Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Grand Canyon and Life Choices

Last year, my spouse and I visited the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Pictures do not adequately show the grandeur, size, scope and beauty of the canyon.  Another bonus was the night sky:  I saw stars I never see at home due to light pollution.  All this beauty but still a potentially dangerous place when a choice goes wrong.

During our visit, there was a 30 mile per hour wind blowing.  This added a sense of adventure to walking the trails near the lodge but didn't seem to deter people from climbing on rocks, standing on top of rock formations or getting close to the edge.  It seemed as if these individuals did not comprehend their choice might have an effect on other people.  One slip of a foot or one big gust of wind could have sent these adventuresome souls over the rim.  Then rescue people would have to risk their life to retrieve an injured person or worse a body and the person's family would have to deal with either the resulting medical issues or getting the body home for burial.

This is the same with life: we make choices without ever thinking of how a choice will, might, or could affect people around us.  The affair which negatively impacts the children due to gossip at school or the damage to a spouse's self esteem.  The binge drinking that brings sorrow due to the drinker's death or death of others due to driving while intoxicated.  The examples are endless but the common denominator is the actions are self initiated without any thought of the effect on others.

Sometimes, we realize the choice is incorrect but spend a large amount of time and effort justifying our choice: you just don't understand what I'm dealing with, you can understand because you have never experienced what I'm going through.  You may be correct: I don't know what you are dealing with or going through but I can clearly see your choice has potential, detrimental affect on others.

I have an acquaintance who is currently experiencing some upheaval in their life.  They have chosen to dull the pain through natural pharmacology.  I so bad want to "DiNozzo" them.  For those, who don't watch NCIS, a "DiNozzo" is a whack to the back of the head.  This person is of reasonable intelligence and is supposedly a Christian but attempts to justify their behavior.

This person doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that natural pharmacology can negatively impact their health, brain, and/or their family.  They just want to escape the pain they are experiencing.  My question is: do you realize less mature Christians and especially non-Christians are watching you? What does your cavalier attitude say: it's okay to dull the pain when life gets too rough and turn your back on your Christian values?

What would have been the result if Christ had dulled His pain?  Would He have been able to be a witness of God's holiness to the disciples?  Would He have been able to effectively minister to people?  Or would He just have been "that dude with long hair" spouting off platitudes?

I strongly empathize with this person.  I too have wanted to "escape" from life's pain but choose instead to "escape" through prayer and Christian fellowship.  These "drugs" provide benefits unattainable with natural pharmacology.  Fellowship provides a communal experience of support, love, understanding, guidance, and sympathy.  Natural pharmacology is self centered and isolates one from caring, supporting people by creating an opaque barrier preventing an individual from reaching out to others for help.  Also, the pharmacology induced euphoria dulls the senses to the downward spiral occurring.

In a way, this person's choice is like the windy Grand Canyon: one step too close to the edge or one big windy gust will trigger consequences from which it will be very difficult to recover.  In my acquaintance's case, the consequence will be serious damage to their Christian witness and testimony plus their Christian effectiveness will be diminished.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Pulling the cloth off the table

Are you familiar with the magic trick of pulling the cloth off the table and nothing moves, breaks or falls off the table?  Great attention getter....if you can pull it off (no pun intended...okay...just a tad).  The trick is similar to juggling.  For the experienced practitioner,  the challenge is how many items can you juggle and/or how many different items can you juggle.  For the less experienced, the challenge is: what can you afford to drop.  I jokingly tell people at work: "I can juggle, the question is do you want the Fostoria Crystal or the Corelle Ware to hit the floor?".

I think we sometime view our Christianity as a juggling act or tablecloth pulling act.  If we don't perform the trick correctly and we break something, we want to yell at the magician who taught us the trick.  I understand the physics and science of juggling and tablecloth pulling but I don't try either trick with breakable objects.  I'm not that skilled.  I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for those who can perform either trick.

Christian life is very much a juggling act: worshiping a magnificent, unbounded God, getting "pulled" off the table by life; slapped in the face by illness, disease, or death; dreams crushed or delayed.  Some might think it offensive to question God about life events such as a father being taken from a daughter; death of a spouse due to an aggressive, terminal illness; a failed crop that was supposed to provide financial benefit.

 I do not have a rock solid, verifiable, concrete answer to why "bad" things happen to Christians other than Christians live in a sinful world.  Yes, I know that might be considered a cheesy, easy out answer.  What I do know, by personal experience, is God is always with you listening to your heart, mind, and voice.  God doesn't take offensive when you question why.  Think about this for a moment: God freely gave His Son to die a horrible, painful death for His creation.  Don't you think God is touched by our illness, suffering, and losing a loved one?

Yes, it is difficult to wake up day after day when your life has been touched by illness, suffering, death, or broken dreams.  Acknowledging who has allowed you to wake up and have another day of life makes getting up possible.  I believe one of the greatest witnesses a Christian has is their response to life's challenges.  Do you get angry and ticked off and then stay that way?  Do you get upset, yell and scream, and then turn to God for guidance, support, and endurance?

There a two women, Mrs. T and Mrs. N, in my church who are, to me, examples of asking God for guidance, support and endurance.  Mrs. T has been in remission from breast cancer for several years but  the cancer has recently returned in her bones.  Mrs. T always seems to have a pleasant spirit even on her "bad" days when the cancer is bothering her.  My thought is: if Mrs. T can get up each day and present a pleasant spirit in spite of the pain and disease, so can I.

The other woman, Mrs. N, has lupus and is in some degree of pain most of the time.  She is also an encouragement when I look at her: she always seems to have a smile on her face or presents a pleasant spirit through her pain.  Mrs. N causes me to view my problems as insignificant compared to daily being in pain.

From listening to their testimony, I know each has a security that God is in control and will take care of them either by providing them the strength to daily participate in life or provide them a painless life with Him.  I'm sure, based on human nature, each has their days when they get discouraged and feel they have been "pulled off the table".  Their pleasant spirit seems to indicate they don't "stay on the floor".  Instead, each asks God for strength to live another day, witness to another person, love their spouse one more day and give a kind word to a stranger.  Last but not least each acknowledges God is in control and is the daily provider of their strength, endurance and life.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Attending Weddings and Sharing Your Salvation Experience

I recently attended the wedding of Mr. K and Miss W, a Christian couple committed to witnessing in far away lands and to people encountered on a daily basis.  The wedding was not elaborate but simple and elegant.  For me, attending a wedding has a two fold purpose: show support for the couple and as a reminder of why I wed my lovely bride.

The support aspect is important as a public acknowledgment of the couple's commit to each other and as a non-verbal way of encouraging the couple. Supporting a newlywed couple is similar to supporting a new Christian: the more experienced, married couples need to be available to assist the newlyweds through difficult times and present a witness to the institution of marriage.  New Christians need the same things: encouragement, support, and survival tips.

As with newlyweds, "older" Christians need to disciple new Christians.  This is why sharing your salvation testimony and your Christian life experience is necessary.  Not all people experience life in the same way.  Some "easily" learn life's lessons and others need to stumble over the same rock multiple times.  Honest sharing of your testimony has a two fold purpose: self-encouragement and encouragement of others.  The self-encouragement is a form of saying thank you to God that you didn't have to stumble over the same rock nor go through difficult times.

If you did stumble over the same rock or go through difficult times, you don't know how your words might  encourage others or help them by knowing someone else had trials and problems.  Just knowing someone else is having a difficult time or has had a difficult time can be the difference between giving up or continuing the fight.

I strongly believe one objective of each Christian is to verbally and non-verbally encourage other Christians.  I don't like difficult times but if I can provide a positive, supportive witness of God's goodness and provision to another Christian, then the difficult times had a purpose.  Therefore, do not be hesitant to offer your personal salvation testimony nor your Christian life experience to anyone especially other Christians.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Excerpt from upcoming ebook title to be determined

I hope someone out there can understand this and share my perspective here. I grew up in church. I was pretty much a good kid. I have never been arrested. I spent most Saturday nights during high school at a prayer meeting. My conversion story goes pretty much like this: somewhere in the midst of all of my churchiness, I realized that I needed the grace of God. So when it came time to share testimonies, I always felt like the lame kid. You just sit there in the circle as everyone goes one by one telling their tear laden stories, silently praying, "Dear God, please tell me the person to my right was not a drug addict, alcoholic, abused child, or former satanist. My 7 seconds of 'I was always an OK guy, and one day I realized I needed salvation.' would not follow any of those other salvation stories well. However, if I have to follow any of those things, please let the rapture come now, because I don't want to be embarrassed... God? Are we still friends?!?!?! What do you mean (Nameless person to my right that I have to follow) used practice witchcraft and had a fight with a demon that sent them running into the arms of Jesus in an epic conversion story that makes you proud of them? God, this isn't funny. Thank you for your love and salvation and daily provision. I ask this in Jesus name. Amen." (disclaimer: this story might be slightly exaggerated by embarrassment-induced trauma, age, and tendency to dramatically recount stories.) I was not a very mature Christian. Might not be one still. See, God's grace, that's all I have to go on here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dear God,

So lately I've been working on what to do with my God Issues. Nothing seems appealing. There's nothing that seems to make sense with God. I feel abandoned. Even though I know He said he would never leave me or forsake me, it sure doesn't feel like it.

