Wednesday, February 28, 2007

shades and hues

The last two days have been filled with "pull a string, get an elephant" activity. It's good. Actually, I'm cleaning out my studio. It really isn't very functional when you get right down to it. I have a very small space for my easel, chair, pencils and paints and the rest looks like (or looked like) an art supply flea market and junk explosion. So I began "concepting" about what I want, what's most important, and then began throwing away. I basically threw away the past year. As I looked at the work I saved and had planned to show from this time last year, I truly could not believe how bad it was. I'm certainly capable of less than compelling artwork, but technically I'm usually right on. This was way, WAY off, even off the refrigerator. It was more than that, actually. I'm amazed at how much my art endeavors chronicle my life, my moods, my actions, like a living journal. Add to that the fact that my studio space was my son's bedroom.

Along with the truly regrettable art that I tossed, feeling a creeping shame about even talking to a gallery representative at that time (I did show some of it!), I found photographs I had forgotten about. The photographs then reminded me of things I did and felt at the time that I no longer feel or do. There is only a residue of memory left from a relationship, a time and a need I had then that somehow is lost to me now. I found the clothes my son wore for his initial hearing. He needed a decent outfit for his court appearance, and I remember rummaging through jeans, dockers, polo shirts and loafers at Walmart thinking he'd never have been caught dead in this stuff before prison. I just sort of looked at it and realized the person who used to fit into these clothes doesn't anymore, physically or any other way. I found letters, old show cards, things I don't know why I saved. I filled two lawn and leaf bags.

I was thinking to myself as I was doing all of this cleaning. I was able to open a window in the room today and watch my cat, CJ, jump into the sill, with a quivering meow and a twitching tail as he watched the birds flutter and chirping outside. Soft light filled the now mostly-empty and clean room. I thought about a time when I was probably 13, and I got a really bad case of the flu in the middle of the summer. I couldn't stand the light, so I slept my room all day with drawn shades. The extreme brightness of summer covered by shades made the room this strange sort of gray, and the noise of children outside and summer sounds seemed muffled and mixed together nonsensically in the hallucination of fever. I remember my mother's cool hands and wanting desperately to enjoy the orange Hi-C she brought me without being nauseated at the slightest intrusion to the stomach. At a time when I most wanted to be well and do the things that healthy people do in the neon days of July, it would have been the worst thing for me.

Somehow I imagine now having had an emotional fever for the last year or so. Somehow I think the Holy Spirit sometimes draws the shades over our consciousness when it would be too painful to view the brilliant light of reality, even the good things. We are kept from being totally drained by life and given a gray and quiet room just big enough to adjust to it again. There were many things I couldn't hear well or see in full color. That my artwork now is competition grade once more tells me I shouldn't fear diving into the pool again and running full tilt into life. In fact I feel the restlessness of too many days confined. I have to go build a set a shelves for my room and mount a pegboard for my empty frames. I really can't wait to the fill them!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

so far away

I haven't been sleeping lately, and there doesn't seem to be a good reason why I can't. Or a reason why I can't lull myself back to dreamland. Maybe there is and I simply have a hard time admitting how much certain things affect my heart and soul. I'm not unhappy, but there is a sadness there I can't name. Somehow looking out at the dull snow-reflecting sky at 3 in the morning makes me feel a part of it and I have to keep staring out the window. Perhaps I can name it. For the want of a certain presence in my life, someone far away in distance, experience, place in life, age and so many other things it is amazing I could become so attached, I stare at the sky. My whole canvas of feeling runs into cobalt and dioxazine purple. I'm experienced at this-I have felt deeply for situations and people that were impossible to hold and lived to tell the tale over and over again. But this time I'm not sure what to do. Reality makes plain the path to a certain extent, but physical reality is really only the tip of the iceberg here. I feel now that I'm older I should be able to get a grip on it, give myself a good talking to and move on, but it never happens that way.

So I told myself this time I admit to myself the reason for the lack, admit true feelings, and allow them legitimacy. I trust myself enough to believe I don't feel for nothing or inadequate reasons. The relationship is a healthy one, a good friendship. I think there is room there for things that can only exist in distance, but it is normal to long for the hollow of someone's neck, a shoulder, fingers touching in passing, the small pleasures of nearness, the sound of a voice. All these things I can't know, will never know in this case. Can I survive it? I have to one way or another.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

the wings of faith

When I was around ten years old, our family moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Indianapolis. The home we had in Cleveland was lovely, older, must have belonged to someone very wealthy and elegant in it's day. It had a back staircase to the kitchen, a dumb waiter to the cellar, a huge open floor plan on the second floor-I remember hours spent enjoying all of these things as only a child can. But my father's job necessitated a move, and we HAD moved before, but this time because of my age somehow I could feel the consequences of it all much more directly. We went from an old neighborhood full of traditional Catholic families and this roomy house to a newly-constructed townhouse in a development where people more or less lived in pre-measured cubes attached to each other. I could not get used to this arrangement. Very thankfully because it was a newly developed area, there were areas that weren't, so we had a huge open field in the back of our townhouse clump.

