The Sunlit Tree

Imagination, Meditation, Ministry, photography, Spirituality, Travel, Uncategorized, vision, Work

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I am not a point A to point B person, but what right brained artist is? Yet, making a work of art requires planning and structure, just as building a house requires plans, or both will fall apart before very long. This is why some of our efforts continue to please us many years into the future, while others, with our more experienced eye, now are relegated to paint over land.

This field of trees caught my eye, not because it was full of light or promise of abundance, but because only one great tree stood proud with a glorious yellow robe amid a field of dried up stunted trees and weeds. It was so different that I had to detour from the interstate, retrace my path on the old state highway and take a picture with my camera. I’ve kept this photo for a dozen years, waiting for the time when I had both the skill and the spirit to bring it to life as a painting.

I have shown this photo to various people over the years. “That’s nice, a big tree, it’s a lot of yellow and brown, and it looks half dead and half alive” are some of the comments I’ve heard. I’m used to this, for most folks don’t have vision. They cannot see the promise in the grey clouds of the rainbow to come. The rainbow must be there in all her radiance, dancing all seven of her colors across the heavens, for the hope of the promise to be written in bold enough letters for most of us to read it in the sky.

A few rare people have vision. Some are cooks, some are tinkerers, some are prophets, and some are artists. If I had copied this photo, I would have made a very different painting, one in which all the values are nearly the same, for it was an overcast day when I took the image. As a photograph, it was unworthy, but as a sketch or a plan for a future work, it was worth keeping. My mother saw this photo and said, “This is a strong tree that survives and shelters others.” My Mother had vision.

I could have gone in several directions with this painting. One choice I considered was the gathering grey clouds anticipating a certain storm. The lighting of the trees and the field would have been more dramatic. I decided to go with a brilliant autumn day, with the sky and fields full of light. All the trees were in their full dress glory as the winds shake their leaves of yellows, oranges, and reds.

The verse from Ezekiel 17:24 came into my mind: “And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”

This vision of sunlight, warm wind, healing and uplifting the dried up landscape brought hope into my heart! We may be discouraged for a season, but our standing rooted as we trust the God who loves us means that we will be there when God’s promises come true. If we are the dry tree, we will flourish! If we are the low tree, we will be made high!

As artists, we are constantly creating, so we share this activity in common with God. Do we have the vision to see beyond our circumstances to God’s promises that await? Do we have the courage to continually work along side God to bring God’s vision into reality? Take your sketchbook, your easel, or your camera this week out into the countryside. Find the tree that calls you apart from your designated journey. Enter into a conversation with this place. Perhaps you are not used to being still, or quiet. Listen to the sounds of this place. Do not be too quick to hurry off to worship the idol, “I’ve got better or more important things to do with my life.”

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Travel Theme: Hidden

Uncategorized

Look at the subtlety of color in the distant mists! How they hover, hiding mysteries that will only be revealed by the persistence of the slowly rising sun. Will we be able to wait and anticipate the revealing and restoration of the new heaven and new earth, which is now shrouded and hidden before our weary eyes?

retireediary

Ailsa’s Travel theme this week is Hidden.

Woke up early in the morning, I stumbled onto the top deck of our ship that was cruising up the Three Gorges section of the Yangtze River and, as the only person on the deck, I found myself terribly alone.

There was total silence and a thick mist was around me.

Out of the thick mist, I could see mountains rising steeply on both sides of the river. The distant mountains appeared as layers of blue and green before my eyes.DSCF6137

Hidden behind the clouds and sometimes barely visible was our tiny sun.

Dwarfed by the mountains was this partially hidden speck . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  so tiny that I have never seen anything like it before.

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THE BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD

Family, Food, Health, home, Imagination, renewal, Spirituality, vision, Work

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Balloon bread: this was our childhood name for Wonder Bread back in the 50’s. Today it has the name because it is so light and fluffy, it might float away, but then we named it for the red, yellow and blue circles that reminded us of clown balloons. Our town had a Wonder Bread Bakery that welcomed school children on field trips. I remember going there several times in my elementary years, and each time was as fascinating as the first.

Making bread on an industrial scale is very different from home baking or even the 1960’s era Easy Bake Oven (which heated by means of an incandescent light bulb!). Huge portions of flour, water, sugar,yeast,salt, vitamins and dough conditioners are put into giant mixing vats and blended with huge blades until the dough glistens. Then it’s balled up, put into a warm room to rise, kneaded by machine again, separated by a cutter, popped into loaf pans, conveyed on a belt into another rising room, and then moved into a cavernous oven that would engulf the entire kitchen in which my Mom made our family meals. The size of this process always took our breath away, but when we came up for air, I and all my classmates could smell only one fragrance: the very bread of heaven.

