Amazing Grace in a Garden

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After spending yesterday morning weeding the garden, I thought it was time to reward my labor with a trip to the plant nursery. I found this little guy nestled in next to the sturdier succulents, looking bright and hopeful that I’d notice him. He wasn’t showy but his tag, protruding through tiny leaves and even smaller flower buds, proclaimed him to be named “Amazing Grace”. That arrested my attention. How auspicious for a Good Friday to meet him there. Providential, tender mercies are often like that, unexpected.
Despite the labor required to maintain them, gardens have always represented to me a place of rest. Nowhere else am I able to forget the burdens and distractions of life than in their nurturing environment. So much of the labor there is metaphorical for our own garden life. Pruning, weeding, removing pests and rocks all parallels to maintaining our healthy growth. There is death and rebirth to be found in a garden as well, even redemption. Now that we are living in the Pacific Northwest, I can even witness the wonder of plants resurrected from winter’s freeze, further proving that life is a garden. I’ve learned many lessons in the quiet gardens, some thorny and painful, others fragrant and beautiful.
Is it little wonder that the Messiah chose a garden to seek peace before his trials? He is, after all, along with being the Good Shepherd, the Master Gardener. I am pruned, fed and blessed with amazing grace under his constant and loving care.
So, I welcome this little plant with the bold and beautiful name into my garden. I hope he thrives and becomes a blessing, not just to me. If his life is short, that is as it should be. While he’s sharing this garden, he may teach me to look beyond the physical to the greater spiritual truth of his name, amazing grace. I’m glad I don’t have to go to the nursery each year to purchase real grace, because the fact that I don’t is what makes it truly amazing.
What lessons have you learned from a garden? I’d like to know. There’s too much wonder in the world to keep it to ourselves.
Don’t forget that http://www.samanthastclaire.com is our new address.
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Quiet Places

Quiet is not measured in Decibels

Once I thought that a quiet place to collect one’s thoughts and recharge lost energy was, in fact, quiet. A recent trip to the seaside convinced me that my perception is flawed. Quiet and peaceful are not necessarily equivalent. I’m sure this is not a revelation to occur only to me.

What I recently realized was that peaceful places where we go to calm our rattled nerves or lost perspective can be full of sound and fury. As I sit on my rock at the edge of the roaring sea, the crash of waves fully absorbs me. It drowns the clamor of thoughts vying for my attention, calling me to focus all my being to fully listen.

Such places can be found anywhere that the natural world has a chance to be heard. A flooded mountain stream. A meadow symphony of bird songs. Wind whistling through the pines. I think that a quiet place is not determined by decibels but by the attitude of the soul, my willingness to yield to forces greater than myself.

Sometimes the “noise” of a place is what draws from us the noise of negative voices, our own and the world’s. The pounding surf demands to be heard. It’s an ancient truth whispered in the foam and sea spray. Be still and know…

Knowing that I am small and that the universe is a very large space in which to find oneself brings a healthy form of fear. I am as much a part of this created wonder as the sea and the silent wind and gravity that propels and pulls it to the shore upon which I stand. I am undone and I am quiet in the presence of the Power that sang it all into being.

Practice Positive Perspectives

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It’s like an under-worked muscle. Many of us are born with it well-developed. As children we meet the world with eyes of wonder and imaginations ready to accept the impossible. We want to be awed. We know that beneath every rock we turn over is an exciting discovery. Until we stop exploring life with those eyes of wonder life is beautiful.

When I snapped this picture, my initial thought was ‘how unfortunate for the poor pansy’.  In the process of writing my new book, A Light From Friday Harbor, I’ve been reading and reflecting on the theme of hope. One recurring solution to hopelessness is the alteration of perspective. Sometimes we know it as attitude. For my character, Abby, dealing with diminished vision, the shift in perspective and diminished vision become metaphorical. How would Abby, with her striving for hope in a hopeless situation “view” this image?

