Friday, October 21, 2016

Oxymoron: Three reasons why I'm anti-abortion, pro-choice and voting for Her

Dear M,
You posted on facebook something that I've overheard many of my friends say, I've even heard kids say it: If I vote for that woman, I'll be voting for a baby killer. I think that statement is the example of the worlds most incorrect ven diagram. I want to share why. I also noticed that you asked how someone who hopes to stop gun violence and someone who says they've dedicated their lives to helping others would condone such an evil act? Why save the environment if we kill all the babies? And how could someone who says they are a Christian do something as unbiblical as murder? Because killing is murder, let's make a law against abortion. It seems a truly helpful and right viewpoint. That's how I used to think too. Let me tell you why I changed my mind.

I have found an answer for myself that might shed some light on how I can hold these seemingly opposing viewpoints as the same time. Is leaving the choice open for life, the same as condoning murder? Can you be pro-choice and anti-abortion? I am. I once saw a Catholic bumper sticker on Main street in a small town in PA. This bumper sticker changed my life. It said: You can't be pro-choice and anti-abortion. I yelled out, "Yes, I can." I was shaken to my core. I could barely drive home. Let me tell you how I arrived at this point of discovery.

I know this oxymoron is draining away the friendliest of political conversations. First let me say that I once thought the same as you. I grew up Baptist. I was taught to vote Republican. And I was taught that the main reason to vote this way was in order to protect innocent unborn children, an entire future generation. I went to rallies. I protested. I looked up every candidate. If they were against abortion I voted for them. I felt it was my duty as a woman to help protect the future kids of America. If felt that was a primal feminine thing to do.  I also believed the rumors I'd heard about the Clintons. I even came to assume that Hillary and her people were really evil people. I remember as a fourteen year old, I cut out a picture of Hillary Clinton helping Mother Teresa up some stairs. I cut it out because I thought it was an oxymoron. I thought that here was pure good and pure evil in the same picture.  Wasn't it Mother Teresa who asked the Clintons to change the pro-choice law, "bring all the of them to me"-- she said about unwanted infants.

I still have this picture. Here is one from the same time period pictured in Catholic News Live. Now I see it as a picture of two woman who want to help as many people as possible-- one through Spirit empowered charity for those who were dying in the gutter from disease; one through the law, trying to prevent people from dying in the street without health care. Both woman relied on faith to do the work they felt called to do. Now Hillary is not a saint, but she is fiercely determined to help woman and children, including infants. I'll tell you what changed my mind. Turning the ven diagram on it's head. The abortion law is not about infants.

So if the law is not about infants and yet it allows infants (fetus) to be killed. What is the law about? The law is about control. Now policy makers love to skip over the reasoning and jump to the short clip: the laws about abortion are about choice. They've skipped a few steps. Those of us who don't agree, need to slow down and look at what is in between those two thoughts. What is between those two ideas of control and choice? A great deal. A very great deal. And I believe that is what makes this law so easy to misjudge. Yes, the result of this law could end in death for more than one infant (fetus) because of a mother's choice. This is the the tragedy. However, the result of no choice is what is rarely discussed in politics... it is worse.

Let's follow it through. Let's go to this future where the law that makes abortion illegal is finally resealed. Imagine the celebration. It is so amazing that we finally can do what is "right" and "good." The law is reformed and no infants of any age (in utero) are allowed to be aborted. Good. The biblical sanctity of life and the sensible practical thing (yes it's practical to save life) are now accomplished. But it's not over. The law has saved many people, and the law will continue to save them. But now the law has power over a woman's bodily functions-- especially her right to bear children and over her sexual organs. Once that law is won, new laws could be made to remove more rights. Yes remove. Because the law is not about infants, it is about women. The law has always been to protect our choice, but what if in this case the law is used to remove choice.. what then?

What if the future government decided America had become overpopulated? Since the precedent for control and the precedent for lack of choice had been made into law... Woman could be forced to only have a certain number of children and be forced to abort children. This has happened in other countries. What if the future government decided that America had too many girls? So for the next three years only boy children would be allowed to come full term. The law had precedent for control, precedent for lack of choice by a woman. What if the government decided that all woman should have as many children as possible in order to raise up a great army and the children would be taken at a young age for training. The law had precedent for control of woman's right and choice to bear children so they could move to make such a motion. What if the government chose then who a woman could marry and who she should bear children with in order to create the best genetically sound child? These aren't science fiction. Governments have tried these tactics before. Slavery is one example. Once the freedom of choice is gone, yes the babies we covet are saved, but our democracy is in danger. When democracy is in danger we lose the government that is there to protect people including these future children. We end up with a government that is free to hurt people. Democracy is about choice. I think we forget that it is not the law's job to save children before birth. It is people's job. The law's job has always been to protect rights, that is its main function. People themselves must then take on the role of protecting the unborn. 

