Holy Moments – Day 17 – Findings

Why do we keep stuff? Have you ever been unsure about why you’ve kept an item from your early life, and yet, the idea of parting with it has always seemed wrong?

I have this book….

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I think it was my parents’. Copyright 1972. According to Amazon, there are two million copies in print, but I think mine is a first edition. There are no other printings listed on the inside cover.

This morning, I read it again for the first time in decades. It was in a dilapidated box we keep in our storage room labeled “Gretchen – Childhood,” as if the sum total of those formative years can be held within crumbling walls of cardboard.

The things we choose to save reveal something about us. Or about where we were at a moment in time.

I was totally captivated by this book as a child, even though I knew I truly did not understand it.

I remember reading it at age 7 or 8 – thinking it was a pleasant story about how two caterpillars become butterflies.

At age 11 or 12, I was perplexed. See, in the beginning, two caterpillars, Stripe and Yellow, are in love. But after awhile, they stop gazing only at one another and spend some time in a pile of caterpillars climbing over one another to reach something high in the sky. Sometimes caterpillars fall to the ground, and once, a caterpillar who briefly survives the fall whispers a mysterious message about “the top.” This feeds Stripe’s compulsion to climb. So he heads back into the pile, leaving Yellow behind.

By age 16, this book disturbed me. I distinctly remember trying to read it and then putting it aside. Partially because Yellow seemed insecure and too timid. I didn’t like her.

[S]he just couldn’t believe that the top was worth it all asks to get there…. 

She also felt stupid and embarrassed since she could never put her reasons into words that his kind of logic would accept. 

Yet somehow, waiting and not being sure was better than action she couldn’t believe in. 

At the same time, in the pile, on dark gray and green pages, Stripe is “determined to get to the top. He especially avoided meeting the eyes of other crawlers. He knew how fatal such contact could be….He disciplined himself neither to feel nor to be distracted.”  I didn’t like this guy either. He seemed insensitive. Eventually, he realizes his pile is just one of many and asks, “Something is really wrong but…what else is there?”

I was left confused. What did this all mean? Yellow was floundering and yet the pile was such a dark and dreary place.

Truth be told, I mostly avoided the book in my college years. My earlier experiences had made it subtly threatening. And then there were passages like this one, when Yellow meets another caterpillar who has opted to build a cocoon rather than climb. She has this troubling conversation with him:

How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively. 

 “You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

“You mean to die?” asked Yellow, remembering the three who fell out of the sky.

“Yes and No,” he answered. “What looks like you will die but what’s really you will still live. Life is changed, not taken away. Isn’t that different from those who die without ever becoming butterflies?”

In my late twenties, when I was newly married and my life happily consisted only of my husband and my work, I could see that Yellow’s decision to become a butterfly was a courageous leap into the unknown. But I was reaching…for something. That’s probably why, when Yellow (as a butterfly) meets Stripe at the top of pile, my heart was not moved like Stripe’s.

Looking into the creature’s eyes he could hardly bear the love he saw there. He felt unworthy. He wanted to change, to make up for all the times he had refused to look at the other. 

He tried to tell her what he felt. 

He stopped struggling. 

The others stared at him as though he were mad.

It can be read as a sweet exchange between lovers. And I think that’s what I thought. But I also had enough maturity to see this book as a metaphor for many of life’s experiences. Good enough, right? I was settled in that knowledge. I figured there was no need for me to think any more about it.

However, deep inside, I kept this book knowing it was not for sentimental reasons. The story had taken me on an emotional ride for my entire life. Nevertheless, it went (in its box) into storage.

That was about fifteen years ago, when I was blind to this story’s application to my life. But as the years passed, both of Stripe’s and Yellow’s feelings described me.

Feelings of unworthiness? Check.

Desire to change? Check.

Shame that holds you back from the tender gaze of Love? Check.

Inability to describe the inner struggle? Check.

