31 Days of Looking for the Little: Focus

IMG_4097 blurry chandelier

It’s just a little thing. A ring on your lens to turn, or a button to push partially down. But it can make such a difference in your pictures!

Sometimes it’s fun to experiment. To turn off the auto-focus and see what effect you can get. I like this fuzzy picture of the two large wheel-like chandeliers that hang in our church sanctuary, and I intentionally shifted the focus to take this shot.

But sometimes, the focussing mechanism doesn’t work right, and that is frustrating. My newest camera is particularly difficult to manage and the pictures sometimes come out unintentionally blurry. 

Much like perspective, which I wrote about a few days ago, focus can really change your view of life, can’t it? If I find myself focusing on the wrong things, then everything gets kinda blurry!

But if I can keep the focus on Center, on Jesus and the work he is doing in me, then everything else comes more clearly into view. 

It ain’t easy. And sometimes, even after all these years of knowing him, I still forget to keep that focus sharp. How about you?

Here’s a picture of the same chandeliers in sharper focus – there’s quite a difference, right? (Both pictures are heavily cropped, so they’re fuzzier than I wish they were.)

IMG_4098 sharp chandelier

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Special Places

IMG_3665 Jacob Maarse


When I know I’m going to be visiting our former hometown, I often try to find just a little space to make an extra stop. There is a florist in Pasadena that has long been a favorite destination for me. It’s called Jacob Maarse Florist, and is located in a huge warehouse-like building just off the main business thoroughfare in town. 

When my kids were in high school and beginning college, I went to a half day Dreaming Day at our church. A couple who did career counseling were there, and I had a fun time taking tests and reading booklets about possible things to do now that my children were leaving the nest. Out of that day came the desire to work more with flowers. 

So I decided to start a small business, primarily as an excuse to save a few dollars on the flowers for our eldest daughter’s wedding when she was 19. I would go to Jacob Maarse and hang out, watching the designers carefully, trying to pick up tips. I loved every minute of those trips!

And I still do. It’s a small thing, just a side-trip, but it brings me such joy and satisfaction to see talented people doing spectacular work.

Are there any side-trips that you like to take to special places, just little ones?

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Surprises

DSC02769 pepper berries

I volunteered to be a spiritual director for some faculty and staff from a nearby college who were on a one-day retreat near where I live. I was both anxious and excited about this opportunity to listen to people I did not know and prayerfully see where God might be moving in their lives.

Because my recovery from foot surgery is still progressing, I was also nervous about the grounds of this retreat site. We would be meeting outdoors and I still have some difficulty navigating uneven ground.

When I got there, I soon saw that there was a small, concrete patio behind the retreat house, already waiting with two chairs and a small table. Perfect! Thank you, Lord.

One of the things I’ve been learning throughout this long recovery is that I must carefully steward my energies and stamina. So I signed up for two directees, in the mid morning slots. About six slots were available and I chose just those two.

Between my two sessions, I sat back in my chair and tried to breathe deeply and release all the pent-up anxiety in my body. And I began to look around this small space. Just to my left, I caught this glimpse of a pepper tree, berries in full bloom.

Something about those small red berries, hanging so beautifully amid the feathery pepper greenery brought such sweetness to my heart. I find them quite lovely and am always surprised when I discover a tree in bloom with them. Clearly, it doesn’t take much to make me smile. Just a serendipitous reminder that God’s good work of creation is ongoing and lovely. It’s the little things, you know?

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Memories

IMG_0146 family xmas pic

This picture is about 35 years old. And it’s a fun example of one of my very favorite ‘little’ things of all: photographs. We have hired one of our grandsons to slowly scan all of our old photos (and believe me, this is a BIG job). And it’s been both fun and frightening to look back over the years.

I’m astounded at some of the things I wore over the last 50 years or so! And I’m saddened to remember how heavy I’ve been at different times of my life. Such a burden for me and for everyone who loves me. 

But mostly, I’m delighted to take a walk down memory lane. This was the only professional photo we ever took with our three children. They were about 12, 10 and 8, I think, and the photographer liked this picture so much, he had a huge copy of it in his window for a couple of years.

Those were good years. I’m not sure I knew that at the time, but I hope I did! Little things like photos can make a big difference in my life, helping me to recall past events, milestones, places we’ve seen. 

I had a very artistic friend once who told me that she didn’t believe in photos. She felt that the camera got in the way of actually enjoying the experience, whatever it might be. I gasped. To me, that statement was almost sacrilegious! Photos of all kinds are one of my greatest links with the past. Not only my own past, but my parents’ and inlaws’ past, too.

What do you think about photos? Are they important to you or can you get along without them?

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Perspective

DSC01222 cruise ship

I know, I know. Just two weeks ago, I wrote about the HUGE cruise ship in our harbor. I was comparing it to the small shore birds that I find so fascinating.

And you’re right — it is huge. But here’s what I want to remember today. Standing on the ship, or next to the ship, or even across the harbor from the ship, it does look huge. And it is, indeed, very large.

But seen here, on the page, or from high on the hill behind my house, that huge ship looks tiny. Yes, it does. If you can get far enough away from it, and see it against the backdrop of the great Pacific Ocean, that thing looks tiny.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s so very true. The size of things can shift, depending on our perspective. This is something I am continually learning! I can too easily get stuck in a worry-cycle over things that require me to take a giant step back, and look at again. 

How do you remind yourself to change your perspective when things feel overwhelming?

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Provision

DSC00943 loaves & fishes 2

I wrote about these small things in the same post I linked to yesterday. This basket is about two inches square. Two inches. And it contains seven items I chose myself, at a small store that features lots of miniature things.

