Going Onto Beautiful

at risk kids, Children, Creativity, Family, generosity, Health, Holy Spirit, home, Imagination, Love, Ministry, ministry, Physical Training, purpose, purpose, salvation, Spirituality, Uncategorized

going onto beautiful“Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.”                                               ~~ 1 Corinthians 9:25

The 30th Olympics has opened in London complete with fireworks, a parachuting sovereign, and an aging rock star. We can see some 5,300 plus hours of coverage on our televisions if we aren’t so blessed as to have a ticket to the games across the pond. These athletes from all over the world make perfection seem so easy, so beautiful and attainable, but then we see only the top competitors from each country.  Most athletes, like you and me, are casual participators or “weekend warriors.”

Six months ago I decided I needed to step up my training so I’d be in shape for my planned trip in the fall to Greece and Turkey.  When I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000, I felt sorry for the old people who were worn out by all the intense activity on their life time journey: they were reduced to seeing the most important holy sites from the bus. I didn’t want to be stuck on the bus this time around while the younger pups took pity on me! I want to be able to hike up the rocky trails and down the twisting, narrow stairways to the basements where the first century excavations reside.

I committed to the trip in January, so I told my personal trainer Ben, we need to get me in shape for walking. “Then you need to walk more and build up your core muscles,” he said. I had trained by myself for the first year of my medical leave by swimming laps in the pool at the YMCA for five days a week.  I used the www.sparkspeople.com program (a free application for the smart phone & computer that tracks calories, carbs, fats, and protein of restaurant, purchased, and home prepared foods, as well as tracking fitness training and weight). I lost 50 pounds and three dress sizes this way.

Then I began weight training once a week with Ben. He’s not yet 30 and I’m approaching 65, so his purpose in life is to make me suck wind, literally.  I have asthma, and he takes me up to the point of breathlessness to help me increase my lung capacity.  My purpose in life has become to make him at least break a sweat when we train. Then I know that I have reached my absolute maximum for that day.  He still runs circles around me anyway and just laughs.

Thursday I was dripping sweat like a fountain of youth as I did my sit-ups when one of the fellows came over to give me encouragement. “Whose your trainer?” he says. Ben, I say. “You got it going girl!” Yes, Ben’s motto is “if you still look pretty after I’m finished training you, you have wasted your money today.” He gives me a high five and says, “You got your money’s worth today!”

Ben has taught me that when I come to the gym I need to leave behind my preconceived notions of “femininity” in the locker room along with my purse. If I don’t sweat when I work out by myself, I should have stayed home, or gone to the salon for a mani-pedi for all the good it has done me. This is hard, because I grew up in the era when women were supposed to keep their makeup “fresh at all times.”

Along this journey, Ben and I have become friends. As a coach, he going onto beautifulknows how hard to push me. He also knows that I do better with praise than with scolding. He is my accountability partner for my food plan, my exercise, and my health on a weekly basis. I see my doctors once every six months for my health, but having a personal trainer who is monitoring my compliance weekly is invaluable.

When I was young, my orthodontist would ask if I were wearing the rubber bands daily that put tension on my teeth to correct my overbite. Sometimes I didn’t wear them, because when I opened my mouth and laughed really loud, as I usually did, the rubber bands would go flying across the room.  Then everyone would laugh some more. So I would lie, and he would look inside my mouth again and say, “I see two little fairies waving red flags and they are telling me you haven’t been wearing your bands this week.” So I would confess, and agree to put up with the pain, the embarrassment, and reap the reward of a beautiful smile.

This is why we train, whether in art, the gym, or in our spiritual life. We want to reap a reward. The ancient athletes of Greece who competed at the Olympics, “the agonizers, the strugglers” fought for a perishable wreath of laurel leaves which was the crown awarded to the victors. They gave over their whole lives to the competition, just as our top athletes do today. They ate specially prepared foods, trained under coaches, and even kept themselves sexually pure before a big match. Their focus was on the contest first and the goal second. Doing anything less than their best wasn’t a part of their mindset.