If we were to call up our memories of childhood wonder, might we see delight here? There has always been something childlike in the face of a pansy or a violet or a primrose. These early heralds of spring have pluck. The fact that they are small compared to their showier cousins, the roses, adds to that impression of fortitude. If I were to caption this photo now, as I practice positive perspectives like Abby, I think I would pick words like ‘Courage’ or even ‘Hope”.

One of the few things we have control over in our brief time in this wonder-filled world is our attitude. Perhaps we’d be more mentally healthy working that muscle of perspective. Life might even become beautiful again. Wouldn’t that be a wonder?

 

Mentor or Menace

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The following post is a reprint of one I wrote several years ago on a different website. Reading it again this week, I felt it might be appropriate to post here.

Michael Hauge often speaks of the protagonist’s search for his essence. It’s an essential element of the hero’s tale. The hero lives in denial for a period of time, clinging to what he knows to be true of himself, or rather what he believes to be true of himself. The story reveals his essence which opposes that perception, and while the reader sees the reality, the protagonist must discover that truth along his own painful journey. I’ve also read that each of us must make that painful transition or languish in our delusions, never satisfied. Looking back at my own career path, I can see the truth of this. That path has been filled with some interesting switchbacks. That is the universal story, and I’m only living out one version.

One major switchback or plot twist occurred early in my life. I’ve spoken of it in an earlier post. The fact that this event continues to come to mind reveals its significance. In love with the process of creating, at the time manifesting itself in the visual arts, my path seemed straight and clear. I would pursue my passion, seeking out those who could teach me the skills I needed to succeed. Unfortunately, the teacher I encountered would not take the role of mentor. Although she was not an antagonist she did become an obstacle. Young and perhaps threatened by her inexperience, she asserted her opinion that what I lacked to become successful was talent.

Such a judgement, from one to whom an impressionable youth looks for guidance, was and is devastating. Although it altered my career path as a result, the experience shaped me for the better. Later in life, when I ironically found myself in the position of art teacher for a small private school, I made a commitment to encourage my students and refrain from opinions on their talents. While I see myself as a teacher of students in the arts, I refuse to think of myself as an artist. I still believe I lack the talent.

Along the way, I met a wonderful teacher of ceramic art. He was the C.S. Lewis of potters for his time. Students thrived under his instruction. We aspired to be like him and learn all we could from his vast years of experience. He taught us the chemistry of glaze creations, but he taught us so much more. Never allowing us to keep anything we had made on a potter’s wheel unless it was 12 inches high, he taught us discipline and to pursue excellence in our craft. To me, he gave words that began to undo the damage of that youthful teacher from my past. He said that to become an excellent potter was more about skill than talent. Oh what a revelation! Here was an excuse for me to continue to pursue my essence, just in a different medium. So I did.

In the following years, another creative passion has bubbled within. I loved crafting stories since childhood. Written over a decade ago, one novel still rests in the memory of my word processor. Once again, I read the words that have given me confidence to pursue my essence. This time the champion is one Martha Alderson. In her book, The Plot Whisperer, she states very simply, “I believe that writing is not a gift but a skill…”

Thank you, Martha, from the bottom of my anxious heart. She goes on to challenge her audience to pursue the craft diligently, finding our weaknesses and our strengths. I’m bent over my keyboard now just as I was bent over my potter’s wheel for so many years. Pursuing excellence in the craft is something I can aspire to do. Putting aside my fears of public opinion, I am following my essence. It’s what I must do. Happily, it’s also what I want to do in this chapter of my own hero’s tale.

So here’s the question? Is talent like art simply in the mind of the beholder? My perspective now is this. I have to pursue the craft as if I am pursuing my essence and leave the opinions to others.  While I want readers to love my characters and settings as much as I do, I must only concern myself with crafting the best story I can. Of course, that is easier said than done.

I’d welcome observations and experiences in expressing your own creativity.Albert einstein