The Sword of Beauty

Wield the Sword

 Wield the sword of Beauty, win back the children.

Sharpen your blade with blossoms and polish it in the star-silvered sea.

Rub your hands in moondust, grip your hilt with the grit of powdered diamonds.

Step forward with a lover’s bravado, lean in like a virgin bride’s kiss.

Raise your blade with the strength of wild horses, run with the speed of a million shooting stars.

Swing with the passion of a mother’s love, strike like the light slicing the darkness.

Shout like the echo of desert canyons and overcome like the sun eclipsing the moon.

Conquer, my son; conquer, my daughter. You have been given you all you need.

 

Christina Brown

June 2019

In this poem, I wanted to play with the idea that beauty is a weapon, but a weapon of the sort that is not only harmless, but full of life; ready to defeat the death and darkness that overwhelms the world. Read it as it speaks to you. But if it helps, the voice of the poem is that of a King speaking to his grown son and daughter.

Reflections By the Nightlight

I have trouble sleeping at night, and I find that I’m often lying awake in the room I share with my husband and my infant son; trying to block out the womb noises coming from the ipod for my baby, and the bright gleam of his night light, (pretty though it is with its glittery moon and stars.)

Often such nights leave time for reflection, but most of the time I try to ignore any kind of reflection because I’m concentrating very stubbornly to get that precious slumber that comes so sparingly to new parents. But other times, I just lie there, defeated by my own effort to sleep and give in to the wandering reminiscent or nostalgic thoughts that float in and out of my head.

Last night, I came to bed late, and heaved myself onto my bed (which is basically on stilts now ever since we raised the legs to fit storage underneath to carve out a place in our apartment for our small son), and as I settled into my covers, I realized that I was lying in between two very precious specimens of manhood – and they both belonged to me:

My son, sleeping in the crib next to me, was doing his usual squirming and sighing in his deep sleep -- enjoying the slumber that comes with the innocent dreams of an infant, and my husband, lying next to me with his chest gently rising and falling as the night’s stillness enwrapped his peaceful face.

As I was lying there in the room by the glow of the nightlight, I realized that these two men give my world a sort of magic, and I live for both of them. I am their woman – the one privileged enough to care for them, love them, and bestow compassion, affection, and comfort over them in their troubles:  a Mother and Wife, a lover of two souls, and a nurturer of two hearts; the heart of a man whom I lean upon, and the heart of the little man who leans upon me.

They are different in every way, except that they are men; one who doesn’t even know what it means to be a man yet, and one who shows me every day what a worthy man is. And they are mine.

I realized that just by nature of having these two men in my life, I felt privileged in a way I could never have imagined in my girlhood fantasies of adulthood. I realized that I want to do everything in my power to be the encourager and life-giver to these two precious souls for the rest of my life. Because whatever my calling is or may yet be in the vague and foggy future, my vocation now is to be all that I can be for these males in pursuit of their manhood – to be a solace and a joy to them along life’s bumpy byway, and to be all at once their princess and their queen.

Whatever the magic of that sparkling starry night-light spread across the room, the magic I encountered was far more mystifying, but perhaps the same nightlight that cast soft illuminations over the forms of those two loves of mine, was the reason my mind was illumined that night too.

The Truth about Dreaming for a Child

It finally came: the time when my husband and I could try for children. We’ve waited years. My health prevented the ability to even try to conceive, let alone even hope.

I’m not pregnant yet, (though for a few weeks I thought I was – devastating, of course), but these days I find myself enthusiastically (and somewhat guiltily) visiting baby stores and baby aisles, oohing and aahing over the merchandise, the cute outfits, the accessories, the new-fangled “make-life-with-a-baby-easier” products, and all in all being tempted to buy said things… you know, “for when it happens.”

I even rationalize the buying gender specific things, with the excuse that “Well, if I don’t have a boy, I can give this item away at a baby-shower!” Part of me loves this new freedom – like I’m finally allowed to hope and believe that it will happen. But the other part of me feels a guilt of sorts – like I’m wasting my existing energies in ways that are not helpful to my current life and situation. The people I could be focusing on, the job I have that I could be developing more fully, and the ministries I’m involved in are my vocation right now.

