Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Surprising Reason God is Proud of You

After a restful night’s sleep (no television or internet will provide that, by the way) I woke up to find that the storm had passed. I opened my window to hear the bluebirds which populated the surrounding fields and meadows. The cardinal had stopped singing his rain song and moved on to merrier notes. I ate and then prepared for my meeting with the nun assigned to me.  

I arrived for my appointment a few minutes early and found her sitting in her office waiting.  She asked me about my background and what I wanted from the weekend. I'd come to Our Lady Queen of Peace Retreat Center with no expectations. No agenda. God and I were having some issues.  I explained that in the last couple of years things had happened that had shaken my trust in some of what I’d been taught.  We are led to believe if you do A, B, and C then X,Y, and Z won’t happen.  “But they did anyway.” 

“Are you angry at God?” She asked. 

“I was for a long time. I’ve moved on beyond that but I can’t say I trust Him or anyone completely in the way I once did.” 

I waited for her to speak but instead she looked at me directly and said nothing (silence is a wise tactic and one I should work on).  I talked some more and wondered if I was rambling. As I shared I realized how tired I was of this story. How the story itself felt tired of being repeated.  I also noticed the story no longer was accompanied by any emotion. I told it as if I'd read it in a book. I stopped talking and we sat in an awkward silence looking at each other. 

"This is the part where you are supposed to impart words of wisdom." I said. 

She laughed, but persisted in being unhurried in her listening and waiting. Finally she asked if I prayed. If I used scripture when I prayed. I said I did, but inwardly thought how little real prayer I’d been doing lately. A void existed I didn’t seem able to find a way across.  She handed me a list of verses to look up along with the instructions “Rest in God’s love for you.”

The new skeptic in me bristled while something else in me breathed in that idea.  I took my Kindle out to one of the porches and sat in the sun. I opened Disappointment With God by Phillip Yancey.  I like Yancey. He doesn’t sugar coat things. He attempts to confront legitimate questions about faith head on.  I’d started this book in January relating with the skeptic he encounters that lead to the book. But when the book took a turn toward faith I put it away.  This weekend seemed like a good time to try again. I finished it before lunch. A passage stood out: 

By focusing myopically on what we want God to do on our behalf, we may miss the significance of what he has already done.

Let that sink in. 

After lunch I returned to my room. I got out the list of verses the sister had given me. I was familiar with them. "Nothing new here." I thought to myself. Wanting to get the most out of the experience however, I opened the Bible in my room and diligently looked up each one. Nothing much jumped out except that part in Psalm 139 about God marking my travels. Was he marking a map with pins? I have some great travel pics pinned on Pinterest. I haven't been on Pinterest this week. I shuffled my papers to look for "How to Deal with Distractions in Prayer." 

I went on to the next verse. Psalm 139:5, "You rest your hand upon me."

An image of me standing next to my father on a gravel driveway under a hot summer sun, flooded my mind. He rested his hand on top of my head then on my shoulder. I thought of the thousands of times I had done that to my own children. I began to think about the meaning of that. 

Think about it for a moment. You are standing with your child having a conversation with another adult and you rest your hand on the shoulder of your son, or the head of your daughter. What does that mean? Why do parents do that?

Because you are proud of them. 

Could God be proud of me? Somehow that seemed a foreign concept. Perhaps a result of one too many verses of some hymn relating me to a worm when I was a child. I let that thought come around again. Is God proud of me? If he is it certainly cannot be because of anything I've achieved, or for some glowing example I've been. In reality I'm known best for my snarky commentary on things and love of whiskey. Hardly Christ like attributes. Maybe he was saying he was proud of me because I try so hard. But as I thought about that in relation to my own children, I realized that I didn't love them more when they tried really hard. I kept thinking along that line. Why are parents proud of their children when they are so small they haven't accomplished anything yet? We are incredibly proud of babies! Why?

Because they are ours. Because they belong to us.

This is where the tears began to flow. 

I could understand that. I could rest in that. So can you. That God is proud of you just because you belong to him. He sees how hard you are struggling. He knows you are hurt and disappointed. He knows you are tired. He knows you are wondering if you are good enough. But he wants you to know he is resting his hand on you, proud father that he is. 

Rest in that for a while and feel loved.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What Happens at a Silent Retreat?

Before I get to what I learned which I don't think I can include in today's post, let me set the stage in case you are wondering just what exactly I was doing over the weekend and why in the world anyone would want to do it.

My silent retreat didn't take me half way around the world to an ashram in India, like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, (maybe next time) but to Our Lady Queen of Peace Retreat Center in the countryside of West Tennessee. A friend with her masters in Catholic Studies who did this last year and knows me well enough to think I would get something out of it invited me. Three days of complete silence with a group of strangers who were also committed to not talking except for a brief daily meeting with a spiritual director (a nun), and no idea what to expect?

Sign me up.

We arrived in the midst of a thunderstorm just in time to eat a quick dinner before a meeting with the other retreatants to introduce ourselves and share what we hoped to get out of this exercise. The reasons varied but felt familiar: direction, clarity, to exalt Christ, to hear God, to escape the noise of our modern world. When we left the room the silence was on. Cell phones and all other electronic devices, were off.

Now I'll tell you a secret. For an introvert this isn't all that hard. You pass people in the hall and you don't have to wonder whether or not you should speak first.

You can't.

At once, all the mind's focus on if your conversation is clever, or too self absorbed, or entertaining is shed in the delightful realization that no one expects anything from you. You don't have to be witty, or answer questions, or try and remember everyone's names.