These bakers knew how to win the hearts of children, and thereby win the pocketbooks of their parents. For each of us got at the end of the tour our own personal loaf of fresh baked Wonder Bread. Made just for us, each child sized loaf fit into the palm of our hands. Holding that warm loaf was no doubt the beginning of my love affair with food.

We children got to see, from a safe distance of course, what the adults did when they left home every day. In my great-grandparent’s day, folks still worked on the farm together or the children had after school duties in the dry goods store in town. In the 1950’s, life was more segregated, and not just racially. Men were the primary industrial labor force, many women could stay home to raise the children and we children were organized into schools, sports, and hobbies. Only at night did our families settle down together over the evening meal and talk about our day.

My family was big on dinner conversation. My younger brother didn’t get a word in edgewise until I left for college. Up until that time the folks thought he had a stuttering problem. My other brother and I just jumped in and finished his sentences. Give a guy a space and you might find out he can talk. Sharing daily life experiences around a meal knits a family together. Doing things together produces memories, but until you articulate your experience in words, even if you have to struggle to find a better word than “awesome,” you haven’t fully shared it. You may as well have been two separate loaves of bread, all cooked in the same oven, but held in different hands and tasted by different tongues.

We kids had bread for snacks quite often. We made kid friendly sandwiches of various condiments: mustard only; mustard and mayo; butter, sugar and cinnamon; peanut butter and jelly; butter and jelly; and I remember, but did not partake of, ketchup and mustard. I will not tell whose palette was so unsophisticated as to enjoy the latter concoction, but it was not one of my gal pals from the neighborhood.

Oddly, no one liked the ends of the bread or the crusts. My Nannie used to say, “These will give you curly hair,” in an attempt to entice me into eating these despised pieces. I did want curly hair, but not enough to eat the crust. We would save these pieces for feeding to the ducks and geese that lived along the bayou. This dodge didn’t work with my daughter either, as I recall, and she enjoyed feeding these beggar birds also.

We always bought prepackaged bread at the store, as my Dad used to say about anything new and improved, “It’s the best thing since sliced bread!” My great grandmother baked her own bread in an old cast iron stove. Her old wooden bread bowl, which I still have, has a burned out hole in the bottom from her trying to hurry the dough’s rising. Yet, by the mid 1920’s, my grandparents were buying the new modern loaves from their grocer and my Mother never looked back. As a young married couple, my husband and I wanted to live closer to the land, even though we lived in the city. We grew an organic garden fertilized with circus poo, ate deer meat from the fall hunting season, and I baked bread each week. It was a simple life and fit well with our self employed days.

Some thirty years have passed now, and I no longer have to meet the beck and call of others or punch the clock for the bossman. I am once again self employed, which is another word for retired. I have revisioned my life into another calling. Now I am an artist, a writer, and an explorer. Sometimes I explore spirituality, creativity, health, wholeness, or food. I can test my own ideas in the kitchen, the gymnasium, the studio, or in my blogs. I don’t really want a premade loaf that is uniform in size, texture, color, and weight. I rather like the accidental and unique characteristics of the individual loaves that come from under my hands, what we call “the artisan loaf” when we pay $2 more per loaf at the bakery.

Sometimes we might think, “If only we had a baker who would provide us with our daily bread, then we could have a good life.” Everyone would have enough and no one would be hungry, but we would only want more or different. When the Hebrews were wandering in the wilderness, God gave them a daily blessing of manna. If they gathered more than a day’s worth during the week, the excess spoiled. Only on the eve of the sabbath would the manna last two days in a row (Exodus 16). When Jesus fed the 5,000 with the five barley loaves and two small fish, the people wanted to make him their king right then (John 6:15).

Everyone wants a sugar daddy, a giver of blessings, a distributer of free bread and circuses, and no responsibility but to receive the gift and make it one’s own. The Little Red Hen baked bread the hard way: no one wanted to help her plant the seeds, cut the wheat, carry the grain to the mill, grind it into flour, carry it back to the farm, and bake it into bread. Then all the animals on the farm who could have had a hand in the making of this bread wanted to claim a share of the finished product, but the Little Red Hen ate alone. If we want a simple life and a healthy life, we have to invest our time and energy into it.

Like I say, everyone wants a sugar daddy or a baker of free bread, but if we want a healthy and whole life, we have to share in the lifestyle.

