Author Archives: Julie

Backstage Beauty

Standing backstage, I realize how much of my life mirrors this space I inhabit with rows of choristers, their accompanists, and other parent assistants. Together we work to prepare for a concert about to begin.

I pass tissues, bandage fingers, collect trash. I smile, encourage, and whisper final blessings as sparkling children step out to take the stage. Then the space is empty and quiet.

I wait backstage to receive the choristers after this first number and to help them prepare for the next. In this waiting I look around, take deep breaths, collect my thoughts.

Empty bins line the wall. Some rest on a rolling cart. Their contents decorate the auditorium. A tall, glittering Christmas tree, large golden stars, white lights, and colorful hanging banners all have been pulled out to say Welcome Christmas.

Music drifts back, muffled by the curtains and acoustic shell that surrounds the risers. I know its sound. I have listened as it was created, sat as singers worked through it, encouraged and supported those creating it.

I imagine the conductor in her sparkly black gown on stage, drawing out the beauty of the children’s voices. This is her gifting and glory, and it is apparent as this concert begins. My glory is in support. It is backstage that I sparkle.

I navigate behind the scenes well so that others can take their place on the stage. Behind the scenes work happens to create the magic. Laughter, tears, blood, nerves, these all bring life to a performance as it is pulled together and placed on display.

It takes hours backstage to roll out a polished performance. Not all get the privilege of knowing where broken spotlights hang waiting for repair or how many plastic totes it takes to pack up the Christmas sparkle.

I see all of this and more.

My gifting is in seeing and supporting. It is calling forth potential from deep inside of another. It is in naming glory, and this day is glorious. These children and their directors are glorious.

I sit with myself in this tension. Rather than blessing my backstage beauty, I question what is wrong with me that I am not the one on stage. Not just here but in other realms of life. Why do some seem to hold the spotlight naturally, to pull things together, to speak from the front lines with confidence?

Ideas come to me. Memories. Thoughts. We cannot all crowd the up front space. Doing my job well supports others in theirs, and as we each find our unique place, we create beauty. It is not about who is center stage but about how we come together in support of one another for the sake of something bigger.

Deep gratitude and joy flood my heart as I witness and participate in the thunderous applause and standing ovation following the final number. Glory radiates, flowing over the crowd as we celebrate together those on the stage, and I celebrate inside the backstage beauty.

Makeshift Mocha

Returning from half of my usual morning drop off, I carry breakfast up to a sick child, only to find her fast asleep. She is sleeping so hard that the sound of the door opening, the clinking of dishes, and the barking of an unruly dog cease to wake her.

This is how I know it is not a ruse, the hope of a day off, a continuation of the holiday. It is the real deal.

Back in the kitchen, not wanting to waste her cocoa made with warmed milk and Nesquik ® powder, I pour it into the remains of my black coffee, creating a makeshift mocha. I take this warm beverage into my room and open the laptop.

I want to write something. The sound of another daughter’s fingers flying over a computer keyboard inspires me. I want to mirror that diligence, transfer chatter in my head to the screen and then into cyberspace.

The problem lies in where to begin.

Lately, things have felt heavy and hard, the act of opening the laptop, a chore.

I am not alone in the heaviness. Even as I ponder what to write, dear friends face greater health issues with their daughter and head to the hospital, hoping for answers. I say I will pray, and I do.

It feels so small, so helpless, prayer, yet we are to do it without ceasing. We are told it avails much. So I pray, trusting that the same spirit that nudged me to text my friend is with her now in her uncertainty.

This morning I read Psalms 137-139. If you haven’t spent time in the Bible, lately, or even if you have, it’s a great place to visit. These verses especially met my heart in its struggle.

As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength. Psalm 138:3, NLT

The Lord will work out his plans for my life ~ for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. Don’t abandon me, for you made me. Psalm 138:8, NLT

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single one had passed. Psalm 139:16, NLT

In the space of my own uncertainties, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness to answer prayer. Encouragement comes in the form of strength for the task at hand ~ whatever that may be.

God created me. He chose, named, and wrote down my days. There is a plan, a method to the madness, even if I cannot see or understand it. Especially then. I long to remain curious and open to what has been written for this day.

I want to step fully, confidently, faithfully into the life written for me. What if I truly believed God’s unfailing love? What if I openly embraced his encouragement?

