OUR LIVES ARE A WORK IN PROGRESS

butterflies, Creativity, Forgiveness, home, Imagination, photography, renewal, salvation, Secrets, Uncategorized, vision, Work

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Greetings! You haven’t heard much from me lately because I’ve been writing a spiritual journey sci fi novel that I’m posting by chapters as a weekly serial on http://www.souljournieswordpress.wordpress.com. I invite you to visit me there. It isn’t a blog, however, it is a work of fiction: think DR. Who and The Way of a The Pilgrim.

This photo is my latest work. I’m in full spring mode doing a butterfly series! This is Stage 4: Blue Morpho– my most recent work on the easel. The outer wings have to become darker, that right wing with the white splotches is only in its first stage of paint and the background has been laid in, but not articulated.

As an artist I have to live with a work on my easel that is in various stages of completion. I make a sketch on the canvas, then I begin to paint. Even here I often realize that I’ve not drawn my subject well, so I change the form as I paint. Just because I drew it off kilter doesn’t mean I’m locked into coloring inside those lines. If I drew the lines, I can draw others. These lines aren’t “fixed!”

Just so, our lives aren’t fixed by the decisions we have made earlier in our lives. Others will try to tell us this. It’s true if you burn your bridges behind you, it’s hard to cross those bridges again.

However, creative people will find a way to swim the river or hire a boat to cross to the other side. The lack of a bridge doesn’t stop them from going back and making amends so they can start over again.

God is the great creator who is making all things new. God can give us a new heart, a new hope, and a new spirit. We can be in the process of being recreated like the Blue Morpho–from a crawling caterpillar to a quiet chrysalis and finally to a beautiful butterfly.

A ROAD IN THE WILDERNESS

Creativity, Fear, Forgiveness, home, Imagination, Meditation, photography, purpose, renewal, salvation, Stress, Travel, Uncategorized, vision

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As I am entering the outskirts of my city, I leave the local highway and climb onto the bypass that loops around the south side of town. I wouldn’t dare climb this route in a winter storm, but on one of our interim false spring days, I can negotiate the incline and curves without fear. On one of my journeys home, I arrived as usual near sunset, so I was driving into the setting sun. The light was falling between the low mountains with a flooding glow that didn’t seem to come from the sun, but from a holy presence.

Since I was driving sixty miles an hour on a two lane, one way elevated road, I did not whip out an Instagram memory. Instead, I committed this to my mind’s memory and sketched it out when I got home on the first piece of paper I found, which happened to be a magazine page I had ripped out and put into my purse. Then I unloaded the car and went inside to my home.

Where are the people? Where are the distinctive landscape markings? I didn’t make these on purpose so that this road can be everywhere for everyone. We each have our own personal wilderness in which we wander before we can come home. We can’t come home as long as we are just in this world, but we can come home when we realize that we are walking with God in God’s world. The problems that keep us from having good relationships with our family, our friends, our neighbors, and our god will be healed when we realize that God has already prepared the highway for us on which we are to travel homeward:

“A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” –Isaiah 35:8-10

One day we will climb up the entry to this bypass, the light will strike us as truly different from all other days we have been in this place, and if we are aware of God’s speaking to us in his world, we will hear his voice calling us home. The burdens will lift from our shoulders and the tears will dry from our eyes. Songs of joy will burst unbound from our hearts and our feet will leap and dance with gladness.

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!”

A WORK IN PROGRESS: Grieving Enabled Through the Creative Process

Creativity, Family, Health, home, Imagination, Ministry, photography, Prayer, Spirituality, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

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Just the other day, one of our younger clergy brothers died from a massive heart attack in the wee early morning hours, or late at night during his sleep, depending on your point of view. His contemporaries were in a state of shock, as well they might be, for if death could take a strapping young person in the prime of life, who had a spouse and small children plus an active and vibrant ministry, death could suddenly appear on their doorstep or in their bedroom also. From the facebook posts and videos, he had a grand send off. The show of grief is over and now the real work of grieving begins.

“The memory of the righteous is a blessing…” (Proverbs 10:7a). Yet for those who grieve, their love is often mixed up with wondering all the “what if’s”: should I have insisted on more doctor visits, been more careful about our diet, put my foot down on taking days off to be with the family, etc. usually, nothing we could would have changed the outcome in the short run. We can’t carry guilt for another’s behavior to our own graves.

