Wonder, Curiosity and Joy

“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” Psalm 16:11

I recently took three children, aged 5-8, on a hike in a nature preserve.  Some may think I was a little crazy, but I found it to be absolutely delightful!  We stopped and counted the rings on an old tree stump to figure out how many birthdays the tree had celebrated.  We observed holes in the ground, imagining what animals might live there: maybe a groundhog or a small dinosaur.  We found a rock quarry and climbed up on the rocks, shouting with glee as if we had conquered a giant.  We lunched on a rock slab, devouring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while popping juicy grapes in our mouth.  On the way home we found an old railroad boxcar.  I shared with the kids a dream I have of restoring a boxcar into a playhouse, a place for escapades with my grandchildren.  It was an exhausting morning filled with magic and adventure!

All too often, we adults lose this sense of magic.  I am not talking about hocus-pocus magic.  I am speaking about wonder, curiosity and joy!  We get caught up in the busyness of life, and forget to pause.  We let stressors take precedence, or a list of tasks rule our lives.  We start our morning with a mindset of what needs to get done, and at the end of the day fall into bed exhausted, feeling guilty about tasks left uncompleted.  We often say things like, “if only I could catch up and then I could relax.”  Even our ways of relaxing leave our minds numb: things like binge-watching TV shows, scrolling through our Facebook feed, or browsing Pinterest.  We forget to belly laugh, to enjoy doing nothing and to find pleasure in simple things.

Wonder, as defined in the dictionary, is a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar or inexplicable.  By its very definition we can’t find wonder if we are always busy.  One of the reasons I love to hike with my husband is that we often pause to listen to the birds or the rushing water of a creek, watch a turtle creep across the trail, and admire the moss carpeting our path.  We have a destination in mind, but we are not afraid to stop and enjoy the beauty around us.  Yes, we have an endless list of tasks that could be completed on a Saturday morning, but hiking restores and refreshes us.  Often, we return from hikes energized and more productive than if we had not gone.  Ultimately, it makes time for us to enjoy God’s gift of beauty in the form of nature.

One of my favorite children’s books is the series about “Curious George”.  I love the crazy antics that George, a little monkey, embarks on solely from being a tad bit too curious.  Curiosity is defined as a strong desire to know or learn something.  When my children were little, I saw a sign on a local children’s museum stating that the average toddler asks about 300 questions a day.  I always chuckled because my son typically used up that quota before lunch!  Upon reflection, my children’s curiosity awakened my narrow-minded adult thinking.  I researched carnivorous plants, laughed at the battles between the frigate bird and the blue-footed booby, and learned to speak like a pirate.  I continue to be inquisitive, diving into books about the Appalachian Trail and the hunt for the extinct Imperial Woodpecker, exploring museums and listening to people’s stories.  I had the privilege of sitting next to a blind woman on an airplane.  She was embarking on a skiing trip!  It was amazing to hear about her adventures skiing while blind.  Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds talk about ideas, average minds talk about events, and small minds talk about people.”  When you cultivate your curiosity, it’s easy to focus on ideas because you are filling your mind with answers, concepts and, ultimately, more questions.

Photo Credit by Margaret Collins

Joy is something that comes easy in my life.  Those that are around me for any length of time have heard me say, “This makes me happy!”  I use this statement for a myriad of situations, objects and people, such as eating a Caprese Salad with colorful heirloom tomatoes, reading on my patio surrounded by flowers and herbs, playing Monopoly with my family, week-long visits with friends, or finding the perfect coffee mug that sparks a smile in my morning.  I love to surround my home with things that are delightful and whimsical.  Instead of an expensive vase, I have a yellow gnome gracing my floating shelf.  I try to capture joyful moments in my life by setting reasonable expectations and remaining grateful.

I want to end this blog by sharing a list of things in the last few weeks that have sparked wonder, joy and curiosity in my life.  They is not in order of importance, but rather the top things that have provided levity in my life and delighted me.

