Family | The Forever Constant

Standing Firm

“Like branches on a tree, our lives may grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one.”

1-DSC_0096“In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man’s skin,—seven or eight ancestors at least, and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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“Family quarrels have a total bitterness unmatched by others.  Yet it sometimes happens that they also have a kind of tang, a pleasantness beneath the unpleasantness, based on the tacit understanding that this is not for keeps;

1-DSC_0095 that any limb you climb out on will still be there later for you to climb back.”  ~ Mignon McLaughlin

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“The family.  We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste,

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coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, 

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and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”  ~ Erma Bombeck

As I contemplated the Weekly Photo Challenge theme “Family” I could’ve shared oodles of family photos and memories. However, my fascination for the constant lessons of nature prompted me to use this tree I drive by nearly every day. It’s one of those anomalies of nature you just can’t miss.

Sometimes I take pictures, but other times I just stop, get under it, gaze at its never-ending branches, and admire its breathtaking beauty. But more than that, I admire it’s sheer strength. And if you notice, it’s even a bit lopsided. Its shape is not perfect and to tell you the truth, I’m relieved. It makes me feel more at home. But the tree is massive, solid, stately, so proud–you just have to see it to believe it.

It’s main “branches” are not the usual bending, thinner limbs of a tree. They are the size of trunks, which could be trees in and of themselves. Note the photo in full summer leaf above–it easily shades the entire width of the road and more. But notice the photo of it in barren winter (below). That’s when you really see the way it’s limbs anchor the whole.

I’ve tried to capture it with a camera as best as I can and if you look at its new white fence nearby, perhaps you can get a bit of perspective. It’s probably been there since the Revolutionary War.

I wonder how many generations have passed this tree in its lifetime.

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“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever. The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” ~ Ecclesiastes 1: 4,5

I’ve driven past it in sun, storm, snow, and treacherous winds. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it would survive some of the worst storms. But it’s always there. It possesses a strength unfathomable and survives untouched and unscathed through it all.

I wish I could say the same about myself. 

I try to remind myself that I’m but one of the smaller branches near the ends, still being tested and tried. And that massive, huge trunk at the base is holding on to me.

And believe me, I’m hanging onto it for dear life.

image“Do not remove the ancient landmark that your ancestors set up.” ~ The Bible Proverbs 22:28

Family–the forever constant, stamped indelible. May we branch out high and wear it proud. But when we hit those storms that threaten to snap us away, may we return to the open, loving limbs of home–the place of constants—love, acceptance, shelter, safety, sanity (or a bit of a necessary dose of insanity!).

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“Some family trees have beautiful leaves, and some have just a bunch of nuts. Remember, it is the nuts that make the tree worth shaking.” ~Author Unknown

Family–the forever constant.
The place where you breathe in the comfort and exhale a long sigh,

“Ahhh … there’s no place like home.”

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“The family – that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.” ~Dodie Smith

The Lesser Light|One Favorite Subject

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“And the sun and the moon sometimes argue over who will tuck me in at night. If you think I am having more fun than anyone on this planet, you are absolutely correct.” ~ Hafez

The theme of the Weekly Photo Challenge is “One”, in which we are to focus on one subject. I chose one of my favorites, the ever elusive moon. In photography light is everything and for outdoor photography the light source is usually the sun. We look for certain times of day, angles, cloud cover, or clear. And the sun takes it from there. In fact, when you combine the best of these factors the sun really does all the work for you. Think sunsets and sunrise, the Golden Hour. An endless array of colors provide astounding results. No skills needed.

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“The moon is friend for the lonesome to talk to.” ~ Carl Sandburg

But the moon is a different challenge altogether. For a great moon shot you have to really work at it. Photographers go through great lengths to capture the immediate presence and stunning glow the moon provides. Even then it is hard to capture the emotion of moment. You just have to “be there” and experience it for yourself.

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“The moon is a loyal companion. It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it’s a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.” ~ Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

In the Bible the moon is called the “lesser light” (Genesis 1:16). It is too dim for cameras to mimic exactness, but for the human eye it holds not just brilliant beauty but deep, deep emotion. For some unexplainable reason the moon feels like a faithful friend. It provokes us to stop, quiet our busy minds, take a few deeps breaths and just relax. I don’t know of anyone that can gaze at a brilliant moonlit night and not feel a simultaneous sense of glory and comfort.