In my thirties, I did what Stripe ultimately does. I ignored the voices who told me I was ‘mad’ – some of them internal, some of them not – and climbed down from the pile to build a cocoon. And in the space of submission and quiet, I allowed myself to be led on a process of growth that included letting go of my preconceived notions about success, a confession of all the ways I had done wrong in my life, and a surrender to Perfect Love. Real Love. The Grace from above, freely given. Sacrificial. To the point of death. On a cross.

And somehow, in becoming less, I became more of who I really am. The person I was always meant to be.

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.

– 2 Corinthians 5:17

Hope for the Flowers has a new home: on my shelves of old treasures.

Holy Moments – Day 16 – Les Jacobins

AquinasQuote_Cross

My daughter asked me last night why we have to sleep. (This kid would absolutely forgo it, if she could.)

I told her that I didn’t have a detailed answer for her, but that scientists tell us we need to relax our brains – to give them a rest from everything they’ve been processing all day long. If we didn’t get a break every night, our minds wouldn’t function well. They would just be overloaded with too much information that would become a tangled mess as we tried to sort it all out.  Our minds need time to throw out garbage and put important items into long-term storage.

Whether this made sense to her or not, I don’t know. But this morning, in my studies and on FaceBook, one name kept popping up: Thomas Aquinas. And once again, I was taken back to that pivotal year in my development: 1992-1993, my junior year of college when I studied abroad in Toulouse, France. I often think that if I had been forced to process everything I was exposed to in that year, in the time I was experiencing it, my brain just might have exploded. The lessons I was taught – academically, interpersonally, and spiritually – have lasted to this day, and more is being revealed to me as the decades pass. I have needed time, rest, and maturity to take it all in. If there is one year of education I haven’t thanked my parents for enough – this would be the one.

So, for the duration of this 31-day series, don’t be surprised if I’m revisiting France a few more times. I’m not trying to relive my past. The Lord just keeps bringing it back, because there were holy moments there. And I was aware of them the time, but I didn’t have words to speak about them. And He was taking me on a journey…

Now – me and Thomas Aquinas.

It was September 1992 and my fellow students from the Dickinson College study abroad program were with an art historian preparing to enter a church near the town center of Toulouse, Les Jacobins. It dates from 1350, and from the outside, it looks like this:

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The floor plan is unusual, and that’s the first thing you notice when you get inside. In 2011, there was some extensive work done on the church to secure its foundation, so I’m not sure where you enter now, but when I was there, you came in at the door above the letter ‘C’ on the floor plan pictured here.

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At the far end of the nave is the Jacobins’ famous column, admired for its architectural originality. Ten palms cascade out from its center. Here you can see the church’s narrow space and some of the green and red detail of the palms in the column.

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Jacobins_Column_1992

In this quiet hall, under the altar, lies the tomb of Saint Thomas Aquinas – one of the ‘doctors’ of the Catholic Church, an exemplary thinker and saint whom many, if not most, consider the preeminent theologian of the Catholic faith.

512px-Tomb_of_St._Thomas_Aquinas

I was nineteen when I entered this room in September 1992.

I was captivated by its beauty.

And intrigued by its complicated ceiling.

And it’s here that I realized I was ignorant.

Truly, ignorant.

When I arrived in France, I knew next to nothing about Catholicism or the growth of the Church in Europe.

Our art historian teacher was passionate about this building. She talked about the stones, the stained glass, the Dominican Order, the history of the attached cloister, and its enclosed garden. We would come to spend a great deal of time with this lady, and though she never professed faith of any kind, I came in time to understand that what she was describing in each church we visited was an unfolding story of a people giving glory to God.

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I visited many, many churches in Europe that year.

Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur in Paris.

Chartres Cathedral.

Midnight Mass in the Cathedral at Strasbourg.

St. Peter’s in Rome.

The Duomo in Florence.

Westminster Abbey.

Each one of these masterpiece cathedrals is worthy of a long visit and is a cherished artifact of history.

But Les Jacobins is the church that has stayed with me. I think of it more than any other.

Why?