I know you don't agree. I didn't at first. I thought that it was worth the risk to stay a one issue voter. I thought, Let's keep voting on this one issue vote. If we elect good faithful people they are unlikely to make such dastardly decisions for women, aren't they? I mean this is America right? But how do you judge the character of a policy maker? By their actions. The late Mother Teresa (now a saint) and Hilary Clinton, in that case, have the same goal. They both want to save babies and to save children. One offered to do it by taking them all after they are born. One will do it by protecting the rights of woman from being too controlled by the government to encourage a safer future for women. Protecting woman, getting them health care and food stamps-- Helping them get jobs and equal pay may help protect the next generation from the kind of poverty that leads to abortions.

Those ideas are the first reason I decided that I was anti-abortion and pro-choice. The second reason was the environment. When I was a young newlywed, I had a small income. I bought one roll of toilet paper a week because I couldn't afford a whole pack. I never had money for shopping, but I still paid my 10 percent tithe. My only chance to shop and enjoy myself was this donation to charity. I shopped around like looking for a gold dress.  I sometimes chose a charity that gave a free prize. Yes I did. And many of those charities and non profits added me to their mailing lists. Soon I received every green and environmental magazine printed in the US. I was a born again Christian. I loved creation. I loved plants. I lived in a second story apartment with no garden and no flowers and no money. Those pictures of nature were all I had and the hope that someday I might have enough money to go out into Nature. When I read those magazines, and became more familiar over the years with the environmental movement, I came to understand something. No matter what I did my newborn baby was in danger from toxins, cancer, and breathing problems. 

Once I read enough by scientists who study our planet's needs, I understood that I could breastfeed my new baby, I could buy her organic cotton sheets, I could stay home with her, I could plan to homeschool her. I could use only earth friendly non toxic products and toys. I could buy her organic local produce to make my own baby food, I could have her baptized as an infant, I could throw her a huge birthday party with homemade cinnamon raison cake with soft home-churned organic butter icing (from local cows). But I could not protect her from toxins. Why? The toxins were already in my breastmilk, in my building, in our air. And they were getting worse. I had to make a decision. Would I remain a one issue voter? I decided it was too huge. I couldn't chose unborn infants over the whole planet. If we saved every child and somehow found homes for them all, and made sure not to imprison any mothers who had miscarriages, who were ill, dying, or needed a medical abortion then what would all those children breathe? How long would they live in a world where every single policy maker I helped elect promised to clog up the earth's air and water with carcinogens? I couldn't vote yes to that. If we save the next generation and kill the planet, it just seemed like creating an environmental future holocaust. I couldn't sign on to that. I wanted to save both. I decided the law was about protecting rights. It could protect my right to breathe clean air and drink clean water. My second reason to change my view point: The law could protect the earth, but people needed to protect infants. The law, in order to stay democratic, would have to protect the right of choice. 

The third reason I could no longer be anti-choice about abortion was going through my own pregnancies. Would I ever have an abortion in any situation? No. I don't think so. Going through pregnancy taught me something about the rights of women and the suffering. I was so sick I had to quit work. I couldn't continue teaching oil painting and the paint was toxic to children both in the womb and without. We didn't have enough money to support a child. My spouse seemed unstable-- if not emotionally abusive then seriously immature. I lived a long way from family. I was in constant turmoil. My mind, body, and health were stretched to the limit. Finding money for maternity clothes was impossible. My spouse kept a job he hated for the insurance so we could pay for the birth. Even so, the small copay took me over a year to pay off. Both my pregnancies were c-sections despite risking my life to prove I could avoid the procedure. My third pregnancy was a miscarriage. I found out afterwards that 1 in four pregnancies are miscarriages. I wish I had known. (All the woman I knew told me they too had experienced miscarriages. Some of them many times. Much of the environmental news I read suggested this high rate could be do to pollutants.) After my first baby was born, I couldn't find work that would pay enough for me to afford childcare even with my college degree. I remember taking my baby in the car-seat to clean houses. When she started crawling, she helped me clean the kitchen floor with a towel. When she started walking, I was let go.

Once I experienced pregnancy, birth, and motherhood for myself. I knew that I could not ask someone to be forced into motherhood against their will. To be sick for a year. To lose a job. To be frightened and alone. To be poor and desperate. I could never ask another woman to be forced into that position without it being her choice. What if she were a teen or even younger girl? What if she were very sick? What if she had been raped or lived with an abuser. Did I want this girl I imagined to have an abortion? No. Did I think she needed to in those cases? Absolutely not. There were other options. But what I wanted her to have was the power of her own choice. The only reason I made it through those hard times was because I wanted a child so badly. That choice gave me strength. I can't imagine going through that same situation without a choice. With no alternative. I would have despaired of living. Life without choice is no life. Democracy without choice is not democratic.

