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.