The Sweetest Gift

Prayer Closet project

It was tempting for me to show the “after” first because the “before” though functional, is not the prettiest to look at. It stood in Elaine’s Mom’s room to hold adult diapers and miscellaneous stuff while she was in the care-home. Her name, which you can still see the shadow of, had to be kept on it because she forgot that it was hers to from time to time. When Joyce passed two weeks before Christmas this year, Elaine just couldn’t part with it. Then a vision began to take shape.

These are her own words on the Facebook post she made when she posted the pictures of the finished product, my incredible Christmas gift:

Lori has used my little shop for her prayer closet for years. When I go to do a project I have to clear Bible’s candles, pens, reading glasses, little pieces of paper with names on them. I never say a word. Well maybe once, for I am sure she has prayed and shed many a tear there for me. When my Mom passed I had her little chest of drawers to take home. Lori said just donate it. I said no!. I have a plan for that… And here it is. Took me many hours in the little shop.

I had an inkling of what she was doing, because she had mentioned seeing “Prayer Cabinets” online and on Pinterest. I was ordered to stay out of the shop until it was done.
Finally, the day before Christmas Eve it was complete. That night, a sheet covered dolly was wheeled in from outside by Elaine, looking much like one of Santa’s mischievous elves. She could hardly contain her excitement, she said……”You are gonna cry.”
Cry, I did……and you can see why:
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It was beyond my expectations. Standing before me was a labor of love born out of the deepest kind of sorrow. That was why it meant so much. She could have chosen any old chest to refurbish but she wanted this one. Now when I go out to pray, I see a vision of someone who looked inside her heart and refused to cave in to despair, but instead made an unspeakable thing of beauty for someone else…….and I got to be the recipient. I will cherish it the rest of my days, because I know what it took to make it.
I had stood in her Mom’s room and seen those drawers slide in and out, her looking for socks that her Mom had stashed in her purse, and marking the backs of “Depends” with permanent markers. I love that those drawer liners weren’t wasted. And the crosses……those crosses were made out of driftwood we collected from Moss Landing, one of our favorite places to go in California. It’s personal through and through.
I see it, and I think of how so many times in life God brings hope and beauty after our deepest times of despair. I think of that Psalm that talks about joy in the morning.
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And God looks at us “castoffs” by the side of the road and sees what He will make us into, because He sees what we can’t. And He’s determined to make a thing of incredible beauty out of us, even when we can no longer believe in ourselves.
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And He says:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 6,7
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And someday, when we are on the other side……..He will nod approvingly and say, “I do good work.” Come inside now and see what I have prepared for you…….

Creativity and our DNA

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Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:6

Whether you believe the account in Genesis or not, (I do) you can’t deny that creativity is a part of who we are. Even before we can walk or run, we are stacking blocks. Why are we not content to let the sand just lie there and be sand? Because the truth is the act of creating is part of our DNA handed down from our Father in Heaven.

I remember craft time in school when they handed out the clay or the paint how excited we all were. And not just the ones with the natural talent, everybody. And back then no one worried if we were good enough, we just wanted to join in and watch the colors mix, splash over the page, feel the clay warm under our kneading hands. My Mom still has one of my projects from first grade and I still remember that feeling of seeing my finished product; a teal colored fish with a roped piece of clay for a smile.

This morning, after hearing about the Nuke deal, I was kind of bummed out honestly. I thumbed through my phone at the news flashes and threw it back down on the bed distractedly. I didn’t want to hear anymore. I turned my attention to the blank paper that was going to be a card for my Dad’s 87th Birthday. I decided to draw a simple sketch of a place that holds deep significance to our whole family. I crouched on the floor with a few pencils and working from a photo, I sketched a scene.

Soon the cat came in and thought it was play time so he started batting the pencils out of my hand. They both wondered why I was on their level so they hovered around, curiously watching. I found that in those minutes I lost track of time and all the worries of the world outside. For those few minutes I was doing something Holy. I was a partaker in creating something from nothing and even though it’s just a simple drawing, I know my Dad will love it because he is an artist. He understands the joy of the creative process.

When we share our art with someone we are actually joining with God in the creative process He started when He created the world, the cosmos and us. And when we pass it on it becomes a kind of benediction that makes them want to reciprocate in their own way.

