Thursday, September 15, 2016

Klans, Soap & Tough Love

Dear D,
Thanks for going out with me for pizza the other night. I really needed to be out with a friend and I was exhausted from work all week and painting all day friday. I'm still tired and it's a week later. I think I know five single moms and only two in town, you being one of them. Sometimes I worry I won't make it. That my life will go down the path of tired, broke single mom, until I'm living on welfare packages of tuna helper and never take curlers out of my hair or bother to get dressed. (This must be something I saw on TV once and it stuck with me.) Fears are crazy things. My image of the end of the road involves tuna helper hmmm. Funny that the waiter at the restaurant the other night was one of triplets-- and that they all worked at the same pizza place. I felt like we were in some great episode that deserves to be written down.

You always make life exciting. Remember when my car wouldn't work and you used soap to grease the belt and get it running again? At the gas station we were there and not looking our best. That lady in a size 5 blue dress with her expensive car and high heels looked over at the two single moms in their old clothes and probably house slippers and had the nerve to say aloud she'd, "trade places with us in a heartbeat." What did that mean. It haunted me. What kind of situation would make someone want to give up beauty, being thin, and having a nice car --to be broke, out of gas with an old junk car, and out in public in house slippers? ..... Now that I think about it, maybe she meant she'd give up everything to have a friend. We were together and she was by herself.

As I've said before, your life should really be written down. You are one of the toughest, kindest, and most street smart people I know. I'm proud to be your friend, your adopted family, and to have had the chance to hire you as body guard for all those late friday night art events when I first started working in the arts distict. Every story you have is priceless whether you scared off a bunch of guys wearing white sheets in your middle school by punching one of them in the jaw, or whether you drove four hours to take your kid to a soccer tournament where they rocked. They are all good stories.

This whole prayer discussion we started has been interesting. It wasn't too long ago that I felt it was high time to be real with people and find a way to be my true self. Finding that impossible, because I just enjoy all my different friends and family so much-- I felt I might be a bit different with each of them. So I started this blog: letters are where I can be totally honest. With each friend I write to, I think I am the truest version of some part of myself, even if that changes a bit with each friend.

It's hard for people who love to think a lot about words, to stop and talk at the same time. Which sounds odd but it's true. I can use the best words when I write. When I talk, my vocabulary decreases to about 2,000 words-- most of those words turn out to be: cool, awesome, and nice. I even bore myself. Writing letters is where I can finally keep up with all those words I want to access. Prayer is where I can finally be my real self too--- if I put my mind to it.

So let's get down to it. You said that it feels selfish to pray for yourself, for something you want. I've never really felt that way. I ask for things all the time ...I think. NO, when I stop to think about that, I realize it is't true. I don't. I'm always forgetting to ask for what I need and want in prayer. It's an odd problem. I mean there is all those verses about "ask, seek, knock..." Jesus was really into reminding people to ask.

Since I had no idea where to begin, I googled it. Do any other people out there feel selfish if they pray for something they need or want? Yep. They do. Lots of blogs address it in Christianese. Christianese is when you mention a Bible verse, use a lot of soft language and insist that things will get better if you just consider some male in the old testament and how they wore goat hair. Or maybe ponder an obscure verse in the King James which actually sounds fairly frightening if you hadn't been studying the context for 20 years. All that to say. I couldn't find much. I did see that Billy Graham had a blog about the topic and he was the one who actually addressed the real issue. He gets right to the point-- I love that.

Graham says we feel selfish when we pray because we are only coming to get something. But he suggests the true problem: praying is a relationship with your Creator-- that's someone who loves you and thinks you are just about the best thing since sliced bread, because he designed you with so many things in mind. God is thrilled when we ask him for what we need. That's how he designed us: for daily upgrades; daily drinking from a well; daily being connected like a flower to a vine-- chose your metaphor. So if we feel selfish, and I do sometimes, I do-- Then it's not because we think God won't answer our prayers; it's because we think he might want something else instead.

When we pray, it's a relationship. We are growing closer to someone-- a real person. That person has a lot of suggestions, ideas, and purposes for each of our lives. And he might, as we get to know him, have a few demands; things he insist we take notice of. I'm not talking about rules. Those are there, and we each are convicted about rules and ways to be holy-- connected to God by how we live. That's not the only thing. The closer you get to God, the more he might suggest that you need to be on a path, the amazing plan he has for you. The one you don't know about. The one you can't see. The one that may start out by your losing things, getting lost, and coming to the end of yourself. That's a scary journey-- not always fun. Frankly we've already been there. And no, not always the path we wanted to take. But maybe it's like the lady in the blue dress. We don't have to be like her: to give anything not to be alone. We are never alone when we are following God --and he's always putting us into families, even ones we least expect.

It's a relationship. God is like your best friend. Sure he puts up with all your faults and loves you for who you are. Everything you say is just about perfectly hilarious and just too cute for words. He can't get enough of you. But when you become roomies with God, some things have to change. You've invited him into your life because you thought it would make things better and easier. But he's not just a roommate. God asks us to follow him, not just live with him and put up with all his weird ideas about holiness and moderation and his weird affinity for praise music; his insistence on remembering him before meals and on holidays. It gets much more personal that that. It's worse than your mother-in-law moving in, or even getting married. When you ask God to be in your life, he gets in charge of your life. That's cool when you remember he's stronger than Thor and richer than JK Rolling. That's frightening a bit when you remember he is all knowing and has this thing about love that can really make you look like a weird mix of Ghandi and the Care Bears when you'd rather just be She-Ra or He-Man and go to town on the bad guys.