It turned out to be a hard move for all of us. My older sister was just entering junior high, and she went from a small, private school to a large public institution. Junior high is never easy, but she did not make a smooth transition to say the least. We both found our solace running in the field out back with butterfly nets for hours on end. During this time period new, decorative trees (cherry?) were planted around the entrance sign to our development, and we noticed funny little paper bag-like sacs in the crook of several branches. We realized they were cocoons and promptly removed them to an empty fish tank in our shared bedroom.

We spent days looking in the library for what these mystery sacs may become and ran into the bedroom after school to see if they were evacuated. One spring day we came home to find one small paper bag with a hole in the top. We looked over by the window screen and there, in it's fully unfurled glory, was a male Cecropia moth. It took my breath away. The wingspan was as large as a grown man's hand and the coloring like flying autumn leaves, with russets and reds, muted purples, brilliant and subtle. The antennae were like flaming ferns and the body a striped fur coat. We had three cocoons and so over the following days were actually able to witness one Cecropia emerging. It was such a special time and indelible memory, somehow we both never forgot this spring.

Last night after a Celebrate Recovery meeting, I was driving home with my prison ministry partner and somehow she got onto the subject of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Oh, I know...there was a testimony that night and the speaker used the metaphor of a butterfly for her changed life. My friend mentioned the fact that if someone were to assist in the process of the insect fighting to come out of the cocoon-to hasten the process by snipping the sac open, the butterfly would never develop its wings. It absolutely relies on the fight getting out of the cocoon to force blood into the wings and strengthen the muscles needed to stretch them to their full span. Several years back, in a period of despondency, I walked down to our local library and noticed two Cecropias in the bushes, seeking shade in the middle of the day. I was so stunned I ran home to grab a camera and I photographed them. Shortly thereafter we must have been doing a Sunday school lesson in church, but the subject was trust, and the example given was the emergence of a Cecropia from a cocoon and how someone tried to help it by circumventing the struggle. I have one photograph of the moths I saw that day in a frame and a copy of that Bible study under it in my art studio.

I think this is the theme of my life. I have wondered to myself oftentimes if God is trustworthy to run my life. In the prison yesterday I asked the ladies this question. I've had so many periods of struggle, most not of my doing, just life happening-losing a parent in my teen years, having a severely handicapped brother and losing him in my 20's, another parent who struggled with alcohol, losing our first home after I was married, constant financial struggles, my son now in prison...I asked the women-what tells you someone deserves your trust? The answer primarily was, they are consistently there for me. I think it takes huge love and trust to allow someone you love to struggle for their own good without trying to rescue them. I've relied on God actively since my teens, and really, I'm sure so often He must have wanted to take the holy scissors and snip open my tough skin of unbelief and mistrust. But patiently He waited and gave opportunity for my wings to stretch. I will fly back to Him one day, fully confident, hopefully having learned this lesson as His child, a human being and a parent myself.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

shadow of the bars

I think after a leadership meeting for Celebrate Recovery I attended last night I'm realizing that what goes on behind bars is going to dominate my life. In a good way, I mean. Because of my son, it started in a bad way. I felt, from the other side of bars slamming shut, the hopelessness of being connected to someone in prison, someone you love and want the best for, someone you are not giving up on or leaving. The bars slam shut over your life as a family member of a loved one incarcerated as they do for the prisoner. There is no getting around it.

What I found out last night is that there are other people out there who have made the journey and are helping others make the journey to freedom. Real freedom, I mean, not just being physically out in the world again, but learning how to live well in that world, a world they could not navigate well before. It has been seven or eight months since I've been a part of this group of remarkable people, and in that time the group has spread to three rehabs and four units of the local prison. Organizations that were resistant to any form of the type of help we were offering are now asking and rolling out the red carpet as it were.

We believe that Jesus Christ is the answer firstly, to any problem in life. Everyone is a prisoner to their own sin nature, their own weaknesses and misguided self-will. You do not have to be behind actual bars. But those who are have an even greater need for an answer, something that really does work. Everyone in our group has been there in one way or another, and accept a personal responsibility because of their faith and solidarity with those who are so lost to go back and reach out a hand-a life, really. They are our brothers and sisters, and oddly enough, are usually the ones who experience true change because they know how lost they are. Part of this mission is to help those not connected with the prison population to deal with their own personal prejudices and reach out as well. Doesn't matter that the incarcerated are behind concrete walls and out of society's view. The prison population is exploding, and we really need as a society to answer the question, are we our brother's keeper? If this problem is not addressed, the cost to families, taxpayers, society as a whole, our future, beyond even looking at the individuals involved personally, is huge. HUGE....and two years ago I could have cared less, even as a believer in Christ. We don't have the luxury to be ignorant or so uncaring anymore.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

devil's food

I'm beginning to believe with all my heart that fear is the Wheaties of all the demons in hell. Not the good kind....fear of God, fear of things you right ought to be afraid of. No, the kind of fear I'm talking about is dread, the kind that leads to condemnation and guilt. The kind that paralyzes. The kind that pulls you into the black hole of unbelief. Thinking there is nothing to believe in, nothing good. The cold, icy hands of accusation around your throat. Satan is called "The Accuser of the Brethren". The whispering words in your head that it will never turn out right so why try, you're not good enough, don't trust anyone, stay out of the spotlight, don't get help because you'll look weak, and on...and on....

