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The Curious Case of Lost Opposites

 

“We are walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter

we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse;

we carry a museum inside our heads,

each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard.”

Penelope Lively

Since you’re a walking lexicon: What’s the opposite of immediate? What’s the opposite of ruthless? What’s the opposite of exhume? If you answered with words like eventual, caring, or bury, you’d be right – in today’s world. But if you had lived back in the 1400’s – or even the 1800’s – your answer might have been different. And if you’re a word lover like me, well . . .

While doing research this week, I discovered that some common English words have lost their original opposites – or we rarely use them. Consider these curious opposites.

immediate – mediate

ruthless – ruthful

exhume – inhume

inclement – clement

inevitable – evitable

emancipate – mancipate

invincible – vincible

inalienable – alienable

impervious – pervious

accommodate – discommodate

impeccable – peccable

income – outgo

ungainly – gainly

 

So . . . may your way be gainly, your weather clement, and your income greater than your outgo.

I’ll leave you with this to chew on:

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.”

Richard Holloway

In English Through the Ages, you can find these and other long-lost English words and discover when many of our words were first used.

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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.

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A Valentine: Do You Know How Beautiful You Are?

It had been a whirlwind of a day, long and busy, but I made it to my art class a bit ahead of time. Still, everyone else had already gathered in the next room. I could hear them talking and laughing, and as I took off my coat, I paused, struck by the unique tone of each voice. They were all speaking, all laughing in a lovely symphony. And just as I’ve sometimes picked out the sounds of specific instruments in a symphony, I could pick out each one of my friends’ voices. I knew exactly who was commenting, who was agreeing, who was questioning, who was groaning, who was chuckling. I wondered if they knew how beautiful each of their voices was. And how beautiful they sounded in conversation together.

Do you know how uniquely beautiful you are?

You are a poem.

You are a symphony.

You are a tree growing through the changes of each season.

You are seasons.

You are the path someone follows.

You are the footsteps.

You are a freshet, a river, an ocean.

You are tidal.

You are a story, an epic adventure.

You are a gatehouse, a shelter, an archive.

You are a garden,

a sculpture,

a masterpiece,

a drama,

a comedy,

a hope,

a treasure.

You are a miracle, the grandest of magic.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

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Some Things Are Best the First Time Around

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;

what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Each week on Thursday and Friday, I take care of my 14-month-old grandson while his mom and dad are at work. On those days our schedule includes, of course, nap time in Mimi’s (that’s me) big bed. It just so happens that my bedroom is where I hang many of the paintings I create in the art class I attend. Most of them are abstracts. I shift them around each week, taking the older ones down and adding the new ones so that I can reflect on them to see what I enjoy about them, what I don’t, and what I might do next time I paint. I’ve hung so many paintings now that some of them are only about three feet off the floor.

Back to my grandson. Every week, he naps in my room, but he has never paid any attention to the paintings. Until last week. When he got up from his nap, he stared at one of the lower paintings and, never taking his eyes off of it, slowly walked to the wall and stretched out his hand toward the painting. The only way I can describe how he looked is “reverence.”

“That’s a painting,” I said. “You can touch it.” And he did. Gently.

“Reverence” is not a word we use often. It comes from the Latin revereri, to fear in the sense of respect. Vereri is where our word “wary” comes from. Vereri moved into Old English as waer, which meant careful, aware, or wary, akin to Old High German giwar, aware or attentive. All that comes from a bit of research in Webster’s, which defines “reverence” as profound, adoring, awed respect.

Profound, adoring, awed respect. That’s what I saw in my grandson as he experienced an abstract painting for the first time. Which made me think about how we adults might try to regain some of that same awe ourselves, looking at the world as if seeing it for the first time. If you were tasting toast for the first time, how would you describe it? If this were your first time to see a tree or smell a rose, how would you react?

