THE CURRENT HEAT WAVE HAS ME CRYING

at risk kids, Children, Family, Healing, Health, Holy Spirit, Mental Illness, Ministry, ministry, poverty, Prayer, purpose, Reflection, salvation, Secrets, Spirituality, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized

Cultural ChristActually, that’s my stunt double. Just like Chuck Norris, I’m too brave to cry. Or, the heat dries up any form of moisture that escapes my eyes. The stuff oozing from my pores is a different matter altogether. I think those 3,000,000,000 holes scattered across my body are each an eye leaking the tears our real ducts can’t cry.

The real Chuck Norris never sweats. He breaks any sweat that comes near him. Sweat is afraid of Chuck Norris, for he is the epitome of cool. How cool is Chuck Norris? We could defeat global warming if we unleashed his massive forces of chill. His sustained energy could bring down the ocean’s temperature by 4 degrees. In fact, Chuck Norris has the cooling equivalency of two Antarctic continents plus the Arctic ice cap.

Many things make my stunt double cry. Mostly they are those events, situations, or conditions that I cannot fix or make better for someone else. I spent years helping my daughter try to overcome the effects of her abuse. Others also gave their best efforts also. Her mental illnesses haves always impaired her ability to trust others or to stay on a treatment plan. Once she became an adult, she could choose, even if she didn’t make good choices, or have the ability to choose well.

I could cry about this forever, or let my stunt double have this role. I chose to grieve about this loss, shed enough tears, and find a way to live my own life by meeting the hopeless, the suffering, the despairing, the lost, the victims, and the ones “who’ve been down so long , it looks like up” to them. After all, this is where Christ met me. I knew if he could reach into my dark pit and pull me up into the light, if I offered Christ to others, he would the same for them.
When I get to the point of dragging out my Chuck Norris stunt double, I know it’s because good old Chuck is a cultural Christ figure. When I want a power for good to make a difference in my world, I call on this Texas Ranger. Instead, I should call on the spiritual power that flows through me:
“My soul clings to you; your right hand supports me.” (Psalm 63:8)

I may not be able to relieve the suffering of any one person, but I know God in his mercy understands and has compassion on all who suffer. God didn’t withhold God’s own son, but gave him up to suffer for all of us (Romans 8:32). Through this suffering we are united with those everywhere who experience wretchedness of any sort. Too often we hear that the winners of this world are our heroes, but faith tells us that those who lose their lives will gain their lives.

If we are to best grow into the Christ life, we cannot forget those who suffer while we are being healed, nor those who hunger or thirst while our stomachs are full. The real Chuck Norris would not send his stunt double to do good in this world.

THE NO ROOM INN

at risk kids, Children, Evangelism, Fear, Holy Spirit, home, Icons, Imagination, Ministry, poverty, purpose, renewal, salvation, vision, Work

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Context is everything. In the real world of my daily hikes, the objects in this artwork are pieces of trash that I’ve found lying near the path that I walk. Put together with a fresh eye to shape and color, they become instead a nativity scene. I live in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a place known for its healing waters to the native peoples who once roamed these lands and now known as our nation’s first National Park. We have two large hospitals, a rarity for a town of only 35,500 people, but we also serve outlying rural counties. If you want healing, this is the place to come, for we have spas, bathhouses, great food, a beautiful lake and mountains.

The local YMCA is just down the road from the Mercy Hospital campus. If I leave the Y, I can get a 1.5 mile hike with varying grades and enough level spots to recover my wind and get the whole done in about 30 minutes. I’ve about trained the courtesy cart lady to wave at me and pass me by. At first I think I struggled enough that she would stop to offer me a lift.

When we speak about context in a work of art or context in a biblical verse, we mean that we need to look at the surroundings. The surroundings in an art work include the artist’s life experiences, as well as the image they were viewing. We artists pour the sum of who we are into the whole of the world as we see it.

Likewise with the biblical context, we ask: what was the writer’s intent, what do we know of his life experience, what seems to be his goal in writing as he does, what does his choice of words or images suggest, why are some stories unique and not repeated by other writers, and to what do the stories before and immediately after point?

In the New Testament, Luke is the only writer to mention that the birth of Jesus took place outside of an established lodging place. He uses the Greek word Kataluma, which means “lodging, inn, or guest room,” depending on the context. He is also the only one to mention the parable of the Good Samaritan. Healing takes place for the victim of bandits at the inn and for the whole world at the no room inn.

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” –Luke 2:7

“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him” –Luke 10:34

The No Room Inn Nativity has the standard imagery of the Holy Family: Joseph is the tall, blue, flattened paint can with the radiator head; Mary is is the crushed coca-cola can with the tin can head and screws for eyes; the angel on the left is a rain washed McDonald’s French fry container with a tin can lid for a head; and the baby Jesus is an orange plastic cross/halo resting in a VIP parking ticket from a NASCAR race I attended in November. Alone, these are just pieces of trash, but together on a gold background, this collage becomes an icon worthy of reminding us that the King of this world began his life in a No Room Inn.

This Jesus who came to heal the rift between God and humanity, began his human life on the outside. Those of us who feel like we aren’t meant for the inside need to realize that Jesus spent his whole life on the margins, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and casting out demons, while at the same time afflicting the comfortable insiders who came for the show. Context is everything. Take your ministry out into the streets, find the broken bits of “trash” that have the potential to become new. Begin a healing ministry, not for those inside your comfortable inn, but for those who are told, “No room!”

Are we the Good Shepherd or Are We the Lost Sheep?