Fear keeps a body in hiding, behind bars, in the dark, separated, alone. Jesus proclaimed of Himself that He had come to set the captives free. The one thing that keeps us captive more than anything else is our own fear. The scriptures say fear of God leads to life and wisdom, and fear of man to shame. Another great person said there is nothing to fear but fear itself, and I think that is true. If we live in fear we live believing a lie. The message of Jesus' birth was peace on Earth, goodwill to men!

I was thinking about the passion of Christ, when He was before Pontius Pilate. Jesus refused to utter a word in His own defense, and I believe He didn't need to because He had spoken all the words necessary to effect redemption. It was finished at that moment. I have learned that I need to speak the words of redemption to myself when fear comes slinking up to me and begins wrapping itself around my heart and mind. I don't need to defend myself-God does that. I only need to repeat the words that cause fear to flee-the Truth. The scriptures also say to resist the devil and he will flee. Fear needs to be confronted and resisted. Too often we lay down and accept the lies. To do that is to feed the demonic forces-we need to starve them out with the truth, and the truth is, if God is for us, who can be against us? Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even our own fears. May as well choose the winning side, right?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Abraham , Isaac and Soren

I suppose this is a continuation of Saturday. I am trying to tackle Soren Kierkegaard's discourses on Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac (Fear and Trembling). God promised Abraham a son, and through that son the blessing of a posterity that was greater than the grains of sand on a beach or the stars in the sky. Isaac was the son of a promise to a faithful man, in fact a man known as the father of faith. Abraham remained faithful when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac.

Without really pondering the whys, hows and wherefores of this request, and taking an easy answer, another thought train chugged through my brain-are we not face with the same request when a child is conceived and born? Think about it...the moment that child is conceived there is separation. When the child leaves the womb the separation becomes physical. Then in time it becomes a spirit and soul separation as the child exercises self-will in all areas of life. Our knife is the surgeon's tool which cuts the cord. The child is given back to God at that moment. He or she lives on, but like Abraham, the separation happens in agreeing with God that that child is His. Abraham was separated from Isaac before they reached the top of the mountain. If we think for a moment our love is enough and that we are in control, a rude awakening is bound to come sooner or later.

Abraham had a very dreadful and conscious moment of realization. My son reminded his father and I of this fact the night he put a gun to his head. Though he was delusional, in shock and despondent, or maybe because he was, he cried out about the selfishness of having even conceived him and laid the burden of a life on his shoulders. We tried to convince him of the gift of life, the joy his life brought to us, but he would have none of it. This is faithlessness at its most profound, a person who rejects the gift of life, and even in that, the gift is what it is-a gift from God. A gift belongs to the giver, chosen for a beloved. Nothing the beloved does denies or negates the gift. Neither does the beloved have the right of total refusal. Our son didn't, but had the bullet found it's mark, still the life returns to the Giver. To presume this is not the case is to never truly know the meaning of life.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

God wrestler

I had a chance to speak with my 12 step sponsor over the phone this week-we usually get together on Wednesday, but the snow was so bad we weren't able to do that. One thing I like about talking to my friend is that she helps me slow down and reflect. When things are troubling me, we are able to lay out the issues side by side so they aren't flying around in my brain like a pinball, whacking into everything that hurts me and causes me to be unsettled. I need to learn to do this on my own.

So I'm really doing that right now. This week, starting even before Sunday, I was unsettled. Actually, it started with Friday, and it all boiled down to one thing-what do I have to commend myself as a Christian if things don't apparently work out in my life like they should? Do I have the right to tell other people you can find hope in Christ if I have serious issues in my life and family? I thought about that while Phyllis and I were in the prison on Saturday, listening to women desperately in need of hope. Then I heard the sermon on Sunday, which basically crushed my confidence into powder. All week long was this tug of war in my spirit and heart. One important friendship that I really thought was toast came roaring back to life on Tuesday with a beautiful card and very heart-felt letter in the mail from the person. I thought to myself, if I cannot be faithful through the best and the worst, I have no right at all to tell anyone God is good.

But He is, and He is faithful. And that is the nut. We as humans generally tend to have microwave expectations for everything. It all has to happen in a few pre-set minutes, life works out in 30 minute increments according to sitcoms and tv, everything falls into place according to self-help books and inspirational novels. It takes Thursday of this week my hope was being pumped back up again, and last night I went to Celebrate Recovery. That meeting basically turned out to be a meeting of the "old guard", people who are now serving in leadership all over the Valley, who have conquered addictions and bruising personal issues, or at least are on a firm road-the valiant warriors the scriptures talk about. One man said of himself regarding a struggle he was having, I was just a guy with a plumbing problem needing to get to work. Ordinary people-yet not!! These folks, varying in age from 20's to middle and beyond, have hung in there.