So what to do? Ha. That's easy. Pray anyways. Here's what happens. You talk it out. When you start to tell God you've found your soul mate and you want God to make it all work out. You want to live happily ever after. God, he's going to start to suggest things back. He'll nudge you to consider the other person and what's best for them. He'll nudge your to consider how you've been treating that person. He'll nudge you to consider your family and friends. He'll nudge you to consider your needs and his plans for you. Then what happens is that your prayer starts to change. Right as you are praying for the perfect happy ending image you have in your head, you'll start to pray for that other person. That God will work in their life, and that God's best possible plans for them will come to reality. You'll start to pray for your family and what they need, your neighbors, and you'll come full circle. When you get back around the whole loop looking at how much God loves all those people and thinking about what me might want most for them all you'll see yourself in a different way. You see yourself fitting into a beautiful puzzle that God's been putting together for years. And you'll find yourself praying that God does just what would be best for that person you love because you love them so much. And when that happens, you are undone. The strings are cut, and you have peace for the first time. You still have that dream image in your mind. But now you know God has it handled. You've talked it out. You've given it to God and you know he's got your back and he's got your future. He even wants you to be happy and experience all the good he has planned for you. But now that you've prayed about it, you aren't so worried and you don't feel selfish, you feel energized and you just want to share the joy with someone else. Yeah maybe it only lasts for a few minutes or a few hours. But you can always pray again the next day and see what happens then...

Love You,

Monday, August 15, 2016

Cameroon, Kings, & Burlap

Dear G,
Remember that painting I gave you so long ago as your going away present from Seminary? I remember that day well because that was when we all found out you were chief of your tribe in Cameroon. We should have known. What a kind and strong man you were. I hope you are now back with your wife and family and that you are all well. I remember you always smiling. Always walking with small gentle steps. And I remember you washing your shoes so carefully in the laundry room. Taking them out and drying them with a towel as though they were your most important possession. When ever I think of you, I think of those clean tennis shoes, clean and worn, but ready to go wherever they were asked to go, no matter how far.

It's been almost fourteen years, but I have now felt lead that it must be time to finish some of this important work I set out to do about art and faith. So I decided to remake the painting I gave you, to make it again, along with the other three paintings I wanted to go alone with it.

Here is what I wrote about it these paintings as I made them I thought about what I hoped they would represent, a process of prayer. I didn't take any courses at the seminary, but I did use the library quite a bit. I read every book on prayer and healing they had, and that many other seminaries had who allowed interlibrary loan. I hope my art will share some of those things, that you Dear Gabrial, chief of your tribe, most likely already know very very well. What I write below is how prayer tends to go, not how we say, in bright hopefullness, that it should go. I hope the paintings might help someone else to prayer. But here below I write something of my own.

Prayer Cadence

Zero: You come to prayer when you are wretched. Humble. You have nothing, and you feel stretched thin. You know you don't have what it takes, and what you have is just not enough. You have the barest glint of hope that somewhere out there when you pray, you will find an answer. It is a mystery you can't understand. It starts with Jesus. Something about the blood of the lamb and your testimony. And your testimony is that you really are just about as able to hold up the world as a burlap bag... God, you are gonna have to step in.

One: In prayer you try to come up with one thing. One thing to pray. But it's hard. All you have before you is your need. And the need is great. It's all you can see. It covers over everything. You lay out that one thing before God and try to press into your mind that he is your father, your mother, your everything and that he cares for you. You know Jesus is the only reason you have a chance to be heard. And you get the feeling that God is listening, that he cares about you. That you are heard. Maybe you really are part of this family after all.

Two: In prayer you know that you've gone about it all wrong. It's not your one great need that is supposed to come first. What is it? You should think of someone besides yourself. Other people have needs. So you try to think of something else. One more thing. One more need that someone else has. Surely if God loves you, he loves your neighbor too. It's difficult. But you think of one thing. And you pray for your friend..... suddenly your heart breaks. Their need is so much greater than yours. You'd give anything for God to help them, even to forget about your needs. Let them come first. You know that Jesus promised he'd be there for us when we mention his name. You feel you have a voice and the words come. You know you don't have what it takes to present this one thing to God well, but with Jesus help, with knowing you don't really know-- maybe that will be enough. And there is peace there. A stillness that begins to come. An opening into a fresh word.

Three: In prayer you know there is more than just needs. There is praise. Isn't God good? He's so amazing. He's done so much for you. He's done so much for your friends and your family. That you are even alive today and standing as much as you are is a miracle. A kingdom based on heaven, on God's perfect joy, seems closer, warmer, and more present. You feel a ladder reach town and you can hear a message of love coming down. Sure you step on part of the ladder that you know are your weaknesses, but they all go up and up and up. And Somehow you've torn your ideas to pieces, your plans are ripped up. Your ego is pretty smashed. A curtain is open and you are in a holy place where it smells like honey and sunlight on a summer day. You know the curtain that ripped to let you in, was Jesus himself. And he begins to work on you, somehow you know that there is a new word written on you, and you have a new name. As you climb up and up, you think, but prayer was never supposed to be this exciting...

