Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Day 7 - It Sounds Better in French

I had a revelation today: 

When you go to a nice restaurant the food is so beautifully described that you want to order one of everything.  At a "regular" restaurant, this is not so.  Squash is just squash.  At a nice restaurant, however, it is "Julienned summer squash delicately sauteéd in a garlic-orange-wild-thyme-infused butter and slow-roasted to perfection, topped with a ginger-balsamic reduction."  Here's the catch:  the food might not actually taste better at the nice restaurant, but because it has been defined so positively, your perception of it has changed.  You now want it, because you see it as more valuable.

What if we took our problems - our "squash" - and redefined it in a positive light?  Would our perception change?  Would we be able to see the good in it?  Could we even desire it? (Squash is, after all, high in nutrients.)

"Difficult child" becomes "Rare and exotic human, hand-picked while tender and prepared to precise instructions over years to achieve a maturity and fragrance unparalleled."

"Car trouble" becomes "Golden opportunity to learn mechanical engineering while simultaneously training for half-marathon and improving cardio-vascular fitness."

I think I just stumbled upon a key... If I move myself over from "regular restaurant" to "nice restaurant", would I define myself differently? More positively?  Would I see myself as more valuable by virtue of a changed perception?

I am SO jumping off of the Wimpy menu and onto the La Pentola menu (because the Honey Mustard Warthog - slices of warthog loin pan-fried in butter and black mustard seeds, flamed in 1920 Portuguese brandy, flavoured with honey and Dijon mustard, bound with cream - is out of this world!)  World, get ready for Anna!

Day 6 - Allow

I inherited my papa's clarinet.  It has such a rich, mellow tone that has been built into the wood through years of playing.
Like all instruments, it occasionally needs tuning and adjustments.  Pads need to be replaced, screws need to be tightened, cork needs to be greased, and the keys need to be checked to make sure they seal properly.  I suppose, if clarinets had nocioceptors, this would be a painful process.  It would be even worse if the clarinet resisted me and tried to take control.  Assuming a clarinet could do that, what would result is an instrument that refused to be improved because "it hurts".  The clarinet's functionality is inversely proportional to its stubbornness.  I, the musician, would be able to do nothing but sit, watch the clarinet fall into disrepair, and lament its wasted potential.

This is a silly story, no?  If I think of myself as the clarinet, however, and God as the musician, then it's not so funny.  It hits a little too close to home.  I have spent years trying to be in control, resisting God's refining because "it's painful" and trying to play myself rather than let the Great Musician play His music through me (and yes, I'm sure I have a few "loose screws"!). 

Few things are more sad than wasted potential.  It's time to surrender control and allow God to have His way, trusting that He will restore me as an instrument of His grace.

(I know this week's photos were supposed to be about putting myself in the picture of God's beauty all around me, but this IS God's beauty - His gentle reminders and spiritual truths taught through every day tasks.  I really do feel loved.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Day 5 - Colour!

I used to have this neighbour who painted the walls of her house bright colours.  "Bright" is perhaps an understatement.  Her dining room was yellow, but it was not your average buttercream, lemon or golden yellow.  It was "mustard on steroids" yellow.  The colour of her bedroom walls was what I affectionately called "Barbie coughs up a lung" pink.  My neighbour loved her house, and I thought she was crazy.

These days I've changed my tune and I think I finally understand what my neighbour did:  Colour is beautiful.  Colour brings joy.  Colour inspires.

Children understand this implicitly.  They are exuberant in their colouring and their clothing combinations.  God also understands this.  One has only to look at colour combinations in nature to see that this is true.  It is we adults who have "lost" this understanding.

Why is it that we care more about others' opinions than about what brings us joy?  Why do we live our lives according to "social convention" and let that hinder us from being creative and free?  We end up painting our walls taupe, sandstone and beige, and then pride ourselves on being "normal".

Today, I did something I've always wanted to do but never did because "You're Not Supposed To".  I did something that will likely cause people to stare and say, "Aren't you a little old for that?" to which I shall smile and politely reply, "Probably. But it brings me joy."
 My neighbour would be proud.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 4 - Speechless

I don't know how to begin this post so I'm just going to dive in and hope it forms a coherency by the end.