He says I can ask for things. I ask now.

I ask for light, guidance, direction. I ask to be led into truth, for a way to be opened. I lift up requests both known and unknown. I thank.

I thank him for where I have been led this year, for faithful love generously given.

My makeshift mocha is almost gone. Cold dregs remain in the bottom of the mug, signaling that it’s time to wrap up writing in my corner and get on with the day.

Thank you for being with me in this space this morning, Friend. May you be blessed as you walk out this day written just for you. No one else can take your steps!

Watched Cats

Watched cats don’t eat.

I am not a Black Friday shopper. As much as I like the theory, its practice evades me. The idea of rising in predawn hours to score a $4.99 appliance that I may or may not need does not offer a thrill.

I am a Black Friday friend, though. When asked if I could do the early morning feeding for her cats Thanksgiving weekend, I obliged. That is what found me driving past the mall with Black Friday shoppers lining up in the dark. I now sit, pre-dawn, in a silent house, listening to the lapping of water and crunching of food in various locations.

My ears are especially trained on the upstairs hallway while I wait and hope for sound. I want the ghost cat to emerge for his food today. He is what prevents me from dumping the food, collecting the bowls, and getting the job done quickly.

I wait.

Come out, come out wherever you are.

The thumping of paws alerts me to locations and activities of the other two. The elusive ghost cat remains hidden. I trust my perch halfway up the stairs to keep me from view while allowing me to glimpse the identity of the cat when it arrives at his bowl. I want to confirm existence.

Nothing. Not even a lump under the covers or a glow of eyes under the beds, as before. He is a stealthy one, that cat.

The others patter around, testing me by stopping at the full food bowl in the upstairs hall. I see them and chide them to move along. They have had their turn to eat.

I allow a reasonable amount of time, per friend’s instructions, of course. Past performance says that if the ghost has not emerged by now, he is not coming out this time. I text her the state of affairs. She replies with All sounds good.

Preparing to leave, I refresh water bowls, giving one last look around for the mystery cat. He does not want to show himself this morning. I close the door and lock it behind me.

Day breaks as I return to my car and begin the drive home.

Though tempted to disappear into the radio’s noise, I ride home in silence. Driving past the mall, I notice that shoppers have entered the stores. Instead of turning into the parking lot to join them, I slide back into my warm bed for a few more hours of sleep.

Rehearsal Dinner Blessing

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.

A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I find it interesting, curious, and playful that the morning we were to drive to Lancaster, PA, to begin celebrating the wedding weekend by hosting the rehearsal dinner, Ecclesiastes 3 and 4 were my scheduled readings. This is from a plan chosen in January, focusing on a different section of the Bible each day.

While reading I wrote down today’s season . . . harvest, healing, building, laughing, dancing, embracing, quitting searching, mending, being quiet, loving, seeking peace.

This is how the day began.

Gradually, adult children convened and loaded various younger siblings into their cars, leaving Steve and me with the youngest to bring up the caravan’s rear, several minutes, or hours, behind. The best decisions made were to send the beverages ahead with my parents to be dropped off at the rehearsal dinner location and to have those involved in the rehearsal riding with siblings.

When all was said and done, Steve and I were checking into the AirBnB and hurriedly changing at 5. Dinner was set to be served at 5:45. In our hurry to arrive on time, we may have turned the wrong way onto a one-way, two lane highway, the lights of a semi truck shining in our eyes.

Did I just turn onto a one-way road?

I DON’T KNOW, DID YOU? WE ARE ON A ONE-WAY ROAD! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!!

I am waiting for traffic to clear, so that I can turn around.

We sat in the left-turn lane face to face with another car who patiently waited on us. Every day, every moment, is such grace.

We arrived at the Hollinger House intact and greeted our guests who were waiting on this porch ready to begin the festivities. It was a beautiful sight, a beautiful beginning to the weekend.

My morning reading felt long ago when I composed the following to share as a rehearsal dinner blessing . . .

This is a season to harvest the love that was planted in hearts generation upon generation ago. It is a healing time where we acknowledge that though, by all means, all is not well, all is healing. We can rest in that today.

It is a time of building, as a new family is joined and created, built upon this foundation of love. We gather to laugh and dance and live in the moment that is now.

Embracing one another right where we are today, we celebrate with Caleb and Dana that they can quit searching, because they have found the one their soul loves.

