Life is Like an Unfinished Painting

I used to dabble in art, but if I was being honest, I probably got less than 5% of any artistic genetics (okay maybe more like 2%).

Yesterday, my son went to one of those “learn to paint in an afternoon” places. His entire class painted the same scene (Does this seem healthy for an 8th grader’s self-esteem?) and let me tell you, the results were stunning- in good and bad ways. Clearly, art is one of those things – you either “have it” or you don’t.

Seeing this masterpiece my son painted reminded me that I have not done a “Life is like…” post in awhile. So, you guessed it: Life is like an unfinished painting. Unfinished because we never to get see the end result so to speak.

I do know just a tad about painting. You have brushes, oil paints, an easel, a smock (what a weird word), oh and a canvas- a pristine, vibrant white canvas. That is how we start out in this world.

Then little by little color is added, shapes appear. Different brushes are used to create smaller or larger swaths of color. The brushstrokes begin to fade and the beginnings of a picture emerge.

Sometimes the mood is foreboding, the dusky shadows are added- black, grey or brown, then softer hues add a splash of highlight- a brilliance that wasn’t present before comes alive.

Each person we interact with paints using their own technique upon our canvas, some for beauty, (hopefully most), and some for distastefulness.

The choices we make and roads we amble down add a depth and texture, like when the thickness of the paint comes off the canvas in dimensions.

God paints whether you think He does or not. As divine creator He has a picture planned from eternity past- and His brushstrokes are transcendent but not always good, seemingly. He sees the finished work unlike anyone else does.

With time, the picture looks like something. Layer upon layer the colors mingle and definitive lines resemble what it was meant to be. Everyone a distinct picture. No two alike.

In different lighting, it can take on a new perspective, as does the distance one stands from the canvas.

And it goes on like that until, the very last inhale and exhale of life. Then our canvas is filled and only those who live on after us see the final product.

Let us strive for a masterpiece, a legacy for those who gaze upon it, a picture worth admiration and emulation.

Summer Surmising

Dear Readers,

It would seem I’ve lost my mojo.

Hundreds of blog worthy thoughts have been bobbling around in my head, but it’s been a season of no traction for me. I want to say it (whatever “it” is), but it never sticks. I open my Word doc and nada… Epiphanies, confessions, encouragement- it’s all “right there” and then flatlines.

Outside it’s been summer- (and a blazingly hot one at that) when you’re supposed to take it easy and bbq with friends or family, maybe take a vacation or two. That is at least what middle-class Americans expect from their summer- give or take a trip or two. My summer has reinforced one of my many mantras: expect the unexpected. For good and for bad.

The summer kicked off (no pun intended) with my skater hubby in the ER, followed by a total hip replacement surgery. I spent the next five weeks toggling between being his home care nurse to keeping my bottom glued to our couch enraptured with the glories of an online astronomy course (slowly chipping away at my GE requirements).

Then came a small reprieve, when I did kinda chill for a few days.

Mid-summer, I was off to Indonesia, which I could write about for days. I went prepared- armed with English teaching skills and an open heart for embracing the culture and people. They embraced me instead and I felt enveloped by their admiration and respect (figuratively) and by the stifling moist heat (literally). I hold dear memories of each face I met. I long for another dip in the warm Java Sea. I could pass on white rice for quite some time.

As summer proper spiraled down and I dragged myself through days of jet lag towards 8th grade supply lists and senior transcripts, something (or maybe some things) were overcoming a part of me. It was welling up and running over. I couldn’t quite put a finger on it.

(to be continued)

Disarmed

I used to pride myself in saying, “I’m a fighter, not a lover.”

To be a lover meant vulnerability and weakness- two things I didn’t want to classify myself as. To be a lover meant to be all squishy on the inside.

I thought if I displayed my crusty exterior, I’d be prepared for the worst when it inevitably came. With my proverbial sword strapped to my side, I could easily unsheathe it, hacking and hewing with my words or thoughts until I felt vanquished.

But the bad part is, I fought everything, even the good things. I fought grace and forgiveness. I fought joy and freedom. To allow those things to soften me would be to relinquish my self-efficacy. That would not do.

