Weekend Retreat

Weekend Retreat

I spent this past weekend on a muddy patch of land out in the middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania. I slept poorly in an ill-lit cabin with squeaky plastic mattresses, dined on mediocre cafeteria food, and spent all day cooped up inside working for 14 hours straight.

It was fabulous.

The weekend-long scrapbooking retreat provided our group of women with the two most precious commodities — time and space — to work.

If you don’t scrapbook, forget what you imagine scrapbooking to be. In fact, don’t even call us scrapbookers.

Call us visual story-tellers.
Call us paper artists.
Call us family biographers.

Armed with tweezers and a precision ball-point glue pen, I watched the young woman across from me create her wedding album with finely wrought die-cut lace and letters, sequins, and handmade flowers, melding the accoutrements with an artful presentation of photos.

Myself, I took the 300+ photos I’d carefully culled from the 3,851 photos we’d taken in 2016 and printed them in preparation for the weekend. But, first I had cropped and edited them in PhotoShop, adjusting lighting and occasionally cloning out glares or other pesky photo flaws. I turned about 130 of those photos into 25 pages that showcase events from a STEM competition to soccer season to a dance recital to a chance encounter with a baby chickadee. {Lest you be too impressed, recall I have the rest of those photos — around 170 by my count — to still deal with.}

I’ve been chronicling our family history in this way for 12 years now and have completed over 13 albums.

I’ve gone from traditional (paper) scrapbooking to digital and back again. I’ve gone from creating elaborate pages that involved shaping thin metal wire into letters and hand stitching through paper— a labor of love where a single page could take hours — to making simple collages online, printing them, trimming them out, and quickly adhering them to a coordinating background paper.

I’ve learned there’s no right or wrong way to do scrapbooking.

These days, I land somewhere in between elaborate and bare-bones. Some pages shape up in no time, quick and simple. For others, I may diecut a custom title or element, add brads or eyelets, ribbon or washi tape. Occasionally, I go the full nine yards with glitter and sequins and fabric flowers.

There’s something joyful in the messy, colorful melange of ribbon and paper and stamps and staples and scraps on my work table. There’s something satisfying in taking a few ho-hum photos and {through the creativity of editing, cropping, arranging, and embellishing} transforming them into an engaging page that documents the event, tells a story, and looks beautiful. It’s a case where two plus two doesn’t equal four — but quite a lot more.

For me, that’s what scrapbooking is all about— multiplying the magic of a few simple photos through skill and artistry.

***

But, more than the artistry, this weekend I was struck by how, in scrapbooking, as in life, we can get hyper-focused on what’s in front of us and forget the big picture {no pun intended}.

Here are two key points I was reminded of:

Lesson #1:  Tell The Story

This weekend, I was showing my friend Amy a close-up photo of a juvenile red-tailed hawk and telling her all about it, and she said: “Don’t forget to tell that story.”

It was a well-placed reminder. I had gotten overwhelmed with documenting the never-ending holidays, sports, birthdays, and outings and was just going to slip the hawk photo into a sleeve without explanation.

I was skimping on the enchantment of the seemingly small-yet-momentous encounters. No doubt there will be only one time in our lives that we get close enough to a red-tailed hawk to touch it and end up saving its life with some hastily defrosted raw hamburger meat.

And, so, I told that story.

I think this lesson transfers over to our daily lives as Christians as well: How well and how often are we telling the story? 

I struggle with evangelism, I do. I often stay silent when I should proclaim. I say my part here, online, and fade into the background in real life. It’s easy to praise God in Bible study or one-on-one with your Christian friends, but how often do you share what Jesus means to you and how faithful He is with others outside that safe, like-minded circle?

If your answer is, “not nearly often enough,” you’re not alone. I’m right there with you. I get it. There’s a fine line between preachy and powerful.

So, how do we go about sharing our faith?

It’s easy to espouse a Hallmark-card version of Christianity with pat Christian-isms and inspirational quotes. There’s nothing wrong with “Let Go and Let God,” or “All I Need is a Little Coffee and a Whole Lot of Jesus,” but an honest expression of who — and whose— we are, and how that plays out in our lives … well, that’s priceless.

Put simply, I believe we are all called to share testimony of God’s goodness in our lives. 

Lesson # 2:  Allow Yourself Joy

At some point during a crop {scrapbook-ese for a scrapping session}, you are going to do it. You are going to look at the person across from you whipping through spreads like there’s no tomorrow and moan: “I’ve only done __ number of pages.”

She’s done twice that.

We all need to be reminded that it’s not about how much you get done. Can I repeat that?

It’s not about how much you get done.