Perhaps because it was where I realized there was so much I didn’t know. And in the silence of the rooms, which I came back to on my own throughout my time in Toulouse, I realized that not knowing was acceptable.

At a time in my life when I was anxious to figure it all out, to have the answers to life’s biggest questions – Who am I to love? Who loves me? What should I be doing for a career? Where will I go? How will I make it? What will become of me? – At this soul-searching time, my soul found respite here.

It was here that I could sit still. That I could listen to a concert. That I could just stare. At a ceiling. At the arches. And enjoy it.

By calling me back to revisit Les Jacobins time and again, God was opening His arms and saying, “Come. Rest in me.”

Holy Moments – Day 13 – Mac Cam

I lived in Manhattan from 1994 to 1996 – the two years just after college graduation. It was a paycheck to paycheck existence, and I was fairly creative with ramen noodles. But that’s not the point of this post.

One day, I was crossing Fifth Avenue at the foot of Central Park, near the Plaza Hotel, when I noticed a high fashion model doing a photo shoot on the island at the middle of the street. It was late summer, and she was dressed in a brown wool coat and coordinating hat, tights, and stiletto boots. Every glossy hair was in place, she stood in a way no average person ever would, and she held her chin up, as if she disdained the city while also trying to blend into it. Nothing about her ‘look’ said, “I’m comfortable.”

I have no idea, of course, but I’m guessing she was feeling a bit self-conscious. She had made herself the target of the camera’s eye, and she was doing everything she had been told was necessary to be worthy of its attention.

I thought about her when I came across these photos the other night.

Photo 4 MacCam2008CateGretchen Photo 104  Photo 63 MacCamAidanGretchen2007 Aidan_Me_MacCam2007

Taken more than 7 years ago with the tiny camera staring down at me from the top of our now-ancient Mac, they are “I can’t-believe we still have these” photos. Compared to most of our others, they are terrible. The lighting is awful, there is no composition to speak of, they are grainy, and the quality is poor. And those special effects the kids love? EEk. But, they also capture the essence of something the more “perfect” photos do not.

Me and my two oldest kids when they were really little.

This is us.

Unfiltered. Uncombed. Untidy. Silly. Happy.

But as I look at these pictures, I also know there is only one person who was feeling like that fashion model. Only one who was self-conscious because she was self-critical. Me.

How often, as I approach God in prayer, trying to understand how He could love me unconditionally as His child, do I only see myself with a reductive gaze? I pick myself apart. I hold back on talking to Him about certain things. I convince myself I have some kind of power in this way.

But God is like the camera. He sees what’s there. All of it. And He wants me to come to Him like children do.

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:1-4

Children are naturally trusting, tender-hearted, curious, humble, and free of skepticism and cynicism. Look at how my kids threw themselves at the camera with abandon. There’s not a trace of self-hatred in them.

“That’s all well and good,” I might say, “but they haven’t suffered…haven’t had to make the hard choices that I have… yet.”

Is this a reasonable response?

The following verse adds:

“And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” – Matthew 18:5

Can I look at myself – in a mirror, or in a camera – and see His image? Can I receive Him, in me?

The criticism we heap on ourselves can only be useful if we hold it up to the Light of the Lord’s love. If we allow Him to enter into the places we try to hide from Him, He will grant us the wisdom see what we can change with His help, and what is beautiful just as it is.

It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus.  – Philippians 3:12

 

Holy Moments – Day 11 – Let Go, Again

This month isn’t going the way I’d planned. Yes – it’s been fantastically surprising in some ways…We’re up to 115 women in the Bible Study I love so much and wrote about here just days ago!…But on other fronts, I personally have felt – encumbered. And I have been strenuously trying to not become impatient with the state of things, but it’s hard. Because the truth of the matter is, it’s not things that are weighing me down, it’s my expectations about them. I’ll explain.