Our pastor used to say: “Behind God’s frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” This angered me. I conjured a rather cosmic joker image; behind the sugary smile was a benevolent dictator of sorts waiting to pounce with His agenda. I did not understand. I fought this idea with a vengeance. To acquiesce to someone calling the shots, especially bad ones, unsettled me in the worst of ways.

Then my mom died. Then we lost lots of money. Then we lost a house. Then I was diagnosed with a hip disease. Then we lost jobs (plural). Then I had to go to counseling. Then we moved 12 times. Then my son chose a lifestyle of self destruction. Then lots more things happened that I won’t bore you with.

Sometime during all that, something changed. Not all at once or in totality but it happened yet I could never pinpoint the date or time.

 I saw God’s smiling face, behind the frowning providence.

I tasted the goodness. I witnessed the mercy. I felt the love. I heard the assuring words. I was washed with the peace. I was girded up with a strength not my own. I soaked in the grace that flowed like a fountain, free and unconditional. I was awed by the miracles. I was overcome by the provision. I was forgiven.

You might think I laid down my arms and became a lover. Not exactly. (Although I tap into that side of me much more frequently these days.) I still have a strong spirit and a tongue that can be venomous; a hard head and a willful way, but now I (mostly) fight for the good – for joy and peace, for strength and beauty, for making each day count. I fight to accept the frowns of God, knowing His kindness and love are far greater.

Does this make me weak? No, I don’t think so. Vulnerable? Yes, in a sense. Yet it is the very softening that enlarges my faith, causing me lean into the arms of a benevolent Father and say: “Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

This Brick Road

The great unknown lay before me, like Dorothy and the yellow brick road. My foot instinctively touched the first brick then I quickly pulled it back, like something unseen had coerced me.

The trepidation was strong, not because I was actually scared though. I was beyond that point. Life had taken me down so many other unexpected, labored and shrouded paths, I was confident yet not without a dutiful sense of caution. To be anything else would be foolish.

Could it be that I was wiser? That I had learned things that forever changed my approach to the great unknown? I think so. Yet I am still a cautious traveler because two things I recognized whole heartedly- always expect the unexpected and pride will lead to falling and falling hard.

I took a deep breath and exhaled out my inhibitions (well, as much as I could muster anyways). I knew there would be demons ahead, no, not the scary impish creatures with long claw-like nails and horns. These would be unseen demons, the kind that attack you from the inside. These come at you with their proverbial pitchfork, digging at your insides with the lurking evil of doubt, telling you that you’re a worthless loser and that your past mistakes define you.

Then, there would be inclement weather- storms of epic proportions that would obscure visibility to the point of stopping you dead in your tracks. They would dump a heaping helping of guilt, sickness, fear, financial insecurity, job loss, marital strife and other sludge, making the road unsafe and moving forward temporarily impossible. Those seasons brought life to a standstill and I would have to regain my footing to confidently carry on.

I knew too that some other traveler might give me a crushing blow and try to knock me completely off the path- and that person might be someone I love. Or an attack might come from a totally unfamiliar source, injuring me to the point of profound helplessness and almost beyond hope. I’d heard it said: “Time heals all wounds.” That is a lie. Time only changes wounds. The scars remain. I knew that resuming my journey after that, would be a slow, tedious process.

But just as I was certain of all these things, I was just as certain of others.

Just as there would be demons, there would be angels, ministering to me after the demons had done their work. They would come to me in the smile of a stranger, the prayers of a fellow traveler, the comforting, assuring words of a friend. They would be the confidantes who could look into my soul and know just the balm to apply to my wound.

Just as there would be storms, there would be warmth, sunshine, rainbows, pleasant breezes and the inexplicably sweet aroma of freshly watered earth. From the moisture would come new life- tiny shoots of promise that bigger, better and more beautiful things would soon spring up- the colorful delicate flower or vibrant verdant would bring delight after the darkness.

