Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Christ-based online art class!

Awakening by Mindy Lacefield
Mindy Lacefield, and several other artists, are offering an online class to those who want to grow in their christian walk by making art. The information is on Mindy's lovely blog, Tim's Sally. Go take a look, and maybe you will be led to sign up and participate in the class!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Strange Convergence



I have been reading Anne Lamott's little book, Stitches. I love the things she says, and the way she says them. But what I perhaps love most when I read her work is what she doesn't come right out and say, but leads me to think of on my own.

Anne (and, since I read pretty much all she writes, I feel I am on a first name basis with her) is talking in this little book about how we 'patch together' the hurts and wounds in our lives and the lives of those around us; like a quilter using re-purposed fabrics and stitches, sometimes loose and sometimes tight. A lovely analogy, especially for a fiber lover like myself.

But the question arises, "Why do we so often need to patch our lives back together?" Why doesn't God keep the things from happening that tear and burn and stain the fabric of our lives? It's not that He can't do it. If I believe in God at all (and I do,) I believe in His power to do the impossible. So why does He leave so much in our incompetent hands?

Anne leads me to believe that the answer to that hard question is this: He leaves it in our hands and allows these painful events to occur for our own sake. He has created us to be, or to become, loving and compassionate. As He is. And how could we do that or become that if the need never arose for us to exercise our Love and Compassion muscles? Look at how people respond to disasters: they give and love and react with the best of themselves, and they draw closer together in the giving. Maybe the more pain and distress we go through and that we are called to respond to, the more God is telling us that we need to have more 'practice' at becoming the people He wants us to be. Especially in these times, when many of our 'closest' friends are online, and are, in reality, people we would not recognize if they were sharing an armrest with us in the theater. God wants to bring us together. He wants us to be truly responsive to those He puts in our lives.

So.... what is the 'strange convergence' I refer to in the post title?

I have been obsessing for over a week on the Bruce Springsteen song, "Dancing in the Dark." It plays in my dreams; I am trying to learn an acoustic version of it on my guitar; I have listened to I-don't-know-how-many artists sing and play their versions of it. I have been loving the song, though I have not really thought about why it cropped up on my musical horizon at this time, or what the song actually means. That is, I had not considered those things until I was mopping the kitchen floor this morning, thinking of Anne Lamott's words and where they led my own thoughts.

Right in the middle of the floor, right in the middle of a 'deep thought,' Bruce burst loudly in my brain: "You can't start a fire worryin' about your little world falling apart... This gun's for hire, even if we're just dancing in the dark."

Oh, my dear Lord! You are telling me what this song is about! All through the song, the singer frets about 'being bored with myself,' about wanting to 'change my hair, my clothes, my face,' about everything being predictable and tiring. But then,  "This gun's for hire..." (or maybe, 'I'm here if you need me"),  "even if we're just dancing in the dark..." ('Even if you just need me to hold you through the dark times of your life.')  Even if you just need me to exercise my love and compassion on your life, to stitch you back together, to help mend a tear or patch a hole in your heart.

Is that a stretch? Maybe. But it gives new meaning to the song as I play and sing it - possibly a meaning Sprinsteen never intended, but who knows? It fits so well for me right now.

I am pretty good at stitching and patching and weaving things together, but I may not always make myself as available as I should to those who might just need to be held tightly together through the hard times - to dance a bit in the dark. And I am not very good about asking others to dance with me when I might need it either. 

Do you need to dance? Don't be afraid to seek out a partner - a friend who might just need a bit of love and compassion practice. That is what God has put us here to do... to dance together in both the light times of joy, and in the dark times, when the dancing might just hold someone up.

And by the way ("Hey, Baby!") I do occasionally need a dance partner, as well.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Life...a cuckoo clock with rusty gears" (Anne Lamott)


I have a hard time with imperfection. Imperfection in others, and most especially in myself, offends me. We are made in God's image, so why, I frequently ask Him, did He leave out the 'perfect' part?

I don't like to know that my paintings are less than masterpieces, that I will never play the guitar like Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello, that my tapestries are not ones that that the Louvre will ever choose to hang, that my hair is grey and even laughter is giving me more wrinkles every day, that my house is dusty and my garden is filled with weeds, and that I always sing a bit flat.

