Saturday, September 30, 2006


The street where I lived as a preadolescent was on a downward slope, as was our driveway going out onto the street, and the cement apron behind the house which connected our neighor's garage with ours opposite each other. The whole set-up was very useful for experienced bicyclers and skaters. You could start behind the house doing figure 8's, then zoom down the driveway to the street, gaining speed with every descent. Of course, for a fairly uncoordinated and fearful 7-year-old, there were the blessings of soft grass and bushes, where I typically landed. Those metal strap-on skates needing a key were unforgiving, and my bike a torture test of endurance even trying the figure 8s in the back. I finally just drove right into the bushes to spare hitting the garage door or the cement. Forget trying to ride down the outside driveway. I walked my bike to the sidewalk and started from there. I will never forget getting my shoelaces tangled in the chain of my bike riding down the sidewalk. I literally had to run alongside the bike as fast or faster and hit the grass in the best possible place to avoid having my shoe ripped off and possibly my foot. Either way a painful end was in store for my out-of-control bike and me, and I thought that sidewalk would never end!

Life hands us momentum, and positively or negatively we zoom up and crash down in cycles, physically, mentally and emotionally. The key to winning the downward descents at my old house was learning to harness the energy to help the ride. There was always risk involved, and it took lots of crashing to not fear that momentum, but once you got it, you were flying on wheels and your journey was thrilling, not to mention much faster than riding on level ground. I felt like my seven-year-old self again this week. I got very sick on Sunday and still am not well, but I can at least see improvement daily. But the sickness was a handicap that made me very aware of momentum in my every day routine, which seems lately to be picking up speed as my bike did on that fateful day, and I'm working furiously to keep my shoelaces out of the chain, which is not stopping. I had days that required lots of walking, bending up and down, which is not hard when you are well, but like being on an amusement park ride if you have sinus trouble. Add to that the unknown, surprises, anticipation of events where you stuck your neck out, unexpected problems-by Friday I wound up on the couch again in a coma of mental confusion, eating Oreos and blankly watching a movie way past the time I should have been getting much-needed sleep.

I had to pray for the strength to harness the runaway situations in my life. Too many are happening all at once. An answer and a blessing came watching my youngest daughter today. She had a terrible night before waiting with a friend in the ER until 3 am, and today she was to take her driver's license permit test. She slept in, and I had to leave to run errands. Unfortunately I left with her doctor's physical sheet which she had to have to take the test. My husband freaked out at the realization-we had limited time to get her to the center. She failed the test by one question (a railroad crossing sign!), came home, broke her cd player by accident, spilled coffee on her pants and forgot a close friend's Sweet Sixteen party. She was frustrated, but took a shower, realized she forgot the party, and hurried to get ready to go. The downward slide turned into a rush to wrap a gift and get to a celebration, pushing her along. We drove literally into the woods looking for the location, the most remote VFW site ever built, and zoomed into the parking lot. I stayed to make absolutely sure we found the right place, and my daughter raced out of the car to get into the building. I watched in the rearview as one girl came running out and literally jumped into my daughter's arms, and then a flood of teenage girls rushed her with the most exuberant group hug I have ever witnessed. What could have been a crash became a joyful bash when my daughter and I put the wind of momentum behind our sails.

Friday, September 29, 2006

step one of 12

As foolish as it may seem, and yet not to a person who values control in her life, I really don't have control of what happens. That's a broad statement, so I need to qualify what I mean. I'm thinking in reference to Sunday, trying to glean a lesson from an event that in my mind could be classed as pointless and unnecessary. I really love a quote I read recently, "If God is your co-pilot, you had better change seats". On Sunday I wanted to see my son and I was too sick to see him. Knowing the opportunity only came monthly, or was difficult to arrange at another time, I tried to control my sick body and whip it into shape. I took a shower, made coffee, made the bed, all at 5am, thinking my daily routine would help me shake off the lake in my head, the nausea, the dizziness, sweaty palms, the sinking feeling that I could not overcome my body's foolish symptoms. I simply could not be sick on a visitation day. Then there was overcoming my will to go for the sake of my family. First accepting I had no control over my body led me to the next conclusion-to live in denial of the puking I would probably do in the car and the misery I would cause my family was selfish if I did go. And then finally, facing the fact that I had to lie in bed alone, not fulfilling deep and right desire, one that I SHOULD be entitled to was the hardest battle of all. I then faced my frustration, sadness and rage alone.

The other thing I seemed to have no control over were the tears I shed-that sounds too polite. It was a tsunami of ripping grief from the bottom of my soul right out my mouth, loud, unrelenting sobbing. The longing that I was experiencing was to go unfulfilled, and I had to make peace with it, but once again, not without feeling the need...the need to mother, the need to be with my boy, the need to give out to him and receive his presence myself. I could not stop the rush of passionate and intense pain I was experiencing. I thought afterward that this must have been what professional funeral mourners were like, at least outwardly, but once again, for someone who prides herself on propriety and control in all circumstances, it was as real as it gets, like a flood dashing down a sea wall. The storm slowly abated during the day, but it still rained off and on all morning.

In the end, and then from the beginning, I was forced to turn my attention to God. After the worst was over, I went for a walk to get some air and to pray, or try to pray. I felt as empty as an abandoned house. The door was gone, the shutters crooked, cobwebs everywhere, no life at all inside. I tried to talk to Him, but the words were so hollow. I think there was anger there, at Him, and embarrassment that I felt that way. I've been at this too long to blame God for circumstances, and yet there seemed no earthly reason for this. And that I should be expected to bear it like a good soldier, understanding and thanking Him? I had to go back to the Psalms, to the men who poured their souls out in horrible and trying times..."I am like a lonely bird on a rooftop", "my strength evaporates like dew in the morning sun", "My couch is drenched with my tears"...Slowly, so slowly, like rain clouds clearing away, my heart did begin to find strength as I allowed His comfort to come.

At the end of the day I had the strength to do my daily Bible study, and the lesson was on the crucifixion. I have read that saints and mystics of old, like Julian of Norwich, set their full attention on Christ's passion. If we have no knowledge of His sufferings, we cannot understand our own place in His will-more correctly, we cannot know HIM. We are actually commanded to do this, lovingly, and in all honesty, I would not choose this path. I would control myself right away from suffering. But I find so often now that suffering reveals an intimate aspect of God I would not know any other way. The bare and undeniable truth is that He suffered at all. How does God suffer? More than we ever could, because we are only tiny reflections of everything that He is. He is ever creating us in His likeness and image, and the most human and godly part of Christ was the giving up of His own rights, leaving control in the hands of the Father. Can I do less?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

abundant life

I ended yesterday falling asleep at the computer, trying to write a coherent letter to a friend who needed encouragement. I woke up to patterns zooming around the monitor and hurried to sign off and get to bed. I got up this morning at 6 am, which for me is luxury sleeping, as my natural alarm rings an hour or more earlier most days, or I struggle with sleep. So I thought about yesterday and all that went on. The whole day could have been stamped "courtesy of the King of Kings". The wonder of it was that it was full of things that, even a year ago, I did not have, from jump start to exhausted finish. So I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the One who made it all possible.

Thank you for my excited start, anticipating being with people who care about me, meeting someone new and taking care of my family, while working on a study for a new group of ladies I didn't know existed a year ago. Thank you for the gifts from Your Word that I read yesterday morning, the constant reminder that I was chosen by You to be loved and guided through life. Thank you that I had time to put together a worship folder that I needed for the end of the day. Thank you for my time with two women who are becoming so dear to me, who I know will pray for me, sharing our struggles together and hearing them say how much the time and the sharing means. Thank you that I had to hurry home to my daughter and was able to take her to the doctor, a woman who has served our family for over 20 years now. When I got home my picture frames came in, and looked so perfect and beautiful on work I'm able to show with friends who care about me and continually inspire me with their creativity and talent. How fortunate I am! I went through the day's mail and there was a letter from my son to his beloved mumsy (that's me). Thank you for my patient and caring husband who supports a wife running from one place to another doing her things, and doesn't mind heating up his own dinner. Thank you that I wasn't too afraid to climb a huge (very huge), rickety staircase with keyboard in tow (and the worship folder) to a young man newly clean from a drug habit, wanting to serve and not minding an old lady for a partner. His joy and incredibly energetic guitar strumming gave the old mare new life. Thanks for another friend at the other end of the phone when I got home, laughing and chatting about life and God. Thanks for my precious daughter who thinks her mom's colored pencils are like magic wands. Thanks for a friend who inspires me with his posted words every day and boldness like a lion. Thanks for someone in need at the end of the day, and the ability to close my eyes in perfect peace.

Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul, thank you, Lord, for making me whole. Thank you, Lord, for giving to me, Thy great salvation so rich and free.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

the pain of separation

Sunday was a hard day. I hate separation. I can't think of anything I hate more. I was too sick to visit my son, and there was nothing I could do about it. I love him, I miss him, and there was no way to show him. The only way I know I can is to be there for him. I couldn't do anything but lie in bed and be alone. My husband and daughters went, of course. We promised him we'd visit, so of course they had to go without me. The day seemed so long. I couldn't make myself feel better no matter what except to let time pass. Slowly I did begin to feel better physically. But my mind was a blank and I felt completely empty inside.

I did manage to do a Bible study I've been working on, but that, too, seemed sort of busy work and didn't really speak much to my heart. I tried to sleep that night but still had a terrible sinus headache. Eventually I fell asleep and woke the next day better still. I persevered with my study and continued doing the next lessons. The study I did this morning finally pierced something deep inside. It was about adoption, God's open adoption of those who put their faith in Him. We receive the right to call Him Abba, which is a term of extreme and personal endearment. The example given was of a child who scrapes their knee and wants only Daddy to put the bandaid on. It is an exclusive term between parent and child, conferring all the rights of legal and heartfelt family ties. The thing that struck me in the lesson is there are few places where that term is used. One is used in the book of Galatians describing our adoption through Christ. There is another place that took my breathe away-when Christ was in the Garden of Gesthemane, pleading with His Father to take the cup of suffering and death away by having the sins of the world placed on His shoulders. The separation between Father and Son would be complete-something that had never happened before in all eternity, and it came down to a boy begging his father, his Abba, to save him.

As I reflected on that, and how I felt being home sick in bed on Sunday, I just could not fathom the pain of the Lord and God the Father in that moment. In my mind the cost could not have been greater-there is just no pain greater than the separation of parent and child. Tonight I got a phone call. A friend for whom I did a portrait asked would I be interested in doing a piece for the sister of a man who was murdered. She then said she is part of a group of parents who have lost children-would I also be interested in using my skills for them? Oh, God, You knew this moment would come. You gave me this gift to ease the suffering of people who know the separation You ordained for our sakes, and in so doing, to ease my own. The marvel of the love of our Heavenly Father knows no bounds.

Monday, September 25, 2006

yellow...err, white letter day

Well, I did not make it to the prison. I was sick as a dog, so it was a pleasant surprise to receive a letter from my son in the mail today. So I will let him have this blog...

"What's goin' on, y'all? (y'all? y'all?!) You know, absolutely nothing here. Still trying to get back east so I can relax (mom note insert-he was moved to a different block which has a dorm situation, and hates it). Did I tell you I got the dictionary/thesaurus? It made it intact. I've had a few escapades the last week involving espionage, cunning and acting the part of impossible stupidity in order to deceive authority figures and break the bonds of the west side. There are stories to be told, all in good time.

Other than that it's very boring. I'm actually a little confused by the set up of these older blocks. On either side there's an 8 person dorm. There's a cage surrounding their door and what should have been 13 cell which is their bathroom. Also, for some God-forsaken reason there are no doors on the downstairs showers. There's only a short obstructing wall. Gee, thanks. Anyone tossing their laundry in the cart can see well over it. Now, wouldn't it be easier to put in doors (like the upstairs), or even a curtain, than to build some half-assed wall? Ask the Chinese it it's easier to build a wall or hang a door. I'll bet nobody died building the Emperor a walk-in closet. Blah!

Get this! They actually stopped selling salsa/pizza sauce because of an episode of Mythbusters. That deserves a spot on Ripley's...because I'm finding it hard to believe. Dont' tell me I can't make prison pizza. You can make an EasyBake oven out of a lamp and a potato chip bag, though. Neat, huh?

The Mythbuster's episode was the transistor radio and salsa on the window bars to weaken and break them. Talk about knee-jerk reaction. You can do better with salt water and a dc converter bought on commissary. Duh! Converters are 7 bucks, compared to demolishing a $43 radio. Besides, the window is about 10 inches wide with 1 squared bar on the inside, one on the outside, and a chunk of shatter proof lexan between 'em. This isn't even considering the fences drizzled with razor wire to the extent as if it were being handed out for free. Christmas trees don't see that much tinsel. God help you if you break out when guards are on the firing range. Chances are you'd stumble across it heading for the tree line...."

Needless to say I think the prison is safe with salsa, and he goes on to say they are selling it again, huzzah! So, that's life in lock up, and things are looking better here as well. At least less drippy.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

visitation day

Tomorrow is going to be a long day. I'm sucking down the zinc cold lozenges, trying to breathe and feel better, but I don't yet know how to prepare for our visitation days, even when I do feel fine. We're getting up at 4:30 in the morning to make sure we get a round table in the day room at the prison. It's bad if you don't get a table, and you have the whole family visiting. That means side by side chairs, which is hard if you travel for hours to get there, stay for hours to visit, and then travel for hours home in the same day. I want to enjoy these visits, but after a few hours of compressed relating, I'm tired. I know it's this or nothing. I just wish that weren't the case. I probably won't sleep well tonight, much as I want to and know I need to.

I'm also afraid. Much as I hate to admit it, I'm not a good traveler. I'm on edge the whole time unless my prayers kick in and whatever makes me uneasy somehow disappears. I have trips like that, where I'm completely relaxed, but that is not often. I anticipate the visit, and then on the way home, I think about the visit and hate the fact that we have to do the whole thing again in a month. I know other people have much harder challenges dealing with family visits. We could be a missionary family with kids hundreds, if not thousands of miles away. We could be estranged from children and never hear from them. I don't like prisons no matter how accommodating they are.

Our latest step in CR dealt with insanity, defining it as doing the same things over and over expecting a different result. I know I need to approach these visits differently or the results will always be the same-exhaustion and headaches. I just don't know how right now. I know I need to give it all over completely to God no matter what, instead of "trying" to make it right and comfortable. Maybe I need to accept that it just isn't. Maybe I need to take the pressure off and let myself be ok with not liking it. Hating it sometimes in fact. I don't know. I just want to sleep tonight.

bloomin' glory

Something caught my eye while I was looking out the window in the kitchen that faces the backyard. My "cow" cat likes to sit on the dryer and watch the birds that land on our pool cover and the garage roof, so I pet him and console him because he sees little winged KFC meals and can't have them. But out of the corner of my eye this incredible patch of color made me look toward our chain link fence where my favorite flowers climb. I was determined this year to have the super-sized cerulean blue belled variety of morning glories decorate our fence, and I got a packet of scarlets for good measure. And they did grow, with benefits. Not only did I get my sky blues, I got a cloud of delicate light blue blooms with pale blue stripes. They are lovely. But now I have these blooms that are almost cobalt and purple with intense magenta stripes. They're like raver morning glories! I can almost here the phat beats coming from the fence...where in the world did they come from?? I ran out in my bare feet over the wet grass to get a closer look, and I have never seen color modulation like. And then in combination with my scarlets and the other blues-it's like a black choir of hues and tones!

I didn't know I'd get such a color show when I bought my seeds. Shoot, I didn't expect anything, but I was determined. I had tried in the past to grow these lovelies, but apparently not hard enough. This year I dug in a fresh spot, laid down premium soil, soaked my seeds and waited until not a whiff of frost was possible. Then I planted. And waited again...and waited, telling myself not to be too disappointed if they didn't come up. It was later in the summer, but the distinctive leaves on a different colored vine began to show. The vines grew, but I didn't have any blooms for a long time. Then one day, the first color patch caught my eye. Man, you cannot miss that particular blue. It's indescribable. Very slowly more blooms popped open, and then the lighter blues came. I was happy as a clam! I did not expect yet another color of bloom to appear, and maybe it is due to the cooler temperatures. Doesn't matter. More than I ever could have expected came out of the effort I put forth preparing and planning.