Art is a way of keeping our sanity when the world outside seems anything but. Art is a way of building a bridge of hope that lifts us above and beyond ourselves and points to something and someone greater. It says that there is much that is still good. To much to give up.

Turns out there is a world of adults out there who long to go back to those coloring and finger painting days. There are whole workshops now devoted to distressed, depressed, burned out adults who long to get back into the rhythm of doing something they left behind long ago and turns out they shouldn’t have.

So push aside those thoughts that you’re not good enough.

Or do that thing you secretly have always known you were good at.

Paint, draw, sing, build, write. And don’t let anyone tell you it’s a waste of time or even worse, that it’s childish.

You spend enough time in your day being an adult. Now take a break for awhile and enter into what you were really made for

You won’t be able to stop smiling, I promise.

(This post is an abbreviated version that was swallowed up earlier in the day. It is out there in the cloud somewhere)

I started writing on this theme from a prompt I heard about over at The High Calling, though I missed the community link up. Read some great articles on this theme right here.

“Heaven is all around us……..”

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My Dad has sent me many letters over the years and I treasure them all. He usually calls and tells me he sent one, sometimes he tells me everything that’s in the letter and says, “Well I guess I didn’t really have to send it did I?” But I am always glad he does, for I have something to hold onto after he’s gone. I was thinking yesterday, about how I would feel if I got one of these letters from Heaven after he passed on, how would any of us feel? It would be a priceless gift we wouldn’t let go of. If someone writes you words, they are writing out part of their heart. And that’s something never to take lightly.

This particular letter is one I wanted to share because I think the message in it is very valuable and something we all need to remember.

Dear Lori:

I woke up early this morning and sat by myself and was led to write this:

I was reading April 14th, “Jesus Calling” and it spoke of Heaven and I realized how close I am to entering that place of peace. It spoke of Heaven being all around us, even today. Even as we live our lives here and now–what a shame that our peace is disrupted by the dirt and anxiety that engulfs us and stains the picture of Heaven all around us.

Life seems like painting a beautiful picture (which I have done) but making a mistake and destroying the picture and starting all over–life is like that. We start all over every morning but before long we destroy the picture with a terrible memory or a situation in our daily lives that we can’t control–Jesus watches us paint the picture as he looks over our shoulder and it hurts Him when we destroy it.

When I get to Heaven, I hope I don’t look back and see all the times I destroyed the picture and wasted the beauty of Heaven that I had the opportunity to see all around me, everyday.

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When my Dad says he painted a picture, he really did. He did some beautiful watercolor paintings and I remember my Mom would always say that one day she would walk into the room and see what she thought was a great painting and the next day she would see a big, black “X” over it. His critical eye would have found some fault in it. He felt it was less than his best.

And isn’t that how we all are? God gives us a new day, something full of promise and we junk it up with things He never intended, like worry, regret, fear of failure. Or we create something that God is smiling over and we destroy it because all we can see is the mistake.

Today, don’t settle for the black “X”………. make God smile and put a big gold star on this day,  better yet on yourself!

For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago. Ephesians 2:10 “The Voice”

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It’s a “God Thing”

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The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:18)

This beautiful cross you see above comes with a story. It’s one I have great pleasure in sharing because it is a perfect illustration of how the Holy Spirit brings strangers together and makes them friends. The maker of this very special cross happened across my blog one day and something I said struck a chord because he wrote a beautiful comment of encouragement which blessed me tremendously. It was one of those “God Things.”

Time and time again I marvel at how the Holy Spirit uses people and circumstances to give us just the encouragement we need at just the right time. It’s happened over and over again and it surprises me, even though I should know better by now. Now I will tell you a little story about how this particular cross came to me. It’s another “God Thing.”

I had expressed an interest in these handmade crosses made by Mark McCullough via his Etsy website which you can find here. Then, right around Christmas time, I get a surprise email saying that one of these crosses was going to be shipped to me as a gift! In the accompanying message he asked if he could share the why and how of the story. I was like, “Hello…..of course you can!” He described how he wanted the crosses to go to three individuals for specific reasons. One of whom was me. Here are his words:

You told me in our first email exchange that you sometimes wondered if you shouldn’t just leave the blogging to others, which is something that I think would be a terrible loss for our world.  I wanted you to have a cross, something like a combination of potential inspiration and an expression of my gratitude.  I know that a cross that comes to live with you will find a way to reach out into the world—that’s what I want for all of my crosses, that wherever they go, they touch someone, somehow, and carry the message forward.

