Wreath Squared

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No matter what a wreath symbolizes for you, I have not seen very many which are square and full of unusual flowers and grains as in this beauty. Some very creative person(s) created this for a small boutique store in midtown Kansas City. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to snap a pic with my cell phone.

Generally, we consider wreaths with Christmas, although a few enterprising folk will display all manner of wreaths throughout the year. This particular wreath was presented specifically for this holiday season. It is certainly festive and well done. So, why write about wreaths, and reveal this wreath in particular? Symbolism, as well as beauty and appreciation, for that which we admire (at least I do).

There are many symbolic interpretations for wreaths, but the main idea is that the circular (or square) shape without beginning or end reflects the full circle of life. In Christianity, the wreath was introduced through the Lutheran Church in the 16th Century and was a visual tool to understand the advent and birth of Christ. The evergreen branches are the most common of wreaths at this time of year because they represent life throughout the full year, regardless of how difficult the conditions may be to survive.

I see a bit more when I view a wreath, regardless of its shape, materials or when it is presented. I see beauty and creativity. Over-simplification some may say. Droll say others. But why must a wreath be about a specific occurrence or have a particular look each year? I believe that God created all that is natural and beautiful, including giving mankind the ability to create and enhance beauty. Of course, no one can outdo the Creator, but we can certainly strive to honor Him by imitating His creation. I fully understand that one’s interpretation of beauty is extremely subjective and is a topic I choose not to tackle in this post!

What I believe and what I know are very personal, yet I select what content I wish to share and some which I don’t. Such is my prerogative of creating and supporting this blog. However, let it be known once again that I am blessed to see, touch, hear, and emotionally feel the beauty God has given mankind each and every day I live. I sincerely hope you are given (or make) the opportunity to slow down long enough to experience such sublime beauty this holiday season. Thanks again for visiting and encouraging me. Also, I am grateful for your own unique beauty! Share it…please.

 

 

Bad Company

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Ever since I came up with the title of Shooting Stars for my previous post, I haven’t stopped thinking about (and singing) the song by the same name which was performed by the group Bad Company in 1975. It’s a good piece of rock n’ roll music and thought provoking lyrics which makes for a compelling song to listen to. The lead singer, Paul Rodgers, who wrote the song, did so as a warning because some of his peers died of drug overdoses. Jimi Hendrix , Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison are thought to have been on Paul’s mind when he penned the lyrics. As a possible tribute, Rodgers created a guitar finale which sounds a lot like Hendrix. Sadly, one of his band’s members died at the young age of 25, a year after this song was released. The lyrics are written below. I encourage you to listen to it, as well. Don’t be surprised if you can’t get it out of your mind right away.

Johnny was a schoolboy when he heard his first Beatle’s song. Love Me Do I think it was and from there it didn’t take very long. Got himself a guitar, used to play every night. Now he’s a rock n’ roll outfit and everything’s alright, don’t you know?

Johnny told his mama, “Hey, mama, I’m goin’ away. Gonna hit the big time, gonna be a big star someday”. Mama came to the door with a teardrop in her eye. Johnny said, “Don’t cry, mama”, smiled and waved goodbye, don’t you know? Yeah.

Don’t you know that you are a shooting star…Don’t you know? Don’t you know? Don’t you know that you are a shooting star? And all the world will love you just as long as long as you are.

Johnny made a record-went straight up to number one. Suddenly everyone loved to hear him sing his song. Watchin’the world go by, surprisin’ it goes so fast. Johnny looked around him and said I made the big-time at last.

Don’t you know? Don’t you know? Don’t you know that you are a shooting star? Don’t you know? Whoa yeah. Don’t you know that you are a shooting star? And all the world will love you just as long, as long as you are. (repeats)

Johnny died one night, died in his bed. Bottle of whiskey, sleeping tablets by his head. Johnny’s life passed him by like a warm summer day. If you listen to the wind you can still hear him play…Don’t you know that you are a shooting star? Don’t you know? Don’t you know? Don’t you, don’t you know that you are a shooting star? Don’t you know? (repeats)

How does one reconcile the reality of life with the artificial world that success and money creates? We see this dynamic played out all too often in actors, music celebrities, politicians, super athletes, and most recently in “reality” TV stars. In addition, how does one reconcile the reality of life when there is no longer a foundation to anchor to?  It takes a rare individual not to be entranced with this type of notoriety, money and meteoric rise in fame. My anchor is Christ who reminds me that all we gain is not as it seems.

Keep in mind that Johnny could be anyone…you, me, a friend, neighbor or loved one. We are all susceptible to the allurement this type of success employs; namely, losing touch with reality. Is there any correlation between those who become rich and famous, and bad company? Johnny would say, “Yes, don’t you know?”. The next time you ‘strike it rich’ or are vaulted to the top of a pedestal, stop and think about Johnny, and leave bad company alone…they have plenty of other suckers to latch onto.