I hope...I pray this is how God sees me. He has worked harder than I'll ever know preparing me, growing me, laying down fresh experiences, letting me lie dormant, hearing my complaints while that was happening and waiting. I don't wait well. But seeds don't come up over night. The problem with us is we have to cooperate and choose to go under that soil. I think of the scripture that alludes to this, that unless a seed falls to the earth and dies, the possibility of any wonderful thing it may become will never happen. And I know certainly we are so much more to Him than mere flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow. Still, the comparison is made as well that human beings are like the grass of the field, springing up in the morning and being mown down in the evening. The week has been one like I haven't had in a long time. God is calling forth the cobalt blue and magenta in me. Things I didn't know were inside or didn't believe would ever be part of my life, are now part of my life, like that bloom that just appeared one day. I laid down on the couch after last night's CR meeting wondering how I ever got here. I thought back over the week and wondered where the power came from to meet the challenges in my path, and I realized, I chose to go there. And my sneaky heavenly Father knew I would, so He was there long before me. He knew my heart from the start and was planning this all along. And I don't want to miss anything else He might do, so I can't fear the planting, because without that, mate, there is no bloomin' glory.

Friday, September 22, 2006

beyond me

Yesterday I went to the first of a women's Bible study group in which we are doing Beth Moore's study, "Living Beyond Yourself". How I even found these ladies in my own backyard is a miracle of God's grace to me and timing, because I don't know any of them and none go to my church. They are normal gals, not a peacock in the bunch, and I feel drawn toward our leader, Kathy. Her husband was native American and an artist, and his unique works fill the room where we meet. My achy throat protested against leaving the house last night, but I so wanted to get started right from the get go and see everyone. Our study is on DVD with a companion book, so we watched this little blonde lady with big hair and a bigger voice, Texan and charismatic from the top of her bouffant to the bottom of her three inch high- heeled boots for an hour. I cringe when someone shouts at me for a moment, even a positive message. Still, I tried to pay careful attention to what she had to say, no matter how windblown it was. The girls hurried home after we were done to catch the season opener of CSI and William Peterson, hunkiest middle-aged geek on TV. (I love these women!)

When I got settled in front of the tube at home and waited for our collective McDreamy to come on, my older daughter walked in from having coffee with her sister, I thought. We were chatting a little, and I noticed her mascara was smeared under her glasses. I asked her what was going on, and she told me she broke up with her boyfriend, someone she has known since high school and is very close to even on a friendship level. But she felt she needed room and time to sort out what is going on in her life-it's a long distance relationship in many ways, and my daughter is growing away from her home. I tried to think as she spilled and cried some more, how to share my own heart to her at this time in my life and how the big-haired Texan's message is relevant. I love my daughter's creativity and both my girls have followed after their crazy artist mom, hearing that muse that makes a body want to paint for hours, sew clothes until your fingers ache, love fabric and art supply stores more than Macy's or Walmart. The imprint of their mother is on my girls. The thing I want for them to know is that the imprint of God is on their lives so much more-how do I connect "can I say amen" with fashion runways, city life and a modern girl's struggle in relationships and career?

Well, I decided one thing-this all means a visit to La Fratte's today, our absolute favorite diner in the world. I'm springing my younger girl out of school to be with her sister, and we are doing lunch. Then, I'll will take it from there. Beth Moore talked about doing things that are "beyond ourselves", things that require more wisdom, more love, more grace than we have within us-more God! I have to say, walking children through life and being a woman in this day and age is certainly that. One thing I explained to my daughter is that married or single, in a woman's life come times when she needs to strike out beyond the roles society expects and into what God longs for for us. I sense a period in life like that now for myself, where the path is rocky and high, and only one pair of hiking shoes fits on it. We need to strain and struggle-the easy way is seldom, if ever, the way of growth. I'm proud of her for realizing she needs to carry on alone now, risking a relationship she has come to depend on, even though the hope is that they do remain friends. I know what I need to do is be true to myself as well and throw her a rope.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

what the world needs

One thing I'm finding in bigger and more profound ways is that humans cannot live life alone. I mean living well, being healthy and understanding their purpose here. We need God, we need other people. In this day and age it seems like we treat that as an option. It isn't. We have our gadgets and conveniences, and yes, we could continue to breathe and eat, be clothed and stay alive by ourselves, but really that is an illusion, too. We depend on other people depending on other people and us. It was meant to be that way. The first thing God created was a setting for relationship. The world was not meant to exist unto itself either, though militant environmentalists would have us think our very dependence on the earth is a travesty of nature. This is also wrong. No, a Creator, creating a very special place for a very special creation is the truth, and the beings there enjoying their creator, their home and their fellows and sharing it all was the master plan. How hard can that be? Very, apparently. How could we screw up paradise? By rejecting the master plan.

It is so apparent today that people try to play God. Heck, society at large makes it their goal. And how well are we fairing? Not so good, Al. It's the one thing humans can't be, though they try. In trying to be their own god they follow someone else's master plan. We have an enemy. He hates humankind. He uses everything intended for good against us. I saw this first hand with my own son, but it's in the paper every day, in every place people work, live and set foot. My son's most basic problem was that he rejected the master plan. He rejected his life and wanted to end it. He lived wanting to die. God had other ideas and foiled his attempts in this. But what do you say to someone who screams at you that they hate you for bringing them into the world? Continue to accept the master plan, continue to depend on God, see life as the consummate gift from Him, help His children see that and bless His kindness on the earth, and reject Satan's lies. The elites and intellectuals of the world would tell us this is foolishness, but God says He uses the foolishness of His world to confound the wise.

Yesterday I had the privilege of helping another person bent on self-destruction see the goodness in life. It's going to be a long path, but I stand amazed at what God does through people who love Him and submit to His plans for them. Three of us were at a table with this person, talking about our struggles and reading scripture. Out of nowhere tears came, and the admission that life was unbearable. The truth made it's way to the surface, and like the fingers on a hand each woman there began to speak life to this suffering soul. It was God speaking and working through us, honoring His plan for this woman who by herself could not see it. But she will. Love always finds a way, and the only way to love is through Flesh and Blood.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"hot, stay back"

Our family did the annual summer trek to a local amusement park about a month ago. I'm not much of an anti-gravity type and I'm pushing 50, so I brought along my trusty Canon SLR to capture the action and the fun of the day. My huband and I played mini-golf and then sauntered over to a blacksmith's stand. There wasn't a huge amount of action going on, but one thing caught my eye immediately. Watching the burly smith was this weasily carnie leaning on a garbage can smoking a pipe. I could see the Rockwell potential of pure Americana, humor and witticism looking at this man, and my brushes were already painting a scene. Alongside the man, in front of the forge was this poorly lettered, barely noticeable sign mounted in a plastic bucket that read, "Hot, Stay Back".

Well, I'm sure you can imagine the irony of that little sign. It gave me a title, smirked at the pipe-smoking incarnation of sloth and laziness-so "not hot"!-laughed at the potential for any danger, as the way I was to paint the picture would only show a semi-glowing pipe and not a forge. Yet the danger was very real should you stumble over the ankle-high chain attached to that bucket and land in the fire or on the forge.

I think we sometimes look at God like that carnie. We barely notice notice the truth of situations that could burn us beyond recognition. We think we're like the man, too, thinking we're safe, while being uneasily perched on a garbage can (another huge irony in the picture). Lately I've been made aware of situations before, during and after the fact that are hurting people I care about. It may be embarrassing, but so much easier to yank a person away from that sign than try to salve the burns later.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

one day at a time

Well, I guess I'll make this a day in the life of a prison mom. Actually, it's a day I've decided to voluntarily go back into the local prison. I know I must be nuts. I just got an e-mail from the women's chaplain, and I'm going to be sent an application to sign up for volunteer programs. That might include just being there to assist the chaplain, mentoring a woman, leading Bible studies-all things I've done on the outside and would never have thought to do in a prison. So, I promised a day in the life, and this is it. The prison system never, ever leaves my mind. Our plans this weekend revolve around trying to fit in the 8 hour travel to see my son, plus juggle the plans of two daughters, one in from college. They want to go see their brother, but they also want to go camping with friends and we have a baby shower to attend. We had to cancel our usual church routine to accommodate them and ourselves, and our son, and ditch the camping as well. Whew. Sounds pretty normal, anyway, but our normal is one member of this family over 200 miles away for several years, period.