I’ve read enough “what to expect” articles about having kids that I know by now that life with a baby is not all fun and games. There is exhaustion, frustration, depletion, depression, and lots of other negative emotions and experiences that go with that beautiful thing of birthing new life into the world. Intellectually, I am prepared. But emotionally? Sometimes I realize I am still romanticizing the whole experience.

That guilt I feel; I’ve come to believe that it is somewhat legitimate. Of course I can get excited and hope, but in the meantime, I have work to do here and now – people to love, callings to fulfill, and things to focus on that may not get to happen once children come. As much as I want to be super-mom and do it all – have kids and continue my job, ministries and activities, I know I can’t. I won’t be able to. It’s just not realistic.

So when I use up that emotional energy “planning for” and spending time in baby stores and websites, I realize that those energies should be spend elsewhere; because not only is there no guarantee that I will conceive, but there is the possibility that it will take a year or more, and if that is the case, how much more could I have accomplished – how many more lives could I have touched if I had let myself focus on what was before me, rather than what I wanted to lie before me?

I don’t want you to misunderstand me: I believe strongly in dreams and hopes: I wholeheartedly encourage them in others, and certainly don’t want to crush my own! We humans wouldn’t get far without dreams – be they realistic, or just something that drives us to be better people and spurs us on in our dull and difficult moments.

But there is a difference between dwelling in our dreams, and striving towards our dreams. If I focus on the here and now, (developing my character, helping others, being a good wife, etc), then I will be all the more a better mother – more prepared to fulfill the vocation that motherhood entails. (Though I admit that I will never be fully prepared.)

I realize that by placing my attentions on what is before me, I will be all the more delighted and equipped when (hopefully), pregnancy does come for me and reality weds with my dreams. Then that new phase in my life can take hold of me – then I can dwell in my dreams after all, because by striving towards those dreams pre-pregnancy, I have given myself permission to dwell in those dreams during pregnancy with the knowledge that pre-pregnancy, those energies and emotions I would have spent wishing into oblivion, I spent well, and I spent responsibly.

I may not fully succeed in this task, but by trying to be all that I can be here and now, I believe that I will be a better mother, a better wife, and a better friend to others in my future to come. Why? Because the discipline I forced myself into following will give me restraint, maturity, and wisdom in ordering my daily life, and the life of my children.

Why West Virginia Stole My Heart

“Wild and Wonderful West Virginia.” That’s the state motto for that beautiful piece of land on the eastern coast of North America. Pasted proudly on all those “Welcome to,” state signs one finds all over U.S. highways, this is the phrase greets you as you drive into West Virginia, my favorite state.

It was while residing in this captivating landscape that I found my love of beauty, my fascination with mystery, and a great, yet strange comfort in an attractive but unreachable existence beyond me.

I moved to West Virginia when I was 12, and along with my parents and four siblings, I stayed until the eve of my 17th birthday. It was in those tender years that I adopted that mantra “Wild and Wonderful West Virginia” and made it my own – made the state of West Virginia my own.

As Tourist Destinations website explains, “West Virginia is … called the Mountain State, as it is the only state that is completely nestled in the enchanting mountain ranges of the Appalachians.” West Virginia is also home to the Shenandoah River that winds its way through those mountains, and that old song “Shenandoah” now pulls heavily at my heart strings. It is sung from the point of view of a traveler who is bound to the rolling river whose rapids tumble over rocks, meander through little ravines, and flow calmly through Appalachian valleys.

While lying in bed last night listening to Hayley Westenra sing that lonesome and chilling tune (listen to it here) I realized that this year, 2015, marks 7 years since I last visited West Virginia. As the ballad goes (the singer is addressing the Shenandoah river), “’Tis seven long years since last I saw you. Away, you rolling river, ‘tis seven long years, since last I saw you. Away, I’m bound to go, ‘cross the wide Missouri.” The traveler sings forlornly of that place where she found her home, and the sadness she feels about leaving it, (perhaps forever), pervades the lyrics and the melody. This year marks "seven long years" for me, too. I feel the singer's sadness now more than ever.