And that was the lesson I needed-do not give up. Never give in, never quit. If everything around me is a hurricane level disaster, if the most important person in my life walks away, if the message I need the most is one that crushes me-don't stay on the ground. God is there, all the time. My scripture reading for this morning was about Jacob, Isaac's son and Abraham's grandson. He was nicknamed "trickster". Jacob married into his uncle's family, and Laban (the uncle), stuck it to him over and over and over again. He tricked Jacob into marrying his older daughter, when Jake loved the younger. He changed his wages ten times. Whatever Jacob did in his former life, it was nothing to deserve this. And that wasn't the point. It all ended up with Jacob leaving his uncle's home with a huge family, vast wealth and the blessing of God. The climax of the story is Jacob wrestling with the Angel of God. Jacob told the angel, I'm not letting go of you until you bless me. The angel had to put his hip out of joint to be free, but after that happened Jacob's name was changed to Israel, the God-wrestler. The point is, he never gave up. Never stop loving, never stop trying, never quit. When the going gets tough, you are held up by the arms of those who love you back, and kept forever by the Everlasting ones, even if sometimes it's in a half-nelson.

Friday, February 16, 2007

post v-day

Lots of snow, hazardous driving conditions to say the least, blustering winds, no sun-all of that on Valentine's Day made me think it was a good metaphor for the holiday. Nowadays there is a thriving anti-Valentine's Day sentiment, complete with cards and a gift line. Love is a tricky business, one that can leave a body stretched out in the desert where carrion have their fill on that body's stupidity. Or there can be an experience like flying down a mountain vertically on skiis or a snowboard, total exhilaration. When the two experiences come back to back, it's even worse. Do I trust? Do I not trust?

It all comes down to accepting that there will be vultures and skiis, I don't know what else to think about it all. The thing is, how much do the vultures get? If they never stop feeding, it's time to re-examine the friendship, relationship, whatever....I've been asked to trust when I finally decided the vultures had taken quite enough. There ought to be clowns. We'll see what happens next! Will I ever run out of the energy to care? Seems not (just hand me my nose and wig)...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

greater is He

In case it isn't apparent that I'm already certifiable, well this blog may make the case for it. But beyond being that, I'm spiritual, and so I plead my case from that perspective. After walking through this week tenuously and on emotional bits of glass, I am again reminded the human race has a powerful enemy. Some people serve him, some people ignore him and some are harrassed by him and his minions. But he's real. I'm talking about the angel of light and prince of darkness, Satan, the roaring lion, accuser of the saints, Lucifer, the fallen one...I had to be reminded this week he's around.

I spoke with my sponsor this morning and we reviewed the week I just had. After thinking about it and reading scripture, I realized I continually walk into the enemy's camp and disrupt things. I don't think he was any too happy about me being in the prison. The feeling and sensation of darkness in that place was palpable. Problems large and small plagued the morning. I realized also that every Friday night I probably bruise a few demonic hosts by playing worship music and being in a place that exposes the way people are shackled by the enemy and how to get free.

I guess it came as no surprise that something happened on Sunday to hit my most vulnerable spot. The enemy loves nothing better than to sow seeds of discord in the body of Christ. That is his specialty. My job now is to recognize who the author of pain and confusion is, no matter where it comes from. I may need to confront a human being, and certainly one with the best of intentions. Satan only wins if we let him.

The scripture says, "Greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world". I saw a living demonstration of that the night my son tried to commit suicide. He kept raising a handgun with a live round to his head. I could almost physically feel the powers of darkness in his bedroom, like a battle was raging all around us. I believe it was. Every spoken word to try to convince him not to pull the trigger failed, so I began to pray, whispering aloud. The moment came when the trigger was pulled, and instead of an explosion there was only a click. I think an angel put it's finger over the round.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

balancing act

Here I am writing (again) when I should be drawing. Ok, ok...I'll make it quick. Sunday was a disaster, and I think I need to analyse why that was. Most days, really and truly, are not bad. Some are actually good, and some really good. The trick for me is, how well can I motivate myself on any given day? How quickly can I get up and talk to God, say thanks, talk about the day, then think of things I'm looking forward to, to do in the given day and be ready to face challenges, looking forward to them as opportunities and not potential poo-buckets. Ok, some things do become that, but if I quickly hose it down and reflect on the whole situation, I can usually come out smelling like a rose, or at least not a piece of sh.....crap.

Back to Sunday-got up ok, had alot to be thankful for (a great Saturday evening out to dinner and at the local symphony, neat time at the prison starting a 12 step there for the ladies, a good Friday CR meeting, just some fine stuff happening) and was looking forward to a good time at church to extend my thankful morning. We got there, fine, all's well, and then the sermon (dunt, dunt, daaaaaa.....) happened. Somewhere in between points one and four my head was down and I was drawing vines and flowers all over my sermon outline, trying really hard not to cry. The sermon was on parenting, and I had the outline given to me on Friday by the pastor who was very excited about it. We talked and I looked forward to what he had to say. Well, the gist was that parenting is the most critical influence on a child's life. Yes, that is true. Extrapolate from that disobedient children = bad parenting. Ummmm....that's what happened between points one and four. Yeeeouchh. Here's the thing, all you lovely, lucky moms and dads out there with great kids who never cause you serious grief-be incredibly, truly thankful that that is the case. It was for our pastor, hence the extrapolation.

