Dusty?

I spent several hours yesterday doing yard work. I’m not through yet. There’s MUCH more to do. I usually love doing it, but before I decided to work on curating my life this year I let some things go for awhile and now I’m playing catch-up out there. You know how it is: the things you used to do in detail get taken over by some of the things more urgent.

At first, it seems like no big deal. So what if you skip grabbing a handfull or two of wayward growth as you head down the walk? It’s ok to take a break. It still looks pretty good. Maybe this time, I’ll just used the push-mower instead of the weedeater. Who’s going to care? It still looks great from a distance. It’s alright if you just hit the high notes this time…and it doesn’t look so bad as long as you keep on top of the big stuff with the riding mower, so you just do that for awhile. You know it’s been a bit since you did a round with the weedeater or clipped the spikes on the shrubs out front…and in the back, where no one usually goes, it’ll be ok if you leave that until later, right?

But…what happens when you keep doing this for longer than you ever thought possible? When it just becomes ok to cut a path through the woods to the door and your need to recover from what’s happening outside those four walls becomes something that makes you tired to even think about, much less put in the effort to keep up appearances…isn’t it ok to just let some things go?

Self-care is a lot like yardwork and dishes. It might not be such a big deal to let the side down every now and then, but eventually, things will come to a head and you’ll have a much bigger mess on your hands. I know very few people right now…wait…I know almost NO people who aren’t feeling the pinch and sting of dealing with all of the chaos, loss, and frustration of our current world disorder.

For many of us, it’s been simpler to pull inward and just focus on getting by the best we can with as little effort as possible. After all, taking care of family is more important that pulling weeds…or doing housework…or…any of a million other things like clearing our minds and breathing deeply, getting away from social media–and news media!–and doing things that we’ll just have to do again.

Some of us have chosen to fill our time and our homes with “more stuff” while try to wait for things to get better. We’ve looked for new feathers for our nest and new hobbies/interests for our minds and now we’re awash in “supplies”, but have little else to show for it. Others have taken the opposite approach and cleaned out with a dedication that looks admirable…right up until they’ve left themselves with little to bring comfort and nothing to see when you look beyond the surface…as if cleaning out all the reminders of who and what they’ve lost will somehow keep them from experiencing it.

No matter what compensatory efforts or avoidances we’ve tried, we’re still left with working our way through the consequences of a world gone haywire. For me, mine started long before the pandemic. I pride myself on being a reasonably smart person, but I left off more than just yardwork. I stopped taking care of ME. It may sound noble to some people, this idea of self-forgetfulness in serving others, but there’s a reason the airlines tell you to put YOUR oxygen mask on before you try to help someone else with theirs.

Eventually, you’re going to run out of steam…and oxygen.

I’m working my way through my yard again. I’ve been pulling weeds as I walk by heading to the mailbox and yesterday, I spent those hours finding all the roots that have made their way to the surface and caused several bent blades on my mower. Yes, there are more roots and they ARE making their way to the surface in some previously root-free areas, but at least a few of those bent blades they caused are because I simply thought I could make it work without taking time to do the prep-work. I came inside tired and ready for a cold glass of water. I had stirred up a considerable cloud of dust and yard debris clippings in the process of setting things right.

I also, for the first time in a long time, quit before the work was complete. I chose to stop when there was still more that could be done. That might not sound like much to some people, but it is definitely a step in the right direction for me. I used to work until it was ALL finished and I was exhausted no matter how long it took me to do so. These days, I’m learning to pace myself differently and pay attention to what my body is saying instead of just what my eyes are telling me needs to be accomplished. It may sound a little bit like what I was doing when I signed myself up for so many tasks that I started letting the yardwork go in the first place, but the motivation and the mindset are completely different.

As I came inside covered in all that grass and dust, I passed my open Bible on the counter. I’ve left it open to a passage in the book of Job for the past couple of days as a reminder not to get caught up in the details and my concern about when all of “this” will get settled. I can’t solve world propblems and I can’t make life easier for all of “my people”, but I can work on my own to-do list. I can take steps to make progress for others AND take care of myself in ways that are healthy and still challenge me.

The passage that caught my attention was Job 19:25 (CSB), which says, “But I know that my Redeemer lives and at the end he will stand on the dust.”

Can you celebrate that with me today? When all is said and done, when we’ve done everything we can and the dust is settled, God will still be standing and He’ll be standing on the dust.

No matter what constitutes “dust” for you today, remember that God is still in charge, He loves you, and when you’re through with the tasks of the day, He’ll still be right there being your Redeemer, the One who rescues you from things you can’t manage or straighten out on your own, the One who paid the price to set you free.

Grace and Peace!

Changes

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

Tip from me to you: If you’re looking for your comfort zone, do not under any circumstances decide to choose the word “curate” as your word of the year…and then try to implement it into your life. It won’t go anything like you thought it would.