I identified with that tune, however, ever since I was pulled away from that state the summer before my senior year in high school. That was in 2006. In 2009, I had the privilege of once more, visiting my heart’s home, but since then, I have been in the state of Colorado, pining away for those wild hills. Though over these last seven years I have developed an appreciation and even a love for Colorado, there is something about the way the mist covered the Blue Ridge mountains – the views from the hikes up mountain trails that gave me miles of rolling blue tree-filled mountains to feast my eyes upon, and the small farms and pastures and abandoned grist mills dotting the mountainsides - that never let me go.

My mind learned to wander into the realm of wonder in that place, and I began to ponder things unknown to humanity, and I began to observe the tantalizing hints of the curious world around me. I learned the value of being alone in one’s thoughts here. I found a passion for flowers, plants, and gardening, and became one of those strange people who loved weeding my garden! I became a writer in these parts – I couldn’t help myself – I got inspiration from the expanse of misty mountains, sunlit pastures, and fall trees in all their glory spreading their wonder wherever they went.

My bedroom had a desk by the window, and outside that window, I watched my willow tree grow rapidly; spreading her branches out until they tickled the ground in that forlorn and meditative spirit that willow trees have in stories and tales. I would sit under the willow tree’s gently swaying limbs and feel enclosed in a world all my own. It was a tragedy to leave that willow tree – I got it for my 13th birthday, and watched it blossom in grace and beauty over the last four years of my life there.

I suppose that’s how I feel about myself – my heart and my spirit “blossomed” during those five years in West Virginia. When I had those hard moments that teenagers always have – my solution was to go wandering through nature, or sit at my desk and journal, or watch the sunset while petting my sweet cat.

My father would take us on forgotten roads to visit old antique shops, grist mills turned into little museums, and abandoned stone relics of days gone by whose aging stones and rotted timber made me think of those days when such a structure was newly built: who lived there? What was their life like? Did they find grace and love through the wild wilderness as I did? Did it help them through their seasons of doubt?

Over my years there, I quickly began to feel like that lone tree in the picture above - standing fixedly amongst my mountain friends - alone with them and their almost frightening glory.

The Beauty of the West Virginia wilderness fed my soul. Through her unbounded glory I saw something that could not be undone – something that had been in existence for centuries, millennia, who knows? Though people are born, live, and die, West Virginia had always been. Somehow, those mountains, those rivers and rocks, trees and flowers, began their home there long before I was in existence. They were a constant for me – the softness of their beauty captivated me. It was a gentle beauty – one that taught me that life was going to be alright. Pain existed, and I felt it, but beauty prevailed. Smoothly contoured foothills, grassy fields, and rolling mountains as far as the eye could see comforted a soul in turmoil.

Occasionally I find that I don’t know how to describe myself – am I a free spirit? Am I up for any and all adventure? Or do I like sitting at home by a crackling fire reading a good book? Do I love the small town and its enchanting little family owned shops, or do I love the “big city” life of designer boutiques and one-of-a-kind bistros that win all sorts of top awards? I’m not sure, and it’s true that over the years people develop and change.

Part of me wants to retire with my husband in my mid-60s and hole away into an old country manor in the Appalachian mountains and allow those mountains to be my pen's muse once again. But another part of me wants to stay where I am and build a community of people who live, love, learn, and find beauty in their lives here. Because after all, though West Virginia stole my heart, I found beauty once again, and I know I can teach other people to do the same.

But what I do know, without a shred of a doubt, is that deep in my heart, West Virginia will always hold an incredibly unique and immovable hold on me.

So, go on, West Virginia; steal someone else's heart and shape their journey with your beauty, you wild and wonderful thing!

Busting the Myth of "High Tea"

Many people think of High tea as that lovely custom that originated in Europe in the mid to late 19th century complete with flowers, tea dainties, sandwiches of cucumber laced with cream and dill, little saucers and ornate tea-pots, and flouncy dresses. But this custom could not be more opposite of what “High Tea” actually was.