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Hedges, Worryworts & Golden Rings

Dear A,

So I was trying to think of something else I could send you about prayer. You said that you tried out the daily bread prayer and asked God to send you $1500 for a bill that you couldn't pay, one that seemed unfair anyway but couldn't be gotten out of. One that you needed to pay in a week and that meant something really a great deal for your family.  Then out of the blue, God sent the money through an unexpected place.

That's really amazing! I know we shouldn't be surprised, but the first million times God answers your prayers I guess we are always surprised.

Out of all the people I know on the planet, you are one of the most amazing. You've had more heartache and hurt than anyone deserves, but you alway come back fighting, come back laughing, come back with a super positive attitude and ready to love your family more fiercely and fight for the right in some awesome wonderwoman way, I've only been able to try and imitate.

So in thinking about what I can share about prayer, I couldn't think of much because you are so darn amazing. And amazing people should find it easy to know what to pray right?

Well you said it was hard to pray for people that are out to hurt you intentionally, because you don't want to pray something bad will happen to them. So you are kind of stuck just praying that some day they see how horrible they've been.

That got me to thinking. How do we pray for people that hurt us whether unintentionally or in this case, on purpose? It reminded me of some of the things that have happened to me. And I tried to think back and remember what had I done. What spoke to me when I was at the very bottom and didn't think there was any darker place I could be?

And darkness and falling into a pit, makes me think of the book of Job. And then I remembered, of course, it was the book of Job that has a couple secrets about prayer hidden in there, and probably more besides.

Job, as we all remember, had a great life. His story unfolds like a greek tragedy with wonderful settings and a perfect deus ex machina at the end. (that's when they would use a machine, a pulley to lower down a floating god-figure to resolve the end of the play). I mean who doesn't like that part?

In Summary: Well Job has a great life and then he loses it all, his children are destroyed by a crazy tornado and then an invading army as well. He loses all his animals and therefore his way of any income, any method of trading selling, buying, eating, weaving clothes, it's all gone. All he has left is his wife and she's pretty mean to him. I think she tells him to curse God and die. But then any mom who has lost all her kids and everything she owns might say that pretty easily. So the whole book of Job has a chapter of him losing everything and then 38 chapters of this three friends coming over to visit.  They all think that Job must have done something to deserve his terrible fate. They are sure he must have been a drug dealer, an extortionist, had a wondering eye, or any number of terrible things. They spend 30 chapters arguing in front of Job, while Job lies on a mat, with boils all over his body and can hardly move. They don't make him soup, or bring him clean clothes, or fresh bandages. They don't take his wife away for some medical attention. They don't bring in a goat or a donkey. They just sit there and argue in front of him and try to make themselves feel better about why the world has unexplainable, terrible things that happen.

At the end of the story, God shows up. Job realizes God is good and wonderful and powerful in person and so Job is sorry for ever doubting God, Then somehow Job has a new life. He has a dozen more kids and all his wealth is restored two times over. The end.

But wait. What does that have to do with prayer? And people that hate you, or really annoy you with their weird belief systems that seem to be about making your life more miserable. Well there is a tiny verse right before the happy ending. It says in chapter 42 "And the Lord restored Job's losses when he prayed for his friends." Then the happy ending. All his real friends come with food and money and eventually his life is okay again.

Well what in the heck did Job pray for those three crazy friends who didn't have a clue-- they were the ones who blamed Job for his bad fate. I don't know. But it seemed to me he prayed for them to know God better. To not be so judgemental. For them to have a clue, to have more compassion. At least that's what I always supposed.

Have you ever heard of people praying for a hedge of protection around someone? It's a word used in the bible only a handful of times. A couple of times by Jesus when he was explaining stories about building vinyards. People planted thorny hedges around them. Kept out animals and people I'm sure. Job is one place the word hedge is used. It says he had a hedge of protection around him, until one day he didn't and it was removed. That's when the sharknado took out his family.

I know it's not true, that perfect prayers prayed perfectly mean we are all safe. But in my opinion. It sure helps a lot. Prayers prayed according to those truths laid out in scripture and sometimes even in nature- really seem to do the job. If you've ever seen a thorny hedge you know no one can get through that. It would tear up whatever tried to get through so as to make it too hurt to do any damage to that protected place.

So all that imagery to say: Pray a hedge a projection around the situation, or the person that is being attacked. You don't have to pray that mean people will see their wicked ways. I think wickedness is hard to see in yourself for one thing. And I think no one could bear to see how ruthless they really are at heart. That's what all that stuff in the Bible is always saying. Even one little white lie is as evil as a 100 terrible ones. It's all the same. A small rotten spot on an apple is the same as an apple that has gone to complete mold and ruin.  It's just a matter of time. That path of prayer just seems too tough, kind goes against that mercy God always seems to have for everyone. We can never know someone's heart perfectly or how much they can bear, or what happened to them to make them that way. Or what their intentions are, bad or good. So I say skip around that, leave that up to a God who loves them and knows what they can handle and has a plan for them. Let those people be.

First, pray for a hedge of protection around the person or situation those people are harming. Pray for them to not cause any more damage by word or deed, physically or emotionally, or spiritually. Pray a circle. Here is where worrying comes in handy. Think of every situation or outcome you are worried about and pray against that. And then work your mind in a circle around that problem until you can't think of anything else and then try to think of something positive. What is a good outcome from this problem? Use your imagination. Pray for that instead. It's like tying a knot. You will feel so much better. You can't think of one more possible negative outcome because you've prayed against them all. And then you start thinking of good ones and you pray for those!