I remember getting glasses for the first time – I think I was in the fourth grade. For months before I got glasses, my vision had been blurred. When I walked out of the eye doctor’s office with my glasses, I was awed at how each leaf on the tree outside was so distinct. For years, I had to wear glasses or contacts to see anything farther than a few feet away. Then I got my vision corrected with laser surgery. Looking around for the first time without glasses or contacts was amazing. Waking up in the morning, looking out my bedroom window and actually seeing the trees, I felt profound, awed appreciation. Reverence.

We so often go through our world with our minds on the past or the future – or the screen in our hand – and we miss the wonder of the world around us. Can I tell a redbud from a goldenraintree from a contorted fig? Did I know there are red-violet shamrocks that fold up at night, or did I think the St. Patrick’s Day green shamrocks were the only ones? Did I know that there’s such a thing as blue poppies? There is, and they are amazingly beautiful.

Maybe part of the joy of wine-tasting, coffee-tasting, cheese-tasting is that we get to try something new for the first time. We try new foods or a new combination of flavors at a restaurant. Or we listen to a new song. Or witness an eclipse or see a falling star or watch a full moon rise. And if we stay aware, we may feel reverence.

Some things are just best the first time around, but if we can pause and see as if for the first time, maybe we can bring back the wonder. And, yes, even reverence. That’s why it’s a privilege to share firsts with a child. Because sometimes the best view is through a child’s eyes. (Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a good nap after lunch.)

 

“The only real voyage of discovery consists

not in seeking new landscapes

but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

 

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Text, paintings, and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

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How to Breathe Your Way to Peace

 

“Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts

whirling around a center of fear.”

– Corrie Ten Boom –

In the art class I attend, before we create, we gather to breathe deeply. Our goal is to let go of the chaos, confusion, pressure, and stress of the week and, as much as possible, settle into a calm place. We try to set our minds and hearts and intentions on allowing our souls to find free expression in our art.

Usually I picture letting go of my worries and stress by exhaling all that’s tense and negative within me and inhaling a calm, fresh start. But this week, we gave our breathing ritual a bit of a twist. We focused on inhaling chaos and exhaling calm. We became change agents, transforming the clashing noise of the world around us into a calm harmony that we then breathed out into the world.

All week I’ve thought of how, like a purifier, we can filter out the negative and pour the positive back into the world. In the Bible, the apostle Paul wrote, “[W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. . .  And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8)

And the God of peace will be with you.

Peace. Inhale, exhale. We hear lies and deceit but refuse to let them lodge in our souls. Instead, we counter them with integrity and breathe out into the world what is true. We see the ignoble and dishonorable raise its head, but we refuse to embrace it. Instead, we counter it with what’s honorable and breathe out into the world what’s noble. We inhale what’s tainted with wrong, distill it, and exhale what’s right. We take in what’s sloppy or mediocre, let it evaporate, and breathe out what’s excellent. We see what’s shameful but refuse to give it a home in our hearts. Instead, we give back what’s worthy of praise.

“To fear is one thing.

To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”

Katherine Paterson

Inhale, exhale. Peace.

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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.

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Where Do You Feel Most Welcome?

Did you ever want to step into a painting? Or into an illustration in a book? When I was a growing up, book illustrations could draw me in until I could almost smell the forest, hear the waves, or feel the breeze. I could imagine myself in the setting, a staging ground for adventures to come.

I had that same experience Thursday night in the art class I attend. One of my friends painted a large mural of abstract brown, green, and blue sections overlaid with a forest of bare trees. As I studied her painting, I found myself wanting to walk into it, to hike over the abstract hills and find out where the adventure would take me. The word that came to mind was welcome. The painting welcomed me. It invited me in.

That word – welcome – winked at me again from one of Mary Oliver’s essays in Upstream. She says, “There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning.” Again, I saw bare trees, this time sparked with frost. I actually didn’t have to imagine it. I could just look out my windows and see the real thing.

