Beauty in the Small

Recently I had a large group of photos printed to frame, which led me to combing through hundreds of photos from the last two years. I haven’t done a really great job of getting them printed from adventures during that time. That’s when I stumbled across this photo I took at Biltmore Gardens.

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That beauty nestled inside the beauty of a blossoming flower? Well it made me feel like I’d discovered a little secret God wanted to share with me. And remind me of yet again as I was rummaging for photos to print.

That secret?

Well it’s that He is cultivating work in the smallest places, in the most unassuming and unexpected places. He is growing beauty from within and we might miss it looking at the bigger picture, at the sweeping grandeur blossoming we will let the smaller inner work just bypass us completely.

I know for me I have been so focused and intent on the work I see Him doing in everyone else and forgetting the work He’s been growing and refining in me. There is beauty within the bigger, but there is breathtaking wonder at the inner working going on. I love to see how He works in others but I am so reluctant to take that moment to observe where it is He’s been in what I call the small of my life. Because frankly, I’d rather have the big in my life too. I’d rather select the sweeping beauty of the field rather than the intimate quiet of the one flower above.

But He’s in both. He works in both for our very good. The big sweeping beauty comes from hours of toil, just as the seemingly minute does the same. They both require work, both by His hand and my submission. It’s not a one or the other, but a both and if I’ll just stop focusing on what I deem as unimportant and small in my world. Instead taking a moment to admire the beauty held within that I too easily think isn’t His handiwork.

 

The Manger

You know the song we sing around this time of year, “Away in a Manger”? Well that song has been on my mind for weeks now. Odd, I know. Of all the Christmas carols, hymns, songs to have, that one isn’t one that truly sticks out as a mind-grabber. But alas, here I am this morning humming it while I clean up breakfast and look at the tree partially lit up (half the lights at the top went out, it’s a thing I just don’t have the will to drag out new lights for).

The line “the little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head” is what keeps popping into mind and I am having a hard time here with it. Here’s why…

I think we like to look at Christ as this babe in a feeding trough there in a stable-structure. We like to see Him as this babe that shepherds came to marvel and wise men sought to honor with gifts, but we keep Him there in this context throughout our lives.

jesus-in-the-mangerWe have this concept that Christ is infant-to wonder and lavish love upon, but we don’t like the reality that His Presence commands of our lives. We don’t like that when He came with us, our selves got a bit too uncomfortable, our lives got rocked by Emmanuel. God with us.

Because that meant we couldn’t point to His absence, His silence, as excuse. He physically laid out His life, relinquishing the glories of heaven and His right in order that we might be in relationship with Him. In a few months we’ll look to Him on the cross, but I think we often upgrade the image of Christ as a babe in order to downplay our need for Him.

When we put Christ only in the image of the manger, born in a stable as a helpless babe, it appeases our self to think He can’t do it all, He can’t be relied upon and maybe He needs our help instead of the other way around. We don’t greet Him with welcoming in our lives often, but instead stare in wonder at this humanness of God Incarnate instead.

In reading Luke’s account of Christ’s life, I love the honesty of Mary with Gabriel. Just yesterday  we talked about Zechariah’s response to him as he hears the news of an impending birth. Then just a few verses later, we see Mary greeted by this angel (y’all he wasn’t some little cherub all cute and fluffy, this was Gabriel, mighty angel come to bring the news). Same truth of a birth coming, only this one is the Savior of the world, God Himself. Mary’s initial response is one of confusion, not doubt. But how can she get pregnant as a virgin, unwed? She wasn’t doubting his news, she just couldn’t see the possibility of it with her.

But her response to Emmanuel coming to her, coming to us?

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.

“May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Is that how we respond to Christ the King? Is that how we address Him even now, knowing His redemption of our souls was purposed through this very season we celebrate? Do we look to Him as the authority of our lives even in the context of the manger? Because y’all, He didn’t stay in the manger. He didn’t stay in the tomb. He reigns, rules and intercedes for us…

He’s not away in some manger, helpless and in need of us. It’s us that needs Him. We needed Him thousands of years ago, in that manger, to herald a new hope, to rejoice as our weary souls cried out for a Savior. We needed the new morning, new mercies, redemption and grace. There it all came, in the form a baby, heralded by an angel and under all authority given by God Himself, so that we may say “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Chiamari Fuori

Over the next week I am traveling in Italy. In being here under 48 hours I have to say this place is one that I never could have imagined loving as I now do.

Its a social culture, a slower pace, and a place that I am interested to discover more about. It’s beauty and character go hand in hand with its history. I’ve sat and reveled in a park already at all around me. People who are image bearers of Christ but might not know Him. Rarely do I get in this mindset on home turf. Italy is changing my view of life and people, of culture and demands.

As people of God we are chiamari fuori -separated, called out. Do we look that different? Do we look separated and called apart? So this is the question I carry now. This is what I was with in each step.

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The Beauty of a Storm

We recently got some heavy storms overnight here in Nashville. The storms aren’t rare in the summer because of the humidity (Lord, the humidity…I attribute this as another side effect of the fall). It’s not common though to get them overnight, as the atmosphere tends to cool and there’s just not enough juice to get one going. However these bubbled up and fired off around 1am. How would I know? Well they rattled the house, waking me up and keeping me awake the majority of the the rest of the early morning hours.

The next morning as I struggled to gain my alertness from the groggy half-sleep I got I caught a glimpse of this sight. I have referenced the glimpses I get out my front guest room window before. But this one was just breathtaking. It caught me and pulled me in, watching the artistry at work as the sun broke over the horizon pushing the clouds back and giving off this beauty I could never put into words. IMG_5679

In the middle of the night, I couldn’t have known what the morning would look like, what beauty I would see from a storm that had raged throughout the night. Instead I was solely focused on what the storm was doing to me, rather than what it might bring on the other side of it.