For the living, especially for a bereaved clergy spouse, the true loss of their loved one will come all too quickly. As soon as the new appointment is made to the charge, the “eviction notice” comes to the parsonage. Most of us clergy live in the home provided by the ministry to which we are assigned, so death or divorce comes with an eviction notice to the non pastor spouse. This is when depression sets in, for the loss of the loved one now involves the loss of a home that has the memories of laughter, meals together, and quiet times on the couch holding one another close.

For all the outpouring of fellowship and grief at the celebration of our brother’s life, this is the time his widow actually needs the most attention. Feeling helpless and powerless, in addition to feeling abandoned both by her spouse and the conference (I’d hate to be the DS delivering this news), I’ve seen otherwise gentle folks get angry at God and everyone below.

Healing will eventually happen, but not if we don’t attend to it. We need to make this most recent loss part of our life experience. As a pastor I’ve buried lots of people, some of whom I’ve known well and some of whom were strangers to me. I think my record was seven people in ten days. That’s a bunch of sermons about how persons lived their lives before God and experienced their faith in action. I was summing up for the families the faith stories of their loved ones so they could carry the good memories forward. As a pastor however, I often didn’t have the opportunity to grieve myself, for I needed to be available to help others to grieve.

I found that keeping a journal helped me to be creatively cleansed of all the pent up emotions that I wasn’t able to express in my professional life. I didn’t have time to wallow in grief, for I had grieving people to encourage and to counsel. I would find a bible verse just by opening the Bible, reading until a verse grabbed my attention, and then I would inscribe it on the top of a page of a cheap spiral bound notebook. Then I would date the page and begin to write whatever came into my mind. I chose the cheap book because too often we come before God with our words and panic: it must be perfect, have complete sentences, good punctuation, good spelling! You would think we have some image of God as an old fashioned school mistress. Where in scripture does it say this? No where! Get over it! Talk to God more often and you will lose that fear. Let the words flow. Do not judge. Don’t reread, don’t rewrite. Finish today and call it good enough. Come see God tomorrow with a fresh verse and a fresh page.

Now I paint as a form of journaling also, for it too is a creative expression. Before I went to seminary, I was virtually nonverbal. Now that experience, combined with the call to preach, has unleashed my tongue. I am finding my art has grown by leaps and bounds over the four years of my incapacity leave. I process emotions and ideas best visually, however, rather than through the written or spoken word. Images from nature cause thoughts to pop into my head, rather like the prophet of old who saw the almond branch blooming and God asked him what he saw (Jeremiah 1:11).

In the unfinished painting attached to this blog, I was on a walk around Mercy Hospital in Hot Springs when I saw a group of trees reflecting in a still pond under a cloudless sky. I thought of how the water is like another place and time, perhaps heaven, and the earthbound trees are our connection of clergy. We have storms, but the sunshine comes in and a rainbow reminds us of God’s care and providence for the earth and its creatures. The solitary tree without leaves is the brother we lost. Because the water is not of this world, the colors of the trees don’t reflect naturally or according to shape. In fact, even the leafless tree reflects in this heavenly pond with a full set of leaves. All the reflected trees share the same colors, for in heaven our differences disappear (Matthew 22:30–For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.) The question for each of us today becomes, are we so busy with our tasks lists and our need to be at the next destination on our overcrowded schedules, or are we open to the voice of God saying, “what do you see?” My prayer is that your heart is open.

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BRINGING IT LIKE BON JOVI

Children, Evangelism, Family, Forgiveness, home, Love, Ministry, photography, Physical Training, purpose, salvation, Secrets, shame, Spirituality, vision, Work

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 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

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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Instagram in The Garden of Dreams

Fear, Food, Health, Holy Spirit, home, Imagination, photography, purpose, salvation, Strength, vision, Work

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I am never too busy to heed the prompting of that inner voice that calls me to stop and smell the roses. In my case, the voice says, “Stop and Instagram this moment!” I’ll be driving down the road, just going from point A to point B, singing my favorite Bon Jovi tune, when I feel that pull on the steering wheel from my Higher Power. Sometimes I have seen the extraordinary play of light shimmering through the trees beside a rural road and other times one magnificent tree stands out from the crowd of its kin. Sometimes I snap several photos around an area before I “see the real image” that was calling out to me.

This prompting of the Spirit ought not to be denied, for we will miss our most inspired works if we are just fixed on getting to our planned destination. In art, as in the spiritual life, the journey is as important as the destination. We can miss some important opportunities for growth if we think that our journey needs to be easy, direct, quick and according to plan.