Children, Food, Health, Icons, Meditation, Physical Training, Prayer, purpose, renewal, salvation, sleep, Spirituality, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized, vision, Work

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Recently a male acquaintance of mine had the temerity to suggest that perhaps I might need one of those buttons that calls for help to a distant monitoring site. I had told him I’d been sick and he knew I lived alone. I was feeling much better by then and retorted, “As long as I can walk the around the 1.5 miles of Mercy Hospital, I don’t need a button that says I’ve fallen and can’t get up!” He escaped my wrath by a quick exit into the elevator. Indeed!

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” Paul said of Christ to the Philippians (4:13). Isaiah reminds us that God “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young fall exhausted; but those that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.” (40:29-31).

With verses like these ringing in our ears, well meaning people of faith do great harm to God’s gift, which is God’s own image, whether male or female (Genesis1:27). We run our precious images into the ground until they are flat exhausted, burnt out, overwhelmed, physically sick or plain old addicted to either the work, the adulation, or some other less desirable habit. We forget that the one person who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) is also the same one of whom was said, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). John’s gospel alone mentions that “Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well” (4:6). No other gospel author speaks of the Lord’s humanness as does John. If Jesus can get tired and need rest, why is it we who follow him cannot do the same thing?

We think we are being good shepherds by being always at work, always on call, always at work. I have clergy pals who feel they have to justify their exercise time as “prayer time or sermon preparation.” I have other friends that have worked themselves into the hospital with exhaustion, yet tried to leave against medical advice just to do someone’s funeral because they were jealous of another pastor coming into their church. The stress of disaster relief efforts in addition to all our other responsibilities can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Hurricane Gustave in 2008 put several of us in lower Arkansas into the hospital with stress related heart events. Fainting into your spaghetti at the community meal gets you a free ride to the local hospital, even if you go under protest!

I won’t begin to list the side effects of all this stress on our precious bodies, other than to say that when we put ourselves under this much stress, we eat more comfort foods, we exercise less and we sleep less. All these acts cause us to eat more comfort foods. If we really want to live a Jesus lifestyle, start walking! Give up your need to be a Ken or Barbie doll perfect person and tell your people you are going out to find the lost sheep.

The lost sheep is your identity as a child of God, not your calling as a pastor or your ministry in the church or the world. It isn’t how you make your money as a banker, a mechanic, a coder, or a salesperson. This isn’t you as a mom or a dad, but you as God’s own child. If you are feeling lost in the role of what you do, you are a lost sheep. This icon (image) of the Good Shepherd should point you to the only one who can find you and bring you home safely from the wilderness. If you are with him, you stand under the tree of life, whose leaves are used for healing. Your wounds will be healed and you will heal the wounds of others also.

For further reading, a classic spiritual text is Henri Nouwen’s THE WOUNDED HEALER

BRINGING IT LIKE BON JOVI

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I dilly dallied, as is my usual habit. I have some inner compunction that forbids me to turn up too early. It’s a learned behavior from early childhood: showing up too soon meant additional chores, whereas I’d rather be playing or reading or doing my art. However, Bon Jovi was coming to Verizon arena and that meant 18,000 people and possibly 6,000 vehicles were going to descend upon the twenty acres just across the river from downtown Little Rock. Late wasn’t an option. You can arrive late for church, walk in and find your seat while the congregation sings the first hymn or praise songs, but late for football or a rock concert means hoofing it from the far parking lots. Your seat may be reserved, but your parking space is a crapshoot.

I left my hotel at 5:30, arrived at the arena 15 minutes later, saw that the Burger King directly across the street was offering $10 off street parking, and I bagged this along with a Whopper Jr. with cheese and no pickles to go. About the time I’d finished my walking picnic (do calories eaten while exercising count?), I was at the entry. There a man asked me, “Will you be needing to drink tonight?” Do I need to or want to, I asked him. “Want to,” he said laughing. Oh no, I’m good to go as I am. I’ll be driving afterwards, so nothing for me. He wished me well and went about his work. He was checking the IDs and placing the orange bands on folks so the beverage people wouldn’t be slowed down for the inside sales. I thought of all the church greeters who miss an opportunity to engage in some type of meaningful conversation with the folks that are passing through their contact zone. If a church is a community, our first line greeters initiate that experience.

Once inside the door, I had two hours to kill or fill. Killing time is a long tedious process, but filling time is pleasant and refreshing. First I stopped to shop. Yes, I sacrificed at the altar of all things Bon Jovi to buy a $45 T-shirt with the logo on it. It’s a witness shirt. Of course, most people don’t read your clothes because they don’t see anything past the border of their personal space. We have been taught not to stare from an early age, so reading someone’s chest/breast is impolite. Only artists, children, and other rude people defy this social convention.

I sat next to a young couple from near Pine Bluff. The boy clearly loves this gal, but she’s had a hard life and can’t really believe it. When I showed her my shirt, I said I really wanted the hot red one with gold bling, but it didn’t come in “full mature womanly figure” size. “Oh I love red and gold, but I’d be afraid someone would take it.” Her boyfriend looks at her and says, “Come on honey, I think you’d look hot in that shirt!” Both these kids have had tough lives, but they have found each other and are making the days better for each other. I learned all this in less than an hour at a rock concert. How long do we take before we ever open up at church? Many of us never will, except for our physical illnesses, for we hold the mistaken belief that God rewards our silent suffering or worse, if we admit to suffering, we also admit to being an imperfect person. God already knows we are imperfect, so it won’t come as a surprise to the Almighty. It might only surprise the others who labor under the same delusion.