Right now my spiritual life feels more like the family disfunction that I've been witnessing. Enter the Characters... God: the rich and removed power player that can do anything you might need, but won't. Jesus: The perfect older sibling that God's always comparing you to. You know the one that in just 33 short years built his own spin off of the father's parent company that not only lasted for over 2000 years, but has managed to outsell Judaism on the international market. I can almost hear it, "You're 28 already; what have you been doing with your life?" Finally the Holy Spirit: the weird cousin that no one wants to talk about but somehow winds up being the life of the party any time he bothers to show up.

As I type this I hope to God that I'm not losing my soul. I just don't know what else to say or what else to think. I might as well make how I'm feeling concrete so I can either make things right between me and God, or come to grips with whatever he sees fit to punish me with. I know this is bad theology. I know it's never a good idea to try and determine theological consequences based solely on the pissed off emotional rantings of a recently injured ego.

So God, here's my grievance. I feel like you're punishing my wife for what her father did. I feel like you are robbing my wife of a dream we've had. I feel like you want happiness to be impossible. I feel like you're being selfish. I feel like you're cruel, by giving ambitions that can't be fulfilled. I feel like you've trapped me in this doldrum. I'm ready to eat the horses, or throw them over to make the boat lighter, just so I can be anywhere but here, dealing with anything but this. I want to hit something. Not even for the sake of venting, but sometimes in hopes that I might break something. Maybe if something is actually broken I might be a priority. My problem might matter. Maybe if I hurt more I might be able to move the hand of an infinite God to break through the barrier of the finite, to actually do something other than take. You could have done it differently, but you didn't. Why is that? I don't even feel like thinking about anything else, but I don't want to think about this. It feels absolute. It feels profound. It feels stupid.

So I'm here. Trying my best to pray to a God that's just pissed me off. How do I ask forgiveness for these feelings? Can you deal with these? I don't think that I can. How do I deal with these ideas and feelings? One more shift, and I feel like dropping into the statement that God is a construct of man's imaginings. That seems like it would be easier. Then I could just implode in peace. Then it would also make sense. If God is a product of imagination, then I couldn't feel like He could handle this any better than I could. The only other alternative is of course probably the right one. I just have a hard time believing, and I have in fact envisioned God to be much smaller then he is. So here it goes again. Turns out the problem is with me. It's always a problem with me.

God, I confess. I need you to forgive me for these things. For wanting to not believe. Not for believing that you don't exist, but for the persistent belief that you just don't care. I confess that I sometimes believe you cruel, that I sometimes believe you vindictive, that I sometimes believe you petty, that I sometimes believe you childish. Most of all though, that sometimes I, and more often than not lately, I believe you apathetic, distant as stars and as cold as stone. GOD, I NEED YOUR FORGIVENESS. I need you to remind me that you actually love me. Yes, even me. I need to know that You can. I need to know that you do. I need to know that you will. I need to know that you're willing to lead, I need to know that you are willing to comfort, I need to know that you are willing provide, I need to know that you are willing to provide not only for existence, but for the fruition of the things you've made a persistent gnawing in my mind. I know in my head that you are a loving God, but sometimes I think your love feels worse than another's scorn. God I need you to help me sort out how I feel, and move closer to you, so I can see what it is that you want me to do, and how you plan to make a way for it. Please get back to me soon. I'm already 28. At best I've only got another sixty or seventy years to wait.

I'll try to love you.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Contradictions of Creation

In my last post I discussed how we artist “waste” time. In that post, I offered metaphors and symbols for a process that is more emotional than analytical, but there is room for analyzing the process and a place for explaining its mechanics.

On the whole, I do not believe that most of us are aware of how the creative process plays out. Some of us have been privileged enough to know those inspired moments, and they are so pristine and complete unto themselves that it almost feels violent to dissect such a sacred event. And yet, I think that it is because we do not understand the process that we are reluctant to submit to its needs. Maybe if we were better acquainted with the contradictions of creation we would be less inclined to discard the tools we need to achieve our desire.

I think that many of have this notion that great artists and writers simply sit down one day and begin to create. They may have had some training but once inspired they simply do so fully and completely with no flaws or defect. I will grant you that I have had those moments when it seems like my fingers race along the keyboard with no conscious thought or design, seeming to chase an idea of their own accord. There have been times when the paint seemed to dance upon the canvas to the proper place and adopt the proper shade with no assistance from me. Always these are my favorite pieces of work, pieces that I feel no arrogance or vulnerability in showing, because they seem to have to very little to do with me.

I wish that such times were always the case, but in truth they are rare. And yet, even in those times of almost spontaneous generation, I know the truth of the moment. The work before me, taking shape as if it had a life of its own, seeming to assert that my hands are but the hands of a barely needed midwife, is not something that was born on this day.

Throughout my life I have been an observer, picking apart every idea put before me. I can never remember a time when I could simply watch a movie or read a book. Constantly, I am grappling with the work demanding that it yield the idea that it cloaks, searching for its most elemental meaning. I blame this on my father who taught me that anyone who took the time to write a book, play, or movie, anyone who bothered to paint a picture or sculpt a form, had a fundamental belief that they believed so profoundly they were compelled to share it with the world.

I took him at his word, and I began to see the truth in what he had told me. To this day, I have yet to see any creative work that did not embody some ideology or dogma that had shaped the individual who created it. Some are easier to spot than others, but they are there.

Like grapes, I gather all of these bits of inspired thought and emotion. I pool them together in my mind, allowing them to sink deep within me, until I can distil the truth from what I have seen or heard. It may set untouched for years fermenting as a good wine, waiting until the proper day to be tasted. Some ideas may be taken out, reevaluated and judged as I mature only to be recasked and shelved yet again. At times I have been guilty of revealing an idea too soon when the flavor, while promising, has yet to gain the depth necessary for true greatness.

But then there are those ideas whose time has come, the image in my head is complete or the words have formed deep within my psyche and now it must be shared with my friends. If I have been sensitive to the nuances of its maturation I will produce a seductively simple yet bold creation whose complexities must be experienced to be known.

We work when we collect the bounty of the creation around us. We toil as crush the ideas beneath the weight of our scrutiny. We labor as allow them to foment within us, giving them room and space to find a new life under our care. With diligent patience we tend to the knowledge we have taken and wait for the pristine moment of clarity to bring it forth. These are the times when inspiration seems effortless. These are the moments when our art is at its finest, finding its form beneath our fingers, only after days, weeks, or even years of tireless exertion to insure that it is revealed in all the grandeur we can bestow upon it.

As artist we live lives of contradiction that perhaps on a good day can be seen as balance. We learn so that we may destroy and prefect, forget and rediscover. No step may be skipped or forgotten. Each one must be made with boldness and caution, or not taken at all. We create alone in the dark but creation without light or unshared is incomplete and not a creation at all. Perhaps the greatest contradiction is the illusion of spontaneity and the dedicated discipline that cannot supplant the instinctive response to inspiration.

Friday, May 27, 2011

In Defense of “Wasting Time”

Since I quit my day job and began living my dream of being a full time writer and artist, I have had to make peace with how counter this life is to the expect norms of productivity. We live in a world where hard work is demonstrated in those things we can measure and define. Full buckets and barns attest to the work I do on the family farm. As a teacher I measured my progress in lectures written, tests given, and papers graded, before that progress was measured by the time clock. Now it seems as if nothing I do will have such concrete proof of my effort ever again.

Sure there is the occasional painting, the drawing, and the pages that multiply on a good day, but most of days do not seem to be very productive. I read a novel, a history book, or a news post. I listen to music while staring at the clouds. I watch a movie, answer emails, or talk with a friend. From the outside it must seem as if I live of wasted time. Time spent in frivolous and unproductive pursuits. However, so much more is going on beneath the surface. It is all part of a process few understand, a process, in fact, that I am just learning to define.

As an artist, I am always on the prowl for that next piece of inspiration. I need it like a junkie needs their next hit. It is the basis and reason for my work. It is what makes life vibrant and beautiful, and when it is absent, why I am unsettled and restless.

For centuries, the essence and process of inspiration has been debated. Some claim that it is unfaithful lover coming and going at its whim. Some say that it overtakes you like a summer storm. Others find it in quiet meditation. Each a description holds merit, but yet each one fails to address how we prepare ourselves to receive the inspiration that will move us to write great words, create profound images in clay, paint, or marble.

It is true that inspiration cannot be decreed or mandated. It cannot be summoned like a faithful dog, or controlled by the powers of mental or emotional discipline. It strikes when it is ready, when the heart and mind have been properly conditioned to receive it and not before. However, despite its uncontrollable and predictable nature we can prepare ourselves to receive it, equip ourselves with the proper tools to bring it into the light of this realm.

And we can practice those things which bring us into the lightning’s path. Of all things that I hold to be true, one of the beautiful truths I celebrate is inspiration begets inspiration. So I seek out those things which hold the light inspiration within their words and images. I read the works of those who capture their inspired moment with words. I listen to those who froze that fleeting moment in the eternal language of music. I look upon those images that portray the intimacy of that perfect moment in ink and oils. They all speak to me of something greater that I too can know if I allow it to become a part of my reality.

Each idea and concept embedded in these forms takes root within my mind, a fertile ground for extraordinary and curious connections, blossoming into new and original thoughts, the basis for future creativity. My time, seemingly wasted, is Psyche sorting seeds, pulling ripe kernels of the sublime from the husks of the mundane.