In an Awesome Art Tuesday class, a kindergarten child worried about not being “perfect.” I told her, no artist is perfect. We always find something we can improve in our work, so we make another one. But we always give this piece our best effort, for we aren’t seeking perfection, we are only seeking “beauty.” This was freeing to her spirit, for at home she isn’t allowed to make a mess at anything.

The works we do in art are all “going onto beautiful” just as our lives in this world are “going onto perfection in the love of God and love of neighbor.” We can’t mess this up if we are acting in love and with the best intentions.

As you work out this week, be aware of your “self-talk” and body image. Are you loving your body or hating your body? The Jefferson Airplane sang, “You’re Only Pretty As You Feel Inside.” The fashion industry makes clothes for the shape they believe we should be, but most Americans are not this shape! 94% of women are either pear or straight shaped and about 40% of men are portly or have “lower front waists” (NY Times).  We can’t let their designs dictate how we feel about ourselves! Buddha said “You, yourself as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

“We love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Share the love of God with some one else this week by giving away one of your works of art to someone who will not benefit you by this gift. If this is difficult, remember that Christ gave his life for you freely. God sent his Son into the world as a gift of unconditional love (John 3:16). This is part of your training in unconditional love, for a gift that cannot be returned in kind will increase your joy ten fold.

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50 Shades of Slavery

at risk kids, Creativity, Family, Fear, gambling, Imagination, Love, Ministry, Prayer, purpose, salvation, Secrets, Spirituality, Strength, Uncategorized, vision, Work

“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”

~~ 1 Corinthians 8:9

Twenty million copies of 50 Shades of Grey have been sold, earning author E.L. James around $50,000,000 to date—one million per shade of grey, as the wag might say. As a result, the romance and erotic novel industry is on the upswing. Moreover, readers of this book are also signing up on the “sugar daddy/sugar baby” online dating site “Seeking Arrangement,” company owner Brandon Wade reports. He owns other sites, such as www.seekingmillionaire.com, and said out of 1.6 million “seeking arrangement” profiles, “50 Shades of Grey” is mentioned 28,382 times, Christian Grey 23,102 times, and Anastasia Steel 18,281 times. He claims that 186,000 females are “actively seeking a Christian Grey type arrangement.” (http://bostinno.com/2012/07/06/more-people-signing-up-for-sugar-daddy-site-after-reading-50-shades-of-grey/)

Even the makers of ties, suits, cars, bubbly and rope, as well as teas, condominiums, hotels, and helicopter rides in Seattle are cashing in on the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. Of course the bookstores are benefiting also, and especially Amazon, because the book is downloaded onto Kindles and Ipads galore (the modern equivalent of arriving in your mother’s mailbox in a plain brown paper wrapper). (http://www.businessinsider.com/50-shades-of-grey-is-making-these-companies-rich-2012-6?op=1)

I haven’t read all of 50 Shades of Grey, but then I don’t want to. I did pick it up at the Kroger store where I usually shop ($12 in gray paper on a lower shelf, not near the regular bookshelves. We’re discrete in Hot Springs, not IN YOUR FACE!) The reason I don’t want to read it is because I’ve been in an abusive relationship before. Like the heroine, I somehow thought I would be the one to redeem or rescue the flawed person whom I loved, even though he continually hurt me. I didn’t sign a contract, but then love is its own contract. My abuser disciplined me by words and emotions until I became “his” to control by a look or a word. When the abuse escalated to physical violence, I drew the line and threw him out. The truth is you can love someone who is wrong for you and who can hurt you.

The male character in 50 Shades of Grey was sexually abused at age 15, so now he passes that gift along to an unwitting virgin who has no idea that the world can hold such wickedness. She believes she can determine her own security even though she has given control over every minute part of her own life to another person. She is in denial about her true state of affairs and the loss of her self. In an earlier century, we would say she was a sex slave. In my native state of Louisiana, many a “high-yella” African American slave served in the master’s house rather than in the fields because they were part of the family. Their lives were not their own, however, and one wrong move would get them sold down the river. They were still slaves. This woman is a slave to this man. I do not believe that we have come to the point that we are finding our libidos racing by turning back the clock! Scarlet O’Hara, lace up my corset for me, honey! My waist just isn’t as small as it used to be!

