub roses ambling freely against a fence post. I’m not a fan of pink either but again, this bush has managed to captivate me.

I had fun playing around with them in Corel Paint Shop Pro X last night and just thought I’d share a few here, for your Sunday afternoon viewing pleasure! Feel free to vote on your favorite effect!

The original photo, edited to tone down brightness

Watercolor effect; this took about 45 min. to produce!

Depth of field feature - see how the buds in the background are blurred?

Time machine feature; simulates the albumen photographic method used in the late 1800's

Pencil feature; this one was pretty easy but had to add "noise" to get the grainy effect

Framers

I Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

I took a piece of artwork to a frame shop the other day to be matted and mounted. The whole experience was somewhat frustrating, especially when I went to pick it up, and the clerk handed me my artwork, the cut mat, and a piece of mounting board. Hm. I thought the price included mounting; do-it-yourself mounting was not what I had in mind. After a few clueless inquiries on my part, she obliged and mounted it for me.

But most frustrating was the shop owner’s strange disinterest in my project. Not that I expected oohs and aahs, but in my experience, framers usually delight in helping customers select mats and frames that will best set off their piece.  They have an eye for presentation, and their perspective is valued by the artist.

I couldn’t help but relate this to life and relationships. We all have opportunity to be “framers” in the lives of others from time to time. We can, of course, remain aloof and disinterested, refusing to look beyond the walls of our own existence. Or we can help people see the true beauty of their lives by faithfully listening and offering back honest reflections and encouragement. When we take the time to encourage others, when we appreciate their unique strengths and help them see God at work in their lives, we are, in a sense, framing their lives for them.

Father, may I always be ready to help others see and appreciate your creative handiwork in their lives.

(A postscript: I worked on this piece several weeks ago, and then I couldn’t find it. Oops – I forgot I had submitted for a contest for a writing conference I attended last weekend. I was pleasantly surprised it placed in the contest, and am pleased now to share it here!)

For This I Prayed

We know as believers that God does not always answer our prayers as WE see fit, but rather as HE sees fit. We learn, hopefully, to recognize the no’s as well as the yeses, and even to accept the seasons where no answers seem forthcoming as times to wait on God. But the truth is, God does often answer our prayers in the affirmative, especially as we grow and our desires are more aligned with his. How often though, do we move on too quickly instead of lingering in the beauty and grace of that answered prayer?

Hannah prayed fervently for a son, a prayer which God heard and answered with the birth of Samuel. Her response to God’s blessing is stirring. She remembers not only what she prayed for, but also the commitment she made, to give her son back to God. We might think that’s a tall order and an over-the-top commitment. How could she pray all those years for a son only to turn him over to strangers at such a tender age? But her prayer shows she was living in God’s response to her prayers. Following through on her commitment seems to deepen her connection to God.

I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. I Samuel 1:27-28a

For years, I prayed to be able to do life differently, i.e. to quit work and stay home. Write. Cook. Clean. Garden. Etc. And now that’s exactly what I’m doing. Only sometimes my attitude is nothing like Hannah’s! I find myself complaining about the very thing I prayed for, as unforeseen obstacles present themselves, and the path is sometimes not what I expected. Life is funny like that. But Hannah’s story inspired me to present this season of my life to God, with a new and fervent prayer:

I prayed for this life, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give this life to the LORD.

I long to linger in the reality that God has heard and answered my prayers. And I want to live deeply connected to this God who holds the desires of my heart in his hand.

Thinking the Best of Others

I started reading I Samuel this morning – a change from the Gospels and Psalms. I’ve always been touched by Hannah’s deep passion and her willingness to be transparent before God. But today something else leaped out at me as I read Eli’s response to Hannah’s prayer:

As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.” I Samuel 1:12-14

What? Here you have a church leader accusing someone outright of drunkenness! To his credit, he addresses her directly. Beyond that, I couldn’t help feeling appalled at Eli’s attitude. Didn’t he know anything of Hannah’s story? After all, she’d been coming with her husband to the temple for several years. She was a regular, and a faithful one at that. Did he ever look at her face and see the pain and sorrow there? Was it not obvious to him that she was barren – a great source of shame and sadness for women in those days? And she was in the temple . . . in the place of prayer. But instead of giving her the benefit of the doubt, he assumes the worst – she must be drunk.

I’m sure I can be blind to reality at times, but I would always rather err on the side of grace. I have found that, in the absence of facts, our imaginations are quick to rush in and fill in the gaps with details which may not be true. What stories are we telling ourselves?

May God give us the wisdom and humility to extend grace to one another, the same grace he has so generously bestowed on us first. By refusing to pass quick judgment, by wanting to believe the best of others, we make space in our hearts for love to be our first response.

Reflections on 2009

I love the word reflections. It brings to mind the verse in James where he asks what good is it if a man looks into the Word of God and doesn’t do anything with what he reads or hears. It’s sort of like that song, “You’re So Vain,” if all we do is gaze and not take any action as a result. What’s the point of reflection if we’re not going to do something with what we see?

After my previous post, a friend invited me to spend some time sharing with her about our experiences in 2009. This was a good challenge because it forced me to review 2009 in a little more detail. It was good to look back at some of the thoughts, books and even songs that influenced me over the past year and I thought I’d share some of my reflections as a way of wrapping up the year.