It’s been a bit since I’ve been here. That wasn’t really intentional. I had plans and, while I absolutely understood that my word for the year would bring some changes, I somehow had the idea that they would be ones I chose for myself. (Shhhh…did you hear God giggle just now? I did. He does that, you know, when I get too big for my britches and think I’m in charge.)

I’m sure this will shock you, but I like to be in control of things that affect my life. As “I” chose my word, I had this idea that I would be systematically working through some overloaded areas of my life and weeding out some of the excesses and the unnecessarys. Maaaybe, I might add a thing or two, but mainly, I was planning a giant year-long weeding session and I intended to be pretty ruthless, or…at the very least, particular. I’m good at that. I’ve been “particular” for my whole life. In fact, my paternal grandmother once told me that I’d probably never marry because I was “too particular”.(Ha!) She was wrong about the marrying, but she might have had a bead on that “too particular” thing.

I started off strong as I began to excise different activities from my calendar. What I didn’t count on was that as I slowed down my schedule, I suddenly had time to truly experience some of the changes that were completely out of my control. A lot of those changes came as we began to lose people in our lives at an alarming rate.

Covid, cancer, aging, and the strain of living suddenly caught up with more friends and loved ones than I could imagine. I used to mark my calendar, in years past, so I could acknowledge the lives we lost. This year, for the first time ever, I quit doing that…after we lost our 16th friend and loved one within less than 9 months. I just “couldn’t” anymore.

I couldn’t properly process all of the losses. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t study. I couldn’t paint. I couldn’t celebrate. I couldn’t even breathe deeply. I had to regularly remind myself to do it and, even then, I struggled to fill my lungs and keep that process going automatically. I breathed in shallow breaths that got more and more so until I would realize I was just holding it all in and waiting…for the next call, email, or text.

The one thing I could do was pray and I did that with a vengeance. “Vengeance Prayer”–it doesn’t sound right, but it is exactly what it was. I was angry and I was grieving–for myself and for the families of those who were suddenly gone. Hurting people often say and think things that don’t sound all that spiritual. Fortunately, we have a God who understands…even the things that we can’t get out into words…and He’s not going to be unaware of what I think just because it isn’t audible. I love that about Him! I NEED that about Him. (so do you.) In any case, I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so much in my life. My calendar still remains full of prayer reminders and I love that part because the one thing I held closely–with fierceness–was my faith in God. Reminding myself of what I knew to be true about Him is what has saved me…in more ways than one.

These past months have been a curation of everything I had ever thought I could count on and a distillation of everything I have believed. It wasn’t that nothing good happened–it did!– but the magnitude of all the hard and painful losses drowned it out and drained me until all I had left was grief…and God…

and, then, He started sending me others who also felt on the edge, I think, just to let each of us know that we weren’t alone. I’ve been lovingly reminded, since then, that throughout this time I functioned almost normally. I just kept going forward and getting things checked off the list. Several dear friends have told me of the times I sent notes and made calls, brought joy or encouragement to them in different ways. While I remember doing those things, I did them as much to push me through my own darkness as I did to cheer them. I was desperate for some relief and I credit God entirely for continuing to hold me up. That He also chose to use me, even small ways, to lighten other loads is a large testament to His great grace.

I’m breathing a little easier these days. I’ve developed practices for doing so, sought wisdom and assistance from those who have survived devastating losses before me, chosen to make time to take care of myself physically, and made rest a deliberate part of my day. I’ve pared down my to-do lists and eased up on some of my long-held demands for personal standards that don’t always serve me well. I’ve begun to share instead of remaining silent and allowed others around me to minister to me instead of insisting that I always be the “helper” instead of the “helped”. I’ve brought music back into my daily routine and incorporated small deliberate attempts at creating art. Even now, as I type this, I am listening to music I first discovered when I started out on my own over…welll…a long time ago. (grin) The familiar sounds take me right back to simpler times, fewer requirements, and encourage me to revel in a God Who never changes even when our circumstances do so.

These changes–large and small, chosen or not–have been significant, necessary, humbling…and even healing. This has been curation of the deepest kind and, in spite of what it took to get me here, I find myself grateful and more peaceful than I could have ever managed…if “I” were in charge of all the changes.

Grace and Peace.

P.S. Today is the first day of “meteorological Fall”, so while the temperatures won’t descend rapidly overnight, begin to look for and appreciate the changes that signal the coming season. After all, God is in the changes and you don’t want to miss Him!

Standing on the promises…Still.

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters….He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” 2 Samuel 22:17, 20 (NIV)

I delivered this painting to a friend yesterday. It was both a relief and a release to hand it over to her. She teared up…and named the bird “Sam” even before she took him home to roost somewhere in her house. She says he’s her favorite kind of bird and she seemed genuinely excited to get him. That’s a pretty satisfying response for an artist of any kind.