You can very simply...be.

There is something powerful about this experience,  about being given permission to wander around in a meadow, or sit for an hour doing nothing more than contemplating leaves on the trees. The goal is to be gloriously un-busy. Our culture has a cult of busyness that permeates every aspect of our lives. I didn't recognize how exhausting that is until I was removed from it.

 I rarely saw anyone and anyone rarely saw me.

Another freedom.

As there is no expectation of you speaking, there isn't an expectation of anything else. I hiked trails alone, did yoga in my room, prayed, read, and stared out my window at the peaceful view for hours. I sat in a rocking chair and breathed in country air while twilight fell around me. I journaled. One night after reading for a couple of hours in my room I went out onto the porch late at night in my pajamas to gaze at the stars. I went to bed when I was sleepy and arose when I'd had eight glorious hours of solid sleep. I did some meditative drawing (more about that in another post) read books on art and the G.K. Chesterton classic on the life of St. Francis. I finished Phillip Yancy's Disappointment with God, which I had started several months ago but been unable to finish. I simply wasn't ready.

More about that here.

But while doing all these things I was listening. For the voice of God? Perhaps. Insights from the universe? Maybe. My own hurried soul that finally had time to stop long enough to rest? Yes.

I didn't realize how much my heart was longing for some peace until I finally got it.

But more than all of that the realization at the end of the retreat that I'd had a revelation. I had not had a negative thought or painful memory in three days. I was comfortable with myself. At peace with my choices.

The silence was instructive. You can read about an important breakthrough here.  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Why You Should Be Journaling

 Over coffee with friends recently the discussion was meditation and the question arose from one friend to another "Do you keep a journal?" The idea being that sometimes new thoughts, ideas, or solutions to problems come while meditating. My friend's response surprised me, "I don't like to write my thoughts down; it makes me feel vulnerable."

I get that. But here are some reasons you might want to leave a written legacy: 

Maybe the world needs to hear what you have to say. What if all the people whose books and words we read hadn't shared with us what they learned? What if we all had to start from scratch to learn about life because no wise person who ever came before us had bothered to write anything down? What if you have some great wisdom that your child or grandchild needs long after you're gone? Can you imagine the gift your words of hope and encouragement might be to them? What if you have some great insight or lesson to pass on that only you are capable of relating to others? What if you pass from this life and all the lessons you learned on your journey are lost forever? My old journals are filled with lots of anger and sadness on once page and blissful contentment on the next. I look bipolar. But I tended to write when I was experiencing extreme emotion. The regular writing on my blog gives a more accurate picture. I was tempted recently to go through and rip out the negative pages, but isn't that what some future reader may need most? Knowing that even on the darkest days there was hope, challenges were overcome, strength was built in the darkness is a lifetime worth of wisdom all by itself.

Another friend, agreed with me. She explained how much strength she gains from reading about the lives of the saints, their personal struggles, how they overcame them.

Some people are on a path of self exploration and constantly seek wisdom and understanding, like my friends. The responsibility of those people to pass on what they've learned should weigh more heavily upon them than upon those who are just muddling through life, but I dare say, even the muddlers are not completely without knowledge to share.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Breathing Room: How Much is Enough?

 I was filled with envy once while taking a sleigh ride in the Colorado mountains with my husband. The driver pointed out a stone cabin clinging to the side of the mountain where a woman was living all alone with no heat and no running water. The cabin was about the size of my garage. I've thought of that woman so many times and wondered what truths about herself and life that she uncovered sitting by her lonely fire on cold winter nights. She captured my imagination.

Sometimes I am jealous (and brace yourself, because this is going to sound terrible) when people have an excuse to start over with next to nothing.

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

A check from the insurance company and a material clean slate. Every choice of what to own after that could be so deliberate. Nothing inherited, nothing dumped on you by parents or kids, nothing you somehow got stuck with that you hate.  Ever notice how natural disasters focus our attention like a laser on what's really important? It's often only under these harsh circumstances that we hear people say "It's only stuff"  or "We're all together; that's all that matters." Ordinarily much of our conversation is about what we are going to purchase next, what "this room needs" or our wish list.

 “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo Da Vinci

Why does it take disaster for us to remember that?  Some days I'm overwhelmed by a feeling akin to smothering amid the stuff.  The quest for balance is ongoing. Family heirlooms, stacks of favorite books, a bird's nest, an icon lovingly brought home from Italy (of St. Francis and St. Clair, both of whom shunned abundant materialism to find God) are the things I enjoy having around. When something makes you happy it's worth giving a home to. But even beloved books, are often passed off to other bibliophiles, leaving only slightly painful empty places behind. It is probably only a fraction of the stuff you have that is giving you any joy. The rest is just cluttering up your home and clogging up your life.

 Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” ~ Albert Einstein

Your priorities may be different, but at this point in my life I mostly spend on things I can use up or pass on...Possessions frequently cycle THROUGH my house. Think of the difference between a fresh babbling brook and a stagnant pond. There are some things that have a forever home, but I do try to be careful about attaching too much sentiment to material objects. Many things get used for a season (of life) and then are given away to someone else who will enjoy them.

Teach your kids to pass things on early in life.  They will learn to be givers and come to appreciate making careful choices. Plus, you don't want them leaving 18 years of stuff behind when they move out!

