Renaissance Attitude

In preparation for a trip to Florence, I have been doing some reading on the Renaissance. Not to try to give a history lesson, but the early to mid-1400’s was an exciting time. Prior to that the European world was pretty much in the mindset of doing things the same old way, like they always had done. To be fair, the 1300’s were pretty challenging, with a lot of wars and the bubonic plague. But then, mainly in Florence, Italy, some people started to think that maybe things– like poetry, writing, art, architecture, and engineering– could be improve on. Dante, for example, decided to write a giant poem in the vernacular Latin (a form that the common man, not just the aristocrats, could understand). Brunelleschi promised he could build his famous giant dome, even though no one had ever built a dome so large and at the time of his bid he had no idea he could do it. Ghiberti, Donatello, Botticelli, and Michelangelo took painting and sculpture to a whole new level of realism, emotion, and perspective. And then there’s Leonardo da Vinci, in my opinion, probably the smartest man to ever have lived. He was an artist, mathematician, engineer and architect.

What I really like about all of these Renaissance innovators is that they didn’t just decide to go out and do something different or off the wall; they started first by looking backward. They studied the ancient Arab writings, the Greek philosophers and sculptors. Much of the advances in banking and accounting made by the Medici’s had its roots in Arab mathematics. Renaissance sculpture sort of picks up where the Greeks left off. Also, most of the Renaissance rock stars, while pushing back against the Church and established religion, didn’t entirely reject it or try to burn it down. Instead, much of their art incorporated religious themes, was commissioned for display in churches, and/or financially supported by the Church.

So, I want to have a “Renaissance attitude.” I want to learn from and emulate the great thinkers and artists and other creatives of the past while, at the same time, strive to innovate and improve on those ideas. In this way, we can honor the past and acknowledge those upon whose shoulders we stand and, yet, also keep evolving toward the future.

Accepting Loss

Me just before being pickpocketed

I was on vacation in Florence, Italy. I was relaxed. I was having a good time, taking in the sights, taking photos, posting to my Instagram. So I had my smartphone handy in the side pocket of my purse, ready to pull it out upon spying a good photo opportunity. The Point Vecchio Bridge, lined with jewelry shops, was busy and crowded. Vendors were hawking their wares, street performers were vying for attention, people were packed in close. And then I went to reach for my phone and realized it wasn’t there. I checked my pockets, searched my purse. Gone. In the press of the crowd, with all the distractions, someone had lifted my iPhone.

When I got back to my computer, I performed the “Find My” operation. The phone had been on the bridge at the time I had crossed it and then gone offline. The thief had cleverly immediately turned the phone off so it could not be tracked. Fortunately, I had it locked with a passcode. I very sadly gave the command to have all data on the phone erased.

It is shocking to realize how much we have come to rely on our smartphones. I felt lost, untethered. I felt I had lost an appendage. How would I take photos? Oh, yeah, I also have a Nikon camera. How would I check my email? I have an iPad and laptop. What about my past photos? They are in the cloud. What about all the notes and other information I keep on my phone? Well, those are lost. I will have to stretch my memory and recall. So, I came to realize that, in reality, I hadn’t lost much more than my physical phone. Because I need a new SIM card from my U.S. carrier, I wouldn’t be able to get a new phone until I returned to the U.S., but I would be able to replace the phone and keep the same number.

However, I still felt a little traumatized. First of all, I was pretty angry with myself. I know better than to leave my personal belongings exposed when in crowds. I think of myself as having pretty good situational awareness, but I had no clue when my phone was stolen. Someone was that close to me and had their hand inside my purse and I had no idea. I felt very stupid. I also felt violated. What right does anyone have to take my property? Also, I had to face the next ten days phone-less. How was that possible? What would I do? How would I function? My husband had three phone with him, so we managed.

But this experience made me think — am I too attached to material things? The loss of this one material thing really upset me. Some people have catastrophes like fires or floods or war that cause them to lose all their material goods. That is unimaginable to me. But, somehow, those people manage to go on. They rebuild their lives. They say these events made them realize that what was really important was that they and their family members were alive. And yet, I was pretty upset to lose one material item. After thinking about it, I chose to take stock of all the blessings I have (I had the means to vacation in Italy, for starters) and of the things in life that really matter — my health, my faith, my relationships with family and friends. No thief or disaster can ever take those things away from me.