As I sat, I took photos of other folks killing time by checking facebook. Pretty soon, nothing would post and Instagram couldn’t refresh its feed, since too many bored people were online at once. I gave up and began to take photos only. It was as if we were all dressed up with no place to go, yet we were all here and being held in check, like racehorses behind the starting gate. Some found their way to the foot tall margarita stand, others to the beerita stand (half beer/half margarita), and others to the food and drink stands. I chatted with my other seat mates for a bit and realized I knew them from one of my appointments during my ministry. There may be six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but only one degree of Bon Jovi or Methodist ministers. I heard of the woes of their recent pastor and the trouble in their town. But it’s a broken and fallen world we live in, and we pastors can’t take responsibility for other peoples’ actions. This is why a God gave us Jesus to fall back upon when we fall down or the world falls apart.

At 7:30, I realized that the concert was no where near starting, no matter what my ticket said, so I went in search of the ladies’ room. On my way back, I chatted up the aisle folks. Some of them seemed surprised that a stranger was speaking to them, but then we do tend to live in our own little bubbles. This experience was the most like church, for I realized that while folks had come in groups or pairs to the concert, they came to experience it in their own private universe. They may have been part of the crowd, but their experience was much smaller and more intimate. I had come alone, however, and was seeking unity within the whole. Therefore, I was reaching out to connect with as many as possible to feel a part of the group. This is why a “friendly church” can seem cold to a stranger, but welcoming to the in crowd.

On my way back down to the floor, this handsome silver haired gentleman performed the requisite ticket check on me. He asked, “Do you like Bon Jovi?” Oh yes, I said. How about you? “Not so much, but I do get to say hello to very pretty ladies.” Aren’t you sweet, I smiled and said as I left for my seat. He probably had ear plugs for the evening. This was a nice moment to keep as a memory. I’m glad I’ve taken to wearing my hair up in braids. It makes me look approachable, young, fresh, and not all bound up. Uptight isn’t alright anymore. That was ok for the professional look, but now I want go look like me. My Sunday go to meeting clothes are now my dress casual clothes. I’m deep into retirement and not much on dressing up anymore. Once I had 47 pair of shoes, now I’m down to 12. I actually wear just 2 pair most of the time. Maybe we should simplify our lives, our dress, and our behavior: just be the same wherever we are. No one could call us a hypocrite then.

Finally the lights went dim and a roar rose from the crowd! Our anticipation wasn’t for naught. Bon Jovi and the band were taking the stage. The spotlights flashed brightly, strobing the darkened amphitheater. Blue lights burst into the stage that was just 17 rows and an orchestra pit away from my seat. Then oranges and reds quavered across this field and the sounds of “That’s What the Water Made Me,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Runaway,” and the “Lost Highway” rolled out over the excited crowd. We sang along, at the top of our voices. Some of us sang the whole song, others sang just the choruses, but we all shared in the experience. A rock concert differs from a classical performance in that the latter is done by the artist for the audience to appreciate the artist’s abilities and talent, whereas the rock concert is a communal or participatory event in which both the artist and the crowd share the creation.

This experience alone reminded me the most of why church ain’t bringing IT like Bon Jovi. How many of our congregations have the moniker “the frozen chosen?” For this group, worship is done to them and they merely observe the performance. After church they may intellectually discuss the merits of the sermon or the song selections, but preaching to this crowd is difficult, for encouragement isn’t their long suit. They are well trained in stillness, silence, and the flat aspect of their faces while in the sanctuary. It’s as if God might strike them dead if they so much as bat an eyelash. Get them around a potluck table afterwards, especially the deserts, and they are quite lively. Perhaps we should serve chocolate brownies instead of communion wafers and 5-Hour energy shots instead of the communion wine or grape juice.

A song that surprised me was “Whole Lot of Leavin’.” because it had never been released in the USA. Fresh to our ears, we applauded even louder, but when Jon rolled into “It’s My Life” the screaming broke loose! It wasn’t the nice church ladies on my left (who I periodically checked on to make sure they were still alive), but the gal who couldn’t believe this was her birthday dream come true. She was on her first syllable of the nonstop scream that was her entire commentary of the evening. When the Spirit takes over, some are wont to speak in strange tongues or languages. Others break out in laughter, barking, or whooping, while some twirl or dance in place. All that was happening all over the stadium as Bon Jovi sang “Because We Can,” “What About Now,” “We Got It Goin’ On,” and “Keep the Faith.”

This was one of the high points of the concert, for which we’d been standing, singing and clapping all the way through so far. We were probably 45 minutes into the concert and I noticed the young couple in front of me were plum worn out. I said, He’s 55, working it for all he’s got & you’re tired? Stand up and honor this! (I checked my fitbit after the concert when I got to the hotel. My steps/activity counter posted over three miles just from the aerobic workout dancing and clapping in my foot and a half of floor space.) I thought, I’m as bad as all those judgmental church folks who think this younger generation doesn’t have what it takes to “do IT the right way.” In truth, they are probably just worn out from a long week at work and hassles with the kids. I should give them a break. There may be more than one way to skin an IT, after all.

Just as preachers can’t bring the same sermon every week, rock stars don’t play the same set at every venue. Life would get old. For us Arkies, Bon Jovi played a set that related to our history and our connections. Just as there are the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, almost everyone in Arkansas is an FOB or an FOH, the Clinton’s of course. We heard “It’s Only Make Believe,” (Conway Twitty cover) and “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” as part of that recollection and connecting. As the mood slowed, we heard “Diamond Ring,” and “(You Want to) Make a Memory.” All the young and old lovers took this moment in time to hug and kiss, to make their own memory of the night they shared with Bon Jovi.