  • Making a fruity yogurt popsicle in my new molds
  • Watching a group of neighborhood children climb our maple tree
  • Discovering a blue gingham pattern inside a “Bath and Body Works” package
  • Watching a pair of mallard ducks nap under my blackberry bush
  • Adding books from new authors to the Goodreads App on my phone
  • Listening to new friends share their love story
  • Folding my son’s newborn frog outfit as I prepare to pass it on to my grandson
  • Completing a bike ride that had defeated me last year
  • Listening to a five-year-old yell, “That’s epic!” while riding his bike
  • Watching the peonies unfold their blossoms in my yard
  • Focusing on a few scriptures during devotions that demonstrated the compassion of Jesus
  • Rereading the classic “Winnie-the-Pooh” with my husband who has never read the book

None of these things are life-changing moments, but they are life-defining moments.  They won’t alter the course of my life, but they can alter my attitude.  They are small moments, or memories, that I can point back to when life is rough, to remind myself of the goodness of God.  I love what it says in James 1:17; “Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.”  Just like I can’t wait to shower my new grandson with gifts that provide joy in his life, God is constantly showering me with gifts in my life!  I just need to step out of my busyness and look for them.  So tonight, instead of browsing Pinterest, I am planning to giggle while reading about Pooh and Piglet!

48 Years!

“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” Psalms 78:4

I just celebrated my 48th birthday.  I promise I am not hinting for more gifts or birthday wishes.  But I do believe birthdays should be celebrated, and we did celebrate mine on Sunday.  My daughter made me breakfast and I opened up a few surprises.  I received a few phone calls and a lot of birthday wishes on Facebook.  Yet, as this birthday passed, I realized I am getting closer to what everyone refers to as the “big 5-0”!  It makes me feel a little contemplative about my life and what it means in the big picture.  What do I still want to accomplish; what legacy do I want to leave; what do I want said about me at my funeral?  The most important question of all is how do I fit into God’s story?  I want to share with you some of my thoughts.

For starters, what does my life mean in the big picture?  I define the big picture as the world at large.  Like most people, I have not discovered a cure for a terminal disease; I have not written some important piece of legislation; I have not competed in a major athletic competition.  The reality is that when I die, I am not likely to have a Wikipedia entry.  This is not me degrading my self-worth, but rather taking a realistic look at my life.  Although I am not a major player in the big picture, I am major player in some people lives.  Starting with my family and friends, I need to demonstrate my love for them in both actions and words.  I need to be present with them and not allow lesser things to take precedence over them.  I need to put my phone away and actively listen to those I love.  I need to pray for them daily.  On a larger scale, I need to smile at neighbors I meet while walking.   I need to encourage young mothers when I see them wrestling with their toddlers.  I need to be aware of those around me who are hurting.  In essence, I need to always reflect Jesus.  My life influences those that I interact with daily; that influence can be positive or negative.  This influence is not predicated on money or power, but on being a loving wife, mother, grandmother, friend and neighbor.

This leads me to what I still want to accomplish. I know that bucket lists are the trendy thing to do, and I am not knocking that idea.  I have a journal called “Listography” that I have used, where I can list things like what places I want to see, museums I want to tour, and trails I want to hike.  For me, the things I still want to accomplish are more than a trip to Italy (although that would be nice), or hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I want to continue on my journey toward being healthy, reaching my final goal and then maintaining my weight loss by continuing the healthy habits I have formed.  I want to run a 5K and, eventually, a half marathon.  I want to continue hiking with my husband, finding restoration in God’s creation.  I want to finish my book on restoration from childhood abuse and see it published.  I want to continue to blog because it has meant something to some people.  I want to continue to read great books, keeping my mind active and always learning.  I want to finish writing out each of the Psalms in a journal, with a brief prayer on what it says to me and adding a small illustration.  It’s not enough for me to want to do these things; anyone can have goals.  I need to make time, set achievable steps, and work towards completing these tasks!

The things I accomplish are part of my legacy, but when I think of a legacy, I immediately think of my grandfather, Jerome Walter.  He was an ordinary man, completing only the eighth grade.  He worked hard as a farmer and as a factory laborer, spent less, and invested more.  When he passed away, he left a substantial inheritance for his children.  More importantly, he left a legacy that can’t be accounted for in a ledger.  These intangible gifts, like work ethic and simple living, were more valuable to his family than any amount of money they received.