A slow and arduous process where I toil, hoping to find that one brilliant insight that will breathe new life into me, it why the artist is weary from a day of what others consider leisurely activity, why watching a movie can leave us exhausted, a book or painting can drain us the point collapse. For us, the reception is never passive. A single good idea once communicated by another bursts forth in our minds as a plentiful harvest of inspired ideas of our own, compelling us to create anew, adding our perspective and experience until resembles nothing of its original state.

Our work, began by what others consider to be casual amusement, becomes consuming. Demanding to be created, given life of its own, and we find ourselves at the mercy of this strange force called inspiration. We sculpt, paint, and write trying to focus the energy we have received, praying that we have the power to give it a form that will be recognized by others and in turn allow them to know the blessing and gift of being inspired. Our ends sacrificed for their means. A cycle as old as time, and one we bow to willingly so that it may continue.

So I will “waste” some more time today, read that novel that has sat too long neglected, watch that movie that has grown dusty while I was doing my “real” work. This is my job now, to discover those seeds of inspiration that will allow me to do what I have been created to do.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hiding Out in the Big Ugly Bus

Part of this season of hiding out has been greatly facilitated by my husband. When we got married my dad gave him an old school bus. Don’t ask why Dad had or needed an old school, he just did. And while I saw “old school bus”, Ty saw potential camper. So my husband set to work. He ripped out the seats, kept two to make a table and booth, built bunk beds that convert into a couch, and a Murphy bed for the two of us. So for the past few weekends we have loaded up and headed out to the lakes and rivers in our area.

I can’t say that I was a huge fan of the idea, and the looks we receive when we back up to an RV slip confirms my suspicions that everyone thinks that the Clampets have just arrived. It is a little painful to park the old girl next to the really nice RVs that are out there, you know the ones with slide out sections, a real refrigerator, built in cabinets, a proper number of windows, and a toilet that you don’t have dodge the raccoons to get to in the middle of the night.

To be honest, I really did not enjoy our first few times out. There is a ton of packing to do, and Ty never knows how long we are staying (it is completely dependent on how the fish are biting) so I am always worried there won’t be enough food or clothes. I had to figure out how to arrange and stow everything, and I really don’t like to cook in the first place, so how does doing it over a smoky fire any better? I don’t like fishing enough to justify paying for a license, and the past few weeks have been cold. But I grit my teeth and went anyway and hopefully without too much obvious annoyance at having my routine upset.

I kept telling myself, this is where your husband wants to be, and he wants you with him. I kept reminding myself to be a good wife, and not to kick up a fuss. And on each of those trips I would always find one moment that made it worthwhile, one conversation with my daughters, a few minutes with Ty, or all together where I would find something of value that we would not have experienced at home. But this time has been different.

For the first time, I found I had surrendered to the experience. I wasn’t just enduring it anymore and going through the motions so that everyone else could have a good time. I found that for the first time in a long time I was at peace, fully content to be in a moment of my own, just me and God listening to the water. I didn’t feel the pull of the things I was neglecting at home, or the conveniences I was missing from my comparatively modern kitchen. There was no rush, no hurry, and I realized that I had been given the freedom and permission to just be.

Not to be Emily the responsible mom, dependable wife, or even the eccentric artist. It was okay that I sat and watched the shad flashing in the sun, and just fine that I didn’t have a project going that needed my immediate attention. I could just sit and listen, but if that was too hard, I could just breathe. My husband and my God had conspired to make this moment happen for me, and had been for weeks now, but I had been fighting it because I didn’t know what else to do.

So if you are looking for me this summer, you will have to check the lakes and the rivers. My phone doesn’t always work here, and that’s alright. There’s an extra chair in the bus, or blanket to throw out on the ground if you prefer. If the fish are biting you can eat one for dinner with us, if not there is peanut butter and jelly in the bus. You might bring some bug spray and some sunscreen, because I probably forgot to pack mine. So come by and see us, we are hard to miss, just look for the big ugly fabulous bus.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Can I Come Out and Play Now?

Okay, so I have been hiding out the past few weeks. I intended on posting several things after the seminar, and I even took time to write them out. They are quite good really, they smack of all the great Christian jargon, catch phrases, and clichés that I would be expected to write. The tone is hopeful, optimistic even, and while there is a part of me that fully and one hundred percent believes what I wrote, there is another part of me that is just plain hacked off. I tried not feed this bit of me, hoping that if I just starved it long enough it would die, but no such luck.

The truth is I don’t like humiliation, and well, this last event was humiliating.

My pride recoils in anger every time I get anywhere close to feeling how much humiliation I felt that night. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I just wanted to pack it up and go home, shoot God the bird, and sarcastically scream at him, “Thanks for showing up!” before stomping out the door. Oh wait, as a good Christian teacher, I am not supposed to admit that, am I?

Over and over again, played through the scenario, wondering what did “I” do wrong? What could “I” have done better? Could I have planned more wisely? Promoted more effectively? Not stumbled over my words when speaking to area pastors? Did I say something wrong? Was I wearing the wrong thing? Is my hair too purple? Did my breath stink? Did I fail to pray it through? Did I miss the stop sign God must have surely sent before I did this embarrassing thing to myself?

And I still haven’t figured out one thing we could have done better. If we had to make the choices again today, we would have done the same things. They were the choices we know God was leading us to make. The confirmations were too clear and too strong to do otherwise. To have risked less or to have ignored what we all felt was his straightforward guidance would have been disobedient to the point of defiance.

And I was convinced that if we stepped out there on faith, believing and trusting God to show up, the night would be a tremendous success, or at least a respectable showing. And maybe it was, who knows? I just had a hard time seeing it when I looked at those 1492 empty seats – and for our faithful friends who did show up, thanks for filling those last eight.

The good spiritual part of me still wants to call the night a success. We were obedient to the point of sacrifice. We did step out on faith and we did do our absolute best to do what God had called us to do, but there is an oh-so-human part of me that wants a reason and a refund for all the time, energy, and money we poured into it. I want some vindication for what feels like a wrong. I want to know why it feels like even God didn’t bother to show up to a party thrown on his behalf.

So in essence I have the two parts of me wrestling with how I should feel about this. Should I stand up and shout, Yipeee! if my heart isn’t in it? Do I give and sulk because my pride was hurt and I have to admit to everyone who asks that Splendor and Holiness was a colossal failure if we go by the numbers? Am I operating in faith or denial when I tell say that something good is going to come out of that night and there was reason that I am just not privy to right now?

The answer is yes. I deal with my humanity, and I don’t deny the validity of my feelings and disappointment. I have even let myself pout a bit, and I told God I am mad. And that’s okay because I was being honest with him on issue he already had figured out, but in the end I will stand up and say – I serve a big and holy God who loves me and loves the fact that I will follow his leading. I will declare that Splendor and Holiness was a success because I was faithful to act on the words and gifts he has placed in my care. Something good will come of that night, and I will celebrate it even more because I know the cost it took to get this far, and when God does move on our behalf we know the depth and height of his blessing and goodness as never could have known if we had never felt this pain.

God and I are making up, and like the kid who was sent to their room for throwing a fit, I am cracking the door and asking, Can I come out and play now? Because even if I am mad, hurt, and disappointed with what Daddy chose to do, it hurts more not to be in his presence.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sorry to have been away for so long

I feel like I need to apologize for slipping off the grid for the past couple of months. It seems that life has been conspiring against me when it comes to the blog. As many of you know, our last event was not what we had hoped it would be, and after months of preparation I found myself completely drained – emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. On the heels of that, we were faced with a series of deaths and one horrible accident involving a family member.

In so many ways these past two months have been a time of sifting. We have been reexamining Pagus, what it means to us and where it should go. Our personal lives have been turned upside down as we have dealt with grief and loss, and in the midst of everything we have been presented some unique opportunities that are being explored and prayed over. It would be so easy to overlook all the good things that are happening among the disappointing and the devastating, but we are striving to keep our eyes fixed our Lord and press on to the places He is calling us.

It would be equally easy to avoid the uglier facts of what has been happening and present a “good Christian” façade to all of you who may not be close enough to know what has been happening. However, one the reasons we started this blog was to share the process, and to deny the heartache and tears will be found along the path God leads us would be equally wrong. Life isn’t always pretty. There are tough things, painful things, that we experience and there is value in the knowing. So we have decided to share, not to be negative, or to discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams, but rather that each of you who hear our story may be better prepared to meet with the difficulties you may encounter on your journey.

Sometimes we need to share the facts, and we need to expose the emotions. We need to tell our stories because our stories are why we are who we are. In Revelation John tells us that the accuser is overcome by the Blood of the Lamb and the testimony of the saints. And testimony is just a fancy Christian word for story, my story and yours. And if I am to tell my story it has to include the emotions, the way I felt about what has happened in my life, it is all part of being honest. So in the next few posts be ready for a little honesty, a few raw emotions, and well, in short, a Christian who doesn’t always have it all together.

It took me awhile to get to this place where I felt like it was okay to share these writings. I worried that they would be misread and misunderstood, but in the end, I knew that I was trying to justify my own cowardice – and one thing I can’t stand is a coward, especially when it is me. I realized that I was worried that people would doubt my call and gifting to teach, to be one of the leaders of Pagus, if they saw exactly how “unspiritual” I can be, and then I realized who cares? Really, who cares?