But enough of all that smooching, the band had come to rock! “Born to Be My Baby,” “We Weren’t Born to Follow,” “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” (with snippets of Jumpin’ Jack … more), and “Bad Medicine” (with snippet of Shout) rounded out the main program.
The old preaching saw is strike fire & sit down. Leave them crying for more. Cry we did. More they had! “I’ll Be There for You,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” “Have a Nice Day,” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” wound up the best night in twenty years in Arkansas. Don’t wait so long, BJ, you have friends here.

When I checked out of my hotel the next morning, the clerk was just in awe that I had gone to see Bon Jovi. I thought, no one ever says that about church. Is that because it happens every Sunday? If we held church once every twenty years, or asked people to pay steep admission prices, would that encourage us to attend? What if we had songs that we played over and over, like the top 40 and country hit stations play their lists, would that engage our participation? What if the seats cost more depending on their location (in church, the back row would cost the same as the concert orchestra pit)! We might have a better, if not rowdier, crowd down front. The preaching might get more exciting too. Then again, these two worlds aren’t meeting for the most part, for the same reason that the screaming fans and the prim church gals don’t run in the same crowd. They need a person who walks in both worlds to either be the church for them or to bring the church to them. The walls of the church itself are the barrier, even when the church ladies go out into the rock world, and the world can’t come into the church itself. This is why the church ain’t bringing the message of healing for the hungry and the hopeless like Bon Jovi is bringing IT. This is why the concert felt like the church ought to be, but each of us needs to bring our true heart to into true concert with the God who can rock our world, and not just our arena.

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The Art of Life

Children, Family, Food, Imagination, mystery, purpose, Spirituality, Work

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Just a little water, a little rest, and a straight edge scraper will clean my palette so that I can begin to work anew. Sometimes we wish we could wash ourselves, rest a bit, or scrape off the remains of our day and start over, try again better, so that even if we don’t come up to our hoped for outcomes, at least we will have failed a little closer to our mark.

It’s that stubbornness that gets us up again before our chosen medium to push it, pull it, noodle it, cajole it, or scream at it until we lock ourselves into the rhythmic dance of call and response, fear and dread, passion and exhaustion that we call art. Yet art isn’t just what we make in our studios, for life itself is art. Art is a skill as a result of learning or practice (Latin), whereas the Greek root means complete, just, or suitable. (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=art)

In the case of one person I know, he lives his art and life by skillfully cutting his daughter’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the old cutting board from his boyhood home (http://lettherebedragons.com/husband-and-father/). In the spiritual life, we call this being present in the moment. If we treat each moment of life with intensity, rather than living on autopilot, we will discover our life and art to be more full and more immediate.

The Butter Queen

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“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness,  we lie, and do not the truth…” ~~ 1 John 1:6

 Oh, Paula Dean, the Butter Queen! Once you were everywhere seen, 998661_10200934855966494_49237487_nbut now you just seem awfully mean. Or were you just good at hiding your true self until you got so big that you thought you were untouchable? Worse, did you lose your good self in the chase for fame and fortune as you left your humble startup beginnings behind you?

The famous Peter Principle may be at work here: we will all rise to the level of our incompetency. As befits our food metaphor, “The cream that rises to the top always sours.” The further up the food chain we go, the more we are surrounded by “yes-sayers.” These are folks who approve our every whim and never tell us “no.” Like politicians, movie stars, athletes, and anyone else in a position of power, those who surround them say, “yes” so that they too may stay in the shadow of power also. Sometimes these folks need someone to tell them NO: “No, Justin Bieber, having a monkey isn’t a good idea if you’re traveling to Europe.” “No, Tiger Woods, having affairs with umpteen hot honeys isn’t smart if you want to keep your wife and baby and sponsors happy.” “No, Lance Armstrong, blood doping is wrong, even if everyone else is doing it.” We really wonder why no one said, “NO, Paula Dean, allowing racist or sexist comments and pornography at your restaurants isn’t a good idea.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/dining/paula-deens-words-ripple-among-southern-chefs.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2)

Our first knee jerk response is to support Paula Deen because she is a southern gal who made her way up to the big time on her own. She is a real rags to riches story and this resonates with us, for if she can do it, any of us can have a shot at the American Dream.  Along the way she became a caricature of her former self, or an actor playing a part. When Ms. Deen was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, she kept this illness a secret and continued to produce recipes that were toxic to persons with her disease (http://www.businessinsider.com/paula-deens-10-most-unhealthy-recipes-2013-6?op=1).

Only much later did she reveal her disease, and then as a paid spokes person for an anti-diabetic pill. Some would say this is crass, and not sass. The proof is always in the pudding, as my Nannie used to say. Her cooking show on the Food Network lost audience share over this issue of untruth. When her show was up for renewal, the Food Network cut her expensive show to concentrate on their reality/competition food shows that appeal to a younger demographic. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323998604578567832751771860.html)

The floodgates opened: her tears flowed as fast as her partner companies dropped her. Why was she not forgiven? She said, “I’m sorry? I said something wrong years ago, but that’s not me!” It seems that it may not be so. She may not be able to tell the difference between the sweet gal she used to be and who she is now. (http://www.businessinsider.com/paula-deens-controversial-career-2013-6

When King David was confronted with his sins of adultery and murder, he repented before the LORD and asked God to “create in (him) a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit in (him)” (Psalm 51:10) When we recognize the wrongness of our former ways, we ask God to help us change so that we can become a different person and leave our old ways behind us.  When the doctor tells you that you are now a Type 2 Diabetic, this is usually a wake-up call for most people. This diagnosis changes your whole life from the food you can eat, to the exercise you must have, and the constant monitoring of your blood sugar. You learn to read the nutrition labels on packaging, discover that processed food is off limits for you because it’s mostly carbohydrates, and you discover how to cook from scratch. You throw away your Paula Deen Cook Books because they are the “pellets with the poison” and learn to cook from scratch using whole foods from the perimeter of the grocery store.