A few of the influential books I read this year:

A few of the thoughts that influenced my thinking this year (those not in quotes are either messages notes or my own questions for personal reflection):

  • “Never wait for a miracle. Go after your dream. Do your part to the very best of your ability and ask God to make up the difference. He won’t act until we step out in faith.” (from one of those inspirational page-a-day calendars, source not noted)
  • “You are offered the dream of a lifetime. Say yes!” (Chinese fortune – see why I like Chinese food, it’s inspirational!)
  • “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dwyer (from a colleague’s email signature line, and I would add . . . and you look at different things!)
  • How do I create environments where discovery and creativity can happen for myself and others?
  • Am I more concerned with keeping others from seeing the untransformed parts of my life than I am with allowing God to transform me?
  • “Each [changing life situation] gives us a chance to examine where God is in that experience and what gifts God is offering for our growth. (David Benner)
  • “Do a little more today than you think you possibly can.” (Dove wrapper – proves inspiration comes in many packages!)
  • Savor the goodness! (my sacred echo after reading Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg)
  • How does my life work connect me with the creative and redemptive work of Jesus?
  • “Encourage the deepening of your creative potential by anchoring it in your daily life.” (12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women)

Lastly, a few of the major life lessons I want to carry with me into the future: (and this question comes from Michael Hyatt’s post and was shared with me by a friend)

  • God always meets me when I move ahead in faith – the unknown is not so unknown, knowing God is already there.
  • I’m an introvert – I need to live into and accept who I am.
  • I can learn anything I want or need to; I don’t have to let lack of knowledge intimidate me or hold me back.
  • It’s my responsibility to look for opportunities to live into my strengths.

So here’s to 2009 – thanking God for a great year, full of rich learning and growth. There were, of course, tears and struggles along the way, but God wove them into the tapestry that was 2009 and I’m thankful for all that he brought to pass this year. Thanks for sharing the journey here with me.

The Art of Gentleness

There she stands, a formidable tower of might and discipline, looming large over cubicle-girl turned housekeeper-businesswoman. Let’s zoom in. What’s that in her hands? Looks like a hefty to-do list in one hand, and a heavy duty scourge in the other. She stands poised, ready to call the girl to account at any moment for the myriad of unfinished duties. She cracks the whip for effect and cubicle-girl scurries into a corner.

Let’s zoom in a little closer. Cubicle-girl looks quite familiar. Oooh, perhaps because it’s me. Zoom out a bit and see if we can catch a glimpse of that task mistress. Ugh. That looks like me too. Oh no! There’s something horribly wrong with this picture!

Can you recognize yourself in the above scenario or am I the only one who tortures myself like this? I am “off” this week – a vacation of sorts. Last Friday was my last day in cubicle-land. I have carved out a place for myself somewhere between homemaking and starting my own business. Most of the time, vacations have signaled the need for major house projects and tackling those endless to-do lists. All well and good, unless you’re me. I have realized I can be quite mean to myself! And do I really want to work for this kind of person? Yikes.

So the to-do list has been set aside this week, as have hopes for that perfectly organized home. And I’ve been practicing the art of being gentle to myself. With the exception of rising at 6:30 am to pack my husband’s lunch – a habit I will continue since I’m an early riser anyways, I have been largely and intentionally unproductive this week. Instead I’ve been trying to listen (a luxury, I realize, since my dog is generally the only noisemaker here during the day) to myself. I’m noticing my prime work times and what motivates me. The projects I’ve tackled have been ones I really wanted to do (yes, even cleaning out some closets), ones that have brought me joy and peace and clarity.

Gee, when I’m not living fearfully in the shadow of that whip-cracking, task-oriented woman, I’m so much more productive. And when I am relaxed and fully engaged in each moment, I can actually hear myself think clearly and even creatively. Instead of checking my watch and worrying about Mike getting home and what’s not done yet I’m finding myself praying instead. I can see gratitude becoming a welcome substitute for guilt.

How is it that we understand the exhortation to be gentle and kind to one another, but being gentle to ourselves escapes us? Do we really need those towering task wardens to keep us in line or might God’s spirit within us be all we need to listen to? May we all practice the art of gentleness this week, beginning with ourselves.

Repost: Road Closed

As I traveled to work this morning, I was less than thrilled to find a major road leading to the interstate closed. Some warning would have been appreciated. I felt trapped, as both the detour and the alternate way I chose were backed up to a stand still.

I was reminded of an interesting little book I read last week entitled Let Your Life Speak, by Quaker author Parker Palmer. I borrowed it from a friend and read it so quickly (on my way to work several mornings) that I didn’t even stop to jot down any notes. Nevertheless one chapter came to mind this morning as I pondered my traffic options. It was called When Way Closes, and basically dealt with the idea that closed doors can be as much a guide and direction as are open doors, if we’re paying attention.

When we were kids, growing up in the country, we’d often watch the neighbor’s sheep at dinner time race down the hill. There was no shepherd, not even a dog to guide them. Instead they bumped along the path created by the fence, and were directed into whatever pasture the farmer wanted them to go by means of his closing certain gates. They were guided along the path by the closed gates.

Eventually I made it to work this morning, and did so with a new perspective, to pay attention to closed doors and detours as guides directing me forward along the path, rather than trip-ending obstacles.

How do you feel when a door closes or when you’re faced with obstacles? Do they set you back or challenge you to move ahead?

(Previously posted May 5, 2008 on my old blog site).