Just as there would be injuries, there would be also be countless joys, splendid accomplishments, moments of pure bliss. Others would sprinkle hidden gems waiting for me to discover. These would be the moments when a deep sigh was heaved, not out of anguish, but from the contented feeling of satisfied love.

Best of all, I knew that my journey was watched over, not by some dreaded cosmic force or unseen great and powerful keeper of fates. Quite the opposite, my journey is watched over by the Divine, the One who holds my world together, the One who guides my footing when it was slippery and vaporous.

I choose to trust Him for the here and now and the hereafter. I am not going to The Emerald City. I am journeying to a place far lovelier, where all are happy and whole. And my brick road is in His jurisdiction.

Shattered Illusion

This is not your typical Mother’s Day blog post, but hang with me.

 The illusion of control…

It’s a concept I have been battling with for several years now. Sometimes the illusion has been broken and I accept it. Most other times though, I’ve fought it with both fists drawn. This invisible force seemed to be working against me at every turn- cruel fate was dealing me a crappy hand and I was not having it.

Recently, I watched a video that compared the safety of driving an automobile to riding in an airplane. By a long shot, riding in the airplane is much safer than driving your car anywhere, BUT why do we feel safer driving and more apprehensive flying? The illusion of control. Behind the wheel, we control our every move. When we fly, we are continuously at the mercy and trust of the pilot. We do not like this, not one little bit.

You see, we fancy ourselves masters of our universe, holding our puppet strings. If we are mothers, we think we are holding our children’s destiny in our very capable mother hands. In marriage, we balk against feeling like our partner controls us (thus why many marriages where men are controlling or women are strong willed, fail.) It chaffs against our very nature. And so, we accept the illusion that we surround ourselves with, convince ourselves with really- that we control us and if we are mothers, we are pretty darn comfortable controlling our kids too.

As of late, I am more and more comfortable outside the illusion. I’ve tried being the one who spins all the plates without dropping them. I’ve tried being the strong, hard ass type who doesn’t let my guard down or ever be vulnerable. I’ve tried controlling my kids’ every move in hopes of churning out successful, motivated, educated, people (who happen to think just like me). Guess what? I failed at everything. And maybe that was the intention; the magician revealed the trickery and spoiled the show. I was undeceived at my ability to be god of my destiny and though at first it unsettled me, slowly, I began to accept it.

This left a void and then I was forced to acquiesce to what I knew deep down all along: faith was the essence of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. Try as I might, I let me down. My illusion to control myself, those I loved, and my circumstances broke indefinitely.

Only one thing was left- faith in One greater, wiser, better, more loving, more kind, more fulfilling. God knows the secrets I could never begin to understand. He knows me before and behind. He loves me totally and more importantly, He loves those I love even more than I could ever love them.

The shattered illusion has left me happier and more at peace than I could have ever imagined because what was never intended to be mine in the first place was “put back” into the hands of the God more capable than I ever could be anyways.

Breathless

There are moments in life that take your breath away: some for good, some for bad.

When it happens in a bad way, nothing can prepare you for that, neither strength of character nor faith. Neither mental preparedness nor emotional stability.

I had that kind of moment just a few weeks ago when my husband called to tell me he’d been fired from his job of two months. (It only helped a little knowing that it happened because he had stood up against injustice and unethical behavior.)

No, it’s not like a family member announcing they have stage 4 cancer. It’s not even like living through a stomach churning 6 point earthquake. It is more like a kick in the stomach or somebody yanking the rug right out from under you. At which moment, you’d like to yell some choice profanity!

Just like dental work, the numbness of bad news wears off slowly and pain is left in its place. But instead of feeling better over time, this pain often creeps over your heart like thorny tendrils of bitterness. I knew this from experience. They would have to be clipped quickly!

Some days, I was unwilling. The injustice of it all set in. My husband’s reputation was called to question and maligned. I was angry and rightfully so. I love him. He’s a hard worker and labors with fastidious ethics.

It was all so disturbing, confusing, maddening, unjust.

As I shared the story with friends near and far, they were just as baffled as I was. Yet, in the days and weeks that followed, an incredible series of snapshots began to unfurl into a bigger, grander picture- one so wholly unexpected and complex, even I was left speechless.