This is a time to keep in our hearts, to mend what was torn, and to be quiet about what would divide us. We are hear to love and celebrate in peace.

There is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. All people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God. (Ecc. 3:12,13)

We spent the rest of the weekend putting these words into practice as we celebrated the long-awaited union of our son and his beloved bride. And it was so very good.

All a gift. All deep, deep grace. Every moment.

Hanging Dresses

They hang from a curtain rod in the laundry room. They have been hanging there for over a week. Left to dry after being carefully washed, they have been dry for days. They have come to  represent a symbolic hanging on to all that happened over wedding weekend.

There is still much to process.

I say this out loud, and my husband asks for specifics. What do you still have to process?

Isn’t all of life a process? Will I ever be finished? I answer lightheartedly, because though I feel the weight of feelings, specific words evade me.

Folding laundry, I look up at the hanging dresses, grateful for what they symbolize. Just as I was clothed for my daughter’s wedding in an outfit carefully curated, so I was for my son’s, in a different way.

My metallic-colored, sheath-style Mother of the Groom dress was a Ross find over the summer. I knew it was the dress, and that by fall it would look even better on me as I tended to healthier eating and exercise habits.

A girl can dream, right?

Jewelry was found at a local consignment shop for under $15. A sparkly $6 scarf from TJ Maxx, a $10 purse from another consignment shop, and free sandals from my closet brought the entire look in at under $75.

I consider this a kindness for a season that found us in the midst of a major life change. When our son proposed to his beautiful wife in 2017, things looked a lot different in our world. Maybe the hanging dresses are continuing to remind me of the faithfulness of God in every change. Especially then.

There is enough.

I wore the black dress to the rehearsal dinner with shoes and a sweater from my closet. It was found, along with a sparkly necklace and silver purse, on a seasonal clearance sale at a consignment shop for $18, total.

I write of costs and consignment shops and looks, because I want to remember. I want to remember that even in seasons of uncertainty there are reasons to celebrate. Maybe especially then.

I want to remember that there is room for creativity and expression and for thinking outside of the box when finances are tight. I do not need to worry about what to wear. I can consider the lilies.

My son and daughter had a beautiful wedding weekend. There is more to share slowly as it unfolds in my heart, and I find more words. I am thankful for those of you who have been with me behind the scenes as life returns to what has never been normal. Part of this return should probably include taking down the dresses and putting them away.

Here is a peek at the wedding day. There is a bit more sparkle to my hair than there was 4 1/2 years ago at my daughter’s wedding. I love it.

 

Veranda View

The rising sun casts light over the mountains, calling last hues of orange to waken. Flecks of green and gold raise their hands to be noticed amidst the predominant brown. Bare branches along the ridge top stab a brilliantly blue sky. Leaves litter the ground, shrugging their way down the trees.

Autumn is heavy upon us.

From my perch outdoors on the third floor veranda of the Natural Bridge Hotel and Conference Center, I hear sounds of voices young and old. Coffee steam rises from the eight ounce hotel lobby lidded cup in my hand.

Couples check out, walking to their cars, coolers and roller bags in hand. Children argue as parents snap at them and each other. It’s a time of transition, and I get to be still a little while longer, drinking coffee, rocking in a chair, writing, before my turn to depart.

As always, time away has been kind. Unexpected, unpredictable, unfamiliar, yet kind, nonetheless. My heart feels the rustling of return. Places I thought had settled comfortably, nudge for attention.

I sit with what is right now. Crisp air, bright sun, chirping birds, laughing child. Rocking, feeling the steady back and forth movement, drinking in the comforting warmth and wake of hot coffee.

Solace.

This moment offers Sabbath for my heart, a heart full. So much is happening behind the scenes rather than front and center. I hold loosely. I hold close.

The more present in reality we are, the more fullness we feel. There is a very thin veil between life and death. ~ Scott Moore

I am feeling the presence, the fullness, the joy of life, the grief of death. All of it. During lulls in the passing traffic, I can hear the leaves hit the ground.

Eight ounces of hotel coffee does not last long. Minutes tick past the hours that remain before I, too, must pack up, roll out, and return. A golden gleam from the lawn below catches my eye. It takes me back to church in childhood, my sister shining her Strawberry Shortcake compact mirror in the pastor’s eyes.