When we had lunch two weeks ago, I knew I was going to paint “Sam” even before our lunch date was over. As much as I had needed this time with my friend, I now desperately needed to get home and start painting. Part prayer, part testimony, part reminder of who God says He is and what we so often need from Him. I needed to paint this rough and wild looking bird looking back out over the deep waters. She needed to see it. We both needed this crazy-looking bird.

As a creative, you’re never really sure when and where the next inspiration will appear, but it’s a sure bet that surrounding yourself with people who inspire you is a fine place to start. My friend Kelley is a constant blessing even though our contact is more sporadic than the depth of our connection would indicate on the surface. She is a championship-level encourager to every person she knows and, because of that, she has always been a blessing and a LOT of fun to have as a friend. We are connected by God and history, but since we don’t live in the same place, we usually just see each other for our annual lunch date in a nearby town where neither of us lives. Although we most often keep in touch through public social media and the occasional text or call for prayer, we have that blessing of being able to instantly reconnect and share all kinds of personal news…and then we shop—something I rarely do even by myself. Kelley is probably my only “semi-regular” (once a year! Ha!) shopping friend just because she is so much fun to be with that I manage to overlook the fact that I am actually out and in a store without a list or agenda.

While we worked our way through delicious crepes, we caught up and shared many things, including some of the heaviest of losses of the past year and how we are/aren’t yet through dealing with them. We stopped to pray for each other several times as we worked our way through the particularly rough spots. I tell you that is the very best way to share and catch up with a friend. You should try it.

During our shopping time afterward, I noticed that we were both being drawn to birds. Neither of us bought a single one, but we both stopped to admire, comment on, or reached to touch most of the bird-items we saw that day. As the idea for this painting popped into my head, I instantly knew it was necessary for me to paint it for her. Before the basecoat had even dried, I remembered the verse that this painting would represent. It was a confirmation even before I had done more than start to prep the canvas. 2 Samuel 22:17 (NIV) says, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.” That’s the verse I wanted to put on canvas for my friend…and for myself.

If you look closely, you might notice that this bird looks a little rough around the edges–as though it’s been through a storm. The feathers are ruffled and slightly out of place. “Sam” has not had a smooth and easy adventure or a time of resting on the beach vacation-day. This bird has been through the wringer, survived, and been rescued to try again.

As I painted and prayed my way through this one, I also read further into Chapter 22. In it, as I usually do, I found comfort in the reading of God’s Word and a reminder I thought you might need as much as my friend and I do. Verse 20 says, in part, “…he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

Did you see that? Read it again. Don’t miss it! God cannot be less than the Rescuer He is or love us less than He has promised. These words say that He rescues us from the hard places of life because He delights in us. HE DELIGHTS IN US—even when we find ourselves in deep and difficult places we can’t rescue or return from on our own. By its very definition a rescue is necessary when we cannot make our own way out of whatever trouble we’re experiencing. It is then that we need to know that God delights in us more than at any other time, because it is THEN that we feel it the least. That knowledge is power. It is strength. It can give us the ability to hold on until the rescue is completed.

 I don’t know of anyone who has managed to get through life without losing something or someone. The last several years have been particularly brutal in this regard for most of the people I know. Most of us lost more than just one thing and more than just one someone. Loss and grief take their time in healing and if you’re already over yours, then I will stop and praise God with you for that right now. As for me, quite honestly, I’m not there yet and there are days when I wonder if it will ever happen.

I needed to do this painting in order to read this promise of God’s faithfulness again and be reminded of it. Maybe, I needed to write this post so YOU could read this again and know it, too. For sure and for certain, I needed to share it. May the God of all Hope be visible to you in your places of pain and hardship. May you look for Him and call on Him when—and even before!—you “need” Him. He delights in us. Let’s choose to delight in Him, as well, as we await the day of our rescue and find the strength to trust Him for the rescue of those we love, as well.

Grace and Peace—from God, Kelley, me…and “Sam”

Role Models

 We’ve had two sets of three cats over the course of our marriage. The first time, we had 3 girls. Two were litter mates and the third, several years later, was a rescue-gift from God. The two litter mates lived the longest and were just shy of their 16th birthday when they left us.

Our second go-round was 3 boys. Two were litter mates and the third, several years later, was a rescue-gift from God. Once again, the oldest made it to almost 15 years of age. The vet told us that boy cats would be easier than girl cats. He was right in many ways, but they were all loved.

As we introduced the youngest cats, each time we went through a period of adjustment. The girls seemed to accept their new little sibling quicker. Well, at least quicker than one of the boys, anyway.