I may struggle.  I may have issues.  I may even have glaring faults, but when I worship on Sundays I leave all that behind for several reasons:
  1. I don't ever want worship to be a performance.  I want to be a facilitator - someone who points people to the most amazing God.  To that end,
  2. Worship must come from a sincere heart.  I must come as I am and give all that I am.  There is no measuring up or not measuring up at this point. There is only vulnerability between me and my Maker.
  3. Worship is between God and me and yet there is an honouring of the congregation as well.  I honour them in their "holy otherness" when I have the courage to be vulnerable in front of them, to share from my deepest heart and hold nothing back. That is the only way I know how to point them to Jesus.
Dan took some photos this morning.  I didn't even notice him.  This afternoon as I was downloading today's pictures, I saw them.  And... I'm shocked.
 I never knew I looked like that when I worship.  When I look at myself or think about myself, I think "fat", "ugly", and "doesn't measure up."  I hold myself to a standard that is unattainable and one that I would never impose upon anyone else.  It's my life's battle, and I hate admitting it to you.  But this...

When I look at these photos of myself (which feels embarrassing and narcissistic and is why I didn't want to do the assignment this week), I see... beauty.  I see a heart that longs to know God in spite of its failures and weaknesses. And I'm speechless.  I never saw myself from the "outside" as I have in these photos.
Is this the way God sees me?  Is this what I look like to everyone else? And most importantly - the next time I think untruths about myself, will I be reminded of this?  I can no longer refuse to see myself as beautiful in God's eyes or to love myself as He loves me when I look at these photos.

As strange as this may sound, that scares me.  Believing a lie can be such an ingrained pattern that it's comfortable. It's what I know.  Accepting the truth is scary because it carries me into unknown paths and changes my whole paradigm.  It's good, yes.  Absolutely good.  Yet this is the scariest (and most incoherent!) post I've ever written.  Still, I'm determined to continue the journey. 

He decidido seguir a Jesús y no voy a dar marcha atrás.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Day 3 - Calm After the Storm

It is still. I lie on the floor, prostrate, and after a moment's silence and reflection on the past three days I speak.

"I place myself here, God, as though on an altar. Whoever I am and whatever I have - take it. Burn off the impurities so all that remains is as gold.  Make of me a vessel fit to carry and dispense Your love.

"Yes, I know what I'm asking. I know it will hurt - this refining - and does not come without a cost. I know it will require my will, my control. I am prepared to pay that price. I release it all. Please, God, just turn me into my name - grace - and extend that grace to the world. That IS my heart's greatest desire. Amen."

I move outside to read. The sun is warm but not too warm. There is a gentle breeze and I become sleepy. The leaves rustle in the trees, the birds sing their afternoon song, and I fall asleep with the warmth of the sun falling on me as though God covered me with His own blanket.

The battle is over. It is quiet and calm, and I fall into a deep sleep of peace.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Day 2 - Grace in the Battle

My mind has been a huge battlefield these past two days.  Emotion has been warring against (rather than working with) Intellect.  I know God loves me but I don't feel that love. I know I'm made in the image of God but I don't feel beautiful or worthy.

Feelings are a tricky thing. They can lead us astray from what's actually happening and yet they can't really be discounted, either.  I may not want to feel a certain way, but I have to concede that I do feel that way, even if it contrasts with what I know intellectually to be true. I can only deal with my feelings when I first acknowledge them. 

Today my emotions are more in line with my intellect (at least, they're moving in that direction) and I am thankful for the grace that has been extended to me these past few days.  My armour is a little dented, but you know what?  That affirms I'm engaged in the battle. If my armour still looked shiny and new, I'd be assuming a position of passivity; I would have given up the fight.  But I'm still fighting, and that gives me hope!

"Wanneer die Bose julle aanval, sal julle weerstand kan bied, en na die hele geveg verby is, sal julle nog vas staan." ~ Efesieërs 6,13

And after everything, to stand.  Battle scars, dented armour and all.  I'm still standing.  And if you're not, take my hand.  I'll help you to your feet.  We can do this.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Shift in Focus

I'm still stinging from yesterday.  I feel raw and sore and have a sense of walking on eggshells rather than dancing fearlessly with Grace.

I was challenged yesterday to put myself in the pictures of God's love and beauty all around me, to step out from behind the camera.  For the next week (or maybe longer) I'll try to include myself in these photos of God's love, but it's hard for me to see myself as part of the picture.  It's much easier and safer to hide behind the camera.  Still... growth does not come without a bit of discomfort, does it?  So here we go...