After trying to extract myself from the wreckage of near suicidal despondency for two days, I decided that really, it's my fault for letting people get to me like that emotionally. Balance the info I got from our rev with this-God was parent to Adam and Eve (thanks, Lisa). My son's outstanding defense attorney said every young man between the ages of 15 and 25 who does not land in prison is lucky. Reflect upon the wisdom of whoever told me, if your kids turn out really good, don't take too much credit, and if they really screw up, don't take too much blame. Yep, that's right. Also, remember we are going for visitation this Sunday (yeah, thanks, Bran-no sermon!)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

milk carton christian

Yeah, I'm afraid with each day that passes I'm becoming more and more the poster child for why you shouldn't become the typical evangelical Christian in America. I don't think anyone wants to hear what I have to say. Really. Hmmm....I've been a believer for 35 years, married 28, a mom for 23, Sunday School teacher, worship leader, kid's ministry leader, volunteer for countless events, involved parent who took kids to church, did the school parent field trip thing....according to your typical message from the pulpit, I should be wealthy beyond belief, have incredibly successful kids and be the happiest person in the world. I've taken chances with my life, tried to follow my dreams, tried to be honest, real, loving as I know to be, all that, and I wouldn't have done it differently.

Where am I today? Living paycheck to paycheck, hoping for some sort of break, looking at things I can do to help my family but not sure they'll pan out, have a kid in prison, two more who are very free and creative souls but not really sure how they fit into the faith gig. They're not really interested. I'm not sure any of my children will follow in my footsteps. I'm not sure they want to marry. I have a trail of relationships that didn't work out and more to come I'm sure, I'm not terribly consistent about my habits and my thought life, I love people who are sort of crazy and drawing naked people, too. I know lots, and lots, and lots of people who have done what I've done and had some spectacularly bad things happen to them.

Why does a person believe in God? What does one hope to gain by this? I'm sorry-I can't promise you anything, except a love that will never end. When I was in the prison, I was surrounded by the most pervasive hopelessness. Those women believe nothing will change their lives. They fully expect to go out using again, drinking again, maybe coming back in again. What causes someone to throw themselves through a window? One little girl who looked not more than 16 or 17 said she hoped never to return and wanted so much to change, but her eyes told a different story. What can I tell these women and be truthful? We talked about the vine and the branches. The comment was, I kill every plant I own. I just told them, this plant God owns and you are as near to Him every moment as one of the branches on the plant. That's what we get for believing. And you know what? It's more than enough.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

back to the block

Well, today was my first adventure into prison ministry. I was so nervous I couldn't sleep or eat breakfast, and was sure glad to have Pastor Phyllis with me. Our car ride to the place was fine, it was good to see her again, and we made sure we prayed outside the gates. Then we got in ;-)! Well, almost....I had an ID tag because I figured despite hearing two different things from two different prison chaplains, I'd better be well identified, because prison guards are by- the- book people, as they should be. But Phyllis did not have an ID tag, and I told her I was NOT going in there without her. The guard at the desk had to find the pastor list to make sure she was on it, and she had to go out to her car to get her license to prove she was the lady on the list. Then we were told we couldn't bring in the plastic water bottles she had called earlier regarding and was given the ok-by then I figured what more could go wrong. Still, I know, too, if you smile alot, say thanks alot, have plenty of ID and do what you are told, you are very likely to get in. (As opposed to breaking the law, which is another way to do it). We got in the "easy" way.

So there it is, or was. We found the room reserved for our 12 step and were told it wasn't announced prior. Ok. Well, it is important to have people coming to a meeting, so we again smiled alot, told the guard on duty why we were there, and he agreed to announce on the spot in the block that there was a women's Christian 12 step program starting. Good-knowledge is a good thing, a rather essential thing in this case. So we again waited...and waited...and here they came. Just as was the case in the movie, "Jaws" (I think we need a bigger boat), the women dressed in orange just kept coming, and coming and coming around the outside glass....I think we're going to need a bigger room, and I'm really scared now.

So there they were, quickly arranging the blue plastic chairs in a circle around the tiny library in which we waited and then tried to get this thing going. There weren't enough hand-outs, which is ok, we'll get more next time, and I once again thanked God that Phyllis was with me, and is a pastor because they talk ALOT and know alot of funny jokes and stories, and she is (was) an alcoholic. PHEW....she got going, and there was no end in sight. There were young faces, beautiful faces, old faces, toothless faces, all different, yet all the same, stuck in life and in things they just couldn't get out of. By the end all I could think was I have to pee or my eyeballs will turn yellow, and I'm no different than these ladies except for one thing-what they need to do to keep straight I never really doubted or stopped in my own life. Is it good, is it bad...I never crossed the line from civilized society to what it won't tolerate. But I told them, alot of people on the outside are more in prison than they because they don't know it. Fear, hatred, prejudice, greed, duplicity...but when you're in orange, there's nowhere to hide. Thank God.

