all creation sings | part 1: beauty and the beards

I've been meaning to start blogging again for a long time. Kind of like I’ve been meaning to set up weekly meal plans or clean out the shed (wait, that one’s not my job). I don’t read enough to be great writer nor do I have anything to say that hasn't already been said by writers infinitely more gifted than I. But somehow when I am able to capture my ruminating thoughts and put them into written words, it feels as if I’m harnessing one of my own natural resources and turning it into power. In other words, it’s a way for me to preach the gospel to myself. And perhaps one or two others of you will be encouraged by what you read. So consider this the first installment of a series I’ve been meaning to start for awhile. Lord only knows if there will ever be a second, but I’ve got some great material swirling around in my wind-tunnel-of-a-brain.

The irises are in full bloom here in Charlotte. Have you noticed? Just a few steps into my run this morning I saw a dozen glorious yellow blooms draped across the front of a tiny brick house around the corner. They were absolutely aglow in the morning sunlight and I was immediately taken by their beauty. Five seconds later (insert needle scratch) I noticed the overgrown yard situated between my eyeballs and the irises, way taller than what the city allows. Trust me, I know these things. My joy was quickly overtaken by irritation. Okay, anger. I started running again, vowing to report this travesty of a yard to the city as soon as I finished my workout.

But here’s where the story took a twist. As I thought about it more, I realized that the typical order of my thoughts had been reversed. In my usual pattern of thinking, I would have noticed the situation with the yard first, moved directly to anger and perhaps action (311 on the mobile device is super easy, people). Then, maybe I would have seen the irises. Or not.

This felt like a monumental shift had taken place inside of me. Instead of fixating on the ugliness of that yard for the rest of my run and all the thoughts that normally may have followed, I began to notice irises in bloom everywhere! I stopped to take in their beauty up close, sticking my nose in to inhale the sweet aroma, examining the shading of their beards, admiring the delicate draping of petals as they gently fluttered in the breeze. When my mind wanted me to believe this was an incredible waste of time and the day's "to do" list beckoned, I allowed those thoughts to simply float on by, reminding myself that I am a human being, not a human doing.

I realized the irises in most of the yards had been there for many years, decades perhaps, first planted by someone who is likely long departed from this earth. Maybe even forgotten by all who knew and loved them. I tried to imagine what their lives may have looked like, making up stories to entertain myself. I thought of my husband's Grandma Mary. I never met her but I’ve heard many stories about her love for her garden, which lived on through her daughter, Willie Jean.  My husband grasped this appreciation and over our 35 years of life together, my own appreciation and passion for nature has flourished in part because of his influence. You see how this gift just keeps on giving?

So thank you to all the whoever-you-are's for planting and nurturing your own little piece of creation all those many years ago. Today, they have pointed me to God's glory, simply by living into who they were created to be, which is their true purpose.

Where have you noticed beauty lately? It’s so choice, like pure oxygen driving out the pollution that clutters our soul. I highly recommend it.

(It’s 5:30pm. I still have no idea what’s for dinner. And, I don’t care.)

"The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." Psalm 24:1


don't let the bastards get you down.

So lately, that famous Biblical character named David has been the hot topic of discussion in and around my circles of community. You know, the kid who took out a giant mean dude with a single rock to the forehead. That kid later became a great King who did lots of great things but also became distracted enough to mess around with someone else’s wife, produce a baby from that screw up and then have the woman’s husband killed in battle just to make sure it never came back to bite him. And yet, this is the same guy that God Himself, the great I AM, Alpha and Omega, Author and Finisher of our faith (you get the point) made a point to call “a man after my own heart.” Huh?

It’s complicated.

Yesterday, the topic at hand was revenge and Wes used another illustration from David’s life. This time, David (pre-King) was on the lam, running from a bad King Saul who was trying to kill him and keep him from taking the throne. In one moment, David had the perfect opportunity to off Saul but in this instance David chose mercy over revenge. It’s an awesome story. Wes went on to make some great points about revenge and why it’s never a good idea. (Listen here.)