We have to ask ourselves, Why is this book so popular? Do we women really need a jolt to arouse us from this poorly written sex trash? Do we need a rape fantasy to get us “going” as it were? If our husbands or boyfriends were to make us sign a contract that gave them total control over our clothes, our makeup, our hairstyles, our perfumes, and our coming and going, most of us would say, “ In your wildest dreams, buddy!” Maybe because they aren’t billionaires, in which case, we need to realize that our values have a price. Unfortunately, that means we could become “kept women” if the price were right.

When we consider this, that our values can be bought and sold for a price, then we realize that we don’t have a core set of values. These are values that don’t change according to circumstances. They are the values that we hold “come hell or high water,” such as honesty, fidelity, trustworthiness, justice, creativity, peace, compassion, commitment, sharing, excellence, service, beauty and seeking the good of all. You may have different core values, but these are mine. I value other things also, but these are the primary goods that I value. What do you value, and what do you hold dear, or are all things negotiable for you? Have you a steady center, a firm core, or are all things permissible and/or negotiable for you?

Some people say “This is harmless and let love happen. The world needs more love.” This book isn’t about love—this is sadistic, masochistic bondage and dominance. It is abuse. Abuse isn’t love and love isn’t abusive. The dominant male groomed his college age victim just as Jerry Sandusky groomed each of his innocent child victims because they both had power and status greater than the ones they harmed and controlled, even though they made their victims feel “special” with gifts and privileges. These are broken people who break the souls and lives of others. It takes years of counseling and the love of God to make these victims into survivors who can love again, and feel whole again, and not be part of the “gift that keeps on giving,” or the eternal cycle of abuse.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that “food sacrificed to idols” is really only meat and is harmless enough, but some in the faith are still struggling to break free from their old pagan life. If these folks know they are eating “food sacrificed to an idol” they may not be inclined to eat or if they do eat, they will consider themselves sinners. It’s better instead “not to let this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor 8:9).

Consider the stumbling blocks of your own life and what enslaves you today. Some folks have an internet addiction: posting tons of spiritually uplifting photos to Facebook or playing on-line gambling games or visiting internet pornography sites for hours at a time. Some of us are shopaholics; others are micromanagers (controlaholics). Others of us are slaves to debt and some are enslaved to toxic relationships at home or at work. I myself am in the process of breaking a food addiction, as I learn to deal with my emotions as they arise, rather than stuffing them down with chocolate ice cream or cheesecake.

Write about your path to freedom and what it feels like to have the chains come off. How does it feel when you are bound and subjected to the pain of your addiction/slavery? Give this work to the Christ who broke the chains of sin and death by rising from the dead to set us free for life and love?

For our art exercise, let’s do a drawing with “50 shades of gray.” Using black, chalk, conte crayon, or soft drawing pencils, draw the subject of your choice. A white or yellow rose fully opened might be one choice, or a landscape with large clouds in it would be another. What ever you choose, be sure to have very dark and very light values with all the shades of gray in between! Reflect on how often our choices in life are more often gray than easily black or white.

May your week be full of joy and peace, Cornelia

Pearls and Other Treasures: How Far Will We Go to Find Them?

Children, Creativity, Family, Forgiveness, generosity, Health, home, Imagination, Love, Meditation, Prayer, purpose, renewal, salvation, Spirituality, Strength, Uncategorized, vision, vision, Work

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great price, he went and sold all he had and bought it.” ~~ Matthew 13:45-46

In the 1980’s, the price of oil dropped like a stone and the private school in Texas that depended on wealthy oil families had to cut staff to survive. Drama and art classes were cut, but they kept music because the football team needed a marching band. Since I was the art teacher, I was out of luck.  I had hoped to catch on in the public schools, but without a full certificate, I wasn’t hired. All the other certified teachers had seen the writing on the wall and took those jobs that usually went begging because the economy was going downhill. With a master’s degree, I was over qualified for most of the jobs I applied for, until I hit the sales profession.  There they don’t care about your education, only your ability to sell.