To my children and grandchildren, I want to leave a legacy of faithfulness, contentment and gratefulness.  I need to remain steadfast in my relationship with God no matter what comes my way.  My faithfulness can’t be based on the hills and valleys of life; instead it should be based on the faithfulness of God’s character.  I want my children to see that I have learned to be content, like the Apostle Paul, in whatever state I am in.  I want them to know that I find delight in the simple things in life without always striving to attain more.  Contentment can’t be based on the size of my home, my bank account, or my possessions, but rather on God being my provider.  Finally, I want them to see that I am grateful.  For the past year, I have been writing three things that I am grateful in a simple journal each day.  This practice realigns my focus on gratitude instead of the problems and challenges I face.  When I practice gratefulness, I don’t make space for complaints or anxiety.  It centers me, reminding me that all good gifts come from God.

Photo credit Margaret Collins

When I think about my legacy, I often think about what my friends and family will say about me at my funeral.  I have had the privilege to help write four eulogies, including that of my beloved mother-in-law.  In writing a eulogy, you want to be honest about the character of the person, so that loved ones have a sense of closure, celebrating that person’s life and accomplishments.  The eulogy should memorialize the person, but not exaggerate their character.  Instead, it should include stories related to their quirks along with their impact on others.  This provides a balanced but honest picture of a person’s life.  When thinking about my eulogy, I am just as flawed as any other person.  I struggle with pride, lose my temper, am quick to judge, and have to repent, often.  I don’t expect my love ones to magnify my life beyond reality.  I do hope that my loved ones  are able to share that I am quick to repent, honest about my shortcomings, always striving to improve, and focused on loving others well.  I do have quirks and hope that when my eulogy is given, these quirks provide some levity in a time of grief.  In order for those things to be said with a clear conscience, I need to make sure that I am living that life now.

The most important question I have been asking is how I fit into God’s story.  I don’t know how many years I have left; prayerfully I will continue to live a long, full life.  I think there is a desire in all of us to lead a life of significance; moving us to excel in our careers or pour into our families.  This desire causes us to ponder accomplishments, eulogies and legacies.  We want to die believing our lives mattered and that we had a positive impact on others.  I am not saying that these desires are wrong.  But the more I read the Bible, the more I realize that this life I live is less about me and more about God and His character.  I have realized that God’s story, the whole Bible, is one of restoration.  He takes everything that is broken and lovingly restores it, from temples to cities to kingdoms to lives!  His greatest desire is to bring us into relationship with Him, healing our wounded places and making us whole, so that we can spend eternity with Him.  My life is full of brokenness that God has been lovingly restoring, another testimony to God’s goodness.  Anything I accomplish, anything good in me, is because of Him and is just my small part of His big story of restoration.

The “big 5-0” will be here in less than 712 days.  Personally, I am rooting for it to come with lots of glitter, good coffee and laughter, as I celebrate it with the ones I love.  But when the glitter is cleaned up and the celebration has ended, I want to continue to live a life that glorifies God.  As it says in Psalm 78:4, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation, the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” in my life!

Owl Pellets, Tables and Treasures

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

About fifteen years ago, I had the brilliant idea to dissect owl pellets with my children.  It was a homeschooling project that I hoped they would enjoy and would spark a deeper interest in science.  For those who are unfamiliar with the eating habits of owls, these majestic birds swallow small animals whole, digest the flesh of the animal, and later regurgitate the fur and bones as a ball or pellet.  I ordered these pellets from a science supply company, so they did undergo some sort of fumigation process to make them safe to handle before they made it into my home.

I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive about how my children would receive the project.  We had already attempted to carve pumpkins, but both Ethan and Maggie were disgusted when holding gooey stringy pumpkin guts, leaving Terry and I to do the work.  However, to my delight, they were both fascinated with the project, meticulously dissecting the owl pellets at my dinner table.  Like detectives, they carefully separated bone from fur with a tweezers, hoping to identify the animal that the owl had devoured. Hours later, however, I started to panic when I realized it was time for Terry to come home from work.  I admonished the kids to hurry because this was one project we couldn’t just slide down to the other end of the table while we had dinner.  Terry would not have enjoyed the view of a bird skeleton and a pile of rodent fur with his spaghetti.

