It's 6:30 am and the sky is still dark.
Only a few days before Christmas arrives. Wanting to start the day with a little quiet time, I find myself in the living room on the couch with only the lights of the Christmas tree to keep me company. I think back to when my four kids were still under this roof. There was a lot more activity in those days leading up to Christmas - more concerts, parties, shopping trips, and admittedly - more chaos. But watching the anticipation and excitement of the wait build in my kids is something I still treasure. We'd open doors on the little Advent calendar hung on the frig, and light the Advent candles as many evenings as we could, counting down the days until Christmas Eve.
Now that the nest is empty, there's more moments of quiet and calm. I'm learning to appreciate each season of life and the changes that tag along, but I'm savoring the constants as well - like the sky is still dark at 6:30 am on a mid-December morning. And there is still excitement that builds during the wait for Christmas' arrival.
But waiting isn't always fun and excitement. Sometimes the wait is hard. Sometimes it feels like I'm holding my breath, and worry can sneak into my days - depending on the situation. Waiting for a diagnosis, a job offer, for reconciliation with a loved one . . . we all are waiting for something.
I think of Mary as she waited for the birth of her baby. I imagine she was filled with anxiety of the unknowns that lay ahead. She must have waited in wonder, that of all the women through all of time, she was carrying God's son. She waited with with joy when her cousin Elizabeth greeted her with great praise. She waited with bravery, willing to take on what God was asking of her - to carry the Messiah as a virgin. She waited filled with peace, placing her trust in God and his promise.
And while she waited, God was working in her - growing in her.
This forces me to look in the mirror and examine my own waiting posture. Like Mary, I wait with a mix of emotions - anxiety of the unknown, impatient for an answer and resolution right now. At times I wait in wonder, perplexed at why the answers are so evasive. But there is also peace and contentment in the waiting because I know God is working things out for my good. Even joy finds a place when I focus on the blessings, no matter how small. It's in those moments that I see the wonder of His grace and love.
Yet the wait can seem long. We wait for Christmas - it always comes. We wait for spring - it always comes. We wait for answers - and the answers always come - not always with the speed and surety that we crave. Sometimes its 'yes', sometimes its a 'no', because there's something different, and maybe even better, that's coming; and other times its 'not yet'. Through it all, I have learned this: in the waiting, God has not forgotten us. He is working behind the scenes, growing in us. He asks that we be still and trust him because He is God and He is good. His love for us is a constant that we can hold on to.
So my prayer for each of you is that you unwrap the gifts of joy and peace as you wait, no matter what you are waiting for. If you are holding your breath and are filled with worry, may you find moments to breathe deeply, to pray, and to be calmed by His presence. May you find contentment, and know that you are growing while you wait.
And for this week, in these next few days, may your wait be filled with wonder - the wonder of Christmas. May we all see it through the eyes of a child again.
The sun sets quickly as I bundle up and head outside. Tonight will be our first hard frost and I have zinnias to gather. Snip. Snip. They were beautiful this year, lasting well into November. I think of all the butterflies that lingered on each blossom gathering sweet nectar. Snip. Snip. I've been watching with fascination how cut-flower farmers like Erin Benzakien @ Floret Flowers and Tiffany Jones @ Blomma Flower Farm gather seed to breed new varieties of zinnias. It has inspired me to save seed for the simple act of planting them again next year. Snip. Snip.
As I gather armfuls of zinnias, I consider how November is a month for gathering. We gather the harvest of pumpkins, squash, and any cole crops that remain in the garden. We gather warm coats, hats, and gloves for the impending cold. We gather firewood for the fireplace, and then we gather around it's warmth. But most of all, in November, we gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving. A day set aside to pause and reflect on the abundance of blessings we have. If you've been following me here on the Naturally Bella Journal, you are well familiar with how I feel about recognizing small blessings found in every day living. They are present in every day - good or bad. In every situation, in every moment, there is something to be grateful for. Opening our eyes to the small, seemingly insignificant blessings is powerful! It can lift us out of depression, fight off anxiety, and leads to contentment and joy. Each blessing is a gift. As a believer, I know that each gift comes from above. Each gift is a reminder of how much we are loved by our heavenly Father.
