I’m writing from a seventh floor hotel room in Genoa, Italy. There were other days this week when I heard the bells, but today I looked out our window and saw them – past the chimneys, past the rooftop gardens, in a clock tower old and beautiful. The bells were swinging and ringing with an unstudied, unaffected joy.

During my college days in a Midwestern town, I found delight in the bell that rang each hour. No matter that it was really an eight-track projected from that clock tower on a hill; never mind that the real bell sat on display near the front steps below. I loved the sound, and felt my soul swelling at the idea of music high above.

I realize now that the measured tread of one recorded bell can never compare to the unsteady, lively cadence of real bells on a hill. I’m reminded of that verse in I Corinthians: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face….” I believe that while we breathe on this earth, it’s as if we walked through a garden of silk flowers and silk trees. True green and growing things, with all their cunning details and luscious textures and overwhelming fragrances, await those who love God in the life hereafter.

Perhaps you, too, have had those moments when just a thought, just a stray feeling, opens wide your suspicion that we have not yet seen the full picture. Are there enough musical notes to express how I feel when I gaze on a sunset? Are there ever enough colors to show how love feels when it’s real? (And – blissful thought – human love is nothing to what will overtake us when we see the face of God.)

As I travel in a foreign land, I miss my home and the people there; I miss friends and family scattered far and near. I know that someday I’ll miss places like Genoa that have claimed little pieces of my heart. So, I look forward to that day when the glass becomes transparent and I finally see God’s love as the tangible thing it is. I know it will be just like coming home… to every home I ever knew.

The Yes Spiral

February 10, 2012

On the other side of the mountain, a quiet town waits. The men are stone-faced, while their women brood.  Together they wait for release from thirst, and wearily yearn for sounds of water.

The river that ought to freely flow is held up by an inexplicable dam.  No one can guess the reason it stands.  The names of the builders are long forgotten.

How often we live in the shadow of real and invisible walls.  Few remember who laid the first stone, yet there the barricade scowls, unbending as ever.  A way through the towering rubble is found, however, when we reach out to meet needs other than our own.

One book refers to this attainable magic as a “yes spiral.”  Whatever the moniker, a way of life marked by selfless words and action is a mighty force.  It can heal a friendship; it can save a marriage.  With a slow and sure strength, it will chip away at the old, ugly dam, ‘till once-parched families feel thirst no more.

I’m sure you agree that creative, lasting romance – the kind that begins by saying “yes” – is hardly a trinket for February 14th.  It is a treasure to handle with contentment and devotion throughout the year to come.

The Search

January 23, 2012

As a girl, I discovered a thin, 1980s paperback called Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman.  In these pages, pastor’s wife Anne Ortlund shares her advice for over-stretched women: eliminate and concentrate.  I read the words over and over.  Go deep in a few relationships, instead of spreading yourself too thin.  Focus your efforts on a few interests or hobbies, and leave behind a legacy of excellence.

The message appealed to me, and still attracts me today.  “Read well, not widely,” is the similar mantra of Adler and Van Doren.  As I revisit  their classic literary handbook, How to Read a Book, I note the sharp-edged criticism.  “A person who has read widely but not well deserves to be pitied rather than praised.”

Truly, “eliminate and concentrate” works wonders on the small scale.  I’ve enjoyed a few successes in past months, as I pared down my wardrobe, Christmas ornaments, college photos, and recipe cards.  Yet, life on the grand scale is not so easily sorted; isolated events, errands, conversations, and tasks seldom fall into neat categories.  Often, I fail to see a connecting, over-arching purpose, and this can leave me feeling frustrated and fragmented.

The search for a unifying factor is timeless.  In all of life’s activities and reposes, mental highs and physical lows, humankind seeks a meaning.  We crave this meaning, and thus we face a choice.  I can define all aspects of life in relation to me – my personality, aspirations, emotions, and opinions – but then I would be worse than the old, earth-centered scoffers of Copernican cosmology.   How much better to define this eclectic, unpredictable thing called life by the God who ordained it.

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”  My search leads me here.  But the journey is only just begun.