Salute the Sunrise

I don’t necessarily consider myself a “morning person.” O.K., to be fair, I am not a night owl, either. I like sleep. However, I also really enjoy a good sunrise. Sunsets are great, too. But sunsets have a totally different vibe. Sunsets are the close to a good day, a reason to enjoy a cocktail, a time to relax and wind down. If you can force yourself to get up early enough to beat the sun up, you will be in for a very special treat.

First of all, in most cases, at sunrise you will encounter very few, if any, other human beings. Particularly in vacation spots, like the beach or a mountain resort, the other people stayed up late, don’t need to be anywhere at a particular time, and are enjoying their sleep. Secondly, if you are in a hot location and/or season, it is much cooler early in the morning, making exercise or just being outside more bearable. In addition, when you are up with the sun you get to see the animal world wake up and start going about their business of finding breakfast.

Here is my strong recommendation: Get up early. Go for a long walk. Do a little yoga. Or just sit, breathe deeply, watch the sky turn pink, then orange, then bright. Don’t play music. Don’t talk too much to your companions. Just be. Prepare your mind, body, and emotions for the day ahead and all it might have to offer. It’s a fresh start, a blank slate. Yesterday’s worries or stressors or conflicts are behind you. Today is a new day. Acknowledge, appreciate, and salute the sunrise. You might find you enjoy it so much you will want to repeat the experience as often as possible.

Flirting with Disaster

While sitting on the beach on the Delaware shore, I was watching the sandpipers. Sandpipers are interesting little creatures. They are small and appear quite delicate and fragile. But they are not timid at all. In fact, they are quite brave and very perseverant. The sandpiper lives life literally on the edge. She stands right on the edge of the surf, running in and out of the water’s edge with the ebb and flow of each wave. As the wave breaks and then recedes, the sandpiper follows just behind the foamy lip of the wave, pecking at the sand for the little sea creatures buried therein. And she stays there, pecking and eating, retreating only at the very last millisecond as the next wave comes in. If her timing is off in the tiniest way, she risks being overcome by the wave and possibly knocked down and battered about. But the sandpiper doesn’t worry about that. She doesn’t hold back or stand a safe distance beyond the breaking waves; no, she is forever right on the edge, at the cusp of disaster, hoping for the greatest benefits.

I want to live my life more like a sandpiper. I don’t want to, out of fear, stand a safe distance back from the danger and possible disaster. If I play it too safe, I won’t be able to reap the greatest rewards. Sure, I may, on occasion, get knocked down, rolled around on the bottom, perhaps get water in my mouth and sand in my feathers. If I am overcome and knocked down, I will most likely survive, and probably learn to judge the waves a little bit better. But if I am brave enough to court disaster, I will also reap the sweetest and freshest rewards life has to offer. Bring on the waves!

The Miracle is in the Details

My first grandchild was born the other day! I know, it’s a miracle that has been occurring since the dawn of man. But it is still, nonetheless, a miracle — and now it’s our family’s miracle. It is true that you love your grandchildren exponentially more than you love your children. It’s love squared — love to the 2nd power.

As I held my grandson in my arms, I couldn’t help but reflect on how amazing our God is. His creation of man and mankind is unbelievably complex and incredibly detailed. Not only does this complete, perfect, tiny human emerge from his mother’s womb, but the entire system works together. As soon as a mother gives birth, her hormones immediately change from pregnancy to new mother. The same hormone that causes the mother to produce milk also causes her uterus to contract and begin to return to its pre-pregnancy state. The mother’s milk the baby drinks provides him with needed antibodies and also urges baby’s body to purge the amniotic fluids from his system. The whole scheme is so wonderfully designed!

God created this little boy. He knows what this child’s future holds. He knows what this baby will like and dislike, knows his strengths and weaknesses. God loves this child so much more than I can, which is unfathomable. I can rest assured that God has his hand upon this little blessing and it is my duty and privilege to share this wonderful news with him and all my future grandchildren.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14. This child is fearfully and wonderfully made — handcrafted by God in his mother’s womb.

May I take time each and every day to wonder at God’s miracles and His creation. May I ever take notice of each and every detail and marvel at His power.

Conjuring up Storms

I was recently lying awake in bed early one morning on a trip to Canterbury, England. I heard a rumbling noise, like thunder. I started to dismay, thinking of all my plans for that day that would be negatively impacted by rain — a boat ride on the canal, lunch on the terrace, an outdoor concert. At the next rumble, I began to think I had made a mistake coming to England in the summer. Why hadn’t I sought a sunnier locale? My mood was definitely taking a turn toward the negative. I didn’t even pack an umbrella!