My first quarter selling insurance for the Prudential was on a draw since I was a “captive agent employee.”  All my commissions from the first quarter would go into a bucket for the second quarter and I would be paid weekly from my own sales in the next pay period.  The first quarter Prudential was willing to pay me as an investment as they trained me. I figured I had a thirteen-week guaranteed paycheck and one quarter to prove I could sell. I would either make enough to stick around or I would be looking for another job! I was like a merchant in search of fine pearls, or a dog hot on the scent of her prey. I was focused on finding people with needs that could be met by the products my company provided.

After that first quarter, I was making three times as much as I had when I was teaching school. I went out to celebrate, not at a bar, but to the finest jeweler in San Antonio, and spent an entire week’s salary on a matched set of large natural Baroque pearls with gold stems worth around $600 (1987 value).  I checked eBay today: I could buy some that looked like them with silver stems for less than $10 and get free shipping from Hong Kong, but then, what do I know about that seller? These are my “pearls of great price.”

A week’s salary isn’t quite the same as “selling all one has,” and maybe that’s why most of us never quite lay hold of a pearl of great price. We aren’t willing to give all we have for this one really great possession. I met a man last year that was starting up an organic farm near Jessieville. He retired early and sold all that he had. He bought his land, house and farm equipment: his new life was beginning at age 60. This farm for him is his “pearl of great price.” It’s not only his retirement plan, but also the place where he hopes his spirit will be centered. Even if the farm isn’t financially viable, he will still live in a beautiful place that is paid for.

My “pearl of great price” at one time was to be a famous artist, but I soon discovered that I wasn’t willing to give up “all that I possessed.” I didn’t want to move to a large art center, live in a tiny apartment or a cheap warehouse loft, or deal with the lifestyle of my artist friends. I wanted a husband, a child, and time and space in which to create my art. I wanted a “pearl of greater price”—a full life with relationships that extended beyond my career and into the next generation.

All of these “pearls of great price” are just pretty baubles, penultimate pearls, as it were.  None are the true pearls for which we are truly called to give up all that we have so that we may possess and own for ourselves this one desirable object. Jesus, the Son of God, already owns all things, since all things were created through him (John 1:3), so when he gave his life that we might live, he is selling all that he has for us, his “pearls of great price.” We are God’s “treasured possession out of all the peoples” (Exodus 19:5). Jesus took the ultimate risk: he trusted God completely and he believed that God could and would raise him from the dead and give him the name above all names (Philippians 2:9). We take the same risk when we put our faith in Christ and trust in his life, death, and resurrection for the salvation of our lives.

This is why the spiritual life is filled with phrases like “Leap of Faith” and “Let Go & Let God.” To search for the pearl of great price requires active intent and the risk of not finding, but God is faithful.  “When you search for me, you will find me, if you seek me with your whole heart” (Jeremiah 29:13)

What is your pearl of great price?  Is it your family, your job, or your security? Maybe you have had a spell of bad health, and now the pearl you would give anything for is to find wellness again.  I knew one woman who more than anything wanted to shed tears, for she had lost the ability to cry because she was so depressed.  Give your pearl to Christ in your daily journal or prayer time during the week ahead.  Know that you are God’s treasured possession.  Feel his love filling you and giving you strength for the road ahead.

As a creative exercise, seek out the beauty of your treasure box/jewelry box. You may have a stamp collection or coin collection that is valuable. Some folks collect other items that have value. Do you hide this, or is it out where you can enjoy it? If it is locked up, consider having at least one item appraised & insured on your homeowner’s policy (inland marine/fine arts/silver rider) so that you can have it out to enjoy it and appreciate it.  If we have to hide beauty, is it still beautiful if it cannot be seen? These hidden objects should be donated to a museum that can display and protect them properly, so that all can enjoy their beauty.  These “pearls of great price” deserve to be appreciated and enjoyed!

May your week be full of joy and peace, Cornelia