My day has also included preparing for an art show that is coming up in a few weeks. I know the weekend is full, so I have to work my time around my days home from our business. It should be happy and fun preparing for this show, and my portraits for it are purposely playful and extremely colorful. So I decided to forego the usual neutral mats and framing, and find something that matches perfectly with the two remaining pieces I have. I went to visit Irene, my moll at the local art supply place, who gets me stuff cheap. Irene is such a peach, and I could not remember her name when I went in. But she spent probably 20 minutes with me, pulling out a rainbow of colored mats to lay up against each piece. I finally selected an intense blue-violet that just made my work sing. It was good to spend time with Irene and not my own thoughts. I began to get excited at the thought of cutting the mats and seeing how cool they'd look. I also unwrapped a cd I bought a week before and never took the time to open and listen. Soon some crazy Latin dance music was assisting me in the mood department! My mat color was perfect as it could be.

I plopped down to do some e-mailing and answer messages. I had to return a friend's phone call, and it was good to hear her voice. I have begun to accept recently that everything is as it should be. I have to work accept that when you are trying to follow God, things do work out for the good-for the good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Sometimes I struggle with the purpose part. Disparate chunks of day that pass by, moments where I feel alone and wonder why, and then the reminder that if I am truly called, I'm living my day with purpose. Another thing I've come to realize is that I need the music, the color, the friendly voices and messages. The operative word there is NEED. It's not optional for anyone, but especially a prison mom. It's like I have a constant drain that leaks out strength and joy, and those things fill me back up.

I'm anxious to see my son, and my older daughter is due home any minute needing help with a sewing project-a gift for her best friend's new baby. It was good to hear her tell me last night, "Mom, I finally understand how you felt about always cleaning up after me when I lived at home. My roommate is a pig, and I have to do the same thing for her. Thanks so much-is there anything I can do to help you?" That was a heart attack in the ready! So today the house is clean, and I've got sewing and painting on the agenda, and thanking God for blessings large and small. I'll make it, one day at a time.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

planning to die

It seems like I got phone calls all weekend. Well, it was my birthday on Sunday so a few of those were for that reason. I got a call on the day not for that reason. I was supposed to take an elderly friend of mine to a bookstore where I have artwork on display, and I had not yet gotten back to her to plan a time. She called to let me know she had gotten there to see the work and was asking questions about it. Jeanne is my biggest fan and most probing critic. So we discussed the work for some time and another opportunity to see new portraits I had done.

There was another issue concerning artwork that she needed to discuss with me. She laid groundwork regarding her failing health very thoroughly for me. Jeanne has a condition of the heart and lungs that is permanent. She's in her eighties and so that is not unusual nor unexpected. But she's also a very vivacious person, and not prone to wheelchairs or rockers unless it is absolutely necessary, if necessary is ever a word in her vocabulary. But I think she was trying to tell me in the most practical way that it now is. She wanted me to have a very special piece of her art collection. In fact she wanted me to be on call to receive this piece should she go into the hospital, perhaps knowing she might never make it out. I told her my only concern was to follow her wishes. I love the piece of work and would hang it in my house permanently, not because it is worth thousands, but because it reminds me of her, and our relationship. So talking about her death was not horrifying. In fact, it seemed perfectly natural, and the offer one that was totally consistent with her nature and our friendship.

It did strike me as odd for moment, being in my house full of activity, in the thick of life and passing another year, that someone was on the phone preparing me for their death. I like that Jeanne is approaching her death as she has always approached her life-head on and ready to meet whatever may come with full acceptance. Lots of challenges are coming my way, some by my choice due to God's leading in my life, and some not by choice, but unavoidable. I'm not afraid, just poised and waiting for the first strike. Passing through death's door should be like that. It's part and parcel of being human, and not the worst tragedy that could befall a human. It's not a tragedy at all if life is viewed as an eternal passage with physical death only one phase. It is simply what will come, either now or later, but it will come. The question is, how will we meet it? How we live will determine how we die.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

time to celebrate

Friday night had become my night to attend a Celebrate Recovery group about 20 minutes from my home. It has become my night because a friend I have who is struggling with alcoholism needs to go, my son will need a place to go when he is out of prison, and more than anything, I need to go. Celebrate Recovery is a ministry which helps those people struggling with habits, hurts and hang-ups. It is specifically Christian, recognizing Jesus Christ as our Higher Power, and the principles it is based on are from scripture. It's really for everyone at various times in life, because we all struggle with things that get us stuck.

It seems crazy to me that a group of broken people coming together to be completely honest before God and each other about things that are ruining their lives could do anything at all for anyone. It seems like either a recipe for disaster at worst, or a pathetic display of the dregs of human weakness at the least. But it is not. There is something about the truth that is incredibly powerful. Our meeting starts out with praise to God. We sing a few favorite songs. The people that are picking out seats and chatting away before the meeting starts run the gamut in appearance from soccer moms to ex-cons, and they are. But when the singing starts, everyone knows why they are there, and appearances matter not at all. Next is a lesson based on the scriptural prescription for recovery. It is much like AA, or any other of countless groups out there, except that, once again, scripture is indisputable truth, and there's no guessing about that. Then there is sharing time. No cross talk is allowed, no advice, as we're not there to fix each other or counsel. We are there to admit what is happening in our lives, and to tell the truth.

Last week's meeting was incredibly powerful. I did not plan to go, but my friend had been having a terrible week, drinking for days, and was too shaky to drive. When I went to that meeting, I knew I had to commit to this process, for myself, and those who would need a place to go that I knew. There were two testimonies in that meeting in which the men talking basically said it took rock bottom, addiction, alcoholism, prison, to find Christ and they were so glad they did. I was shocked. People say things like that, but I thought to myself, the hell it is to be an addict and behind bars, and you are saying you are glad about all of that? I was stunned, because people here aren't behind a pulpit or a podium. They are sitting next to me. So I spoke up last night, saying how much that meant to me, for my son's sake, and I explained his situation. Another ex-con came up to me afterward (Chris-now he's my friend Chris), and told me the same thing. He's not an educated man. He's covered in tattoos and dressed in an old, holey white t-shirt. But people like him are saving my life. Then another sweet, youngish woman touched my shoulder. She told me her husband is facing six felony counts related to drug addiction. She has two children, four and eight years old. Her husband may be facing serious jail time, but so far, God has intervened and he walked out of the first hearing a free man. Pam-her name is Pam, she's my friend now, and I'm going to pray for her and her family. Then Dave spoke to me. He keeps his commitment papers to remind himself how much God has changed his life. Dave tried to kill himself, so he understood when I told him about my son's suicide attempt and his crazy behavior, because the world told Dave he was certifiably insane.

It is hard not to get into my church mode, "responsible Sue" costume when I go to anything that is God- related. But here that only gets in the way. Before I left a beautiful 20-something came up to me and said, "Oh, you have co-dependent issues, too. I can't get away from my boyfriend. He's no good for me. And I'm Cheryl, by the way." Cheryl, by the way, you have no idea how much healthier you are than me. I cringed inside hearing your honest admission, because I never stop being entangled in relationships that hurt me. But I cover it up because I'm a worship leader, a prayer warrior, the happiest person in the room, and you just blew my cover. Thank you, my new friends. It's going to be a long road to becoming broken and better, but I trust you.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

remembering Robbie

My husband and I went on a motorcycle ride last Saturday afternoon. The weather was beautiful as was the scenery, with leaves starting to turn this time of the year. We decided to stop at a small diner on the way and have some lunch. The place we chose was alot more gravel than even blacktop, but it was nice to just sit and talk. We sat down, and shortly after another group of people came in. I presumed it was a family, and didn't notice much more until I heard a very distinctive and familiar sound. I looked up to see a little girl sitting in a high chair. She turned to me with sort of a blank gaze, and I could tell she had Down's Syndrome. I could also tell the familiar sound was her. She clamped her teeth together sideways and made a grinding noise that I hadn't heard in so long. But it instantly took me back to childhood.

I don't think about my brother, Robbie, much. He died soon after I was married. The funeral was on a rainy day, and there were only a handful of family members present. It was over quickly, but I recall feeling little except anger on that day. A priest read some inane poem about angels on earth, and I instantly resented him. Robbie was profoundly mentally retarded. The doctor who delivered him could not tell my parents why. All I know is, this longed for and only son, named for my father and grandfather, would never be the boy they had so hoped for. I could picture what he might have looked like from early photos. He had huge brown eyes, thick, jet black hair, brows, and long eyelashes like my son and family features, that while distorted by his handicap, were clearly present. He would have been such a handsome man. But he wasn't. He was an infant trapped in a growing body, unable to control himself and more dangerous to our family the older he became. It is as though to make up for the terrible loss of mental ability, he had enormous physical strength. He was impossible to catch if he took off running, which he often did, straight into a street. Rob lived at home for awhile, and I remember that sound, while he was in the play pen, of constant drooling and teeth grinding.

