Thursday, 13 December 2012

a hard look at me

 I took this shot yesterday afternoon on my way home.  I didn't stop for a self portrait.  In fact, the whole reason I pulled over was because of "the red barn" - a favourite landmark I pass driving to and from my house.  It is so old and tired, barely standing, but somehow still beautiful --especially yesterday, cloaked in the bright dazzle of winter sunshine. I stood on the fence so that I could shoot as much of the barn as possible.

And then from the corner of my eye,  I see the image that I hadn't stopped for, the surprise beauty, the shadows, the lines, the patterns....and ME, right there as a part of it all.

Life, even abundant life, is so strange and full of paradox....that there is beauty in the shadows, and patterns in the random chaos of a day....that what I come for, thinking I need, is so seldom what I leave with...that I see so much more in places I'd never even thought to look at first.  I see Him, the true Beauty and Wonder of it all.  And I see me, off to the side, looking for ways to capture Him on the lens of my heart, yet struggling still.

There is much about me in this portrait that you can't see.  You can't see that I'm wearing a wool toque because I didn't bother trying to fix my bed-head from this morning, or that I have no make up on because I'm miserable and I just don't care.  You can't see that I'm snowed under with feelings of self-pity because I have a lousy cold, a running nose, a headache, a cough, and because I really just want to go to bed (just as soon as I take these photos!!)  But what really makes me feel worse than anything is knowing that I'm feeling sorry for myself when a boy on my son's hockey team has a mom and a sister both being treated for cancer...when a neighbour just lost her young niece to the same disease...when a homeless man I know is out in this cold somewhere trying to get through another day...when there is so much excruciating hurt and pain and sorrow in this world. And beauty. When there's so much exquisite beauty in the mix.

I resign myself to the fact that I'm lost for words again.  I can't seem to express the deep knowing --of God's grace and ultimate goodness-- that resides at the core of who I am.  My words just trip and tumble and land flat today.  And maybe that's okay.

        p.s. here are the pictures I stopped for in the first place.

photos and text © 2012 Melody Armstrong

Sunday, 9 December 2012

"reach into the waiting"

I'm shivering and smiling under extra blankets because I've swung wide the door to winter.  I do it because I want to drink in as much of this view as I can.  

While the fire blazes hot beside me, a cool mountain wind is an unexpected but invited guest.  It has echoed along the valley past tunnel mountain and blown itself right through my door and up into the sloping rafters of my room. 

 I don't mind this guest. I just furrow in a little deeper, listen to the fire's breathy crescendos and decrescendos and watch flame-shadows dance pink across my page.

All is music
All is symphony
All is praise to the Holy One - Jesus
for Whom I wait
from whose mouth come
the cool winds and warm flames
that blow across my life.

I can be cold and warm...content with the change and uncertainty.  I can trust Him with the seasons of me that don't make sense.  I can "reach into the waiting," LETTING MY SOUL TRAVEL THE DISTANCE TO STILLNESS, where I bow before my everlasting King and offer Him my humble gift of everything.
(a special thanks to Judy McVean whose phrase "reach into the waiting" has not left me since I read it.
For a thoughtful reflection on this most precious advent season, please follow this link to Judy McVean's honest and revealing blog SeeingSacred.  )
(photos and text © 2012 Melody Armstrong except where otherwise cited.)

Friday, 30 November 2012

You are winter

"...And everything in time 
and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath...

...And still I notice You
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death,
You open doors for life to enter
-Nichole Nordeman's song Every Season

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

breath of heaven

i felt it on my cheek
His grace - like a breath
and i stood 
motionless in the woods
with my eyes wide open
and my heart wide awake
and my soul's arms wide stretched
emptied for the filling
that follows
my silent 

Photos and text ©2012 Melody Armstrong

Monday, 19 November 2012

pieces of home

...on a warm, winterish day 
when words aren't enough
to show a heart 
spilling over
with thanks 
simple abundance 
i reach for the lens
 in search of beauty 
and find it
up close

Words and images © 2012 Melody Armstrong

even laundry is worth a smile

I was so irritated with him, this tall one -- taller than me -- who was supposed to be in trouble, who was supposed to feel miserable folding laundry while the others were out in the snow, who was being punished and still finding a way to make it fun.

