Are you motivated by the destination or the journey?

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There were just two daffodils in our entire yard. I know better than to plant tulips because the deer consider them a gourmet salad mix. But I’ve planted dozens of deer-resistant daffs and narcissus through the years, carefully selecting varieties said to be good naturalizers. The first year several bloom; the next only a few; and from then on I’m lucky if there are any. I just don’t seem to have any luck with them. But I noticed these two daffodils a couple days ago, gamely working their way up through the protection of a rhododendron branch, and I smiled.

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Yesterday my hubby handed them to me. We’d had an exceptionally heavy rainstorm, and he found both of them broken, with their sunny faces resting on the ground. I rinsed them off and tucked them into a vase. The sun came out briefly during the afternoon and shone through the window. I couldn’t stop admiring how the flowers looked, basking in the glow. Naturally I reached for my camera and took shots from every angle.

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It was only as I reviewed the photos on my computer that I noticed something. I had selected a vase based on its appropriate size, and not paid a lot of attention to which one it was. But the sun’s rays made it glisten, and now my attention was drawn to the beauty I’d overlooked.

We often chuckle at young children who get more pleasure from the box than from the gift inside. Other times we may go overboard and labour over gift wrapping until the exterior of a package is worth more than its contents. In my case, I found joy in sunshine through petals, and only later gleaned equal pleasure from the casually chosen container.

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How often do we miss seeing the obvious? And when we miss seeing, we forget thankfulness. And without thankfulness there is no joy.

Not long ago I printed out “A Year of Graces” from Ann Voskamp’s website — a perpetual calendar with lines on which to record those things for which I am thankful each day. On the first page is this statement:

“Joy is always a function of gratitude —
and gratitude is always a function of perspective.
If we are going to change our lives,
what we’re going to have to change
is the way we see.”

Later there is this:

“No one gets to joy by trying to make everything perfect.
One only arrives there by seeing in every imperfection
all that is joy.”

And in that was my analogy, just waiting to be found… the link to writing. I have always affirmed that I enjoy revising my writing. There is such satisfaction in refining to bring forward the best a story can be. Yet many times I struggle with revisions, trying unsuccessfully to find exactly the right words, too often becoming frustrated and disheartened. In retrospect, I think it’s because I’m seeing my failure and overlooking the process… focusing on the results instead of how I achieve them.

I love writing. The thought of not writing fills me with anxiety. I’ve always been better at putting words on paper than in speaking them. How would I express the chaos of unuttered thoughts if not on paper? What would I do with all the story ideas and blog posts if I didn’t let them flow out through my fingertips? Fulfillment comes from the doing, from creative expression, in wrestling thoughts out of the void into a finite place. I’m grateful for the ideas, for the ability to put them into words — however imperfect they may be — for the desire to communicate and the freedom and time to keep trying.

My gratitude prompts thankfulness, which in turn encourages joy to blossom. In those moments when I gather together my efforts and raise cupped hands in a gesture of thankful praise, it is the uplifted hands that are important, not the quality of their less-than-praiseworthy contents.

I have a new work-in-progress that I put aside in favour of revising something older. Lately both have been preempted by a church history project, but it doesn’t matter what I’m working on as long as I approach the task with that attitude of gratitude. There will be joy in the doing.

What small everyday joy will bring thankfulness to your heart today?

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“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving.”

Psalm 69:30

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Some gifts are like showers of blessings

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Rain pours and puddles, splashing the grime of the deck onto our dove grey siding. Overfull eavestroughs spill waterfalls into the garden beds, and trees dribble on my head while I hurry to and from the car. As much as I don’t usually mind rain, I’m tired of weeks filled with dull, sodden days. Even my writing has suffered; spiritless, uninteresting words that I first type and then delete.

Into the gloom comes a shaft of warmth, a figurative ray of sunshine that instantly changes the oppression to a blessing. A poem inspired by a recent Facebook exchange I had with Sandra Heska King about, of all things, periwinkles. Sandra’s poem and photos make me smile, until I reach the end and see the words, “Dedicated to Carol Garvin.” Then I cry. What a beautiful gift!

There was a similar gift a couple weeks ago, when Joylene Butler sent the Inspirational Blogger Award my way. I don’t think of myself or my blog as being particularly  ‘inspirational’ so it was an unexpected and uplifting surprise.

Such gifts come from the generous and loving hearts of friends, but I believe the prompting for them comes from God. It’s his omniscience that uncovers my need and fills it with a spillover of lovingkindness from another’s abundance.  Neither Sandra nor Joylene could have known how much I needed the encouragement at that particular moment, but God did.

