Thursday, August 30, 2007

two weeks

It's amazing what can happen in two weeks. It's amazing what can happen in just 24 hours! In two weeks the entire focus of my life changed. I was hired as an art teacher at a local college, and suddenly my life is consumed by lesson planning, trying to figure out the best way to tackle my classes, overcoming all sorts of inherent problems from huge class size (for art classes!) to why the heck there are no working pencil sharpeners in the rooms??? That's the major current of change. A "minor" one is a trip I want to take to see a very good friend, that seemed all but impossible two weeks ago. I had pretty much given up due to circumstances beyond the control of both of us. And now, his letters and phone calls, our mutual interests in the arts and desire to keep in contact til one of us is worm food will have the context of a face to face meeting, which I had greatly looked forward to for a time and thought was lost. Incredibly the date I picked falls within the time I'd be off from classes for Columbus Day.

I know I am tremendously blessed. My friend reminds me of this when the overwhelm of planning and the limitations of a classroom make me feel I simply cannot do this. I am being paid to do something I love and pass on that passion to the next generation. I am in awe of this responsibility. Another "minor" current of change is that my younger daughter is now high school senior and a college student at the same time. She is in a dual enrollment program at the college where I teach. Again, incredibly, our schedules coincide, so I can at least take her home the days I teach. So she is madly trying to plan to juggle an AP English and art classes at her high school, art history and psychology at the college and plans for a two person art show in the spring for her senior project. Last night after I came home from class at 6:00 and she was on the couch trying to stuff The Odyssey into her head, we just sort of looked at each other and gave the mutual "whew!"

Thank God for Labor Day weekend???

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

providing hope

It's so strange to think of the things and the people that fill my time and my thoughts these days, and how different life was just a year ago. I just got home from a recognition dinner for prison volunteers through a ministry called Providing Hope. We were sequestered in a tiny room in a busy buffet-style restaurant, and I'm very sure the patrons outside partaking of the constant hot banquet didn't hear our conversation, our applause, or even notice there was a group of people in the room until we came out to get food. I looked around at the people filling that little room, and really, there weren't many who looked like much. Very ordinary to be honest.

But they are the people that fill my thoughts, the people connected with the local prison. I've met so many people because of my son's incarceration. When I got home my husband was on the phone with a man he is mentoring. When I logged on to my e-mail there was a message alert-another friend I know in prison. The families of the incarcerated, those that serve them, the inmates themselves...what a large part of my life they are now. I can't imagine my life without them. Without the honor of giving them my friendship, hope, belief in the future. I get the same in return ten times over.

It is strange how things work out in life, but I'm grateful for the way they are now.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

little green men

I've had time lately to spend time on my artwork, which is a good thing. I need time, I need to work. Going to a meeting of a local art group I'm a part of reminded me of that. It has been hot here lately and very humid. And our meeting was in a room that had no fans, what felt like no ventilation and no air conditioning. I came in with a drawing I had to drop off for one of our exhibit chairs to take to the place we'll all be having our yearly show. I felt confident and was fine, until another artist and friend of mine walked in with his drawing. My colored pencil work is done on colored paper. I make the paper color just another color in the drawing-it's a trademark of my work and something I've worked long to perfect. Well, imagine my surprise when my friend walked in with a drawing on this bright red paper. It's fine, no law against someone else doing what I do, but I could feel something inside-a little green guy starting to jump around in my mind, whispering things. And somehow I thought my foot just might slip and end up right in the middle of the red paper.

The little voice only continued to get louder the longer the meeting went on. This man has had a spectacular year, garnering exhibit opportunities and awards. I know that is wonderful. He designed our brochure with one of his drawings on the front of the trifold. No problem. Or so I told myself. But as the sweat trickled down my temples, resentment threatened to melt me completely into a fire of jealous rage. He got into the international show I have tried for for seven years running. He took best of show in the local venue I had hoped I'd do better in. He was singled out by a top artist for our self-portrait project, mini drawings that were displayed at the big show in Maryland. I was the only artist who drew myself from life. And he did it all on colored paper, my paper, my idea!!!

