Coveting

Recently, in order to save money on our internet connection, my husband and I got cable tv. Yes, it cost us less money to add cable to our internet service than it cost just to have the internet. Anyway. Since getting cable, I have discovered my new favorite thing: HGTV, Home and Garden Television.

HGTV is a fascinating and unique place. There are all sorts of things that are considered normal on HGTV that I never realized were household requirements. HGTV has brought me up-to-date on the vital improvements that must be done to our home in order to make it suitable for habitation.

hgtvOn HGTV kitchen countertops are only available in granite, quartz, or marble. I used to think that butcher-block countertops were lovely – but then I learned about quartz. Have you seen quartz countertops? They are silvery-white and creamy. Basically, they are so beautiful that I would just serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner directly on the counter. No need for a dining table (usually custom built to the exact specifications of a family), no need for silverware (probably reconditioned from an antique, real silver set) – we’ll just plop down at the quartz counter top and eat right there.

On HGTV hardwood floors are a status symbol. I’ve pulled up a corner of my carpet more than once just to check in case there are hardwood floors under there that could be sanded, stained, and double the market value of our house. They aren’t there – but I’ll probably check again tomorrow, just in case I didn’t pull the carpet back quite far enough.

 

On HGTV you can’t have a master bedroom without a walk-in closet and an en-suite bathroom. Home renovators on HGTV always make big, glass, seamless walk-in showers with rain shower-heads and enough room to bathe a small heifer. All bathrooms have double vanities.

On HGTV laundry rooms can take up a large portion of the overall square footage of the house. Last week I watched a show where a whole bedroom was sacrificed in order to host a laundry room. Washers and dryers go in this dedicated room with a special folding table and are, naturally, smart-machines. I don’t know exactly what a smart-machine does. Does it sense when the clothes are dry and stop on it’s own? Does it alert you if the red socks are dying your white shirts pink? Personally, I’m not interested unless they switch the washed clothes into the dryer and fold them when they’re done.

On HGTV all kitchens are chef’s kitchens and set up to feed the five thousand. They all feature large islands (complete with that quartz countertop), custom-built cabinets, and sinks (with windows overlooking the backyard). Speaking of sinks, ever since I have learned about farmhouse sinks I simply cannot do the dishes in my own sink anymore (not that I exactly enjoyed doing them before, but this just adds insult to injury). Now that I know that there are over-size, ceramic, built-out sinks, I have realized that there really isn’t enough room for my pots and pans in the sink.

On HGTV walls are of the devil. The first thing the designers do upon entering a house is decide which walls they’re going to demolish. This is in pursuit of the god of HGTV, which is the open-concept layout. Having an open-concept means that there are no walls dividing the kitchen from the dining room and living areas. I love an open concept, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I like to eat my dinner without being in full view of all the dishes we’re going to be doing when we’re done eating.

Yesterday I thought I was getting a little too addicted to HGTV, so I branched out to the DIY channel. I watched a show where they were building custom pools. Don’t you think a custom pool would look lovely in our backyard? They could make it look just like a natural pond? With fancy stonework and little waterfalls? Lily-pads? A koi pond, too? Heated, naturally, so we could use it as a hot tub in the winter? That’ll work, right Tim?

 

 

 

 

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Tourist-Town, USA

Stepping out my front door into Tourist-town, Maine is a dangerous mission.

The other day I walked into town to our local “we’ve got it all” store. I heard multiple foreign languages and nearly got run over by a driver with out-of-state license plates. Cars did not stop for me to cross at the cross walk. I bought my husband a sweater in a lovely dark blue color. It had the name of our town on it. Tomorrow I’m going to return it. He won’t wear it because it has the name of our town on it. It’s a tourist sweater. Town-named sweaters are for tourists.

A strange thing happens to Maine in mid-May. On Friday evenings Rt. 1 is jam-packed with cars coming into town. On Sunday night the same road is full of cars leaving to go back to reality.

One of the good things about living in a tourist town year round is that I get to know all of the special secrets. Like where to get the creamiest ice-cream, the coldest beer, and the best-value pair of shoes. I know that it is not smart to try to park in town the day the pirates invade [yes, you read that right – our town is invaded by pirates, complete with pirate ships and cannon fire, once a year] or the day of the pumpkin festival.

I also know that the less-expensive pizza place has the best pizza and if you buy enough pizza there during the world cup that by the time you reach the semi-final games the owner will know you by name, accept the 3 credit cards you bring for payment, and give you free baklava.

As much as we like to complain about tourists, as much as they clog up the roads and make waiting in line at the grocery store a tiresome chore, as much as they make it impossible to get the locally-made pastries for 50% off after 4:00pm, as much as they block our driveway for parades, as much as they drive slowly past any scenic hill, lake, cliff, or ocean-view, as much as they go down one-way roads the wrong way, as much as . . . well, you get the idea. As much as they make our lives a little more complicated, secretly, I love them.

