A Perennial Life

Monday, January 2, 2017

Each Season's Cathedral — A Poem & Reflections on Winter

Photo Credit: Rob Zimmer Outdoors
(Pssst... He's the friend I mention.)
I'm not a fan of winter. In fact, my feeling borders on disdain. I've got a friend who loves winter. He takes the most beautiful photos you'll ever see while hiking in nature... in the dead of winter.

I guess that's why I'm not a fan... that whole "dead" thing. But I've been trying to appreciate winter for its beauty despite the effect it has on my fingertips and toes, not to mention my garden.

To help accomplish this, I've committed to taking a walk when the temperature climbs above 25 degrees. I do have exceptions to this rule — they include blizzards, snow, freezing rain, high winds, and some other inclement conditions.

For the most part I've been doing all right. On today's walk in a balmy 28 degrees, I deliberately sought out beauty. It's there. Yes, even in winter. I think that's true in the winters of life, too.

I used to write a lot of poetry and song lyrics. As of late, I confess I haven't felt compelled to do so. In fact, it's probably been a year since I've composed anything lyrical. But walking among the barren trees and snow-encrusted ditches spoke to me today and I had an urge to put it to word.

Like many others I know, I feel closest to the Creator when I'm in his Creation. It's like I'm in the middle of his cathedral. While I enjoy gathering with others to fellowship and sing songs of praise, I feel most free to worship in a chapel without walls that was crafted by God's own hand.

I hope you enjoy...

Each Season’s Cathedral

Where once like a desert
Now swift rapids flow 
The ice has succumbed 
To the current below

And seeds sown in autumn
Arise from their sleep
Defying despair
Rejecting defeat

The bloom of a crocus
Will push through the snow
Declaring hope
As its manifesto

The chatter of chickadees
Song of the lark
Awaken the sunrise
And rebuke the dark

The chorus of creatures
Of none, there is equal
It’s Spring’s hallelujah
It’s nature’s cathedral...

And soon all the forest
Is teaming with laughter
The trees are announcing
The next season’s chapter

A vast canopy
And everything lush
A spectrum of color
From God’s own paintbrush

Purple and orange
And yellow and green
Summer’s arrival
Bursts on the scene

In every garden
Beauty abounds
And every footstep
Feels like holy ground

Where you soar over troubles
On wings like an eagle
Carefree and joyful
In Summer’s cathedral...

And soon an explosion 
Of crimson and gold
Releases creation
From summer’s stronghold

The skies of September
With ominous clouds
Scatter leaves on the earth
Like a blanketing shroud

The ripe vines of harvest
Languish and wither
And cold, bitter winds 
Cause creation to shiver

The flocks, they assemble
For one more goodbye
Carried by breezes
They take to the sky

Each whisper of change
Is sacred and solemn
And their praises arise
In cathedrals of Autumn...

Then tree branches crack
And creatures, they slumber
The snow forms a cloak
To what lies asunder

Lakes form a shell
And frost starts to heave
Icicles form
And it hurts just to breathe

The animals forage
Condemning the cold
Longing for days 
From summers of old

But stop now and listen
Be reverent and still
Embrace your soul’s longing
In this season’s chill

And trust in the promise
Of another Spring sequel
There will always be hope
In Winter’s cathedral.

If you enjoy my blog, please share with others and comment below. If you need a speaker for your next event, I'd love to join you. Visit www.tammyborden.com for more information.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Angels... Big Whoopin' Deal

In the Christmas story, Jesus doesn’t exactly come on the scene with megaphoned announcers, lights blazing, and cheering crowds. He doesn’t storm in and take over. He slips in under the radar.

There are those who did show up on that night with mysterious power and glory — the angels. They had a light show, backup singers, and a galaxy as their amphitheater. A Broadway show or the most amazing concert have got nothing on them.

In Luke 2 it tells how “An angel appeared among the shepherds, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them… the angel was joined by a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.”

Pretty impressive.

We as humans tend to put angels atop a pedestal as some glorious and supreme beings or, in some cases, atop our tinseled trees. There are TV shows about them, and some of the most beloved Christmas movies have an angel as a central figure. In every Christmas pageant performed at church, almost every kid wants to be chosen as the angel. 