More than two weeks ago, for the second time in the 13 years since we’ve lived in this house, the racks on my side of the master closest literally fell off the walls, leaving gaping holes and a mess of clothing, shoes, and purses all over the floor. We decided it was time for a complete re-do, and ordered a new ‘closet system’ – to be installed tomorrow. We’ll be glad we did the appropriate planning when it’s finished but meantime, we’ve been stepping over piles upon piles, and right now, I’m sick of looking at the stuff. I’m now thinking that one single pair of jeans, shoes, and a t-shirt sounds like a ‘good enough’ wardrobe. And my own attitude is getting on my nerves.

Secondly, in the last week of September, I decided to move my blog to a new host and to overhaul its design entirely (I was blind to how hard this would be), while also challenging myself to write every day for the month of October. My husband – the voice of reason – gently reminded me that blog pieces can be short. Very short. But did I listen? No. Instead, I jotted down a list of stories I want to tell, each requiring at least an hour of writing time, and this month? Well, let’s just say I didn’t take a good look at my calendar before I announced, “Challenge Accepted.”

Am I impatient to have things fall into line – Clothes re-hung? Blog posts spaced perfectly? Photos just-so? All of life’s wrinkles removed?

You bet.

But should I expect them to be done immediately?

We all say, “No way!” and yet, I know I’m not the only one who is banging her head against the wall day after day, trying to put square pegs into round holes on a schedule that’s partially dictated by the incessant needs of three school-aged kids.

This is what happens when I let the flesh lead. When I let the desires of my ego, brain, and self-centered drive for perfection and order (as if I could make ‘perfect’ happen!) take over my days.  I end up in a state of misery. And it’s rather pathetic actually, because I have caviar problems for sure, and no one but me cares about the disarray I’m staring at day after day. Or so I think.

Last Thursday, I was entering Safeway to pick up orange juice and bread when I saw my friend’s name pop up on my phone. It was a notice that she had commented on my blog. I knew I couldn’t read what she’d said until I got home (another glitch since the transition), but I felt a wave of relief just seeing her name – as if we were in fellowship right there. I thought about her as I bought my items, and then I realized I could use the Starbucks card she’d given me in Safeway to take a break and sit for a moment. I can’t recall the last time I sat still to enjoy something so delicious. That White Chocolate Mocha was heaven sent.

On Thursday, in a tiny way, God stepped in to remind me that He sees it all. The messes. The frustrations. The way I’ve held it in. The way I’ve taken it out – on myself.  And that savored gift of coffee from a friend was His way of telling me – ‘You’re holding on a little too tight, Gretchen.  Come, follow me. Again.’

Feeling refreshed, I took a walk and a photo of this rose. And I realized it was time to relinquish my expectations for this month. My plan was not His plan, and His plan is the better one for me. 

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If I write, I write for His glory. If my house is tidy, it’s for the benefit of my family and their well-being, and that goal is best achieved while I’m seeing my role as wife, mother, and homemaker in its proper perspective, as my blessed vocation.

My obsessions with trivial concerns rob me of joy and the life He came to give me. I thank God for His reminders, and for the people He’s placed in my path, to show me that the journey is meant to include moments of care and tenderness to self.

 

Trying Not to Excuse Myself

“A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many. When the time for the dinner came, he dispatched his servant to say to those invited, ‘Come, everything is now ready.’ But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves.” 

– Luke 14:16-18

Do you wake up like me, with a ‘to-do’ list running through your head? And the more I’d like to get done, the more I begin to believe I have a compelling reason to skip morning prayer time. I have to settle my mind, force myself into the Word, and it’s a struggle. Here’s how it looked today:

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Yes, my Bible is open there, but see those sheets of notebook paper to the right, and that big binder?  Collectively, those are “my brains” – the lists of calls I need to make, emails I need to send, notes I need to write, schedules (mine and 3 kids’) I need to manage, and stuff I need to buy. Thrilling, right? And yet, this morning, I kept thinking of things that pertained to “my brains” and I just had to write them down or I was going to forget them.

