Costly Perfume

I read something recently that said something like, “ Whole fields are crushed to make an ounce of fragrance”. This thought has been rolling around in my mind lately as I am enjoying the short season of bloom happening with my roses in the backyard. Here are a couple pictures taken last week:

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I purchased the roses last year because of their sweet fragrance. Yeah, I was “that lady” walking around Lowe’s sniffing the roses like a weirdo. They were beautiful and so intoxicating. I stumbled around between the aisles, drunk on their lovely scent. I couldn’t narrow it down to just one, so I bought two bushes. Yes, two. $50 bucks in roses. I skipped happily home, imagining a glorious season of clipping fresh blooms, filling my house with beauty and dreams.

But the dream turned nightmarish before I got them in the ground. What did I know about caring for roses? First of all, I about died while digging up the hard ground to plant them. Preparing the soil? Pish Posh. A tiller? Nope. Just me and a shovel in a hole that could be big enough to plant a swimming pool soon. But I persevered.

Roses in the ground. Check.

The next problem I noticed was the blooms were very delicate. I am talking f.r.a.g.i.l.e. The same day a rose opened, the petals fell to the ground. Like the entire flower. Clumps of petals fell , leaving behind an ugly potsherd of a center nub.

Vases of blooms all summer long? Uncheck. Potpourri, maybe? 

I had hope.

Until the beetles arrived.

No one told me about the blasted beetles. Ugly, black beetles took up residence in my roses. I am talking a whole nation of them. In every crevice, everywhere. These beetles brought brothers, and cousins, and nephews, and, well, you get the picture. It was nasty. My beauties were gone in a matter of days. The beetles destroyed them. Completely. All of them. Every.one. My rose bush corpses stood naked and ashamed the rest of the year. I had hoped for roses, now had only thorns. Life lesson, anyone? Something about beauty and ashes? 

So, this year when the roses started to bud and bloom, Glory! I got ready with the camera. I snapped some pictures to remember what once was. I even managed to clip a few that I enjoyed indoors for a minute, until a band of earwigs filed out, and I moved the rose bowl back outdoors. Sigh. No clue about bugs and roses.  Seriously, who knew roses were so hard to grow? So much against them. Such a short cycle of bloom and beauty before the barren begins again.

Is it worth it?

This is the question I ponder as I tend my roses. The Christian life can feel like this. So difficult, and so much comes against us. Can we really hope to be a long-standing sweet perfume unto the Lord? I thought of Mary, who poured every ounce of her costly nard over Christ before the Cross. “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3).

Judas, the traitor, objected to such waste. The hypocrite – who later traded his Treasure for 30 pieces of silver. Hardly competent to criticize.

But Jesus, our Treasure, spoke up for Mary. “Leave her alone…it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial” (John 12:7). The Rose of Sharon, whose hour had come, the hour when His seed would break and fall to the ground, producing many more. He who lived this question out in his own life, “Is it worth it?” HE thought her act was worthwhile, appointed even for the hour. Yes, the roses are worth it, though fields are crushed for an ounce.

Though we are crushed in its making.

Could our lives be a costly perfume? A brief season of fragrance we can offer to the Lord, or not. The choice is ours.

But so is the result.

The life that pours out has fruit that lasts in the treasury of heaven. This life bears more than brief roses, and leaves behind more than naked shame. His promise, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25) means little, until you’ve stood in your own ravaged garden, clinging to crushed remains, believing there will yet again be a season of beauty.

One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Treasure

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

I was sitting outside reading my morning devotions when a familiar song floated through the air to my listening ears. I had just finished praying the verse above for my husband, asking the Lord to bless him in his work. These were the words stuck in my mind, “I pray my husband has a desire to serve You and to work unto You no matter what his job title states”[i].

The next sound I heard was the lyric, “Great are You, Lord” coming from somewhere in front of my house. I could hear what sounded like a bus or a truck running, and the worship song was playing above the idling vehicle, fairly loud for the early morning hour. I started to sing along, “All the earth will shout your praise, our hearts will cry, these bones will sing, Great are You, Lord!” Then I started to cry. The words so poignantly resounded with my prayers. And all so unexpectedly. It amazed me how the song mingled with my words, lifting a sweet fragrance of prayer.

Who was this, playing this song in my front yard, at exactly this moment? I didn’t know, but I had to find out. I tip-toed carefully through the wet grass in my flip-flops to get a peek around the corner before whoever it was pulled away. What I saw surprised me further. A trash truck. A large, white, Rumpke truck in front of the neighbor’s house, and men outside of it, loading the trash, and worshipping God.

Is it just me, or is this the perfect illustration of glorifying God in our work? The work is hard – heavy lifting, dirty, smelly. Literally, garbage. Handling garbage. All day, every day. And the men are worshipping, as they work. Trash.  

I felt conviction in my spirit. The things I bemoan about my daily work. The “trash” I just want to go away because I don’t want to deal with it again today. Pray about it AGAIN today. Think about it, much less worship in it, today. Truly, my trash is often just trash. But today, my trash was transformed into treasure. Something about this scene invigorated me. Inspired me to truly want to serve the Lord in all my “garbage”.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings, the music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas, His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world: the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.

Emphasis: everywhere.

A paean of praise rises, even in the rumble of a Rumpke truck. Treasure that in your heart today as you rise to the work set before you.