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Tell me what you feel in your room when the full moon is shining in upon you and your lamp is dying out, and I will tell you how old you are, and I shall know if you are happy. ~ Henri Frederic Amiel

Perhaps it is the lesser light because of this very thing. We need a constant, unchanging reminder that we are not alone, that there is greatness and majesty tucked in our universe. A reminder of the presence of God through every dark night. And that is this lesser light.

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The lesser light may take second place to the other grand luminary. But perhaps it is this very notion that makes it so human. And in this sense we see that our great God, by giving less, actually gave more.

Peace, Alexandria

N “But even when the moon looks like it’s waning…it’s actually never changing shape. Don’t ever forget that.” ~ Ai Yazawa

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Related Articles:
Wenjie Zhang of LightSlant on how to photograph the moon
Weekly Photo Challenge: The Power of One, Travels and Trifles by Tina Schell
Clicky Chick Creates, Christmas Favorites

What a Community of a Few Can Do | WPC: Community

We meet for prayer

Day One. We arrive in Guatemala. Hungry, Tired, Wet.

Fifteen people. Nine days. That’s all we had.
So few of us, so much to do. “How can we make a difference in nine days?” An oft-repeated murmur: “Wow, we are here for only nine days. Nine days seem so short to do anything.” And the most repeated: “What will we leave when we go?”

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Build What??? With What???

Another time. A similar question. “There are so many and we are so few. And we have only five loaves of bread and two fish. How do you expect us to feed all of these?” (Matthew 14:17)

Crowd waiting for glasses

And this, too? A crowd larger than expected waits for eyeglasses

Why is it we think value in terms of numbers?

“Bring them here to me.” (Matthew 14:18)
Here we are, Lord. Tired. Hungry. Wet.

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.” (Matthew 14:19) That’s how we feel, Lord. Broken. Broken people. How did you do it? How will you do it? Umm…what was that you just did? Gave thanks? With barely enough food for a single family you gave thanks?

“Then he gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave them to the people.” (Matthew 14:19b) And so we began. From sun up to sun down, non-stop, never-ending–we set out to do what seemed impossible. We’re not sure about all this! As the week progressed, our goals loomed far away. But we just pressed on.

New living quarters“They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Matthew 14:20, 21) Note that the number of just men was five-thousand. Add the women and children to that and the number grows.

But everyone was satisfied. And there were even leftovers.
Well, our week finished. Were the people satisfied? We don’t fully know but their countenance reflected joy and thanks. We think they were more than satisfied. And we were delightfully surprised, elated actually. So few of us and so little time, broken humanity, giving thanks, serving. He did the multiplication.

Did we have leftovers? Indeed. This is what we left.

An earthquake-proof rebar-filled foundation for new staff living quarters at a men’s drug and alcohol rehab center—complete with plumbing, electrical, and a smooth concrete floor.

The gift of sight through donated eyeglasses for an entire community and local school.

Lettering the title and logo on the wall entrance.

Also for the school children: their first very-own box of crayons and backpacks. School supplies for their teachers. Their first watercolors ever. Their very first school pictures ever. A colorful mural on a classroom wall. A newly painted gymnasium.

Visiting two orphanages and hearing their stories. Playing with and holding the children.

Family portraits of the community.

Connections made. New relationships started. Longtime friends reunited. And not only that. Three months later, as of this very week, two more orphans have a sponsor to provide their need for a home, family, and education. That sponsor is my sister.

Two children. Let’s see, what was that distant thought breaking the surface of my mind? We only have fifteen people and nine days. Like a pebble cast upon the water, we cast ourselves, adding faith with thanksgiving.

We see but a few ripples, but it is enough. Enough to know that ripples are never-ending. And, by faith, we believe that is enough for now.