Friday, February 09, 2007

pink hair and white gloves

It's a two-fer day. I really should be drawing, but I have a bee in my bonnet so drawing is rather hard until the buzz is written down. And I guess this goes with the flow of the day before, in regards to the devotional book I received. I love the friend who picked the book truly, and the author seems very nice and very sincere, but there is a fundamental question that most of these devotionals for women and in general don't seem to clearly answer in this girl's opinion, or rather poorly, OR presume upon society's prejudices. The obvious outward appearance for a "bad girl" is tattoos and leather. Huh? A statement was made in the book to the effect that you don't have to have that "obviously bad" outward appearance to be someone who struggles with wrong inner desires. Whoa, whoa, whoa...first of all, that should be a given. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I happen to like leather and tattoos on men and women both. My daughter used to get furious when she wore a long, black Goth-type coat to the mall or school and got so cruelly labeled for being a witch, a freak, you name we talked it over, and I told her, someone who wears black COULD be all those things, or just someone who likes the color. Even if they are, is that anyone else's business?

Here's the thing-at this point in my life, the loud, opinionated, sometimes very sensual, insistent female is the real deal, not the one who thinks it in her mind but won't open her mouth. I do not apologize for this. The real sin in my life is not being openly what I truly am. God will change what needs to be changed, but not to look like a 1950's carboard cut-out. Why is the church still living that fantasy? It's idiotic, and also in my humble opinion why people don't come. My daughter has a striped pink mohawk. It looks adorable. She's not an angry, rebellious teen. She's an intelligent kid who has dealt very maturely with a hugely difficult situation in our family, namely her brother going to prison. It's very likely when a stranger looks at her all they see is pink hair. So go ahead...but under that hair is one amazing kid. I never forget that when I see nose rings, spikes, leather, colorful tattoos, all the stuff we tend to ball up into a cliche of "rebellious teen". It's a lie. It's more about adults who are afraid to love what they don't understand. Maybe those kids are much closer to who we are than we are able to admit.

Heck, everyone is human. Everyone sins. Everyone makes mistakes. I just wish we could get past wanting to pidgeon hole people and help them make it through. Let the world see what we truly are because in the end, they do anyway.

venus and mars aligning?

Wednesday turned out to be something important this week, something I didn't expect at all. Did you ever have one of those where it seemed somewhere in the cosmos everything lined up, after weeks and months and sometimes years of fuzzy vision, total uncertainty at times the sheer random and hopelessness that life can sink into-all in a 24 hour period suddenly seemed to make sense, or at least come to a conclusion? Well, maybe it wasn't entirely all that, but my mind was clear. (AAAAHHHHHH!!!!! Hallelujah, Hallelujah!!!!!!!!!!!) That IS something! I started out the morning going through years-worth of slides of artwork, and suddenly I could see where my work was weak and where it was strong. I KNEW what I had to do. I separated out the current, strong things and put them in a different folder. After years of neglect and simply not doing it, I did the paperwork and slide labelling for three competitions, one in NYC-here we go....something inside told me, the time is now and run like a maniac. I went back to CVS to get a new batch of slides, and one-hour photos I took of my newly mohawked daughter (she could be bald and still be so beautiful!), and the manager himself handed me my pictures and assured me my slides were going out that day.

OH, yes, AND I drove myself to Allentown (about an hour and a half away) because I think I'm going to try and be a real estate magnate and I got an interview to start my own business...ok, now this one's a stretch, but you know...I felt so empowered just making the phone calls, the drive, and believing about myself that I could even do such a thing. Even if it doesn't pan out, something's changed. But before I even drove myself to Allentown, I had a few hours to kill so I drew a mini with my colored pencils for a charity auction at a local gallery in Scranton. I tried black paper. The first drawing I tried didn't work, so I flipped the paper to the smooth side and tried again. VOILA!!! An effect I've been trying for years to achieve. I'm setting up a still life today and doing a large one on smooth, black Canson paper. If this works, I've got a new attitude (where's Patty LaBelle when you need her?)

I suppose as if that weren't enough, and the experiences I've had with male friends lately...I got a call from someone I've come to know in ministry who is becoming a true friend. I was afraid to call him to see if I might expand my current role as musician into leadership, and he called to ask me the very thing, giving me a huge seal of approval. Somehow I'm thinking to myself, where is this all coming from? Man, I don't know-what I do know is I can't stop now!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

primal screaming

I feel like I just want to scream this morning. Just SCREAMMMM...a friend (kindly) left a devotional study book on our screened in porch apparently last night or early this am, because I haven't had time or drive to come to her group for the study. The book I'm sure, is absolutely wonderful, filled with wisdom that perhaps at another time might suit me to a "t". But this morning I started reading and wanted to throw it in the trash.

I cannot take another book about cultivating a more willing and gentle spirit. It seems like all I've needed to do in the last several months is be confrontational to survive and grow. I've had to end two friendships I did not want to because the individuals on the other end needed me to be demure and agreeable apparently all the time, or whatever they seemed to need from me. The price tag for not being honest with them was far, far too high (these were both males, so that explains alot). I had to confront my husband about moving on in some areas of our lives. It was like pushing the Titanic backwards, even though he did hear me. The wear and tear on my nerves has been impossible. Then to deal with my son and visitation issues-once again, I feel I'm called upon to move positively in an impossible situation that always rips me to shreds.