When we found Lewis on a busy bridge, he fit in the palm of my hand. He curled up next to my neck and dug in like he was never going to move again. He was scrawny, flea-infested, and too young to bring home right away. He purred like a diesel engine when he was held and wanted nothing more than to be held tightly, but we headed to the vet who told us he was too young to be tested for anything that might endanger our other two boys just yet. That meant Lewis stayed at the vet for awhile and when we bought him home, we saw two entirely different reactions.

Smokey, our big gray and white tuxedo cat, took one look at Lewis and just walked away, pausing only long enough to look over his shoulder at us as if to say, “What HAVE you done now?! This is a mistake and it is ALL on you.”

Lewis promptly hid in the bookshelf, squeezing himself into an impossibly small hold on top of a stack of books.

Jack, our black and white tuxedo cat, simply sat and stared at Lewis for the longest time before he moved slowly forward to investigate the new arrival. After some initial hissing and spitting from the new guy and a little bit more hiding, Jack backed off and took up his post to just watch and see what would happen next.

It took several days for Lewis to settle in and get used to being off the bridge. He loved to cuddle and he often made his way up to my husband’s neck to snuggle in as soon as he settled into his chair. I guess he felt he was extra safe there. Jack and Smokey tended to hang out in my lap. Smokey made a profession out of ignoring the newcomer. Jack just watched and waited for him to get comfortable.

Jack, it seemed, had decided that HE had a new job. He was going to teach Lewis how to be a cat in our house—and he was WONDERFUL at doing so!

To put things into perspective, I had been home with Jack and Smokey for their whole lives. That meant I had a good bit of time to spend with them and be consistent about the routines I wanted them to have. They knew which tables they could jump on and which ones were off limits, what times they oculd expect to be let out of the laundry room in the morning, and that it would NEVER be acceptable for them to be on a kitchen counter. When it was time to go to bed, I stood up and said, “It’s bedtime!” at which point they got up and we all headed for the laundry room like they were little ducks following their mama. My friends marveled that you could, indeed, train cats.

Jack instantly knew that Lewis would need to be trained to the house standard. Smokey did not care…at all. He simply kept his distance, followed the house rules, and hissed or growled a little if the new guy got a little closer than he thought was necessary.

Jack took his cues from me. If Lewis started to do something or go somewhere Jack knew wasn’t a good idea, he stopped him, redirected him, or—if that failed—he simply just popped the stew out of him to get his attention. Lewis was smart. He picked on Jack’s system pretty quickly. It didn’t mean Lewis didn’t try new things; he just kept an eye out for Jack before he tried some ideas. Jack, of course, knew all the great hiding spots and he would come racing out to stop Lewis before he went too far down the wrong path. If all else failed, Jack would simply sit on Lewis until he came around to Jack’s way of thinking.

One day, I heard a tiny, tiny squeal. I knew, of course, that it was Lewis, so I went looking for him. I looked high and low for that cat. I searched the whole house at least twice until I finally tracked the noise down to the office. I looked around, but there was absolutely no sign of Lewis…until I noticed that Jack was stretched out in the chair beside the desk and the computer cables that went behind it. It was THEN I noticed that Jack had two tails.

I’ll never know for sure, but I’m guessing that Lewis had decided to play with the cords and Jack had simply had enough. As I made Jack move so I could check on Lewis, Jack looked at me much the way Smokey had on the initial meeting. He had it handled, thank you very much, and I was interfering in the training exercises.

Smokey and Lewis eventually grew to love each other, but given his choice, Lewis always slept with Jack. I believe he knew Jack cared enough to discipline him and was actually looking out for his well-being from the very beginning.

I’ve thought and laughed about that story many times over the years. I’ve also seen God use some of the same blessings of discipline on me. He’s sent sisters to teach me the standards of the House, to redirect me when I went down a path they didn’t think was a good one, and to, occasionally, sit on me (metaphorically, of course! Grin) when they’d had enough or thought I had crossed a line. I didn’t always appreciate it in the moment, but over time I’ve generally grown to appreciate the reasons they did so.

Who or what is God using as a role model for you today AND, (This is CRITICAL!) who is watching you and counting on you to be their role model? Trust me, someone is watching. Are you comfortable about your role and what you’re teaching them today?

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.” Psalm 139:23-24 (CSB)

Typical behavior. Wonder what Lewis was getting instructions about then?! (LOL)

Poetry and progress

The Uses of Sorrow by Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

I read this poem for the first time today and I love it. I get it. It feels personal and like something I could have written from my own experience…if I were more of a wordsmith.

I used to hate poetry. It “took too much time” and I didn’t see the point of making people work to figure out what the writer meant when using prose would make the job much more straight forward.