They're all right, I guess. Honestly, I don’t think angels are that big of a deal. Don’t get me wrong. They deserve due respect. They’re quite amazing and show up in crazy ways in the bible.

But think about it… Before the whole “In the beginning God created” thing, God was up there in heaven with the golden cobbled streets, lavish paradise, and beauty beyond comprehension. Who was he hanging out with? 

The angels! 

Apparently, they weren’t keeping God very good company because he decided he wanted someone else to form a relationship with. That would be us. Turns out, we're the ones who are a big deal.

Blows. My. Mind.

Why would he create humankind when he had angels and the glory of heaven? The greater question for each of us is, “Why did he create me?”

Does God really want to hang out with me? Because way too often, I don’t want to hang out with me.

I can see why he created a lot of people in the bible. They were pillars of our faith and larger than life characters. Nations were built from their family trees. Hospitals are named after them, carved statues grace the halls of museums, and cathedrals bear their names.

But me? Most of the time, I feel pretty insignificant.

But guess what? Jesus can totally relate. 

“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7

Jesus came into this world less dignified than most when he was born in a filthy animal stall. I grew up on a farm and it was my job to clean the animal stalls. Trust me, it’s not a cute setting like those displayed in most nativity scenes. 

He wasn’t like the angels. He didn’t come on the scene with fanfare and fog machines. That’s not how Jesus enters our lives either. He enters our hearts like he entered Bethlehem…

“As for you, Bethlehem, seemingly insignificant… from you a king will emerge.” Micah 5:2

He was born in an insignificant little no name town in an insignificant way in what seemed an insignificant time. God is accustomed to making his presence known among the insignificant. 

That includes you, me, and those the world often considers unimportant.

Sometimes I think we feel like Bethlehem — an insignificant little no name. So to combat those feelings we start filling our lives with other things. And before you know it, there really is no room at the inn, our hearts, for Jesus. We push him out, thinking all this other stuff will somehow satisfy and fill the emptiness we feel inside.

We’re good at saying things like “keep Christ in Christmas,” and we forget there are 364 other days in the year when we should be keeping Him just as much.

There’s a familiar carol called Oh Little Town of Bethlehem that many of us sing at Christmas Eve services. Sometimes songs become so familiar that we don’t even realize the words we’re singing. But I pray you’ll embrace the meaning in this verse in particular during this Christmas season…

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today;
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide in us, our Lord Emmanuel. 

We often think of that night more than 2,000 years ago as being a holy night, but for those who make their hearts his Bethlehem and welcome him in, today can be just as beautiful. Just as holy. Have a blessed and merry Christmas.

If you enjoy my blog, please share with others and comment below. If you need a speaker for your next event, I'd love to join you. Visit www.tammyborden.com for more information.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pruning Isn’t Pretty – Life Lessons from the Garden

When my husband and I bought our first home many years ago, it needed a lot of attention in the landscaping department. One area that needed particular help was behind the old single-car garage. There was a neglected and terribly overgrown grapevine. Near it was a tall pine tree. The vine had reached skyward and attached itself to the tree’s branches, climbing to the very top — nearly 50 feet in the air.  
From the earth below, you could see one or two clusters of grapes way up in the tip of the tree. By all appearances, the vine was healthy, lush, and vigorous. But it wasn’t fulfilling its purpose. It wasn't producing fruit.  

Each of us has a purpose. But like that grapevine, sometimes our lives become too far reaching. We spread ourselves too thin, filling our schedules with more and more “stuff,” or reach for heights in a career that may very well take us to the top, but leave us unfulfilled. Or maybe we look impressive from a distance, but others struggle to find the fruit and purpose when they take a closer look.

Maybe it’s time for some pruning. 

Pruning isn’t pretty. Have you ever seen a freshly pruned grape vine? It’s bare, exposed, and scraggly, with only a few remaining stems. It’s a very painstaking and traumatic experience for the plant, requiring the removal of most of the growth and only leaving the best canes to focus their energy on fruit production. It’s the only way you’ll get a harvest.  

Pruning isn't pretty in our lives either. If we want to produce fruit and truly have a life of purpose and meaning beyond ourselves and beyond the outward appearance, things might need to get ugly, too. We may need to have that unnecessary “stuff” we cling to be stripped away and be exposed for who we truly are underneath. Maybe it’s time to stop reaching for new heights and reach for the pruning shears instead.