Sometimes I think of my windows as ever-changing paintings, framing nature and the comings-and-goings of my community. In the snow and ice and bitter cold of last week, those comings-and-goings were minimal. My community is not accustomed to – or prepared for – a thick blanket of ice and snow, whereas my Norwegian daughter-in-law grew up where winter was an invitation to put on boots or skis and to enjoy the outdoors.

I, on the other hand, grew up in West Texas, where most of the year is warm, even hot. We did have “blue northers” blow in during the colder months. I remember crossing my college campus head down against a wind so strong and icy that it felt as if it might cut right through me. Years later, I studied for my master’s degree in Vermont. The January that I graduated, snowdrifts piled up as high as West Texas hills, icicles were as big around as my upper arm and hung from roof almost to the ground. My friends and I crossed the quad with every inch of ourselves – except our eyes – bundled in multiple layers, braving the steel-cold air to get to the dining hall.

As good poets often do, Mary Oliver gives a new slant to the chilly winter landscape. Welcome. I tend to think of spring as the welcoming season. But Mary Oliver invites me into winter. This week, a friend said that she loves winter-bare trees, because they reveal their true shape, their curves and angles. I enjoy the patterns they make silhouetted against the sky. Lace. Lattice. The branches catch the splash of sunrise and the glow of sunset. And yes, the frost. “There is a rumor of total welcome among the frosts of the winter morning.”

Welcome comes from two Old English words: will, meaning want or desire, plus cuman, meaning to come. I will you to come. So welcome is not an off-handed, “We’re open; feel free to enter,” but an earnest, “Come in! You are wanted here.”

In every age, there are people who say, in essence, “We welcome only people who are like us,” meaning like us in social status or race or political views or religious beliefs. Or all the above. Sometimes before we welcome people, we require them to change to suit us. But that’s backward. Change doesn’t work that way. We welcome people first, and then change begins . . . perhaps in us as well. Because each of us has something the other needs. But we’ll never discover it without welcome.

Total welcome, writes Mary Oliver of the winter frost. Is nature the only place we can find total welcome? Where do you most feel welcome? It’s a great treasure. How can you extend that treasure to family, friends, and the people you meet each day? How can you welcome those who need it most?

 

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Text and photos of windows and trees © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Other photos courtesy pexels.com.

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Winter’s Secret

I felt Spring this week. It sounds strange to say that after a week of record-breaking cold temperatures over a large part of the U.S. In fact, today we are below freezing and snowbound. At the moment, the sun is out, making the ice-coated tree branches sparkle as if they’re wearing diamonds. Maybe it was the bitter cold earlier in the week that led to the touch of spring I felt as weather warmed into the 60’s for a couple of days. On one of those cool-warm mornings, I stepped outside to feed the birds and, dog-like, lifted my nose to sniff the breeze. And I caught the scent of spring.

Of course, I’m too experienced with this touch-and-go weather of spring in midwinter, to think that spring is actually upon us. No, it’s just teasing us, weeks away from settling in. Still, spring is coming, and the hope, the anticipation, gave me a deep, satisfied breath. Winter was whispering its secret: “I’m not here to stay.”

For some reason, when the year tiptoes toward spring, I remember poems read to me in my childhood from a set of orange Childcraft books. Actually, it’s the illustrations that I remember first and then the words and how I felt taking it all in. I’m not even sure I can describe the feelings – warmth, peace, serenity, possibility, hope, goodness. It’s a feeling of there’s-a-whole-big-beautiful-world-out-there-for-me-to-experience. Maybe it’s the feeling of wonder.

“Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,

A frosty, fiery sleep-head;

Blinks but an hour or two; and then,

A blood-red orange, sets again.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, “Wintertime” –

“In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candle light.

In summer, quite the other way, –

I have to go to bed by day.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, “Bed in Summer” –

Winter can be disheartening. Short days and long nights and bare trees and brown grass and flu and staying indoors can make us feel downright gloomy. Winter can be a hard season to thrive in.