 Maybe if I sing it enough it will start to sink in...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Day 14 - Tears and the Grace of Striped Socks

Today was rough.  I thought I had this down - this seeing God's love and basking in it - but I couldn't see it at all today.  In fact, everything I saw today seemed to scream, "You're a failure. You're worthless.  Give up!"  And I don't like admitting that to you.  I want to have a beautiful insight to share with you, I want to encourage you, I want to share how I've grown with you.  But I can't today.

All I can share with you are my tears and my confession:  I didn't feel God's love today.  I couldn't even love myself today.  And I hate not being able to get past that.  I share this because I respect you enough to be honest with you in saying that growth is hard sometimes.  Facing my issues is, well... it sucks.  But I'm going to keep at it.  And I can say with certainty - and even a faint glimmer of hope - that tomorrow is another day.  And maybe... if some of you felt like that today as well, you can know that you weren't alone.  We can cry together and share the journey towards healing and wholeness.

I did see this today, however, which made me smile:

In order to get that photo without the cute old couple knowing, I had to take a bunch of photos that looked like this:

Needless to say they noticed that.  I'm sure they're still talking about the weird lady who kept taking photos of her toes...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Day 13 - Only a Child of God

Lucy was selected to be a Grade 7 prefect this year.  I got to pin Lucy's prefect badge on her in a special ceremony at school.  As I was hugging her and telling her that I love her I was reminded of the chorus of a song called "Child of God":

"Father, You're all I need,
My soul's sufficiency,
My strength when I am weak,
The love that carries me,
Your arms enfold me, till I am only
A child of God."

May we find our identity in being a child of God - not in our position life, our occupation or in what we possess but in being the beloved of God.  "Only" that... nothing more.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Day 12 - Marvel

As I was getting ready this morning I saw this lacewing on my bathroom wall.  Its wings shimmered in the sunlight and I stopped what I was doing, mesmerised by the insect's beauty.  And then I laughed.  Twelve days ago I would have either squashed this bug or shooed it out the window.  These days I'm wandering around marveling at every little thing like a toddler discovering the world for the first time.  I suppose I look rather ridiculous, but at the same time, I'm learning to see the gifts in each day as well as the gift of each day.

Tomorrow is not promised. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day 11 - Miracle

This is the third blossom that's appeared on my bauhinia tree.  Since it wasn't supposed to bloom for another year or two, each flower is precious and somewhat of a miracle.  I have taken a photo of each one because I'm excited.  I suppose that's a bit silly, as they all look the same, and yet they're not.  Each one is unique.

This morning I realised that's exactly how God sees each one of us - as precious miracles. I don't think He ever gets tired of marveling at our uniqueness.  I imagine He is excited forming each person in their mother's womb - "This one's going to grow up to play violin with passion.  This one has an amazing compassion for mankind.  That one over there - the one in Slovenia - I have great plans for him.  And the one who suffered trauma - I created him with great resilience and I will redeem that situation."

My prayer for all of us today is that we will believe that God loves us - no matter what we're facing at the moment - and wear that love like a beautiful blossom. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Day 10 - Sing

I stopped to take this photo as I was driving across town this morning.  Even in a city of 1.5 million people bustling with activity - noise, smog, hurry - there is beauty.  Today, this beauty compels me to sing.

"A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song."
- Chinese Proverb

Friday, January 20, 2012

Day 9½ - Poetry

You fling it
around so wastefully,
as though it
will never run out.

Splash in it,
You say,
Immerse in it
so you can't tell yourself
apart from My love - until
you're dripping soaking sopping laughing wet,
swimming in the discovery:
No, it
never does run out.


Day 9 - Focus

I had a bit of a setback today.  I had my year mapped out - work, studies, ministry, life.  Today a huge bump appeared in the road (or rather a pothole): there's a 50% chance I won't be able to take the course for which I had registered if it's offered on Wednesday evenings rather than Tuesday mornings.

I am ashamed to say I had a bit of a freak out moment (as you can see, stress brings out my American English and all of its ensuing bad grammar). I had to stop myself and ask - Have I learned nothing about living in the present during this past week?  I took a deep breath and pulled on the reins of my mind.