We may need to cut away the overgrowth so we can spend our energy doing what we were created to do… to produce fruit and have a life of purpose and meaning.  

Often, we think of big things that need to be pruned – maybe a violent temper, addictions, stealing, or cheating on your spouse. Don’t get me wrong. Those things should definitely be pruned away. But those are just behaviors – the symptoms of deeper underlying issues. To experience real life change, it requires deeper pruning of the root of those problems.   

Maybe it’s a heart of resentment, pride, unforgivenesss, or a victim mentality. It could be any host of issues, but there’s only one solution to them all. Pruning.

Pruning is painful. It hurts. It exposes. It can shock us. But take heart. When things are cut away,  there’s still a foundation that’s deeply grounded to carry us through and be the source of new life.  

I struggled with hatred and resentment for past offenses in my own life, and it left me reaching for more and more, yet feeling increasingly empty and unfulfilled. I tried pruning away the dead wood and unproductive showy growth on my own, but always fell short. 

I couldn’t remove the hatred on my own. I couldn’t forgive on my own. I needed the help of others and a power greater than mine to do it with me.  

And I wish I could say that pruning is a one-time deal, but it’s not. With each season, it seems like something new crops up and needs attention once again.

But when we produce fruit for a purpose greater than our own, a life that impacts others and isn’t just in it to impress others with a showy display, we find that the pain of pruning is worth it after all. 

If you enjoy my blog, please share with others and comment below. If you need a speaker for your next event, I'd love to join you. Visit www.tammyborden.com for more information.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The year was 1937. What happens 76 years later is priceless.

My mother as a young girl in Germany.
My mother is originally from Germany, born in 1927. Yep. She’s old. But she’s the hippest, coolest, 89-year-old woman I know. 

She still retains her thick, German accent after all these years, and she can recall with amazing detail the memories of her childhood and beyond. Considering how many of my friends and other family members have watched their parents slowly succumb to Alzheimer’s and dementia, I realize how fortunate I am.

As opportunities arise, I ask her questions about her childhood growing up in Nazi Germany, coming to America through Ellis Island, and a host of other fascinating tidbits about her life. She doesn’t always realize it, but I secretly record her telling me these stories.

I few years ago I was preparing a talk for a Christmas event I was speaking at and wanted to include a few stories about favorite Christmas memories. I have plenty of fond memories of my own, among them the year I got an Easy Bake Oven. Needless to say, my cooking skills haven’t gotten far beyond what that small appliance could create, but I’m getting better.

For my husband, it was the year he got a BB gun. Unlike the disappointing culinary skills that resulted from my little oven, his gift fueled in him a life-long love for the outdoors and hunting. I have several dead, mounted animals in my home to prove it.

When I asked my mom about her favorite Christmas memory, I hit “record.” I never imagined the beautiful story that would unfold, and how special that upcoming Christmas would end up being as a result.

It was Christmas Eve 1937. She was 10 years old. Her father was drafted into the German army and had already been away for eight months. She wasn’t looking forward to Christmas because her dad wouldn’t be there.

As the story fell from her lips, I was enamored. It was a sacred story if I ever heard one. And I had an idea.

Rather than tell you the story, I’ll let you watch the video where my mother shares it. Because I try to record them in secret, the angles and videography aren’t the greatest, but you’ll capture the heart just the same. 

Be sure to watch it through the end to see what happens 76 years later. I’m happy to report I have a new favorite Christmas memory as a result.

If you enjoy my blog, please share with others and comment below. If you need a speaker for your next event, I'd love to join you. Visit www.tammyborden.com for more information.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A 20-year-old poem rediscovered

I've had some time on my hands to do some pretty major cleaning around the house, including going through old photos, birthday cards, computer files, and papers.

I had forgotten about this little poem tucked away on a random sheet of notepad. When I came across it, I envisioned myself 20 years younger as I sat in a different house, on a different recliner, during a different time, writing the words.

That's about how old it is. So much has changed, but the meaning behind the words hasn't. They still echo true today. Finding little treasures like this has made my chore of cleaning a little more enjoyable, and I thought I'd share it with you in hopes that you enjoy it, too.