One could argue this is just good organization, and it is also evidence of my battle for control, but the bigger issue here is that every day I am invited to spend time with the One who alone can give me proper perspective about what’s important and what’s not. And even though I know His guidance is best, have learned its benefits from experience, I still have trouble accepting the invitation.

This morning, I actually began my prayer time with that Galatians study I’ve been doing. But eventually, I just asked God to show me what He’d like me to see. I began to flip through Scripture, as I often do when my mind feels unsettled, and the parable from Luke jumped off the page. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Because…

[T]he Lord searches all hearts and understands all the mind’s thoughts. If you seek him, he will let himself be found by you.

-1 Chronicles 28:9

I know this to be true as well.

His house is open. I’m invited. And to get the nourishment I need, I have to go in, sit at the table, and taste the dinner.

Transition

Two weeks ago, I was shopping in Whole Foods when I saw my friend. She was standing by the olive bar with a downcast face, spooning a mixture of fruits into one of the plastic cups provided for purchases. We’ve known one another for more than a decade and met through a playgroup when our oldest kids were babies. She’s always smiling – one those people whose eyes twinkle joyfully most of the time. But her sadness hung on her like a heavy robe. And I understood. Completely.

Our “babies” – two vivacious boys – had started Kindergarten that day, and though we knew the boys were fine and wholly ready for this stage of their young lives, the transition was going to be hard – for us. We’d both been ‘at home’ with at least one child every day for the last 12 years. And while the separation from them would be brief (7 hours can go very quickly), the days suddenly seemed quiet. Too quiet.

I told her, “I lost it while driving yesterday. Started crying. Not good! And he didn’t know what to do. Poor guy. I told him through tearful smiles, ‘I’m so excited for you! But I’m going to miss you!'”

Apparently, my friend had had exactly the same experience. While driving. And then there we were, hugging in the produce section of Whole Foods.

What is it about following routines that can trigger the deepest of emotions? When something in our lives changes, routines suddenly seem anything but routine. They become more focused, more deliberate, somehow. We start to think more about where we’re going, what we’re doing, and why.

So how have I spent my last two weeks? Doing some of the same stuff I always have, but I’ve also gone full bore into a long list of projects that I’ve been waiting to tackle…

Sewing.  FullSizeRender copy 2

Shopping for artwork for the barren walls of my office.  IMG_2441

RedoingIMG_2452 our daughter’s room…I cleared the knick-knacks out of the way, and my husband painted the color our daughter chose. (Can I just say what an awesome dad he is?)

 

FullSizeRender copy 5Thinking about taming our overgrown  yard. (Whoever sits on our porch is risking their life.)

 

 

Tackling years’ worth of albums and scrapbooks that haven’t been updated (or in some cases, even started!).

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FullSizeRender copy 3And, deciding it was time to relinquish a few safeguards that are only required when parenting the very young.

 

 

So, I have my work cut out for me.  Rather, I’ve put some work on myself.

See, it’s easy for me to throw myself into these tasks, thinking that by going through the motions of improving the external, I can become ‘settled’ on the inside.

And over the last two weeks, I have certainly focused on the “shoulds” that have been pestering me for a long time.

I should beautify this house. I should get rid of the clutter. I should follow-through on projects I never finished. I should…I should

What an awful word. Should. It always makes me feel like I’ve fallen short. Of my capabilities. Of my responsibilities. Of my dreams. Of my expectations, however unrealistic, which are so often not exactly mine, but what I presume others’ expectations to be – of me. At the core, should makes me believe I’ve missed the mark – of ‘goodness.’

Separating what’s truly important from the ego in me that wants to just “get it all under control” takes effort, discernment, and quiet. The kind of quiet I can fill up with projects that aren’t intrinsically bad, but that might not align with what I know to be my calling in this life – to love and serve others according to God’s plans, not mine.