I am not always spiritual, and my relationship with God is often expressed in ways that can make people uncomfortable, but it is a real relationship based on faith and trust. Faith that He is exactly who the Bible declares Him to be - a big God who loves me and desires that I walk in a real relationship with Him. Trust that He is secure enough not to be intimidated my honest questions, and strong enough to wrestle with me as I work my way through this thing called faith. It is a relationship where I can be me, with no apologies and no fear, He knows who I am, He knows my thoughts before I think them, and they don’t scare Him, just me sometimes.

So I am glad to be back, and I will catch up on what has been going in my head while I was gone. I have feeling we are in for one wild ride over the next year so strap in and hold on tight, because I think we just bought tickets for one killer roller coaster ride.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

God, failure and the 'ouch' moment

American society seems to place a heavy emphasis on success.  There are championship contests: World Series, Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four.  We have indictors of success: large homes, fancy cars, big SUVs, expensive clothes.  But is success really defined by having the most, the biggest, or the most expensive?

How about failure?  If one does not have a Super Bowl ring, 3000+ sq. ft. house, Mercedes SUV, or Christian Dior, are you a failure?  Or do you have a different standard for measuring success?  Does God have a standard for determining success?

Would we consider  Moses, Solomon or Job a success?  What about Peter, Thomas, or Paul?  One could pick any person from the Bible and ask this question after reading about the individual.  Given the broad spectrum of people mentioned in the Bible, it would seem God has a very different standard for determining success or failure.

Saturday evening, Pagus presented the "Splendor and Holiness" seminar.  The Pagus Event Staff had worked to find and secure a facility based on their faith in God and purchased ad time from the leading, local Christian radio station serving the audience Pagus would like to reach.  The staff worked to create quality, professional looking promotional material about Pagus and the seminar.  The staff devoted several days to in-person contact with area churches instead of mailing the promo material.  The Pagus volunteer staff came Saturday evening to support the seminar by taking on the small but important jobs.  All was ready! Open the doors, let the masses come and bask in the presentation of God's Splendor and Holiness!

Cue the chirping crickets.

Pagus had scheduled, promoted, and planned for a successful seminar based on their belief in God's leadership.  Not as many people showed up as planned for; too many handouts printed, and a large venue filled with a handful of people.  One of the presenters, at 5 minutes after the scheduled start time, said "This is an ouch moment".  The director of the venue encouraged the Pagus staff to give the presentation since "every\thing was paid for".  The presentation was given and the stage with its red velvet curtain provided an impressive back drop for the volunteer videographers to capture the presentation.

Did Pagus fail or did God provide success?  From a human viewpoint, Pagus failed since the required number of attendees to break even did not appear, hours had been invested in feet-to-the-ground promotion, the radio ad did not produce anticipated results and the beautiful Broken Arrow PAC was wasted on a handful of people.

What is not seen is the number of people who will potentially be witnessed to by Pagus moving forward with what they believe is God's direction for Pagus.  What about the contacts made during in-person promotion?  What about the networking potential of the radio sales manager?  What about the pastors who expressed an interest in having Pagus speak at their church?  What about the potential for the video to touch people?

The potential for God to use each of us is unlimited because we cannot understand how He will take our perceived  failure and create success for Himself.  Let me throw out a Biblical example or two:  Job, Paul, Peter, Thomas.  As humans, we have difficulty with limiting a limitless God.  We like things to be solid, touchable, and definable.  All properties opposite of who and what God is considering He created the heavens from nothing just by speaking.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Epic Tale of Eccentric Em and Amy Kiker-your-butt and the Quest of the KXOJ Microphone

It was a dark and stormy night, (okay, really it was a lovely spring day, but this just sounds better) as Eccentric Em and her faithful sidekick (otherwise known as a decoy), Amy Kiker-your-butt, made the perilous journey to the great city of Tulsa. Together they had vowed to conquer the air waves, vanquish the silence, and subdue the forces of darkness that threatened to leave the inhabitants of northeast Oklahoma bereft of the knowledge that Pagus would be hosting the Splendor and Holiness Seminar, April 9th at the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center. It all would be possible with the mythic KXOJ Microphone!

The two began their great odyssey on their faithful steed. (Sure, it’s just a Ford Escort, but it is white and it is pretty reliable.) Their journey fraught with obstacles great and treacherous, but undaunted our heroes pressed onward unwilling to be swayed from their great calling that now defined their very existence. They faced wild beasts that darted before them snarling and snapping their warnings that two should not pass, but they faced those rabid rabbits with a courage that even Monty Python knights could not match. They fearlessly faced down those horrible machines of war that stood in their path, threatening to make them late or prevent their journey all together. They passed through fires and floods but would not be swayed from their cause. (Alright, so it was just some farm and construction equipment, and there was a small grass fire, I promise.)

And although they were armed only with Eccentric Em’s crazy good looks, rapier wit, and knowledge of arcane trivia, along with Amy’s springloaded hair that repels evil glances, harsh words, and general bad moods, her super sonic voice of happiness that infects the listener with glee until they have no choice but to submit to her will, and her voice of doom that shatters myths and illusions, they made their way to the forbidding City Plex Towers. There they scaled to the height of the 55th floor, using suction cups and spiderwebs to swing heroically to the dizzying heights. (Fine, they had and elevator. Okay, a lot of elevators.) Where Amy stood triumphantly surveying the city below and said, “Dude, we are so not in Kansas anymore!” And then covered her face with her hands and grinned.

It was there like the knight who guarded the Grail for Indy, but not nearly as old and without the really great armor, Ed Never-Short-on-Charisma Short led them to the Oracle, wait. I mean, Cool Caryn Cruise, who presented Em with the fabled microphone while Em tried to conceal her disappointment that there was no cookies . All stood breathlessly waiting to see what Em would do with such a treasure. How long had it hung there waiting for the right person to speak into its foamy cover and change the very course of history. Amy stood at Em’s back, doing her best impression of a coat rack, and Em took her place before the mike, and . . . spoke!

Em spoke in her best impersonation of a radio person, she spoke words that would fill the airwaves of Tulsa and its surrounding communities, she spoke words that would change history, and then. . . well, they were through. It took all of about fifteen minutes and was pretty painless.

Having completed their quest, Em and Amy spent a few moments basking in the glory of the moment. They looked over the grounds of ORU and found Q’doba where they ate a meal befitting for the conquering heroes. It was good day, one to be sung of around campfires, to lull little ones off to sleep, a tale to inspire those who lack courage, and to cause evil to tremble. It is tale to be remembered with awe and wonder, but it is just one of many tales of how the courage and valor of Eccentric Em and Amy Kiker-your-butt will make the world a little better place to be, and let you sleep a little easier at night.

Disclaimer (in case you need one)- Every day in my life is an adventure when I choose to think of it as such. Amy and I went to Tulsa to record the ad, and I was so glad to have the company! And while it wasn’t nearly as momentous as I may have told it, it was a momentous event for us. It was a day where we pursued our dream and call, and day spent in the company of a friend who loves our Lord. Thank you, Ed and Karin for making the day so painless and giving us a wonderful radio ad!

So here’s your choice for the day, is it an adventure or an endurance test? How are you going to frame it in your mind? What words will you use to make it different, better, and a bit more amazing? (And by the way, it helps if you imagine John O’Hurley narrating, it even makes laundry little more exciting or lot more like Family Feud. I haven’t decided which.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Merciful Headache

The headache is coming back. The one that makes me wish I could close my eyes and shut out the sights and sounds of this world, the one that turns my stomach and leaves me feeling as brittle as the fine porcelain. I have asked God why I must endure these bouts of incapacitation, there is so much more I could do if this blinding pain didn’t hinder my thoughts.

I could easily break into some deep theological discourse on the various Christian ideas on pain, but the truth is none of that really means much to someone who is in pain, physical, emotional, or mental, and I, like everyone else, desire only one thing at these times – relief. I want very simply and very profoundly for the pain to stop.

There is a temptation to rail at God for allowing me to endure this, after all I am in the middle of attempting to do what he has called me to do, but that type of existential angst is beyond me in this moment. For those of you who have never experienced existential angst, allow me share that it requires a greater expenditure of energy than these headaches will permit. So having asked for relief, sought it out and been left disappointed in pharmaceutical remedies, I am left with the task of endurance.

Now, I have studied various ideas of Christian philosophies on the matter of pain and why we experience physical ailments. Some schools of thought say that it is simply our cross to bear and we should endure with meekness and a mild spirit, perhaps which is beyond me, or maybe that is what God is teaching me. I am open to the idea of him teaching through any method he deem appropriate. Some schools of thought would say that I am suffering due to the consequences of sin, and in general I am in agreement. Pain and suffering are due to sin, but Jesus himself refutes the idea of sin being the cause of specific and individual pain in every circumstance. And as I have yet to experience the guiding force of conviction in relationship to this particular pain, I do believe that is it not this. So if it is God needs to speak louder.

Another school of thought would say that I need to examine the symptoms to understand the root cause. In this case, my head aches and the head being the symbol of authority would indicate I am having problems with authority. Well, I always have problem with authority but I am actively working on those issues. So once again I doubt that this is the cause or the cure for the knives that are gouging out my eyes from inside my skull.

Why am I still typing? Misery loves company, I guess. And it is a question that I would love to have answered. Why, when I need to be the most focused and on my game, does my head try to implode?