A few minutes later, I got out of bed and opened up the hotel’s black-out curtains. It was not raining. It wasn’t even overcast. Just then, I heard the sound again I had taken to be thunder. It was a truck full of pipes, traversing the cobblestone street! Crisis averted.

How often do we immediately let our thoughts go to the “worst-case” scenario? How quick are we to go down the rabbit hole of how everything is going to be ruined? By thinking the worse, and playing out in my head how my perfectly planned day was going to go south, I put myself in a bad mood.

God has good plans for us; He does not seek to ruin our plans. For those that trust and follow Him, we can rest assured that whatever is in store, rain or shine, God wishes only the best for us. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11.

May God help me to train my mind to think of the good things He has planned for me, and to not conjure up storm clouds in my head. May I focus my thoughts on ways I may creatively seek to serve Him and savor each and every day.

Strength in Weakness

I have recently been ill. Nothing serious, from a long-term standpoint, just a wicked ear infection. However, I have a disorienting “whoosh” in my left ear, am off-balance, and have diminished hearing. At the beginning of the illness, I also had a fever and felt miserable overall. The experience has been worse than average because I was traveling. I was in rural France when I was struck down. I was forced to go to the Emergency Room, on my birthday, in a country where I did not speak the language. I had to wait 5 hours and struggle to communicate with the doctor about my symptoms and her diagnosis and prescription for treatment. When I finally left the ER on a Sunday morning, all the pharmacies were closed. It wasn’t until the afternoon that I found an open pharmacy and was able to get some antibiotics.

The next day, Monday, I had to travel alone from Paris back to the U.S. I had to walk from the hotel to the train station, take the train to the airport, and then navigate the airport. Ordinarily, this would be a tiring, but very doable trip. But to make this trip while feeling absolutely awful was very daunting. I considered postponing my journey, but I was anxious to get back to the U.S., where I have insurance and speak the language. In addition, my first grandchild is due any day and I really wanted to be present.

My initial reaction to the situation was to think: “Why is this happening to me, and why now?” “How can I possibly manage this?” But, then, I examined my options, or lack thereof. My choices were very limited: I could postpone my trip home, stay alone in a hotel in Paris without meaningful access to healthcare; or I could haul myself home. I chose the latter course of action.

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul. He had some unnamed physical ailment, his “thorn in the flesh.” Paul’s take on it was that God allowed him this weakness “in order to keep [him] from becoming conceited.” (2nd Cor. 12:7) I don’t think that’s why I am currently ill, but there are still lessons to be learned from Paul. The Lord promises: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2nd Cor. 12:9) Whatever the challenge or weakness faced by us, God’s grace is sufficient to see us through.

Even more mysterious is the second part: when we are weak, Christ’s power rests on us and flows through us. God’s most amazing work occurs through weak vessels; he doesn’t choose the most powerful or charismatic or most talented to perform His best tasks. The Bible is full of examples of imperfect people furthering God’s Kingdom.

So, back to my situation. Although my getting home was not my performing any big work for God, I view it as an exercise in substituting my strength for His. My trip home seemed such a monumental task. But I took each step as just that — a step, and focused on completing the immediate step ahead of me. Make it to the train station (despite going 4 blocks in the wrong direction). Make it to the train. Make it through the check-in. Make it through security. Make it to the gate (of course, the very farthest one). Make it through passport control (the longest line I have ever seen). Make it to my friend’s car in parking (after walking to the wrong parking garage). I survived the journey, sustained by prayer and a confidence in knowing that it was not the measure of my own strength that determined my success or failure.

I still have a blocked ear, and diminished hearing. As a result, I think I am listening a little closer to people, and perhaps I am ignoring more of the “noise.” While it is frustrating, I am trying to have a positive attitude and rest in the belief that this, too, shall pass.

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2nd Cor. 12:10)

Shake it Off

We were enjoying a drink in a champagne bar in Canterbury, England. It was a classy place, in an historic hotel. It was happy hour, and things were pretty busy. An elderly lady and her companions, including a small dog, came in. The dog didn’t look like a service animal and didn’t have a vest or anything, but neither the staff nor the patrons seemed to pay it any mind. Apparently, they aren’t strict about pets in bars in England. Everyone was having a good time until the waitress attempted to serve the dog owner and her friends a second (or third) round of drinks. As the server was about to unload her tray full of champagne flutes onto the cocktail table, the elderly lady got a little eager and reached for a glass. The tall, delicate glass tipped over, toppling the glass next to it. The server lunged to grab the glasses, and ended up flipping the silver tray, sending all the champagne flutes crashing to the marble floor in a spectacular explosion of glass. The waitress shouted an expletive. At that moment the little dog, apparently sensing danger to his mistress, jumped up and began growling, snarling, barking, and running around. The waitress, understandably, shrieked. A couple entered the bar and attempted to travel through the scene to get to an empty table beyond. Overall chaos ensued.