The truth is, there's nothing I can do about it.  Things will either work out as planned or not.  If not, my year will just go differently than expected, so why worry?  I worry because I've moved my focus from the present and an awareness of God's love to my circumstances and perceived problem.

Living in the present doesn't mean that I turn off my intellect, ignore the challenges facing me, or even that I have to like the present.  Living in the present does mean that I shift my focus, which generally leads to a shift in perspective.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Day 8 - Fascination

This photo will likely mean nothing to you, but I was so struck by how the shadows fell and interacted with the texture of the carpet and the grain of the wood.  I never noticed it before - I must have walked by it a thousand times - and yet today I sat and stared, fascinated.

"Wonder is the spirit behind awareness that transforms paying attention from a discipline to one of life's greatest joys." - David Benner, Soulful Spirituality

(And yes, I have decided to continue this practice of living in the present, beyond the seven-day time constraint I initially placed upon myself.  I hope you don't mind...)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day 7 - Surrender

There's something amazing about letting go... accepting what is...  and surrendering to Love.  I feel as though I've been so busy on this treasure hunt of looking for God's love that I had very little time to be self-absorbed.  During this week a whole new world opened up to me - one in which I was (and am) surrounded and enveloped by God's love. I find myself becoming more and more "empty" of myself (and my selfishness) as this love fills me. 

It was there all along - this beauty, this love... I just didn't see it because my eyes were turned inward.  Oh God, forgive me... Let this not be a one-week project but the beginning of a way of life.  Help me to keep my eyes focused on You always, to be aware and attentive to Your fingerprints around me, and to be present to Your love.

(By the way, this was tonight's sunset... I actually pulled off the road to take this photo.  I would have missed it before this week.  How grateful I am to have a new awareness of God's love for me.  Words cannot express...)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Day 6 - Openness

There's something about open gates and doors that is warm and welcoming.  I feel as though I am invited, loved and even expected.  It goes beyond doors of houses, though.  There are also people whose lives have open doors for us to enter and share in holy communion.  They are reflections of God, whose door is always open to us... no matter what.  That kind of love draws me in and touches the deep longings of my soul.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Day 5 - Mystery

This is the magical fairyland I always dreamed about as a child.  I finally found it... in Swaziland!  It's so thick with wonder and fantasy I can hardly breathe.  The air is heavy with a Narnian magic and I can almost believe that I have entered a secret land...

While it seems a bit child-like there is also something holy about it.  I am reminded of Jesus saying that unless we change and become like children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3).

Here's to the magic and mystery of following Jesus, and to getting lost in what the world would call "fairyland foolishness."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Day 4 - Reverence

Dear God, Thank you for bringing me to South Africa.  I love this country, this land, these people.  Thank you for glimpses of Your glory in them.

"I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides Me." - Isaiah 45:5-6

Day 3 - Savour

My favourite colour, my favourite mug, my favourite beverage...

The geometric lines, which I captured by accident in my amateur photography, somehow inspire praise in a God who makes order from chaos, knows all the theorems, proofs and formulas and yet can whisper His love to me in the steam of my morning coffee...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 2 - Wonder

I was so captivated by the shadow of this little fern - delicate and dainty.  But even more than that, I was in awe that such a fragile thing could push through unyielding stone in a beautiful tribute to the triumph of life.  This perseverance which leads to transcendence stirs something deep within my soul.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Day 1 - Awareness

"You are the God who sees me..." - Genesis 16:13

Living in the Present

I've been challenged lately to be more aware of the present and not dwell too much on the past or the future.  I seem to miss so much of life because I'm distracted with my thoughts and concerns.

I also struggle to love myself the way that God loves me; it's much easier to focus on my faults and shortcomings and beat myself up for not being perfect.

In an effort to counteract the above two things, I'm devoting the next seven days to practising the posture of being aware and open to the many ways in which God shows His love to me (and you, for that matter). Every time I find myself missing what's right in front of my face because I'm preoccupied with what's to come or what just happened, I'm going to make the effort to draw myself back into the present - observing, noticing, being...

In order to aid me, I asked Dan if I could borrow his camera for one week.  I have committed to carrying the camera around with me at all times.  When I notice something that speaks God's love to me, I'll take a photo.  I hope to post one per day for the next seven days.