Anne Lamott (Stitches) has said that "life is more like a cuckoo clock with rusty gears" than it is perfect. 'Life is hard, and then we die': both a goofy old bumper sticker, and a Truth. Life can be cruel and heartless, though we can find kindness and compassion within it. Life can be everything that is imperfect... in fact, life is everything that is imperfect. How can it be otherwise, when it is populated by such imperfect beings as I?

I look for pockets of perfection, but I rarely find them. The few I have discovered have found me when I was not looking or expecting them. Perfection seems to come in very tiny doses: a child's love, an unexpected hug from a friend, a moment of beauty in nature or art or music that brings tears of wonder to my eyes, shared laughter, and tiny glimpses of compassion and understanding for or from others.

Imperfection, on the other hand, seems to bombard us constantly. We are slammed in the face with ugly violence, with deceit, with greed and hatred. All of those are so far from the perfection that is God, that is Love.

I would have liked, as I grow older, to have come to a greater understanding of this life; to know why, to understand the meaning of all the imperfection in our lives and our world. But that has not happened for me. Age has not brought about an understanding, or even an acceptance. I continue to rage at inequality, at cruelty, at violence for the sake of greed or power. I still do not understand or accept when children become victims of these things, when families and nations are torn apart by them.

The bad news? 'Life is hard, and then you die.'
The good news? 'Life is hard, and then you die.'

That is the only hope I have to give for dealing with all these imperfections. Someday, I will be perfect. And then I will understand. I will know the 'whys' of the Sandy Hook massacre, of wars and of weeds. I have that hope, because I know it is not in my hands, nor in the hands of those who are as imperfect as I, but in the hands of my God. And, because of His Son and His sacrifice and resurrection, I will someday face him as a perfected me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Her Children Arise and Call her 'Blessed!'


From my sketchbook

Proverbs 31 A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.


My Mother will be 92 years old this week. She has been married to the same good man for over 66 years. Surely my father has had confidence in her, and she in him, the greatest majority of that time. Together, they have been an example of a Godly marriage, not only to their children, but to all who know them.

12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.

15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.


My mother was a school teacher. I remember many nights, going to bed while she was still at the kitchen table, grading papers or making lesson plans. She took pride in her work, and it was evident in the love shown by her students and the creative atmosphere in her classrooms. My mom taught school before she was married, with a 'normal school teaching certificate.' When the Kansas teaching requirements changed, Mom went to work part time at Sears to put herself through college, so she could teach again, all the while, keeping up with a rowdy household of eight (and often more.)
     
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.


Although my mom was not a spinner, she made many of our clothes when I was a child. And she has embroidered sets of tea towels for wedding gifts for many of her grandchildren. Watching her embroider these on my porch or in their motor home was a delight to me, knowing that my love for handwork came from her and from her mother.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.


I do not know of all the stories of good deeds my mother (and father, as they are always 'in it together') have done for others. But I have heard and seen enough of them to know they have often been willing to do without themselves, to help others through hard times.

22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.


Mom's home has always been tidy and lovely, decorated with many chickens, and often smelling of homemade cinnamon rolls. The doors have always been open, as we shared many meals with college students, random family members, church members, and stray friends that hung around us most of my growing up years and beyond. Mom has also always been very careful in her own appearance, and in the appearance of we 'kids,' making sure she and we always looked attractive and modest.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.


Anyone who knows my Father knows this to be true. He is still highly respected, wherever he goes, and my Mother shares that respect for, and with, him.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.


I am one of six children who have always been able to arise and call my Mother "Blessed." She has been, and still is, the kind of Christian wife, mother, friend, and woman that I strive to be. She is an example to the many who know and love her: her husband, her children, her 16 grandchildren, and even her many great-grandchildren.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you very much!  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gifts....



There is much talk of 'gifts' in these days that lead up to the Christmas holiday. I will confess that most of that talk causes me a great deal of stress. I go to the local shops or mall (S.T.R.E.S.S. in that, alone) and I look for the 'perfect' thing to give to my loved ones; something they will value and maybe keep for awhile; something that says I love them. That is a lot to expect of a 'thing' that can be wrapped in paper and shipped. I rarely shop. I do not like to shop. In fact, when I went shopping both of the past two days, I ended up sitting in my car, frustrated and stressed, with tears running down my face, both times.