 A vocabulary of truth and simplicity will be of service throughout your life” ~ Winston Churchill

I believe in a God who wants us to free us from our selfish desires and show us how to walk in freedom from all manner of grasping and greediness. It's a long process and He still has a lot of work to do, but I'm working on releasing that grasping fist into an open palm.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.  Psalm 90:14

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Surprising Benefits of Awe

A recent study revealed the importance of awe, described in The Independant this way: "Awe is the emotion felt when encountering something so vast and overwhelming it alters one's mental perspective." Experiencing a sense of awe made people feel they had more time or that time had slowed or even stopped. Participants in the study also felt kinder and more patient. They also felt like spending money on experiences instead of things.

Read about the survey here.

Is it any wonder we feel stressed, rushed, unable to catch our breath? We spend our days in buildings of concrete and steel, often in small colorless cubicles. We send our children to school in cinder block buildings painted prison green with mean little playgrounds devoid of vegetation. We pollute the evening sky with neon signs from big box stores, the architecture of which is as ugly as the boxes that the items inside are packed in. This is the landscape of modern suburbia. Travel across the nation and you will see exactly the same collection of stores as the ones you shop at when you're at home.

Watch a great TED talk by James Howard Kunstler, about the ways in which ugly architecture demeans us and our communities here.  (One of my favorite TED talks of all time!)

I've long suspected that one of the problems with urban living is that, especially in the inner city, there is very little environmental beauty, natural or architectural. If we know that our emotions are affected by an ocean view or a starry night, how are they affected by the absence of those things? What are the consequences of this on children brought up in communities where the extent of access to nature are the weeds growing in cracks in the sidewalk? Certainly parts of our cities are dedicated to nature and there are museums of art and natural history but how many impoverished adults are visiting them? Students are lucky to get a field trip or two during the course of the year since awe cannot be measured on a standardized test.

Read a blog post about Eco-therapy here.

Today's assignment: Take a walk, view a lovely piece of art, or drive out of town tonight and look up. Turn off your phone and...breathe.

You're welcome.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

3 Days of Silence, Contemplation, and Journaling

Today I'm heading off on a new and different adventure. I'm not traveling all that far but I'm spending 3 days at a retreat where I will be in silence.

You read it right. Silence for 3 days while I journal, take nature walks, and meet with a spiritual adviser. The interest in doing this was sparked by an article I read several years ago about a monastery in east Tennessee that offered the same experience. After reading Eat Pray Love my curiosity about this practice was sparked again. So when a friend invited me to join her, I didn't hesitate. 

This also means a digital detox while I focus on just being and listening. Most of the world's major religions have some form of this idea, just as they do for fasting. There must be something to it. Check back on Monday when I'll be sharing the experience.

And if you are just checking back out of curiosity to see if I had to secretly chat someone up, or find a squirrel to tell a story to, that's okay too. I'll tell you the truth.

Until then, Shhh.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

3 Ways to See the World Whether or Not You Leave Home

Yesterday we covered reworking those bucket lists. People often have "seeing the world" as one of those things at the top of their lifetime to-do-lists. Pyramids beckon from a desert, bustling cities sing a siren's song, and we long for far off sunsets on romantic beaches. For some of us who have adventurous spirits we cannot bear to think that there are entire seas we may never dip a toe in. Travel has much to teach us about ourselves, and if we are fortunate enough to do a bit of it, there are life lessons for the taking.

Open your eyes: We want to see what there is to see. Arrive in any city and the first thing everyone wants to know is "What should we see here?" We want to mark something off our list; a museum, a piece of art, a renowned building. One reason for this is that when we return home we want to be able to answer the question "What did you see?" Unfortunately often in our quest to plow from one tourist stop to another we are blinded to treasures available all around us. Every new place offers up countless unfamiliar aromas, sights, and sounds. Take a moment to pay attention.

Open your heart: Traveling with an open heart means that you are open to getting to know people and their culture. Meeting locals or even other travelers enriches the experience, but  you have to be willing to share a bit of yourself. Chances are, you aren't going to travel halfway around the world and find your soul mate but you may make new friends or engage the culture in a way that teaches you something. If you are paying attention and are in tune with your spirit you can allow the positive things from others too seep into your heart.

Open your mind: Leave the judgement and uber nationalism at home. Patriotism is fine, but let go of the arrogance of thinking that what you are familiar with is necessarily right or better. Every culture has lessons to teach. Be respectful of other religions, customs, morals. Be willing to adapt yourself to whatever the situation is. Ask yourself: What can I learn from these people? What are the positive things about this culture? Allow yourself to be enlightened by the new and different.

If you can't travel: Globe trotting can be expensive. Though happiness studies show that it is a better investment than a material purchase, it may still not be possible for you to make the trip of a lifetime at this point in your life. That doesn't need to keep you from seeing the world. You can open your eyes, heart, and mind right in your own back yard. Have you been to all the museums, art galleries, and parks in your own town? Everyplace has something to offer.

 One thing that travel does is break up the monotony and ordinariness of the day. You can do that wherever you are by visiting the main attractions in your hometown. It's amazing how many people haven't been to the spot in their town that attracts out of town visitors. Open your eyes and see what nearby places have going on. Get a group of friends together and book a tour of local attractions.

Within our own communities we tend to form groups and relationships with those who are like us or have similar interests. Open your heart at home by volunteering at a local charity, or getting involved in a community project. Sit at an outdoor cafe and watch people. Just observing others going about their business can make you feel more connected. Noticing the similarities and diversity in those around you can lead to a feeling of understanding and connectivity. Work on meeting new people outside your normal group of contacts. 

Especially in America every town has several cultures living together. Open your mind by shopping in an ethnic store in another part of the city. Visit a church whose religion you know nothing about or attend an ethnic festival. Participate in a language class offered by a church (I took Greek this way a couple of years ago).