To take it a bit further, I’d like to suggest that revenge is even more insidious than we imagine and that even the most peace-loving self-awarest (I know, not a real word) among us still struggles with it because our culture is one that often celebrates a subtle form of revenge masked as “success.” Stay with me. It’s super sticky (or slippery) because subtlety is, by it’s very nature, a bit dodgy and we must examine closely to understand. The lines are blurry and faint, easily escaping the eyes of our soul. It takes excruciating self-dissection so we usually opt for quippy motivational one-liners to help us settle our scores and stop the bleeding. According to BrenĂ© Brown, research proves that the mind seeks clarity over ambiguity and whatever it takes to get us past the hump of uncomfortability (before anyone else notices), is welcome relief with minimal effort required.

So, when a close friend (cough) shared recently that she’d been hurt by a decision someone had made that totally rained on her parade, she had no idea her feet were firmly planted on either side of that fuzzy line of revenge/mercy. Her natural response was to summon the internal cheerleader that would keep from sliding straight down the rabbit hole of depression and resentment, taking all of her demons with her. “You go, girl!” Don’t let the bastards get you down, girl! Hey, the best revenge is S-U-C-C-E-S-S!”

Needle scratch.

What if the bastards weren’t really out to get me?
What if the bastards weren’t really bastards at all?
What if the success I desire was never meant to be mine?
What if I there was a real gift in this failure/setback?
What if the thing I was meant to have is already mine?
How can I see the greater good in this deviation from my original plan?

Hear me now and believe me later: Never would I suggest that that the courageous pursuit of a dream is wrong. Achieving a goal through perseverance can be a great triumph of the human spirit, and the joy of such an accomplishment can be a true gift. But if you choose to see that as the highest gift and believe that anything or anyone who keeps you from it is hurting you, then let me rain on your parade. In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero suggests that one real marker of spiritual transformation is living with a greater detachment to all the “things” we possess (including people). We are to love and enjoy them with gratitude, but also with the awareness that they are not our lives. And it’s often not until they are removed by God that we realize how attached we are to them. I can tell you from vast experience, that’s always a real sucker-punch moment. Buzz kill, at it's finest.

Back to revenge. I’m convinced that mercy trumps it. If we are able to let go willingly, we do less damage to ourselves (and the thing) because we are holding it loosely. We’ve left it intact if we ever get it back and if we never see it again, we don’t mind. It’s in this process that a greater gift is always given, as layers of our false self are shed, and that true self that is Christ in us and through us, begins to emerge.

Mercy begets mercy. And if you happen to run into my friend, please share this story with her. I think she needs it. Wink.


let the heck GO, already....

Have you ever accidentally super-glued your fingers together? Of course. Who hasn't? It hurts like a muh-tha when you pry them apart, right? 

I have this lifelong habit of holding things that are important to me with a freakishly strong grip. While that may not always seem wrong because, after all, lots of GOOD things are worth holding onto, it does makes for a really miserable experience when someone or something reaches in and yanks "my precious" from me.  It hurts like a muh-tha for a really long time. 

Some 30-ish years ago, a pastor shared his grandpa's advice to "wear everything like a loose garment," easy to put on and (sigh) take off, if necessary. People who have learned how to do that know how to fully embrace and enjoy whatever they have, yet they understand it is not a part of their identity, so it slides on and off with ease. And when there is an understanding that the Giver is GOOD, there's also a certainty that they will not be left standing naked and alone. Whatever was removed is sure to be replaced with something that fits better and, perhaps, is more stylish and current than last season's model. At least, that's the way I like to think of it...;-)

So here we are today, nearing the end of an eventful year full of unexpected illness, and the kind of loss that comes with it. My husband's "textbook" appendectomy in late May dragged on through the summer with one complication after another and the grand finale in September was major surgery to remove a MRSA-filled abscess the size of two softballs from his chest cavity. What the what? Yeah, don't ask. We don't know either. But we DO know we have a new appreciation for the precious gift of life.

Had 2013 gone "according to plan," we would be two months into the construction of our modern dream home right now. Instead, we are taking what may feel like a diversion, and we're moving forward with integrity (calling on Henry Cloud's definition "the courage to face your reality) by coming to grips with the new reality that is ours. We are choosing to lay the dream aside while we get our bearings.