I left the meeting feeling so frustrated, so angry, so totally outclassed I didn't know what to do with myself except plop down in front of the tv and stew in my juices. Now there's a creative solution. I had to sleep on it, and when I did get up in the morning and sat silently in prayer, some things came to mind. First of all, what I do is me. I have to get better and try harder. The look of my work is still vastly different than anyone else's. It is mine. No one can take it. One of my dear art instructors, the man who taught me how to paint, was fond of quoting Judy Garland, to the effect that we need to be the best version of ourselves and not a second rate copy of someone else. Then I realized I need to be a servant. How much have I really given to this organization that puts on the shows and makes all this possible for us? Not much. And I need to support my friend. I also need to learn from him. He is always entering shows, keeping up an art blog, working to learn more, honing his experience with computer photography, all this...I'm just plain lazy in that department. We had a call for images to be mailed for publication. If I don't get off my rear and get cd's of my artwork done, I've got nothing to complain about.

Oh, well...back to the drawing board.

the best years

I had the opportunity to catch about half of my probably most favorite film of all time last night. It is the story of three veterans of WWII returning to a small town home, trying to put the pieces of their lives together. The Best Years of Our Lives was made in 1947, and so must have struck a chord with many vets and their families at the time. It is a brilliant film, perfectly cast and acted. There is absolutely nothing cloying or overly sentimental about it. Director William Wyler had the courage to cast a real vet who lost his lower arms in the war as one of the main characters, and his performance makes the movie. You can never forget the price servicemen and their families paid every time this young man appears on screen. My favorite scene in the movie is at the end, when he has to decide whether he'll be able to face his longtime childhood friend and sweetheart and know if her love can bear his disability. He shows her what his bedtime routine is like, removing the harness for his artificial arms and struggling into a nightshirt and then bed. Her loving response to him is a moment that takes my breath away every time I watch the scene. What a picture of the incredible healing power of unconditional love.

Screen veterans Myrna Loy and Frederich March portray a long married couple with actress Theresa Wright an adult daughter. Once again, the responses and reactions of all three have such a sterling ring of truth you can't escape feeling right along with them all. Their daughter, Peggy, falls for a vet whose marriage has disintegrated and is just a coupling of two strangers. Once again, the tension and pain of separation seems to have followed these vets into every situation they encounter upon their return. And love, whether old or new, faltering or steady, is the thread that holds them together.

When I watched this movie again for the umpteenth time, it was still so impactful and fresh. I had just returned from a leadership meeting of the recovery ministry I serve with, and I couldn't help but think the people who are a part of this group remind me of these returning vets. I think of my son, though not gone from home for such an exalted purpose, will still find life much changed when he returns. Life is much changed for those who suddenly or not so suddenly were touched by disaster and have responded by turning their lives around, determined never to live the same way again. What can be counted on? There is only one thing, and that is love. The love of God. The love of understanding people. The love of parents, friends and fellow believers who held on to the hope that one day these prodigals would return. What power it has.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

family visitation!

Talking about discipline-I need it in the writing department. I didn't talk about our latest visitation! Ta-da...for the first time in over two years the entire family was together, all five at one table. Of course, that is my dream outside the prison, but this was a good second. My children always fall into easy conversation no matter how long they've been separated, and are like three peas in a pod. How I wish they had these opportunities more often! It seems like now that they are either in or on the threshhold of adulthood a comraderie has developed that is so unmistakeable you can't miss that these are siblings, and I'm so glad. One of my greatest fears of Bran being incarcerated was that somehow the long separations would halt the natural process of siblings growing up together and getting to know each other at every phase of life. I realize in many families, sadly, this does not happen, even when they live together, which is getting more rare all the time.

We had fun reminiscing and taking pictures. The prison has this funny machine that you can preset to shoot whatever shot you set up on a screen, like an automatic shutter release. We mugged and goofed around, and have probably what will be our Christmas postcard if I'm brave enough to go that direction!