I know only from comments my father later made about Robbie, that my mother never got over the guilt of having to place him in a "home". They went to another priest for counsel, and as my father related, he made my mother feel less than a mother for seeking to "give her son away". There were already four children in the family, four girls, one a baby. I think my father's rage at this never left him. I only knew that a few times a month, or maybe only once a month, we went to the "home" with plastic straws and treats. Rob loved to chew on plastic straws. We would drive up to what appeared to be a farm, with horses and wide open space. The house was huge, and there would be parents and siblings with children in wheelchairs, on crutches, or just sitting and staring blankly, clutching themselves. Each family had their own familiar little dance of rituals, unique to them, to spend time with their child. It must have looked like a circus freak show to an outsider, but we never questioned why we were there nor thought it unusual.

As I grew older and we moved, where to place Robbie was a huge concern, not only physically, but financially. It was like having a child perpetually in college. Any kind of public assistance or aid was almost impossible because my father was too successful. I remember our first out of state move. A home was found near the town where we lived, and I was a middle schooler by then. I went with my mom to visit my brother, and it dawned on my slowly how much grace it must have taken her to walk through those rooms of steel cribs with teenagers in diapers to her son. Her heart must have been ripped from her chest with every visit. I often wished I could have traded places with Rob. I always felt like the token male figure even though I was a girl.
I seemed to want to be the son my parents lacked. A family of five girls could certainly spare one. I don't think I ever got over this feeling.

The older I got the more awkward the Robbie situation was to me. I rarely visited him. As he grew he had physical problems connected with the handicap, and I believe congestive heart failure finally killed him. He outlived my poor mother. I think guilt and exhaustion made her heart give out as well. I wish I could have loved my brother in a way that would have made an impact on my life, but I did not know how. He could not respond and he repulsed me at times, which made me ashamed. I look forward to seeing him in heaven, but the sentiment reeks of that horrible, cloying poem that did not reflect the struggle, the sadness, the loss, the guilt, the Herculean task of loving and caring for a child who would not ever care for themselves. Did I only want him normal and not drooling, a "retard" who wore a diaper all the time and didn't recognize me? I was angry, so angry at this. I looked at the child in the restaurant and wondered what life would be like if she were mine. I'd like to say I'd feel tenderness, joy and all the pride of being her parent, but I don't know. Dear God, help me bear my own handicap.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I think one of the most song identifiable commercials I remember seeing when I was younger was of a little boy with an open Heinz Ketchup bottle over a hamburger, waiting for the good stuff to come out. In the background Carly Simon's "Anticipation" was playing. It was such a perfectly orchestrated marriage of song and image-you could not hear poor Carly's song ever after without thinking of a boy and ketchup. Lately a song I've come to enjoy even though I don't normally listen to country has several combinations of lines in the chorus with the same ain't the havin', it's the wishin', it ain't the catchin', it's the fishin'...I think everyone loves to anticipate something. Kids can't wait for Christmas or birthdays or snow days. There are several things I'm anticipating within the next few years-finally, a high school graduation with all the trappings! My older two children were too cool for that, so I made my youngest sign a blood oath to give her poor mother the pleasure (not really, sort of). There will also be the first college graduation, a couple of long awaited reunions with family and absent friends, and, my son relocating to a closer facility that doesn't take hours to reach.

I would say, though, the only thing that makes anticipation good is finally getting what you are waiting for, so I take some exception to the twangy chorus I enjoy. It's both wishing and having, it's both the reaching and the catching, the preaching and the heaven. The Proverbs remind that hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled gladdens it. I think I'm ready to be gladdened. It takes faith to let yourself anticipate, especially if life has dealt some severe blows. It can be safe to not hope for anything sometimes. Then you aren't disappointed. The thing is, though, you won't be rejoicing about anything either. There are no guarantees of anything except that God is loving and true, and promises good things for His children. Not wanting them or thinking He won't deliver is a way of saying He's not trustworthy. But at times, it feels that way. Or the gifts He gives seem to be wrapped in razor wire. It takes care and time, patience and trust to find the blessings.

My mom took me to see the movie "West Side Story" when I was a preteen. I think it was after the release year, but it was still a huge deal because we had to go into the city to a fancy theater, when theaters were still really theaters, and I saw the dancing and heard the music on the huge screen. I sort of laughed when the actor who played Tony came right up to the screen showing off his cavities singing "something's coming, something good, if I can wait..." That's the way I feel now, though I do not know what is coming. Come on, something, come on in, don't be shy, meet a guy (gal!!), pull up a chair...the air is humming, and something great is coming...After a time of dormancy, learning, testing, trusting and waiting with anticipation, something is coming, and I'm ready.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I've spent over 20 years of my life in one town. I never thought that would happen. As a child we moved frequently due to my father's job changes. The house I have the greatest memories of was one that we lived in for probably four or five years, until I was ten years old. We were going to move out of state from there, and I remember feeling terrified. For some reason, maybe my age, the awareness of leaving behind everything familiar and loved, especially the house, was so disconcerting to me I couldn't process the information. I also going from a Catholic school to public, and I was really afraid. I don't know what I thought the kids were like-heathens, I suppose-and I couldn't even imagine life without nuns, or life with a gymnasium and a cafeteria. All I do remember, though, is when we did finally move from a house to a townhouse, I worked feverishly to fit in. And I did lose the innocence of our old home, the first childhood memories, like leaving a womb. Things weren't the same. They could not be. But I wanted them to be as much as I wanted to adopt my new home and feel familiar there, too.

I find lately the same pull, though in a different way. We aren't moving physically, but in my heart and spirit, I feel I have to. Certainly we're growing and learning things all the time. But there are periods of particular places, with particular people, doing particular things. I feel it is time to move on. New things are coming into my life, and old things being removed. I've had a life drawing class for years, and for the past year, I have not been able to get enough people together to keep it going. I wouldn't think much of that if it happened once. But it has happened five times in a row. I just got the call tonight that the latest attempt was a failure. This frees up a night. In a weird and random "coincidence", I met a person I knew of only casually in the past again this summer. But now she's an integral part of my week and introduced me to a group of women who have suddenly become very important in my life. Again, if one of these things happened, I wouldn't think much of it. But several critical things are happening all at once. Other folks I met through one Celebrate Recovery group connected me to another where I seem to have much opportunity for ministry, and more people within this group have become an integral part of my life.

Once again I find that it is hard to leave certain things behind. There may be more changes before it is all said and done, and I'm realizing I can't stay in one place and try to stretch to another. It's like trying to step into a boat off a pier, keeping one foot on the pier. If you don't jump you will wind up on neither the boat nor the pier, but in the water. Or else like one of those old Road Runner cartoons. The coyote steps off a cliff into the air, expecting for a second to be on solid ground. Then he falls straight down. I guess that's what I'm afraid of. Am I stepping into the air? I had a grinding headache all day, from fear and anxiety I think. My Psalm study today was on the familiar 23rd Psalm. I've read it so often I really felt no interest in doing the study, except that I desperately needed some reassurance. The thing I noticed was the overall presence of God in the Psalm, from the opening verses describing our needs met in life, to His presence with us in death, to being supplied in the face of our enemies, to having an eternal home in Him. The thing I realized is, is that the presence of God is the familiar thread that runs through everything we do, is everywhere we go, and goes before us and behind. I never noticed that before. We go into the unfamiliar with the Familiar. That gave me peace.


I am a creature of habit. I have walked the same route in the morning since we had a dog and he died, so we're talking probably ten years. It never occurs to me to walk any other way. I like that route. I write every day. With advent of e-mail and blogging, I have gone from physical journaling (which I still do), to doing what I'm doing right now, and writing way too many notes and letters. But I love, I LOVE to write and express myself, and I have since I was a little girl and knew how to send letters to my mom in the hospital when she brought yet another sister into the world. I listen to music I love, over and over. I add to that collection, but I still go back to the oldies but goodies. These things aren't bad, or wrong, but sometimes it takes a shake-up in routine, a new idea, a different person's point of view, to bring in some freshness. And sometimes this is absolutely critical.