I was younger then. I had a busy schedule alongside a drive to come in first and, if possible, match up to the labels from and the expectations of other people. Time was of the essence. While I could often be found with my nose in a book of fiction, history, or in search of specific information, I attended more to the needs of my academic mind than to the requirements of my heart.

The book stacks beside the chair today have as many volumes of poetry as there are of fiction or research. I read in snatches, stopping by for a leisurely word with Wendell Berry, Robert Frost, or King David before moving on to the more mundane tasks of folding laundry or heading out to pick up sticks or pull a few weeds. I look for ways to beautify and enjoy even the most common tasks. Moving between the physical and the metaphysical, arming the mind and spirit before marching toward the manual labor–my days are a mixture far from what I could have ever imagined on those days when I hated poetry.

I’m older now and more focused on making God smile than meeting the expectations of others. I find He’s an easier taskmaster than I am and that grace is something I am ever in need of. Wisdom too often comes slower that we’d like, but my determined spirit is still as strong as ever. I am learning and choosing to curate my reading and my daily schedule…because time is of the essence and the heart needs blessing, too.

“…It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.”

Grace and Peace.

Upside Down

Several months ago, I was scrolling through Instagram when I happened upon the photo of a massive and gloriously beautiful floral arrangement. The lighting was spectacular. The flowers were a marvelous jumble of nature’s finest Spring beauties set against a deep black background. It was SO elegant!

As lovely as the subject matter was as a whole, however, my attention was drawn to a single small bloom on a far edge toward the back. I was suddenly inspired to paint.

i could SEE it: simple, elegant, and crisp lines of a pale pink tulip illuminated against a stark black background. I printed out a black and white reference photo of my chosen flower. (Seriously? You needed a reference photo for a tulip—probably THE most simple flower shape in the world…and you picked a black and white one?! I can hear you thinking that and the answer is…yes.) I couldn’t wait! “Life” intervened. Time passed…with no painting at all.

At long last, I chose my canvas and gathered a variety of paints. I had given this one plenty of thought. It was going to be mainly pale pink with creamy white highlights with a dark green stem and leaf. I could see it!

A painting requires a series of layers and often begins to take on a life of its own. This was one of those. I could tell right off that THIS tulip wasn’t at all interested in being what I had planned. I kept at it, though, and as I twisted and turned the canvas to put paint where it needed to go, I noticed something else: this painting wasn’t the least bit interested in being cool and smooth with quiet colors and elegant lines. It wants to be bold and loud and have ruffles on the edges. It also wants to go in a different direction. Literally. Not only is the color story vastly different, but the aspect has changed, as well.

In case you’re wondering, that means that my quiet, elegant, pale pink and white tulip is currently various shades of red and purple with a bright green stem on an electric yellow background…and…it looks better UPSIDE DOWN. Truly.

While I am not yet finished with it, here’s a preview.

This painting seems to be indicative of my life right now. It doesn’t look quite like I expected it to and I am changing directions in quite a few areas. As a continuing work-in-process, it can feel–and BE!–much messier than makes this generally well-organized person happiest. There are layers opening up and revealing things I hadn’t planned. Some of those layers need curating and it often takes longer than I would like to get where I need to be. Every bit of that is true, BUT I am still determined to do the work and make the most of this life that is mine to use as God intends.

My painting also reminds me that God’s grace and His gospel often seems at odds with what is expected by the world–and yes, even by those of us who know and follow Him closely. He regularly opens us up to more possibilities than we planned for, has greater depth than we might find comfortable, and embodies forgiveness on those days when we fail (sometimes, spectacularly!) to match our Reference Photo. His plan for us will usually be much different than we anticipated and His grace will enlarge us far beyond the boundaries of the smaller canvases we so often choose for ourselves. It is lavish and bold and it reminds me that my God, Who can do anything He chooses, chose an upside down way to save the world.

“And Jesus showed us the depth of God’s love by willingly leaving heaven’s glory and sharing in our poverty. The Bible says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” 2 Corinthians 8:9

Grace and Peace!

Curating the days

Although you haven’t heard from me in a couple of weeks or so, I have been diligently working to curate my life by curating my days. I’ve always found that when setting goals, it’s the little things done with consistency that end up making the most significant impact.

To that end, I’ve broken down my CURATE goal into 5 specific areas of focus: faith, family, finances, fun, and physical/health goals (smile! this week’s blog is brought to you by the sound of the letter “F”…) Each day, I’ve been focusing on including as many of these categories as seems reasonable.

“Reasonable” means different things to different people. For me, I’ve broken it down in very simple terms:

*Family (availability)

*Faith (personal, not just public)

*Finances (stability and good decisions)

*Fun (make room for and take opportunities)

*Physical/health goals (more than simple exercise and staying active, this involves good-for-me food choices; getting enough sleep, and creating room for mental rest and recovery, as well)

I’ve learned to evaluate my days by how intentional I have been to include as many of these 5 goals as I can. Some days, I can cover all 5. Other days, not so much. I am learning, as I told my mama the other day, to be kinder to myself and remember that is something I’ve often failed to do in the past. Being aware of this and altering this behavior is changing more than I had imagined possible.