Can you see what they are? Five loaves and two fish. Exactly the amount of food that the troubled disciples brought to Jesus when the 5,000 were seating themselves on the grass that late afternoon. 

Just a little lunch basket’s worth, that’s all. Five loaves and two fish. And yet . . . there was enough. More than enough.

I find myself feeling like those disciples way too often. Doubting the Lord’s goodness, doubting the Lord’s willingness to ‘feed’ me, doubting the Lord’s power and ability to provide what I need. Maybe you do, too.

I bought this little set just a few months into my job here in Santa Barbara. I was feeling overwhelmed by all there was to learn, all there was to do. And I needed a visible, tactile, small reminder that God is faithful. That little basket is one of my favorite possessions. God has used it to remind me, over and over again, that there will be provision. Maybe not exactly as I dreamed it or thought I needed it, but there will be. 

How do you remember the faithfulness of God?

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Seashells

DSC00945 tiny shells

I have collected seashells all my life. And I’ve bought a few, too. They are all over my house. There is a basketful on the family room coffee table. There is another basketful on the window shelf in the same room. There are shells on the bathroom counters, and a row of four sand dollars on the living room table.

But if I had to choose my favorite set of shells, it would be this one. They are nestled in a half clam shell, on the desk in my study. And they were on every pastoral desk I ever worked at during my years as a pastor. I’ve written about them before, about how we took a spontaneous trip to the beach (when we lived over an hour away from it) right after a winter storm.

The beach was littered with these delightful, small things, and we gathered as many as we could, my middle daughter the champeen collector. I never tire of looking at them, of fingering their delicate outlines and admiring the creative genius that put shell-covered creatures into our great oceans. 

Do you have small things that you keep around your house? Things that remind you of a special time with your family or friends? Things that teach you more about God?

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: The Angle of the Light

DSC02495 - succulent

It was early August, just about six weeks after my foot surgery. Our eldest daughter and her family had rented a beach house nearby and they invited the rest of the family over for a swim and dinner. I definitely did not swim, but I did sit and enjoy the scenery. Oh, yes, I’m good at that!

The house they rented was just back from the sand. In fact, the front yard was filled with the stuff! But all around the edges were several beautifully landscaped succulent gardens.

This one was right in front of me, in the chair where I set up shop, with my newly acquired walker-with-a-great-seat holding up my booted foot. As the afternoon began to darken, the angle of the mid-summer light caught the petals of this rose-shaped plant and made me gasp. Who knew a succulent could be translucent?

People who have never lived in California tell me that they would miss having seasons, would be bored by weather that is too similar year-round. But we do have seasons here, they just don’t look like the traditional ones. And those seasons are marked by the angle of the light, as well as by falling or rising air temperature and/or rainfall.

It’s one of the ‘little’ things I enjoy most in my life: observing how the sunlight changes how things look, depending on where the sun stands in the sky. The shadows lengthen, and the sun sets directly over the ocean in the fall and winter months. Only then.

Ask me how I know this! (I bought my first good camera in May and drove 60 miles trying to find a sunset over the water. NOPE. But in January? Spectacular.)

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Creatures

IMG_4008  green frog

This little fella is someone we usually hear but do not see. He has a very basso profundo voice, and his song often accompanies our early evening reflections. 

He (or a very similar friend!) usually resides in the bottom of a large pot we keep on our front patio, but this past summer, we found him in the back yard . . . in our swimming pool!

He was swimming merrily along, but couldn’t find enough traction anywhere to get himself out of the water. So we helped him along a little bit. He sat in the sunlight for a minute, to catch his breath, and then he hopped away. Who knows where he went next?

Small creatures captivate me. Even spiders. IF they’re safely visible in their webs, not if they surprise me in the house. But these little frogs are delightful co-residents with us here in Santa Barbara. We look forward to their summertime music and enjoy their company.

I’m so glad that God made this world with little things as well as big ones. I love watching the recent video of our immense galaxy (featured by Ann Voskamp in one of her weekly collections of good things). But I also like looking deeply into creation to find the smaller things that keep everything going. On that scale, this froggie is not so tiny, I guess. But on my scale? He is tiny, indeed. And I am grateful.

Just Wondering

31 Days of Looking for the Little: Seeds

DSC01308 papaya seeds

Have you ever cut a papaya in half? They’re filled with hundreds of small, round, black seeds! And they are beautiful.

For much of my life, I couldn’t be bothered with papayas. I thought of them as strangely shaped tropical fruit that grew on really weird trees. And they smelled just a tiny bit like dirty feet!

But then one vacation, we ate at a breakfast buffet where they featured slices of fresh papaya, and I was hooked. I especially love these large, red ones from Mexico. Total yum.

But the day I cut this one open, I was fascinated by the little stuff inside the fruit. So I took this picture and I’ve loved looking at ever since. Seeds are miracles, you know? Just tiny things, but containing within themselves a whole new life.

But of course, in order for that life to take root, the seed itself has to disappear. It has to die. It has to open itself and be completely transformed into something new. 

So much of this life of faith is like that, don’t you think? We, too, must ‘die,’ in a sense. At least our false selves need to die — those personas we carry around to show the world that we’re-just-fine-thank-you, that shell that we protect ourselves with. It’s gotta go.

Because it’s only when we let that shell slough off that the beautiful newness the Holy Spirit is growing in us can be seen and experienced. 

Yes, I love seeds. Even though they have to sacrifice something in order for new life to flourish. Maybe especially because they do.

Just Wondering