I think it is a reminder. A reminder that I should never rely too much on my personal ability to achieve. In everything I must be on guard against arrogance and my skills. Blame the pain, and forgive the blatantness of the next statement, I am good at what I do. I can make almost anything work if I try hard enough, and I know how to go after what I want. It is a God given tenacity that I have and one I use to my advantage. The problem lies in the balance.

God has given me a gift, but it does not mean that I may use it apart from him. It does not mean that I can rely on what he has given in place of relying on him. It is not an easy balance to achieve, so occasionally, he knocks me down a peg or two and leaves me lying slobbering in the floor while he advances in spite of me. He removes the power I would be attempted to abuse from my hands so that I can, in full knowledge, lay powerless at his feet. Through the pain he is “leading me not into temptation and delivering me from evil” before I have the ability to recognize there was even a hint of danger. He knows my weakness, and he knows I am weakest when I am operating in my strength. It is then that I am most likely to turn loose of his hand reach for those things I can do myself.

He is never a big fan of my self reliance. He knows it get me into trouble, and like a good Daddy he would rather prevent it than bail me out. So I am going to accept today’s mandate, find a quiet spot and lay my head down, pray that he is taking care of all things I am going to have to let go today. He knows I am out on a limb with deadlines and obligations, it didn’t escape his notice. So I will have to trust that he knows what he is doing, a fact easier said than believed when a thousand little jack hammers are making mush of your brain.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Who am I?

Who are you? This was the question asked as I shared about the upcoming worship seminar, Splendor and Holiness. It was a strange question, but an appropriate one. Who am I? It is one I would be asking if someone approached me and said they had something to teach me about this faith that I have known from childhood. It is one I have asked as people have stood before me on stages, behind podiums, and across tables and spoke, they claimed, on behalf of God.

There is something in me that rises up with a challenge anytime I hear someone teach, and one I appreciate in others who dare to consider my words. My faith is sacred and something I guard tenaciously, carefully sifting through all outside influences, checking their references and vetting them thoroughly before allowing their words to settle in my heart and mind.

And so here I was, being pinned like a bug with my own question, a mirror of my own skepticism, and it was most uncomfortable even as I respected the questioner’s reserve. Who am I? Or really, and more precisely the question was, why should I listen to you?

How I wish there was some tidy way of summing this up without sounding like an arrogant twit. If there is I haven’t found it. It sounds pompous to site degrees, and even a bit hypocritical, especially since I am far too aware of the number of buffoons who hold multiple degrees. If you know my story but not my heart, I can come across as a pretty dubious character. If you look at circumstance and cold facts, I am not terribly impressive, and I say this not out of some sense of false modesty but based on some rather bitter facts.

It is painfully funny how unaware we can be of our own flaws, and typically not who I am. I tend to over analyze everything, beginning and ending with myself. So I as I was confronted by this question, one I know intimately, I realized that all this time, for decades now, I have been asking the wrong question. The question is not who am I or who are you. It doesn’t matter. And as much as I hate to admit it, the truth of it reverberates through my heart and soul.

So let me tell you why you should listen to the things I shall offer at the seminar. I am nobody, an absolute nobody who for some crazy reason known only to God, has been given a message about hope and grace. A message that he allowed me to live out, to know intimately, painfully so that I may never forget. I speak not from a place of lofty academic summits, but from those times when the truths I gleaned from books and gathered from the mouths of learned men became a reality. I share not a story about a person who pursued God, but of a God who pursued a person, a divorced mom who had no right to speak in matters moral or ethical. I speak as one who was shown grace and the knowledge of redemption.

The message I bring, if I dare use the word message, has little and everything to do with me. But to say too much of myself is like glorifying a microphone for receiving a voice, for what is more important a bit of metal doing what it was designed to do? Or the one who designs and uses the device for greater purposes? I know I am more than a mere utensil, but with each breath I become more aware of how great he is. This is the message I bring. There is a God who adore us, adores you, and he desires to be known by you. He wants to redeem every wound, every heartache, every miserable experience you have ever known. He wants to transform them from your deepest hurt to your greatest weapon. He created you to know him, and when you know him, worship is the only response to this amazing God.

Who am I am? I am someone who messed up their life beyond all human hope of repair. I was someone who lost everything and could see no way out until he showed up. And we he appeared, when he revealed his love for me, I got lost in the chase and caught up in the pursuit. I fell in love and was loved in a way I had never known.

So why listen to what I have to say? Because the wonders of his love are too great to be contained in one life, one small existence, they must be proclaimed. Because maybe when you see him in my story you will find he was there in the middle of yours all along.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Silver Rings and Daffodils

I wear a small silver band on my left ring finger. So small it will not fit over the tip of my husband’s pinky, and yet it spins constantly about my finger, threatening to slide over my knuckle. It is a Renaissance reproduction, covered in whirls and loops of flowers and leaves. I love my little ring. I dare not share the cost, it would embarrass my husband. He was disappointed it was not gold and did not have a matching engagement ring. On his left hand he wears a similar ring, also silver. A fitting metal for us, a fitting design as well.

We married in a rush. We had only been dating eleven days when he proposed, partly because the kids told him he must if he were to stick around, but mostly because he had already decided I was going to be his wife. He was just waiting for me to realize I wanted him as my husband. There was no time to save for something more costly once the decision had been made.

We shopped about for rings, and I did look longingly after some more expensive bands, but in truth none of them “felt” right. It was Katrina who found these. She called and told me about her internet searches and I went to her house to look them over. Ty kept questioning me when I showed them to him, “Are you sure they are enough?”, “Is it really okay?” and he finally made peace with the idea when he promised to buy us better rings in the spring.

Spring is almost here. The daffodils are blooming in the yard and on our kitchen table.

There will be no new rings this spring. And I doubt that there will be in any spring. What seemed like a concession to poverty has taken on a new value. These were the bands we exchanged when we vowed to love each other the rest of our lives. I wore them both as Ty had his MRI and we were scared to death we were going to lose each other after such a short time together. They are the ones that clink against each other each night as we intertwine our fingers before slipping off to sleep. No, no new rings.

Suddenly it isn’t important that they did bear a greater price tag or that they fail to meet the demands of tradition. They were exchanged with sincerity and honor, and now they are all we really want. Our marriage is a renaissance, or rebirth, our second chance at love and a life with someone who will love us. Silver is the symbol of understanding, and we have found that there is a person who understands who we are and what we have been through. With each day that understanding deepens and grows, pulling us closer to each other and the value of our little silver bands is rooted in our shared experiences.

And even now, the significance of this little band grows, and I smile as the yellow flowers bob their heads’ in the March winds. Spring will not bring new rings, because we do not need them now. What we have known is too great to discard for something new or flashier. What we have known will be the foundations for what is still to come, and should not be forgotten or ignored. It is our reality that we have endured, survived, even celebrated and one that should be treasured.

They are symbols of who we are, who we have been, and who we hope to become. A simple reminder that there is another who carries the match to our ring and thinks of us each time they see it, or feel it slip around their finger. All truly great things share this trait. In and of themselves, they may be very small in value, but the experience they point you to, the reality that is bigger than a single object, holds the key to their true worth.

The question is do we have the eyes to see it, the heart and wisdom to perceive it when it spreads like a carpet of yellow petals before us? A symbol of spring, renewal, and rebirth reminding us of a God who delights in folding splashes of gold around an emerald stem. A God who loves to call life from the once frozen ground and festoon his creation with ridiculous beauty? Do we crave something more costly to hold in our hand? Or can we gather the posies and celebrate that there was another who emerged from the cold ground and know that he is thinking of you as they bob and sway in the March winds?

Photograph by Heavenly Touch Photography and Video by Mitzi

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I Have a Right to What? Ranting again

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed the number of advertisements that declare that “It is your right to. . .fill in the blank with the appropriate product here.” ? I ask because I am having this visceral reaction to them, they just make me want to throw something through the television. For those of you who have never experienced an “Emily Rant” you might want to skip this post altogether, it’s not going to be pretty, but at the very least, brace yourself.

I do not have a right to affordable phone service, white teeth, affordable healthcare, or luxurious pet grooming. I don’t. I just simply do not have those rights, because they are not rights. They are, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, privileges. Privileges that are earned or bestowed, but not rights.

Are these good things that can be made available in a prosperous society? Absolutely. Are these things I desire to have or would hope that each and every individual should experience? Unquestionably. Are these things that I am willing to work for and pray for both for myself and others? Yes, yes, yes, but I cannot find anywhere in any shape where these things are my right, or anyone else’s.

A right is something to which we are entitled. And way too many of us believe that we entitled to way too many things, including driving too fast, the best of everything, and sublime happiness. Like God himself spoke and said that simply because we are we shall have. Funny, I don’t find that in my Bible.

What I do find are some pretty amazing promises, gifts of grace and love offered by a Father who desires to give good gifts to his children, even the undeserving ones. And if I read my Bible correctly, we are all undeserving. There is nothing I can do to merit his consideration of me, and nothing I can do to earn his the beauty he has poured out among us. And I am privileged to experience the expressions of love he offers.

We have got to get past this idea that we have a right to anything. Any of us drawing a breath could have just as easily been born in Rwanda where clean drinking water is a precious commodity. We could be living a life that is punctuated by gunfire, and marked in blood. We could have died as children in place where infants succumb to dehydration and diseases that have long been eradicated within our borders. We did nothing to merit the safety and riches, yes, I did say riches of our lives. We were very blessed to be born in place were such things as spray on tans and cable TV are considered ordinary expenses – necessities even to some.