As I prepared for and then made the trip to visit relatives we’ve been unable to see for well over a year, I became frustrated that I ran out of time to blog…and then I laughed. Curating means, at least partially, choosing what to cut. Meeting the Family goal was more important. Doing so in a way that left me as rested and ready to enjoy the trip was me being nice to me.

Another part of this year’s focus was to intentionally share my creative efforts here on the blog. The pollen is beginning to settle down here in Georgia, so I’ve spent a good bit of time “creating” a shorter to-do list and getting things in order out in my yard. Along the way, I’ve created several fresh flower arrangements (like the one above) and placed them throughout the house so that I am constantly surrounded by God’s creativity. Having breakfast with my husband and enjoying the delicate, but pervasive scent of fresh iris blooms has been a bonus! I’ve also taken lots of photos to document the glory of the Spring season and I plan to use them for inspiration and do a little painting when I can.

What kinds of things are you doing to be kind to YOU this season?

Grace and Peace!

“Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6:3

Sharing Sunshine

I’m writing this at 2:25 AM, but I’m going to wait until a more respectable hour to post it so the pinging of your phone doesn’t interfere with your ability to rest just because I am up and typing this early. My arm hurts where the lady shot me. We got our 2nd vaccines yesterday and we are grateful, but…nope. I’m going to stop right there. We are grateful. We are choosing to be so. Someone (a whole lot of them, actually!) who was a whole lot smarter than I am, found a way to create vaccine options for this awful virus and then made it available. We get to choose what we do with that. I, for one, am choosing to be eternally grateful…and temporarily sore.

As I tried to find a comfortable position that also keeps an icepack in place, I’ve been running through a list of other things that have sparked gratitude recently, as well. It’s a good way to pass the time when you can’t sleep. So far, my list consists of a few stories from Sunday morning right up until the very nice lady with the great big smile shot us.

We’ve been careful during all of the pandemic stuff. REALLY careful. We have a whole list of physically vulnerable friends and family and we’ve actually lost quite a few, so to be honest, we donned masks, became experts at social distancing, and stayed home a WHOLE lot more (perhaps not as difficult for us as for some, since we’re both introverts). Additionally, we kept on doing the same things my husband’s oncologist told us to during THAT adventure over 20+ years ago. It seems to have been working for us for at least 20 + years, so…we’ve been here before. We know how this feels.

Like a lot of people, however, we get tired of it sometimes and we need to get out of the house for a drive in the countryside. We did that Sunday morning after my husband saw a message from a wonderful lady-friend who runs a show we used to do. She said that another, smaller show (NOT hers) had been held the day before in the rain and the storm made quite a mess of things. It was a small show in an even smaller town. We’ve worked that show before and we know that even on the pretty days, it may not get a lot of traffic. We’ve been there before. We know how it feels. Having wind blow tents over while trying to sell rain ruined product or messed up labels just makes it extra hard for these small business owners, so the organizers were giving them a “free day”/do-over day. Artists and crafters have taken a beating during the pandemic. Our friend was trying to drum up extra customers for these people she didn’t know in a show that wasn’t her own. Kindness; paying it forward. We are big fans of this concept!

We set off to see if we could help bring a few dollars in for someone. The message came in early and the show was only about 45 minutes away, so we arrived while the town was still pretty quiet. There were just a few people on the sidewalks and absolutely no one sitting outside in the shady boardwalk of another small business/restaurant combo as we looked for a parking spot. It was cold. There was still quite a bit of chilly wind, but at least the sun was out. It seemed a good number of people might have parked on main street and walked to church so they could have a handy parking spot later. We decided to stop for a quick bite before moving on to the show. Restaurants have also taken a beating during this pandemic and we have family who make their living that way, so we’ve been there and we know how that feels.

An old man sitting in a rocking chair spoke a welcome to us as we walked down the sidewalk. The staff at the restaurant side was cheerful and helpful in helping us pick what we should order. They even brought something to weigh down the napkins on the table when they brought our food. Did I mention it was still cold? The sunshine had fooled me into leaving my jacket in the truck, so I made my way back to get it.

As I headed back to the table, I passed two women sitting where the older gentleman had been on my first trip. These ladies had found their sweet spot—literally. They were chowing down on a heaping paper plate full of fried dough with a mound of confectioner’s sugar on top. My husband used to love those things, so I paused momentarily to ask if it was a good one. Both of the ladies IMMEDIATELY confirmed it by happy vocal sounds, licking fingers and rapid head shakes as they lifted the plate toward me…and asked if I’d like a bite! Yes, they did! They offered a complete stranger part of their funnel cake right in the middle of main street and during a pandemic. I was more touched by their kindness than I could say, but since I am NOT a funnel cake fan and I had lunch and my husband waiting, I politely declined and moved on, absolutely gratified beyond words by their generous spirits.