Final result“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ~ Mother Teresa

But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14 NKJV)

“To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition—to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived—this is to have succeeded.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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This is my contribution to the Weekly Photo Challenge with a theme of “Community”.
It’s just a bit longer than usual and I’ve had it sitting in the drafts for a while. When I saw the theme this week I thought it fit very well. I hope you do, too. If you ever get a bit jaded or in a rut about life in general, I urge you to take a mission trip to another country. It usually involves a rigorous schedule so be ready. Research the area you’re going, take some good safety measures, learn a little of the local language. I also recommend going with a group that does some sight-seeing. A good blend of work and taking in the sights and culture bring a nice sense of balance to the trip. And be ready to be blessed. It’s a great feeling to step out of your comfort zone and give, expecting nothing in return. You’ll be amazed at the skills you’ll suddenly develop.
How about a few comments from any of you who’ve done it?
Peace, Alexandria

Dreams of Grandeur

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“Surely there is grandeur in knowing that in the realm of thought, at least, you are without a chain;  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthat you have the right to explore all heights and depth;

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthat there are no walls nor fences,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnor prohibited places,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnor sacred corners

olympus-digital-cameraoriginalin all the vast expanse of thought.”
~ Robert Green Ingersoll

avataralex-original“There is one spectacle grander than the sea. And that is the sky. There is one spectacle grander than the sky. And that is the interior of the soul.” ~ Victor Hugo

There is a vast landscape inside each of us. It is the place of hopes and dreams. It is the place of wonder and dignity.
It is a grandness that is known as you.
Peace, Alexandria
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Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand

Photo locations: Acadia National Park, Maine
Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina

Novembrance | Autumn’s Unexpected Gift

DSC_1228“It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life. The rich colours of grass and earth were intensified by the mellow light of a sun almost warm enough for spring.” ~P.D. James

DSC_1118“I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tones mellower, its colors richer, 

DSC_1102and it is tinged a little with sorrow. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer,

DSC_1057but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitation’s of life and is content.” ~Lin Yutang

DSC_1095“The human soul is slow to discover the real excellence of things given to us by a bountiful Creator, and not until the shadows of death begin to gather around the object that we love, do we see its worth and beauty. 

DSC_1069Autumn is the dim shadow that clusters about the sweet, precious things that God has created in the realm of nature.While it robs them of life, it tears away the veil and reveals the golden gem of beauty and sweetness.

DSC_1103Beauty lurks in all the dim old aisles of nature, and we discover it at last.” ~ Northern Advocate

DSC_1154“How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” ~ John Burroughs
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Another autumn nears its end. These very brief, fleeting days find me outside more than any other time of the year. The colors are just breathtaking and I constantly fight this irresistible urge to try to capture the breadth, length, and height of it. As we know, it’s an impossibility. I know autumn means to contemplate, absorb, and enjoy the richness of  its beauty. It’s also a time of remembrance as the year draws to a close and we look back.

Autumn is such a paradox. Brilliant, glimmering. But it is truly a descent into decay and ultimately … death. It is, in essence, a progression into loss. Just like autumn, we’ve all experienced loss in some fashion this year. Perhaps God fashioned autumn so brilliant just so we could see some sort of beauty in loss. But the journey of loss always holds gain as God brings something new to replace what we lost. We won’t know what it is until we look to Him in faith and ask.

As the leaves fall, shrivel, and die some things in our lives must do the same. I’ve endured a couple of deep, unexpected losses this year. As I grieve I look to God and the glorious creation He surrounds me with and try to grasp the new blessings in my life. Just as the inclination is strong to hold and capture every photo of autumn, I cling tight to what is no more. And I have to ask God for even the faith to believe there is something better. There always is. The truth stamped in autumn tells me so. Tells me there is spring.

And it’s not too far from now.

Peace, Alexandria

You might also enjoy:
Autumn Boat (aditixpictures.wordpress.com)
Autumn asks (defeatdespair.wordpress.com)
Autumn Thoughts (princesstheodora.net)
A November Garden Bimble (ramblingratz.wordpress.com)
Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected
KellyJGrace

The Master Speaks | Masterpiece: Eye of the Beholder

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“A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

No thoughts nor words. Chills. I stood frozen, trying to maintain composure. I stifled a choked lump in my throat, but I couldn’t stop the tears that filled my eyes, then meandered down my cheeks.

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“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” ~ Michelangelo

Still freshly astonished at churches, ancient structures, the Vatican Museum, and Sistine Chapel, I expected more of the same. But nothing prepared me as I stepped through the door of St. Peter’s Basilica. So unexpected. Unimaginable. My breath escaped, and I filled with wonder, How could anyone create beauty of such magnitude? And who were these creators? Even more, why?

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This was greatness of another dimension. For a few moments I became wordless, thoughtless. Then the vacuum that occupied my mind and heart at that moment became filled with a tenderness, a sweet gentility, a touch. A touch of … love.