Why do I say we have to get past this idea? Simple, it will destroy you. The moment you cross the line from believing that something is a gift to it being something you deserve, you have prepared a fertile place for resentment and bitterness to flourish. You will get so caught up in lamenting all the things that you can’t have or possess that you will never look to the needs that lie outside of your hurting pride. And eventually, this attitude will contaminate everything you touch including your relationship with God.

And lest anyone think I am going on about things I don’t understand, allow me to clarify. I can say this with impunity for I have lived there, and I know the crippling effects this mindset can have on us. How we will come to blame God for failing us when he has surrounded us with blessing after blessing.

We are special because we have been loved. I am amazing because the King has sent out an invitation to one such I and seated me at his table. I am brilliant and beautiful because he has chosen to array me in finery when I came to him in rags. I love because he taught me how. I can be loved because he who inspires love lives within me. I care for myself because I have become his home, and he deserves the best I can offer. I can enjoy the bounty of this life because it flows from his hands.

I accept his gifts not as rights that he must provide for me, but as reminders of his extravagance to one who deserves nothing from him. I am humbled that one so great would notice me, and lifted up because he raises me to my feet so that I may speak to him as a friend and daughter. It is not a right but a privilege lavish and heart stopping in grandeur. Reminding me at once of who I was apart from him, and who I am in him.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yet Another Confession

Okay, so I confess. I am a dripper. I am that person who cannot fill my coffee cup without dripping all over the floor, cabinet, or whatever else may be in the vicinity. As a matter of fact, it is such a common place thing that I almost feel like the ritual is incomplete without a splash or two to warm my toes. Strange I know.

There is something almost barbaric about it. A certain sense of defiance in this small little act, a declaration that, “Yes, I have coffee, the pot shall never run dry, and I care nothing for a few wasted drops that may stain the floor.” I didn’t mean to be a dripper. For years I fought against it, experimenting with ways of pouring that would prevent the waste of this almost sacred liquid. The really odd thing is I finally discovered a way to avoid this potentially embarrassing habit. Okay, so it was really Nathan who revealed to me that if I raised the lid a bit it would not drip.

And so now that I know this, I have a choice to make with each and every cup, and in the course of my day this is many. To lift or not to lift, that is the question, but I find myself reluctant to lift. Sure I have to go back and wipe down the counters and mop up the floor, but I like to drip. This morning, as I felt the comforting warmth on my toes, I considered why this is an issue.

A few of you, I am sure, are citing a tendency towards rebellion, and I can’t completely disagree. But against who or what am I rebelling? That is the crux of the matter. My tidy husband? God? Society in general? Where is it written that dripping coffee is a bad thing? As I began to really ponder the matter, I realized something.

So much of my life is marked by scrimping and saving. Trying to get me to release a dollar for more than an absolute necessity is difficult, as a matter of fact, spending more than twenty dollars for anything other than groceries makes me ill. When it comes to money, I have a financial goal, not the least of which is to pay off my student loans while still feeding my children. It’s the one issue that can make me worry, and not without cause. I have been in those places where meals where nothing but Ramen noodles and I was rolling coins for gas money. If you were to go over my finances for the last ten years you would wonder how I managed to exist at all. It is a modern retelling of the loaves and fish, baffling and nonsensical without the interference of the Father.

Please don’t think I am sharing this to evoke any sort of pity. I have survived, flourished even at times, but always with the knowledge that I was completely dependent on God’s provision. It is one of those facts that I have accepted with a certain sort of resignation, but one that can overwhelm me if I dwell on it for too long.

However, in all of those times, not once did I go without coffee. And if you know me at all you will know that I include coffee as one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. It’s always been like a seal or sign that he hasn’t forgotten me, no matter how bad other circumstances may be. As long as there is coffee I know that he is still watching over me. I guess it is my own personal form of manna, it appears each day in the measure sufficient for that time, and I know that while there may not be too much of a selection on today’s menu the essentials are there.

So I drip. I let that precious fluid fall in exuberant excess on my counter, floor, and feet. It is my tangible way of saying I have faith that he will not fail me. There will always be a steaming cup to hold to as I sit in my quiet place and commune with him. It is my declaration that I believe there will be a fresh pot tomorrow, or in a few hours. He loves me and provides even this seemingly frivolous token of his affection for me.

And I think this is truth we all need to contemplate from time to time. God is affectionate towards us, indulging our special tastes and desires. He fills our lives with small tokens of his care, so small they are easily overlooked and can go unappreciated. And yet there they are. Steaming away within our grasp and filling our world with wonderful aromas and tastes. In world full of monstrous trials and grand truths that is easy to discount or devalue this small pleasure, and yet what is more intimate than his provision for our simple delights? What speaks more clearly of a lover and friend?

It is humbling and glorifying in the same breath taking moment. The God of Creation loves me this much, this greatly and deeply so that my cup runneth over, and I am glad.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Lie About Artists Exposed

There is a terrible rumor flying around out there about us artists, and I think it is time that we confront it head on. I say this because too many of artists have believed it and have been using it in masochistic rituals against the very core of our beings. Over enough time believing this lie will, at the very least, leave us creatively crippled and at the worst will destroy our spirits, the part of us that makes us amazing and wonderful creations of a creative God.

The lie is simple. Artists are lazy. Now, I have to admit that there are few posers out there who have adopted the title as artist to justify their tendency to do as little as possible and live on other people’s couches and eat from their refrigerator. However, simply adopting the title does not mean one deserves the title. True artists are anything but lazy. The problem is much of our progress is difficult to measure in standard terms.

We are seen sitting staring at dust motes in the sun, following the patterns in the carpet, or getting lost in a movie. To the outside observer all of these things can be considered lazy, pointless even. What you can’t see, is the sifting process going on in our brains. If you don’t believe me ask an artist to tell you what they see in the film you watch together. Most people will tell you about the plot and the scenery or that really great actions sequence, we will tell you about the symbols and color pops, the way shots were framed, the use of music to set the tone, or the theological implications if such a thing were true.

A true artist never gets a moment alone, our heads and hearts are filled with images and ideas that like hungry children are begging for our attention. I cannot remember a time when I did not have the next painting forming and shaping itself in my mind, a character in a book not yet written pleading to have their nose described and defined by my words, or some great void of inspiration begging to filled. They are always there, when I am driving, brushing my teeth, and trying to sleep.

And like children, I tell them they can wait. I tell them I will see to their needs in a little while, and like children, they know when they are being placated so I can have moment’s peace. So many of us develop methods of coping. For me it is pacing, I pace with determination and purpose. So much so that if you were to study the padding beneath the living room carpet you would find distinct levels of compression indicating my paths.

Adding to the chaos is the number of voices, if you are or love a creative person you know that we have a million and one great ideas. We have to figure out which ones should be ignored and which ones should be embraced and nurtured. I have rejected a reoccurring idea to dye myself purple, writing random bits of poetry on the walls of my home, and welding a sea horse like apparatus to the hood of my car. I would like to say I rejected these ideas because I realized their impracticality, but the truth is I have yet to find the right shade of purple, my landlord wouldn’t appreciate the graffiti, and I don’t know how to weld.

So I have to figure out what I can do with the tools at hand, and getting to that idea requires tremendous concentration and focus – hence the pacing. Sometimes, I have to take more drastic measures to scatter the ideas enough to pick a single one from the foray. This means Air Supply has to be blasted from the stereo and I must sing loudly and off key until the proper level of tranquility has been reached. And the really sad thing is, I don’t even like Air Supply.

Then and only then, can I begin to work. Now, I call this work, others would probably call it a series of false starts. As with this blog post which was started and deleted four times to date. To the average on looker it could appear as a wasted effort and an abuse of time, but I know that all of this starting, stopping, creating and destroying is a part of the process. It’s the winnowing of the words and images that I am trying to capture. It is working out the impurities and refining the molten ideas of my heart. There are no short cuts. It is a simple surrender to something that others may not understand or value.

I think this is why so many artists must work in seclusion. We need the freedom to file our nails, and stare at our faces in the mirror before putting pen in hand, brush to canvas, or finger tip to key. The weight of scrutiny is just too much to shoulder when you are already laden with so many sensations both tangible and esoteric. We don’t need to worry about appearing strange or odd to a perplexed audience. I also think this is why there are so few famous women artists, but that is a post for another time.

Creation is labor intensive. It always has been. Even God declared the need for a rest after his endeavors. Not that he needed one, but he knew that we would need a space in time to silence all the demands of the creative process. He understood that taking a moment to consider dust motes would allow us to rest in the greatness of a God who created even these insignificant bits of wonder.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Redeeming the Past

There are some memories that we lock away in the deepest part of ourselves. Memories too dark and traumatic to ever see the light of day, so we ignore them, push them a little deeper into ourselves and hope that no one can see. Hope that no one will ever guess that this one moment captured so pristinely in our minds but so carefully concealed touches every part of who we are, influences every decision that we make, and haunts even our happiest moments, stealing its beauty.

All of us have a memory like this, a childhood trauma – a death, a lose, abuse, or maybe even something we have done in our weaker moments. It is our greatest shame, and our deepest hurt. It seems as if our lives are divided as to what came before and what comes after. And while we may push it aside, it waits quietly in the wings waiting to leap from its rickety cage and destroy all that we have tried to build.