I struggle with certain habitual patterns in my life that may seem good on the outside, but can be so very detrimental if I want to keep growing and becoming the person God created me to be. It is good to be responsible, loyal, dependable, all of these things, and I am these things on steroids. God gifts us all with certain dominant personality traits that when used rightly, are wonderful. I enjoy them in other people. But He is sending things into my life to shake me up and show me where my habits have gone to seed and are working against the change that needs to happen. He shows me these things especially in other people. My sisters are all fighting private battles with co-dependency, an overinflated sense of responsibility and way too much guilt. When these things stop you from getting the help you need, being able to love in a detached manner, and causing continual rescue patterns, shame or acting out, it's time to be less responsible. OOHHH, does that go against my grain! My hand shoots up and I want to spring into action before I even think about what I'm doing. This can go from the sublime to the ridiculous very quickly. I could easily think of an I Love Lucy sketch or a Carol Burnett skit (Do you need help? No, I'm arms are falling off my body, I have bubonic plague, but really it's just a small cold...:-)

Sigh...we all have our things. For me, it is the greatest thing in the world to be ok with being number 2, or number 20, content to be in the background, when my fleshly nature would want the whole world to "look at me" coming to the rescue. I think God giggles at me, then claps His mighty hand over my mouth and puts the other on my shoulder so I'll stay in the background. Then on His cue, He lifts me up. And those times I'm the one little cog in a huge wheel that turns when I need to turn, and everything else swings into action after that, awesome, cool, I love being a screwy gear!! There was this ridiculous cartoon about a triangle player who had to get to an orchestra performance, and he went through all sorts of crazy mishaps through it all, until finally he bursts on stage, smooths out his tux, pulls out his triangle, and at the very, very end...ting! One note. That is all he had to play. May I be pleased and happy to ting for the King today.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

working at creating

It seems to me sometimes that calling myself a Christian artist is an oximoron. It would be better said either, "I'm an artist who is also a Christian, or a Christian who is also an artist". Even still, the two terms seem to me sometimes, oftentimes, to be mutually exclusive and almost impossible to reconcile. An artist is someone who is defined by self, self-expression. A Christian is someone who is defined as self-less, whose individualism is lived out through another life, Christ. I find myself on the terminal hamster wheel of trying to find out where one begins and the other ends, to join the two. I admit my great admiration for artists who are apparently above the opinions of others and the critics. They seem fearless and push their insides out for all the world to see. Their work matures from year to year whether seen or unseen, popular or not, and in retrospect looks like a cohesive whole, completely original and truthful. High on my list as well are those whose skills are unquestionably superior, and they choose to spend those skills on work that is superrealistic-it appears familiar, evokes emotion, touches the heart, and yet is not immediately visually referenced. It is new without trying to be just that. It is genuinely original.

I wonder where that all comes from. I tend to overanalyse the importance of what I do, yet unless a thing has intrinsic value in the doing, why do it? What makes art important, worthwhile, significant, worth the doing? Sometimes generations must pass before certain works are viewed as significant at all. I tend to be much more comfortable with the obvious-a picture that pleases someone, fulfills a need and brings in enough money to be worth the effort. In someone else's book that would classify me as an artisan, not an artist. I am a tradesperson. The intrinsic value of my work is lacking to society at large. The work has value only to the purchaser, and the piece is tailored to certain specifications, the first consideration not being my stamp of creative genius. Norman Rockwell's work was largely panned by the art gods of his day, and he got his revenge by being the best selling illustrator of all time. No one now doubts the originality of his hand, nor the intrinsic value of his signature on a piece of work. I most certainly do not compare myself to Norman Rockwell. But therein lies the struggle-who is to say what is of value? Who makes that judgement call?

In the end I have decided there is plenty of room for originality in a life lived through another. In fact, I would say having the Creator of the Universe guiding me is a huge motivator to find my path and niche in His backyard. But I've decided to qualify what I do by that very guidance. It is all too easy to rely heavily on one's own view of life, and one's own creation-it can become an idol. I can't judge other artist's lives and work. I only know what a tremendous struggle it is not to become Narcissus viewing your own work. Objectivity can fly out the window and a sort of self-imposed prison rises up when surrounded by those canvases and frames. Paranoid thoughts and feelings begin to happen. You question yourself relentlessly, obssess about what to do as though nothing else matters. I think internally we've all become the guy sporting a five o'clock shadow in a dirty bathrobe with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, mumbling incoherently. If I'm in the middle of something and even the sound of muffled voices comes through the door, I want to scream and throw my brushes. Every nerve is alive. It is critical, and so important, to be able to detach from the work. And then in the end leave the significance of that work to the One who gave the gift in the first place. I calm my wailing creative child by thinking such thoughts and reminding myself of the priceless treasure God did deem me worthy to steward, to follow in His footsteps.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

zero to 60 in 12

I'm in a period in my that I know other people might envy, but I'm finding it rather disorienting. My husband and I own a business, and whether I work one day or four, I'm on salary and get the same pay. Lately my weeks have been of the one day variety, so I have a good deal of time at home. I'm also an artist, so that is more or less a "second" job, but paid commissions are few and far between. I'm trying to change that. I love being a wife and mother, and being able to keep my house the way I want to-I'm not doing laundry at midnight or worrying about hairy food in the back of the fridge. I try very hard to organize my time and fill the day with good and productive things. I feel at rest knowing I have the time to maintain my responsibilities here easily. But some days those responsibilities seem, as one friend puts it, redundant. I had time and money yesterday to buy some tennis shoes I really needed, get my hair cut, pick up art supplies, do a little housecleaning, and I had no energy for any of it. It seemed so routine and so unimportant by the world's standards-like, whoopee, I changed the ink cartridge in our printer and crossed that big boy off my to-do list.

I try always to start my day with Bible reading and study, and then prayer, offering the day up to God for whatever He has in mind. It appeared that yesterday He didn't have much in mind for me. Still, it was one of those stunning, jewel-like days in September, warm, blinding blue skies, flowers still on the vine, and I had to thank Him for that and get outside for a walk in my new sneaks. I walked to our church and let myself in to go over the praise music for Sunday. The songs were way over-familiar and it was hard to get into that, but I could feel myself wanting to. I thought, He's not letting me off the hook here. The day went on and my teenaged daughter plopped down at the kitchen table just wanting to gab. I thought as I watched her laugh and gesture how much she reminds me of my mother, who passed away in '73. The day seemed to pick up energy as I took her to get a birthday check cashed and pick up a girlfriend-the chatter in the car got me laughing and smiling. Then a phone call came-a friend with a drinking problem called and asked me to drive her to a Celebrate Recovery meeting that was going on that night. She was struggling all week and was afraid to drive herself. My husband and I were slated to go to an art show opening to pick out MY birthday present, a piece of funky pottery another artist friend was showing. So the day was putting on a head of steam very quickly.

Well, I brought two laughing girls to the house, quickly changed my clothes, flew back out with my husband, had a whirlwind and fun time at the opening reception (and found a great piece of pottery!), zoomed home to change yet again and run to pick up my friend for the CR meeting. She was so grateful and talked all the way to the meeting. Immediately upon entering the house where it was held several people she knew came right to her side and she began to cry. Her need was great, and I was so thankful to be the messenger. As the night went on and the teaching began, then a testimony shared, I realized how much I needed to be there, too. The man who shared his story of how God delivered him from severe drug addiction that took everything away from him (even a leg), emphasized that it was finally in prison that he heard the Lord's voice. I thought of my son and real hope welled up in my heart. The whole lesson was on hope. The leader actually said he was glad he was an addict and alcoholic, because those demons in his life forced him to make a choice for God and a new life.

Then it seemed as I sat there, the light got shined on my own life. I began to thank God for the tremendous power of choice. We need His power to choose for Him, but when we exercise that ability, He is there. I know some people really struggle with this, and people in recovery most of all, but actually, we are all in recovery as some wise person observed. Even when it seems our choices are so unimportant, truly the smallest things can be so huge, like offering to drive a person to a meeting. The friend I brought to the meeting had to begin making some different choices in her life. It might not seem like a life and death matter to simply open the scriptures daily and pray, but for her it is, because that bottle will shout for equal time as long as she, by default, does not decide to fill her heart and life with what it really needs. I had to realize that my positive choices led me to helping her. Had I complained all day, not cared to do my spiritual "maintenance" and allowed my negative feelings to rule the day, I probably would have blown her off. I ended the day so grateful I wasn't so overwhelmed and crushed by my own problems that I didn't see someone else's need, and God answered my morning prayer by saving the best for last!

