courage

Beauty at Risk

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A gardenia bush blooms by the front door of the house. It’s fragrance evokes feelings of nostalgia. Without thinking I pluck a bloom whose leaves were bruised, and set it on my desk. To my delight, it’s fragrance filled the office, and I thought about something a family friend once told me.

Pauline had a gardenia bush that she kept in her home. In Northern Michigan a gardenia bush hasn’t a prayer outdoors with the weather-ly elements. But year after year, that small bush bloomed in it’s sunny corner of the room. It was Pauline who told me that a gardenia’s most poignant aroma comes from a bloom whose leaves were slightly bruised.

I cannot help but ponder the metaphor about life I’d just stumbled on. When looking at the white perfection of a bloom it seems impossible that bruising would have a purpose or function. Can it be true that the deepest and richest aspects of our lives are borne out of pain and loss? So often we put off grief and keep pain at arm’s length. Our walls stay high so we stay dry. Indeed. I’ve never been so dry, and crackly uncreative as those seasons when my walls were up. Arms flailing and inappropriate, silent gestures to the world at large … my pain. My world. “How dare you rock my boat?” These are words I’ve whispered in the direction of those who have hurt me. The petals of a gardenia are not bruised intentionally. But when it happens a deeper, even more priceless beauty is evoked: aroma.

So often we are desperate to retain that gracious, white perfection in our lives that we refuse to live. We refuse to try lest we make a mistake, lest we be the ones delivering the bruise to another. In order to really live we must learn to allow ourselves to make mistakes.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” — C.S. Lewis

I live life with a focus on the numerous gifts and goodness that have come my way, but I must admit I have experienced a lot of losses. I identify with Lewis’ train of thought. When so many loved ones have come and gone; so many failures outweigh so few victories. Then there are questions of whether or not the victories are the right victories? After a while it seems simplest to just stay out of it. Stay out of harm’s way. No more bruising. No more mistakes.

And then the priceless realization. Did you know that the oil from a person’s fingertip can cause a gardenia’s petals to bruise? Or the delicate visit of a hummingbird, a falling leaf, a raindrop? And so it is with our hearts. At times there is a truth that we needed to face, a season of maturing, or a chance to become less victimized. It’s a design for life. The elements that we genuinely need to grow and become will find us, no matter how careful we are, no matter how much we surround ourselves with ‘safe people’.

Our task is to receive the moment like the morning dew. Let God do His work in our hearts. We press past the yawning grief and fear, and we become the beauty that the season intends.

Ciao!

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Joy in the Coming Home

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Fear in the journey,
Joy in the coming home.
A part of the heart
Gets lost in the learning
Somewhere along the road.

Along the road, your path may wander.
A pilgrim’s faith may fail.
Absence makes the heart grow stronger.
Darkness obscures the trail.

This is an excerpt from a 90’s song called, Along the Road, by Ashton, Becker and Dente.

The rural countryside was like a giant playground to my siblings, our friends and me. Together and alone we walked and rode for miles. We knew every stand of trees and every creek bed, those belonging to our own families as well as neighboring families. Big Al had a natural spring on his property. We often stopped with our bikes to splash a bit before heading home.

Late into the nights my siblings and I would play games like flashlight tag or climb in the rafters of the barns. There were so many places that we kids knew by heart. We hid behind hay bales and played with kittens there. Stacked cord wood served as a post office. We slept under the blanket of the Milky Way and awakened to June bugs crawling over our dew-covered sleeping bags.

We sat in wild blueberry patches and munched berries under the blazing sun. Our parents handed out pails and empty hats in which to collect blackberries beside the road. Adder’s tongue sprouted in the woods by the creek while snow was still on the ground. Morels were ripe for the picking after the frost was gone; Crab apples grew in the orchard and strawberries were ready for jam in late Springtime. Each was a signpost that marked time and place for kids raised on homegrown beauty and imagination.

Even when the compass points to True North, and Truth has been grafted into our hearts, even then we lose our way. We pin our expectations on people around us. We do, and then we vilify them … only to realize the failing is our own. We take risk after risk, like the pioneers we were born to be. Then we are surprised by failure as if expecting a perfect pole vault; our hopes get dashed with every setback. Yet humility, courage and a spirit of overcoming marks the life of a true pioneer.

There’s joy in the coming home.