CORNIE’S KITCHEN Low Sodium Whole Wheat Bread
http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=2562276

History of Wonder Bread
http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/wonderbread.htm

A BUTTERFLY IN THE HAND OF GOD

butterflies, Health, Imagination, Physical Training, purpose, renewal, Travel, vision, Work

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My usual walking route takes me from the local YMCA around the Mercy Hospital and Physicians Buildings until I make the mile and a half loop back to the gym. I take this walk on the days it’s not too hot or humid to be exercising outside, for I like the transition of the landscape against the sky, the changing shapes of the buildings as I walk past, and the patterns that the occasional breeze makes in the tall grasses of the ditches beside the access road that is my outdoor track.

This summer has been a blessing, for our usual 100 degree days didn’t appear. While we did have “heat factor 100 degree and then some” days, our early mornings were still bearable in the outdoors. It was on such a walk as this that I found this beautiful butterfly. Usually they are fluttering about with vigor on whatever imperceptible currents of overheated air that we call late summer in Arkansas, but this one was lying on the asphalt, no longer going about its appointed rounds. It had joined the cast off cigarette packages, the empty 5Hour Energy bottle, the smashed turtle and the carcass of the bird that marked the stages of my journey.

Gently I took it from the ground. This could not be its final resting place, for something so beautiful needed to be remembered and to be celebrated. I carried it with me as I thought of our great cities and their historic beauty. We tend to tear down our old architecture and put up new in its place with great abandon, yet we pay dearly to go to Europe and Asia to see ancient cities. I live in a 1960’s era high rise condominium on a lake that is near a bridge where bats live. Because some of these endangered species have made a nuisance by nesting in a few of the condos’ decorative cinderblock patios, our board proposed covering all these balconies with painted sheet metal. We live in the oldest and tallest solely residential building in Arkansas. We are a cultural and architectural icon. We wouldn’t want to look like a ten story trailer park!

Do we hold our traditional skills in honor any more? Are we willing to invest the time, effort, and sweat to fully develop our craft? Will we live below our means so that we can enrich the world with the products of our imagination and our spirit? Will we mentor anyone to follow in our footsteps, or will we be the last ones of our kind? Do we honor the living treasures or do we fawn over only the latest hot shot?

In this life, we may have many walks, along many paths. We can choose our direction, our companions, and our departure dates. We may think that we are self sufficient, but we are just butterflies in a moment of time, for in God’s “hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being” (Job 12:10).

The Last Tower

9/1/11, Family, Fear, generosity, Health, home, knitting, quilting, Strength, Work

Today is the first day of September: my how time flies when you’re having fun! Twelve years have passed since Mom died, and nearly fifty since she made me that cheerful zigzag afghan to take off to my freshman year in college. That flag pillow was our last project together. “I want to make everyone patriotic pillows for Christmas,” she said the year after the twin towers came down. I didn’t know at the time that the last tower in our family was going to fall.

When my Mother said “I want to make,” she really meant “and you must help me do this, of course.”
Patchwork means that many small pieces are sewed together to make a larger whole. The secret to a good outcome is to cut your shapes all true to the pattern: same size, angles, lengths, widths, and heights. If your stripes are all rectangles, when they are sewn together they will make a larger rectangle. If however, you have cut trapezoidal shapes, your finished product doesn’t look like an American flag.

“What’s taking so long?” She says to me, “You ought to have several sewn up by now.” Yes, Mother, I explain, but I’m having to select strips for size, flip them so the big end is next to a little end, adjust the seam sizes along the run, and then sew. You DO want this to be a rectangle when we are done?

I won’t even begin to tell you the discussion we had on how much fabric to purchase. Mom always wanted to purchase just enough, whereas I have Dad’s cautious streak and say, What if we mess up a portion or we decide to make a pillow for someone else? They may not have this fabric in stock again. She was a child of the Great Depression, and not wasting anything was a lesson learned in hard times. We never finished the pillows that year, for she died of pancreatic cancer before that September had run its course.

When I need a bit of comforting after a hard day, I can wrap up in this old hand knit afghan and sit on my couch with a soothing cup of tea and feel the presence of my Mom and Dad. I can see her knitting this afghan while sitting in the den at night watching television with Daddy. They had matching chairs with a table and lamp between them. They would talk about their day, talk about the world, talk about us kids, and talk about their hopes and dreams for us and for themselves.

I have tried replacing this screaming yellow, orange, gold and brown memory from the 60’s with a more decorative or color coordinated throw, but all I do is waste money: these new ones may look better, but they don’t comfort or warm me. Perhaps the accumulated memories of this ancient afghan have their own energy, their own power source, or their own spiritual connection to the last tower of my family. It has become a holy place where I can seek solace and peace, communion with the saints, and the presence of the God who creates all things and brings the off kilter into harmony with the whole.

For me, God doesn’t dwell only in a “high and holy place,” but “also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).

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