The scriptures say to declare the Lord is good, to praise and to thank Him with the fruit of our lips, and give Him the honor due His name. In all we do we are to give glory to Him. Whatever happens, that's a given and the reason our lives have significance, no matter what they consist of in the world or what a day brings.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

rejecting feminisms

I like to read, and I like to find contemporary authors, progressives, people with views that maybe differ from the established traditions or accepted norms. I am always trying to have a clearer view of things I believe and testing my own thought process and belief system. I am currently in a very conservative branch of Christianity, as a practicing Mennonite, but the church I attend is non-traditional, in that none of the attenders were born into the faith. We don't wear caps or ride in buggies. As you can see, I have a computer, use the phone, watch TV and enjoy modern conveniences as much as I can. If someone insists on taking my washer and dryer they will die standing. That much being said, I recently logged on to to cruise book lists. I checked out a book by an author I used to enjoy very much, Sue Monk Kidd. Her latest is The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. Sue has Southern Baptist roots, which I think have the Mennonites beat for conservative views on home, family and feminine behavior-I'll concede that much. I guess this is her foray away from those roots and into the fruitier parts of the spiritual tree, goddess studies, the female divine, all that. I tried to forgive her last fictional novel for chronicling the midlife "awakening" of the female heroine in which she has sex with a man who is about to take vows to become a monk. Well, I guess it was a loaf of bread, a bottle of blessed wine and thou, wow.

Brother (and I do mean brother), I was so disappointed. Why does an awakening seem to always include a fall from grace? I would have been so much happier if she had just talked to the brother-in-waiting...why couldn't they have become friends? And her gifts of painting awakend from all that horizontal cha-cha-ing, blah, blah, blah. That made me even more upset because that there is MY gift. Don't mess with it. What is it about illicit behavior that it gets continually connected with someone growing up? I think it's more about someone showing off their diapers. What about people who win that struggle? We don't really ever hear about them-not interesting enough, I suppose. And now Ms. Kidd is very anxious to let us follow her journey into ditching male pronouns, of the God the Father variety. Forgive me for wanting to hurl. No, wait, don't.

Can I just make one point perfectly clear? The most liberated male who ever lived was Jesus Christ, God's SON. Not daugher, not wife, not ms. whomever. He liberated this female in a way that no feminist organization could ever accomplish. Am I sorry for the gains women have made in this century in society? No. I have benefitted greatly as a 21st century woman in a developed country. But here's the thing-I like men to be men. I like God to be a Father. I'm really fine with scripture the way it is. I don't think Sue Monk Kidd has read it very carefully. Let's see, Paul instructs men to love their wives as Christ loved the church. That ain't a job for no girly men. Submission was always described as first submission to God, then to Christian brothers and sisters, married or not. And may I say the finest men I have ever known are Mennonites, or Christians honestly determined to live their faith.

Well, all I know is the pastors, leaders, laymen and ordinary guys in the church have often served as my best supports and role models. I don't trust women who have to be the trumpet section in the band all of the time. I like to see couples who practice the mutual submission talked about in scripture and who genuinely respect and love each other. That is the greatest liberating force on the planet. Thanks to the real brothers-your sisters in faith haven't always made it easy, but we need you. Sorry, Sue.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I've been thinking all week about something I read in a daily devotional a few days back. The book is a compilation of Charles Spurgeon's writings for morning and evening, and they are all so good. But this one particular entry grabbed my mind and I haven't been able to let it go. In the Old Testament anyone with a skin disease, leprosy most of all, was banned from being in public and especially banned from the temple or any public gatherings. If they do walk the streets, they have to shout "unclean" to those around them. I think of the Charlton Heston version of Ben Hur, when he finally finds out where his mother and sister are and goes to the leper colony. It isn't easy to reach and food is lowered to people in a basket. The inhabitants of that place exist in a living cemetery. To the healthy world outside of the colony, they are as good as dead. If the clean don't flee from them, they flee the clean, as when Judah goes down into the cave to find his relatives. It was a life of total isolation marked by the disease.

The entry that struck me was of a leper who "went public" to get to Jesus. He risked death to be out among people, having broken Levitical law. The words that so gripped me the following, that Jesus, in turn, broke the same law to touch the man. He was a rabbi, so the offense was even worse for Him. Anyone touching a diseased or dead body made themselves unclean and had to temporarily separate themselves from holy service. Jesus went to the same lengths, and even greater, to reach someone who reached out to Him. He did in life what He did in death, taking on all our diseases. Then I thought about how many times the scripture said that people with all manner of sickness came to Him and He healed them all. Not only did people lose their fear and come to Him, they lost their fear of being in public with each other.

Our sin is the great leveler, not our freedom, not our opportunity in life, not anything we might do. Our sin is also the great separator, from God and each other, and in every way we have to throw off the restraints of pride, fear, self-importance and vanity that keep us from seeking Him and being among those who are like us, because we are all lepers. Thank God we have access to the sinless Lawbreaker. He is the only one who is above it.

one of our own

Danielle has been a fixture in our lives now for probably 11 years. She is a friend of my daughter, Becky, who is 16. Danielle is 18, but seems like the younger of the two. I'll admit I didn't like her when they began spending time together. She was older, at a time when it mattered that she was, boy-crazy and too worldly-wise for my taste. I was not unhappy when the girls would argue, or Danielle would blow Becky off for some more attractive thing to do and leave her crying. I told Beck, "You don't want friends that do things like that to you". And it's true. But for some reason, like the proverbial bad penny in my eyes, she kept turning up in our lives. As the kids got older, it became clear that there was a pattern in this girl's life, and not one of her own choosing-her father was in federal prison, and so she and her younger sister lived with her basically single mother, who had no problem uprooting her girls whenever a new male prospect appeared on her horizon, or when one went riding off into the sunset. She would appear at the door asking for Becky, and then there would be the request to spend the night or have a meal. I learned from my daughter as they got older that once again she was thrown out of the house by a drunk and oblivious mother.

While she didn't have much in worldly goods or position, Danielle always conducted herself with pride. She often refused the things we tried to give her, or would not eat unless everyone was sitting at the table. She's a beautiful girl with obviously Irish roots, pale white skin and a mop of curly red-blonde hair, and blue-green eyes. While hanging out with friends and goofing around as teens do, she fell from a table and knocked her upper eye teeth almost completely out. It seems her mother had no money or inclination to get them fixed, because they remain broken in her mouth. Slowly but surely it is becoming a matter of how far does one go to help an obviously helpless person, gracefully and lovingly? Yet she is not helpless, not broken, not crushed by a home life that could destroy someone twice her age, nor put off by the hardness of her mother's heart. Gradually she has become one of our own, a sort of adopted daughter who finally, after years, feels very comfortable plopping down on our couch and watching tv with "mom and dad" minus Becky. I can't help but feel, watching her, that I have learned as much from her as she may have from us. The other day Becky told her, "You need to have a house key in case I die"! It was funny, but telling, that my daughter has become her protector and advocate in a way that does not wound her friend or make her feel any less a person. I should do as well.

The three of us went clothes shopping for Beck the other day, and we had fun. Danielle knew what looked good on her and and what didn't, and the two of them found Audrey Hepburn sunglasses and two-for-one cords, which I didn't feel bad about offering to Danielle and she readily accepted. I think it stops being about "reaching out" to the "lowly" and becomes a willingness to be a puzzle piece, one life fit into another with equal purpose and value.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

feeding the soul

It's been over a year now since my son began serving time. I suppose like a death in the family, holidays are particularly marked by that individual's absence. Well, now we are working on another year of absences-my daughter's birthday, my birthday coming up, art shows, school many things that we're beginning to accept without him. I was reading a CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) newsletter online, looking for opportunities to show my work in an ecclesiastical setting, and most exhibits have a very specific theme, so it is a temptation to sort of stretch the meanings of some pieces of work just to get them considered for the show. There is one exhibit and one piece I have, though, that is no stretch. When this all started I could not accept the my son's absence, and the more reality dawned on us all, the more it was hard to mark time in those terms. A stretch of months came on me where I could not think of anything at all, and worse yet, I couldn't really sense or feel much. For an artist that is a terrible thing. It's like a runner losing a leg. I have the skills to do strictly technical work, but without the drive and emotional connection to a subject, it is really hard to create. Almost impossible.

