When I was young, I thought I had to be Wonder Woman in order to please my parents. You know, the perfect daughter, the smartest child, the best artist, and the best behaved of all their progeny. After all, I was the first born and the only girl, so I’d had my parents’ undivided attention for those crucial early years. I thought if I worked hard, I could overcome any obstacle, and make any situation better, just by my force of will.
This is magical thinking, however. It works for comic book heroes who live in hard edge black and white moral worlds, but we live in the real world of fuzzy grays and complex moral choices. My family history of long marriages wasn’t going to extend to my generation, for I could no longer live with my alcoholic husband. I felt less like Wonder Woman and more like a failure. I told my mother I thought she and daddy always wanted me to be “perfect to earn their love.”
She looked dumbfounded at me, paused a moment and spoke, “Honey, we only wanted you to do your very best at all times. We knew you had more in you that you hadn’t tapped yet!”
This is the moment I forgave my parents for my Wonder Woman complex and learned to live with her. Not every person has had my parents. Some parents have no dreams for their children, so we must dream for them and encourage them to be superheroes in our classrooms, in our neighborhoods and wherever we meet them.
Other parents lack imagination. They see their children repeating their own lives as good enough. Yet, they too only want the best for their children so if they can only imagine their life repeated for them, we shouldn’t fault these parents for their lack of imagination. They never lived in our age or times, nor in our bodies or minds! We children can become the best we can be, for our world is far grander than theirs ever was! We won’t always live up to the expectations of our parents or the plans they imagined for us, but we will be superheroes anyway.
My daddy once told me I was learning in high school chemistry what he studied in college chemistry classes. This is why your six year old nephew or niece can work your smart phone faster than you can! The world’s knowledge explodes now, doubling every year, but with the internet it will soon double every 12 HOURS!
We won’t need to learn all this information, or keep it stored in our minds, but we will need to know how to access it. Asking the best questions, knowing what is necessary, and the sense of discernment to winnow the good from the chaff will be what separates the best answers from the better, the good, and the ordinary ones.
My latest painting is a self portrait as “Wonder Woman during the Great American Eclipse.” I traveled to Kentucky to see this wonderful event at Land Between the Lakes. We can all be superheroes at every age and in every body shape. Just as the eclipse united all of America in the joy of celebrating a coast to coast mass experience provided by nature, we each have a divine image within us that unifies all of humanity as one, for we’re each made in the image of God. As the Jewish queen in scripture was reminded, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)
How we become the best persons is a matter of becoming a superhero or “coming to royal dignity for such a time as this!” We’ll always be fine tuning our spiritual lives, our education, and our professional achievements. Even when we retire, we’ll find engaging opportunities for service to others and self improvement both. Most likely our spiritual lives will deepen and our family and friendships will take on more importance. I hope you all seek your best life possible, beginning today.
Join me in being a Superhero! You can be a hero for someone who needs you today.
Joy and Peace, Cornelia
First painting of the New Year:
Sometimes you have to remember who you are and whose you are. Starting the year off right by setting my theme. Everyone needs a rule of life, even the nonbeliever, for we need a measure to test our lives against.
Are we living up to our expectations for a moral life, such as “are we doing all the good we can, to all we can, by every means we can, as long as we can?” While this was John Wesley’s admonition to the people called Methodists, the same principle applies to all people of good nature. Or do we live for the good of numero uno only?
Self care is an important part of my rule of life, but this doesn’t make me a selfish person. It gives me the strength and stamina to be generous with my time and energy for others. While I no longer am actively engaged in person to person ministry, my facebook pages regularly reach over 800 people each week and my WordPress blogs reach about another 200.
People on other continents are reading my posts, so the word is spreading. This is a power and a privilege I do not treat lightly. I’m thankful for a simple lifestyle which allows me the time to pursue my creative endeavors in my studio. For those of you who do buy my art, remember I donate 40% of the purchase price to the following causes:
- First UMC Hot Springs tithe
- First UMC Hot Springs Community Outreach fund
- REV. Paul Atkins, urban missionary @canvascommunity
- UMC Missionary Elizabeth Soward, Tanzania
Happy New Year, Cornelia
Check my work on Facebook at Artandicon
I walk on Thursday evenings in the historic downtown district of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Most of our buildings are from our salad days of the Victorian period and early 20th century. We are building new construction, such as this new Regions Bank Tower, which will replace the one directly behind my back. I often leave my car under this overpass while I huff and hustle my way up to the cold spring at the entry to the mountain route to the observation tower. From there I walk past historic hotels, small and large, until I get to the site of the old Majestic Hotel, which burned to the ground in 2014. If I turn around for the start again, I can put in nearly 2 miles on a good evening. Even if I’m the last to finish, I’m still faster than the ones who never started.