Then Second, once you've prayed a hedge of protection around the person or situation that needs to be safe. Go back and pray for the people that keep harming you. Be like Job. Pray for them to finally get a grip and know God better. What those people can see about their actions or themselves, leave that up to God-- that's his area. Pray for those people as though they were your friend or relative for something good to happen in their understanding of God and of their relationships to other people. I don't care how evil they are, or how blind they are to the pain they cause. Are they the type of person who would sit next to you after your child has died and not offer you a cup of water or a tissue? Or they the type of person who will say your faith is worthless and that you deserve only bad things to happen to you? Do they only believe evil about you? Don't worry. Job knows what that feels like and I think we all do. So use his prayer. It worked for him. It will work for you.

I guess I've found that when I've lost everything and there is nothing left. Job's prayer is a good place to begin. He asked God to forgive those blindhearted friends, who didn't know the meaning of the word friend. And that prayer somehow restored Job. When you have been reduced to no finances, no health, and no family and no relationships you are ready for Job's prayer. I figure the amount of compassion it takes to pray for people like that works some kind of super reverse. You'll find that you are soon no longer broke, no longer sick, no longer alone. And those not so good friends. Don't worry about them. You gave them over to God.

You can get on with your life and God's plan for you. Let him worry about those other people. You don't have to invite them over. Or send them a card. Just let them go. And that's when you'll notice that all your real friends have arrived with gifts and good cheer to help you. They were probably just waiting for those arguing blamers to get on so they could come in. If they bring gold rings, like in Job's story. All the better.

Love you,

Monday, August 1, 2016

Night Running, Ladders, & hard rock pillows

Dear S,

I can't believe you went on a night run and got lost. I'm so glad you got home okay. Actually it's hard to worry about you, once I know you've tacked the outback, a moose, and several mountains I just don't worry anymore--- not even with all your kids and your amazing job. Don't worry at all. But I do pray a bit here and there. :)

Only when I see signs for mattress sales. Which is fairly often I guess. How are you doing? How do you go from missionary to sales so flawlessly and then turn your sales job into a ministry for foster kids. I know you said it was something about
finding ways to tell the truth and tell your story and connect with others. 

I still think about your lessons on sales and wish I could figure out how to make them work with selling art. I joined CIVA again this month for the first time in 10 years.  But I'm a different person than I was a decade ago. I'm a Christian artist, but I'm even more open to everyone's story and I don't want my story to walk over anyone else. My story has to come last. This is opposite to how I heard things should be as I grew up. But that book called "Nudge" really changed my life. I hope it's a good book, because that's how I live every day.  Someone used the word, "missional." Whatever that means. If it means life is hard and no one knows why you work so hard-- maybe it's a good word too.

On the other hand, I have a whole life time of experience studying the Bible, going to a Christian college. I could write a whole Bible study using a Hebrew word dictionary. What do I do with those skills. How can they ever be useful? And as the world changes more and more, who is left who can understand anything I might have to share about my journey as a Christian. Does anyone want to hear it? And who else is on the journey with me? Christian has become the word that means "hater" to some people, and "ignorant" to others. I don't see myself as those things. So who am I? Do I just play along with both sides, smiling at everyone. Or am I just being all things to all people? 

Over the last five years I've worked really hard, even longer really, on being a great listener. I'm still not that great, really. But sometimes I need a listener. And sometimes I wonder if there is anyone out there who cares about my story or who would appreciate all the fabulous juiciness of a great experience with connecting with God in my every day life, and in my art. 

Here is what I tried to write for a juried art entry into a Christian Art Gallery show called Orphan/Inheritance.  At first I saw no connection in the two words. But as I thought about what I've been reflecting on with my art. I found that is what I have been thinking about exclusively. I have a new word. 

When I think back to all those hundreds of late night talks in college about our dreams for the future-- I never thought you'd be willing to travel all over the world as an actor doing Christian drama ministry. I never thought I'd really be an artist. But somehow our work goes on and goes well. And perhaps without all that listening to each other we couldn't be so strongly motivated as we are today...

Acrylic on canvas with spray paint. Part of my gratitude series for the Grafik show inspired by the Poet Laureate's work and visit to KC. I tried something new: to create a painting with words that acts as a mini poem. It works on the imagination with both word and image.

This painting asks me the questions--Don't artists escape through their art? Or is it the viewer who escapes? Is art a window or a door? And what is the key to understanding art, and the artistic process. Is it our dreams and the stairway of subconscious imagery we climb into through dreaming? Where do dreams come from? How can I continue to make art when it is so intransient.

I wrote one of my first published poems on this canvas with Chinese marker—it’s called Jacob’s Song. To me the ladder in the painting became a reference to Jacob’s ladder. And suddenly the ladder itself became a symbol for dreaming all on it’s own. Then I found a promise from Jesus.  "Very truly I tell you, you will see 'heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on' the Son of Man." So the ladder becomes a type of Christ: The way in which we receive our dreams, our wisdom, his messages, our aid. And come to think of it, Jesus is the biggest escape artist of all. The only person to defeat death and bring back the key.