In my recent study of Galatians, I came across this verse:

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of the promise. But just as then the child of the flesh persecuted the child of the spirit, it is the same now.  (Galatians 4: 28-29)

Every day, I have a choice. I can be an Isaac, and live fully freed by the grace of God through the covenant he established with me when I recognized that Jesus Christ  came to set me free from the traps of my own making that separate me from God. Or, I can be Ishmael, Isaac’s half-brother, who was pushed into the wilderness, cut off from any of his father’s inheritance. Worse yet, I can live in a transitional spot, teetering between knowing and embracing the gifts of a Spirit-led life, while also entertaining the shoulds of my flesh, which followed outright will drive me to ruin and despair. Basically, my flesh can persecute my spirit. Where will I lean in this transition?

As a child of the Promise, I’ve experienced the priceless fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). But to enjoy them in this earthly life, I need to stay close to Him.

My oldest son was poking fun at me the other day, prodding me about those albums.

“Mom, are you gonna cry over the photos of us?  Boohoo! My babies! Boohoo!”

As he curled his fingers into loose fists and rubbed his jolly eyes like an infant would, I returned his smile, but with a smug, knowing grin. It’ll be decades before he understands how much I love him and his brother and sister, that I would cut out my heart to save each of theirs. And then I think…

Yes exactly. You’d die for this child of yours. But the Way of eternal love is felt most acutely by fully embracing the present as the gift that it is. So don’t cry over the past. This is the start of a different era. Embrace your new freedom. Live within peace and gentleness. Focus on what has eternal value. Look ahead. Joyfully. 

There is an appointed time for everything.

And there is a time for every event under heaven—

Ecclesiates 3:1

Brownie Points

Have you ever stood in the corner of your kitchen, hiding from your youngest child, and eating the very last brownie – just before you dash out the door to pick up the other two kids, while thinking two things?

1. Now the three of them won’t fight over it….

And,

2. Man, I deserve this.

Here’s the (partial) proof of my stolen moment.
I only thought to take a picture for you after my first bite. Sorry!

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Truth be told, I started writing this piece in June just before school let out for the summer, dropped in the photo, and never finished it. But some things don’t change. Here I am, mid-July, still feeling that I ‘deserve’ something along the lines of a brownie every day.

What is that ugliness inside me that argues for more despite all that I already have? And more significantly – why can’t I shake that rascal voice on my own?

I was thinking last night about the futility of my own thinking. About the fact that none of my lingering issues over the years – the ones that have plagued me and developed into worry, fear, anxiety and obsession – none of them have been solved by my intellect. So, mulling things over for any length of time – wondering why I might have been in a funk, wanting to withdraw from friends and the like  – won’t help me.

At the same time, talking these things through with well-meaning people won’t help either unless those people are the kind that point me in the direction I already know I need to go. Back to do the work that needs to be done.

Because over the years, I’ve learned that the most effective way to deal with ME is not to huddle in the corner of my kitchen eating the last brownie and justifying it with “good reasoning.” No. I need to turn myself over to the One who knows Me best.

But He is a gentleman. He doesn’t chase after the woman He loves. He waits patiently for me, and then loves with tender abandon so that I remember that my heart, in fact – my life, was made to glorify Him.

So this morning, I grab my tea and head to my desk with my Bible, book of verses, and journal. I tell the kids I’ll answer their questions – about re-wrapping an injured hand, and whether we can melt some crayons and coconut oil to make homemade lip-balm today – after I spend some time with God.

And this is Our time – me and The Lord. And hiding here with Him is the best place to find refreshment. So much better than a brownie.

The Lord is my strength and my shield,

in whom my heart trusted and found help,

So my heart rejoices;

with my song I praise my God.

Psalm 28:7

 

Healing with Butterfly Beauty

An uncluttered mind is quick to see beauty. Thus, my youngest sees beauty everywhere. And he points it out, saying, “Mom. Look at that beautiful ________.”  It’s usually when I’m totally preoccupied by something, anything, other than seeing life for the gift that it is. Two cases in point. We were at the pediatrician’s office a few weeks back and he tapped my arm. “Mom. Look at that beautiful tree. Can I take a picture?” I gave him my phone. Here’s his tree. image What you can’t see in this photo is that the tree was blowing ever so gently in the wind, each of its leaves shimmering a different shade of emerald – a thousand ephemeral jewels twinkling for whomever would stop to appreciate them. And I would have missed them all if it weren’t for the open eyes of my young child.