In this case, yes it is tricky. It looks like no one is allowed to murder in America except mothers. But this is not true. That is not the summary of laws that protect choice. We need to understand the law better and it's purpose. The law does not cause murder. It gives mothers' freedom to choose life. This is one case where the freedom of choice is needed for the health of mothers. Choice gives us strength and hope. Do I want my friends to stop standing by the abortion clinics every week? Stop talking mothers' out of the wrong decision? No! Out there in your peaceful protest something good happens. There on the sidewalk you have built a relationship with a sister. You have made humanity work, democracy work. You have met your neighbor and loved her. Offered her education, offered her help. If you take away woman's choice over her body, then everyone will go inside. We will sit behind closed doors and that pregnant woman will be alone with no where to go, no education on how to find help, no hope and no freedom to get the strength to rise up and be the mother she truly wants to be.

If you do not reconsider for my reasons. You may have some of your own. Being a one issue voter can have serious repercussions. I think if we look to the Bill of Rights and its focus on protecting choices we can better understand the double edged sword of this law. Choice is dangerous, but it the building block to freedom.

I cannot address you here as a politician. I am an artist. I am a mother. I can only address you as a woman. Growing from a girl into a woman changed my opinions. At 16, I wrote a paper about Abigail Adams and thought she might be right about not needing the 19th amendment. I know now that it took over 100 years of lobbying to get the woman's right to vote. I know now how precious that is. I know now that men said the suffragettes were plain ugly, crazy, and too wiltingly weak-- all the same threats thrown at this first woman president-to-be. I've come a long way. I've come to see how important it is for a woman's right to vote. I'm glad I have the choice to vote and that vote is protected. I know many woman will not vote. That is their choice and choice is an amazing thing. When I took a fresh look at Hillary Clinton without that fear and hatred, without the belief that she must be a liar, or some evil villain out to get power -- views I had absorbed growing up in Washington DC in a Republican household-- I changed my mind. I am so glad I have the freedom of choice to change my mind. 

I looked again at Hillary Clinton and saw just a woman. A woman who'd worked through college. Someone moved by her family's stories of poverty. Someone who worked as a poor lawyer and in non profits for a long time. A woman that didn't quit when I would have. I decided that no one would spend over thirty years helping woman and children if they they did not passionately believe that women's and children's lives are worth fighting for. HC had the balls to stand up in the communist country of China and say these words, “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”  This is China-- where decades of the "one-child" policy has lead to continual violation of woman's rights through abortion. They do not have the right to choice in China. 

Think about it. If she stood up and said these words to China 20 years ago. Why is she fighting so hard for choice here? 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ding-a-lings, Curses & Hillary Clinton

Dear D,

Sounds like you've had a tough couple of weeks. Thank you for helping me move some of my things out of the old art studio. I didn't expect that working as a full time artist meant a moving work sites so often. It was so great to meet your friend, A. Seems like we all know what it's like to have someone suddenly back out on serious promises. Suddenly the person we trusted, they are like two different people, night and day. And sometimes we seem that way to other people, but they won't let us explain.

Some days I feel a bit old -- a bit cynical. Yes, even me. And I wonder if there is anything good, any good promises, any thing in this world that is straightforward--- without hidden agendas. Anyone trustworthy and completely true? And maybe the answer is, no not really. This is planet Earth. The place where things fell apart, the place where every single culture remembers a paradise we no longer get to enjoy, and every single heart has an empty place it can't seem to fill.

Sounds pretty sad. But what I wanted to write about was something again about prayer. Something I do, that I learned to do, to fight that feeling. And something that I've seen have amazing results almost every time, and immediate results. It's a kind of prayer. Maybe an unusual one. I learned it in college at a really cool Pentecostal church I went to for a few years. I know I'm not the only one to be on an unusual faith journey. But I began life in a Pentecostal Baptist church, attended Catholic religion classes, Lutheran Confirmation, Methodist Youth Group, Four years of Mennonite-styled Anabaptist college, Episcopal training classes. In college I did some coursework in Judaism, and ended up teaching Sunday School at the local Pentecostal Church when I was 20.