So I knew who I wanted the crosses to go to, but I told everyone that it would be a random drawing, and I felt that I had to honor that. I also decided that I was willing to make more crosses if I needed to, to ensure that these three people each got one.

I wrote all the names on little pieces of paper, folded each one up, and dropped them into a gift bag that was sitting next to my desk.  I wouldn’t say that I actually prayed–more like just a “Okay God, here we go” statement.  I shook it up and pulled out a name.  It was Friend #2, whose father is ill.  I drew a second name—you.  I drew the third name, and it was Friend #1.  It would seem that God approved of my choices!  I sat here at my desk for a long while just marveling at the way it had worked out.

After I read his note, it was my turn to marvel. Here is a man working in his workshop miles away, using his talent and creativity for God’s glory and to bless others, and here is me at my computer hammering out words, all because we can’t stop the flow of gratitude that the message of the Cross brings. It’s all about God’s grace and how it flows through each and every one of our lives, and through each other via the Holy Spirit.

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The pictures don’t do it justice, friends. But each time I look at it, I will think of the hands that fashioned it just the way He fashioned all of us. And how wood from all over the world was lovingly joined together to make one perfect whole. Just the way He longs to redeem not just part of the world, but the whole wide world. The cross is the bridge that unifies all people into one Holy family.

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This little cross giveaway became a much bigger thing for me that I ever imagined it would. I figured that a few friends would say, “Sure, I’ve got a place on the wall. Why not?” I thought the whole thing would be lighthearted—just good fun on Christmas. Mark McCullough (The Cross Maker)

It was a “God Thing” and I am humbly grateful.

When God says the story isn’t quite finished

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This story started with someone who dared to do something brave. Something for himself but mostly something for Him because sometimes we need more than words to express our love, our devotion to the One who has given us life. When I hung the painting I could see it from the kitchen and it always made me smile because I remember the conversation (via text) we had about what verse to put on it. Read the account “here.”

Over and over again, my eye would travel back to that yellow in the corner, and somehow I knew I wanted to bring that out. I had seen a floating frame, one specifically used for framed canvases that I really loved. It made a canvas stand out, almost like 3D and I loved the depth of that. I wanted it. Elaine was getting nervous because she knows once I get something in her head, I never let it go. After a few visits to frame shops she said, “I will make it, how hard could it be?”

She had never made a frame before, but anyone who knows my best friend knows that not ever having done something only spurs her on to further action. She’s a problem solver, a fixer of the broken, a restorer. She is one who never likes to see anything wasted.

In the meantime, last weekend I decided to clean out my dressers. I emptied every drawer……I sifted, I cleaned, I vacuumed out. And it was then that I found it. An old painting my Dad had done when he decided to paint again after a long dry spell. I found it in one of his tablets on one of my visits back home. It had paint marks all along the side of it, like he was testing colors……brush strokes. I don’t even remember asking him if I could have it, I just took it. I was afraid he would throw it away.

The final painting, the one he deemed good enough, was presented to my Sister-in-law one Christmas, back before she went to Heaven.

It was only after I had lifted it out of the pile of papers, that I noticed. I took it over and held it next to the painting that Duane did. I gasped and called Elaine over. “Look,” I said excitedly, “The yellow he used, it’s the very same one!” How could that happen? That two artists, years and miles apart would use that same shade of yellow? But they did. And then I started to think that maybe God was at work here.

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And when I called my Dad last night, he was depressed. But then I told him the whole story and I could hear him smile across the phone lines. “So you took my “mistake” and hung it on the wall?”

“Yes,” I said, “I did.” He paused thoughtfully and then said, “That’s just the kind of thing God does, but you must have your eyes open enough to see it.” What he saw as flawed, I saw as perfection, because he did it.

So now, on my wall I see more than art, more than paintings. I see friendship, and a father. I see love.

