A Beautiful Fragrance

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Beneath the bay kitchen window, of my childhood home, there was a patch of Lily of the Valley.  Lush green leaves covered the ground and every spring their white bell-shaped flowers grew up on tiny stalks. 

Once our windows opened up, gentle breezes wafted their fragrance around our kitchen table.  All of our meals were surrounded by their sweet scent.

Playing in the front yard or just walking past the flowers I would catch a pleasant whiff. Often I’d kneel down next to the lily garden and look closely at each white bloom. I adored them.

Throughout their growing season, a small vase in our home held a bouquet.

Today, I’m still in love with the tiny beauties called Lily of the Valley.

Along the hillside in my yard they bloom. Like a cover blanketing the earth.

Each spring I wait in expectation for their arrival.  I weed and rake and glance toward them while taking care of other plantings in my yard. First the green emerges and in no time the delicate small flowers with their bold fragrance appears.

The hillside is an ideal place for them. There they are free to run wild weaving in and out of the trees and bushes.

At their first appearance, I’m ready with my shears. I clip a handful and place them in a vase.

There isn’t a scented candle or potpourri that could compare to the fragrance that fills my home from one small bouquet of Lilies. There isn’t a centerpiece that compares to the elegance it brings to my kitchen table.

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On a beautiful spring day this year, I gathered a bunch for a bouquet and placed them in a vase.

Then I went to my linen closet and pulled out an embroidered tablecloth that I recently purchased at a second-hand store.  I draped it over the table placing the vase of flowers in the center.  Instead of my everyday dishes, I pulled out a few pieces of china and stemware from a cabinet.

On special occasions, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, my china and stemware have graced my table.  In recent years, it hasn’t been pulled out much–not even for holidays.  These days everything has gotten casual–even special occasions.

But that particular day was different. My lilies were encouraging me to make a table transformation.

My husband, tired from laying hardwood floors in our living room all day, walked into the kitchen and announced that he was going to shower before dinner.

He glanced at the table and then at me with a puzzled look.

I smiled.  He smiled and walked toward the bathroom.

My unpretentious breakfast nook transformed into something elegant after placing the vase of lily of the valley in the middle of the table surrounded by china.

I reveled in the beauty.

Why couldn’t we eat our leftover pulled pork on china, I thought.  And so we did.

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After cleaning up the kitchen and putting the dishes away, one thing remained…the scent from the lilies. It remained throughout most of the house for several days.

In the midst of the often messy circumstances in life there’s still beauty around us.  Sometimes we have to look for it, be aware of it but it is there mingled with the messy.

Sometimes it’s refreshing to create beauty. Just like our creator beautifies us.

I was pretty messy when he came after me. He’s far from done with me but I’m a cleaned up version of what I once was.

If Jesus is at the center of our lives, like my lilies graced the center of my ordinary table, he will make something beautiful out of our ordinary lives.

Paul writes that followers of Jesus are the fragrance of Christ that spreads everywhere and an aroma of Christ to God. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

When I think of fragrance, I think of a beautiful scent. To those God is seeking it will be irresistible but to others…maybe not so much. There’s no way around that fact.  The fact is not everyone will appreciate the fragrance.

To me a beautiful fragrance isn’t judgmental, pushy, or demanding. It is pleasant, kind, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. That sort of sounds like God doesn’t it? (See Psalm 103:8)

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5: 1-2)

The fragrance emanating from the lily of the valley that filled my home for several days was a good reminder of what God has done for me and what the very essence of my life should be for him.

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

New Every Morning

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Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”  (Lamentations 3:22-24)  I’ve read and focused on this comforting verse recently and even shared it in my last post.

Another version of the same verse states:  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

God’s love never ceases, his mercies never end, they are new every morning, because he is faithful.

His mercies come in different ways — like gifts to unwrap.

Sometimes the gift I want isn’t the package that I receive.

A phone call with unsettling news came yesterday.

It was an ordinary day.  A day when my Iris’ were in full bloom and my peony buds were getting ready to open. All things were good.

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peony-bud - CopyThen the phone call.  In the late afternoon as the call came in, storm clouds rolled over my house and the world around me and inside of me changed.  No longer did it seem good.  If God’s mercy is new every morning, I’d like the mercy to come packaged in a change in circumstances.  For now, that isn’t the gift that I’m receiving.

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 One friend said, “You’ve got this.”  My thought was, I know she loves me, means well and I appreciate her confidence in me, but there is no way that I have this under controlOr in my control

Then the words from my sister, “God’s got this.”  Yep, now those are words I can count on and believe in.  Sometimes I unpack mercy through the words of encouragement that are spoken to me through others.

There are times when God’s mercy shows up in a visit or a phone call from a friend who just happened to have me on their mind.

It can come through the words of a card, a blog, a book, a sermon and especially the Bible–comforting words that warm my heart and carry me through the day.

Other times it’s unwrapped in quiet reflection as I remember how mercy was given to me in the past and it will come again.

One day at a time his mercy comes.  It’s new and different everyday but from the same God.  A God who never changes and promises me that his mercy will be new every morning.

Today it came in the symbol of peace.  A dove.  A dove on the bird bath in my yard at dawn.

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A dove brought an olive branch to Noah to signal new life.  A dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, descended on Jesus as he was baptized by John the Baptist.