The story of Jacob is the place I began my journey with poetry and art, while on a tour in Israel, I slept out in the desert
with a rock for pillow and thought a lot about Jacob. In his escape from his family he becomes an orphan, but his story is about inheritance above all else. He inherited his father’s God, one who sought him out and wrestled with him. As an artist, I often feel like an orphan or an outcast. But being an artist is my inheritance, a gift, my vocation-- and I am grateful. Here is my poem:

Jacob’s Song

Searching for a place
I have a name
that’s not a curse--
a softer rock, a dream

Send me a ladder
Lift me on wings
Come down and take on human skin
We’ll see who’s stronger then!

I’ll wrestle you and pin you down,
grab your heel
I won’t let go
until you answer me

Oh God, if in wrestling
hope and blessing are pinned--
I’ll scratch and bite and
holler for a name of my own

I will fight.
I will not sit silent
I will scream
to be given a name 

Bless me too, Father 
Bless me

Bless your name forever

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Nurses, The Burn Unit, & Being Held Up

Dear P,

I know we talked on the phone today but as I was driving home, I just had so many things about today that were wonderful,  I thought I'd write a letter blog too.

My family and me especially are known for being stubborn and for doing things over and over with the same result but continuing anyway. Yes it's the definition of crazy but also suits our farmer/ pastor genes. Always planting, and you rarely get a bumper crop. Like this blog, where I written over 100 letters and haven't gotten any back. Though some really thankful notes and comments in person.
My art is like that too. I make image after image and sometimes if feels like there is no return. Like I keep doing the same thing with the same small result. Even today I felt like giving up and never making art again. I don't know where that feeling comes from? By the end of the day however, I was walking on air.

I was listening to a song on the radio on the way home and I suddenly felt like there were some things happening I've overlooked about how this whole art business thing has been going-- from the inside perspective. Here's the song that kind of clicked for me today by Shane Harper "Hold You Up"

When it's coming apart, you had it all.It wasn't enough.
No, it's not enough.
No, it's not enough.They tell you it's not worth the price,
so just let it go.
so just let it go.But you know you can't.
You know you won't.
You know you won't.It's not easy, no.Finding the words to say.When you're feeling lost, you'll find your way.The world is so broken
and sometimes it leaves you cold.And at times you can't feel
the fire to guide you home.
the fire to guide you home.The demons will haunt you and try to steal what you know.But the angels, they brought you,
and they're gonna hold you up.
and they're gonna hold you up.They're gonna hold you up.They see the fear in your eyes,
heart sinks like a stone.'Cause when you're afraid,
it weighs on your soul.
it weighs on your soul.It's not easy, no.Finding the words to say.When you're feeling lost, you'll find your way.The world is so broken
and sometimes it leaves you cold.And at times you can't feel
the fire to guide you home.
the fire to guide you home.The demons will haunt you
and try to steal what you know.But the angels, they brought you,
and they're gonna hold you up.
and they're gonna hold you up.They're gonna hold you up.They're gonna hold you up.They're gonna hold you up.

The song seems normal enough except for angels and demons, but they are in a lot of song lyrics. Then again, I've been thinking about my paintings a lot-- about the feathers I ended putting in every image. Feathers on a ketchup bottle, feathers on birds, feathers on salt and pepper shakers, and fins on birds, wings on shoes for walking lighter than air I guess. But one friend insisted I do an angel painting. I'm getting ready to create one. I used to love angels as a kid, I thought it would be fun to see one. When I went to Israel I studied all the angels on the mosaics and ancient churches very carefully. I figured there was something important about Angels I should keep in mind for my art, but I'm not sure why I thought that. For a decade after, I only painted abstract art. 

Today I got to talk to you, Penny and the only reason why I had time and why we met is because I've been making a lot of art-- full time artist. I'm working for myself. If I need to stop and talk to a friend especially an artist friend, or anyone encouraging really, then it counts - it's not guilty, it's being an artist! I called back a few other people today too. A friend I want to get to know better who is writing an amazing picture book. She said the same thing to me, Oh you can come to my house! Great. Yes, I can make house calls, I thought to myself. Because I'm working for myself. I can drive all around this town in my cute little car and visit people and make art and hang art and write stuff and it's awesome. I felt so happy. 

And to top it off, the color wheel I painted yesterday did help me with the problem I was having. I suddenly knew how to finish a painting that's been giving me problems.  I went to clean my brushes and while standing over the sink, I saw another one of my paintings "Dance" it reads. And it has two red dance shoes. I took some form of dance until I was 21. I loved it. That's when I suddenly remembered a dream I had years ago. One that made me begin to pursue a creative life again. In the dream I was wearing dance shoes, ballet shoes.  And I had on my art apron and my red bandana that I wear when "I'm being creative." But I was working in the dream in a hospital. They sent me out with a cart. I remember thinking that I didn't have a nurses uniform or even a full art uniform, but a combo of dance and art. What would I do with that in a hospital? I thought to myself in the dream and later when I woke up. In the last few months I've remembered that dream a few times because I try to practice mindfulness over that kind of thing. 