 See your world. Wherever it is. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bucket List Hack

When the movie came out the term "Bucket List" immediately made it's way into the American lexicon. Suddenly everyone has a list of things they want to accomplish and mark off before they kick the bucket. I actually had such a list written out about 15 years before the movie was released, but I think most everyone has a list of this sort, at least floating around in the back of their mind.

Here's the problem: Life isn't about scratching something off a list. In fact, the danger in seeing it that way is that the place, event, or activity may not be experienced to the fullest. Several years ago I took a trip and when I returned a friend asked it I had seen a couple of particular things. I hadn't, but I'd had a wonderful time and seen interesting different things that were enjoyable to me. Life is full of side streets and unexpected joys. It's best to stay open to those while you are on your quest. It's also full of detours and places you have arrived while the doors are locked. That's okay. Life may have unexpected treasures for you, you know nothing of.

Make sure your bucket has a hole in it. We want life to be full of exciting things. We want to sail around the world or write the great American novel. We see movies and read books about what other people are doing and we get a skewed view of our own lives. The better bucket list may include things like making little kids laugh, or volunteering at a local charity, or tutoring a struggling student. Sharing your experience and knowledge is a practical and rewarding thing to put on your list. Standing water stagnates. Keep what is in the bucket flowing in and out.

Today may have some things worth putting in the bucket. Life isn't actually made up of big moments. It mainly consists of millions of small ordinary moments, thousands of days, strung together to make a life. You don't want to spend so much time making, or dreaming about your list that you miss the simple joy of today.  When was the last time you visited a museum and sat in front of a work of art for half an hour contemplating it? You may want to add something like "See as many sunrises as possible." to your list. Too many people miss today searching for life's few big moments.

Keep filling the bucket. The thing about lists is, that we are eager to get to the end of them and feel a sense of accomplishment. As you learn and grow, the list will both shrink and expand. You may mark things off the list, not because you do them, but because you no longer need to do them. You may need to replace them with other more important or interesting things. Some of them may be released. Some of them may die. It's okay. Keep adding the new things you'd like to accomplish. Life, above everything else is a process.

Put "Keep moving forward." at the top of the list.  Here are some things that are on friends' lists: Travel to Italy, get a Ph.D., run a marathon, repair a broken relationship, write a book that will challenge status quo thinking. All of those goals have something in common. They cannot be accomplished standing still. Being a life long learner, getting and staying fit, and working on improving relationships are worthy of a spot on your list. The more you focus on forward momentum, the more you can tweak that list into something more meaningful than just a list of places to see and things to do.

A lot of things show up on these lists because of what everyone else thinks we should want to do. Your list will be unique and personal to you. It doesn't have to include skydiving or visiting the Taj Mahal. Think about what you really want to accomplish in life and let your list reflect that. Work toward making those things happen, but leave yourself lots of freedom to explore, wander, and dump out the bucket and start over. Just don't let it get rusty. You are only going this way once.

Monday, April 21, 2014

5 Reasons You Might Be Tired and Depressed

So you want to make a fresh start but you are constantly tired and just can't seem to get motivated? You need a good physical foundation to provide the energy and clear thinking you need to achieve success. Before you decide being your best self is unattainable see if any of these things could be undermining your best efforts.

1. An irregular sleep schedule. Sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique. So basically when you aren't taking care to get enough shut eye you are treating yourself like a POW. Of course you know staying up late and watching just one more episode of Walking Dead will make you feel like a zombie the next day but research shows you may also be making any depression you are suffering from, worse. Don't believe me? Read The Effects of Sleep Loss On Mood.

2.  Junk food and in particular: sugar.  And refined and processed. The Paleo people may be onto something. Try cleaning up your diet for a week and see if you don't feel better. Read more about it at You Beauty: Junk Fo0d Makes us Tired and Lazy. 

3.  Lack of exercise. Your body is made to move. A walk is a great way to improve your mood. Exercise releases endorphins that make you feel better. Research shows that just 5 minutes into exercise you get the mood enhancement effect.

4. Too much time indoors. Ever gone outside to get some fresh air after a stressful meeting? Turns out there is a reason you instinctively know to do that. Because up until the industrial revolution humans spent vast amounts of time outdoors. Something in our brains is hardwired to.  Studies show that just being in nature wards off exhaustion and improves mood. Read about what the University of Rochester learned about it in this Science Daily article.

5. The usual suspects. There may be a physical reason you could be depressed or lethargic. If you suspect there is something wrong see your doctor. All the evidence shows that a lack of social connection very unhealthy for our minds and bodies. You need to make time for socializing. Go ahead and call that friend for coffee! Toxic relationships. You may already know the underlying reason and just not be willing to deal with it yet. These plus any of the big life stressers like divorce, moving, or changing careers can be a source of feeling physically exhausted and/or sad. 

Fix the first 4 things on this list for a week or so, and then see how you feel. If you can't find the source of your lethargy, see your doctor.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunrise

I got up at 4:00 this morning to drive my daughter and son in law to the airport. On the way home I stopped at this sunrise service. Today was a gorgeous Easter morning!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Spring Fling: Swarms and Mating of a Virgin Queen

It's been a crazy week in the garden.  I finally had to draw myself a diagram to figure out who was where. This doesn't matter to the hive at all, I was just curious. My friend, Susan sent this beautiful beekeeping journal from the Savannah Bee Company to me last year. I use it to keep track of what is going on.