I watched a favorite movie two nights ago, "Frida". It is the story of artist Frida Kahlo starring Salma Hayek, in probably one of her best roles. Watching it yet again I realized the film had lost none of its punch-in fact, I could identify even more with this woman who lived life on her own terms. I was crying by the end. I knew what the deal was-I need to live life on my own terms, too, and find my own inner peace by struggling, confronting, pushing and birthing everything inside. I cannot, I will not, lay down and die. My surrender comes from screaming, not sitting quietly. It's just the person I am. I understand the meaning of the book, but my road is a different one, and I desperately need to make peace with God by scribbling, splashing and rubbing my life's canvas with all the energy I have. I think He more willingly accepts that furious, dirty, paint- stained child with white tear tracks than a cleaned up zombie.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

up the steps

I'm not one to always check my forwards, but I have gotten some really great jokes, video clips and thoughts to ponder from them. My friends are much better than I at finding these things, so I'm grateful to receive their funnies and gems of wisdom. This morning there was a video clip in my e-mail from a friend, that while it WAS funny because it was so true, I had to admit I saw myself in it. The clip was of two government employees riding an escalator and it stops in the middle of their ascent. So they stand there on the escalator screaming for help. Of course, we watch and titter, knowing how easily they could simply walk up the steps and be on their way, but that implies that they can solve a problem on their own and move on under their own independent steam.

So often in life I get stuck, and not because I don't have the tools to get myself free. I just don't believe I can. I've always had a more half empty than half full mentality, and believe it or not I got a response to a comment I wrote on another forward this same morning reminding me that it is so often what we think about ourselves and believe we can do that determines what we actually do. Another person I know told me the same thing last week, and yet another reminded me I'm in a position of strength being beholden to no one with my artwork. I can do anything I want to, go anywhere I want to-the limitations of my life reside between my two ears.

Last night my husband and I went to a real estate seminar. Now I'm a skeptic's skeptic when it comes to such things, but I had to admit I heard alot of wisdom. And the speaker was impressive-two and a half hours of presentation and nary a break for anyone, least of all the guy giving the information out. But the main point of the presentation in my mind was that the information was only useful to those who would actually go out and DO something with it. You could buy all the books and tapes you wanted to, hear all the information you wanted to, and never derive a single penny of benefit if you don't believe enough to even TRY to do something.

This reminds me of a very familiar story about three people entrusted with the wealth of the master of an estate who would return someday to claim it. The one entrusted with the most invested it and doubled his investment. Likewise the second individual entrusted with a lesser amount and also doubled the investment. The third person was given the least amount, and out of a fear of losing all they did nothing with what was given to them but hide it in the ground. When the master returned he praised the two who doubled their investment but took away from the third person what little they did keep. The difference between the two who made money and the one who did not was what they did.

Monday, February 05, 2007

everything else

I have dreams sometimes that I know are significant, due to the symbolism and how emphatically they appear, sometimes over and over. I dreamt last night that our family had some sort of a water system, like a collection cistern or a well, and the water kept becoming contaminated. Nothing we seemed to do fixed it, and the well kept springing leaks. We called on outside help, but no one seemed to know what to do.

Without thinking or praying much about this, just drawing on what I know about such things and what scripture says about water, it is a symbol of spiritual life, vitality and purity. Jesus is identified as "Living Water". Broken cisterns were religious leaders who did not live right and therefore had no life within themselves to offer to their flock. A muddied stream implied going outside the marriage commitment for another person. Bitter and fresh water mixed were compared in James to someone who blesses and curses with their mouth.

I think the issue here is spiritual self-examination. Within one's own personal life, if things are not right or pure before God, that becomes an issue that flows out to every other area of life. That the water in my dream was the source of life for the family is indicative of how we do not ever live simply unto ourselves. How we think, how we act, how we prioritize, all of that, flows out into our homes, workplaces, everywhere we go and everything we touch. I realized I'm dirtying the water by having my priorities out of order in certain areas of my life. My joy is gone. The sermon yesterday was about family, and the pastor reminded everyone, God first, family next, church commitment and then everything else. My "everything else" was getting into the well. I know what I have to do.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

search me

Life is hard, no doubt about it. It is like a carnival ride of flashing lights, twists and turns, fearful drops and exhilarating flights up, shaking tracks of uncertainty that speed by or surprise us from out of the blue and leave us trembling and breathless. Among the changing landscape of my emotions, I search for solid ground and something immoveable. I was thinking about the past week-it certainly was one of emotional twists and turns, and fearful uncertainties.

But within that I realized, I have so much that allows me to see the craziness for what it is and judge whether things are right or wrong within myself. First of all is my relationship with the Lord-I have only to pray and ask, and so often the clouds of confusion clear and I can see my way straight to walk forward. Sometimes it is not me, only the unfamiliar terrain of a strange situation that catches me unawares, or someone who doesn't have the same base of belief that I do. So I also pray Psalm 139:23 &24, "Search me (thoroughly), O God, and know my heart! Try me, and know my thoughts! And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." That is the other measuring stick and foundation of wisdom and truth-the scriptures.

Then I realized, I have wonderful, long term friendships. I have half a dozen people I could call on easily in a moment and be able to explain anything I'm struggling with or unsure and get good advice, encouragement, prayer, caffeine! Anything. What a true blessing that is! I rely on them when my mind and my heart are playing tricks on me, and feel secure when I keep hearing different versions of the same wisdom and advice.

