Travel

Redefining Perfect

Blog_ForestPathI watched one day as a man planted trees on an empty lot. With great precision, he lined the trees in perfect rows. If his pattern fell off, he would re-fill and re-dig to get it just right.

Later, I walked through a park where it seemed the trees had been there from the beginning of time. The path wound with bends and turns, veering here and there, never once forming a straight line.

Instead, it followed the pattern of the trees.

So often we expect our lives to fall in perfect line. Like the man planting trees, we define perfection by precision—a strict, military regimen without hindrance or obstacle. But when I observe creation, I wonder if perfection has an altogether different definition.

Consider the trees. There is beauty and order in each, and yet…in a natural setting they are not lined in perfect rows. Their branches are bent and twisted, growing every which way, yet still forming something…beautiful. It’s the same with rivers and mountains, flowers and hills. Even the shoreline of an ocean changes daily with the tide.

Our lives weren’t meant to be formed on an assembly line. There will be bends and turns, times when everything seems opposite of order. Yet from a higher perspective, our Creator observes and declares, “It is good.” He is the ultimate artist, and his definition of perfect trumps our own, every time.

 

Photo Credit: Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Revisit) (5) | Flickr …

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There Will Be Laundry

Blog_MountaintopThe thing about mountaintops is you can’t stay there too long. There comes a time when you have to leave the awe-inspiring landscape behind for another, less magnificent view. Like the mountain of laundry overflowing from the hamper. Or the colorful vista of dishes in the sink. Or the panoramic scenery of toys strewn across the living room floor.

I recently returned from a mountaintop of my own—a writers’ conference not far from where I live, giving me the luxury of commuting the short distance rather than staying on campus. While others enjoyed a much-needed escape from the daily grind, I had the benefit of returning each night to a house full of responsibilities. At least it made the last-day transition more bearable. It wasn’t such a shocking jolt back into reality when the glorious mountaintop vista finally faded from view.

As hard as it can be to face daily life after being immersed in something more appealing, reality can teach us something most mountaintops can’t. Especially if you’re a writer. The greatest of words flow from the humblest of circumstances, from the grit of everyday living. We can’t write what we haven’t lived, and if we haven’t lived. Yes, there’s life on the mountaintop. But there’s wisdom in the monotony of the valley that can’t be gleaned from anywhere else.

I’m grateful for the mountaintops. But I’d get bored if I had to live there. Give me a rugged terrain, filled with highs and lows and in-betweens. There, I find life. And there, I find words.

The View from Where I Sit

Mountain View from Google ImagesSee that amazing view? Yeah, that’s not what I see from where I sit. My office isn’t exactly the idyllic writer’s retreat—unless you consider the kitchen counter idyllic. Hey, if you like staring at a fridge, a stove, and a sink ever-filling with dishes, good for you.

Prior to this, my “office” was the back room of an inner city two-flat, overlooking a trash-filled alley and the fire escapes of the apartments across the way. Not quite the equivalent of a panoramic mountain landscape. My typical choice of views hasn’t been particularly inspiring from a writer’s perspective. But I’m in good company. Some of the most inspiring works were written from what most would consider not-so-inspiring locations.

Much of the book of Psalms was written in caves while the not-yet King David was running for his life. In fact, many Old Testament books were written in the wilderness or in exile, from people facing impossible circumstances. Paul wrote some of his epistles while in prison. And John wrote the glorious book of Revelation as a captive on the Island of Patmos.

Fast-forward through history. Amy Carmichael and George Mueller wrote their greatest works while surrounded by children, faithfully awaiting God’s miraculous provision for the orphans in their care. The faith-filled narratives of escaped slaves like William and Ellen Craft, Josiah Henson, Henry Brown, and Frederick Douglass were written against the backdrop of abolition and impending war. Watchman Nee wrote in the midst of severe persecution from the Chinese government.