Our dinner table has always been the heart of our home, so much more than just a piece of furniture where we ate our meals and dissected owl pellets.  It has been the place where my children were educated; from learning to read to figuring out advanced algebra problems.  It is where we explored our creativity; from designing our own Christmas cards to decorating hollowed out goose eggs for Easter.  Intense games of Monopoly and long games of Canasta have been played out at the table.  It’s the place where we did family devotions together, taking turns reading and discussing portions of scripture.  Seated at the table we have had heart to heart conversations about life, and at other times, exploded in laughter about some inside family joke.

This table, the heart of our home, has been where we have welcomed family and friends.  Whether it has been over meals, including our famous fajitas, or over multiple cups of coffee, the table has been the place where we have discussed Godly principles, recalled old memories, mourned together over losses, and rejoiced over victories.  It’s the place where birthdays have been celebrated, holidays have been enjoyed. and new friendships formed.

Photo Credit by Margaret Collins

Our table has been the hub of many of our ministry projects.  At the table, Vacation Bible School scripts have been written along with craft projects prepped.  The table, covered with red and pink icing, was the decorating station for our Valentine cookie fundraiser for a few years.  In addition, the table has been the place where Bible quizzers have practiced for tournaments, Sunday school lessons have been planned, and church worship music has been prepared.  We have taught Bible studies, shared our testimonies and prayed with others while seated at the table.

The table has not looked the same over the course of our marriage.  In the beginning, we liked the retro 50’s style and purchased a used chrome table.  We quickly outgrew this table and our sense of style improved leading us to buy a used antique style oval table.  That table survived most of my children’s lives despite paint residue, permanent marker stains and the inevitable chips and scratches from daily use.  Unfortunately, somehow in the course of our move to Pennsylvania, we lost the leaf.  With hosting company on a regular basis, we bought another used table with a leaf, which allowed us to seat more than six people comfortably.  This unique table came with drawers that all the little people who came to my house found fascinating.  In their imagination it held all kinds of treasures, like Uno cards and bags of rubber bands.  The table wasn’t beautiful, but it served its purpose, giving me an excuse to purchase fun, colorful tablecloths to mark the beginning of each new season.

We recently purchased our first, and likely our last, new dining room table.  It is my dream table and it came with the right price at the right time.  It’s a farm style table and can fit my ever-growing family.  But for me, as were the old used ones, it’s so much more than a table.  It’s the place where our family can create new memories.  This is the table where my daughter and I will plan her future wedding.  This is the table where I will finish writing my book on restoration from my childhood.  This is the table where I will create memories with my future grandchildren; making homemade pop tarts, playing games, and maybe even dissecting owl pellets.  (I have a feeling my husband will not be on board with this idea.)  This is the table where my husband and I will continue to share our morning cup of coffee while discussing God and our daily scriptural readings.  It is the table where we will continue to welcome family and friends, celebrate holidays and “do ministry.”

Our first meal at the table! Photo credit by Margaret Collins

Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  As much as I love my new table, it is not the physical object that I am going to treasure.  From the chrome table, to the oval antique table, to the table with drawers, and now to my new farm table, what I treasure are the memories we have created, and will continue to create, as a family at the table.  I often imagine that if my tables could talk, they would tell a story of a family who loved God and each other, who were not perfect, but quick to ask for forgiveness, who laughed a lot and created an atmosphere where they could grow and develop.  The table would mention that this small family of four welcomed lots of other people to the table on a regular basis.  The tables would declare that life-long memories were created.

Yes, I have a new table, and I have had fun styling the table with my table scarf and flowers. But, my new table won’t stay new for long.  It will end up with dings, marks and maybe even paint residue.  It might even go out of style.  And some day, it might even end up in the trash pile. Yet, what will always remain is the opportunity to create new memories at the table.   Personally, I will always treasure the memory of dissecting owl pellets at my table!