 

 

The Soul of a Coffee Shop

Tuesday's CoffeeWhile visiting a well-known-chain coffee shop during the Christmas holiday, I decided to sit for a while and enjoy my drink rather than scoot out the door to my next destination.
The cacophony of sounds which embellished this locale reminded me of an orchestra tuning their instruments prior to a performance. At first the sounds seemed like unorganized noise – and could even be considered annoying if in a grumpy mood. But since I slowed down that morning, I heard instead, a strange harmony.

As I listened, I heard eclectic Christmas music playing through the overhead speakers; steamers making hot milk and froth for lattes and cappuccinos; employees taking and repeating orders; a middle-aged man talking with a younger man about weekly events and faith (a Bible lay on the table); two men sharing stories at a perimeter table; the gentle clicking of a young woman typing away on her laptop; the shuffling of the morning newspaper; and the constant stream of people coming and going while exchanging pleasantries and orders with the staff. And, of course, continuous texting.

Most of the customers were in a hurry, but a few not so much. They seemed to be the frequent visitors known by manager and employees alike. There were somber-looking people and joy-filled souls, and preoccupied folk from all walks of life. Some ordered regular coffee, but most selected specialty drinks, custom-made to their particular tastes. Many of these specialty drinks are rather expensive, too, but this is an affluent community and the average customer wants for little materially. Nevertheless, there are needs…there always are.

As I sat listening and watching the steady flow of consumers and busy staff, I realized that this coffee shop (like most) represents a cross-section of our current culture. Some of the people I witnessed could be on the verge of a collapse: emotional, relational, career-wise, health related or possibly financial. Most, I suspect, struggle with something. I certainly do. This much I know…everyone has a story. Some are tragic while some are remarkable and inspiring. Most fall somewhere in between. Perhaps this is why we are drawn to the exceptional, the heroic, and the inspirational. Average can seem so boring.

If we are honest, the majority of us see ourselves as average – and we probably are. There is nothing wrong with that, for without average, we wouldn’t have exceptional. Those who are exceptional-who excel above most-are flaunted and often placed on precarious pedestals of admiration. To be considered the best or most popular at something is alluring. Haven’t we all thought what it would be like to be the best athlete, musician, surgeon, writer, race car driver, entertainer, etc.? And yet, if we actually achieved this vaulted status, we would become susceptible to a host of potential problems, such as loss of privacy, inflated egos, self-absorption, detachment from average people and average lives, forgetting those in poverty, and the list goes on. We’ve all read stories of celebrities and athletes who still struggle to find love and acceptance, despite having achieved fame and worldly success. So many dream of achieving some sort of remarkable status or gaining peace of mind, but, instead, find ourselves miserable, especially during the holidays.

I think most of us try too hard in just about everything we do. Whether at work, at home or at play, we push-push-push until we have nothing left to give. Life becomes a balancing act, and peace and contentment are forced out of the daily equation. We miss out on the simple act of living-of being alive. There is this constant striving for that piece of golden fruit which is just out of our reach. When we fail to secure it, we panic inwardly and ask ourselves, ” Why not me?”. When some of us do grab onto it, it soon loses its luster and we become dissatisfied again. We humans are masters at repeating this cycle.

With the world seemingly spinning out of control, we become even more anxious. This tension leads to lives devoid of hope, and ultimately, joy. I know about anxiety and striving and even self-pity. I don’t come to you as one who possesses exceptional anything or as living a care-free life. On the contrary, 2015 has been a very difficult year for many reasons. Yet, I awakened today. No chalk lines outlining my body. Inward wounds perhaps, but I am still alive and have eternal promises spoken to me by the only One who can legitimately offer and secure them. Yes, this source is Christ. His love is extravagant, and far better than any of the gifts we may receive or give.

My Christmas wish for all is to find Him who seeks us. By doing so, all of our problems won’t vanish immediately, but our souls will be renewed, and a sense of peace and joy will eventually take residence. This world has nothing close to compete with this gift of love filled with grace. His fruit will never tarnish nor fade. Merry Christmas !

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Quote & Pic of the Day, No. 24 of 24

2-12-09 003” When I met Christ, I felt I had swallowed sunshine ! ”                                              E. Stanley Jones                                                                                                                                                                                     

Charlotte’s Web

Charlotte's Web 2 I came upon this spider and her web during an early morning outing when the dew was heavy and the sun shone through the trees. Upon snapping a few photographs my mind immediately recalled the wonderful children’s book, Charlotte’s Web, written by E.B. White in 1952. This well-renowned book of many awards and untold numbers of happy readers has thrilled children and adult alike since it was first published. Mr. White was born and lived in New York, served in WWI, attended Cornell University, was a journalist for the United Press and the New Yorker magazine (among others), author of many adult books and three beloved children’s books: Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. We lost E.B. to Alzheimer’s in 1985.

He was a brilliant writer who occasionally conveyed his messages in unconventional ways. Take Charlotte’s Web, for instance. As one website author stated, “She manipulates events which lead to the outcome that we read about. The story of Charlotte’s web is written by Charlotte in order to save Wilbur”. White was quite humble and he avoided public recognition despite the plethora of awards he received over the many years he wrote. In this case, he hid behind Charlotte. It is rather interesting to note that his initials are an anagram of WEB. I told you he was brilliant.