If we are honest with ourselves, our blessings overflow into abundance. Don't you love that word? Abundance. It means having an excess of something. Abundance feels like being rich, even without money. Standing out in the garden holding armfuls of zinnias made me feel like a wealthy woman. Recognizing this abundance of blessings can overwhelm us and touch the heart. It can move us to tears and even to our knees as we are lavishly showered with this undeserved love and grace. Have you ever experienced this?
There is a time to gather all those blessings, to recognize and name them, and to give thanks for them. But it doesn't stop there. Living a thank-filled life isn't only about the gathering. "Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts," - David O McKay.
Yes! Thankfulness leads to gratitude. Humbled by our abundance and compelled by His love, we show our gratitude by giving to others. Perhaps this is why Thanksgiving (the season of thanking) is followed by Christmas (the season of giving).
Through the act of thankful giving, we also experience abundance! This is the lesson of abundance. The more we give of ourselves, the more we are filled with intangibles like peace and joy. So this begs the question: how can I live an abundant life today? It is not in the gathering, it is in the scattering. It is in the giving as much as we can, that we receive more than we ever imagine.
I think about this as I'm sorting through zinnia seed heads. Scattering carries an element of randomness. We scatter seed letting it fall where it may. Out of this abundance of flowers that filled my small bit of earth, I'm thankfully gathering to gratefully scatter next spring. But I need to do more. I am compelled to do more. What if I give them away, so others can also experience their beauty and the joy they offer?
Let's begin with daily intentional giving, and scatter without limits.
This is how to live a truly abundant life.
1. List three things you are grateful for right now.
2. How do you define an abundant life?
3. Who do you know that has a need?
4. How can you become a gift to that person?
Pebble Beach. One of my favorite vacations that we took when the kids were young was to Door County, and more specifically, to Pebble Beach. Watching the kids splash along the water’s edge, hearing their laughter, and gathering the smooth stones on the beach was such good soul food.
It’s a sweet memory, one of many that I’ve collected over the years. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of collecting - not so much stuff, but intangibles that fill my thoughts, my time and demand my attention. I collect ideas, inspiration, recipes, photos (usually of plants), poetry, quotes - all which add up to a lot more time than I care to share as I scroll through my Instagram and Facebook feeds. I have over 2,000 pics on my iphone and adding more everyday! There’s a constant stream of information at our fingertips, on our phones, in the car, on the tv, - so many voices, so many inputs, and not enough time to process it all.
Can you relate?
That’s one reason we take vacations. They offer an opportunity to physically get away from it all, to step away from the daily schedules, and to unplug. We rest, relax and hope to come back rejuvenated. But the phones are usually still present and so is the temptation to scroll through the daily feed. What’s really needed is space on a more regular basis - a few moments every day to quiet the outside noise, to breathe deeply, to be still and quiet, for intentional reflection, and to hear our own thoughts. It’s those quiet moments that are good for the soul.
What we do in the quiet will look different for each of us. For me, I like to read a little scripture and journal. I’ve been journaling for many years. It’s a way for me to process life, to express how I feel, and to work through problems. As I read through old entries, I’m always amazed to see how God has been present through it all. More often than not, I can see His hand and timing. I always can see His grace and goodness.
Creating quiet space for your soul is a life-giving practice. Dallas Willard says ‘If you don’t come away for a while, you’ll come apart after a while.’’ We need to spend time in quiet, thoughtful reflection. Our souls need it. Even Jesus, during his ministry, would often seek time for solitude.
If you’re unsure how to begin, here are some suggestions:
“Perhaps silence makes you uncomfortable. Gradually you may learn to welcome silence, understand that it is a time of great fertility and growth, not of emptiness. Silence cultivates vulnerability toward God, because silence is an outward form of an inward surrender.”
I recently listened to a podcast by Emily P. Freeman, which, by the way, I highly recommend. The purpose of her podcasts and books is to help create space for your soul to breathe. You can find her at The Next Right Thing podcast (be sure to listen to #87 & #88) which is also the name of one of her books. She closed her recent episode with this reading of Psalm 23 in a version that relates it in a fresh way. I’d like to share it with you here.
"The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green pastures. He leads me to calm water. He gives me new strength. He leads me on paths that are right for the good of his name. Even if I walk through a very dark valley, I will not be afraid because you are with me. Your rod and your shepherd’s staff comfort me. You prepare a meal for me in front of my enemies. You pour oil of blessing on my head. You fill my cup to overflowing. Surely your goodness and love will be with me all my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever."