So after both hives swarmed last week, then the blue hive swarmed again (which I didn't know could happen), I'm having lunch on the back porch yesterday when this occurred:

Looked like classic swarm behavior...

But after a few minutes I noticed they weren't moving anywhere. Within a couple of minutes they were all collecting back on the hive. Within 10 minutes it looked like this: 

Twenty minutes after it started you wouldn't know anything had happened.

It is possible that this hive tried to swarm but the queen didn't leave with them. It's also possible that the virgin queen, flew out on her mating flight and the rest of the colon followed her. If you are trying to keep u0, this hive swarmed last week so the old queen left (now residing in the center box) and the new emerged inside the hive on the right.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What Do You Want Most?

There's always a point in my decorating endeavors when I look at what I've done and think that I've ruined it and all is lost. "What was I thinking? I should have just left it alone."

There are sometimes tears shed while sitting in the floor amid the destruction I've wrought. 

The sanding, uncovering, cutting, painting, ripping apart seem drastic. Painful. More than I'll be able to fix when the time comes for restoration. I look at the mess I've created and wonder if I'll ever be able to put it back together again. Why wasn't I satisfied? It was good enough the way it was. The chipped paint, scratches, ugly color or fabric weren't really all that bad. It was functional if not beautiful.

But I want beautiful. Restored. A treasure.

I want the beautiful lines of the original design to be revealed. There is a work of craftsmanship under the ugly fabric and worn surfaces. The deep gashes left by previous encounters can be sanded away. In the end all can be made new.

But the process...the process is painful.

God often reminds me during these projects that he is up to much the same thing. The original design is under there somewhere if only I could be less resistant to the uncovering, sanding, oiling.

Revealing. Forgiving. Anointing.

I recently upholstered a chair and chose to cover over the original ugly fabric because I was afraid. The cushion was beyond salvation however, with broken down springs and ancient cigar burns. I replaced it with a new piece of foam. Then covered it with a bold new print.

New. Clean. Cheerful. Brave. Beautiful from the inside out. Sometimes the best course of action is to take things down to the core and start over.

A frequent prayer of mine is for God to make me the woman he made me to be. Every time I pray it I think it sounds dangerous. New. Clean. Cheerful. Brave. Imprinted with boldness. How much pain might be involved in getting there is something I've learned after years of walking with him. But when the lesson is learned and I'm another step closer to full restoration I'm glad of all the sanding and scraping. It always looks disastrous at the time while pieces of what I once was lie about waiting to be cleaned up. Remnant dust of the old me.

The process sometimes feels like taking away, removing, dissolving. How much of this can I endure? And then age old cracks get filled in, gouges buffed smooth, the residue of the past is blown away. When I'm bare he stains with his blood, covers with his grace, fills with his love. He never leaves us bare and vulnerable, but this is no cosmetic restoration. It's cosmic. Vast and deep. He cares little about how things look.

He cares what is. With him the depth of the restoration is the thing.

He is interested in nothing but full. Complete. Whole. Reclaimed. Cured. Remade.

There is an intimacy in the bareness and exposure. For all the pain involved, I am thankful that The Restorer isn't satisfied with window dressing. That for the treasure he's working on he will not be satisfied with less than complete restoration. We may want him to haphazardly slap paint on so we can look whole to the outside world quickly as possible. Those coverings quickly chip away to expose shoddy work. That is the kind of work we do on ourselves. Covering. Glossing. Hiding.

We are too happy with the good enough. The good enough life, marriage, parenting, work, friendships, spiritual life. We gladly spot clean and slipcover. We sell ourselves short.

God, however, is about refined beauty and strength. He's more than happy to adorn and decorate a life in order for it to look beautiful from the outside. But before he does that he is looking to reclaim his original design. Unlike me he is the restorer who never thinks things would have been better off in their original state. He never fears he may not be able to complete the task or restore the hidden promise in his project. He is the Master Craftsman from beginning to end.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Growing Braver

Someone recently called me brave.

Did you get that?


When did that happen?

I'm not sure about owning "brave" but I'll gladly own confident these days. Why? Because probably like you I spent a large section of my life being afraid. A few years ago someone I didn't know very well called me on it. The word was "timid." And I thought I was fooling everyone with all my talk of "wisdom" and "caution." I reevaluated. I was intimidated by a lot of things.  What was I missing because of that?

Last week over on The Professor and The Housewife I wrote about our misplaced fears. We are afraid of the wrong things it turns out, if you pay attention to statistics instead of the media. You are much more likely to die by slipping in the bathtub than by being murdered. But dying in the bath isn't quite sensational enough to make the news unless you are famous and we throw in alcohol and cocaine. Then you can get your funeral broadcast live.

You are more likely to die from a bee sting than a snake bite.
You are more likely to be killed in a car accident than plane crash.
If you are a woman you are far more likely to die in childbirth than while sky diving.

Oddly enough when you tell people you are pregnant no one accuses you of being crazy or lists, out loud, the gruesome ways you could die on the delivery table.

If we are that far off when it comes to fears about life and death, what else do we have irrational fears about? You know the answers. Rejection, intimacy, failure, success, the unknown...

Are you really so happy with the known?

Are there some things you wish you could change?

Can I just ask--what are you waiting for?

At some point I realized that the world wouldn't fall apart if I didn't analyze everything to death. I noticed that when I stopped being afraid, I stopped being so hard on myself. It became okay to make mistakes and to let people see them. It became okay to be exposed. Unguarded. Wrong. Imperfect. If you are afraid to be those things you will never move forward. I also just gave up worrying about what everyone else will think. It's easy to be imprisoned by that particular thought. There are a lot of what ifs. We don't like change. Very often the people around us don't like for us to change. Change brings up a lot of scary questions.

