Monday, June 28, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 5: Gardenia

Of all the floral fragrances, gardenia is by far my favorite. I fell in love with gardenias on my wedding day. My bouquet ensconced several blossoms and created a trail of the most luxurious scent throughout our entire celebration. Ever since, I have had a romantic attachment to this delicate fragrance. In fact, whenever David buys me perfume, he looks for something that is a variation on the theme of gardenia.

On our anniversary this year, David gave me a small gardenia plant. Because they are typically grown in a warm, humid climate, I decided to place it in our dining room between two windows in order to stay warm and get enough sunlight. Then on Saturday, as I was cleaning, I noticed my dear plant looking very forlorn. Many of its leaves had turned brown; the blossoms were not opening; and there was no fragrance what so ever.

I’m not sure why. I suspect it’s getting too much of something or not enough of something else. The environment obviously isn't quite right for this somewhat temperamental flower. As a result, the wonderful fragrance native to its blossoms is non-existent. What a shame!

As I pondered the quandary of my gardenia and ask for God to speak his wisdom, I thought of what it means to be a “fragrance of Christ.” Paul writes in II Corinthians 2: 14-15, “Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.” So, I ask myself (and encourage you to do the same):

  • Is my life emanating the fragrance of one who knows Jesus?
  • What of my environment or the way I live life stunts my growth and blossoming?

The amazing scent of the gardenia is a byproduct of a healthy, growing plant. The only way it gives off its natural perfume is by flourishing in an environment conducive to its peculiarities. I am a peculiar person and so are you. We must not apologize for or neglect pursuing a life that fits the particularities of our nature.

For instance, I know that I need extended times of solitude, several “slow” mornings each week in order to be at my best. I must walk regularly in natural settings and drink in creation in order to keep my soul alive. I thrive when I have deep conversations with God and others, sharing the real and hidden secrets of my heart. I often need times to be creative, to participate in some expression of art.

What do you need in order to be at your best? If you were to write "care instructions" like you find on a tag with a new plant, what would they be? Why not take some time and jot them down.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 4: Cedar

We recently acquired a bedroom suite that belonged to David’s grandma. She is almost 94 and needed to move into a nursing home. Most of her earthly belongings are being dispersed among kids, grand kids and great-grand kids. Grandma gave us a set of depression-era bedroom furniture from her spare room, including a beautiful cedar chest.

I opened the chest today and was surprised at the strong, enveloping smell of cedar. The scent is sweet, woody and piney, like a forest-in-a-box. David’s dad said that if the scent fades, we can lightly sand the inside and it will release the cedar fragrance once again.

I have very specific memories associated with cedar. I think of my grandmother’s cedar chest, which I keep in our closet. She gave it to me years ago before she died. Inside the chest, I used to keep her fur muff—a gift of my grandfather—with a little note pinned inside, “To my darling Lillian, Merry Christmas, Walter.” Along with it, Grandma also gave me a braid of her hair, probably ten inches long and a beautiful, golden blond.

Cedar has long been used to protect and preserve things—it has a natural resistance to destructive insects and decay. For me, the fragrance of cedar also preserves something else—the past. Its aromatic smell carries me away to memories of two grandmas who have meant and mean the world to me. My two cedar chests hold the legacy of these two women in the memories evoked as I lift their lids and inhale long and deep.


Thank you, for two beautiful, loving and vibrant grandmothers whose memories I long to cherish. Every time I see or open one of their cedar chests, bring to my mind their legacy of love. I pray that their lives will stay with me, just as the fragrance of cedar lingers. And when my recall of them begins to fade, sand the surface of my mind and reawaken my sense of them and all the ways they have blessed my life. Amen.

Monday, June 21, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 3: Murphy’s Oil Soap

It was Saturday morning and we were intent about our goal of cleaning the house. For years, our weekly Saturday rhythm has included a couple of hours of home hygiene. In fact, I find myself consoled by this ritual. I know that if the house begins to lose its luster and clutter starts to pile up, on Saturday, I will tackle it and restored it to a place of order and sanctity.

As I was wiping down the counters, I sprayed some Murphy’s Oil Soap and began to mop it up. The familiar smell lingered in the air as it drifted down onto the counter tops. I noticed how much I liked the fragrance—a mix of woody, piney, clean scents—yet, more subtle and natural than strong detergents. The aroma lingered long after I’d coiffed the counters and furniture, leaving behind an invisible olfactory witness of a clean house.