But irritation only lasts so long.  I had to give in and laugh.  He always finds a way to make me laugh - just the way his dad does, even when I'm irritated (especially when I'm irritated). 
How can folding laundry be so messy and fun? Is he really wearing a full laundry basket on his head?  
How can work invite so much play and silliness,
 so much....that it falls out and around like laughter??
and when did I start caring that the towels were folded perfectly - and in an orderly manner....and stop seeing fun in work??

Again....reminded how I'm forever
 needing new eyes for a new
way of seeing.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

you know its been a good day when......


You guys R the BEST!!!!!!

Friday, 9 November 2012

everywhere I turn...

".....don't you find it remarkable, Katy, that the whole world can be involved in this madness we call war, and all the while the flowers and the bees and the seasons keep on doing what they must, wise but never weary in their wait for humanity to come to its senses and remember the beauty of life?" 
                            -The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (p. 378)

photos © melody armstrong

Thursday, 8 November 2012

note to self.....

maybe another image for my journal???
After the week we've had around our house, I felt like someone could have posted this sign for me -- kinda perfect in a quirky sort of way.  Just thought I'd share.

photos © melody armstrong

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

a hockey mom's laundry room

WHAT WAS I THINKING WHEN I  SAID "YES" TO CARING FOR THE JERSEYS?  REALLY????  Could no one have reminded me that my laundry room is a disaster at the best of times??  That I'm constantly tripping over misplaced shoes which suddenly went from a manageable size 6 (small trip) to a ridiculous men's size 11 (large trip and almost fall) and every other size in between??  That huge storage bins, ten gallon paint cans, smelly hockey jerseys and other assorted hockey equipment would occupy all floor space?  That the washer and dryer would become convenient although INaccessible storage for multiple random items such as Halloween makeup, 2 loaves of bread, recently worn hats, gloves and ski pants, toilet paper (?what), empty laundry detergent containers..... ???? 

Stuff is spilling out everywhere.

Oh.....isn't that the story of my life?  Of so many of our lives?  No matter how hard we work to pull it all together, contain it, control it, manage it........or AT LEAST TRY TO MAKE IT LOOK THAT WAY, so many of us are just one busy weekend away from having it spill out everywhere.

And it spills not just from our laundry rooms. If only it was that simple?  

Too often the spilling comes from a more private place --messier than my laundry room, at times, although much less obvious.  It's my soul I'm talking about.

I get overwhelmed by the schedule, sprinting to and from the car with arms full, and phones ringing, and kids hollaring "where's my....." and low gas tanks, and sticky-notes on my steering wheel, and printed schedules that were here a minute ago, and the whistle of incoming texts, and police with photo radar giddy at the thought of speeding moms just like me who are about to crest the next hill and help them meet their daily quota.

It's all a little too much at times......and when the spilling begins, it is ugly. My voice gets too loud.  My pitch gets too high.  And every wrong my children have ever committed replays through my mind in fullscreen, HD.  The long list of frustrations and wrongdoings (that were supposed to be forgiven long ago) begin spewing from my lips --lips that are meant to share encouragement, love, gentle correction, and healing kisses.  

I rant until their ears are closed and mine are suddenly open --open to the accusing voice that always follows, silently yelling words like "shame" and "failure." It is not the voice of my Soul's Savior, who loves and corrects me all in the same, gentle breath.  

So I have a choice.  Right there, in that moment.  I can slump my shoulders and sink into the miserable shame and guilt that steals joy, grace and second chances.  I can turn a sharp tongue to my own soul and batter it with those words we mother's often tell ourselves: "you're a brutal mom; what kind of example are you? When will you ever get it right?......."  

Or, I can choose Him....GRACE and TRUTH and LOVE.  Grace says that there is always forgiveness.  Truth says that I am broken, like the rest of the world, and need healing.  Love says that I can be free from guilt and start again.  

So today I choose well.  I take a deep breath, humble myself, and ask for forgiveness.  I'm convinced that my children are God's secret agents, for every time I humbly ask their forgiveness, they  throw wide their arms and embrace me with unconditional, unreserved love.  They promise me that I can make mistakes too, and that they will always love me, no matter what....Oh, they remember!  Could it be that I really have taught them well...that I really have modelled it to them, no matter how feebly?  That they've come to understand what God has whispered to me and I have whispered to them from their infancy: "I will always love you.  No matter what!"

Next time you are faced with the choice, I hope you choose Grace, Truth and Love.    xoxo

photos and text © melody armstrong

Sunday, 4 November 2012

the taste of snow...