What will happen if you wake up out of the sleep walking version of life you've been living? What if you realize you're unhappy? What if the thing you want to do is a colossal failure? What if you voice your opinion and everyone disagrees with you? What if you find out you don't really have any talent? What if everyone thinks you are having a mid life crisis? What if you ARE having a mid life crisis?

What if?

What if?

What if?

If we are going to ask that question, let's at least spin it in our favor.

What if you find the adventurous child you were before life knocked you around? Do you even remember that person? What if you find a strong toned body under those extra pounds? What if you find your life's work? Or passion? Or the love of your life? What if you surprise everyone by how fabulous you are? What if you surprise yourself? What if you find out there is power in being vulnerable? What if your courage inspires someone else?

Let's search for our inner child and outer warrior. Let's leave fear stranded on the side of the road while we lie in the grass and laugh at it.

What if?

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bees in Italy: The Photography Project of Renée Ricciardi

You know how I love starting something new and adventures and bees and Italy...if only there was some way to tie that all together.

Photo courtesy of reneericciardi.com
Over the weekend I discovered an ongoing project by a charming young Boston photographer named Renée Ricciardi. Last year after graduating art school and ending a long term relationship she quit her job and headed for Italy to photograph bees and beekeepers.

photo by Renée Ricciardi
Renée's trip was inspired by Italy being the first country in the European Union to ban neonicotinoids. If you aren't a beekeeper you may not know that word. They are the class of insecticides believed to be responsible for the devastating colony collapse phenomena that began to ravage honey bee populations in the US in 2006. Since Italy took the lead on this issue the entire EU has placed a 2 year ban on these chemicals. Just like in the case of GMOs the US is lagging far behind on this issue.

Renée packed up, camera in hand and headed out to interview beekeepers and document how the ban would affect honeybees. She spent 3 months traveling, taking photographs, and interviewing those directly affected. She is now planning a return trip this spring to cover what is happening. Over the next couple of weeks she is trying to reach her financial goal in order to fund phase two of the project. You help by visiting Bees in Italy: Part 2 on Kickstarter.

It's graduation season and new adventures are starting all over the place. Fresh starts are happening and young adults are being told how bad things are going to be for them. But you know me, I hope they ignore all of that and follow their dreams like Renée. You have to love a girl who decides she's going to combine the things she's passionate about and work to make the world a better place.

Starting over is going to happen several times in life. Sometimes it's forced on you because of an unfortunate experience. Other times it's because you move from one season of life to another like getting married, having kids, and again when the kids leave home. But if you are very brave, there are times along the way when you get to start fresh on your own adventure. When the change and turmoil and uncertainty are of your own making. When you get to shake up life instead of the other way around and show it who's boss.

Please watch the beautiful video about Renée's project here: Bees in Italy: Part 2

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rendering Beeswax

It only took me six months to get around to it. That's because all the websites I visited to learn about how to do it equated the danger level of melting  beeswax to cooking meth. So yesterday while my husband was out of town I figured if I burned the place down I'd be the only one here.

It's a pretty simple process. In this pic you can see the honeycomb as it is after the bees clean it up (after I process the honey I put the comb back out near the hive and the bees collect all the honey I missed and take it into the hive to store for winter) during harvesting season. 

I've crumbled some to help it melt faster.

 The pot was full when I started. It took about 30 minutes over low heat for me to melt it down. When completely melted the pot was about 1/4 full.

There are a few dead bees and some debris mixed in so after it's melted you strain it through cheesecloth. Make sure to use something you only intend to use for beeswax after this. It will be impossible to clean.

Collect your containers to pour the strained wax into.

I heated the bowl I was going to use for straining in the oven first, to keep the wax from hardening so quickly.

Once you've strained it, remove the cheesecloth, and pour it ASAP into the containers. Even though I heated the bowl you can see how much had hardened in the ten seconds it was in there.

I threw the used cheesecloth into the pot while it was still on the burner to mop up the excess wax. I'll use this for a firestarter in the fireplace.

I thought it was kind of funny that the imprint on the wax discs was the recycling symbol from the bottom of the containers. This is my favorite recycling project ever.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How to Pack for Life

I was packing for a trip. I started by throwing everything I might want to take into a big pile on my bed. Anything was possible. I carefully started to pick out things I knew I couldn't do without, and things that maybe weren't the most glamorous pieces but that I knew would serve me well. Some things I wanted (Oh so BADLY!) but couldn't manage to fit in. Some items were appealing because I knew how they'd make me feel while wearing them but I couldn't justify adding them. Maybe next time.

While I stood there making decisions-- keep this, let that go-- I thought how much life is like packing. You start out with all the possibilities, without many constraints. Choices must be made though. Soon you begin to edit. Some choices mean that other options are off the table at least for the time being. Perhaps you can pick them up at some point along your way.

Some days our "bags" feel as if we are bursting at the seams, we've packed too much, prioritized wrong. Why did we bring that? What were we thinking? How are we supposed to drag that around? We edit. Someone tucked that thing in our bag while we were distracted. How did we become responsible for that? Time to take it out. We've neglected something important or we haven't cared for the few things we've chosen properly. Time to evaluate our baggage.