Our creative and spiritual lives are like my walking discipline in my downtown, which is both dying and being renewed. I notice some shops have closed, but new ones have taken their place. These aren’t all tourist shops, but some are tradesmen serving the needs of downtown dwellers. Each of us needs to take care of our long term needs, not just our whim wants.
For our spirit, paying attention to our relationship with God through silence, contemplative study of scripture, and service with the poor will help ground our identity in God rather than in our own self. In our creative work, keeping the disciplines of our trade can be important. By this I mean, remembering to draw, to use color, value, to work a series, or to explore a subject fully. If we write, we pay attention to the skills of this craft, or if we are musicians, we never neglect our scales or any other skill sharpener in our toolbox.
Sometimes we get to the place in our lives when everything burns down to the ground. Like the storied Majestic Hotel, once a home to professional baseball players during spring training and mobsters down for the gambling, our life as it is won’t stand up to the elements or to the vissitudes of fate. A stray cigarette or a frayed wire takes the whole building down, along with all its memories and its derbis inside.
Sometimes we too have to start from scratch by making a fresh start. Yes, saving a historic treasure would be nice, but sometimes not very cost effective because the structure isn’t sound. Then it’s best to turn our back on that old life, grieve for it, and find a new hope and a new vision for the future. “If only we had done something with it 30 years ago!” Yet the will wasn’t there, was it? We can’t turn back the hands of time.
In 1992, I answered God’s call to ministry. I spent twenty-two years away from my original calling, art. When my health took me out of parish ministry, I took up painting again in 2009. Five years in my studio relearning color, value, shape, composition, and emotion has felt like burning down a great old edifice and building a new one in its place. To date I’ve stayed close to the subject, except for the color. Lately I’ve felt constrained by those boundaries, and I’ve moved to s freer brushstroke. Will it stick? I’m enjoying it, but I feel emotionally exhausted afterward. I’m tearing down a boundary and am about to climb over a barricade. I’m excited about this adventure, even if it tastes of danger.
I’m in this mode or mood today. I have a form of malaise, the kind that comes after pouring out all you have until you are drained. Now my listless is my form of recovery. I have hit the wall and I’m not going on. Did I mention that my community has received 25 inches of rain since the first of the year? Our annual average is a whopping 56 inches! We can get rain in any month, so I have a giant umbrella in case I decide to get off the couch. Other cities thirst for our gift, I know, as the good Lord only spits some 37 annual inches their way. Y’all do get more than our paltry 3 inches of snow, however. Please don’t offer to share it.
I’ve been chunking away at my various projects, some of which are pure tedium (bookkeeping) and others which are fulfilling (the creative writing & painting). Then I thought about possibly listing my 1 bedroom condo and moving up to a 2 bedroom unit. The sympathetic illness of moving day is pretty well Ingrained after all these years of itinerant ministry. This disease was quickly cured when I remembered my vow of voluntary simplicity.
Living under one’s means frees us to give to the poor as well as lessening our need to worry about how our needs are going to be met. Living under our means gives us the opportunity to explore the world, rather than be house bound. We can eat better food and share our time with others rather than being on call for someone’s else’s time and having to eat some fast meal on the fly.
If we are fortunate, our lives in “retirement” will be more like those of the Benedictine sisters and brothers. We will have an ordered life of work, worship, prayer, quiet, community, and study. We can enjoy a foretaste of that life to come in brief doses, either in 5 day or 2 year commitments at the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation.
This mood, like all feelings, will no doubt pass in a day or two. Rest is good for the body. Taking the time to care for our precious selves is a gift we can give to God and to those who need us most. We will be better able to fulfill God’s call on our lives if we serve from a full heart, rather than an empty spirit.