I wonder if the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley felt the same way. In “Ode to the West Wind,” he wrote,

“O, Wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

And in “The Question,” he said,

“I dreamed that, as I wandered by the way,

Bare Winter suddenly was changed to Spring.”

But, then, it was a dream. When Shelley woke up, the wind still blew cold and the trees were still bare. And yet, the dream also reminded him that spring would return.

“Imitate the trees,” wrote May Sarton in Journal of a Solitude. “Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”

I’m grateful for the weather’s foreshadowing of spring when winter warms a bit. I’m grateful for the supermarket where, year-round, I can find the taste of spring in the produce section (ah, blueberries!) and where I can stroll through a garden of fresh flowers in the floral section (Gerbera daisies! Roses! Lilies!). I’m grateful for the feeling of eternal hope and possibility that return with childhood poems. Midwinter, I’m grateful for the scent of spring.

Albert Camus wrote, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

Yes . . . but for me, it would be “an invincible spring.”

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Text, winter photos, and white bloom photo © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Candle photo courtesy pexels.com.

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How Do We Move Forward? Follow the Signpost

I was struck recently by a phrase I read in a Publishers Weekly review of a book about children. It said that children were “growing up in a world without signposts.” It’s one of those statements that stirs our frustrations and tempts us to jump on the bandwagon of doom and gloom and all-is-lost. We give a collective sigh, purse our lips, and shake our heads – no signposts anymore for our kids. But after some thought, I realized that the claim simply isn’t true. We have a guide, a bright North Star. A signpost does exist. It always has.

Of course, if there’s a signpost, it must point to something. Next rest stop, ten miles. Scenic overlook, next right. City Center, exit 1 mile. So obviously, the signpost we’re looking for is the one that will direct us toward where we want to go. Which brings us to the crucial question: where, exactly, do we want to go? Where do we want our children to go? I’m asking not within the framed sense of the new-year’s-resolution but in the unframed sense of life as a whole, the birth-to-death journey. Life is unmapped. We choose our steps. And to recognize the signpost, we have to decide what we value most in life. Where, exactly, do we want to go?

I think most of us gravitate toward what warms and fills and satisfies our souls, not just momentarily but for a lifetime. It’s what we want for ourselves and for our children.

Love, the soul in full bloom.

Joy, the soul’s laughter.

Peace, the calm hum of the soul.

Patience, the soft breath of the soul.

Kindness, the soul’s outstretched hand.

Goodness, the soul’s high road.

Balance, the soul, centered.

Faithfulness, the steady stance of the soul.

Self-control, the soul’s mirror.

Grace, the soul’s gift.

Mercy, the soul set free.

Beauty, the delight of the soul.

Wisdom, the soul’s treasure chest.

Gratitude, the hearth fire of the soul.

Generosity, the soul’s open arms.

Hope, the high window of the soul.

Courage, the soul, face forward.

Creativity, the soul’s dance.

Confidence, the soul settled.

Endurance, the second wind of the soul.

Respect, the soul’s bow.

Insight, the soul’s candle in the dark.

Vision, the soul’s mountaintop view.

This, of course, is not a destination in the sense of a place or a point in time but is instead a state of being that transcends time and place. In fact – read the list again – it describes God. Which means it also describes the kind of faith that I want to grow into as I journey through life – a faith of joy and peace and courage and creativity . . . But the list is not exclusive to the faith that embraces God. It’s universal to humanity. It describes the deepest of our desires, the highest of our aspirations, the noblest of our actions.

There’s plenty of “sound and fury” in the world to distract us from our destination and obscure the signpost. But the signpost is there, immovable and unchanging. We can ignore it, bypass it, or claim to follow it even as we go the opposite direction. But we can’t change it. So what is it?

It’s Love. As in loving kindness. Gracious love. The kind of love that treats others the way we want to be treated. The kind of love that’s open-hearted and honest.