The beauty of that morning reminds me that I need not fret in the storm, whatever it may be and whatever it may look like. He meets us in the storm (Mark 6:47-52) calling us out to meet Him on the waters that He steadies by His own hand. He brings a message in the mess. He doesn’t see as we see, He doesn’t fret over storms that we find ourselves in. If we are with Him, we too should find calm in the midst. Quieting the storms of our lives through resting with Him (Matthew 8:23-27), finding our faith in Him and not in our circumstances.

Isn’t that how it is though for us? We bemoan the storm we are in, forgetting the beauty that often comes from it once it passes. We forget the peace brought by the God Who Creates because He is with us and focus instead on the weariness of the storm, the fretting of our current selves. We forget that out of a mess comes a message. Out of the black of night comes the dawn breaking with beauty. Putting faith in Him who is with us instead of the circumstances, or our own strength.

 

Mossy Trees, Creation, and Tuesdays

Recently I have been enamored with the bigness of the world, of everything around me. One of my absolute favorite things is to look up under a tree, sometimes catching the sun peaking through the leaves and branches. I caught myself yesterday just standing on this beautiful plantation enveloped in the absolute bigness of this world. I probably looked crazy standing with eyes closed underneath hanging moss breathing deep, but honestly the older I get the more I really don’t care the perceptions of strangers. Their dialogue on my life isn’t affecting me breathing in the goodness of the creation before me. 

It’s the created reveling in the Creator’s work. 

No other part of creation, from His Hands, were created to enjoy this creation, to look at it with eyes of wonder and joy, to be content in giving Him the glory for all that is. When we look at Genesis 1:31 we see this same affirmation by God, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” (HCSB, emphasis mine) Even as I type Bryan and Katie Torwalt are filling the still of my room with the words “let us experience the glory of Your goodness,” (from Holy Spirit, which makes me weep with joy) and that is a prayer worth singing out each and every day.

My hangup comes though when I want that bigness in every moment, grandeur and flooding visions of beauty and praise. Often the bigness of His creation is brought small in my life. It’s in the glimpse from a rear view, the quick word of encouragement, the found note from a memory long ago, or even the breath filling deep in a moment when the world may be coming in quick and hard. 

I sometimes forego the creation joy to push for the grander reveling, big moments held out for instead of sitting in the beauty of a Tuesday as Emily P. Freeman writes about so perfectly in Simply Tuesday. The small matters, the quiet stillness of a moment or a task completed is worthy of acknowledgement and we alone are created for that. The small leads and grows us day in and day out, walking us to the big to cherish and know of the Creator deeper. We run after big, wanting that in everything and every day when the small is with us in the moment.

Honestly it’s like saying we want Christ in His table-turning, miracle-performing  rather than the whispers of the Holy Spirit in moments. Both worthy and things worth desiring, but y’all we get both. We get the big and the small alike. It’s our choice to see the small as a means of revelry and praising. The bigness of creation is brought small by the Creator each day, it’s our choice as the created to recognize it for the very good that it is before us. 

Even when it means stopping in the midst, eyes closed, allowing Creator to meet with me the created under a mossy tree in the middle of Mississippi. 

Lovely is in the Eye of the Beholder

What you find beautiful may not be what I find beautiful. The moments you collect that will help you finish the thing you’ve started may not be the moments that matter to me. (pg. 107)

Let me introduce you to my friend Annie. I knew Annie about the time she embarked on this book-as she and I were leading college small groups at a church here in Nashville. That’s why when I got the opportunity to get a sneak peek at this book, Looking for Lovely, I was thrilled. It’s funny what us writers will put out in publication but we oft find hard to share, I feel like you get to know a deeper side of Annie with this newest release from B&H Publishing.

After reading this book on looking for the beauty in life that is defined by you, and just you, for yourself I want to send this to every lovely person in my life. Every girlfriend and woman who I want to encourage to see the lovely in their lives as a reflection of themselves, of the lovely that they are.

Annie defines what it means to search for lovely (where we have often misplaced our definition of lovely), the absence of it in our lives-which I was amening a bit too much while reading, inspiration of the lovely in her own life (I will never see sushi as just sushi m’dear!) and what looking for lovely looks like in a life.

I was skeptical at first of this book-afraid it would be too flowery and fluffy with sparkles, but instead it spoke to me in places that I hadn’t yet dug deep into about choosing lovely for my own life. Like the loveliness of silent Monday drives to the gym-seriously the quiet of 4:45am roads in Nashville is superb and life-breathing. Or the lovely in a deep conversation with a friend in another state, coffee and writing outside. The smell of crisp spring air as the day ends. These are some of the things, and people, that I am seeing as lovely-choosing to relish and mark days that might otherwise be found wanting.

Annie brings lovely to light in her own style of writing that is applicable and relatable. She talks to you as if you are sharing a cup of coffee or tea, rather than as an author baring open some hard parts of her life. I simply loved this book, from sparkly beginning to lovely end. I found that while inspiring it also gave me pause to be looking for lovely in my own life, in my own ways and defined by me.

I encourage you to grab your copy today, and a real copy because you’ll want to make notes and highlight Annie-isms. At the end of several chapters she challenges you to step out and find lovely in that moment, in that way as you begin your own journey to looking for lovely.


 

Pick up Looking for Lovely at Amazon, Barnes & Noble or LifeWay (they price match!) today! You can also get Annie’s Bible study that accompanies the book for teens and women at LifeWay. Comment below on one lovely thing you find in your life for a chance to win a copy I am giving away!