Ps 23 (NCV).
In closing, I’ll leave you with a practice - an encouragement to take this idea of collecting the quiet with you into the day and month that lie ahead. First, name something that you’ve been collecting that you need to either pull back from or carve out time to process. Second, decide when and where you will find a few minutes today to be still. Then do it. Part of self-care is soul-care and it is necessary for a healthy you.
For me, it started several years ago when I read these words:
“Have vessel, must find beauty."
Life-changing words written by Ann Voskamp in her book, ‘One Thousand Gifts’ that a friend had given me. In her book, she writes that every time she picked a bouquet of flowers, she would have to hunt for a vase or vessel to put it in. One day she decided to leave the empty vase out on the table and go hunt for the flowers. It no longer was ‘have beauty, must find a vessel"; it had become 'have vessel, must find beauty." That small shift in perspective has had a huge impact on my life. So much so, that as a professed beauty-seeker, I am daily hunting to find beauty in the unexpected. Flowers are easy - daffodils, lilacs, roses, daisies - when they bloom, they demand attention, and I oblige. But now I have trained my eyes to seek beauty in a simple leaf with intricate veins, peeling bark on a tree, the smallest of insects gathering nectar. Even dead flowers have an essence of beauty.
It's paying attention to these small delights in a habitual way, that over time creates a life filled with beauty. Every day might not be beautiful, but it can have beauty in it. We must look for it! Each small delightful discovery in nature is a gift from the Creator himself - a reflection of His artistry, His love, and a reminder of His faithfulness. Season after season, He is constant. His grace is limitless and so are the gifts. No matter how small, I try to pay attention and look for them.
When my kids were growing up, I didn't take the time to practice the seeking and hunting beauty. Life was busy seeking lost shoes and hunting for misplaced homework assignments. I wish I had spent more time just being still long enough to pay attention to the beauty outdoors. I wish I had taught them to be beauty seekers. But perhaps my kids were the small delights that God had given me - beauty right under my nose. Perhaps they were the vessels that needed filling with my time, attention, love, and lessons of the Creator. Perhaps I was that vessel, and they filled me with love and beautiful moments that have woven a tapestry of a beauty-filled life. Hmmm, yes, and I am grateful for it.
Friend, may we never stop seeking beauty and filling our vessels, because seeking beauty will often lead to other things like gratitude, wonder, and joy.
Every spring, I know it will happen. I expect it to happen. And it DOES happen. A seed is planted, is watered, and nurtured. It swells and sends out roots, sprouts up shoots, and within a couple months, it blossoms and bears fruit. It’s this crazy miracle that fills me with wonder and amazement every time I witness it.
Cultivating a garden can be a lot of work, but for most of us, we do it because we enjoy it. Whether we garden for aesthetics or for pollinators or for nourishment, part of the satisfaction is the joy of watching things grow.
As we put time and effort into nurturing a garden, we are also nurturing ourselves. Personal growth, like this, happens in many ways. We grow when life gives us a bowl of lemons and we are forced to find a way to make lemonade - not exactly fun. But growth can be more intentional and enjoyable when we take an active role in it. There is no end to the possibilities of what we can learn and experience. Take a class, learn a new skill, do something creative, step out of our comfort zone and do that thing we've always wanted to do.
What if we cultivate growth in a different way? What if we become intentional in becoming more patient with others, show them kindness and grace? What if we cultivate gratitude and generosity? This kind of growth not only changes us, but it affects those around us in wondrous ways! But how do we encourage this kind of self-growth?
For me, the one thing that is at the core of this type of growth - true personal growth - is my faith. When I make the effort to spend time in God’s Word, I’m cultivating and nurturing my faith. The more I water it by learning about him and his love for me - for all of us, seeds of gratitude begin to swell and form roots. That gratitude then affects my whole life as it sprouts, grows, and blossoms into fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And those fruits, dear friend, are worth cultivating. They begin to self-sow and spread - changing not only us, but others in ways we don’t always see.
How about you? This spring, as you think about what you will grow, I encourage you to also consider how you will grow or how you are growing. Spend some time being still so you can hear your thoughts. Take a walk and listen to what your heart is saying. Write in a journal to sort through your ideas. If you are a believer, pray to God who always listens and will guide you. Then begin. Begin to intentionally cultivate growth.
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!