You will always be “behind” — in life as in scrapbooking. There will always be more {errands, cooking, cleaning, office work, exercise, hobbies, etc.} than you have time for. Personally, I‘m always struggling to fit in another training run {half-marathon in T minus 13 weeks} or a weekly yoga class, as well as time to write, time to read, time to pray {the cooking and cleaning, not so much}. 

But, we can get so addicted to the product that we steal all the joy out of the process. We can become so enamored of checking things off our to-do lists that we rarely do things for the sheer pleasure of it.

Don’t force yourself into scarcity mode every day, struggling to fit 34 hours of living into the 24 hours we are allotted. Be a rebel: Plan a whole day of nothing and see how it opens you up to greater productivity {ah, the irony!} and happiness for days afterward.

Our God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” He desires for us to find joy not only in our love for Him and our obedience, but also in the simple things that surround us on His exquisitely crafted earth.

I’m a firm believer in taking joy in small, everyday things:

  • Don’t clean the bathroom, but do make homemade brownies with fresh, real whipped cream and eat dessert tonight by candlelight— just because.
  • Do go for a quiet walk ALONE in the closest woods you can find, instead of hitting the gym.
  • Do take an entire afternoon, evening, or day offline; read a juicy novel curled up next to your dog, cat, husband, etc. 
  • Do create one or two elaborate scrapbook pages that make your heart sing instead of 10 that leave you cold.

This is a sampling of my joy-list — yours probably looks entirely different. The point is this: Allow yourself to savor life and fully appreciate God’s abundance.

The Angel in the Dishwater

The Angel in the Dishwater

I pad downstairs in my PJs, keen on getting a cup of coffee and some quiet time in before I wake the kids. Sipping my strong dark brew, laced through with coconut cream, I turn to Leviticus.

This book is not my favorite. Comprised of countless rules and regulations, the archaic restrictions are mind-boggling in both detail and content. {When was the last time you were concerned about the precise way to deal with defiling molds or skin diseases?}

Personally, I like to think of God as continually present and accessible rather than approachable only through elaborate burnt offerings and ceremonial priestly interventions. {And, I find mold more of a bleach-and-water affair than a spiritual matter.}

But, the honest truth is, lately, I feel a spiritual disconnect. God seems distant.

And while I deliberately seek Him in prayer and scripture most mornings, the rest of my days often careen by in an unholy blur of food preparation, kid-chauffeuring, and calendar wrangling. If I’m lucky, I say a foggy prayer as I head off to sleep.

***

By this point of the morning, I have exactly five minutes left to tackle the sticky pasta pot filled with soapy water gone cold overnight. And I am deep in thought as my hands go through the motions.

Half-heartedly bookending my days with God isn’t enough. I need more.

I begin planning ways to get at God better as I pour cloudy water out of the stainless steel vessel. Into my waiting hands drops a smooth bit of swirled white onyx, with wings.

I am here, Beth, Emmanuel.

There is no reason my son’s angel {an Easter basket gift from his Mimi} should turn up in my dishwater, and family questioning turns up no explanations. The divine token stops me short.

You can make plans to find me, but the simple truth is this: I am here.

angel deck plants

Why is that so hard to imagine — God pouring out with the cold water?

The saying “God is in the detail” rings in my mind for days after, so I look it up. Grammarist.com tells me the saying means “attention paid to small things has big rewards.” The perfectionist in me nods at this. But I am careful not to turn this into fodder for another self-improvement project.

God is in the detail — yes. When we attend to detail and make it count, that’s divine. But, He’s telling me more than that, and I turn it over and over in my mind, as I drive the kids around in our dinged van, as I straighten couch pillows, and pick up legos.

angel legos

God is in the detail — not just symbolically but literally, I realize. He is in the larkspur and lilies in my front yard; He is in the chipmunks frolicking under the bird feeder out back; He is in my daughters’ nighttime kisses on the cheek, both soft and sweet.

But He is also in the jumbled socks I pair, the cast-iron skillet caked with eggs, the ready tears of my five-year-old confronted with the extreme injustice of a lollipop denied before breakfast.

I realize I have lost intimacy with God precisely because I have lost the knack of seeing Him in the everyday-ordinary. I have become a Levite with a long set of rules and regulations of what communing with God should look like, which constrains Him only to the rare, quiet edges of my day.

So I invite Him to jog with me, high up Mt. Blaine road, where we stop to eat wild black raspberries and note the footfall of a doe. I invite Him to breakfast and we take time to chop fresh chives from the garden and purple basil from the farmer’s market to scatter over the eggs.

angel lilies

And I also invite Him to sit with me and my grumpy morning boy as he wakes early, interrupts my quiet time, and begins dropping demands. I invite Him into reasoning with a leggy daughter rapidly approaching 13 who hates to wash and blow-dry her hair. I invite Him into the countless forms and phone calls and appointments that mark the life of a mom with three kids of varying ages and stages.