Happy Snow Day!
photo compliments of the lovely Kelle B.

Friday, 2 November 2012

turning point

A couple years back I had the privilege of travelling around part of Scotland with my mom, 82 at the time, and my sister.  The three of us girls had such an incredible time.  I loved driving on the left side of the road (with the steering wheel on the right--my husband would have been proud. ) It took some getting used to and was more than a little bit hilarious at times.

I remember being mesmerized by a gorgeous fishing village called Gardenstown, tucked snugly into the cleft of the steep northeast coastline.  While searching for somewhere to eat, we squeeked and  squeezed down this narrow street (that did NOT lead to any kind of restaurant) and then wondered how we'd ever get turned around.  The sign posted at the end of this block struck a funny bone that day:

No kidding!!!  We laughed, took a picture and turned our  rental car around, backing up and inching forward repeatedly until we finally pointed in the right direction and drove out the way we'd come.

As I sit thinking today about the narrow passages of our lives, the squeezed in, cramped up places where we inch our way forward only to arrive at a dead end, I think of that sign.   Though stating the obvious, it contains some poignant wisdom if we are attentive:  DO NOT PARK HERE.  This is not your destination.  This is not where you were meant to stay.  There's no room for you here.  THIS IS A TURNING POINT!

Ah.......turning point.  Yes!  This simple sign reads like a message of HOPE to those of us who are stuck -- stopped at a place where we never intended to be, never dreamed of being, probably never wanted to be.  When we're hemmed in on every side, it's hard to see that new possibilities are just at the end of this street and around the corner.

We forget that the landscape of our lives is vast and beautiful.  It will open up wide again.....we are just at a turning point, that's all.  There is hope.  Always hope.  So much hope. 

And yes, sometimes there is danger:

but could it be possible that the gravest, most imminent danger we face is losing sight of the One who is Eternal Hope?

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 

God whispers hope...a secret right into every listening heart --a secret so potent and powerful that the quiet knowledge of it silences all the banging noise and clamour of despair.   He offers Himself, eternal Light; the only way through our darkness: 

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
-J.R.R. Tolkein in The Return of the King

photos and text © melody armstrong (unless otherwise cited) 

guest house of our soul

...another page from my journal.   May I share?

"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight."

I've been wanting to write something light and make you giggle and know that everything is going to be alright.  But so many of you, dear friends of mine, are feeling pummelled by strong and steady waves of sorrow - one right after the other.  My heart aches for you.  I want to honor you, each one, as you plod along this leg of the journey.  Please know you are not alone.  Never alone.
With love....Melody

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

"make my prayer pray"

"My prayer-bird was cold--would not away,

Although I set it on the edge of the nest.

Then I bethought me of the story old--

Love-fact or loving fable, thou know'st best--

How, when the children had made sparrows of clay,

Thou mad'st them birds, with wings to flutter and fold:

Take, Lord, my prayer in thy hand, and make it pray.
    -George MacDonald (Diary of an Old Soul p. 113)
image a little blurry but still beautiful..........KIND OF LIKE MY PRAYERS.

I've been reading Philip Yancy's Prayer, Does it Make Any Difference?  And I'm grateful that he begins with the same questions I do about prayer. Admittedly, if I spent less time reading about prayer, and actually just doing it, I'd certainly learn a lot more.  Isn't is always easier to think about doing something, rather than just doing it?

I don't always pray to get my prayers answered.  I don't pray because I'm trying to speak his promises into fruition.  I don't pray because I'm always confident that it changes the course of things in my life or the lives of others.   While these admissions may raise eye-brows,  I'm just speaking from my heart.  I believe that He hears my prayers. I do not question that God is all-powerful and His will ultimately prevails at all times, I simply don't understand yet, the role my prayers have in all of that.

I pray mostly because I can't help it -- my soul calls out to the One who knows me best.  I crave intimacy with Him.  I long to be known and understood, even in those places deep within my own being that I do not understand myself.  Also, I long to know and understand Him --Prince of Peace, Perfect Love, Heavenly Daddy, Mighty Warrior, Creator of All, Keeper of my heart.  

I pray because I love God and because He loved me first.  I want to be with Him.  When I'm tucked close to Him I know I'm safe, secure and no forces can stand against me.  My heart feels like it's praying all the time -- even without words.  Usually without words.  