I feel proud to live in a place that people consider their personal Promised Land. I like to see them flock around and get excited over lobster rolls and hearing loon-calls. I like that they want to come to my town and do watercolors across from my house. I like seeing them discover the best pie they’ve ever had at a place where I can eat three days a week and am guaranteed to run into someone I know. I like that they Instagram the view that I can see just a few steps from my door. Maine is a beautiful place and I like the reminder that the tourists bring that it is an idyllic place to live.

What I didn’t mention before about my husband’s sweater, the one that had the town name on the front, is that the other reason he thought it was tacky was because I got one too. Husbands and wives can’t go around wearing the same sweater, even I know that, I just got a bit excited in the store. Mine is dark green and has our town name right on the front. It might be a little bit cheesy, but I’m not returning mine.
Tourist-Town, Maine

Because I haven’t talked about the weather recently . . .

Waiting for the first snow of the season is very difficult — it’s talked about in the news for days in advance — people that come into work say things like, “have you got your snow boots out?” and children start praying for snow days (heck — I start praying for snow days!). Then (as we saw this past week) the long-awaited day arrives with blue skies — not really the Nor’ Easter they were all shouting about, huh? We resign ourselves to the chilly wind and sharp cold with no soft, frosting-like sheen to take the edge off. We hunker down, roll our eyes, and get on with our work. It’s cold.

Sometimes this happens and the snow never arrives — it turns into rain or falls farther out to sea. Those are the sad days, when all waiting seems futile and hopes are dashed. And somedays the snow comes, and falls, and it is glorious.

I think that waiting for snow is like waiting on God. It’s not an inactive “finger-drumming” wait, it’s a time of preparation for what He will do. Just as we put on the storm door and split the wood, so too do we put on love and good deeds as we wait on the Lord for His next work, or for guidance. Sometimes we prepare for a long time — its seems that God will never reveal His will or give His gifts. But the Lord, unlike the snow, is always coming. He is always working out His plan of redemption in the hearts and minds of His children. He is always working to bring His grace to bear in their lives — practically and wholly. he is always working to bring His peace and joy in the lives of those who are in pain. Sometimes, as when the sky is clear, we can’t see God’s creative hands at work — but we trust that He is there, and that he is active.

And, when the snow falls, it is both beautiful and treacherous. Beautiful in its design — its perfection, its prevalence, its purity. Treacherous in its blinding-light, its hidden-bumps, and its uncontrollable-swirling.

Let us then wait on the Lord who will prepare for us a destination of soft landings and warm fires, and let us trust that He will hold our hands as we walk through the blinding storm of this life.

The first snow came on Saturday night. And it was glorious in its power. In His power.

Whose Definition?

Beauty is something that moves us, moves us to pursue, to desire, and to worship.  Loveliness is something both ennobling and terrifying because it shows us the glory of God, and reveals to us our frailty.  A definition of beauty has eluded the hearts and minds of mankind for centuries; every different world view has come up with an idea on what beauty is and how to define it. The common phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is probably one of the most widespread agreements on the place of beauty.  It is important to look at this adage in several ways and in a Biblical light.  The Creation may not decide if one part of it is beautiful or not, only God has the power to call His Creation beautiful, this is both His right and His glory.

God must define the truth in what we think and feel because He is the only thing that is not marred by sin, thus beauty is not “in the eye of the beholder” but God alone defines what is beautiful, and what is no,t by His person.

As Christians we should wonder why something that is beautiful to one person is not beautiful to someone else.  It is often confounding to us that something which moves me to tears causes someone else to laugh, or does not affect them at all.  Beauty in many cases seems to be only in the eyes of those who observe it.  Beauty is a matter of preference in this postmodern age.  This, in the light of God’s grace and power, cannot be a true statement.  As God is the Creator of beauty so also must He be both the definer of beauty and the definition of beauty.

It is important to understand what saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” means in the light of the Christian perspective on the power of God, the limitations of man, and the ultimate reason for beauty.  When humanity attempts to define what is beautiful it is limiting the power of God.  God called everything he created “good” and although it has been marred by our sin it still “declares the glory of God” (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25; Psalms 19:1).  When we say that we as humans can define the good and the beautiful we are taking the power that belongs to God and calling it our own.  This is limiting God.

By attempting to define beauty according to our standards we, as humans, attempt to glorify ourselves, thus stealing the glory that belongs to God and giving it to ourselves.  As God is the Creator He alone may stand back and say what He has done is beautiful, we, the Creation, do not have the power or authority to say that something God has created is not beautiful.  Only the author has the ultimate authority over his work.  It is like a critic telling the author that his book is about something that the author did not write about.  We, by our limitation of God, and the elevation of ourselves in using and believing the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” are glory-thieves.

In the light of God’s power and our limitations in defining what is good and beautiful it is important to talk about Creation.  This is God’s masterpiece.  The Universe that God has created radiates His power and goodness.  God has called His entire creation good (Genesis 1:31).  What God has shown to us about Himself in the work of Creation is His own beauty.  The Universe is God’s very own beauty on display for all to see.  He has shown us in Creation His own likeness.  We are made in His image (Genesis 1:27).