Finding Baby Jesus
I heard the news a king was born
Among the lambs one cold still morn
I ran to see the bed of hay
Where my sweet baby Jesus lay

I heard he was the perfect child
The Father’s son both meek and mild
My wish was this, to sing my song
But when I came the babe was gone

I asked a man where Jesus was
He could not answer me because
He did not know him personally
I could not see how that could be

I asked a merchant down the street
If he by chance, did Jesus meet
He said he had some time ago
He’d since forgot and so said no

Then someone said I know him well
I could not wait for her to tell
She said just simply take a look
Inside the worn and tattered book

I hardly could believe my eyes
My Jesus was my sacrifice
But then she said no tears should fall
For Jesus rose to save us all

I asked her then, where is my king?
For I still have my song to sing
I’ve searched for him both day and night
Since I first saw that one star bright

She said I’m sure he’ll come today
Bow down your head and start to pray
And when I did on bended knee
I found Jesus inside of me

As we approach this Christmas season, I hope you'll take time to seek him. And may you find Him seated on the throne of your heart.

If you enjoy my blog, please share with others and comment below. If you need a speaker for your next event, I'd love to join you. Visit www.tammyborden.com for more information.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My Season of Change

It’s autumn. In nature, that means some pretty drastic changes. Leaves erupt in the colors of campfire embers and then dance through the crisp air, eventually coming to rest on the forest floor. The song of the robin becomes a faint memory. Days become shorter. Nights become longer. Creation goes to sleep.

This autumn has been especially enjoyable. In fact, I took a walk in a t-shirt last week — pretty much unthinkable in the middle of November in Wisconsin. Despite my determination to enjoy the season, it always brings with it a sense of dread. I know what’s around the corner. I practically get hypothermia dragging my groceries from my car into the house in winter. And I have an attached garage.

Change is scary. You don’t know if the next season will be mild or bring bitter winds. But we can’t stop it, and we can’t control it.

There are seasons in life, too. Personally, I’m experiencing my own autumn — a time of change. I’ve worked full time since I was 20 years old. For a while, I was an interior decorator. Then I made a switch and worked in the nonprofit world for 18 years in marketing and event promotions. 

A few years ago, I entered the corporate world and became a content specialist for an insurance company, of all things. It was a big change, but I actually enjoyed the challenge of writing about something that others see as mundane and stodgy and making it into something heartfelt and inviting. Unlike depictions from lawyers’ television commercials, there are a lot of caring people in the industry who compassionately serve others during what can be scary times. Let’s face it, everyone who buys insurance never wants to use it. It means something bad happened. 

Several months ago, my job role began changing to require a lot of data, analytics, digital metrics, optimization, benchmarks, and other techno-terms that, quite honestly, don’t trip my trigger. But I tried. I tried really hard. I went to a conference, read online articles, and watched webinars. While I gained a general working knowledge, I knew in my heart that I would never be as proficient or passionate as would be required of me in my new role. 

I felt like a hosta. Ha! It always comes back to gardening with me, doesn’t it? Imagine it… a hosta thrives in the shadows of your yard. But if you transplant that lush foliage into full sun, it will shrivel away. Could it survive? Sure. But it would take a lot of effort and care, and it would likely still be a blemish in the landscape. It would never thrive because it wasn’t where it needed to be planted.

Neither was I.

And so, as of last week, I’m officially self-employed. Technically, I’m unemployed, but I’m having a hard time confessing that.

As a perfectionist, it’s difficult for me to admit that I can’t do something. I’ve struggled with feelings of failure and not measuring up for my entire life. The thought that I couldn’t meet and exceed someone’s expectations on the job left me struggling. That, combined with recent management changes, made it clear to me and my employer that I wasn’t a fit for the team anymore. I wasn’t planted in the right spot. I was for a season, but seasons change.

I’ve dreamt of being a full time writer, speaker, and author for a long time. In fact, I recall when I sat in that grade school auditorium listening to an assembly program speaker and thinking, "I'd love to do that someday — inspire someone with my words." I’ve never felt it was a realistic career choice. It doesn’t bring with it the certainty of a steady paycheck and benefits. I’ve always been able to trust in that before. 

Maybe it’s time I trust in something greater.

I’ve sensed God nudging me in the past few years to take my crazy dream of being a writer and speaker more seriously. Perhaps he’s allowing this season of change and uncertainty to happen for a reason… for such a time as this. Or, maybe instead of nudging, he decided a good shove was in order.