More and more I resemble that "me" in the dream. I'm doing art. I'm dancing around in the yoga studio in the Wellness Wheel when no one is looking.  :)  And I hope to start taking a yoga class soon. To me it's like very slow ballet. I know I'm gonna like it. You know though I don't work in a hospital, I'm beginning to think that all my work toward understand art as a healing act, and a healing object or experience is a theme I need to keep full time. Today while washing brushes, someone came into the Wellness Wheel to get a massage from Kandy. She used to be an nurse full time, but now she is a full time Massage Therapist.  She was wearing something soft and probably purple. And she said in that nurse voice, "How did you feel after the last appointment?" 

You know it hit me then. Here today, I've spent one month at the Wellness Wheel as artist in residence.  They let me hang out there and breathe in the essential oils diffused enough to make anyone relaxed and happy. I get to paint while listening to the water trickle in the fountain or people practice yoga. It struck me today that I am in the place exactly that is the perfect mix of hospital, dance studio and art studio. It's a great fit for me. As I've notice for the last few weeks that healing arts and fine arts have some similar principals and practices. 

So I guess all that to say I'm extremely grateful. You know the song lyrics are true about me. My heart has sunk like a stone. I've been afraid and I feel heavy and lonely and lost. My heart has been so broken that I spend every morning praying for enough strength to get out of bed and every night praying for enough peace to close my eyes. Every thought has become a prayer because I've been in so much pain over past hurts and mistakes. Today I don't know what it was. Today I went from lost to hopeful. I want to hold on to that feeling as long as possible. And I finally felt it truly that I wouldn't give up that hurt for anything. I wouldn't go back and be unbreakable. That brokenness is what made me have the time to call you and the time to make a few house calls this month to hang out with other artists working from home. That brokenness is what gives me the strength I need now to keep going and keep making art. I made art before but I didn't understand how important it was. 

This year I lost two friends who passed away early and unexpectedly. People my age-- one was an artist and one was a children's book writer. Those losses have made me grieve, not for my loss but for theirs and the loss of the things they had to share. But then again they had shared so much already. Wherever artists go they like to share. It's something about them. They make lunches for people, host parties, serve on boards, give art to auctions, teach yoga. Creatives of all kinds-- they just love to create. It was one of my writing friends who teaches yoga that let me know about the Wellness Wheel in the first place. I should be incredibly grateful every moment. I don't know why we wake up some days and feel like giving up. I read an email from a friend who is absolutely fabulous at her job as an illustrator. She said she was glad to have our SCBWI meeting because she had been considering giving up. I just couldn't believe it. She's come so far. Done so much. Does beautiful work. Has more in the works. Why would she give up?

Then I remembered I had felt that way this morning too. Often once a day. What made me feel better today? Getting up early to meet with friends. We prayed for someone in the hospital who we hope can make a miraculous come back. Another person who might leave us too early. We wrestled together about it. Gave hugs and left. Then I got hot breakfast and hot coffee with two ladies who are just delightful. One escaped a horrible fire with only her life, another worked at the burn unit in KC for many years. Their stories were so amazing. God and a sense of humor is the only way we make it through I'll tell you that. I made it to the studio before 9:30 and then took note of all the things I have going on. I don't have time to give up! And I have so many people who are enjoying continuing along with me. I gotta little bit of Dorothy of Oz in me. I invite everyone to come along. Why go it alone? 

You know the Wellness Wheel is located next door to the woman's imaging center. The place where I found out I lost my daughter and she wouldn't make it past 20 weeks gestation. In the same series of events, I lost my husband a few years after that. Our family went from five to three. For the last six years I've avoided this stretch of highway or looked away when I drove by. It's strange to me, that this new place to stop and perch for awhile is where I refused to look. God really does have plans to help us heal. And I'm going to heal. I am healing. 

So that song really summed it up for me today. Sure I've been sinking and barely holding on, for years and often every day--but maybe it's really true-- angels have been holding me up. The only reason probably I was able to get out of bed this morning-- I remembered how much those ladies from my small group had been there for me and I couldn't let them down. I showed up. I got there only five minutes late. Better than never. And we hold each other up.Hold each other up in prayer, and with coffee, and by letting people come over to our house and see us as we really are. Just people.

The workers at the Wellness Wheel are the same way. They take the hurting and worn down and help them heal, give massages- work with burn victims, ask people how they are doing-- welcome them in. I'd like to be more like them. When I look at my paintings of all those wings, things that rescued me-- I think, it is true, I have been carried! Angels have held me up. I want to stop sinking like a stone. If I could give myself and any of us advice, I'd say it's time to stand up and stop getting beaten down every day. Imagine how far we could go if we just trusted that we are being carried. That our burdens could be shared and lightened. That we could have wings. That's what I wish for all of us. 

"The Fire that leads us Home." I think that's the old story where we get fire by night and a cloud by day. The promise of direction. That's always been my dream too. And maybe I've overlooked it. No, I have overlook that I have been led. I have been carried here and God really has a plan for me. For everyone. And it's obvious to me by my very own hand. Because here below you can see the first piece I made on this new journey and the most recent one. The second piece didn't make it into that contest you know. But now it's going to an auction to help the most beautiful boys and girls choir of KC. God recycles everything, he knows those failures will blossom into something better than we imagined. I even tried to tell myself. But I have got the message. I thought I was held up, that I missed the boat, that my work would never be important that I should give up, I was too late. Now I know it is the opposite. I wasn't held up, I was lifted up. I've been held up by wings I couldn't see. And the brokenness will someday be fixed. Until then, there is a hand that guides us home, and lifts us up. I want to hold onto that every day, and so I've shared it with you. You can let me know when I forget. 