We try to deny that this one moment has become our defining moment. We tell ourselves that it had nothing to do with our choice to take the safe route home, avoided that relationship, or picked our college major, but it did. It always does.

We hate it for that reason, not just for the pain that it caused in that instance, but for every time we bow before it as if it happened earlier this morning. Knowing that our odd choices and decisions can never be fully explained, even to those who love us, because then we would have to admit what happened, share with another that piece of ourselves that even we can’t love. So we hide, hide from those who love us, hide from ourselves, and hope to God, He really can’t see everything.

And that’s the problem, we know that at some point, somewhere, someone is going to see right through our façade, and it scares us to death. So we live our whole lives afraid, afraid and angry. Hoping that our anger, our shell of self sufficiency, or self sacrifice, is enough to keep people just far enough away we will never be forced to deal with the issue we refuse to admit exists.

And that’s the problem, it is all about ourselves. We try to fix it alone in the dark. We hope that another self help book shoved under the edge of our mattresses will hold the key, help us create another or better cage. We think that we need to take care of this our self, that it only affects our self, and that it will all be okay with a little more self discipline, self punishment, self mutilation. Anything, as long as we can keep any one from finding out.

I can write this way because I have my own stock pile of memories, things that I did, things that were done to me. I know firsthand how they cripple us, eating away at our hopes and dreams, preventing us from reaching out to help another because we don’t even feel worthy to do that. What I did or what was done to me, doesn’t matter. Fill in the blanks with your own list for now, and perhaps one day, over a cup of coffee, I will share.

The point is the particular memory doesn’t matter. It never has. All that matters is it was enough to leave a mark on your soul. And as long as we make it our life’s goal to cover up that mark, we are denying the power of God to redeem all things to his glory. Oh, we can say we have great faith, live a life that seems to demonstrate our maturity and dependence on the Lord, but it’s all a lie and we are living a faithless life.

So how do move into a life that declares that God is faithful and capable of redeeming anything that we freely release to him? We learn how to stop hiding. We find people we can trust, and we tell them our story – every horrifying detail. We tell them the worst of what have experienced, the worst of what we have done, and we stop trying to control the consequences. We let God take care of that.

I won’t lie to you. It is the scariest thing you will ever do. You will feel bare and vulnerable. Your voice will give out, and you will convince yourself no one will ever love you if you say a word. Your head will feel as if it is going to split open like an overripe melon, all your ideas spilling like rotten pulp onto the ground. It will hurt. You will be able to feel the memory being extracted from your being, like a colossal splinter leaving your heart, and somewhere along the way, the nausea will set in. And the voices in the back of your head, the ones you have relied on for so long to keep you safe will tell you to run, not today, do it later, you need more time.

The thing is, our God deserves the highest honor we can give him. And like so many God things, this one seems so backwards to our human minds, so we give him our worst. Our worst moment, our worst pain, our worst shame. It makes no sense but this is the beauty of who He is. Because this amazing God takes all of it and redeems it, turning it into something beautiful and amazing. Our stories are transformed, becoming the reason to praise, becoming the promise of hope for others who once thought they were alone. And as we experience His healing, it our story, our testimony that becomes the means through which we participate in His redemption of not only ourselves, but the world.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

God In Search of Man, A Review (Rave, Really)

While I was working on my master’s degree, something strange happened. I found a book that I absolutely fell in love with. I read this book like it was the decadent treat that it was, with words to luscious that I had to force myself to refrain from licking the pages. It is a book that I return to frequently still yet, reading and rereading my favorite parts. My poor copy is dripping with ink that I have added, questions I wish to explore further, passages that moved me underlined with green ink and underlined again with red so they leap from the page. What makes this so strange is this book was assigned, it isn’t a novel, a historical work, or even a collection of encouraging Christian phrases – it was a philosophy book about faith.

Written by Abraham Joshua Heschel, it isn’t even written from a Christian perspective. It is an exploration of Jewish thought and faith. He explains the challenges that face anyone who wishes to take the Hebrew Scriptures seriously, to make them an active central part of our lives. I suppose in some ways it seems strange that I would be so captivated by a work about a faith that isn’t specifically mine, but when we remember the debt that Christianity owes to Judaism I find it strange that we all aren’t celebrating, or at least honoring, this great religion.

The questions that Heschel offers are valid questions to ask of our own faith. They encompass Christianity in that our faith springs from the very Scriptures that are the foundation of Judaism. He grapples with the issues that face any faith that wishes to be more than simply another tradition, a faith that moves beyond mere observance of rituals and rights but becomes a radical life changing force within ourselves and our world.

As I held the book for the first time, I found ideas and thoughts that were so close to those that already danced about my head, but with accuracy I do not posses. I saw the words that captured that fleeting thought that had defied definition, and therefore understanding, pinning it to the page, allowing me to know the true nature of the question. Heschel’s work about his own faith, a faith that he lived radically and boldly, has helped me to understand the nature of my faith as few Christian works have done, and I am not alone.

It is easy to pick out a Heschel fan, simple start the line, “The Bible is not man’s book about God, . . .” And they will chime in with, “. . .it is God’s book about man.” What a simple but theologically profound statement! And we get it. Not because we are brilliant, but rather that we have experienced how this little shift in our perspective changed how we read the Bible. It has reshaped our theology, and suddenly God became so much bigger than we had ever allowed ourselves to hope.

Heschel proposes that theology presupposes that it has the answer, and this mindset has often prevented us from asking the questions we need to ask. Philosophy, on the other hand, makes no pretense of having an answer, but offers us the tools to ask the right questions. When we allow both of these disciplines to shape our approach to matters of faith, God, and the Bible we can understand that while we have the answer if we do not know which questions it answers and how it answers those questions than we are unable to apply the answer to our lives.

In his work, the God Heschel presents is a God big enough to handle our questions, even desires that we bring his questions to him. God is not distant or far from those who love him, he is seeking a people who rejoice when he is revealed to them. God is seeking us for relationship, fully aware that relationship with flawed humanity will be necessity also be flawed, but a God who desires to know us any way. He is a God who makes concessions to humanity while still calling us to be greater than we were without him.

Heschel challenges religion to be big enough and responsive enough to be source of inspiration and strength for this time and place. He points out the failings of religion in the past, when it dried up and was nothing more than a carefully preserved heirloom, and he loudly declares that this is not enough. God is alive, so any faith that claims to be of and for him must also be alive.

To be fair, it is a long book, and can be dry in some places, but digging out the nuggets are worth the time. The depth and layers of meaning in Heschel’s writing warrants reading and rereading to wring the most from the words. It is not a book to borrow from the library, you will want to write in it. Nor is it a book that you want to order used, because the previous owner actually read it they will have written in it. So if this appeals to you go head and ante up, pay full price it is worth it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Once a Decade Moment of Sappiness - For my friends

What is friendship? Real and true friendship, is it something that you experience in a moment? A brief fleeting pearl of time when you make a connection so strong that you feel like you have known each other for a life time? Is relationships that tend like a tree in an orchard, carefully pruning away the lifeless branches, giving others room to bloom and bear fruit? Is it stable and strong providing you with a firm place to leap from? Safety and security in a storm? Is it pliable, bending and swaying with the rhythms of life?

Is a friend someone you talk to every day? Someone with whom you have a brief encounter? That person who calls you up in the middle of the night to celebrate a small triumph or grieve over a great woe? Is it the person that only calls every two years, but it feels like you have never been apart? Someone to tell your secrets to, the one with whom all your pretenses easily fall away and sees you for who you really are?

Are they sources of strength in their quiet acceptance? Are they fountains of spontaneity, pulling you into shenanigans you would never do on your own? Do they push you dig deeper, fly higher, and try harder? Give you permission to rest, to cry, to laugh when no one else understands? Can you believe great dreams with them or simply be?

Do you fight, love, and become who you would hope to be in their presence? Do they call you on your garbage, especially when it is aimed at yourself? Do they let you wallow in self pity and then pull you out of the pits of despair when the timer goes off? Is honesty tempered with love? Is strength softened with compassion?

Can you hold their hands and watch as their world crumbles before them, because you know they stood by you when yours came crashing down? Do you ache with their pain when they lose it all? Does their tragedy rip at your heart, even as you hold it together to be a haven for them?

In my life, I have been blessed with a handful of friends. People who have been one or all of these things to me, for me, and ones for whom I hope to be the same for them. For a few of us, our lives are so entangled that you cannot tell where one life starts and the other begins. We have shared it all joy, triumph, heartache, fear, and hope. We dream our biggest dreams together, and we gently ground each other when we try to fly higher than our wings were made to go. We have held each other up when the world has rolled beneath our feet, leaving us to wonder if this life too cruel to be endured.

They are friends who listen to my midnight rants, and for them no call comes to late or early. They are the ones who call me on delusions of grandeur but refuse to let me accept the title of victim. They are the voices that remind me to be honest with myself, but to attempt great things. They are the ones who will pick me up when I need a ride, invade my fortress of solitude, and push me into the deep end. I love them because they are gentle with my frailties, and tough on my stupidity.

I have friends that I met once, and like sisters separate at birth we struggle to fit an entire lifetime of stories into a single afternoon. Laughing and sharing scars as we recognize one who knows us without being told, but taking delight in the telling. These friends are like a glass of fine wine – savored, enjoyed, and remembered fondly with a smile. They are the ones I wish I could call back into my life, but time and distance makes it impossible, so we rest in the comfort of knowing merely that they exist. Waiting for the day when perhaps there will be another few moments of indulgence.