In my studio as in my life, I like to be on a schedule and have a plan/goals. The unknown is frightening, full of dragons, and has many places where I could “lose it all” by falling off an unseen cliff face or down into a sudden crevasse. Yet, meeting these challenges is what strengthens us. A child making a mess of his drawing has merely taken the media too far. We adults want to stop him before he makes a mess of it, but he has to learn the limits of the medium before he can truly take his creativity out to the maximum, but no farther. If we are pushing ourselves creatively, we will “lose it early and often.” (Ask Tiger Woods or any pro golfer who has changed his/her swing: the transformation is daunting, so only the passionate will give it a try.)

I’ve been eating healthier and exercising more, so my blood pressure medicines were working too well. My blood pressures were in the zombie zone, so I wasn’t perky enough to do much work in the studio. Once my doctor adjusted my medications, I discovered my housekeeping skills also hadn’t been tested for some time there. Many of the photographs that I’ve taken as inspiration were stuck together from a water spill. I microwaved them (with a bowl of water), peeled them apart, cut up the interesting fragments, and glued them together as a collage: “Garden of Dreams.”

I decided to use the collage as the sketch for a new painting, an idea which freed me from grieving the loss of the good things or the original plan I had in mind for these photos. I could concentrate instead on the better hope for the future that this new opportunity presented. My best laid plans may have come to naught, but “we know that all things work together for good for those that love God, who are called according to his purposes” (Romans 8:28).

SURVIVAL SKILLS

Family, Fear, home, Imagination, Meditation, Prayer, purpose, sleep, Strength, Stress, Uncategorized, Work

“in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.”
~~ Psalm 57:1

Drop me behind enemy lines with my machete and I’ll make my own way out. I was born for challenges: I am a first child. My parents had to learn on me and I always had to test the boundaries as I was growing up. Not that I was a particularly wild child, but when I discovered my other friends in the seventh grade had bedtimes ranging from eight PM to midnight, I was able to convince my folks I didn’t need to be put to bed at seven PM with my younger brothers. I was always the first to do anything new, since I was the oldest.

When it came time to pick a college, my parents wanted me to live at home and attend their alma mater, Centenary College. I wanted to go far away to Wellesley College, but my dear southern Daddy said, “No daughter of mine is going north of the Mason Dixon Line!” So I said I wanted to go to the notorious state party school LSU, and was told that was not an option. We compromised on Agnes Scott College, a small Presbyterian woman’s college that sends 90% of its graduates on to postgraduate work.

In the midst of my junior year, my art teacher was killed in a freak accident. We had a very modern art building that had all the floors cantilevered over the ones below so that it was open and airy. Sounds also carried very well. Those of us that were in the building heard the last screams before the sheer silence. The death of my mentor in the midst of an ordinary art activity had a profound effect on me. She was remixing clay by adding it into a grinder, but her sleeve got caught and that pulled her into the machine. There is nothing like the death of someone you love to focus your mind and to focus your actions.

When the storms of life come, and come they will, taking shelter is sometimes the better part of courage. The storm chasers who photo extreme weather events have special, modified vehicles in which they chase these powerful natural events. “Professional driver, closed course, do not attempt” ought to scroll under their videos. We need to remember that the best way to ride out a tornado is in the bathroom or closet (the most interior room without a window), and never to ride out a tornado in our car (think matchbox toy blown to kingdom come).

I can sleep through anything, but one morning when I was on the Blevins Charge, I awoke to this horrid sound roaring right over the roof of the parsonage. I looked at the clock, thought it was way too dark thirty to wake up, and went back to sleep. When I woke for good, my coffee pot wouldn’t work because the electricity was out. I went to the Gas and GO, three houses away (Blevins has more chickens than people), but they were in the same shape. I am a woman who needs my coffee (it is my machete). When I inquired, the clerk said “Are you not aware that a tornado came through here this morning!? No one has electricity! You might find coffee in Hope.” Oh, so that horrible loud sound early this morning was a tornado? And I just opened my eyes and went back to bed.

That tornado didn’t even lift a shingle off the parsonage, but that is the vagaries of the animal. The recent OKLAHOMA tornados were much larger and more devastating. Half of a city blown away, but thankfully not many lives lost considering the amount of physical destruction. The recent thunderstorms that brought flooding to Arkansas also caused several deaths. Some may ask, where is God in all this? People lose loved ones, their homes, and their business. Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Couldn’t a good God keep this from happening?