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Blind to Sea, Lame to Jump & Carrier Pigeons

Dear Christa,
It's been a long couple of weeks. Today or was it yesterday, I just sat for a bit by the window and heard the cicada sing. I love them. They are summer to me. I guess it was after I had run to Lowe's and bought a new hummingbird feeder, and a replacement for the birdhouse that broke. Also some blue flowers for  my favorite flower pot which was empty because of an accident involving a rather burgeoning family of roly-polies. The flowers in my garden are the most important thing for grounding me. Every day my goal is to get out there and it hardly ever happens.
The one thing that has helped me to like the idea of Space, that cold black thing, is that it is really a garden-- a place where stars grow just like flowers. Seeing my garden, helped me decide that living on a lone planet in an ocean of vastness can't be that bad-- it's just a little bit like garden soil. There must be a plan.
That's why I always tell everyone about you and the work that you do. It comes to me now that you make the blind to see. That's what you have been doing. By translating advanced Math and Physics into Brail in the way no one has before, you've made people who could not see the universe or the stars, visit them in wide ships and ports of call-- called Math.
I wish everyone knew about the work that you do and how amazing you are. And I wish that you could have a job training others to do the work that you do. I really hate that your job might end, your work owned by university who might not appreciate it or share it easily with others. I wish there was a way to share all the things you do and make sure your garden of brail blooms everywhere people might need it. Then again, maybe there is a limit to people with no sight who want to see the stars. I don't know about that.
But whatever you do, you always do it so well and so beautifully.
That's why I'm glad you are my sister. I've thought about you a lot lately because your niece is the spitting image of you at her age. I called you the other day for two reasons. One, my friend didn't know I had a sister. That was terrible! Two, I saw a white pigeon with a black tail-- looked like it had been dipped in ink.
Pigeons aren't that important I guess, but I always notice them ever since I learned many decades ago that the white ones were shot down during the last world war and are now extinct-- at least certain ones I guess.  Maybe the white pigeon I saw was an albino of some kind? All I know is that whenever I see a pigeon I pray for you. It's an easy way to remember. I see pigeons all the time on a road, in a tree, even on television. To me the carrier pigeon is something special. I like to draw it. I like to mention it when I ask people to contact me-- as a joke.
I guess I'm just a poet that way. I love symbols and images sometimes with no reason why until I do a painting or a poem about it.
I took the kids to Moon Marble and we saw a man use 4,000 degree heat to make a beautiful marble.  The dots and a circle on the outside of the marble became interdimensional swirls inside the marble with just a few twists. It was a kind of math I couldn't understand, more complicated than throwing pottery on the wheel. It was amazing. I wondered what it is like to be able to think in three dimensions while creating something so extraordinary.
Oh and I also got them a kite. They had trouble flying it of course. Maybe that is what a kite does. It teaches you that flying is almost impossible and you should appreciate every second you can get anything up in the air.
You do the impossible every day. Don't forget how amazing you are.
Your Sis

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Police Jackets, Flying Cars, & Double Mint Gum

Dear A,
Being the wife of a policeman you are understandably even more alert than usual to pray your husband comes home from work when serving as an officer. There is nothing I can do to make life safer for anyone and my idea of praying every half hour is great, and calling it the coo coo clock prayer is funny. But I think maybe it would be helpful to do part 2 of things I do-- or remember when I pray. Maybe something will be helpful.

Everyone knows that some of the best stories in the bible are all surrounding these two funny hippie like guys in the books called "Kings." We know one was old and one was bald and they both had a thing for wearing worn out clothes with a nice jacket. Okay really it was a "mantle" or a cloak.

Wearing a jacket is no big deal unless it has magical properties endowed upon it by God. And if said jacket, "mantle" is often talked about when describing those early prophets. Kind of like you know a hotel worker by their blazer. This is similar. Blazer=Concierge. Mantle = Prophet.

So who cares what they were wearing back in the day of King Ahab? Well it's a little bit more than that. You see, Elijah was the one with the cool mantle, and even more cool; he got a ride to heaven in that fiery chariot people are always talking about. It could have been a red corvette with a lot of angelic horsepower. But no matter what it was, it was fast and flew up to Heaven taking the happily retired prophet Elijah with it. No more starving, no more being a refugee, no more losing all of his friends to his governments new plans that prophets should be gunned down on site especially if they loved God, no more political speeches to get his government to listen, and no more amazing miracles. He was "done-zo" as my friend Heather says it.

What did he leave behind? His Jacket. Yeah he's like our kids. But you see, his friend Elisha (confusing I know) caught the jacket and got to keep it. Who wants an old coat? Elisha did. He prayed that God would give him a double portion of his friend's 'spirit." He catches the mantle. Then uses it like Moses' staff over the Red Sea. He rolls up the jacket and let's it touch the water, then walks across on dry land. Then he does double the miracles of Elijah they say, though I didn't count.