Then, on Saturday, a similar event. I’m bounding up and down the two flights of steps at the front of our house, unloading a carful of groceries, ignoring my son as he stares intently into a shady section of our overgrown euonymus tree. On one of my passes down the steps back to the car he whispers, “Mom. Come here. Look at this beautiful butterfly.” image This time, I spend so long looking that it’s a small miracle I even get this photo, for I am caught up in watching the silent opening and closing of her wings. My son and I scarcely breathe, seeing her shift position on the tiny flowers – her legs dancing on the stems and leaves, and we notice the miniscule, almost imperceptible feathers on her wings which become visible only when you are this close. Oh, to be still, and see. It is Love, given.

All too soon she flutters up, over the treetop, and away. She is the day’s unexpected gift of presence.

I had wanted to write about her yesterday. But was I caught up in the news…

When the world hurts my heart, like it did yesterday, taking time to focus on beauty is healing.

My son and I took one of our dogs for a walk this morning. On the way, we saw a stunning yellow and black butterfly ahead of us on the path – like it was beckoning us – to follow it.

 

Watchmen in a Lofty Tower

My second job after graduating from college was working for Chanel. Yes – the fashion company. I had majored in French and got my position as an assistant to the president because I would be answering many phone calls from France, and I needed to be prepared to launch into whichever language the caller preferred.

Anyway, one of my responsibilities was to cull through a stack of glossy magazines every morning until I found the Chanel ad. Then, I would place the open magazine on a stack in the president’s office for his review. (Now, if you’re thinking that this is beginning to sound like a job that’s a bit too simple for a college grad, you’ll be happy to know your line of thinking is right in line with mine. When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to hop departments, I took my perfume and cosmetic freebies, and a few heavily marked-down scarves and clothes, and politely scooted out of there in less than 6 months….but that’s another story.)

My point is this: at Chanel, we were selling a “look” and a “lifestyle.” Image truly was everything. Branding was the holy grail. Ad placement  was critical to success and to maintaining the consumers’ faith that our products were superior, favored by a certain class of people, and likely to help users fit into that social niche as well. This is what targeting sales to a particular group is all about. You want your buyers to feel they are “in.”

Fast forward twenty years. I don’t have a single Chanel cosmetic in my  home (I do have the scarves, I admit), but I’m still a consumer (and we all are) – just of a different sort. I don’t read many magazines…but here are the two currently on my coffee table:

image

I’m a sucker for these – Real Simple and Good Housekeeping. I even like the titles. I mean, really – who doesn’t want to “streamline your wardrobe and your space,” “get a discount on anything,” “clean anything,” find “great gifts,” have fun in the backyard, and make easy meals your kids will eat featuring roasted red peppers cut into star shapes???!!  Me?!!?  I’m doing all of this – this week!!

Right. Sanity break. Or mental break down.

So, why do I bring this all up? Well, those of you who read my blog regularly know that I write about my faith. And this morning, I was shuffling through the Word when I came across two passages which just really spoke to me. The first is this:

O Lord, our God, other lords than you have ruled us;

it is from you only that we can call upon your name. 

 – Isaiah 26:3

If we think we have “no other gods before Him” we are deceiving ourselves. How often have I allowed my desires to have the perfect home, wear just the right thing, or look a certain way to encroach upon or supersede entirely, God’s place of highest honor in my life and heart? This is a hard, hard question for me to face head on, because I have a long history of caring way too much about what others think of me. But I know that living like that, is living in chains.

The second passage is this one:

Every counselor points out a way, but some counsel ways of their own; Be on the alert when one proffers advice, find out first of all what he wants, For he may be thinking of himself alone; why should the profit fall to him? …

A man’s conscience can tell his situation better than seven watchmen in a lofty tower. Most important of all, pray to God to set your feet in the path of truth.