God is with us at all times, whether we acknowledge this fact or not. God’s steadfast love is a gift to us, for when our love fails and we turn away from God, God still remembers God’s pledge to love us. “You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” ~~ Job 10:12 there was a time in my life that I decided there was no God, but God still remembered me even when I had forgotten God.

When we ask, why does God let bad things happen to good people, sometimes we re asking “does God cause bad things to happen?” This is a broken and fallen world in which we live. The world itself isn’t in harmony with God’s good purposes, but one day there will be a new heaven and a new earth. We too are part of the broken and fallen world, and as much as it pains us to hear this word, we are not yet “good” in biblical terms, for good is a term belonging to God alone (Mark 10:18–
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”)

Could a good God keep these disasters from befalling his loved ones? I think if we humans thought we were immune to disasters, we would throw caution to the winds and go bat crazy. I also think we would soon forget the source of our protection and begin to worship ourselves. Oh wait, that sounds like us right now!

The question we ought to answer is “How do folks endure tragedy?” For some it is a challenge: they thrive when they have a machete in hand and are behind enemy lines. When you come out of your safe place and see your whole neighborhood blown away, you are behind enemy lines. When you find out your kid is on drugs, you are behind enemy lines. When your job gets downsized, you are behind enemy lines. The doctor tells you it’s cancer: grab the machete, honey. It’s time to meet the challenge standing up.

Even behind enemy lines, we need to rest. We have to find a hiding place, a quiet place in which we can restore ourselves and be ready for the next day. We need to be “in the shadow of your wings” and “take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.” (Psalm 57:1)Those can be the storms of doubt, fear, hopelessness, weakness, anger, grief or inadequacy. When others depend on us to be strong, we need to take time to care or ourselves. A quiet time to meditate, to pray, to read scripture, or to hold hands with your family and to speak aloud the thanksgivings of your day can be “refuge in the shadow of God’s wings.”

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The Journey Never Ends

Creativity, Family, home, Imagination, Love, Meditation, photography, Prayer, purpose, renewal, Spirituality, Travel, Turkey, Uncategorized, Work

Hot Air Balloons in Turkey

Hot Air Balloons in Turkey

“A highway shall be there and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.”~~ Isaiah 35:8

All good things come to an end, but the ending is just the beginning of something new. This week a fifty year old jockey came out of retirement and rode Oxbow, a 15/1 long shot, into the winner’s circle at the Preakness: they beat the favorite and his mud covered jockey who finished fourth, out of the money. I have a dear friend who just turned 66 and is contemplating retirement after forty years in medicine: he wonders what he could have done if he had more time in his career or if he had more time in retirement. Thousands of graduates from all educational levels are celebrating with their families this end of their journey with a mixture of joy and sadness. Whether they are “kiddie kollege” grads or college graduates, there is a mixture of sadness in knowing that this shared journey with friends is over, and in a few days the classrooms will be empty as others come to take your place.

This is the way of all journeys, whether we are going for a weekend at the lake or for two weeks in the Footsteps of Paul on a pilgrimage. When I came home after being in two countries, seven hotels, multiple airports, a taxi ride by myself in Istanbul, and finally slept in my own bed within my own four walls, I woke up feeling sad that there wasn’t some new and compelling place to be that day. Already I wanted to see more of Greece, for I only tasted of her beauty and delights. I didn’t get to see the ancient sites of mythology or the northernmost cities that Paul visited.  When I said goodbye to some of my travel companions that I enjoyed touring with, I knew that they were just seasonal friends, but one friend I have kept in touch with through Facebook. Sometimes this is the way life is, for we can’t manufacture friendships over a short period of time.

My first Sunday at home I was still on Istanbul time, so I woke at 2 AM (10 AM Istanbul time). This was “sleeping late” by their clock, but my eyes were wide open. Coffee in the kitchen, writing in my journal, a very early breakfast, meeting my newspaper man, and getting to church early for a change were on tap for today.

I did notice that I had a difficult time clapping in rhythm with the band, however, as if I were straddling different time zones or time travelling between the two places I had been and the place where I was now. My driving was also a tad impaired, for while I was able to navigate the highway, the glowing scenery distracted me. The landscape had an effervescent glow that I remember only one other time in my life, a radiance that it gave off as if God was touching all his creation and sanctifying it.  I remember the land, the trees, the grass, and all living things giving off this glow for weeks after I visited the Holy Land. This didn’t transfer to the streets or to bridges or houses, but only to growing things.  It is a holy moment, when one realizes that the journey that was once thought to be over is now just beginning.