Though life is hard, it is also good. It was designed to be so. I was reminded this week how easily my poor mind gets off track and forgets there is so much to be glad about, and that all will be well, even in the midst of the struggles.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

conflict (resolution)

Well, I'm not sure, but I think I might need to sign up for anger management classes. Or at least have a Jack Nicholson assigned to me! No, wait, life is already doing that! I think by now the clerks at our local CVS drugstore have put up a photo of me with a circle and a slash through it over the one-hour photo machine...let me explain.

As an artist doing exhibits and competitions, I know that the accepted form of reproduction of artwork is (or has been up until the digital age), slides. They can't be monkeyed with, they are small and easy to view quickly in a carousel, and they are very representative of a person's work, for better or worse. Now there aren't many commercial businesses that sell slide film any more. Slide film is distinctly different from print film, and they are not interchangeable. Well, I went to CVS to pick up my latest batch of developed slides, and come to find someone put my slides through the one-hour photo machine. As ballistic as I could go, I went. The manager was called to the scene. Oh, I had a valid complaint alright. My slides were ruined, I was out the time it took to take them, the time it took to send them out and develop them, which probably wiped out my chances for the big yearly colored pencil competition. BUT, here's the thing-I was partly to blame. The store recently adopted a new policy in which the clerks are to fill out the film packet information. The day I dropped my slides the little girl waiting on me was very harried, so instead of watching her fill out the packet properly, I told her, SLIDES...they are SLIDES....don't forget! and I left without being sure she picked the right packet to mail out.

That was one incident in a day, and there was another. I heard back from the person I've been writing to on a regular basis, responding to something I did that made him extremely agitated. We were both partly to blame, but I realized as I read his letter two things, 1. He really cares about me and the relationship, and 2. he can't stand conflict.

There has to be a balance here. It would have been as wrong for me to walk out of CVS without saying a word as it was to yell, and I did apologize. Similarly, it is ridiculous to expect relationships to be completely smooth sailing. I'm not sure what to do on the second score. I care very much for this person-we ARE great friends, but the relationship is new and untested. How we proceed from here will tell very much what kind of people we are and how important the relationship is.

I also know God brings to the forefront of our lives areas in which we need to work on. This is one for me. To be able to stand up for myself and be honest is a new development in my life, but I can see I need to take it one step further. I need to be secure enough not take on other's people's stuff, but love and understand them all the same. People are human. Someone at CVS made an honest mistake-they weren't out to ruin my competition chances. I made an honest mistake in a relationship, not understanding the motivation behind an action. Was I out to purposely ruin the friendship? Hardly.

I went to Celebrate Recovery that night, my 12 step group, and heard stories all over the room about similar struggles. It's called life, and we accept the Bible as our is patient, love is kind and is not jealous, does not hold a grudge...I'm learning, and continue to accept myself, the things I need in life to become a more Christ-like person, and to give others the patience and the room to do likewise.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

once again

I was drawing yesterday and listening to the worship music of Matt Redman. He's a young Christian song-writer from the UK, one of the best modern composers of inspirational music there is in my humble opinion. One of the songs he wrote we sang on Sunday, and the lyrics keep going through my head:

Jesus Christ, I think about Your sacrifice
You became nothing, poured out to death
Many times I've marveled at Your gift of love
I'm in that place once again
I'm in that place once again

And once again I look upon the cross where You died
I'm humbled by Your mercy, I'm broken inside
Once again I thank You, once again I pour out my life

I suppose I've been thinking about my life lately. I 've wondered why things have turned out as they have. I wonder if I'm struggling with some sort of mental issues on top of our family circumstances. I wonder what kind of a human being I need to be and how I need to respond to my life as it is. I'm reading the Gospel of Mark for my devotions, out of Eugene Peterson's translation of the scriptures, The Message. The language is very fresh and contemporary, and though I'm a more intellectual type in terms of researching meaning, to read something that simply speaks in plain modern lingo is refreshing. And Mark runs at break-neck speed, laying it all out there, no frills.

When I read about the life and stories of Jesus Christ, I'm more and more struck by the simplicity and profundity of all He said and did. Something inside says "yeah!'" and "oh, dear" at the same time. Would I have the courage to do the things He did? He was compassionate, but not the least bit weak. He told the truth all of the time, especially about Himself. And if all that He did backed up everything He said about Himself. He was God. Someone who suffered more than anyone ever has, who loved more, was more human and more spiritual than anyone who ever lived, who, in fact, led a perfect life. Nothing else can be said, unless He lied. But like a cat chasing her tail, there is only one conclusion to be drawn, and one person to listen to about life with absolute authority and certainty, because He's the Author of it.

Jesus Christ, I think about Your sacrifice...though I admit myself the least of them, I do admit myself also His enamored worshipper, and whatever life hands me, I can't get past that. He remains true when everything else seems false, wrong, this shouldn't be happening-there is a place of unchanging reality and rock-solid truth. The scriptures say He is not a High Priest who cannot understand the weakness of His people, because He Himself suffered and was tempted in every way a person can be. When there is nothing else in this life, there is a love that never ends for any person who chooses to accept it.