I mentioned that we were early and I mentioned the wind. Did I mention that it was cold? I’m certain it was that last detail that kept the patrons off the boardwalk where we pulled up chairs to the only table where there was a tiny sliver of sunlight to blunt the cold as we ate our lunches and talked about how God was speaking to us individually and as a team of two. We enjoyed the delicious food and the caring visits of the ones who prepared and served it as they braved the wind tunnel to make sure we were doing ok…in a tiny town with friendly people everywhere.

We were. They shared their smile along with their delicious food and we were grateful for both.

As we were finishing up our lunches, another intrepid couple headed toward us with the waitress. They were also looking for a place away from the crowds and had noticed the wind. Did I mention it was cold? I saw her shiver as she passed me, so I did the first thing that came to mind. We were through, so I stood up and said, “We’re about to bless you by sharing our sliver of sunshine while you eat. We hope you’ll enjoy your lunch!” It wasn’t as big a deal as offering to share a funnel cake, but they were most appreciative and mentioned that they had just commented on how cold it was. I had noticed. We’ve been there. We know how it feels.

The waitress cleared our table for them and we moved on toward the show. We found a couple of small items for future gifts and tried to encourage a few intrepid vendors who came back to take advantage of a free day to replace the paid one of disaster. Waiting and wondering if people will come and if they will find value in what you’re made and pay you for doing so, can be rough. We’ve been there. We know how it feels.

I’ve thought about that quite a bit since then. Our world has become so contentious and it seems that no matter what position you take, there’s a whole contingent of voices ready to yell you down and tell you how wrong you are. What we need to remember is that we’ve ALL been there and we know how it feels. It’s ok to disagree and walk away without comment. That is actually possible. It’s just fine if everyone isn’t just like me…or you—in fact, it’s often a good thing. God deliberately made us all different. Remember that! We also need to remember how it feels to be kind, to share, to get out of our comfort zones and try to help someone who might be having a more difficult time than we are (yes, that’s still possible, too). Kindness goes a long way toward making the hard things we face more bearable. Even if you don’t have a funnel cake to offer, you can still smile, be kind, extend some grace, offer friendly greetings, and share the sunshine…especially when it’s really cold.

FYI, you can also smile, be kind, and say “THANK YOU!” to people who serve the public in any capacity, including those who wait tables or stand out in the weather to shoot you. We know. We’ve been there.

Grace and Peace!

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16 (NIV)

Curated Creations #1

Well. Choosing the word “curate” for this year comes with some built-in expectations and accountability factors. I know God understood that before I realized it and I think I probably need those. So…(deep breath, here)…I am pushing myself to step WAY out of my comfort zone and start sharing some of the creativity I’ve been given here on the blog in a more regular fashion. Sharing these posts will, I hope, encourage me to make painting/creating art a higher priority in my schedule.

What I share may not always be an actual painting, but my hope is that whatever IS shared here will encourage YOU to find ways to look for beauty and find ways to creatively add it to your schedule, as well.

Sometimes I pray and sing as I paint. This quick little watercolor of the ocean had several inspirations: one friend’s many photos of the ocean (thanks for sharing all of your beautiful photography on FB, Kristi!!), prayers for several other friends and their families as they grieve, and thoughts of how one day we will all be reunited “In the Sweet By and By.” Halfway through the painting and right in the middle of my prayers, I realized I was singing these words in my head, so I added them to the back of the painting as a continuing prayer.

My second offering is another little watercolor of a rose. My husband brought it home to me from his workplace last week. I placed it in a small round, flat-sided, vintage, orangy-red glass vase on my kitchen window ledge so I could enjoy it as I worked and still see it from my chair in the living room, as well. I wish I could have also painted the scent! It was heavenly!

Heaven was apparently a theme for me this week. I pray you were similarly blessed.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26 (NKJV)

Grace and peace!

(It’s a shame I have to say this, but…

*Unless specifically noted, ALL photos, artwork, words, and additional images on this blog are the property of this author and are not to be used for profit by unauthorized persons or entities. Thank you!😉)

Happy New Year!