But it was love unleashed.

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“All the masterpieces of art contain both light and shadow. A happy life is not one filled with only sunshine, but one which uses both light and shadow to produce beauty.” ~ Billy Graham

Grand, spacious love in a pinnacle masterpiece. Love that was enough … for everyone. You could see love–painted, sculpted, flowing, flourishing in every square inch of rock solid marble. But why? The question haunted.

These were masters of another kind.

Rome Day 3 262“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

I know the history behind the excesses of some of the pope’s as well as how artist’s squabble.  But these artist’s stretched above and beyond any earthly demands or human frailty to something deeper. Isn’t it like God to use imperfect people to magnify Himself? Perhaps even they didn’t understand why. They just unleashed it all.

Rome Day 3 260And this timeless structure was like a soul connection to God Himself—a love intent on touching earth with heaven. They were light-years ahead of their time–visionaries. Could they envision me standing there today, losing my breath, tears streaming down my face, asking the question, “Why?”

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“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” ~ Michelangelo

This place was elegant, tasteful, immense, grandiose. As the earth spun gracefully around the sun, the beams cast changing rays in a delightful show of light and shadow. Science and art merged to exquisite perfection. Intentional. This was no cold stone ancient relic.

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It was soft, warm, alive … welcoming. It was as if every stroke, cut, and design were destined way into the future. For today. For everyone. For this day. For me.

DSC00318The place was filled with people, families, children and babies, but there was a hush, a reverence. An awe. All eyes looked up. For in the confines of walls, these masters harnessed but a small glimpse of the Master of all.

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And I, an honored guest, could hear His voice, whispering soft. “Welcome. Come in. Just enjoy.”

“Every beauty which is seen here by persons of perception resembles more than anything else that celestial source from which we all come.” ~ Michelangelo
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All photography {except #9 (that’s mine with a Cybershot)} is by Dan Pope of Precise Photography, based in Arlington, Texas. These photos are completely unedited, with exception of cropping Pietà, of which no one can get that close enough to photograph. See Dan’s website and browse a few of his Galleries for a phenomenal portfolio. My husband and I enjoyed a trip to Rome with the Pope’s as we both celebrated anniversaries. Dan has a big heart and an engaging sense of humor and makes friends with everyone he meets, including the Swiss Guard! He teased about how “the Pope” had come to visit Rome. Good thing Italians have a great sense of humor.

Peace, Alexandria

“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” ~ John Ruskin
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Some of my favorites on this Challenge:

Sejeong Production
Postcard Photo
Blessings Through Raindrops
Chronicles of Illusion

Am submitting this as well to the Work of Art Photo Challenge from June 2014

A Golden Hour Collection | Weekly Photo Challenge

IMG_2432“Nothing is more beautiful than the loveliness of the woods before sunrise.” ~ George Washington Carver

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“The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” ~ John Muir

DSC02872“Two golden hours somewhere between sunrise and sunset. Both are set with 60 diamond minutes.” ~ Horace Mann

DSC_0450“Someday you will find the one who will watch every sunrise with you until the sunset of your life … Just be patient.” ~ Unknown

“I like that time is marked by each sunrise and sunset whether or not you actually see it.” ~ Catherine Opie
Sunrise Bora Bora
“Every sunrise offers renewed hope to carry out the reflection after the sunset of yesterday. A time to let go of yesterday and embrace the new day.” ~ Alexandria Sage

Pain Prescriptions“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.” ~ Lamentations 3:22-23
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This week’s Photo Challenge theme is “The Golden Hour”, known as the hour of sunrise and sunset. No one can deny the colors and lighting are breathtaking. How many times has this Golden Hour stopped you dead in your tracks and caught your attention? It amazes me how God built into nature two times every single day to get our attention, to bless us with a glorious start and a reflective end. Simply captivating.

Nearly every camera captures them easily. However, it was so nice of WordPress to host the Photography 101 series to help us along. And this week we were given a lesson by one my favorite photographers, Wenjie Zhang of A Certain Slant of Light. I only have one tip to offer about the Golden Hour. Be prepared and don’t hesitate. Get that picture. If you wait even one minute it will be gone.