The picture became clearer and so did my faith.

What man meant for evil, God truly meant for good. What we cling to as security in this life is often nothing more than a vaporous bauble. We feel safe in a title or an income bracket when, really, we should only ever feel safe in the arms of Jesus.

Yeah, I could feel happy because the ending is good (my husband has a new job, four miles from home in a much more peaceful environment). I could feel happy that his name was cleared a little and we can breathe easier now. But I don’t.

I feel happy that my breath was taken away. I feel glad that God stripped away false securities. I am thrilled that our struggle has brought such encouragement and joy to others.

Am I ready for the next breathless moment, either good or bad? No, probably not. But I know God has my back and I know He acts in His good will because I have a lot to learn. My Potter sits faithfully at His wheel, molding this hard headed and hearted piece of clay until He makes something beautiful. For that, I am truly thankful!

Windows

We spend our lives looking in and out of windows.

Upon waking every day, the first thing I do is go turn on the coffee pot and open up my kitchen window’s blind. I look out and determine what kind of day it is: grey and foggy, cool or warm, bright and sunny. In that moment, I also assess the view in a purely metaphysical way. What kind of day lies ahead? Happy, melancholy, worrisome, carefree, over scheduled, relaxed, burdened, peaceful?

Windows are like snap shots- just a portion of a bigger picture.

If we look in the window of someone else’s life, it may appear picturesque- almost perfect. Envy arises because perhaps this view is so wholly unlike our own. But remember this: don’t be deceived. Just like the display widows at a department store, it shows the best, the prettiest, the coolest, the most alluring, the trendiest, the slickest, the most put together items to be found. It is a living mirage that doesn’t look like that outside the large plate glass.

It’s funny how, even looking out our own window, shows only a sliver what’s beyond. It may appear to be a beautiful day, but what I don’t know is that just a few houses down, an ambulance has arrived to take someone away in it.

Maybe it is time to change perspective, to remind yourself that the view from a window is just a snap shot, a still frame in the bigger picture of life and yours is never going to be just like anyone else’s. Or maybe your window has been far too long covered with filth, making the view of even a lovely day impossible to see.

Yield

I live surrounded by acres and acres of vineyards. Each year, I watch with great interest as the workers go out among the barren vines, braving the February chill. At first, this seemed odd- there was clearly nothing growing and it was still freezing at night.

Yet, each season without fail, a month or so after this pruning, I began to notice the tender shoots of green, then more and more until an explosion of verdant leaves filled the once bare cables and posts. It dawned on me that the preparation pruning was crucial to ensure the optimal growth of the grapes and in turn, yield the results the farmers’ long for- perfect grapes for a wine that delights the taste buds.

This brought a vivid word picture to mind: We are pruned each day and year for greater productivity and here’s the best part- the One holding the shears is The Master Gardener.

Now, don’t get me wrong: it is downright painful and I’m not advocating a love of affliction here. In fact, it is safe to say that for the better part of my life, I have held a tightly clenched fist so to speak. I have muttered scathingly under my breath, “Why, God?” or “Not this, God, please!” I balked badly at the shears and would pine away for the lost branches, even though they were clearly brown and dry.

Yet, these past few years a striking pattern has emerged- upon reflection, I see a purpose in the pruning- a grand design like nothing a mere landscaper could imagine. Sometimes, I have seen what I thought were even healthy branches tweezed off. This I know is no mistake.

You see, I trust a good God, a gentle God, a kind God, a loving God, a knowing God. He has the plan of my life exquisitely laid out before him. I am ignorant of it though so when I feel the shears snip, trim, lop off or tie up a branch, I chaff against it sometimes. But I am learning- learning to trust and lean and surrender, fully, humbly, peaceably, into the arms of a Savior who trims me faithfully and lovingly.

His master plan will make something beautiful, productive and flourishing, if only I yield to the shears.