I invite Him to share all my life — not just the clean, neat, quiet parts that seem good enough for Him. And, in the process, He draws closer. He helps me see the divine in the mundane, the holy bits shining through the chaotic mosaic of our days; he shows me the angel in the dirty dishwater.

Lake Gem

Lake Gem

From the water, I see a pale leg-tepee on the far shore. 

It might be a woman lying on her back, knees bent, or it could be a patch of exposed tree bark. I’m not sure which, from my vantage point in the kayak. Things have a way of looking different from the water.

But, as I tour the nooks and crannies of the small lake, startling turtles off logs and generously watering my thighs as I paddle, I see it is indeed a woman. Her back is flat against the earth, feet planted and knees touching.

turtle in lake

At the lake’s center, I stop paddling {skewing the results of the GPS-enabled workout app keeping track of my pace and distance} and lean back, looking up at the blue sky streaked with clouds. I let my gaze wander down to the end of the lake where the fishermen gather on a grassy knoll.  There, clouds hang low and dramatic, stretched thin and long, shaded with darker grey. They look painted like a stage backdrop, the sky depicted skillfully, if a bit heavy-handed with light and shadow. 

branch lake

As I float aimlessly, I notice him now — a stocky man in a royal blue tank sitting still atop a picnic table on the shore to my right. He doesn’t move.

We three — sit, lay, float — a triangle of tranquility.

I am impressed by their skill at being still. Their commitment to inactivity. Their choice to be small and let quiet overtake them.

I am working hard to convince myself this lake date is not about a workout. I’m struggling with a notion that honors the opposite of motion.

heron lake

How obvious, I think, that God is big and we are small. Yet, do we experience life this way?

How often do we take time to be still and recall small?

My life has become huge. My problems, my worries, my to-do list. Simply enormous. God is a tiny tickle in the back of my mind, a quick prayer for safety while driving, a rushed morning devotional.

My need to manage our busy life (with three kids — 5, 10, and 12) has grown to gigantic proportions. I have gotten into the self-indulgent habit of magnifying everything, from my dissatisfaction with my messy closets to my frustration with my aging physique. Nothing is good enough for me.

lake view

But, this quiet morning on the water, I hear dogs barking on the distant shore and a hint of traffic noise even farther off. As I stare at my still companions on the shore, I recognize with a sudden and sharp clarity we are at the center of something far larger, and it is beautiful.

kayak lake 2

For a heart-stopping moment, my view zooms out incrementally, from the lake to the hills to the surrounding town and region. There is concrete around us and stores and roads and busy people leading their rushing lives, but we … we three are tucked into an Eden moment.

We three are consciously still players in an impossibly serene pastoral scene, the lake an opal ringed by layers of pine-and-maple-green emerald, the moody sky graduated blue textured with dusky clouds.

We are held, gemlike, perfect and tiny, in the palm of this world … and in the even larger hands of its Creator.

Lord, though we are faced daily with myriad demands in our hectic modern world, please help us pause and remember You. Though we know in our minds that you are larger than our petty day-to-day worries, infuse this truth into our hearts so that we may walk today with our shoulders lifted and heads high, confident in Your ability and secure in Your peace. Amen.

 

Beauty in the Breaking

We roll our bags down the entry hallway of Children’s Hospital, past a colorful abstract butterfly mural. We’re here for a scheduled overnight—no rushed admission, no immediate accident or illness, no heart-thumping clutch of fear. We deal in the long and slow, in measured stretches of medication carefully calibrated—dripped in by IV monthly, spooned in by dropper-full twice daily, cut in half and swallowed in applesauce Monday through Thursday, and injected on Friday.

We’re not the family in the waiting room rocking a wailing baby, pacing, talking on the phone in tears. We’re not the stoic mom holding the tiny four-year-old boy with half a shaved head.

We’re the ones with the kid who looks just fine. Julianne sits in the waiting room with headphones on, reading her book serenely. While stress ebbs and flows around her, she appears untouched.

We’re the ones with the girl who’s proud she can pronounce the ten-syllable mouthful Ju-ven-ile Der-ma-to-my-o-si-tis (JDM) correctly when she’s first diagnosed two years ago at 7 1/2. We’re the ones with the statistical anomaly: one of only two to three kids per million get JDM, an inflammatory disease of the skin, muscle, and blood vessels. (And we wonder why we can’t beat these odds when it comes time for school raffles or radio-show call-ins or even a lotto ticket.)

Join me today for the rest of the story at The High Calling?