I can never recreate what home once was but I can be at-home in my heart. I can never confidently climb into the rafters of the barn that has been gone for years. I’m grateful, though, to walk beside courageous people whose roar stretches my capacity to dream. There are people whose inner beauty pierces my heart. They challenge me to love the City more authentically and to embrace nations. To love justice and exhibit mercy.

May your dreams and endeavors reflect the true Beauty to which you are called. May your dear ones bask in your authentic love. May you radiate the King’s heart and purpose.

 

A Woman of Excellence

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When you think of a woman you utterly respect, what does she look like? She might be your mother, and she might not. Perhaps your wife, or even a family friend. More often than not that woman has a proven track record of wisdom. Flawless? No. She’s probably poked your eyes with pins a time or two, but likely you respected her in the morning.

Ruth of the Bible was a woman of excellence, and the whole city knew it. She followed her mother-in-law into a foreign country to serve her and be a companion in her old age. It was mainly because Naomi had walked out faith in the God of Abraham. Ruth had abandoned the religious beliefs of her family and adopted the faith of her mother-in-law. This was extreme sacrifice to accept a life of likely widowhood and poverty, when she legally could have returned to her family of origin and lived much more extravagantly.

The plot thickens though. There’s a man, you see. (Hum, there’s always a man when the plot thickens. Just sayin.) His name is Boaz. And so as to shorten this blog entry, she basically asks him to marry her. I know, right? Shiggy-diggy. She goes for it. His response?

Then he said, “May you be blessed of the Lord, … You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. … do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. Ruth 3:10-11

When I think of what it means to be a woman of excellence, I’m a bit dumb-founded because this book of the Bible (or any) was written in a time when women were incredibly oppressed. Okay, understatement there. But the whole city knew she was a woman of excellence. That says to me that she didn’t go around in secret begging for mercy every step of the way.

She had a voice. She made herself heard … in wisdom.

She had compassion. She served sacrificially, and people knew it.

She knew how and when to stand, in her Esther moments, and she didn’t back down.

She knew what it meant to pay the price of obedience, and to walk that out before God. Yup, she put on her big-girl knickers and dealt with stuff.

She had the humility to admit her wrongdoings, and to correct them.

A woman of excellence.

Looking back to the woman of excellence in your own life, we both know she had failures the length of her arm. And yet. Her successes outweighed those failures by far.

A real woman keeps standing up when morning comes. She keeps clothing herself with courage and humility. A real woman sets her face like flint, and is unashamed because she knows her King.

Ciao!

Gleanings From an Expansive Heart

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The year I met Atticus was the year I first began to understand my father. Atticus Finch, from the pages of Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird, was a legendary man. As a scholarly gentleman and Scout’s Dad, he taught the world how to life a life of integrity and quiet dignity.  He insisted on living transparently enough so that his kids could learn from his experiences. The battles that Atticus fought in rural Mississippi were viscious and visible. The story revealed how compassion and a steely resolve to do the right thing were life-changing for black and white Americans in an era of steep racial tension. 

I learned more about the intentions of my Dad’s heart there in the pages of that Pulitzer Prize winning novel published in 1960 than before or ever again. One day I read on the flyleaf of the paperback book, “To Scout … ” and then I knew that my musings were accurate. He saw me there on those pages, asking the tough questions about life, just as I saw him as Atticus.

How I wish I had that book in my possession once more! I would stare at Dad’s words in the flyleaf, written in his quirky penmanship. I would scour the memories in my heart just to be able to know my Dad a little more than I did. You see, we all hope that we are Atticus whose heart was expansive and whose motives easily read in the condensed storyline. And we all hope that we are eight year old Scout, whose inquisitive questions and struggles were from the vantage point of innocent curiousity.

The thing is, we walk together through life and we think we really know one another. It’s not until stuff happens … an assault, a racially-charged lawsuit, or even a much more mundane failure … and then we begin to know what is in a person’s heart.

Back in their day God tested the Israelites in order to know what was in their hearts, to know whether or not they would obey His commands. I know what it is to want to know what is in a man’s heart. As I said, if I had my father’s copy of the book I would have those words he spoke to me as Scout. I am convinced that Dad would have longed for me to sift from the ashes of his life ~ the worthless minutae that seemed to dominate the years ~ and glean the rich, gold nuggets.  He would have wanted me to embrace his moments of an expansive heart.

Perhaps you’ll do the same for me.