Prison has done alot of things to us and for us. Some have been predictably terrible, like people staring into our windows and lives in ways only front page news could afford. My youngest daughter only recently shared about some of the incredibly cruel things printed in blogs after the news articles were put online. She had the wisdom, calmness and strength to answer these people in a way that brought apologies. I'm so proud of my girls. What prison did not do is stop us from living, being happy, being better people because of it, being good parents and thriving children, being more compassionate and aware, and taking so many things alot less for granted.

As long as we remain five, we'll be OK!!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

disciplined desire

Desire vs discipline-are the two mutually exclusive concepts? I suppose when I think of desire, I think of something fueled by it's own energy, unrestrained and spontaneous, like combustion, a perpetual fire that when turned to ash, cannot be resurrected. Discipline on the other hand, makes me think of self-generated effort, a strain, a struggle, a "have to or else" proposition, something I don't want to do.

I was thinking about it this morning. I am emotional without a doubt. Feelings crest and crash inside me like ocean waves, unending, sometimes calm, but usually like the surf. When I feel something, it's raging. I don't do placid very well. But something is definitely changing. It isn't spontaneous or self-generated. It's God revealed. The Spirit seemed to whisper to me this morning, "Discipline is directed desire". Hmmm. Never thought about that one. What a wonder to be able to harness the energy of my emotions and desire into a directed end. I suppose I've done that in the past to an extent, but burned out when the desire left.

There is a missing ingredient. Desire and discipline, when God appointed and directed, do reach an intended goal. I long to serve. I've come to have a great desire to do prison ministry. But I've had to work within the confines of the established system, and I have found that when I do that voluntarily, my desire has turned into a steadier, more constant flame. Relationships-wow, my Achilles' heel in this department. "If I don't feel anything anymore, it's dead". Well, the desire begs discipline, and when the impulse comes from God and His word, the ashes erupt again. But they have to be stirred. The Word does say, "Fan into flame your gift or calling". Real desire is an indication of something God-planted in a life, I believe, and of course, one needs to be very careful with this. I'm talking about desire that is not lust, as again the Word says to "flee youthful lusts". And sometimes obedience is out of sheer discipline, no emotions whatsoever. But I do believe they'll come.

I think God is the most passionate Being we'll ever encounter. It took passion to create humans and takes it continually to love us as He does, as disappointing as we can be. I'm finally grateful for my emotional self, as difficult as it can be to manage. When rightly directed, it's a blessing. I long to use them to serve and want to enjoy the fruits of passion. In discipline, of course!

the greatest love of all

I feel my age lately when I hear certain music or see reruns of certain movies. That happened to me recently. The movie Godspell was on, and I was alone in the house with nothing else to do. It aired on Turner Classics, so that tells you a bit of something! But viewers were reminded the movie is 34 years old, and was set in NYC, so there was a view of the "just being built" twin towers. The 70's for me were a time of spiritual renewal and Christian rebirth. Somehow the movie brought back to me the fresh innocence of that time, when the present moment and things in my life remind me I'm an old soldier in the faith. To hear the opening strains of Prepare Ye (the Way of the Lord) just sent chills up my spine and brought tears.

This isn't a self-flagellation of how perhaps my love for my God is old and cold and I need to yet again repent. It is a memory of a great love that still is great, and has withstood the test of time. New love is wonderful, heady and powerful because it is new. Old love is a steady flame continually nurtured by thousands of moments of surrender, and seeing faith rewarded. O, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me. His love is astonishing. I've just started reading a book on heaven that has helped pump the well of emotion and excitement again. But I know for myself, I long to live an eternity unhampered by my own failings with the only Friend who really knows me and has loved me through a lifetime. I long to be with Him. Other things in the world dazzle, but they cannot outshine the old love.

I'm not tired of living, but like Rich Mullens wrote in one of his incredible songs, the Jordan is waiting...I can't take my eyes off of those shores even as I live. My life is there.