So Over That

Agonizingly, I put my pencil in the journal’s spine. Was I missing something? Did I overlook an important goal or area of needed improvement? Were the resolutions I made realistic and attainable? I fretted. Reviewing them, I felt the list complete yet already there was this sense of weight, expectation, pressure.

This was me, the first week or so of every new year, dutifully listing out what I truly believed would head me in the right direction towards accomplishment. I had catagories with sub-points (which often included goals for OTHER family members inadvertently).  Little did I know how it would eat away at me, undetected, because breaching my own personal “contract” was a blow of momentous proportions. I would, by mid-year, slunk away from rereading my resolutions, defeated.

You see, this fit in so nicely with my type-A, “get ‘er done” mentality. I couldn’t IMAGINE life without my yearly list! I mean, just creating it gave me a sense of security- I knew where I was headed and why I was headed there. Then about five years ago, through my own series of unfortunate events and the wise counsel of someone, I stopped. January, two thousand something came, and my resolve was NOT to make that list.

I WAS FREE- free at last- from the torment of my own expectations. I could breathe and just live life, come what may. New Year’s Resolutions = bosh and poppycock!! Jane was unshackled!

In the spirit of this same freedom, I embark on the unknown journey of this year. Yes, I have some personal benchmarks in mind. Yes, I will endeavor to become a better version of myself. Yes, I expect growth, change, and accomplishment; all the while knowing full well that divine plans DO prevail, that often I let myself down and other people I love disappoint me.

I accept that, no actually, I embrace that- happily.

Nowadays, come January, I ruminate on a theme for my year; a phrase that I hope will embody the 52 weeks to come (should I be blessed to live that long). I discovered this song the other day. It spoke the words of Psalm 100 to me and I decided that my theme for 2014 is: I shall not want.

http://youtu.be/LjGExaRTCvA

Look Here

Perspective.

In light of this recent cold snap, I was reminded that so much of life truly is perspective. The word, as defined by good ol’ Webster means:

~the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance

or

~the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed

You see, I say, “I’m freezing. It’s so cold outside”, then I hear that the town we used to live in in Idaho is exactly 0 degrees and I stop complaining. Later I read about parts of Montana that have a wind chill of 50 below zero and I think that you might have to be part crazy to live there!!!!! I’ll take my 27 degrees any day!

I remember the first time I really grasped the meaning of this concept (although at 17, it would be years until I was able to really apply it to life). It was my first semester of college and I was FORCED (note that word) to take an art appreciation class. While attending a field trip to the L.A. art museum, we were instructed to write observations on all kinds of paintings. There was one that I’ll never forget. It was an idyllic fall scene of a sleepy town. The rich golds, crimsons and oranges still stand sharp in my mind, but it was how the light morphed that really struck me. I had to view the painting from a variety of angles and distances and as I did, the canvas evolved before me. It was as if light was coming alive inside the painting. As my perspective changed, so did the scene before me.

Throughout my life this has happened time and time again. I have been sitting around, wallowing in a large vat of self-pity filled with stinky stuff like: financial woes, child-rearing woes, health woes etc. then BAM, I hear about a friend’s problem or a natural disaster that trumps my vat o’ crap by 10,000 stink points. I immediately admit that things could be much worse. Conversely, I’ve been sitting prettily atop my high horse thinking “I’M ALL THAT”, when BAM, someone rides by on an even higher horse. All at once I get knocked flat on my derriere, taken down by pride. I am forced to look straight up from my new perspective lying on the ground.

You see, no matter where you are, in the valley or on the mountain, you know by now that things can and DO change in a heart beat. Not only that, there is, in the wide world over invariably someone out there better or worse off than YOU! (The nerve of some people that seem to continually fall into the “better off” category!)

So here’s my challenge for you and myself:  Change your perspective. Shift your focus. Embrace where you’re at. Try to change where you’re at. Step back. Step forward.  If you get knocked down, lie there a little while and take in the view. If you are at a pinnacle moment type of place, look out into the distance and realize where you came from. See the bigger picture, the sum of the parts. Find the beauty in the broken, the meaning in the muck, the purpose in the plight. Recognize and appreciate the fractal light features that appear as you shift your perspective.