As I stand at the window and smile at the rivulets of rain, I am reminded of the old hymn, “Showers of Blessing.” Remember it?

May you be blessed to be a blessing today.

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For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. [I Chronicles 16:25]
I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High. [Psalm 9:2]

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Chasing the Chill from a Snowy Spring Morning

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Mid-April, and it snowed yesterday! Through the early morning, soft flakes filtered down onto roof, railings and unsuspecting branches, whitening the spring landscape.

 

Busy chickadees, sparrows and a pair of red-winged blackbirds clung to the birdfeeder devouring nutty calories. I glanced up from my writing to watch them jostle for prime positions, and smiled to see our resident squirrel hovering on the deck railing, waiting his turn.

Later, when it was time to refill my coffee mug, I discovered not only had the snow stopped, but sunshine now streamed through the trees, turning the melting snow to vapour and shimmering prisms of water. I stood at the front window, sipping my coffee and watching more birds, crows this time, wandering on the road at the end of our driveway searching for whatever morsels hungry crows like to eat.

Then came the not-so-melodic squawking of blackbirds punctuated by angry chittering. Bickering at the back yard buffet. By the time I returned to my chair there was silence as the lone squirrel feasted. And then I heard it — a series of sweet chickadee-dee-dees — morning grace from somewhere hidden among the trees.

This spring day began with a chill, but was transformed by sunshine and a song.

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“Come, let us sing for joy.”   [Psalm 95:1]

“I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.”   [Psalm 9:2]

“I will praise thee with my whole heart.”   [Psalm 138:1a]

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Sparks and Roaring Fires

Wind whipped branches into a frenzy and flung their few leaves to the ground. It was a wicked evening — the chill seeping through the glass of windows and french doors and sending me off in search of my sweater.

Before long my husband lit a match and started a fire in the fireplace. As the flames leapt from around the wood with a cheerful crackle, I instantly felt warmer. The room’s temperature couldn’t have changed in those few moments, but the flames’ impact was immediate. The apparent coziness chased away the chill.

During the evening, I stared into the flames, slightly hypnotized (is ‘slightly’ even possible?), and recalled summer evenings at our cabin when the air was still heavy with leftover daytime heat, and yet we dragged lawn chairs from the cabin’s deck down to the lakeshore to sit circled around a campfire. Toasting sticks appeared for weiners and marshmallows, and the little ones clamoured for ‘Smores. We shared a different kind of warmth in that family time together, and made memories to treasure.

Not long before that, the airtight heater in the kitchen of the little cabin was relocated to accommodate a new-to-us cookstove. Oh, the rejoicing when the fire was laid and the pan came out to create our very first cookstove meal. The men took turns poking the lengths of wood into a glowing heap as the cheese melted into gooey goodness and the bread turned golden brown. Yes, it was only grilled cheese sandwiches, but after 37 years without a real kitchen stove in the cabin, it was a momentous occasion.

Last time we were at the cabin, our first few days were spent in choking smoke from a forest fire. It wasn’t all that close to us so we weren’t in any real danger from it, but the smoke that obscured our usual view was part of a raging inferno elsewhere, destroying everything in its path.

I was working on this post, thinking about these various fires, when an e-mail arrived with a video about a “random act of culture” presented last month by the Philadelphia Opera Company in a Macy’s store. As I watched it I reflected on how this random act, like a tiny spark, had the potential for massive impact.

Such moments of unanticipated beauty, or perhaps the gift of a helping hand, a smile and word of encouragement, even the stories we so carefully craft with characters who live, fail, trust and overcome, may have unexpected impact on the lives of others. We may never know about it, but if we ignite the sparks, we allow God an opportunity to fan flames to provide light and warmth for those who may be in great need.

Have you ever given one of your characters the opportunity to do some small act of kindness, helpfulness or generosity? What difference did the gesture make?


Here’s the video I mentioned. I hope you have time to watch it.

Singing en masse

This afternoon we attended a “Festival of Praise”, a gathering of church choirs and musicians. It was an event I initiated ten years ago but when I retired as music director in our church I also passed the Festival reins along to someone else. It was lovely to be able to take part today sans responsibilities.

 

The various groups each presented a number of their anthems, and then we all joined together to sing two more pieces. Talk about raising the roof! There’s something about praising en masse that stirs the soul.

 

There’s also an analogy wrapped in that word ‘together’.  No matter what we do in life, we have to do our own part but when we work within a partnership the results can be so much better.

 

“… all things are possible with God.”   (Mark 10:26b) 

 

A partnership with God. Something to think about, isn’t it?