When we get our diplomas, our gold watches, or our plaques for our faithful years of service, we think we have finished our course. When we cross the finish line or win first place, we think we have succeeded and can rest on our laurels.  The journey isn’t over yet! We are not called to be a settled people. We are a nation that was called to move west, to improve the widget, to build a new land, and to send humanity to the moon.  Now we have greater problems: within two generations, our great seacoast cities around the world may be inundated if the global warming folks are correct, over 7 ½ million people die of hunger every year around the world (http://www.statisticbrain.com/world-hunger-statistics/), and as our world becomes more urbanized, more will lack access to fresh water (w.globalresearch.ca/un-800-million-people-without-drinking-water/23843).

The ideas we are taught today won’t solve the problems of tomorrow, and we can’t wait until tomorrow to begin solving them! We have to become travelers and not settlers. Our education is just the passport to the next leg of our journey, and our first retirement annuity payment is merely the visa to the next country of destination on this great lifetime adventure we are about.

So how can we bring the Traveler’s experience to our daily lives? Travelers believe they are going someplace, that they have a destination in mind. If we don’t physically leave home, where are we going? I think it is the sense of a life well lived, or a life full of reasons to get up in the morning. We United Methodists have a saying from our founder, John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” If this were your goal in life, each and every day can be an exciting day! We don’t know whom God will place into our path, but if we pass some helpless one by so that we can take care of our own important business, we will miss the opportunity to be a Neighbor like the Good Samaritan and detour from our daily routine to help someone in need (Luke 10”28-38).

Travelers expect the journey to be exciting and renewing. Daily life in the same old routine can get so predictable and humdrum. Our alarm goes off at the same hour and minute, we take the same rut to work, see the same old crowd at work, fight the same traffic snarl on the way home, and maybe even our home fires are barely flickering.  We miss the old excitement and passion we once had in life! Where has our energy gone—sucked down a black hole into oblivion, washed down by one too many drinks or spoonfuls of ice ream?

How can we keep faith and fidelity while reigniting that spark of excitement we used to feel when we were first sharing our passion for one another?  Sometimes we are just trading information with one another, rather than really sharing our lives and our hearts with the one we really care about.  Taking a new course in an experiential class, learning a new skill or sport together, or reading a book together and sharing our lives/thoughts/hopes/dreams/mistakes/achievements/joys means that we are suddenly vulnerable to one another again, for we are both travelers in an “unknown country.” Now we have to depend on each other just as travellers do; we strengthen our bonds.

As travelers, we expect to return home changed by our experiences. Once you’ve been to Turkey, you’ve always been to Turkey. Even if you break your camera or lose the filmcard, you have your memories and your postcards and souvenirs. The experiences have transformed you. If they didn’t, then all you did was pay a lot of money to wander around a wonderful place to complain about how “it wasn’t like home.” Of course not! It’s Turkey!

We do this in our daily life when we fail to engage the promise and potential of the gift God offers to us with each new day.  We say that each sunrise brings a new gift, “the present.” It may be a silly pun, but it’s also a truism. Some of us spend our daily gifts grieving about our yesterdays or yearning for them to come again. Yesterday is water under the bridge: we can’t bring it back and neither can we hold it here with us now.

Others of us miss the gift of the present because we are dreaming about our futures: things will be different when the kids leave the house, I will find someone to love me when I lose 40 pounds, or when the highway comes through this city will thrive again.  The future we dream about may not come to fruition. Moreover we set ourselves up for unhappiness and failure to act in the present while we wait for this future chimera to appear.

The best way to live as a traveler in our daily lives is to realize that we are all on a journey to God, for we are all on a “Holy Way.” We think some folks are fools and won’t make it to the goal, but God is gracious and cares for fools even when the rest of us aren’t suffering them gladly. We aren’t assigned to be the tour guide for this journey, and we don’t assign seats according to status.

As a spiritual exercise, take a respite from your journey to make self-examination. Where are you on this journey, physically and spiritually? You may want to make a time line or a time circle. Another way is to journal your experience to date or journal about a particular special event on this journey.  As on a real journey, your experience is your own and no one else’s. You feelings can’t be right or wrong: they just are. Give them to God.