[i] “Thirty-One Prayers for my Husband, Seeing God Move in His Heart” by: Jennifer Smith

Light that Swallows Shifting Shadows

“Sunny morning
You can hear it
Siren’s warning
There is weather on both sides
And I know it’s coming

Just like before
There’s a black dog
That scratches my door
He’s been growling my name saying
You better get to running

Can you make it better for me
Can you make me see the light of day
Because I got no one
Who will bring me a big umbrella
So I’m watching the weather channel

And waiting for the storm”[i]

My breakfast room faces east. The morning sun streams in through the deck doors and stretches in long diagonals across the table. My youngest, Jamie, is always the first up, although not as early as his younger years. We’ve spent many a morning in darkness at that table, eating cereal to the jolting sound of cartoons invading my quiet first cup of coffee.

I used to resent that – no time of morning without a kid on my heels. I could not get past him. Even when I awoke first, Jamie would hear my cracking ankles down creaking steps, and inevitably come bumping down behind me. I quit trying. Now, Jamie and I sit together at the morning table. He eats and watches the noise, while I tune it out and try to read.

I like to open all the windows and welcome the morning light. Jamie usually lasts only a couple bites before he’s up closing the curtain, complaining about the sun in his eyes. One morning, he surprised me with a deeper revelation. I am learning not to underestimate a child. Just when you think your 7-year-old is lost is his latest Lego creation, leaving a trail of crumbs to clean, he turns and holds out bread. Soul-nourishing, faith-infusing, hope-inspiring bread.

After he closed the curtain, Jamie returned to his seat, turned to me and asked, “Mommy, will we have shadows when we get to heaven?”

    “I don’t know”, I answered, “What do you think?”

Jamie paused to consider it for a moment, and then spoke with the full weight of glory, “No. There can be no darkness when He brings us to the light”. Just like that – a theologian emerged from the Captain Crunch. I sat stunned, trying to absorb all he addressed in one simple sentence. So much to hold onto in the face of the shifting shadows and storms of life.

What Jamie didn’t know was how hard I had been wrestling in the darkness. How the shifting shadows were trying to swallow me down. Even my dreams betrayed my fears. I went to bed praying off worry, and awoke with a loud cry in my spirit. I surely have walked in the valley of the shadow of death, and I have been afraid. I have often tried to outrun that “black dog” growling my name, nipping at the heels of my heart. Relentlessly. I have become skilled at forecasting the storm, trying to steer around the worst of it. Jamie didn’t know any of that, or how hard his momma was fighting for hope of a shadowless day, in a Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Jamie surely is a gift from the Father of heavenly lights. I welcome his boisterous footsteps behind me these days, as much as I welcome the morning sun. What I didn’t know until that day is that sometimes the boy brings the light with him down those stairs.  A ray of sun across the shadows of my heart. Bread of truth to a hope-hungry soul.

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm,
He is Lord, Lord of all[ii]

[i] Song, “Weather Channel” by: Sheryl Crow

[ii] Song, “Cornerstone” by: Hillsong United

My First Ever heART Video!

I am celebrating a new milestone today! I released my first ever art journaling video in a free online class called, A Thing Called Love. My friend and group organizer, Brandi , asked me to be a guest teacher which led to me finally dabbling in recording, lighting, editing, etc. I learned so much through the process and am exciting about where this is heading!

My dream is to have an art journaling channel stocked with devotional art videos, set to music and Scripture. I LOVE the idea of doing something fun with a group AND encouraging others in faith at the same time! I also love the freedom and flexibility recording and editing gives me. It’s so much more doable for a busy homeschooling mom like me. I can record in the evenings and then edit as long as it takes. My house is too crazy to record live audio. My husband and kids were yelling, asking me questions, and all kinds of stuff while attempting to record this first video. But I learned about this magic little feature where you can make the audio portion silent and record voice-over commentary to go with the your video. I also learned how to speed up and time the video to go with the music. Fun, fun stuff! I am just a little excited about it (can you tell??)!!

Here are a couple pictures of my studio set up with my brand new gigantic lighting and my slightly genius camera mount. I took a microphone stand and weighted it with sandbags at the bottom. I bought this AWESOME gadget for ten bucks called a super clamp. It screws in the camera and then attaches to the pole of the mic stand. It worked beautifully! And the best part is I already had the mic stand and sand bags. Win-win. :)

17796142_1276464369056875_9092153117317782847_n17800258_1275556065814372_8563957831472380144_n My lesson is sunflowers – one of my favorite subjects to paint! The word “sunflower” was on my page which seems like a perfect match for the video. I paired it with the song, “Beautiful Things” which I totally love anyway, but even more with the painting and the message it contains. Here’s a close up of the flower with the word in the center:

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And here is the video!! Enjoy!!

He’s Home and Has a New Name!

It is with great joy that I announce little “Mickey” is now home and officially a U.S. citizen. He officially became an O’Brien the moment the plane touched down on U.S. soil. They flew home last Friday/Saturday, arriving in Cleveland late Saturday night. I had the pleasure of sharing in their journey through online updates and photos during the past few weeks while Scott and Paula were in China.

“Mickey” is an absolutely delightful boy. His smile radiates joy and those dimples – oh my! He has made his way into all of our hearts! Scott and Paul announced his new name from China. It is a privilege to be able to introduce Charles “Charlie”  ChenDong O’Brien, or “Charming Charlie” as his parents dubbed him….and you can see why!

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1st Happy Meal – not too sure about it!

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Welcome home, Charlie! <3