We still own our land and we still have our plans. But today we also hold the keys to a different gift: a little 2-bedroom 50s ranch in a modest Charlotte neighborhood. You see, after two years of renting we realize we're homeowners at heart. Having the ability to put our mark on the place where we live is "ensouling" for both of us and we have missed it. So we embrace fully (but not tightly!) what has been placed into our open hands at this moment, still trusting that the original dream will come to fruition, but choosing to enjoy each moment of the journey. Right here, right now. 

your life is not about "you."
It is a part of a much larger stream called God.
...faith might be precisely that ability to trust the River,
to trust the Flow
and the Lover.

That takes immense confidence in God,
especially when we're hurting...
we can want to make things right quickly.
We lose our ability to be present
and go into our head and start obsessing....
become goal-oriented,
trying to push or even create the River--

the River that is already flowing through me.
FAITH does not need to push the river
precisely because it is able to trust that THERE IS A RIVER.
The River is flowing;
we are in it.
The River is God's providential love-
so do not be afraid.
We have been given the Spirit.

-Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs


squash the winter blues

In my quest to make peace with winter, I have become a lover of it's squash: butternut, acorn, pumpkin and spaghetti being my favorites. Winter squash is actually grown in the summer and harvested in September and October and happens to be one of the most nutritious crops you can grow. It's a low-calorie and a good source of complex vegetable carbohydrates and dietary fiber. It is an excellent source of vitamin A and C, potassium, dietary fiber and manganese, and a good source of folate, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin B1 (thiamin), copper, tryptophan, B3 (niacin) and B5 (pantothenic acid). It's also a source of iron and beta carotene.

With any of these squashes, you can simply bake it by cutting it in half, scooping out the seeds and placing it cut side down into a baking dish with about 1/2" of water. Bake at 350 for 45ish minutes (until it feels soft and can be scooped out with a spoon). Oh, and if you're really ambitious (I do this about 1/2 of the time), you can get all the seeds out, coat them with a little olive oil and salt, or any seasoning that you like, and toast them. They're an awesome snack!

Acorn squash is especially good as a simple side dish and, if you're feeling decadent, add in some butter, a sprinkle of cinnamon and maybe just the tiniest bit of pure maple syrup.

You can do the same with butternut squash but my favorite way to prepare it is to make it into a tasty soup. Here are a couple of fun recipes to get you started:


And then we have spaghetti squash, which makes an excellent thin noodle substitute for most any recipe, from Asian to Italian. I have grown especially fond of this squash, as it allows me to enjoy many of my favorite dishes again that I used to prepare before I went gluten free/grain free(ish).

So experiment with your own favorites or try this new one that's become a staple at our house:


And here's my final tip (shhhhh....it's a secret!): Trader Joe's sells winter squash for $1.99-$2.49 EACH (not per lb.) between now and Thanksgiving so I stock up while the gettin' is good. Every week I buy, bake and freeze (vacuum packed with my Food Saver) 3 or 4 of them, in addition to what we eat right away, so we can enjoy them all year round without paying through the nose when they're out of season.


good art won't match your sofa

Meeting Rothko at the MOMA.

  "Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time." - Thomas Merton

When I walk into someone's home for the first time, I am often most drawn to what is on the walls. As much as I love beautiful furnishings and home decor, it's the art that can tell us a deeper story, giving the "outsider" a glimpse into something personal that may never have been revealed through words. Truly, art is the heart and soul of a home.

I didn't grown up with this value but I do remember filling the walls of my bedroom with posters and memorabilia that was pleasing and meaningful to my youthful eyes. And now that I think of it, anyone who peeked into that room would have also peered into what was going on inside my teenage mind, getting a greater understanding of who I was and what mattered most to me. Things like Jesus, music and cats.("Hang in there, baby." Sheesh.....) Looking back, I believe there was a certain awareness, albeit a subconscious one, that this type of self-expression was quite important to me. 