Each friendship so different, valuable and beautiful for their uniqueness, and what they have brought to my life. Each making my world a little larger, a little less lonely, and little more of an adventure. They have helped me see myself better, and they have loved me as I am. You have helped me love me a little better, and with you I have learned to enjoy who I am. It is one of the greatest gifts a human being can give to another.

So there it is, my one moment of sappiness for this decade. I know I can count on all my true friends to torment me unmercifully about it. I love you any way.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

S-ingle A-wareness D-ay draweth nigh!

This is a repost from last year, and although I have become a convert, I wanted to remember all my single friends out there.

Warning: The following post is a public service announcement for those of you who have forgotten what it is like to be single on the 14th of February. Out of respect for those who observe the great holiday of S.A.D., I have used the traditional and sacred language of sarcasm. For those unfamiliar with this particular dialect, please be aware that superlative must be invoked and extremism is mandatory. Do not interpret the text too literally.

Single Awareness Day is encroaching once again.

For those of you who are unaware of this holiday, congratulations. We are aware that many have chosen not to follow in the observance of SAD and chose instead the media endorsed Valentine’s day. As we live in a free country this is your right, but please do not disregard our grand tradition.

You may have to overlook the fact we snarl a bit at the images of naked baby cherubs with bows and arrows, or that we grouch about the multitude of roses that seem to magically appear in the dead of winter. You may need to look into your heart to find a smidgeon of forgiveness if we scoff at the idea of true love and all its joys. These are sacred customs for us, a reminder of our own self sufficiency and that we really don’t need chocolate as much as the next girl. Candlelit dinners are for people who don’t like to look at who they are dining with and heart shaped balloons are a frivolous waste of money.

It is a great divide in our ideologies that as brothers and sisters in Christ we must overlook, and it is but a single day. So enjoy what you so erroneously refer to as Valentine’s Day, and we will try to overlook your extravagance in folly.

I know there are few of you who pity us and believe that it is your duty to convert us, to show us the joy of your holiday, but please understand that you are wasting your time and possibly posing a threat to your well being. However, there always seems to be at least one of you who think that you can help us see the error of our cynicism and find this to be a great excuse. Allow me to offer some helpful advice on how to be real friend to the single person in your life.

1.Do NOT set them up for a blind date on this day. We have vivid imaginations and you cannot imagine the miraculous things we believe might happen if we have dinner with the right person on this night. Way too much pressure, besides there is some crazy atmospheric thing that happens making everyone either terribly attractive or just terrible. Set ups on this night won’t work. Save our friendship and do NOT do it.

2.Do NOT try to make us feel better by sending us flowers at work. It is humiliating enough to be the only girl without a bouquet on her desk. Do not make it worse by making us confess to co-workers that the flowers are really from our mother, gal pal, or a male friend who felt pity for us.

3.Do NOT tell us about your great plans unless we ask. Some of us are working very hard to forget that this day even exists. Others of us are masochistic and derive some sort of twisted joy out of this added reminder of all the things we are missing out on. Your call as to whether you are helping or hurting by filling in all the details of how great your significant other is. Just be aware of what you are doing.

4.Do NOT complain to us about how you only got one rose, dinner was not as fancy as you think it should be, or he/she did not even get you a card. This is for your own safety. I once saw a woman beaten with a baseball bat when she complained all her husband did for her on Valentine’s Day was fix the car. For those of us gals who fix the car ourselves this better than flowers and we sometimes are compelled to mete out proper punishment to those who fail to appreciate what they have been given.

5.Do NOT tell us we are beautiful people who deserve to have someone great in our lives. We know that, and that is why we chose to remain single – no one great enough has come along. Keep the sad faces for funerals, and don’t destroy our illusion by pointing it out. (It’s bad enough when we lie to ourselves, but when you do it we want to choke you.)

6.Do NOT tell us that Paul said that it is better to be single. He also wrote it is better to marry than to burn and some of us are blazing infernos.

7.Do NOT tell us that Jesus is all we need. As true as that may be, he has never sent flowers in a crystal vase, whipped out a credit card with his name on it for dinner, or sent me diamonds. And really is this the proper time to heap condemnation over our lack of faith on top of the rejection and abandonment issues we are already facing?

8.Do NOT ask us to help you chose a gift for your significant other. You have them, you deal with your responsibilities. This includes having us tag along to any store or part of a store that is decorated with heart shaped boxes, flowers, pink balloons, jewelry, or perfume.

9.Do NOT suggest that we get out of the house that night and do something for ourselves. Alone, in the dark, moping is preferable to watching all you couplers moon over each other in public.

10.Do NOT ask us to babysit your children. Why should we make it easy on you?

Do remind us that candy is half off on the 15th (if all you greedy hogs haven’t sucked all the joy from the atmosphere on the 14th). Do accept our compliments on your new ring, necklace, or bouquet with grace, but change the subject quickly. We are just being polite, please return the favor. Do let us mope a bit without trying to fix us. After all that is part of our sacred ceremony, a complex observance with seemingly conflicting symbols and creeds, but it makes complete sense to those of us who have accepted this holiday as our own.

Remember that we still love you even if you have been sucked into this holiday of mass consumerism posing as a holiday of love. Let’s just get back to normal as soon as possible, okay? (And if you do know a great Christian Single, tell us about them – but wait until at least the 16th. Who know by next year you may change our minds.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Registration is now open!

Registration for our April 9th Splendor and Holiness Worship Seminar is now open. The seminar will take place at the Broken Arrow PAC beginning at 6:00 pm. Visit the Pagus website, to find out more about this event and to register.

If you would like to share information on this event with your Church or small group contact me, and I will be happy to send you materials or speak with you about our latest endeavor.

Group rates are available on line for groups of ten or more.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Remembering How it Felt

A long time ago, in a land far far away, someone important to me made an insightful observation. He said that I never really thought about something until I wrote it down and I never really felt anything until I painted it out. I took it as a compliment, and I think that he meant it as such, but over the past few days I have been thinking about this part of me that needs to create. The part of me that finds its voice in the written word and painted image.

In truth it is a part of me that has only been expressed in random bits and pieces. Yes, I write this blog and I journal like it is my last life line to sanity, but it has been years since I have given myself the freedom to paint. There was a time in my life when I could pick up a brush and lose days in front of a canvas. I would stand before the clean white surface and answer its challenge with alternating fury and compassion. I would command the colors to bend and blend to my will. I would fight back the elements of chaos that tried to steal the clarity of the image and I would bring a whole new reality in existence with my finger tips.

I would later awaken, soiled brush in hand, to stare at the marvel I had birthed and wonder how I could have ever created such a thing. Sometimes in blissful amazement, at others in grim acceptance, and still at other times with horror.

But there came a season in my life when my painting became the object of scorn. The time I spent lost in this fabulous and terrifying place was resented by another person very important to me, so I stopped. I packed away all my brushes and tried to ignore the paintings that begged to painted. I visited occasionally, but that is all I allowed myself. A visit, a few hours, a carefully doled out period of time when I thought it was safe, when I knew I was in no danger of losing myself to the process. Eventually, I stopped even this. It was far too painful and never satisfying, merely a bleak reminder of what I had left behind.

As life continued, I had to worry about providing for my children. Survival depended on constant vigilance and every drop of energy had to be poured into making a living, going to school, or some pretense of housekeeping. Painting just demanded too much. So my brushes sat in the cabinet, safely out of sight, but never out of mind.

Today, I am wrestling with if it is time to open that door, like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia will I find a way home? Will I want to find a way home? How many years will pass here and there? Will you know me when I return?

Another friend of mine once asked me how I could write about art and its place in Christian theology if I wasn’t doing art. It’s a valid question. At the time, I had resigned myself to the idea that maybe I just had enough of the artistic bent to give me insight into the situation but was really meant to pursue it beyond that. I still have no desire to be an artistic success. The politics of the art world leave me apathetic, not even caring if I am commercial success, but I am learning to admit that I love the process of creating. I love the feel of the brushes in my hand and how they drag across the canvas. I am finding that my love this act is far less intellectual than I had allowed myself to believe.

It is visceral and elemental. A feeling that springs from somewhere so deep in my gut that I can not determine its source. More than a compulsion, and greater than an appetite, it is truly something that defines me as a person. It defines how I perceive this world and my place in it. It is the medium through which I define my reality and experience this life more fully.

And yet, it is the part of me that I fear the most. It is the part of me that I have yet to fully tame, and paces back and forth in my heart and mind like the lion behind steel bars. I worry when I think of releasing it, and I fear what it shall mean for me and my family. Not because I think there is anything “bad” in it, but rather it is probably the most powerful piece of who I am, lending it strength and infusing every other part of me it touches.

But it is the part of me that knows my Creator the best. It is that little bit of who I am knows the majesty and beauty of a God who decided to create a world of wonders with his voice. It when I am lost in this world of being so completely that it leaks out onto a page or canvas that I understand why he needed to speak the words that gave us life. And I am realizing that hiding from this part of me is just another way of hiding from him.

There is a piece of all of us that reflects our creator beautifully and perfectly. Where we know something about him so intimately that no one else may ever share in that revelation. It is the strongest and purest part of who we are, and it is powerful. Often intimidating the bravest of us, but what greater honor can we give him than offering it up to him?