We can’t live in the darkness about Diabetes or its precursor (reactive hypoglycemia), but must share our condition. I personally have found that no one makes meals on retreats that are suitable for my health needs, so I usually pack in extra foods and have them for my own meals or snacks. Otherwise I will be fed a high dose of carbs, which will make my blood sugar crash and I will be irritable. I don’t consider this to be my “true personality,” but if I eat the wrong food, I’m not a kind person.

When Paula Deen failed to have her heart changed, or her “come to Jesus moment,” she failed to realize that what she did in the past is still continuing in the present.  She became more like Lance Armstrong who came to the first stage of the Tour de France this weekend and said, “winning wouldn’t have been possible in (his) era without doping.” They both act as if the worst thing they did was to get caught, but they don’t have real remorse for their act itself.  This is what we call “walking in darkness…and do not the truth.”  Paula had Diabetes 2 and continued to build a $16 million dollar empire with recipes that bring on the condition.  Tiger Woods and Martha Stewart got rehabilitated because they took time off (Tiger in sex rehab and Martha in jail) and had the opportunity to strip away all the circus of fame and power to get down to the person, to the human being that puts on her blue jeans one leg at a time, that ties his sneakers one shoelace at a time. They discovered their true selves again, found their roots, reconnected with their faith, and met others that had made a mess of their lives. Sometimes we have to break down, take our consequences and take our losses before we can appreciate forgiveness and redemption.

She was on the buttered slippery slope months ago, but this “fall from grace” may be just what Our Butter Queen needs. Ms. Paula will have a “time out” from the excitement of power to enjoy the humility of her own life again, and to remember who she is, where she comes from, and to whom she owes her success. When she recovers her true self, she may find that God will call her to a new mission, a hopeful, and a healing mission. After all, nearly 155 million Americans adults are overweight or obese, including our very own Butter Queen. Add to this number 24 million children and the number of butterballs rolled in sugar is amazing. I include myself in this number, for my BMI is 34.2 (above 30 is obese) (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bmi-calculator/NU00597).

Perhaps Paula will recognize that her recipes contribute to her disease and to America’s obesity epidemic. If she uses this to remake herself into something new and better, more humble and more honest, and if her recipes reflect this, she has an opportunity for redemption.  However, if she brings back the same old package back with the high calorie, high fat contents, I think the shelf life of her product has hit its expiration point, for people today want honesty and authenticity in their food and in their relationships.

How can we have an authentic relationship with God and with other people? God is willing to forgive our sins, even if we think they are unforgivable. The world may hold a grudge against us for a long time, for this is the way of the world. God is not of this world, for when the world will not forgive, God will.  When the world remembers, God remembers our sin no more (Isa 43:25).  All we can do is to love as God loves, forgive others as God forgives us, and live a new life in love as God enables us.

To help clean your heart, take press on letters or stencils, or use a large font on your computer. Write out your negative aspects/sins/imperfections/brokenness. We all have them. If you need a kick start, google “7 deadly sins.” That should get you started!  Once you have those printed out on your paper, then write in large open letters (stencil font) the word “LOVE” or “PEACE”.  Color it as you feel led.  Use this as a prayer focus this week.

Doing Battle With The Dragon

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“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, 
but the victory belongs to the Lord.”  ~~ Proverbs 21:31

Mount Erciyes, Cappadocia, Turkey As I journeyed with my group along the Silk Road on the fourth day of our pilgrimage, we saw the twin peaked volcano Mount Erciyes, on which St. George of Cappadocia was said to have slain the dragon. As we made our 400 miles across the sunlit fields with poplar trees into the tufted fairy mountain volcanic formations, I had several conversations about art and artists with my fellow travelers. We had visited the Firca Ceramic Factory in the morning. The artisans there explained their apprentice program and the process of training to become a master potter. Not everyone makes the cut, of course, but they can still be employed at the level of tradesman or tourist ware producer.

For people who have no concept of the time, effort, sensibility or spirit that is necessary to produce a great work of art, this “educational session” went right over their heads. Others had their “consciousness raised,” as we used to say back in the old days. This latter group happily gave a fair price for the extraordinary works of these artists’ hands.  I myself brought home a small plate of colorful fish to remind me that I am always called to “fish and to catch the hearts, souls, minds, and bodies of others for the sake of Christ and his church” (Matt 4:19).

At lunch I visited with one of my new friends. She asked, “Why did it take Michelangelo so long to paint the Sistine Chapel?” Because it was fresco—fresh plaster. He could only work while the plaster was wet. Bodies with clothes and landscapes went quickly, but nudes and faces were painted more slowly. If we could get up close we could tell by the edges and lines how much he did in a sitting. “Oh. Everyone who saw the chapel on our tour was kind of bored with it all. Now I understand why it was so important.”