Suddenly, from the midst of the hubbub, the elderly lady said, in a stern, loud voice: “Kingsly, Shake It Off.” Shockingly, the little dog immediately stopped barking, and literally shook himself all over, as if just emerging from the bath. He then went to his mistress’s side and lay down. At that point, things quickly de-escalated several notches, the situation became under control, and the mess was rapidly cleaned. up. No more than 2 minutes later, “Kingsly” was snoring on the carpet. He knew his mistress had everything handled and he could just take a breath.

I need to learn to command myself to “Shake it Off.” That is much easier said than done. I am naturally a control freak. In times of crisis, I am prone to bark and run around and try to “do things” in an attempt to control the situation. But sometimes, as with Kingsly, my “doing” is making things worse, rather than better. And, not every situation can be controlled by me. But God is capable of controlling every situation. As a follower of Christ, I need to rest in the fact that God is in control and trust that He can handle things without my help.

Busy as a Bee

While recently visiting the Loire Valley in France, I was walking through the amazing gardens of a chateau. One section of the garden was nearly all lavender. The aroma was powerful, and calming, and a little sneeze-inducing. As I strolled along, bathing in the colors and scent, I heard a low murmur, or buzz. As I looked closer at the lavender bushes, I spied dozens of plump, fuzzy bees. They were flitting from blossom to blossom in the lavender. While they were moving quite quickly, and while they didn’t really seem to alight anywhere, I didn’t feel like they were frenzied or rushed. They were just methodically and efficiently going about their business of collecting pollen. Even when I moved in quite close to take some photos, they did not even seem to notice me, but carried on.

We know the bees are collecting the pollen to make their honey. They take the pollen back to the hive, and later on, a golden, delicious product results. Then the humans steal the honey, but that’s a different topic. What we also know is that while the bees are going about their own business, they are also cross-pollinating the plants and flowers. Smart gardeners (and the landscape crew of these impressive gardens were clearly very skilled and knowledgeable) intentionally plant a variety of flowers that attract bees and butterflies, and strategically locate them so cross-pollination is likely to happen. Of course, flowers have to be cross-pollinated to flourish.

I kind of doubt the bees are aware they are providing a valuable service in cross-pollinating the plants in the garden; they are likely just focused on doing their job or collecting pollen and making honey. Nonetheless, something beautiful happens as a side-effect. I wonder if, while I am diligently going about my business of being obedient to God and engaging in the work I have perceived He has set before me, if some beautiful or miraculous other things are happening as a result. Maybe I don’t even see it. Maybe I will never be aware of it. Perhaps someone will be touched or moved or inspired by something I say or do and go on to be changed or made better. God has the ability to take my steadfast faithfulness and turn it into something else beautiful that is apparently unrelated to the things I am doing. Maybe he uses other followers, like the butterflies, to do the same work, but in a different way.

The depth of the omniscience and manifestations of God’s plan for the world are far beyond our comprehension. However, if we only faithfully and diligently go about the tasks set before us, busy as bees, we may also contribute to the collateral blessings.

Prisms of Glory

Why do we, as humans, need or want to create? Aside from a few anecdotes about elephants or gorillas who paint, humans are the only creatures who create. God is THE Creator. He created the entire universe and our world out of nothing. A walk in the woods is enough to cause us to marvel at the beauty and perfection of God’s creative work.

We are created in God’s image, so we have the ability and desire to create. We can’t create out of nothing, but we can create without limit from the things God has given us. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author the “The Lord of the Rings” referred to man as God’s “sub-creators.”

God’s glory and the source of creativity is like a beam of sunlight, radiating from Him. I like to think of us, his creatures, as being prisms. As God’s glory flows through each one of us, it is reflected out in a multitude of colors, shapes, and variations of light. Each person’s expression of creativity is unique and reflective of that person God created.

Embrace your God-given ability and need to create. Don’t suppress it. Whether you write, paint, play music, sing, sew, cook, decorate your home, make crafts, or come up with innovative new ways to do things at your job, you are creating. It doesn’t really matter if other people appreciate your efforts or not.

As we allow God’s glory to flow through us in expressions of creativity, both we and the world are blessed.