Early in our marriage, my love of home decorating blossomed but somehow I lost this early inkling that those blank vertical spaces were places of real potential to showcase something special. I was busy filling up our walls with whatever I could find that was cheap and matched our chosen palette of country 80s decor. And I can count on one hand (okay, maybe one finger) the number of items from my home that made it into this century. Perhaps they're on someone else's wall somewhere but I guarantee they're not on mine.
Enter our friend Hal. Through his influence, the earlier awareness that was birthed back in my little bedroom resurfaced and grew into an appreciation for original art. Specifically, with the notion that "normal" people like us could, or SHOULD, have our own personal collection. Hal, a true connoisseur, began purchasing original art for his home way back when the rest of us were doing what I described above. Sure, he was a guy who loved the "finer" things in life and we gave him plenty of grief for his uppity ways. But what I began to grasp was the intensely personal nature of the art he collected and the deep meaning behind them. Over the last 20+ years, Hal and his wife Gayle have shifted their home styles from 1920s Tudor to 1970s modern and everything in between. Throw pillows, wall colors and some of the furniture has come and gone but I guarantee those beautiful works of art still have a place on a wall somewhere beside others that have since been purchased. And they still tell the part of what is now a bigger story.

If this is new to you, have no fear. Collecting anything is a journey, right? It happens over time but it can start any time. Original art can be expensive, but it doesn't have to break the bank. Some of the pieces we have collected were costly investments to us but others were simply interesting and unusual finds at flea markets or local shops on travels around the world. Or gifts from generous friends. Or wonderful works by young, still "starving" artists. Or original pieces made from our own hands. The common thread that runs through them all is the revelation that unfolds as they "tell" us their story while we live and move among them.

Left to right: Husband's vacation photo of garage door graffiti from Haight-Ashbury in San Fransisco. 1950s nude drawing from a page of artist's sketch book I purchased at a local antique show. Mixed-media piece by moi. Bunny by amazing local artist Charlotte Foust. Original collage work by my husband, made for me before we were married...love. Another drawing from same sketch book (behind arrangement). Our first original piece by Charlotte Foust when she was a young starving artist.
Center: Original painting by the ever-talented Mark Durham of our sweet kitty Harriet was a gift to me from some amazing girlfriends. Lower left, another Harriet portrait by Charlotte Foust. Unbeknownst to Charlotte, Harriet passed away while she was working on this piece. Notice the "angel wings?" A serendipitous touch. Above left: "Catbird" folk art piece I purchased at a local antiques show. Top: Harriet's favorite toy she loved to carry around in her mouth.
This piece caught our attention at a local gallery when the husband and I were visiting friends in Tulsa, back in the day when we used to actually take road trips! We wrapped him up in what appeared to be a body bag and strapped it to the top of the Volvo, carrying him 1,000 miles to his new home on our wall in Charlotte!
Our best vacation souvenir to date from a most memorable trip to South Africa 4 years ago. She wins the "furthest journey" award from Cape Town to Charlotte.
Center: An original sculpture by a Colombian artist, is a treasured gift from hubby's former boss. Left/right: 2 pieces in our growing collection of world famous Orient and Flume art glass from hubby's hometown of Chico.
Beautiful work of calligraphy from our friend Roxanne serves as a constant source of encouragement to us.


I yelp for kelp

A recent round of accelerated hair loss sent me running to the doctor for some lab work to check my thyroid levels. Twenty-five years ago, I had a run-in with Graves' disease, an auto-immune disease that causes the thyroid gland to go crazy (think of flooring the gas pedal on a car) and the typical treatment is focused radiation with the intended result of killing the thyroid gland, thereby "stopping the madness." Unfortunately, a dead thyroid gland also means I rely on synthetic thyroid to keep things running forevermore. But hey, there are worse things, right? Sometimes, though, it gets off kilter in one direction or the other and, in extreme cases, I lose a bunch of hair (among other things). It's not a quick fix, but it's a relatively simple fix so I just learn to roll with it.

My M.D. isn't your typical pill-pusher and I love him for that. I usually walk away from an appointment with some enlightenment and this time his sage advice centered around, of all things, iodine. He asked me if I eat much shellfish or kale and suggested that I make an effort to add these and other foods that are high in iodine into my diet because research shows many (if not, most) Americans are quite deficient in this mineral that most of us know mostly nothing about.

Okay, so if it's true, why do I even care? When's the last time you saw somebody walking around sporting a massive goiter? Uh, never. Still, when my Doc brings it up, I go home and get to researching and this time I uncovered some very interesting information. A 2011 article published in Psychology Today claims that this new iodine deficiency epidemic is bringing with it much more than goiters (click on the link to read the entire article). Our bodies require it for healthy cellular and metabolic functioning and, in fact, this drop in iodine intake might be contributing to many major health problems including the most obvious thyroid conditions (including thyroid cancer) but also heart disease, breast cysts, breast cancer and even chronic fatigue syndrome. 