So when we travel literally or figuratively are we going to weigh ourselves down with everything under the sun or can we manage with less? There is something kind of thrilling about packing a bag with just what you think you really need for the journey and imagining the treasures you might pick up along the way. Knowing that you are not ever going to perfect the process is a helpful realization. Life is full of surprises, leave a little room for chance and a spirit of adventure to put your resourcefulness to the test. Accept the challenge of adapting to new circumstances. Drop the cumbersome expectation that you can be prepared for everything. You CAN be prepared for a LOT, just not ALL.

Be willing to learn.

Keep an open mind.

Enjoy the journey.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Catching Swarms of Bees 2 Days in a Row

My bees swarmed. They are in my backyard in the garden. I can see them from my kitchen window so it's easy to keep an eye on things. Yesterday when I returned from the grocery my husband told me he'd been watching them while they collected on the outside of the hive. He described the air full of bees and the sound. He paid attention and watched  them cluster together in a tree over our patio.

15 feet up.

I called a friend, John, who had two of his hives disappear last year to see if he wanted to try to capture this swarm. No self respecting beekeeper would say no to a free swarm of bees.

I should mention that the whole point of this operation is to catch the queen and not to get every bee into the box. Capture the queen and you will soon have all her little minions. 

When John arrived he, my husband, and I assessed the situation. My husband climbed up on a ladder with a limb cutter at the end of a long pole, John climbed a ladder on the opposite side with a box to catch the swarm when it fell. I stood on the ground ready to dump the captured swarm into a hive body. I also imagined the unusual 911 call I could have to make. Two men on ladders. Sharp tools. A swarm of bees.




Close the box and wait to see if any bees hang around the entrance with their tails in the air, fanning their wings. This is to alert bees who didn't make it that Her Royal Majesty is inside. It means something completely different outside the door of a bar on a Friday night.

No fanning.

Time for round 2. If at first you don't succeed and all that. 

The plan was to execute a similar plan but this time I put a metal bucket at the end of a long pole, which John held directly under the swarm.



Bucket dumped into box.


You can't imagine how excited a bunch of beekeepers can get about some bees fanning at the entrance to a hive.

John left with about a hundred bucks worth of free bees and I was thinking I really needed to get into the blue hive the next day.

But I had to get my hair colored. While I was doing that my other hive swarmed. Can't a girl leave the house for 5 minutes? My husband had seen them swirling in the air over our garden but within 15 minutes they had completely disappeared.

You can't exactly make signs to put up around the neighborhood when you lose a swarm of bees. What would it say? "Lost. 10,000 stinging insects. Not particularly friendly. Answers to the name of..."

You see my point.

I came home and looked but didn't see them anywhere. I'm sure it makes my neighbors nervous when they see me out looking all over the property for something. I'm a lot of fun to live next door to.

Later as we were walking around the garden talking I noticed a few bees hovering around a branch of a cedar tree behind the garden shed. I walked closer. Here's what I saw about 7 feet off the ground.

 Need a closer look?

We formulated a plan that involved pulling the branch down so it was hanging directly over the hive body I'd set up. My husband's job was to cut the branch with a pole cutter when we both agreed we were ready. Luckily the branch was very pliable and I pulled it down to just over the hive body. It looked like they might drip like honey into the hive.

Pull. Gently. Gently...



Observe fanning at the entrance.

Feel awesome. 

 My husband, the accidental beekeeper. There's kind of an adrenaline rush to swarm catching, which is why he's posing.

There you have it. A brand new hive perfect for a colony of bees to start all over in. Even bees need a fresh start sometimes. You know how couples sometimes do those team building/communication exercises? Well my new bee wrangler said "Marriage building through beekeeping."

Hey, it could be a thing.

Click here to read an article from Psychology Today about why.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Making Your Way into the Deep Water

Once on a trip with a friend we spent the day at the beach. The waves were big and rough and neither of us being great swimmers we lingered along the shallows, being pummeled by wave after wave. Being tossed by a series of powerful flaps of water that lifted us and then slammed us onto the sandy bottom, holding us there while conspiring with the one that followed to catch us just as we arose unaware only to be dragged like rag dolls across shoreline again, eventually caused us to head for deeper water, past the foamy turmoil.

It was a little scary at first. Our feet didn't quite touch the bottom. The next series of waves came, and they were huge. I thought we'd made a mistake as I saw how they were towering over us, but then ever so gently we were picked up by a huge undulating swell and let down again. It felt momentarily dangerous and exciting, then fun, safe...relaxing even. We watched as it slammed the swimmers just a few yards from us who felt safer in the shallower water.

How often is life like that? Often times we hug a dangerous shoreline that is giving us the illusion of safety. We fight to gain sure footing in the turmoil because we cannot imagine that sometimes in risk there is, not only the giddiness that comes with the unknown, but also peace in the deeper water.

We nurse our skinned knees and complain about them; we rub our sore shoulders,   yet stay where we are because from a distance the deep water looks ominous. Our minds find it impossible to imagine that a gigantic wave might gently lift us allowing a different perspective from new heights

How often are we missing what we long for and could easily move toward were we not blinded by the crashing waves obscuring all other possibilities? It is counter-intuitive to think that more control and not less may be available to us in such conditions. We take comfort in the fact that all our friends are right there with us in the knee deep water, it's crowded. We like that. We take security in it.

Is all we want out of life to hang around with our heels dug in the sand, our reasoning defined by fear of the unknown, settled safely in the patch of shore we've claimed? Are we going to stay there forever, or are we going to wade out beyond our comfort zone and see what happens?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Life Lessons From a Scottish Shore

I was sharing the pictures from my recent cruise of the British Isles with my daughter when we came to this picture.