So here I am, a captive of my own kitchen. And I realize…the best writing is life-inspired writing. Sure, it would be great to take a trip to the mountains—or better yet, a white sandy beach with palm trees swaying behind me and miles of ocean before me. But some of my greatest inspiration has come from the city streets where I spent so many years of my life, and from right here in my apartment—surrounded by noisy kids, needy pets and a stockpile of dishes.

Road Trip

Blog_RoadTripI took a road trip to California once and afterwards vowed I’d never do it again. While the drive there was scenic enough to warrant 36 hours strapped in a tiny car, the drive back did me in. Something about it diminished my tolerance for anything beyond a few hours’ ride.

Maybe the terrain had something to do with my change in outlook. On the way there, we had mountain vistas to keep us occupied; on our way back, we chose an alternate route through the desert. Beautiful as the desert can be, it’s not so inspiring when you’re exhausted and want nothing more than to get HOME.

Halfway through I called my sister, on the brink of tears, lamenting, “We’ll never make it!” When we finally crossed our state line, I thought, “Maybe we’ll make it after all.” Until I realized we had another six hours to go, and might I add, the longest six hours EVER.

At the time, my hub and I were in the midst of our second adoption and very much in a similar state of mind—exhausted, wearied by the journey. Thinking maybe it would never happen even after all our efforts. Doubting we could endure what remained to make it happen.

Yet here we are. We made it home after that endless road trip, and have made a few others since. And we made it through our second adoption. If you know my son, you know how worth it that journey was.

Since our adoption finalized, I’ve met several couples on the verge of giving up on their own adoptions, and I was able to encourage them to persevere. Maybe now I can encourage you, too, in whatever journey you’re in.

Don’t give up!

You’ll make it through the barren wasteland if only you choose to persevere. And when you come to the end of your journey, you’ll look back and see that it was worth it. You need only look beyond this present, weary moment to the greater end that WILL result from your endurance.

 

Photo Credit: Free stock photo: Desert, Highway, Roadtrip – Free Image on …

The Sacrifice of Here and Now

Horizon from Bing Images I used to think the best investment of life was to be a missionary in some far away place. It seemed a noble desire—to go to a foreign land, leaving my comfort zones for a higher cause. In my mind, there was no greater sacrifice.

Many years have passed since that desire first entered my heart. I’ve gone as far as Russia and the Philippines, and as close as the Dominican Republic. My stay in each place was no longer than a couple months. The only mission field I stayed in long-term was the inner city of Chicago, where I lived for almost fifteen years. My calling always kept me closer to home than I’d originally planned. But here on the home front, I’ve learned some significant things I may not have learned elsewhere.

The greatest sacrifice we can make is the here and now. We don’t have to travel to some exotic place to lay down our lives. When my husband and I first began our adoption journey, we were set on going overseas until we heard a radio program where the host noted how prone we are to step over the needs outside our own door in pursuit of what we mistakenly believe is the greater need across the sea. That comment led us to consider how many children in our country need a loving home, which, in turn, led us to our amazing kids.

I don’t mean to undermine the sacrifices made by those involved in overseas missions. One of my missionary friends lives in a hut in a remote African village, walks miles for basic supplies, washes her few sets of clothes in a jungle river, and often eats fried termites for dinner. But even she said there’s a monotonous routine on the mission field that’s not so glorious. Wherever we are, it comes down to the daily letting go—the motive of the heart in the sacrifice of the moment.

We often think of love as one big sacrifice, but we can’t forget the countless moment-by-moment sacrifices involved in true love. A marriage isn’t defined by the wedding day, but by the constancy of every day sacrifice for one another. A missional life isn’t defined by one big trip across the globe, but by loving and meeting the needs of those we encounter on a daily basis.

The whole idea convicts and challenges me. What needs do my own neighbors have? How about my co-workers, friends, and family members? If I’m not sacrificing here and now for those in my current sphere of influence, what makes me think a one-way airplane trip will change anything? Because true love is not about where we go. It’s about loving people wherever we are.

True Love…is DAILY SACRIFICE (Day 24, #50ShadesOfTrueLove)