If our children haven’t seen the signpost of Love, maybe it’s because we haven’t done a very good job of pointing to it. Or maybe pointing is all we’ve done. Maybe with all good intentions, we’ve made faith way too hard, adding layer on layer of do’s and don’ts and here’s-what-this-means and here’s-what-that-means, when all along the message has always and ever been one thing:

love.

The message of the signpost is simple and clear: God is love, so love yourself and your neighbor. Do good to whomever you come into contact with, in whatever way you can. Love this world into being a better place for everyone, and you’ll be honoring the One who made the world. Love is not a matter of talk but of action, of being living examples of loving kindness to everyone, of heading the direction of grace and staying the course.

Simple? Yes. Easy? Not so much. Love and faith are perhaps the hardest practices we’ll ever attempt. Because life is unmapped, even with a signpost, we deal with a lot of uncertainty.

“You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.” – Flannery O’Connor

One thing we can trust: grace-filled Love is a dependable signpost. Love is our guide. It’s our bright North Star.

 

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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.

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Squinting Into the Future

Happy New Year!

In many ways, 2017 felt like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. “The poetry of motion!” cries Mr. Toad, reveling in the delights of driving a motorcar for the first time. “The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here today – in next week tomorrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped – always somebody else’s horizon!”

Last summer, one of my grandsons asked why the section of town I live in is called Green Hills. I tried to explain that we live among a landscape of hills, but I couldn’t point them out, because the trees were so full they blocked the view. Now that the leaves have fallen, the hills are visible beyond a lattice of bare branches, although on this cloudy, wintry day they hills are not green but shades of blue and dark gray. Still, on most days, the hills are my horizon.

Of course, as Mr. Toad discovered, horizons change depending on where you’re located. Standing high on a lookout in the Smokies in East Tennessee, you can see layer after layer of misty mountain ridges rolling toward the horizon. In West Texas, where I grew up, the horizon is flat and far away. Farther west in the Rockies, the horizon juts up in majestic peaks to meet the sky. Keep going west, and you reach the coast of California, where the horizon of ocean seems to extend into forever.

Our life journey is a bit like that as well. The horizon changes depending on where we’re located as we look ahead. And for all of our squinting toward the horizon, trying to gauge our direction or choose our path, we simply don’t know what lies between here and there. Nor do we know what we’ll find when we get “there.” No matter how sure we may pretend to be, life is an exercise in navigating uncertainty.

In my watercolor class, I once lamented that my paintings never turn out the way I envision them before I put brush to paper. Julia, my marvelous instructor, handed me the gift of freedom when she said, “If you know how it’s going to turn out, what’s the point?” The British author Margaret Drabble said something similar about writing a novel: “If you know where you’re going, why bother? It’s an adventure.” Part of the adventure of art is setting out to discover what my hands and heart and mind will create. That’s life’s adventure too. We don’t know how it’s going to turn out. What will our hands and hearts and minds create on this journey?

We have no answer, but then, it’s not usually answers that propel us forward. It’s questions. The unknown. Questioning – questing – is the prerequisite to discovery. “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time,” said André Gide. We have to move in the direction of the unknown.

Questions are the reason we stick with stories on TV or in movies and novels: What will happen next – and how, when, where, why? Questions greet us every morning: What will today bring? Or as I prefer to say, “What beautiful day is this?” We’re created to question and wonder and examine and search and re-search. “A ship in harbor is safe,” says writer Cathy Yardley, “– but that’s not what ships are built for.” It’s not what we’re built for either.

Recently a friend asked me a reach-the-horizon question: “What do you hope to say at the end of your life?”

I didn’t even have to think about it. “I know what I’ll say,” I told her. “I’ll say, we made it!”

Her question had brought back a previous “end,” the end of home schooling our two sons. When I took our younger son to the airport to leave for college, I took plenty of tissues. I expected that I wouldn’t make it home without pulling to the side of the road and bawling. Instead, after I dropped him off, I was totally blindsided by a sense of euphoria. I didn’t cry a single tear. When I got out of the car at home, I felt like jumping up and clicking my heels. We had made it!