"Mom, you took a picture of rocks."

"Yes, but look at them; they were so beautiful."

They were less comfortable to walk on but infinitely more interesting to look at than sandy white beaches (Unless you are using a microscope, then each grain of sand is strikingly unique). When she left I looked at this picture again and wondered what it was that I found beautiful.

Ordinariness. There aren't any precious or rare gemstones here. No diamonds, pearls, or even semi-precious stones. But often the most beautiful things are less than perfectly polished. The same goes for people.

Brokenness. I'm sure the original shells, stones, and bottles and pottery were very nice things in and of themselves. But it was in the being broken that a new beauty was found. And while I'm sure that these fragments were useful in their original forms, they would not have been able to be combined together to form a very nice beach. A collection of empty bottles on a beach is called trash. But with the pressure and constant tumbling of the sea it is reduced and refined to something called beach glass, so beautiful that people collect it and make jewelry from it.

Individuality.  These rocks and shells, picked up and examined one at a time, have beauty of their own. Each one has its own unique history, it's own story of how it came to be the way it is. Every unique item could tell how it was crushed and worn over time through the experiences of its life to end up exactly as it is now. No two of those stories would be the same.

Combination and Diversity. The different colors, sizes, and shapes. The very different-ness of the stones, shells, and sea glass was what made the beach so eye catchingly stunning. It is seeing the pieces together contrasted against each other that emphasizes the beauty of each piece. I picked up a few bits from this beach and brought them home to place in a wooden bowl on my coffee table where they are combined with other things collected from my travels. The combination is beautiful in a different way. It is now contrived (by me) as opposed to the natural and random combination which was far more organic and aesthetically pleasing.

Setting. When I looked down and took this picture I was standing on a rocky coastline, under a grey sky, with an ancient little town in the distance. Where the rocks were, added to their beauty. The dampened light, the water, the mystery of the town added to the beauty of the stones were all elements that worked together to heighten the pleasure of the moment. The backdrop had its part to play.

How often is our appreciation for life a combination of the elements of the beauty I found on this beach?

As an art lover, often I would deem beautiful something skillfully arranged or assembled. Good room design or a beautiful work of art is contrived carefully to be aesthetically pleasing. It may be one reason we struggle with events in life or our relationships with others. We want a certain amount of order and control. But our control is limited, our knowledge finite, and our understanding of how things can be arranged for the most beautiful effect is warped by our love of the easy to grasp and our short term thinking. The complexity of randomness makes us feel small. But like the stones on this beach, life may be more beautiful because of our lack of power to arrange it as we see fit.

While we all avoid pain and brokenness with every bit of energy we have, we appreciate the beauty of it in light of context. The successes and triumphs are sweetened by it. How often have a person's actions made no sense to us until we heard more about their life. With context comes understanding.

We can control a lot. About our decisions, attitudes, and circumstances to a great extent. But we cannot, for all our planning, and thinking, and worrying make the life we want. Things happen. Good and bad will befall us and our attitude will play the biggest part in whether or not we learn and grow from those things. But instead of being filled with fear and distress about the uncontrollable, perhaps we should embrace the beautiful randomness that life sometimes sets before us.

Which stone has the more exciting life? The diamond in its perfect setting, under beautiful lighting, polished to perfection? Or these stones tossed about by wind and sea out in the unpredictable world of nature? It looks pretty exciting compared to a velvet box under a glass case. We so often choose the sheltered space, the safe bet, the comfortable and familiar. The beauty in the photo above is a result of the adventure each individual stone and shell has been on.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Putting the Past in its Place

Occasionally someone will tell me they "drove through the old neighborhood." Or a family member will want to drive by "the old house."

If it seems important to them I'll go along but it makes me uncomfortable. I'm just not all that interested in looking back. That may have something to do with moving a fair amount as a kid and not really being attached to places in the way that a lot of other people are. But I think it's also just my attitude about life. You see, I"m only really interested in going forward so unless there is something strategic that can be accomplished in a walk down memory lane.

Legitimate reasons to bask in the past: 

There may be unfinished business there and things that need to be dealt with because they are impacting your current well being.

It may be a time of reminiscing with family members or friends and strengthening connections with them.

You may be using something in your past to help you mark how far you've come in some area.

When it might be doing you more harm than good: 

When you are reliving (and dare I say wallowing in) some past painful trauma for any other reason than to try to move beyond it.

When you are longing for a time that you remember being much better than your current life and better than you imagine your future to be.

When you would actually prefer going back to some time in the past instead of looking ahead to the rest of your life. 

What to do instead:

I was with my mother recently in the hospital and she said that she wished she could go back to the time in her life when she was happiest when we were small and lived in her home state. I thought about how I feel about my own life and realized that while I loved having my own children at home and teaching them, I am always excited to see what their next adventure will be. I'm also excited about my own future and the things I plan on doing.

It's okay for the past to tug at your heartstrings once in a while and to remember happy times, but make sure the tugging doesn't morph into dragging.  Life is much like the change of seasons. Each season has its own particular beauty and rewards to look forward to. If you really miss a time in your life and wish you could relive it, find a younger person who is in that season now and share what you know about it with them. Pay that wisdom forward and invest it in someone else instead of longing for past days.

Don't let uncertainty about the future keep you paralyzed and fearful. If your kids are grown and you worry about what might happen next, remember that when they were born you were terrified. When they were small you were worried. Then they were teenagers you lost sleep fretting. If you are caught up in those feelings again, remember that you survived all that uncertainty and chaos. That's a good lesson for going forward.