– Sirach 37: 7-8, 14-15

When I worked for Chanel, our offices were on the upper floors of a gleaming skyscraper overlooking Central Park in New York City. The taxicabs and buses below were miniature vehicles driving on gray lines around a green rectangle. Pedestrians resembled ants. From that vantage point, knowing we catered to an elite clientele, it certainly seemed like we were watchmen in a lofty tower.

But today I know – I don’t need watchmen – whether they’re conveying their counsel through magazines or over cups of coffee. Because, however well-intentioned or ‘fun’ it might be, the key for me is recognizing that I already have everything I need to make wise choices in my life. It’s about me, my conscience, and deepening my ongoing relationship with God.

Now that’s Real Simple.

Exposed, Like Paul

Have you heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)? It’s nifty, really. Wikipedia defines it as “psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.” Click here for more info if you’re interested. But for the point of this story, just know that my ‘type’ is INFP – Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving. In general, and as the chart on that page indicates very briefly, I am “sensitive, creative, idealistic, perceptive, caring, and loyal,” rather than analytical, realistic and systematic. I “value inner harmony and personal growth, and focus on dreams and possibilities,” as opposed to action plans and practical problem solving. It’s not to say that I’m not capable of being or acting in ways different than my so-called ‘type,’ but a person’s ‘type,’ indicates their natural preferences. 

So – my husband and I have had a light, passing interest in Myers-Briggs for basically our whole marriage. And last week, my husband emailed me this funny tidbit about what would be “hell” for my type. (Find yours here.)

INFP  — Your deepest thoughts and feelings are exposed to a large audience and everyone thinks that you’re pathetic and unoriginal.  


I replied:  Guess I should stop writing my blog! 🙂 


So anyway….As I mentioned on Sunday, I’ve been doing this study on Galatians, which was of course written by Paul, one of the people from Scripture that I really want to meet one day. 


Now Paul’s conversion was not a sweet and simple “turning of the heart.” It was a total transformation. In Acts we learn that Paul (formerly known as Saul) consented to the execution by stoning of Stephen – the first recorded Christian martyr, and “was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment.” (Acts 8:3) Not a nice guy. 


The Paul writing to the Galatians is altogether different: “Am I now currying favor with human beings or God? Or am I seeking to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)


Whoa. When we know the truth about who Paul was before he met the Light of the World, we can see that him calling himself “a slave of Christ” is no small statement. This is a man who is reveling in humility before God. 


And that’s why I admire Paul. As I mentioned Sunday, he didn’t connect with the apostles for 3 years after meeting Christ in that blinding light. And though I mentioned that he relied on prayer, he also had the Holy Spirit, imparting His gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2). These things together were tethers to the Father, but they required Paul’s cooperation for their full strength to be revealed. And though I’m not an expert, it sure seems like Paul was among the most cooperative Christians whoever lived. 


And as Paul submitted himself wholly to Jesus, the Lord took Paul’s gifts of intelligence, knowledge of holy Scripture (the Old Testament books), and speaking ability and put them to use building up a kingdom that God has promised “the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against” (Matthew 16:18).

I often wonder what that “thorn in the flesh” was, that Paul wanted removed so badly (2 Corinthians 12:7). Did he get migraine headaches like me? Suddenly have some other physical ailment? Or was it a psychological complaint?  A personality trait he disliked, and of course begged God to remove because he so fully recognized his inability to change himself on his own? Did he have stage fright? Did the people he’d tortured and killed come back to him in his worst nightmares? Was he ever just plain fearful that he wasn’t doing God’s will? Because if he was, I can’t find the proof. His courage, his faith, is astounding.


I won’t have these answers on this side of Heaven. But I will keep learning from Paul by reading his letters. And though it takes courage that I sometimes feel I don’t have, I will try to be like him – going against my INFP ‘type’ – exposing myself, my thoughts, and feelings willingly to new, larger audiences – not to please people, but as a slave of Christ, my Rock, my Redeemer.