You see, the people I shop for really do not need 'things' and they all already know that I love them to the ends of the earth and back. So rushing about in sub-freezing weather, discovering that the 'thing' my grandchild has said he/she wants is either just sold out or is more than I am willing to pay, or is something that I know will be at the bottom of the toy chest, forgotten in just days... all that makes this 'gifting' tradition seem quite questionable to me.

My greatest joy on these shopping excursions is seeing the Salvation Army bellringers, always smiling, even though it is only 12 degrees outside. And they are always delighted with the few dollars I put in each of their buckets, and I know those small gifts are appreciated, and will be useful.

As for myself, I am not a person who is in need of anything, so it often stresses me to think someone is spending money on some 'thing' for me, as well. (Though I have received some lovely, thoughtful gifts from loved ones, which I still use and enjoy.)

But lately all this has, though stressful, not been what I have been thinking of in the 'gift' arena. As a Christian, I have heard much about 'gifts' and 'spiritual gifts', and we are usually considering the talents we have been given to use for God and for His work here when we speak of or study about these things. But, again, this is not where my focus on gifts has gone.

I have been spending a lot of time, and have been using talents far beyond my own meager ones, in the music and praise portions of our church worship. I help lead the singing in our early worship service and I have begun 'directing' a small choir of people who, like myself, love to sing praises. This has been a gift to me, a surprise gift, at that, as I certainly never would have expected to be doing these things. Yes, I put that correctly; it has not been a gift FROM me, it has been a gift, a beautifully wrapped up present, TO me. When I am stressed, from shopping or thinking about shopping, or cleaning (or thinking about cleaning) or decorating (or... well, you get it), I go grab my guitar and belt out a carol or two, or just practice chords or even scales. The gift that God has given me in my love of music and my attempts to create it is immeasurable. There is no way that what I give back can be considered a gift in return to Him.

My favorite song this week (which I'm sure my husband and pets are sick of) is Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer's "Go Tell the Fox." I have loved that song for years, and have hoped to find chords for it someday. (You can hear a bit of it here.) I have finally reached a level of competence that I could sit down (in a high stress avoidance time) and figure out the chords myself! I love this carol so much, that I am sure it is one of the reasons I included a fox in the Nativity tapestries. That song, and that fox;  both lovely gifts to me.

So.... in this time of stress, when I wonder why we do the things we are doing, supposedly to celebrate Christ's coming into our world, I have been thinking of those Gifts and Presents (also spelled 'presence') that I have been given. Right now, music is the gift - almost a toy, really- I'm playing with and enjoying most of all. But I look forward to a quieter time, when I can again go into the studio, where many lovely gifts await for me to use.

I am a lucky person. I have a Father who loves me to the ends of the universe and back. He gives me such wondrous presents! And some of them are truly unexpected surprises. I can hardly wait for what He will give me next!



Monday, August 5, 2013

Solitude....



Today I am alone for the first time in a week-and-a-half. Oh, I have had moments alone; even an hour or two, here or there. And, when not alone, I have been delighting in the company of my favorite people in all the world. But I am a person who needs solitude. True solitude, where I know I will not be interrupted by anyone elses whims or attentions. Perhaps that is why I have chosen to weave time-intensive tapestries on a loom that takes up so much space that nobody else really fits in the room with it and me. My hours of solitude refill me when I feel used up and exhausted.

I feel guilty to need such a selfish thing as time to myself. Or at the very least, I feel guilty for admitting it. But even Jesus needed time away from all the people who surrounded him, and even time away from his closest followers, family, and friends. So, taking Christ as my example, I admit that I am delighting in my alone-ness this morning, as we are home from a wonderful family time, and my husband has gone back to his work. The pets respect my need for solitude (most of the time.) They allow me the wilderness of my studio. I have work awaiting me there, and a cup of tea to take along for my solitary sojourn.

My breath is beginning to expand. The work and the quiet are beginning to refill me. Thank you so much, Lord, for showing us how important it is to find quiet solitude in the busyness of our times and lives.