My favorite part was how they taught us to take care of kids who didn't sit well who were acting up in the service. "Just stand behind them and pray." They told us. "But keep your eyes open, don't pray with your eyes closed." I didn't know what I was doing. I forgot and prayed with my eyes closed. When I remembered to open them, the two kids in front of me who hadn't been paying attention were lying on the floor. Too much prayer. Prayed them to the ground. Ahh. That's what they meant, I thought to myself. I learned a lot in that church.

One of the pastors was this amazing confessed ADHD speaker. He talked so fast, even I could stay interested. And the week I remember best out of those two years was a few lessons on how to pray a blessing prayer. How to Bless. They sent us out into our neighborhoods, jobs and schools, and asked us to bless them. There are a lot of scriptures about it. One I remember was "Bless. Bless and do not curse." I looked that up and it's from Romans 12. Most of the verses about Blessing are in the Pentateuch and the rest of the Torah.

I remember when I went to Israel, all the doors in homes and synagogues and even the Kibbutz had a small little box. It looks like a very large, beautiful door bell. Of course it didn't make a sound, it was a Mezuzah. A small scroll of Scripture lay hidden inside. It's an old command in the fifth book: to write it (God's Word) on the door posts so people would remember as they are coming in and out. So they wouldn't forget God. I know the little boxes don't make a sound. But to me, they are just like a bell. I read those verses early enough and often enough they stick in my memory. And when I go through my door at home sometime I feel as if a little doorbell shaped box with God's word were posted there. I don't have a real one, of course. But I can't forget that verse. As a single mom, it comes back to all the time: "You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." I stayed with a Muslim family in Palestine and the mother got out her prayer mat and continued to pray even with guests and her children about. No one paid her any attention or joined her. But she was just like a Mazuzah. A beautiful golden box with God's word inside. Reminding her kids and her friends that it's time to remember who God is, when we sit in our house, when we lie down, when we rise up-- it's always a good time to remember how good God is.

So what is so cool about this prayer of blessing? It's like that little box. You only need one word,--it's a small container-- but you can unpack an entire new attitude; cast a new vision where-ever you go. You can change the world with just this one word prayer. To bless "barak" is to kneel down, to honor or salute. When you ask God to bless someone, he reaches out to them and gets down on their level. He lifts them up to his face. He sees them. Blessing is much better than lazer tag. You can shoot out blessings as you drive by in your car. When you watch TV. When you read the newspaper. When you scroll through a friend's feed. 

I've used this Bless prayer for almost 20 years. Houses in my old neighborhood that were falling down in disrepair have been fixed up. Gardens that looked like a cemetery, spring up full of flowers with benches and little hanging plants. Neighbors who I've never seen, appear in their drive way and smile. Churches that seem to be dying-- have to get new parking lots because they run out of room. Neighborhoods left for ghetto get made over. Empty buildings become a Savers or a Coffee shop. Ruins get rebuilt. Trees that fall, miss the houses next to them. Tornadoes dissipate. Hurricanes change direction. Fires get put out. Draughts end. Lonely friends are blessed with family. Moms without kids suddenly have more kids. People get new jobs. Kids get adopted. People ready to end it all, give it another chance. Youth groups about to die, blossom. Creative people suddenly find a way to reach out again. Junk cars are replaced. Blind people, see better. Sick people, get up and go back to school. Sad people find a new place to reach out. Lost people find a way home. Tired people take a rest. 

I find it the most hard to Bless people who've hurt me. And people that seem like enemies to the common good. But I have finally found a prayer for that. God. Bless them anyway. What does that mean? I guess it's surrender. It's admitting that I don't know everything. That God can deal with that person however he wants. That he can get down face to face with that person and maybe that would do them some good. Maybe they will stop being that thorn in my shoe. Or the person responsible for so much damage in my family, my community, my country, or my world. God, they are all yours. And maybe you can do something with them. Every human heart could use some blessing. And maybe our enemies need it more. The lady who was so rude to me when I called for help, maybe she has it tougher than I do. Maybe she needs to be blessed. Cursing. That doesn't help anyone. We all have enough curses. We are born under them. We collect more like dust. Blessings. They are this amazing beam of light and they can penetrate anything. Absolutely anything. A blessing can knock down an entire wall, no matter how tall. And it can reach into the deepest hole, no matter how black. A blessing is one of the strongest things there ever was. And God for this while, gives them infinitely. 

Sometimes I have found that someone I wanted to curse. Someone I thought I hated. Someone who I dared to call evil-- was simply a person just like me. And when enough time goes by, I find that I was the enemy, and they blessed me anyway. And I will take all the blessing I can get. Sometimes I've looked again at someone everyone said was the problem, and I found out they were just going around blessing others. 

Blessing instead of cursing. It's the cure. An old one. You can keep it in a box on your door. You can tattoo it. Or you can just let it ring. 

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.