To end with, when I saw the challenge theme I immediately thought of a song I’ve recently heard and come to love, aptly titled Golden. It is filled with a bittersweet mixture of hope and reality that intertwines the journey of every person— the rhythms of life, the ups and downs, the fickle moments, the grand ones.

Life can become a tangled mess sometimes. But through it all, the resounding truth in the last quote above, from the Bible, offers a hope that holds us firm in the hand of God. Is it not He who chose to shout His love, mercy, and faithfulness through two glorious golden hours of each day? Though the sun sets and the day ends, His mercies never come to an end. And every morning once again He shouts His love to carry us through.

His faithfulness is constant, not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

Peace, Alexandria
Credits: Golden (youtube lyric video. song by Amy Grant).
Guest Author, Stephen Deal, for his sunrise photo.

Rise Above | Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above

Home Sweet Home Inside“Love feels no burden, thinks nothing of trouble, attempts what is above its strength, pleads no excuse of impossibility—for it thinks all things lawful for itself, and all things possible.” ~ Thomas a Kempis

No Small Matter“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” ~ Roald Dahl

Harmony“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” ~ Colossians 3:12, The Holy Bible

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These are a few of my submissions to the Weekly Photo Challenge with the theme “From Above”. The photos were to be captured with a perspective from above. I hope you enjoy the photos and the quotes. For more interpretations see the links below.
Peace, Alexandria

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Nature’s Usual Pose | Weekly Photo Challenge: Up

The Life of Less

Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars.” ~ Henry Van Dyke

The Climb

“It’s easier to go down a hill than up it but the view is much better at the top.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

It's a Bug's Life

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow them.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

Aspire

Man cannot aspire if he looks down. If he rise, he must look up.” ~ Samuel Smiles

The Sign of Heaven

I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Heaven's Promise“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” ~ G. K. Chesterton
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Here are other interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge with the theme of “Up”.

A World Awash With Color

I wonder if flowers could talk or had human emotion or ability to reason, would they dwell in prejudice against the color of another flower? Would they judge and resent, even hate one another because of the color of their petals? And not just the color differences, but the different varieties?

The hydrangea colors are dependent on soil acidity. The daisies in the photo above have colors that are man-induced. They were “created”. Not the flowers, of course, but the colors. Why did someone do this? Doesn’t it add to their brilliance, bring a smile, and increase joy? They shout “fun”!
Aren’t we awestruck and delighted by the very nature of their differences? Their color and composition is completely at the mercy of their maker. They cannot help what color they are. But do we complain? Do we harbor resentment because of the multitude of color?

Then why do we do this with humanity? It is the stuff of war and crime throughout history and all of us know it is wrong. Yet, hard as we try, we can all find traces of it lurking deep inside. It is our greatest stain deep within—racism. But how did it happen?
Color Collide

My instinctual guess is it was taught and modeled before us. In my own observations it seems children are not born racist. When they are young, watch how they play. I marvel at how they play happily with one another, all strangers, all different skin colors. It is a delight to watch, my five-year-old grandson mixing right in.

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But as we grow up things change. And we have a big problem. So why don’t we just admit it? In problem solving, isn’t that what we’re taught? To first admit we have a problem?

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So what next?
My own resolve is to look beyond skin into the soul. The soul which is a human heart with a universal need of empathy and love. A soul which needs to be heard.

Think of last summer’s Olympics. For a wondrous moment every nation was at peace. We watched the very best athletes parade into the stadium and what a sight it was! Did it not take your breath away to see the vast array of different cultures, different colors both in costume and skin?

Great Britain (Team GB) - Parade of Nations - ...

Did any of us have a racist or prejudiced bone in our body during those wondrous seventeen days? As a believer in God, I theorize the Creator’s original intent may have been what we witnessed at the Olympics. Why else would He be so risky as to create his image-bearers in different colors?

He obviously loves lots of color. Why not color us, too! He created everything and said, “It was good.” And that’s exactly what my different skin color friends have done for me—enriched my life and thinking. It is good—very, very good.

Children Craft Color

So if nature and children teach us to delight in the of the myriad of color, can we not strive to do the same?

After all, it’s all just a matter of a mere .012% melanin.

“I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” ~ Psalm 139:14

“One race, many ethnicities.” ~ S. Michael, aka my son.

“For we are God’s masterpiece … ”~ Ephesians 2:10
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Daily Prompt: Colors

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