I realized it’s because not many of us make art anymore, just as most of us don’t can jams or jellies. We also don’t quilt, knit, crochet or embroider. We buy our clothes premade and our foods prepackaged. Cooking from “scratch” is a lost art. We don’t seem to want to dirty our hands any more with the creative process. Instead, we have lost the spirit that calls us to enter into battle with the raw materials. We are a people without faith that God is with us in these fights. It is as if we are afraid to risk losing the battle, so we do not enter the fray.

I have recently been teaching art to prekindergarten children. The first thing I had to teach their classroom teacher was that “failure in art is part of the process of learning how to succeed.” In other words, it’s not the finished product of polished perfection that we seek, but the child’s growth in using the tools correctly and their creative response to the imagination challenge of the day.

The second teaching principle was allowing the child to do his/her own work.  Many of our parents have “taken over” doing for our children so they can have a good outcome. These children will have poor motor skills and will not be self-sufficient when they grow older. They will be less independent and less confident.  However, they can master skills in art class that can give them a sense of self-esteem that comes from accomplishing a task, taking charge of their own work, and creating their own designs from their own fertile imaginations.

The third principle about art is joy, and I usually don’t have to teach this to the children.  They love to play and the colors, materials, textures, and tools are great ways to explore the world in play. For adults, however, art is about the finished product from the get-go, so we worry that our idea will not come across on the canvas or paper.  For the work to come alive, the artist must let go of that original idea and go with the image that begins to come to life on the canvas. Sticking with the old idea is like staying with the old battle plan when the lines of engagement begin to shift. We all know what happened to General Custer at Little Big Horn.  The same death will happen to our creative product if we don’t pay attention to the new information coming t us from the front lines.

Likewise, in our lives, we don’t listen to the battles going on in our hearts, minds and bodies. Some might call this our conscience, or that voice that whispers “this isn’t right for you.” That other voice that whispers so sweetly, “but everyone else is doing it…” is like St. George’s dragon, or the personification of evil. Flip Wilson’s character Geraldine used to say, “The Devil made me do it!”

We can go along with the “demon voice” of “everyone else is doing it” and discover that our moral standards are at the lowest common denominator, and we make decisions not on any ultimate truths or standards, but on conditional and relative criteria. The ground is always shifting under us, like a mountain about to erupt. If we refuse to fight this particular dragon and “go along to get along,” then either our mental health or our physical health will begin to fail us. We may intellectually marshal the arguments of reason for our refusal to do battle against this insidious dragon, but like the fiery beasts of the old tales, they will surely begin to ravish the countryside.  In this case, the country isn’t Cappadocia, but the heart and mind of the one who needs to gird the horse for battle.

Many of our modern illnesses are related to stress, which comes from having to reconcile two discordant tunes in one’s head. Only when we can fine that one tune to hear will we be both well and at peace.  Another image is trying to “spot paint a wall that was painted too many years ago.” Putting fresh paint over dull color will make this one spot stick out like a sore thumb.  One must paint the whole wall, and of course, the other three walls and the ceiling, for the rest will look too sad next to that freshly painted wall. The truth is we can’t just put a new piece of cloth on to an old garment; we must change out the whole thing. This is called a “make over” or a life style change, or the “new life in Christ.”

I myself have had a lifestyle change from the hectic, caring for the lives of others that is the life of a pastor to the new life of caring for myself in these years of being on incapacity leave.  These past four years others from my old life have pushed me to be “more involved and to do more ministry with and for others” in the hope that I will be able to return one day to full or part-time ministerial service.

As I listen to my body, I realize that the stresses of these activities aren’t for me anymore. I can do them on an occasional basis, but not on a weekly basis, and definitely not on a daily basis. I am healthier when I am in the solitude of my studio writing and painting. I need the quiet to stay well and avoid the stress that brings on the seizures. Here I can reflect on the battles between good and evil, the struggles we all have to live the full Christian life.

We all do battle against the dragon.  Some of us want to be at the heart of the action, to receive the affirmations of the people to be there for them and to touch their lives. We think if we can make a difference here, it will atone for our failures to make a difference somewhere else or in some one else. We will be at peace when we understand that while we may gird the horse and swing the sword, “the battle belongs to the LORD.”

As an artwork for spiritual reflection, find an icon of St. George and the Dragon. As you meditate upon it, write out the words of your particular “dragons.” These are the powers and principalities that you struggle against: pride, fear, self-doubt, worry, hopelessness, arrogance, anger, weakness, hate, etc.  You can make the words of any size or shape. Embellish them with wings, give them an elongated tail, scales and an open gaping mouth. Now draw a large sword, gleaming brightly in the light of day. Upon this sword write the words of power that come from scripture: “The battle belongs to the LORD!”

Keep this image near you this week and draw strength from it: God is at your right hand!

For photo & info on the volcano at Mt. Erciyes:  http://volcanocafe.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/cappadocia-upright-volcano-of-turkey/

For Illnesses related to Stress:  http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems

Gifts for Everybody!

at risk kids, Children, Creativity, Evangelism, Food, generosity, Holy Spirit, home, Meditation, Ministry, photography, poverty, Prayer, purpose, Spirituality, Uncategorized

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” ~~ 1 Cor 12:4-6

In my actively practicing carboholic years, I loved going to the mall because there I could indulge my addiction at the candy stores. The various colored jelly bellies in clear plastic boxes lined up against the walls of the small shoebox stores brought me inside as if they were a rainbow leading me to a pot of gold. I would select my stash of varied flavors & colors, making sure to make a double purchase of my favorite black liquorish beans.