I enjoy the act of caring for my home. The visible, measurable, noticeable work of cleaning is satisfying. I rub down counters and furniture, remove sticky dribbles and dust and I immediately see a difference. A shine re-appears; a clean fragrance loiters; and I feel satisfied knowing that I’ve nurtured the environment in which my family and I live.

A couple of weeks ago, right before our son and daughter-in-law moved in to a new house, we went over to help them clean. Right away, Laura handed me a bottle of Murphy’s Oil Soap. She said that when she and Brandt were at the store buying cleaning supplies, he opened a bottle and smelled it. He remembered that this is what we used when we cleaned our home growing up.

I was amused and encouraged that he would remember the scent and that it was a positive association. Smells are often one of the strongest memory makers. Evidently, for our family, the fragrance of Murphy’s Oil Soap is an aromatic icon of hearth and home—one that conjures recollections of weekly cleaning rituals and the place we inhabit together.

Friday, June 18, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 2: Old, hot dust

On Wednesday night, we slept with our windows open. The temperature had settled down, as well as the humidity. I much prefer sleeping in fresh, night air. Though it was cooler, we still needed a fan to keep the air moving. So, David plugged one in—a fan that had belonged to his Grandma, one from her old farm house.

As I lay in the dark, I began to smell a familiar, nostalgic smell—the smell of old, hot dust. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? When I was a little girl, we had an attic fan. Once the sun went down and we prepared for bed, my parents would open all the windows and turn on the attic fan. With tremendous force, it would begin to draw all the hot air up and out of the house and pull the cool air from outside in. And I would begin to smell old, hot dust.

I don’t know how else to describe it. It wasn’t musty air. It was dusty. It wasn’t fresh air, it smelled old and stale. And it felt warm, as it swirled past me, drawn upward, into the attic. That’s the sensation I experienced Wednesday night.

Dusty air
Wafting by
On it’s way out
Tickling my nose
Ushering in
Clean air

A prayer of response:
Spirit of the Living God,
Blow through my life, drawing out from it all the stale leftovers of your breath and replacing them with new breath, new life—fresh and clean.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

30 Days of Smell

Day 1: A Daughter’s Scent

I have three lovely daughters. Each one is unique, like three exotic flowers bursting with vibrant colors and aromatic fragrance. Yesterday, I walked into my middle daughter’s room to get something—she hasn’t lived at home for a few years—and I could smell her scent. To try to portray it causes me to confront the challenge of this new 30-day experiment. It’s difficult to describe smells.

Here’ what comes to mind: musky, natural, spicy, patchouli, pungent and earthy.

After I left my middle daughter’s room, I went into my youngest daughter’s room. She hasn’t lived at home for a couple of years, either. Once again, I caught a waft of her scent. It was different from my middle daughter’s.

Here’s how I would describe it: sweet, rich, fruity, nutty and grassy.

When I hug each of my girls, I notice their scents. They are subtle but very much a part of them. I love the way they smell! Each fragrance captures their essence in a complex, intangible and wonderful way. I am struck with the fact that even years after they no longer live in our home, I can still smell them.

As I think of these scents and ponder their significance, I feel a flood of gratefulness for my girls. I love and appreciate each one and savor them for their differences and the qualities they share because they are sisters, my daughters. I celebrate them and thank God for them. They are adorable, beautiful, striking young women—full of life and promise. My heart is filled with delight as I savor the fragrance of their lives, an aroma which will linger with me forever.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Last chance to come to your senses!

Many of you know that I am in the process of writing my next book, Awakening Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God (InterVarsity Press/2011), along with co-author, Brent Bill. Beginning last fall, Brent and I initiated a series of 30 day experiments focusing on each of the senses. We are on our fifth and final one--30 Days of Smell--and would love for you to join us as we begin this olfactory journey. The purpose is to hone our sense of smell and let it teach us to notice the fragrance of God in our world. Brent and I invite you on one last adventure beginning Monday, June 7th. Fire up your smeller! Like a hound dog on a trail, attune your nose to the potpourri of fragrances around you and see what you find.

Here's how you can participate:

  • Put a note in your calendar for the next 30 days that reminds you to pay attention to what you smell.
  • Each day, notice fragrances, whether pleasant or repugnant, and ask God to speak to you through them.
  • Keep a journal of your experiences and what you learn.
  • Follow my blog or join me on Facebook and contribute your own stories. I look forward to hearing what you learn!

Warmly, Beth