I am reminded of the parallel between Charlotte’s love for Wilbur and her ultimate sacrifice and that of Christ. Just as Charlotte gave many signs by using her web-writing ability to create affection for the doomed pig, so Jesus gave us many signs by using parables, miracles and encounters to create affection for His Father in Heaven. He, too, sacrificed his life, and just as Charlotte’s offspring continued to leave a living legacy through their births, so Christ gives those who are drawn to Him eternal life.

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

I wish I could take credit for this title because I find it so profoundly accurate to the story I am about to share in this post. Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message Bible, developed this paraphrase from a passage about surrendering our burdens to Christ whose grace never ceases, but flows continually into our lives. Rather than simply create a word picture, I have included several photos of waves I recently watched and played in off the coast of the Dominican Republic. The time spent at the  beach was as enjoyable as one can imagine!IMG_1359I really love waves. They remind me of clouds passing across the sky-an ever-changing panorama. I am in awe of surfers who navigate these fluid highways with stunning accuracy, and I thoroughly enjoy those jaw-dropping videos of waves rolling over surfers or crashing over reefs and onto shoreline rocks. Nature in motion. Breathtaking beauty. The visual and audible rhythm is soothing. At the same time waves can be extremely dangerous, especially the undertow and hidden objects below their momentous surfaces. Nevertheless, waves are awesome to behold and I count it a privilege whenever I can be near them (on or next to land, that is).IMG_1111While on the coast of sunny Punta Cana I was reminded of the words a friend spoke to me a few weeks ago. Tom lives in Florida and spends time lapping up the soft wave action of the panhandle. He often sits in the shallow water as the waves gently roll into him…repeatedly without end. He loves that. Tom discovered he has a very serious form of lymphoma cancer which devastated his body in short order. The good news is that his type of cancer is curable. However, the treatments last five months with week-long infusions, then rest and more infusions. Tom is away from his home during these treatments. His body suffered serious bone deterioration in joints and along his spine. Surgeries were necessary. It has been rough sailing for him and his wife.IMG_1134You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about Tom in the same context as waves. I’ll tell you. Before our vacation, I met with Tom for lunch and he explained the whole ordeal with cancer, treatments, etc. No pity-party, just facts. I’ll never forget the part where he talked about this journey and how his faith played a part in him keeping a positive attitude despite the circumstances. As he sat in his wheelchair, he kept motioning with his arms; he would extend them outward and then draw them inward in unison, like he was rowing a boat. He told me that God’s grace flowed into him just like the waves gently rolled into his chest as he sat in the shallow water of the ocean. Back and forth his arms moved. Then he said, ” I’m blessed, you know. I’ve been given so much and don’t deserve it all “.

Good Grief, Charlie Brown ?

Sunday, I attended a funeral service for one of my wife’s dear cousins. Joni died tragically in a house fire on December 13th. With the exception of her family and friends, the terrible shooting tragedy at Shady Hook over-shadowed this solemn event. Understandably, as a nation grieves for the loss of so many, especially the little Autumn morning 10-20-12 030ones.

As I contemplated the hallowed memorials to the slain in Connecticut and the memorial for Joni, I was impacted by the final words from her brother, Greg, while at the grave site. Greg’s insight may not be new, but bears repeating. His simple statement applies to all who are grieving. Greg said we feel so much pain because there is so much love. He said he was very saddened because of his sister’s death, but grateful that pain exists because he knows of the great love that flows from family and friends alike, as well as from his own heart. Greg’s perspective came from the analysis of his feelings and observations. I believe his conclusion to be right on.

Whether loss occurs suddenly or over an extended period of time, if we love we will feel pain. Not by accident, it is love which sustains us during these trials. Pity those who know not love. I am forever grateful for the love of family and friends. I know I shall never stand alone. Because I believe in a loving and compassionate God, I accept His pronouncement that I am the Apple of His Eye which simply means that I am greatly loved by my Creator. Many know such a love as this.

Regardless of one’s faith walk (or lack, thereof) love is paramount if we are to exist in any sort of meaningful and rational way. Trying to make sense of devastating shooting sprees or a fifty-six year old mom and grandmother dying in a fire can be an exhausting and futile search. The bottom line is that we live in a flawed world where bad things happen to good people. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is. I join a mighty chorus of hurting and loving citizens and family members in expressing my condolences, and I reiterate an oft spoken hope for peace on earth, and goodwill to all.

During this Christmas season, and beyond, may we make a point of being better lovers, not in the romantic sense, but in the intimacy of relationships where the negative effects of fear and hate, failures and disappointments, bitterness and anger, (insert nouns here) will dissipate. And, in their place, may unbridled (selfless) love abound. For as the Apostle Paul announces in one of his letters, “Love never fails”. Christ made sure of that when He gave His all for each one of us.