The tea described above was actually called “Afternoon Tea” and was something only the wealthy partook of. In fact, the only use of tea in poorer cultures was as an evening drink with dinner – one of comfort rather than custom. (Kind of like many of us like decaf coffee with evening desserts.) Afternoon tea was started by the “royals.” The details vary on which royal exactly started the tradition, but nevertheless, this tradition evolved and was observed only by the wealthy. Because supper was served many hours after the noon meal, (between 8-9 hours), people grew hungry between the noon meal and the evening supper. Therefore the afternoon tea tradition began and was always served at four with crumpets, tea-cakes, and sandwiches to provide comfort and ease for the rumbling tummy. The working class were not so lucky:

High tea, “observed” by the working class, was a simple meal of sometimes only bread, butter, and black tea. (No creams, or sugars – those commodities were extremely expensive and therefore rarely acquired by a normal working-class household.) This consumption of tea was commonplace, functional, comforting, and of a warmth to the body and soul during those cold English evenings after returning from the factory late at night. There are several theories as to why it was called high tea; one of them states that the term came into being because the partakers sat in hard high-backed chairs. Another theory claims that it was called ‘high’ tea because it was served later in the evening – ‘high,’ being a way of describing ‘late,’ like when one would say it was late in the morning because the sun was ‘high’ in the sky.

Nevertheless, if you were a member of the working class, high tea was a custom simplicity, and practicality.

Myth busted. Now you know! So when you host a tea party, don’t say “high tea” on your invitations – call it what it is: an “Absolutely Awesome Afternoon tea.”

So What's the deal with Handwritten Cards?

One of my favorite things to do is to write “surprise” cards for friends and family members and send them in the mail – nope, not the email – the USPS mail. Like, you know, walking out to the mailbox, using those dated things called ‘stamps,’ and putting the card into a little slot to be picked up by a mailman, delivered to a sorting center, picked up by another mailman to be taken to the place directed on the envelope (yup, the envelope that contains that surprise card that you wrote with a pen [what’s that again?]), which will then be put in a carrier and delivered to the destination by another mailman. Old fashioned? You bet! Worth it? Absolutely!

I think we’ve all noticed that there has been a sad detachment from the handwritten card – we’ve put such efforts on the list of “medieval” practices – something people did in the “olden days” because they didn’t have the modern time-saving convenience of email and texting. Let’s face it – we are super busy people! It is the curse of the 20th-21st centuries. So of course sending a quick email or a breezy text sounds so much easier than sitting down at a desk or table and practicing that penmanship you learned in 1st grade! (And most of us are so out of practice, our handwriting looks so sloppy anyway! I mean, have you seen any ‘antiquated’ letters? The penmanship is beautiful! Effortless! Like one of those curlicue fonts on the computer that all of us dream of being able to write but couldn’t in a thousand years? Yeah. Pretty incredible. My grandfather is a stellar ‘curlicue’ writer.)

But there is a value in the handwritten card that a surprising number of us are rediscovering. And given the busyness of modern society, oddly enough, the hand-written letter has become even more meaningful than it was 70 years ago. Writing a letter – a thoughtful one – takes time, and because time is in short-supply for us 21st century people, the sacrifice of that time is worth so much more. As I teach in my Hospitality class, “Parties with Pizzaz,” which will be offered again soon, (check it out here), sacrificing our time is part of that wonderful (and slightly neglected) virtue of generosity. Being generous with our time, our moments, and our sentiments, is part of living the beautiful, meaningful life. Why? Because TIME is one of the most valuable gifts to give.

Taking the time to create something beautiful and give it to someone else, is what makes life worth living. Whether that is a "creation" of words, food, gifts, hugs, smiles, notes; it all is equally important, and it all makes a difference.

Loving people through the form of the handwritten card is so beautiful, because it shows people that you care so much that no matter how hectic your life is, you have time for them from afar.

If I may be so bold, I challenge you to “live beautiful,” and write someone a note this month. It’s hard, I know! Even I can barely spare a second for it! But I guarantee you, it is worth it. So pick up that pen and write something – it can be brief – the value is not in the amount of words, but in the love behind them. (And if you want tips on how to make letter writing quick and easy, see my blog post here!) Good luck!