I understand Macdonald's plea:
"look deep, yet deeper, in my heart, and there, beyond where I can feel, read thou the prayer."                                                   (Diary of An Old Soul p.114) 

I think I sometimes have a skewed view of what prayer "should" look like, or sound like.  I get thinking about what "effective" prayer is -- stuck in a rut where my imagination is imprisoned.  It seems ludicrous that my mind narrows when I think about how I should talk to God.  Shouldn't my thoughts expand....out past all the known universes....out into the farthest expanses of human imagination -- AND THERE, MEET GOD?

I love the words of Nicole Nordeman:
           "Oh, Great God, be small enough to hear me now."
                  (from her beautiful song Small Enough) 

There is much more I'd like to say.  But perhaps right now, instead, I will pray. 

photos and text (except citations) © melody armstrong

Monday, 29 October 2012

ugly beautiful

my favourite lone tree
more broken now than ever
and still standing
final leaves cling
in frosty
to the branch last living
hanging splintered now
pointing to earth
instead of sky.
Living and losing 
pressed so close and hard 
it hurts to breathe
dare I say it
all is Grace 
even the ugly beautiful.

taking a closer look

same tree, different view

sometimes you have to move in closer to find any beauty at all

if you look hard enough.........just please, keep looking!

photos and text©melody armstrong

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Who I am on a snowy October day...

I'm sprawling journals

and scribbled words
I'm tones of white and cream
   and charcoal grey
I'm splashes of big, bold
   blues and greens and
  purples and yellows.
I'm piles of books
and heart-shaped rocks
I'm forests and oceans and
   bright white birch
I'm boisterous hollers
  in hockey rinks
    on gym side benches
 on spring's green sidelines
I'm toenails pink and purple
  and blue and red
  and sometimes one for every toe.
I'm high-fives and competition
  in knee pads at net
I'm laughter and silliness
and original song
I'm daughter and mother 
and wife and friend
I'm peace in solitude,
  in stillness, in quiet
I'm wide-smiled, 
   gentle-breezed solace
I'm trickling brooks, tumbling
  rapids, whispering streams,
    and glassy lakes
I'm creative soul searching
  and hungry and longing
I'm well-watered garden, 
  lovingly planted, and pruned
I'm harvest, ripe and ready
  to be picked
   and seed needing to be
I'm clay in potter's hand,
  treasured vessel of beauty 
   and purpose 
in the making
I'm arms and heart outstretched to
One who knew me by name
  before I was
   and calls me His very own.

photos © melody armstrong

Monday, 22 October 2012

beauty to be touched

I was looking through one of my old journals the other day and found the words above, which I'd ripped out of a magazine and glued onto a page.  These words mean even more to me now than they did at the time.  I want the beauty in my home to be tangible, touchable, something for everyone to grasp and hold.  I hope it's as easy as it sounds, since that which is truly beautiful may not always be as obvious as "pretty objects."  

The beauty in our home is framed in the masterpieces of my grade-school artists.

Or, the gifts of nature sprinkled around - precious treasures given with love and rich with memory.

Beauty in our home is the hug between brothers that I catch out of the corner of my eye, the music ringing out from the other room as my joy-girl sings and plays piano, and our ten hands clasped at the table while giving Jesus thanks. 

It's my husband cheering loudly for our football team and the little 1st-grade neighbour boy ringing the doorbell to see if my teenager wants to come ride bike with him (which he often does!). 

It's the "I forgive you" after the "I'm so sorry," the five of us piled on the bed talking about how amazingly huge God is, and the view of my husband and his father working together on a project in the yard.

It's my children huddled on the bed around Gramma Maxine on her weekly sleepover, reciting verses they've been learning.  Or, the huge grins on everyone's faces as Gramma Carol arrives with fresh cinnamon buns and other tantalizing goodies.

Beauty is in God's grace, mercy, tenderness and love. Beauty is snuggles and tickles and laughter and forgiveness. It is friendship, family, and freedom to be who you are, flaws included.   Beauty in our home has little to do with expensive art, perfect style and the latest fashions ---and I'm so relieved.  

Yes...yes...and absolutely yes!  To my family and neighbours and dearest friends: "BEAUTY IN THIS HOME IS MEANT TO BE TOUCHED. BEAUTY IN THIS HOME IS MEANT TO TOUCH YOU." 

photos © Melody Armstrong