Once I had those treats in hand, I might peruse a bookstore, but if I were truly pressed for time, I went straight for the chocolate shop. There I bought my favorites: the turtles, brownies and the chocolate covered strawberries. These last I ate before I left the store, for fragile fruit wouldn’t travel well and I needed something for the road.

On the way home, I might purchase a Route 44 Diet Lime aide at the Sonic and eat a couple of the brownies. Diet drinks do cancel out the sugar calories, right? It’s the mantra of every dieter in denial, who has had his or her passport stamped many times over at that famous river in Egypt. The boredom of the drive home and the temptation of my treats in their pristine white sacks were usually too much to resist, and they often met their untimely ends before I met my driveway and my kitchen counter at home.

I can just imagine the Corinthian church, fragmented as it was, arguing over desert choices too. Brownies! Blondies! Red velvet Cake! Pineapple Upside Down Cake! Apple Cobbler! Fruit Salad! Donuts! Jell-O Pudding! Coconut Pie! Etc.!

Paul would have written them a letter saying, “There are varieties of deserts, but only one Cook, varieties of ingredients, but only one Spirit, and varieties of service, but only one Lord…”

Instead, they argued about spiritual gifts, ways to serve Jesus, and how God acts in the world. In this they sound like very modern people. We value and understand what is most like ourselves for we can recognize this in others, as if we are looking in a mirror. This is why when we get excited about a program or a ministry opportunity, we have a hard time understanding why others aren’t also enthusiastic about the same thing.  We sometimes don’t realize that others are just more eager about a different service experience and are putting their energy elsewhere.

If we stopped to think about this, if everyone did the same ministry within the body of Christ, many needful works would be left undone. If we were all “preaching,” it would be a cacophony of sound, or we might get only an occasional week to practice our gift. A better use of this group’s one gift would be to send them all out into the world to spread the good news of Christ with other congregations who had no one with the gift of “preaching.” Disbanding this group would be best, for it doesn’t have the variety of gifts, services and activities to sustain it.  Likewise in a community, not everyone will serve in the same arenas, for some will support the arts, others will feed the hungry, others will champion the children, and others still will want to make sure justice is served for all, rich and poor alike.

This is why the Holy and Triune God in his wisdom assigns a variety of gifts, services and activities to the body of Christ that we call the Church. While we may think that our congregation isn’t “gifted,” we aren’t trusting the faithfulness of God, for “it is the same God who activates (these gifts, services, and activities) in everyone” (1 Cor 12:6).

When scripture makes a blanket promise of “everyone,” it means “all,” not “some or a few.” If we are trusting God for our lives, since he gave his only begotten Son for us that we might live with him forever, then we also need to trust the Holy Spirit to make that promise of “everyone” true in our life also. Each of us has some gift, service, or activity that we can do well. Our gift may be something we learned growing up, like how to make biscuits the old fashioned way. Making biscuits for potlucks is just an activity to some, but it is a gift of hospitality when done in the Spirit for the Lord. Teaching the next generation this skill is a service not only to the body of Christ, but also to human kind, for we no longer know how to cook, but merely heat our foods in this generation. The next generation will only know how to eat at the drive through or from a can or a box, and that is a loss to our humanity.

As we live out our lives this week, we creative people should consider how we use our giftedness in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. If our gifts are from the one Spirit, and our service is to the one Lord, and if all our creativity is activated by the one God who works in each one of us, how are we using these gifts in God’s world today? Do we stay in our studios creating only for ourselves? When we come out, is it only to do errands, exercise, party, wash clothes, or attend to the other details of our lives? What have we done for the good of others?

I have a young friend how has answered the call to be an urban missionary to the homeless. He is using his art and music background in his ministry with these men and women of the streets. He used to be a musician in the church. My health keeps me from being a full time pastor, but I can teach art in the church day care one hour each week on Awesome Art Tuesday. I get paid with hugs and excitement when I arrive at the door. Each of us has a call from God on our hearts if we will but listen in the silence to hear his voice. What is God calling you to do with your giftedness? Journal about this and do some research on arenas in which you might serve.

This week attempt a self-portrait, which will be difficult, for the face has more planes than the ordinary still life or landscape.  If the drawing or painting is beyond your skill level, pose yourself and capture your inner spirit. This isn’t an “Olin Mills” portrait or a school photo or even a mug shot with numbers under it.  It’s not the idealized photo most of us put on our Facebook pages.  This photo should carry the freight of your personality and your inner heart and soul.  Good work will come of this if you let God work within you!

Hard Work, Community & Individual Success

at risk kids, Children, Creativity, Holy Spirit, Imagination, Ministry, photography, Physical Training, purpose, Spirituality, Strength, Uncategorized, vision, Work

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”          ~~ 1 Corinthians 12:7

“If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” President Obama lit up the ratio and TV talk shows a while back with this statement because 60% of Americans believe that hard work brings success more than lucky breaks, inheritance, or connections (2012—What Americans Believe: American Values Survey by the Atlantic/Aspen Institute). Not even a prolonged and hobbling “recovery” that still seems like a recession to those of us used to fatter times seems to shake this idea that the virtue of individual hard work will prevail.

