Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When winter drags on

Late February, and it looks like the groundhog was right. Six more weeks of winter.

In my yard, daffodils hold their petals to themselves, waiting for a more opportune time. Camellia buds barely revealing color are still wound tight. Even the Lenten roses seem to draw back.


Flakes drift down. And our biggest snowfall may still be in the days ahead.

I can’t say a word from my southern nest, while my northern neighbors are literally buried under mounds of white with roofs caving in, and precipitation totals approaching record amounts.

About this time of year, we’re tired of the snowflakes that excited us back in December.  However much we welcomed the cooler temperatures last fall after a hot summer, we’re now hoping for the mercury to rise again. Our gloves need washing, our scarves are frayed, boots need attention, and our winter coats are due for a cleaning.  

Winter drags, and we want to hear, “The winter is past . . .”

Even as I type, I wear a thick vest, my fingertips are cold and numb, and I have a space heater blasting to combat the central heat leaking out through these sunroom windows.

I’m listening closely for “The winter is past . . . “

And if I’m honest, I’m hoping for spring in ways other than just the weather.

Ever have a challenging season in your life that just won’t seem to end, where difficulty piles on difficulty? Where the unresolved continues to be unresolved.

Yet, I know God works in the winter and sometimes the most wonderful things he does are unseen, locked away under what appears to be a frozen crust of dormancy.
There will be a day, when the cold has passed, flowers unfurl their petals, the rain has gone, and birdsong rises. It’s coming, but in the mean time, we do what people of faith do. We sing in the rain, we warm ourselves in His spirit, and we give thanks for what may be that one solitary bird that still sings. We focus on the beauty of the season even in the midst of heartache. And we welcome what he does in us through the cold days.

Just a few feet away from that heater in my office sits this plant.

My husband heard me say I'd always wanted a flowering quince for our yard, so he bought me one for Valentine's Day. It blooms when the winter is still hard and spring is weeks away. I didn't put it outside right away, because the weather was so cold, and the heat inside has forced it into full bloom. I guess now, I'll have to keep it in until temperatures moderate, but meanwhile, on these grey days I'm getting the full benefit of its beauty.

The plant keeps me remembering that God will bring spring. And it will bear the amazing fruit of what we allow him to do in us through the winter.

“Look around you: Winter is over; the winter rains are over, gone! Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world’s a choir—and singing! Spring warblers are filling the forest  with sweet arpeggios.  Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed,  and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms” (Song of Solomon 2:11-13The Message).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What it takes to go for beauty

In my daily work, I’ve segued from cutting twenty pages from a screenplay to doing some tedious reformatting , moving it from the old Word template I used years ago to Final Draft. I set a goal to do ten or twelve pages a day, which is about as much as the nerves in my right hand can stand. Every single line has to be clicked and designated as character, dialogue, action, etc. I even toyed with the idea of just retyping the entire screenplay, but I don’t think it would be any faster, and might even be more wear and tear on my body.

I’ve had to break up the work, with other projects to avoid my hand and my brain going numb. Since I’m spending so much time in the setting of this screenplay, St. Simons Island, and since it’s so cold outside, I’m painting from a few pictures I’ve taken of the island, feeling as if I’m the character, Aunt Laney, standing on the marsh bank in Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees.

Still hard on my hand, but a different action.

It’s been a long time since I used oil, and I still tend to want to use a watercolor technique, but hey, at least I’m getting my brush in the paint. I’m messy, but so far, no cats are walking around with rainbows on their sides. However there was an incident involving Wilbur jumping on my paint palette. A story for another day.

An artist friend and I were talking about how our attitudes have changed about painting. We’re letting go of all those rules we used to have that made us feel our work didn’t measure up unless it fit a list of criteria. For example, I’m mixing different grades of paint, something I would have never done back in the day. But if I don’t mix grades, I’m not going to paint, because I can’t justify the expense of buying all new professional level oils. I have to go one tube at a time. I’ve chosen not to let it bother me, as I try to let go of that internal perfectionism code which devalues anything less than the ideal. It still sometimes haunts me, but when I see those mixed paints on the canvas, I feel victorious.

I’m remembering the Nester motto, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”

I’ve found that perfectionism cripples, stunts, and judges. All those high standards we find impossible to meet, we project on others and fault them for not measuring up, too. We forget grace and we lose the potential for beauty.