This vintage Strawberry Shortcake makeup compact has Strawberry Shortcake on the cover and has a mirror inside the lid. The compact was originally from the Berry Pretty Face Boutique set and had face cream in it, but it's now empty. You can use it to store makeup, pills, small jewelry, or anything else that will fit inside. The Berry Pretty Face Boutique set came with strawberry scented lip gloss, face cream, and cologne and items from this set are some of the more rare and hard-to-find…

 

Image result for strawberry shortcake compact mirror

The brilliant golden shine is not a golden ball of reflected sunshine but an outdoor ground light remaining on from a time change that has not been adjusted.

Nothing gold can stay. ~ Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Stickerless Smile

All day I watched as I Voted posts filled my social media feeds. Friends shared selfies with circle or oval stickers pressed to their clothing. One picture showed Mom, Dad, Son, Daughter with stickers on their noses.

I planned to walk to my polling place and vote, but that did not happen. Morning rain cleared as I headed to the grocery store for much-needed provisions. Returning home I had less than an hour before another commitment that would continue past 7pm when the polls closed.

My daughter graciously unloaded and put away groceries as I drove to vote solo, a change from this year. I did not need any literature and quickly checked in, removing my ID from my wallet. Yearly pleasantries were exchanged with my favorite poll worker, as the man checking me in waited patiently then asked me to state my address.

I took the paper ballot and sat at a table behind a cardboard privacy shield. Looking over the ballot, I took deep breaths. Voting always reminds me of how not right everything is. I colored the ovals of my choices and walked to the scanner, which was sporadically spitting ballots back for retrys.

It’s been doing that all day.

Waiting for my ballot to scan I noticed that the exit poll worker’s hands were conspicuously empty, and that no one was getting a sticker.

Wait! Are there no stickers?

We’re all out. Someone left to go get more.

Inside my head I heard, Noooo! I really want a sticker! Tears stung my eyes, cluing me to the fact that I was experiencing feelings that were probably not about the sticker. I refrained from repeating the other words springing to mind.

I feel disenfranchised!

That would have been making light of a serious scenario, comparing myself to someone who was actually deprived of the right to vote. Though, in hindsight it feels a completely appropriate initial response, because these days if you vote and don’t get a sticker or post a selfie on social media, did you really vote?

Outside the polling place, I told one of the workers who held an armload of sample ballots, They were out of stickers! How can I prove that I actually voted?

She felt my pain and mentioned that people had been taking selfies in front of the signs.

Which I did.

Returning home, I expressed disappointment to my daughter who offered comfort in the form of suggesting I create an I Voted sign out of M&Ms. Which I did.

I left to fulfill my evening obligation. My husband voted, and daughter accompanied.

They brought me a sticker, which I made into a page in my Art Journal.

I am thankful for thoughtfulness, the ability to vote, laughter, M&Ms, a fun daughter, a conscientious husband, for scraps of paper and cardboard tissue boxes with designs on them and glue.

I am also thankful for a space to share my stories and for people who care to read them.

I am Glad I Took Time to Look at the Leaves

The wedding is over. There is much to process. It was a beautiful, perfect weekend. I do not use that phrase lightly. Those who know me understand this. Nothing is ever perfect, but this event came mighty close.

The time was amazing. The weather was kind. The leaves were glorious.

The morning after returning home I sat in my favorite spot, looking out the window at my favorite tree. Its branches were mostly bare. Only a few leaves were left clinging to the ends of its limbs.

It inspired this art journal page and poem.

I am glad I took time to look at the leaves
While their glorious color was still on the trees

Before they began the descent to the ground
To be raked up and piled up and blown all around.

I know it’s the season, they never can stay
They all end up down at the end of the day

They don’t wait for me to have things all lined up
To sit with the perfect drink in my cup

They fall when they’re ready, when their time is here
Seasons and cycles, year after year

And I get to watch and see what they do
From green to orange to brilliantly blue

The scene out the window, it changes each day
As more sky appears and the leaves go away

So I’m glad I took time to look at the leaves
While their glorious color was still on the trees.

Breathe

The base for this art Journal page was taken from a Real Simple magazine. I loved the paragraph about breathing and the image of roses.

I layered paint around the edges and then etched the swirls with a skewer. I marked where it felt right and left the rest blank.

I need this reminder often, and the process of creating this page was calming and provided opportunity to just breathe.