Would you like to take up the challenge with me? 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thankful for Green

I saw these lily pads yesterday on a hike in the Northwest Province.  I stopped in my tracks, captivated by their colour and the sun highlighting them.  I asked Dan to take a photo.

These lily pads are so vividly green that I find myself wanting to praise God for green.  I feel silly and childish, and yet I think, "Why not praise God for a colour?  Does He not delight to hear our praise of thansksgiving for the simplest of things? Does it not please Him?"

At the same time I realise how little my heart is filled with gratitude.  More often it is filled with the heaviness of complaints, burdens, worries and criticism.  How did this happen?  When did I become so weighed down with the cares of this world?

I want to change.  I don't want to just be thankful for the colour green, but for the whole rainbow of colours.  I want to find vivid hues of beauty in every day, sing a song of thanksgiving rather than complaining, and let that praise refocus my eyes on the One Who Provides All Things... including the colour green.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Thoughts on Roasting Coffee

I've been thinking about coffee lately, and how it's so different between cultures.  South Africans seem to like a lot of milk and sugar with their coffee.  What they call a cappuccino, Americans call a latté.  What South Africans call a latté, Americans call café con leche.  This is neither here nor there... just different.  It took me a long time to get used to the high milk content, however, as I am a bit of a coffee purist: I never sweeten my coffee, I grind my coffee beans fresh every morning, and I like to roast my own coffee when I have the time, choosing beans from specific regions of the world and even specific plantations. This is perhaps where my story really begins...

I'm only a beginner when it comes to roasting coffee.  I like to roast on the stovetop - a single layer of green beans in a cast iron skillet stirred constantly with a squared-off bamboo spoon (this is my own quirky method - highly inefficient and messy - which I am not advocating here).  I watch every bean carefully to stir and circulate them as evenly as possible.

When the beans reach a certain temperature the oil inside expands and is released.  The chaff is released and blows all over the kitchen (I told you this was messy). This is called the first crack.  I then watch the smoke.  At the beginning of the second crack, the smoke changes from being thin and fickle to thick and intense.  This is when I turn off the heat, but don't be mistaken - the beans are still roasting.  The pan must still be stirred and tended until the beans cool down.  The rest of the chaff is blown away and the beans are set aside to rest.  Pause... breathe deeply...

We all know the story of separating the wheat from the chaff by means of threshing.  It's the same with coffee - the chaff is separated by means of high temperatures - fire, roasting, burning... whatever you want to call it.  Only in extreme heat are the oils - what's inside the bean - released.  What is dead and no longer needed is blown away.  What remains is something of great worth possessing the richest of aromas.  It doesn't come without hard work.

As I was thinking about coffee and the process of roasting, making the obvious analogies to humans and character development, I realised that I still complain when things don't go my way.  When I am under pressure, facing the heat, being threshed... I don't embrace it as a precursor to richness and beauty of spirit.  I don't see it as an opportunity for transformation or transcendence.  I complain.  Bitterly. 

Nothing tastes worse than burnt coffee.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Little Less of Me, Please...

"How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it."
- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

"Expectations kill relationships - especially with God. And that's what a child doesn't have: this whole edifice of expectation.  Without expectations, what can topple the surprising wonder of the moment?" - Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

Monday, January 2, 2012

Fully Alive

The bauhinia flower is the national flower of Hong Kong.  Bauhinia trees also happen to grow well in South Africa. Since our son is from Hong Kong and we live in South Africa, I thought it would be fitting to plant a bauhinia tree in our garden. 

I bought a little seedling of a tree - about 30cm high - two years ago.  And then I accidentally killed it.  The leaves fell off.  It looked pathetic.  I refused to give up, though.  I tended it, nurtured it and cared as much for a stick (which is literally what it was) as a human ever cared for a stick.

This year it not only sprouted leaves; it also grew to a height of 80cm.  I was thrilled.

I had no idea what colour the blossoms would be, for the tree wasn't supposed to begin blooming until the third or fourth year.  At least, that's what the man at the nursery told me. 

This morning I looked out my window to find this:

Here's to new beginnings.  To defying the odds.  To flourishing when everyone else has given up on you.  To beauty from ashes.  And to being fully alive. 

May 2012 be a year in which you blossom to the fullness of your potential.  Happy New Year.