So what I found is that a few quick adjustments could make a significant difference. First, I trotted right to the Teeter and picked up some good old-fashioned iodized salt. I had given it up in favor of fancy sea salt which may have been a hasty decision and not the BEST decision. I found other sources of iodine in other types of food but I hit the mother load when I discovered kelp noodles. Hear me out before you turn up your nose. These little zero cal/low carb/gluten and grain free gems are packed with minerals (including iodine) and, as an added bonus, each serving provides 15% of the calcium RDA. They require no cooking and they taste like nothing. NADA. No fishy taste and no slim. I have even started adding them to my homemade chicken bone broth (see my earlier post) and just about anything else that might be enhanced by the addition of noodles or something kind of crunchy. 

Come on, take a trip under the sea and get yourself a healthy dose of iodized goodness.If it feels less risky to follow an actual recipe, try out this tasty Thai coconut curry I whipped up last week. Talk about an explosion of flavor in your mouth! It was a real hit with the husband and with me! So come on, take a trip under the sea and get yourself a healthy dose of iodized goodness.

                            Source: thespunkycoconut.com via Kathi on Pinterest


at least i don't have cancer

"I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet." - Persian proverb

Years ago, I remember having a conversation with a friend at work about gratitude. We talked about this whole idea of "comparative thankfulness." We all do it, right? I may hate my job but at least I HAVE a job. I may need to lose a few pounds but at least I'm not "morbidly obese." I may be divorced but at least I have my children. And so on.... 

Comparing ourselves to others eventually breaks down if you play it out to the end. There's everything right about being thankful for the many things we take for granted each day, especially in a world where we gaze with envy at the guy on our right who seems to have all those things we know should be ours, if life was really fair. (How fitting is it that emerald green is Pantone's official color of 2013?) But back to that poor guy who has no feet. What about HIM?

Picture, if you will, a long line of people standing shoulder to shoulder with each person voicing gratitude for something the person next to them is lacking. What happens, when we reach the end of that line, to the guy who's living out all of our worst case scenarios? "I got nothin'" is all that's left to say as he turns to empty space to the left.

I doubt we often think of it this way. But I do. I've been privileged to know a few of those so-called "end-of-the liners." I've wondered how it must feel to know it's YOUR name inserted into someone's "at least I'm not -----" declaration of gratitude.

I realize I can't solve the mystery of human suffering in one silly little blog post. If you know me, you're well aware I'm not that smart. Truth be told, I desire a life of health, wealth and happiness. I want to die peacefully in my sleep at the ripe old age of 95 (still having all my faculties intact), with my loving husband and many adoring friends at my side. Seriously. Who, in their right mind, would ASK to suffer?

But here is what I have observed: In my own times of hardship and in the lives of many I know who have experienced much greater suffering than I could even imagine, I am driven to a keen awareness of need and a complete dependence on the One who is much greater than I am. I HAVE no bootstraps. All I have is need. And all I need, is need. And in the midst of that, it is He who gives us a most special and mysterious promised measure of grace that we cannot otherwise know. Even in the presence of tremendous pain and suffering, there is a type of joy that is clearly not of this world and cannot be mustered up in our own strength because, remember, there IS no strength when you have nothing. 

So it leaves me to wonder if the "end-of-the-liners" may at some level be pointing back at the people to the right with the same sadness and pity that was directed at them, wondering if they will ever know how it feels to have the one thing that may, indeed, be the key to the truest type of joy which comes wrapped as the gift of suffering. 

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. - Isaiah 55:8-10


I post this as a tribute to Katie Beth Craig, daughter of my dear longtime friends, Lisa and Jay. Twenty five years ago on this day, we celebrated her arrival. 

Severe cerebral palsy caused you to suffer greatly for the 15 years that you were with us but you leave a legacy of joy that will not be forgotten by all who were privileged to know you. We miss your bright smiles and we long for the day we will see you again. We will dance and we will sing together for a very long time. And, at last, all will be right.