What do jackets and flying chariots have to do with anything? Well in all my reading of prayer I've come across this many times that there are "prayer mantles." Prayer jackets, as you'd say. There are probably a lot of viewpoints and variations, and theologians might roll over in their graves. But here's how I use the idea:

Let me give you two examples of my prayer mantles. So when I was in high school, my mom's friend lost several babies before they came to full term. So when she had her third child she asked me to pray for her. I was just a teenager, but my mom assured her friend that I had prayed every day for a baby brother and he'd come out pretty well followed by two other siblings a few years later. So I was given my assignment and I took it seriously. I had a baby on my watch. I prayed every night for that baby for about 6 or 7 months.  When the baby was born, she was a perfect beauty with long dark brown hair like you wouldn't believe. So I have a prayer jacket for... Babies. I put in my time, earned my stripes. If someone asks me to pray for a baby now, unless I feel led otherwise, I just pray a few times. I kind of roll up that prayer jacket and jump across that request real easily.

When I was 12, my parents wanted to buy a house. I prayed every day for probably a year or so for just the right house and then for a while a specific amount of money they needed to buy a house. They didn't get the house. Fast forward. When I was 35, I needed a house. I prayed really hard for a place to live. My mom came and offered to buy a house for us to share. She had some money saved up and she got a loan for not much more than the exact amount I prayed for, so long ago when I was 12. To me that was another example of a prayer mantle. All those prayers rolled up over time and re-concentrated and applied later for when God knew I would need a house even more.

So now if anyone asks me to pray about a baby's health, a new mom, or a house. I usually say yes and go right to it. I have experience in that area and I've read all the verses, done all the sweat and tears and struggle of daily prayer and after that, I feel things are just easier if I'm praying about those types of things.  Now I know the story isn't meant to be used exactly that way. Because the young guy prayed for a double portion of God's 'spirit', and his prayer was answered! Of course God needed someone to stand in that place and keep doing miracles and feeding the poor, and telling the government it wasn't okay to go around killing people all the time. So Elisha had his work cut out for him. But it wasn't quite so hard as it would have been because he prayed for a double portion. It's kind of like when you are playing a game on your phone and you get double points, doubled the amount of gain in just a single play. That's what it's like. Or when the Royals finally get a grand slam. Four runs are better than two. And why not ask a Good God for blessings and use math, right? We can all usually figure out how to double something.

So all that to say, it's okay to ask God to give you double of something. And to ask him to double protection, or give you double the understanding you have in how to pray. Or double the blessing on someone. When you pray for someone and you just don't feel anything and have no idea what to pray for, you can ask God to double his presence and your understanding of what to pray. Double the spirit. (Kind of like double mint gum). Also even better, if you know someone who has been in the same situation maybe they have prayed daily for months or years for something and now you are in that situation. Ask them to pray for you. Double the quickness and double the amount of prayer going up on your behalf. And if you know someone else in the same situation as you that needs the same kind of prayer-- Double it. Pray for them too. You'll find you feel better, you'll be able to scrape yourself off the floor and go out and do great things. Somehow those prayers for other people in the same situation are easier than the ones for yourself and they help you too! (John 14:12)

Don't forget to pray for people you feel might be your enemies. It's like coming in the back door. You knock down the situation from both sides. Bless your enemies, ask God for them to change their minds and hearts, send them back to their sanity and to a human place of thinking and acting. I just remember that God is like a Mother. Everyone has a mother. And I think, what would the prayer of my enemy's mother be? That's probably God's prayer too and probably close to his will. Praying God's will can't go wrong. Always works every time. And asking him to bless someone, is asking him to "double it."

I get happy just thinking about it. Like Christmas. Double blessings for everyone. Gotta be great right. I love thinking up big old blessings to ask God to give people. I pray for my friend to get a book published, she gets two published.  I pray for my friend to get a new apartment, it turns out to have a huge property and room for an art studio. One time, I kept driving by this really pretty colonial building made of old stones. It was really near the high way and falling apart. I prayed that God would get that building fixed up and used for something, something wonderful for people that they could use. Next time I drove by that intersection, no kidding-- the whole building had moved! Moved! It was 20 yards back from the intersection instead of 20 feet. It had been refurbished and it was going to be used for fun events and as a historical marker. Now I didn't do any of the work. I only asked for God to bless that building and double what it was right then, just a pile of stones. And I asked his will, something that would help bring people together. Something good. And He comes up with the rest. One time I drove past an empty bank building every day for almost 5 years. Finally one day I couldn't take it anymore, I asked God if he couldn't just fill up this empty building. It was going to waste! I said. And I asked if he could make it have something nice in it, like something artsy that would be nice. Shops are so boring. Why not something where people could make stuff or get together. Next time I drove by, many months later, it was an art studio for kids birthday parties. The list goes on and on. So I have a prayer mantle for buildings. I just pray for a building and up it gets restored. Happens to me a couple times a year. And you'll notice a lot of buildings in KC are getting a huge makeover. I've lived here 9 years now and I've driven past a lot of buildings. Now I cried for years over that house I didn't get when I was 12. And over other houses, churches, schools I wished I could go to or be a part of that didn't get answered. I even lost a house in a big old fire. Which you remember cuz you brought me chocolate chip cookies.  All I'm saying is that nothing is wasted, all that goes into your prayer mantle-- all your tears and unanswered prayers, your losses, your grief, and your joys. All get rolled up into your prayer mantle. Then God will use it for you to cross over and he'll double it.  And You'll find you have some topics all your own. Use them, share them, and give them away. Double those prayer mantles and just enjoy praying. Someday we all get flying corvettes like Elijah, I'm thinking it's in the retirement plan, so might as well do the work now.

Love you to pieces,
Your cousin