I have many delightful people in my life who celebrate their new year in January right along with the rest of the world in accordance with unarguable historical and institutional practice, not to mention the many fine people who produce calendars of every size and subject matter. While I DO love a beautiful calendar printed on heavy paper which unveils the months along the customary lines of a January to December year, and I faithfully record notes and notices ALL OVER both my paper and electronic versions, I still choose to start my year in April. I’m weird like that…and ok about it. (fun fact: this is not even close to the strangest thing about me! HA!) Yes, MY new year starts on the day I celebrate my physical birth. It seems appropriate and far less arbitrary to me than starting in January. It also gives me the advantage of some additional time to think about what I want to focus on in MY new year.

In lieu of making a string of resolutions which they have no intention of following/remembering past March (just ask those gym membership recruiters! LOL), several of the aforementioned friends and family have adopted the custom of choosing a word or theme on which to focus over the course of their year. I like that. I really do. In recent years past, I’ve focused on Grace, Margin, Family, and Breathing. Yes, breathing. In fact, I think that became my watchword for this past year…when I found myself holding my breath and waiting on the other shoe to fall, in amazement at the resiliency of others who faced tougher times than I did, and with gratitude at just getting through what was in front of me. (additional fact: while breathing is crucial to maintaining life, it is often one of the things we take most for granted, try to control, and regularly manipulate how we present ourselves and our reactions to the world around us…as though that’s what is most important.) (Insert eye roll here.)

I learned a few things this past year about holding my breath and then expanding my lungs to take in the next breath in order to relax. Intentional breathing became about how to shake off some of the stressors of pandemic life and loss. Focusing on the simple rhythmic in and out of the air perpetuating my physical life and cueing in on something so very simple–indeed, something so natural and innate as to be designed by our Creator to continue even when we lose consciousness!!–made some of the hard things we faced seem smaller in importance and reduced their criticality factors exponentially. At the very least, it allowed me that illusion. Just breathe in…now breathe out…repeat…repeat…

All of that breathing helped me focus on some other areas, as well, like looking at the kinds of things that take our breath away–in both good AND bad ways, how something we cannot see can become so very vital to our survival, and how God can use the unseen things to bless us in really important ways…that we often ignore or simply take for granted. This study, in turn, naturally made me want to increase my awareness of those good things and spend less time on the bad ones, which brings me to my word for THIS new year: curate. (yeah, that’s a jump. no subtle transition at all there, Becky.)

At first, several months ago, I thought my word for the year would be something quite different, like Dare or Peace or Focus or Play. (yes, I know. they’re all very different. my mind has been wandering ALLL over the place for awhile now.) What I’ve noticed over the course of my life, however, is that if I ask God what HE wants me to focus on, He is generally pretty clear about it in His responses back to me. So it was again…and that’s why my word for my new year is “Curate” instead of one of those others.

I’ve got a reasonable vocabulary, so I knew what it meant to “curate” something. I didn’t even look it up when God started bringing it to me. It seemed incidental, at first, then the regularity with which it showed up in my news feed, the books, I read, the emails or notices I received, the conversations in groups I belong to, started to penetrate the pandemic fog and I went looking for something more than the surface definition I was familiar with, which was something along the lines of “being in charge (I’m good at that. ha!), of choosing along a theme, or selecting with intention.” It is a word I usually associate with museums or an art exhibit.

I love art, I’ve been wanting to develop my skills in this area. I’m already pretty organized, and I know how to take charge (stop laughing, husband!), so I knew organization would play a role in lining things up, just like in an art exhibit. Ok, check! I had some of that reasonably down. It looks like this will be my year to focus on my art and organization. Great! I can get into that, for sure!

God kept sending me this word, so just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything, I dug a little deeper. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines something that has been “curated” much as I had, with a slight change: “carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized or presented.” It also included a direction I hadn’t yet considered. THAT definition led to others, to root words, and an explosion of what I thought I knew before into a whole lot of options that still apply to art, but also apply to life. After all, life is art, right?

God is like that sometimes. He sends us in directions we aren’t always familiar with and puts us in places where we might not be completely comfortable–and he does so ON PURPOSE. Part of that is to show us new things and help us grow. Some of it is because our first inclinations are usually about US and HE always has a bigger plan. At times, He nudges us in new directions because even when our old ones aren’t necessarily bad for us, they will become so if we just sit still and stay comfortable with where we are spiritually. Mostly, though, I think God desires for us to know HIM. You cannot teach or share what you do not know. God sent His Son, Jesus to reach out and save the world. He left us His Holy Spirit so that we can continue that mission. As our world starts to open back up more and more, we’re going to bump up against a lot of people who have suffered unimaginable losses over the past year. They will need more than just what we think or where we stand politically. They will need WHO we KNOW. Among other aspects, God wants to show us–and them!–why one of His specialties is being The Comforter…and we’ll never need or get to know that part of Him if we stay in our comfort zones.

This past year has been a lot of things. Comforting and comfortable haven’t been on the list, but God continues to be exactly Who He says He is…and that is a good place to start a new year.

Grace and Peace!

“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7