The dove; a symbol of peace and a symbol of the Holy Spirit sat before me on my bird bath.  It reminded me that I cannot manufacture peace.  It comes, like a dove, descending on me and through me by the Holy Spirit as I trust in God.  In the remembering, I received the gift.

The Holy Spirit will see me through all things and I will be presented with gifts of mercy daily and I will untie the ribbons and accept the gift with a thankful heart.

This morning the gift I unwrapped was PEACE.  All things are good again–within me.

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

 

After the Winter

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As winter comes to an end, I can easily get absorbed in the renewal and beauty of the earth around me.

For most of us living in the snowy states of the Midwest and traversing through what I call, the wilderness of the winter months, springtime is like a rebirth, a new life, a time to enjoy the blooms, the birds, the sights, the sounds, the smells of this season that we call spring.

But before we can enjoy spring we have to make it through the barrenness of winter.

Every year some of us vow not only to exist in it but to enjoy it. In other words, we tell ourselves we are going to get out there and build a snow man, or snow fort, put on the snowshoes and walk through the woods, take up skiing, snowmobiling or whatever winter sport or activity we can find, and the list goes on and on, but we never do it.  We just grin and try to bear it.

When I was a child and young adult, it didn’t bother me as much as it does now. This is where my ancestors settled. This is where I grew up and so I built snowmen, ice skated and never thought much about winter being anything more than just another season.

That has changed somewhat for me now. Don’t get me wrong. I do love a little winter and can’t imagine myself living in a state without some snow.  I like to put the fireplace on, drink hot chocolate, or a cup of coffee topped with whip cream. I start making crocks of soup, stew and roasts. It’s a cozy time. I’ll even boot and bundle up to venture out for walks through the newly fallen snow. The first snowfall and what follows for a few weeks is pristine and pretty.

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Yes, I do enjoy a little winter but usually only until the end of December. In other words, only up to and shortly after Christmas. At Christmas, the lights adorning houses and tree branches glistening through the white backdrop is magical.  There truly is beauty in our winter wonderland.  Then January comes and, I’ll be truthful, I want to see green grass, trees full of leaves, hyacinths and other flowers blooming.  I want springtime.

So my husband and I took a break from winter this year and followed the snowbirds south for a while.

We warmed up for a bit and came back again to cooler temperatures with barren trees, brown grass and a longing for spring to bloom in Michigan.

The Calendar may have said it was spring but it still looked like winter in these parts. The trees were bare and there wasn’t even a hint of a flower bud anywhere.

It has been one of those years, probably one of the worst winters on record. Many people longed for spring to show up in Michigan.

We all have longings. There’s something deep within us that yearns for something better. I believe we’re searching for paradise. Like a place where we could live in perfect harmony with one another and the earth, sea, birds, animals and everything covering the earth would be in perfect balance. With fresh air, beautiful blooms and perfect peace.

In the beginning that was the intended purpose for creation and we want it back.

After the fall of humanity, we lost it and all of its perfectness.

So we try to seek it through temporary avenues. The problem is we can’t fill the void. As much as we try, we never stay full and it becomes a vicious cycle of trying to manufacture it again and again.

The wilderness of winter is like a tutor for life. We will walk through wilderness periods. Or what some call the deep night of the soul.

I refer to any loss whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a job, a relationship, health, or dreams as those wilderness times of life. It’s the unexpected call that comes at an unexpected hour with unexpected news and we are over wrought with unexpected emotions. We’re consumed and so begins our wilderness experience.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a Michigander, it’s that winters do end. We won’t walk through the wilderness forever. There’s hope ahead.

As the harsh winds give way to warm breezes, the snow piles lessen, sunshine warms the earth, the white evaporates, brown grass turns green, gray skies become blue, and flowers bud…relief finally comes.

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Trying to make it through the wilderness periods of life can seem daunting at times. Our hope seems gone, joy hard to find and our soul feels barren. Yet we will make it through. We do make it through.

God is faithful to see us through the wilderness, even as he did with the Israelites through the barren desert, even if our wilderness lasts longer than any Midwest winter.

Wait for him. The key is remembering that he is faithful and the only way out of it is through it. Not alone, but with him.

When we go through the wilderness, and can’t seem to see the end in sight, there is hope. There is always hope and even in the midst of horrible circumstances God is good.

Life is hard. The longing we have in our hearts is for paradise — for God.  I believe he put the unrest in us so we’d seek him in all things and in all seasons.  It’s the longing to live in perfect peace with a perfect God in a perfect place.  That day will come.  God will create a new earth…he will give paradise back to those who love him.  (Revelation 21).

Until that day, renewal happens within us.  Through Jesus.  Jesus’ strength for our weakness, his peace for our pain, his comfort for our grief, his perspective for our bad attitudes and hope to move forward again.  It often happens through prayer — his word — by being thankful for the simple pleasures in life — by taking the focus off of ourselves and placing it on him.

As we walk through our wilderness periods, the Lord’s presence goes with us.  It’s where we often learn that he is enough.  With him we’re not consumed.  Renewal, like spring, will come again.   Maybe not in a change of circumstances but with a change of heart.  Look for the beautiful in the messiness of life.  It’s there.  Sometimes pain masks it but it’s there.  Wait patiently and it will return.  I will leave you with these words from Jeremiah from the book of Lamentations:

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3: 21-24

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014