Understanding that all Creation is God’s beauty on display ought to rid us of the idea that beauty is a case of preference.  God is beautiful.  Anything that is beautiful can only be so because of His grace and glory alive in it.  God has given us this beauty as a way for us to fulfill one of our deepest, most intimate desires: to enjoy God.  When we marvel at a sunset, the power of a storm, the way the leaves fall from the trees we are bringing glory to God and enjoying Him by understanding that these things teach us of His glory.  The beauty in the Universe is a gift of God, a way for us to understand Him in things that we are familiar with.

In order for us to enjoy God in the beauty of His Creation we must understand that beauty is absolute.  In the same way that there is absolute truth there is absolute beauty.  In his poem “Ode to a Grecian Urn” Keats says that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” (49).  This phrase, one of the most popular in all of English literature, shows that truth and beauty are intricately connected.  It means that truth and beauty have many of the same characteristics, one of these being that they are absolutes.  As God has defined truth so he has defined beauty and tied up in this is the way that God has revealed Himself to us.  In a sense what Keats is saying, and what is the essential answer to the question of beauty is that truth is true and the beautiful is beautiful.  That is how it is.  Absolute.  There need be no questions asked of an absolute truth, that would deny the fact that it is true.  There, in the same way, need be no questions asked of absolute beauty, it is simply beautiful.

God has defined what is true by his own Word given to us by His grace in the Bible.  He has defined what is beautiful by His Creation.  Part of redemption is coming to know God in this beauty of Creation and truth of His Word.  God’s beauty and His faithfulness are intricately tied together in drawing us to know Him as Savior.

Finally, it is important to understand that this world is fallen.  Our perception of the world is fallen as well.  What we conceive as ugly is our sinful nature rebelling against Him.  The ugliness has permeated even into our own hearts.  This is why God has said “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  What is ugly shall be washed away.  At the return of Christ we will see beauty for what it truly is, “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

God alone knows what is beautiful and the true extent of its beauty for we see though eyes tainted by sin and suffering.  One day God will lift the veil and reveal to us the true magnitude of His beauty as displayed in Creation and in His own self.  One day we will understand the true meaning of beauty and God will destroy all ugliness.  At the second coming of Christ He will redeem all earth from the chains of sin that have bound it since the Fall.  Creation will receive back its former perfect glory when God makes all things new, the dead will be raised with perfect, beautiful, heavenly bodies.  We will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51).

Weather I like

I love weather. I love sunny days and snowy days and days with hurricanes and days with storms and days with wind and days with rain and days with big fluffy clouds. I especially love days with big fluffy clouds. Today was one of those days. It was hard to drive along the road without looking at the clouds – I think I swerved a time or two when a cloud looked a little too much like a bunny-rabbit, or a sheep, or a dog chasing a dragon (I swear there was one that looked exactly like a dog chasing a dragon). Yesterday it got bright and dark in turns and then started pouring with rain – I had to make a poncho out of a big bag to protect my purse and my book on the way to the car. There was thunder and flashes of lightening on my way home over the mountain. There were almost no cars on the road at all, which was lucky because one of my headlights doesn’t work and I can’t see anything at all if I shut of the high-beams. Anyhow. I’m getting a little off topic. I love weather. I love watching the trees bending in a strong wind, and snow piling up on the eaves of the barn, and the maple leaves turning red as they do at the beginning of each September. And, finally, I like days when I can put my feet up and feel the sun warming up my toes and see the sun coming through the trees, glistening on the water.

The Morning After Rain

A few days ago, while I was at camp, it rained all day and all night. Heavily. That night I climbed out of bed and pulled sweat pants and socks and a sweater over my pajamas. I put my hood up and snuggled down in my blanket. It was freezing. It took me hours to go to sleep and when I eventually did fall asleep it was in a weird curled-up position. I had creepy dreams and kept jerking awake every time the wind blew against the building.

I woke up early and in a bad mood.

I forced myself to get up, get dressed, and dragged myself to the nearest cup of coffee. After about an hour of seeing only the bottom of my coffee cup and letting the voices of the campers swirl around me I finally woke up. I looked out the window.

It was a beautiful morning.

The sun through the clouds was magnificent, the light was almost blinding, and the dew on the grass glistened. I had walked through this brilliance to breakfast without even seeing it – in fact all I could see was my lack of sleep, my wet flip-flops, and my humidity-induced poufy hair – I hadn’t even lifted up my head to look at the sky.

Every night is like that rainy night, and every day is like that morning afterwards for the Christian. We are still sinners, and so we still have those cold nights of temptation, sin, and confusion, and we have many mornings when we are stuck looking at our guilt, fear, and the results of what we’ve done. Yet all the while the light of God’s grace and redemption shines through the clouds – we need only look up and see it. Sometimes the sun of grace shines on our faces for hours, days even, before we realize that it is there. Thanks be to God that He will not leave us looking at our wet feet and poufy hair, but that He raises our faces to see the beauty of His creation and the redemption He brings with each new morning.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.” – Isaiah 58:8