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.