Everyone should take at least one accidental vacation, at least once in their life. This event will throw you off your game plan, sweep away your plan B, and leave you up a creek without a paddle. This is your Kobayashi Maru, your Waterloo, and your Little Big Horn all rolled up into one. Most of us think we trust God, but we really trust our own strengths, capabilities, support systems, and friendship ties. We aren’t prepared to “go to a land God will show us” or to go as the 12 were sent, taking “nothing for our journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, not even an extra tunic.” (Luke 9:3) I planned to be gone to visit my nephew’s organic farm for 2 weeks; I was gone a whole month. I got bit by an attack telephone pole on my way out of the gas station. It’s my story, I’m sticking to it. Once I got the big red Ram rental truck, I headed out of Dodge in my Dodge. By the next day, I was on the beach in North Carolina.
Like a pirate, I stayed as long as I had a room, and then I moved on. Some accommodations were great, but some I bought cleaning products for my personal safety. I found a welcome everywhere. I ate mostly from the grocery and the icebox in the rooms. Fresh fruit, cheese, cottage cheese, spinach, carrots, mushrooms, avocado, and bread made up my living off the land menu. One night I did get fresh cooked shrimp from the deli for a great salad. My last night on the beach I treated myself to a fake pirate’s ship venu restaurant, but it was a fine meal. I ate the appetizer sampler platter and a salad, so that was more than enough rich food for me!
When I came back to the tiny town where my busted baby sat, I stopped in the arts coffee shop to ask the barista if she knew a nicer place than the motel on the highway. They called Yvonne at the bed and breakfast, and talked her into giving me a discount since I would be an extended stay and was here as a “victim of circumstances.” I was glad, for the highway motel looked suspect and I was ready to be treated as a princess for a change. I guess all my pirate swagger had “swigged” out on the trip back. I was ready for lace curtains and 48 acres of piney woods quiet, not to mention three course breakfasts in the morning. Those breakfasts were to die for! My spirits were being revived daily.
While I’m not much of a drama queen, I do tend to worry. This is one trip that I did not worry, for I realized that I was getting a beach vacation out of this, due to my prime of life coverage, as well as the rental car. I might as well enjoy it to the fullest of my ability, within the limits of the finances available to me. The beach provided long walks for the morning and evening. Then of course, I did have to climb America’s tallest lighthouse, just to say I had done it.
The second week at the B&B would be on me, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that, so I could be thankful that I got a great price from the locals who showed hospitality to me. I vacationed in town, ate there, took photos, wrote, drank coffee in the cafe, and hung out. I was relaxed. I did pay some bills and wire some money to the bank, just to be safe. I washed clothes. An ordinary life.
What isn’t ordinary is leaning on others and receiving from them more than I gave in return. As a giver, I am always on the pouring out side. This time I was on the receiving end, and I have never been so filled in my whole life! From the day I hiked up the Rainbow Falls Trail, I discovered that while I might be able to almost get there by myself, I sure couldn’t get down without help. Thank God Trevor, Angie & that unnamed angel turned up with the hiking stick to help me down! The clerk at the hotel upgraded my room to the jacoozi when he heard my story, and I was again thankful.
Most of us don’t receive well, because it puts us in the weak position. We would rather be in the giving or strong position. That’s why we like that verse “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (acts 20:36) it claims to quote Christ, but no gospel contains that quote. Someone always has to receive, however, for the giver to get the blessing. If we aren’t on the receiving end, we rob the giver of the blessing of generosity. If we aren’t in the receiving end, we rob ourselves of the blessings of humility and poverty. These are blessings because in them we can share he nature of Christ. It was for our sakes, that though he was rich, he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).
So I commend to you the idea of an “accidental vacation.” Perhaps you won’t need to bash in the front end of your vehicle to get the message, but some of us are like ornery mules: God needs to get our attention in a big way. Even the worst events God can use for good, for those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes. I discovered that each person I met on this trip was at a crux in their life, just as I was. They were at a decision point, a transition point, or a new calling was taking hold in their lives, just as it was in my own. Perhaps what seemed to be only an accident to some, God was able to make into a greater design for good: not just for me, but for the people who shared their stories and lives with me on my accidental vacation. I’m looking forward to retirement, but for me that just means redefining my calling to “word, sacrament, & order.” My word will be my creative endeavors, both painting and writing, serving the sacraments in the congregations and communities in which I fellowship, and being faithful to my brothers and sisters in our order of the elders.