So that’s what I expect to feel when it comes time to die: “We made it! Finally! Life was the hardest, happiest, saddest, most frustrating, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I think I’ll just rest now, please.”

Later I thought about my answer – we made it! – and I wondered what my friend thought of my use of we. That part of the answer, we, had come to me so spontaneously that I realized it was my faith talking. My faith is aware of a constant companion who is with me, beside me, and around me. I’m not making this life journey alone. “We” is me and a Greater Presence. I don’t begin to understand this Presence, but I sense the heart, the breath, the counsel, the depth, the simultaneous beyond-ness and nearness of this Mystery we call God. It’s with this Presence, this Mystery, that I walk my path. So, in the end, we will have made it.

But, then, who’s to say that the story ends there? We are coming of age until the day we die – and maybe even after that. Peter Pan said, “To die will be an awfully big adventure.”

“Death is only a horizon,

and a horizon is only the limit of our sight.”

– anonymous –

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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.

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Christmas Cheer

Since it’s Christmas, I’m taking a time out from my usual blog posts to give you two Christmas riddles just for fun. I found these when I was going through some of Mom’s things. They were in an old Christmas book that my sisters and I read when we were little. (Answers come after the shadow picture.)

1. This belongs to Santa Claus, but you use it more than he does. Yet you don’t borrow, steal, or buy it. What is it?

2. What gets filled every morning and emptied every night except at Christmas, when it is empty at night and filled in the morning?

Answers:
1. His name.
2. Stockings (When I asked this to my grandchildren, they didn’t get it until I explained that in olden days, socks were called stockings.)

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

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Faith, Hope, Love . . . Why is Love the Greatest?

 

“Everyone adds a chip of color to the mosaic.”

Ann Patchett –

As I write this, we’re in the season of Advent, pondering the mystery of a love so deep that the Divine enters human flesh and becomes Emmanuel, God with us. Love incarnate. In the flesh. Among us and in us.

Love in us is closely braided into two other words: faith and hope.

Faith is

our personal spiritual fingerprint

the slant of our hearts toward the Transcendent

our spiritual disposition

an expression of our spirit’s growth

the inner atmosphere in which our spirits thrive or fail to thrive

a dance with the Divine.

Hope is

the expectant yes of our spirits,

the anticipation of good, our “all shall be well”

the pull of possibility, of life expanding

the window of the soul looking toward renaissance

confidence in grace unfolding

the invitation of tomorrow’s gifts.

Love is

deep appreciation and respect

the gift of self

creative generosity

the touch of kindness and grace

home base

one of the great wonders of the world.

Faith, hope, and love. These three are the birthright of all humanity. But it’s said that “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Why?

Maybe it’s because faith and hope are often held close to our chest, while love is our arms thrown open to others. Faith and hope are primarily private, linking us with God. I can walk a solitary path with faith and hope filling me to the brim. But love is primarily focused on others. True, a solitary path can include a deep love for God, but love, by definition, requires other people. Love is a giver. True love is directed toward people and acts on their behalf.

One Christmas when I was a pre-teen, I got a mosaic kit for Christmas. I spent hours creating the design shown on the box top, and I still remember the scent of the gritty glue that held the small tiles together. Each of us is one small tile in a grand life mosaic. Add one tile for each of the people whose lives affect ours, plus one tile for each of the lives you touch, plus one tile for each person they touch . . . life becomes a huge, majestic piece of art. And the gritty glue that binds us together is love. Specifically, loving kindness.

In this grand mosaic, your experiences and ideas enrich me, and mine enrich you. Anything that diminishes you diminishes me and vice versa. Loving kindness is the bond that makes us rich with compassion, wisdom, humility, and grace – if we choose to honor that bond.

Faith, hope, and love. These three link us to God and to each other. In a constantly shifting and uncertain world, faith, hope, and love provide our stability and strength. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Nor is a mosaic held together by love.

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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

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