The exhibit I ran across is called "Gathering at the Table-Feeding the Soul". I realized at the beginning of 2006, whether I felt like it or not, I had to get work done and shows lined up. I had to do SOMETHING, because nothing would change if I did not try. I didn't want to. I had to not care how things came out at first, or even what came out. The important thing was, work again. My stamina was small. I tired out doing pieces that required much concentration. One day I realized that I needed to focus on forgiveness. I was holding myself hostage to events that I really had nothing to do with. My soul was dammed up because I would not release my son or myself to what had happened and know we were both forgiven. I thought back to my own decision to surrender to God in my life. I needed to do it again, for both of us. I needed to do more than just decide this in my mind-I had to put it on a piece of paper. I stretched a large piece of paper, and really without any specific thought in mind other than I wanted something that represented my helplessness in the whole situation and God's provision for my soul, I took red paint and hurled it at the wet paper with a brush as hard as I could. It splattered and ran down the paper, pooling at the bottom. I put my fingers in black paint and pressed them into the pool of red so that fingerprints appeared I let it all dry and drew my black work shoes over the red. I drew a curtain above, torn from the top and put yellow paint in the open space. The idea that formed in my mind was the temple veil being torn at Christ's death. The veil separated people from their High Priest in New Testament Jewish culture.

As I look back I see a greater application to myself at the time, and another section of scripture that was very offensive to Jesus' followers. He told them that unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood, they had no share in Him. At the time I did that piece, my soul was absolutely starved to death for everything the Lord is. I needed to consume all that I could of His love, forgiveness, understanding... and I needed Him to enter into my suffering, as I needed to enter into His. There was no holding back, or else I would never move forward. In creating that piece of art, I entered in and He met me so graciously. I don't know if my piece will be accepted into this show or not, or even understood in it's context, but the thing is, it's value to me was in the creation, the creation of something on paper and the re-creation of my senses through Christ. Doing that work was a turning point for me, a start to being nourished by life again.

Monday, September 04, 2006


I have to admit, some days the title virtue is in short supply in my life, especially where the world is concerned, and my son. I think there is a famous quote that says, "Where there is life, there is hope", but I'm not sure. I would take that to mean, as long as we are not six feet under, we have the opportunity to see or create a better world. Don't get me wrong-I know good things have happened in my life, in my son's life and in the world at large. Lots of good things. The book of Proverbs says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. Hope can be connected to outward changes, perceived good happening, or an inner change of heart. But without it life is very hard indeed.

I was reminded about hope in an unusual way last week. As I said earlier, I have gotten two letters from inmates, my son and another man I am writing to, the past few weeks that letters have arrived. I'm grateful for both, and I honestly don't expect anything other than the news in them. I don't even expect answers to questions I may have asked, particularly from my son. His letters are just what they are, and I don't look to see huge changes with each one that comes. That's fine. What I did not expect and I have gotten from the letters of the other man I write to is much encouragement about my son. It's as though, every time I read my son's letter and then the other letter, I'm able to put the first into a completely different context, and I'm ashamed that it has taken someone else behind bars to help me see this. This man's genuine interest alone brings me hope, because sometimes the whole situation feels like a ball and chain on my ankle, anchoring me to a spot as if in suspended animation, instead of believing for the future. Another person's concern at least lifts the weight for a time.

The scriptures also make a connection between faith, hope and love. They are the premiere virtues Christians are to develop and exercise. Faith is defined as the evidence of unseen things, and I would say that is the first requisite to having hope. Hope comes as a result of seeing what will be, not what is. One day my son will be free. I have to see that freedom as a new lease on life and a new start. I have to believe that this experience will not leave him unchanged. It has not left me unchanged. My awareness of people in tough situations is greater, compassion more, and my life changed by the people who have come into it as a result of all this, like my young friend who writes. Love excites faith and hope, and the three move in a circle of continuing growth if we let them. I think everyone is secretly afraid of having their fondest hopes dashed, but the thing about hope is it is not in limited supply if we believe.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


In the midst of my routine, I do find comfort, because part of that includes reading scripture and praying. I try to do this daily. Today I was reading Psalm 1 and a few chapters of 1 John. In Psalm 1 righteous people are compared to a tree planted by streams of water. I have always loved that comparison. I'm doing a study by Eugene Peterson along with my reading of Psalms, and one question was what does a tree bring to mind? I thought about their stability first of all. If a tree is removed from a street, the whole street looks different. A row of trees was removed from our town's library perimeter because the roots were lifting the sidewalk they were so huge, and the silhouette of the corner looks bare without them. A tree never ceases to be beautiful to me. In every season, they evoke an emotional response and seem like sentinels keeping guard wherever they are. A healthy tree continues to grow, can give fruit and shade, be a home to animals, create lifegiving oxygen-what a lovely metaphor for a godly and loving life.

In 1 John, much is said about the love of God and what our love ought to look like. 1 John 3:17 talks about having worldly goods and not sharing them, that the love of God could not be in our hearts if we do not share what we have with someone in need. And it goes on to one of my all-time favorite verses, 1 John 3:20, that if our hearts condemn us, God is larger than our hearts and knows us thoroughly. Both of those verses caused me to take a mental inventory of my life-have I been loving in a practical way, and if I have, can I trust that what I do is approved before the Lord and not condemn myself? It is very easy to condemn yourself if you have a wayward child. Self-blame can be so poisonous. It does nothing to help the situation. I suppose I concluded that by the grace of God I am practical with my love and I trust that God loves me in spite of and because of the things I do.

The comfort I find in this part of my daily routine is the comfort of knowing I am not alone. God has graciously bestowed on human beings free choice. We can choose the way we live. If we choose to acknowledge Him in all things, there is a promise that He will in turn direct our path. I believe that, and I want that assurance, even when life seems so out of control.

Friday, September 01, 2006


Being a prison mom, some things are just part of my routine anymore. One thing I do weekly that is normal, and yet not-I go to the post office with an addressed envelope and get a money order for my son. The prison commissary account is the only way we can give anything at all to him, so along with the weekly bills to pay, there is always a money order. Our local postal clerks know the routine, too, and so always ask if I want a money order when I come in. (They don't know why for sure). Last week there were two of them. One was for his needs, the other to save for a large want-a keyboard. He is allowed to have a musical instrument providing it falls within certain guidelines, so any extra money we get becomes a money order for him to save towards his keyboard (for now). We can't give him cash when we come to visit and we cannot write any personal checks to him. We can only bring ones and fives when we visit for the vending machines in the dayroom.

Letters are another part of my routine. In this computer age, e-mail has largely replaced handwritten letters as the accepted means of communication. It's convenient and fast. But, our son does not have access to a computer, so the only means of communication we have with him is snail mail. This seems unnaturally slow when e-mail messages can come back the same hour. But, the advantage is in the anticipation, and for prisoners the mail is their lifeline to the outside world. Anything they receive is welcome and really the highlight of their day. So letters have a much greater significance than just being a routine retelling of the week's events. I try to save other things to add to the envelope, pictures, news clippings, special things of interest or that are funny. I try to always be mindful of things I could send, and what is happening as our days rush by.

It is routine to plan a monthly visit to the prison where my son is incarcerated. The journey is too long to make any more frequently, unless it is an emergency or a special occasion, and even then, we don't have control over our schedules to the point that this is even possible. It is our understanding that in the first few years of a sentence, prisoners are placed as far away from their home environment as possible. There is some wisdom to this, but seeing as they cannot leave the complex, I certainly look forward to the day when we don't have to plan a visit-we can just go after dinner or on a Sunday afternoon. The drive is long and tiring, but we know this is the only way to ever see him, so we look at every month on the calendar and try to decide when it is best to go.

It is routine to never feel completely normal and to worry about the future. Some weeks are better than others, and some weeks just seem so hollow without our son here. I can't think about years of him being gone. I can't think about how hard it may be to live in society again, and will he make it? But I do. All of those feelings are now routine, and they will be for a long time to come.