Yet I am noticing a culture change among athletes, especially those who play team sports, but even among those who are individual “players” but have a support team of coaches, trainers, nutritionists, equipment handlers, bus drivers and press people or agents. In these lean times, when sponsors are most appreciated and not taken for granted, the athletes are thanking them for their support, and not just for the financial gifts, but also for the emotional assistance a name brand brings to their effort. When they begin to look beyond themselves, they realize how many people give their time and energy to help make their individual achievement a success. This is a humbling moment for sure.  Neil Armstrong, who passed away this week and was the first man to walk on the moon, said as he touched that alien soil, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind!” Yet he never took the sole credit for his efforts, for he knew he only went as part of a giant team representing a great nation that willed him forward by adding its corporate strength to the thousands of gallons of rocket fuel that powered his tiny capsule into the highest heavens.

Indeed, an athlete, an artist, a writer, an engineer, an astronaut, or a mechanic doesn’t get to the top of his or her field without dedicating their heart, mind, soul and body to the perfection of their craft. We each have a calling to our work, a desire to be the best or to give our best every day, and this attitude gets recognized by the masters of the generation before us. They share their knowledge with us, like Obiwan shared his with young Skywalker. If we are given to wisdom, we will remember our old masters and give them credit when we surpass them, for if we say, “I did it all by myself,” we are showing our two year old brain to the world.

The culture change of which I speak is the value of the community over the individual. When I was young, boys were expected to work and girls were expected to marry. It’s no wonder that 61% of Americans aged 65+believe our “free enterprise system contributes to America’s having stronger values than other places in the world.” Only 36% of our 18-29 year olds think this way, for freedom of speech ranks highest with them (64%) (2012—What Americans Believe, p. 15).

When older people say, “Kids don’t know how to put in a full day’s work anymore,” I wonder if we taught them the meaning of hard work or if we wanted to spare them the pain of our struggling. We no longer teach cursive writing in schools anymore because almost everyone uses the computer. I’ve noticed that some seven year olds can barely write their names legibly in print, so they aren’t teaching basic writing skills in schools either.  When I came home with my puny first grade letters, I asked my mother how I could make them better. She said, show me how your teacher told you to make the letter. I said, “The form of b is a stick with a ball.” Yes, so got to your desk and fill a whole page of paper with b until you can make a good straight stick and a nice round ball. My mom knew that practice makes perfect and training my little hands was training me to have a work ethic.

In the same manner, when cursive came to town, I already knew my task.  If I wanted pretty handwriting, I needed to fill my pages with theses newfound shapes until my hand automatically produced perfectly formed script.  I was developing my small motor movements and my hand eye coordination both.  I thrive on details, but I’m not good at yanking heavy weights up and down. We all have our callings!

When seven-year-old “Alberto” says he can’t write his name on his artwork, I look at him and say, now is the time to learn! What letter does Alberto start with? “B?” Al? Does Al sound like B? “A?” he says. Yes, so write A. Now what? “L?” Yes. And so on we go, sounding out his name letter by letter.  I am sad that his parents and teachers and the many people in his community haven’t taken the time to make him successful in the one place that has real meaning: his unique name that identifies him.  The struggle to learn and to achieve is something each of us must undergo if we want to be the best, for we will all hit a wall of defeat or failure to improve at some point in our lives.  All learning involves a certain amount of failure, for we have to discover what we don’t know so that we can reteach/relearn that area.  In this sense, learning is just a “going onto perfection” or a smoothing out of the imperfections/failures along the way to our destiny of greatness! We all need to use our gifts of hard work and our Spirits of courage to fail over and over until we succeed. For people like us, we will climb over, tunnel through, or redefine (Kobayashi Maru maneuver) all the obstacles in our paths.

We all would do well to understand what this scripture means: “To each is given the Spirit for the common good.” We each receive spiritual gifts from God, but not because we are hard working and have earned them. We each receive unique gifts from God, but not because we are already born into a spiritually wealthy family and therefore we too participate in our family’s blessings. God chooses freely to whom God will give the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues and the interpretations of tongues (vs. 8-10).  These gifts aren’t for the purpose of an individual’s success (one doesn’t make a living by healing or divining the spirits), but the gifts are for the common good of the body of Christ, the church that gathers in his name.  Some of the gifts are more exuberant and “flashy” so they brought more attention to the recipient, who began to claim more status and success in the body. However all these gifts are equal and all are useful. We need them all to succeed as a whole, so we need to not only credit one another, but also the give of all good things, our God who activates these gifts in us by his Holy Spirit.

As creative people, we have many people to whom we owe our lives. As I list mine, you should think about listing yours in your journal this week. My grandmother DeLee was a portrait and still life painter, so I wanted “to be an artist when I grew up.” I don’t remember my teacher’s name at the Shreveport Parks and Recreation Saturday Art Classes, but as soon as I could write my name in cursive, I could enter her class and learn the secrets of light and shared, color and value, and begin not only to draw but to paint in various media.  I’m thankful for my parents who encouraged me and paid for my art lessons all those years. I give credit to my crazy college professors who pushed me and the agents who worked with me in the first stage of my art career.  The twenty years I spent in ministry prepared me spiritually for the work I’m doing now: how many lives, deaths, joys and griefs are there in those 7,300 days? Words will not express these feelings, but the power of the visual image will unpack the potency of the unspoken cries of the heart.

As I think about a visual image to express this image of the community supporting the individual’s success and the individual’s gifts supporting the community, I think that if God’s light didn’t shine into the world long ago, we might still be looking for a savior. If the sun didn’t rise each day, we would know the beauty of God’s world. If we didn’t paint or draw this world as God gives us the gift to see it, then the world would be a duller place indeed.  Bring to life with God’s gift to you,  your vision of God’s light breaking into the world. This may be a sunrise or a sunset, or a scene with light and shadows. Share it with someone who has helped you along the way.

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.