It’s easy to trust in my own plans and process instead of God. I’m a control freak by nature, and letting go of control and seeing what He has in store is scary, yet thrilling at the same time.

Speaker and author, Nancy Beach put it this way… It’s like a trapeze artist who has to let go of the first swing in order to capture the second. You can’t embrace the new until you let go of the old. It’s the in-between that’s scary when there’s nothing to hold on to. There’s no way to know if you’re gonna land it.

So here I am with nothing to catch me if I fall, other than the arms of a loving God. I’m strangely at peace, and I’m learning to know what real trust is.

If you, or a business, nonprofit, or event you're associated with, are in need of a freelance writer or speaker, please let me know or pass along my information, available at tammyborden.com. Thank you.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Another year older — If people only knew...

Here I am on the precipice of a half century of living — one year to go. It was my birthday yesterday. The years have brought with them some semblance of maturity… marriage, holding a steady job, owning a home, and living responsibly for the most part. 

Let’s not mention the wrinkles, aching joints, and being in bed by 9 p.m. each night.

I’ve even had some people tell me I’m an inspiration. I usually offer a sincerely grateful, if not sheepish thank you in response. Maybe they’ve read my book or heard me speak. Perhaps they recall the days of my music ministry or received one of the emails I sent when I used to provide online counseling for young teenagers. 

I’ve lived a full life and hope to make the second half of my centennial more impactful than the first.

On the outside, they see someone who looks “put together” for the most part. They see a “mature” Christian woman, an avid gardener, or a published author who bravely told her story of overcoming adversity, using words like redemptive, life-changing, encouraging, vibrant, transparent, and beautiful to describe my book. They see the woman who put into words what they’ve been longing to say for years, and maybe even brought a little hope into their world. I’ve actually had people tell me that. 

Again — sincerely grateful.

I can write it. I can say it. But I struggle to live it.

Truth be told, I still feel like an awkward and lost 14-year-old girl most of the time.

The insecurities and doubts about who I am continue to plague me. I wonder if I’m good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough. I question if people like me and wonder if that “look” they gave me was a sign of disapproval and disdain, or merely the result of some gastrointestinal episode I would rather not know about.

If people only knew what a poser I feel like most days. A phony. A fraud. A hypocrite.

If people only knew that inside I loathe my judgmental and fault-finding attitude, and how easily I get sucked into negativity, hopelessness, and discontent. If only they saw the short-tempered way I sometimes treat my beloved mother, or the frustrated fits I have when my husband doesn’t telepathically read my thoughts and respond in ways I want him to. If someone discovered how disconnected I feel sometimes — to them, to my family, to my God — what would they really think?

If people only knew… they’d never listen to a word I say.

But here’s the thing… people do know. And they still listen. In fact, they tell me they want more — more of my writing, more of my music, more of my presence, more of me. That’s what baffles me. The more I willingly reveal who I truly am with all my soul's wretchedness, the more I’m accepted. Loved. Cherished. 

Such an irony.

Because our natural instinct is to hide. When I was younger, I did everything in my power to conceal my faults and never let anyone see my weaknesses, or know my secret thoughts and insecurities. I believed deep down that if others knew the real me and saw all those faults, they’d reject me and run for the hills. 

Somehow I believed that grace, acceptance, and forgiveness weren’t for me, only judgment. Perhaps it’s the result of those toxic voices that plague me from my upbringing or the lingering taunts of schoolyard bullies that convinced me I was a failure and that I wasn't worthy of love or friendship. Whatever it is, I chose to hide behind a shiny veneer and built a fortress of stone around my heart.

But I’m slowly chiseling away and seeing that wall crumble, brick by brick, stone by stone. 

Occasionally, one of those stones will tumble to the ground and a beam of redemptive light will shine through the opening and expose the true me. It's then that I need to fight the temptation to mix up some mortar to patch it back up again. Instead, I need to let the walls come tumbling down.

I’m learning that vulnerability, transparency, and revealing my heart with all its weakness — yes, even boasting about it — is more powerful than the lies of my past. More powerful than pretense. More powerful than pretending.

And I’m learning that grace is all I need. It’s all you need. Grace is enough.

“God’s grace is sufficient for you, for his power is made perfect in weakness… Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about it.” 2 Corinthians 12:9