Friend, maybe it’s time for you, also, to let go of all those silly rules you made up and just go for the beauty.

“And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish Thou the work of our hands for us—yea, the work of our hands, establish Thou it” (Psalm 90:17 KJV).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What she left behind

Her eyesight had failed her, so she took the hand offered as she stepped onto the podium to give the eulogy. In the moments ahead, this sister in law remembered a woman she said was more like a sister, and the kind words offered no surprise as our family had often been touched by the kindness and love of the one she praised.
“She was a very forgiving woman.” We’d observed that forgiveness through her many years of heartaches which seemed to stack one on another. But still, no bitterness invaded her sweet spirit.

But what could rock worlds was still to come. “Maybe you did something to hurt or offend her, and didn’t have a chance to ask forgiveness.” I could feel the collective pause in the room, because I knew some had. Maybe I had. I’d wished I’d visited more often.

“Don’t worry about it. She’s already forgiven you.”

The relief was palpable as the grace washed over all in the room.

"Already forgiven you" came as a green shoot from the dry leaves of death.

What a legacy.

Through the years, I’d heard the confessions of those who had hurt someone and never had a chance to ask forgiveness. The guilt of it was almost crushing. But the life of this woman made sure what she left behind was joy.

She’d made a path for those who may have offended or hurt her to follow. We could step in her merciful footsteps and find life and peace. And maybe some would say I want to have that same forgiving spirit. I want to be known NOT as someone who held a grudge and demanded justice, but I want to be remembered as someone who always forgave. Who looked past the offense to the heart of the offender, and offered what was not deserved—mercy.

Like Jesus did for us.

As the service concluded, we gathered coats and scarves to wrap our bodies against the cold wind blowing outside, but our hearts had already been warmed by love and a supernatural grace.

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you” (Colossians 3:13 The Message).

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Let it go

I’ve been sitting at the computer for some time staring at three lines of dialogue. Finally, I take the cursor, highlight the lines, and as something inside of me screams against it, I hit the key marked d-e-l-e-t-e sending those words into cyber oblivion.

I try to recover from the sting.

I’m currently paring down the script for Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees again, and trying to cut the page count by about twenty. What I’m doing is tedious, but necessary because too many unnecessary words slow down the story.
Even as I posted this page from an old script, I see so much of  it has already been eliminated.
I can’t tell you how many times the script (as well as the book) has previously been edited. And here I am again scrutinizing Every. Single. Word. and asking myself: Is this word necessary? Does it convey the meaning in the most concise way? Is the verb in the sentence strong enough? Can I show the word with a picture rather than tell it with words, because film is a medium of images? Do I hold on to the words because they further the story or is it because I think they’re clever? Are these words repetitive in any way?

If the words fail these tests, they go—combinations of letters I thought I could never part with wind up blocked and deleted. I agonize over pushing that key, but there’s no way around it.

Some of you who aren’t writers are wondering why you’re still reading.

It’s this:  sometimes, you just need to let it go. You think your life will be forever altered if you unfurl your fingers from, if you loosen your grip around something you’ve held dearly for so long. Your life will change. But you still need to let it go.

I don’t know what that thing is in your life. Right now, for me, it’s that carefully crafted dialogue that took me hours to create and now, I’m backspacing it right off the page.

It’s painful for a while, but here’s the thing, when I go back and reread, I don’t even know it’s gone. The story reads more clearly, more tightly. You, too, may have clutter that you need to clear out so your life’s story won’t be encumbered. Maybe it’s material possessions, a business affiliation, a friendship that’s turned toxic or any number of other things that are weighing you down. Pray to God for strength to do this. He will help you.

I was standing in line at my favorite store, T.J. Maxx (they don’t pay me to say that), and a little Latino girl in front of me was speaking Spanish, obviously trying to persuade her mother to buy a package of hair barrettes, which bore the image of a popular animated princess who isn’t disturbed by wintry temperatures. I couldn’t understand a thing the little girl said to her mother except when she pointed to the barrettes and said the title of a song in perfect English, “Let it go.”

Perhaps life is full of unintelligible messages for you right now, but hear this clearly—sometimes you need to let it go.

A long time ago, a very wise man inspired by God said the same thing, “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth. . .  a right time to hold on and another to let go . . . " (Ecclesiastes 3: 6 The Message) .

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