I see God bringing people together through what they create. I see something like the Trinity during Creation.

Now when I look at my wall, I see more than just art.

I see a person who refuses to say, “It can’t be done.”

I see another who tried something new and God blessed it.

I see another who overcame fear to resurrect a talent long after they thought it was dead and gone.

And I see someone who brought new life to something left in the scrap heap.

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I see what God has done for each one of us………brought us all out of the reject pile and made us into something new.

Riptide of love

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God caught me by surprise me this morning.

That’s how the Holy Spirit works, like the wind, you never know when He might come (it’s part of the mystery)

His Spirit washed over me like a wave. It was  unexpected and I almost couldn’t contain it.

Because how can you contain a God that even stones will cry out to?

How can I be anything less than an instrument of His praise from my first breath to my last?

Sometimes He gives me a glimpse…..just one is all it takes and I fall in love. All over again. He knows when I need assuring.

Just the fact that He does reveal Himself to me stuns me with silence but the next moment I want to pull my car over and jump up and down on the side of the road.

Our God is a shockandawe kind of God, powerful enough to calm the sea and taunt death.

He breaths fire from his nostrils and carries lambs on His shoulders and I can scarcely imagine the depths of His love and mercy.  

He calms the sea and walks through walls like some kind of Superhero God.

He tames lions and turns people into pillars of salt, stops them in their tracks.

Yet He grips me in His gentle Hand like King Kong might hold a butterfly.

He allows me to feel the glow of  His Holy fire from a distance because He knows too close would burn me like the sun.

I am blown away by the fact that He loves me and the timing He uses to let me know.

I was riding a wave, caught in the riptide of His love, I was surfing on a wave of fire.

Consuming fire and gentle whisper hung on a cross.

Satan thought He won that day, He was doing a victory dance over that one.

But he made a huge mistake by underestimating the power of love,

left out of the loop of God’s plan by his own failure to imagine what God might do to save us.  

He didn’t think God would go through with it.

But He did.

Oh happy day.

Painting by Duane Scott

Getting away……and how art can move us beyond ourselves.

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Last year around this time the calendar looked like this. And those were just the highlights. There was also the new job driving a school bus, and her Dad. Now her Dad is gone and her Mom is doing well in an assisted living community where half the time she thinks she is there to help out. Which probably makes her feel better about being there which is fine. And school is out for the summer.

As she looked at that calendar, she said, “No wonder I felt stressed.” I said, “It’s amazing you didn’t have a nervous breakdown.” She said, “I think maybe I did.”

It’s hard to know what to do when you have had a million things to do all at once and all of a sudden you don’t.

On the way to work this morning, I was surprised by the emotion that surged when the first notes of Ludwig van Beethoven’s – Fur Elise were played. If you don’t know it by the title, don’t worry neither did I. But when I heard the familiar tune I wasn’t prepared for the tears that swam in my eyes as I listened.

It reminded me of the time we went to the art exhibit and I paused in front of El Greco’s St. Peter in Tears, shell-shocked with emotion. I wasn’t prepared for the depth of sorrow I saw depicted in those eyes. From then on, I totally understood that seeing a Masterpiece in person is a form of worship not to the person who painted it, but to God himself for giving a gift of that magnitude.

What is it about true art, true beauty, that brings out emotions you didn’t even know were there? It makes us think of something beyond ourselves, something bigger which is truly and wholly good.

When emotions are held at bay for so long, sometimes you forget how to let them out but they come out anyway.

In five days we will load up the motor home and drive to California, unencumbered by anything. It’s been a long time.

In five days, I will get to see my Mom and hug her and make her feel like for a few days everything will be okay. I will clean up messes for her since no one ever does that, and I will cook and clean a bit for her, and it will make me feel good to do it.

I will hug my Dad and pray for his eyes, and hug him too. And hopefully we will walk the nature trail together.

And I will eat smushed up rainbow cake that Lauryn will more than likely want me to see first thing. I will savor every bite. I will savor every minute with her, swimming, playing, and having a tea party with her babies. I will hug my brother and we will laugh together and hopefully we will all forget our collective stress for a while and just enjoy being together.

And I will, when I get there, dip my feet in the ocean no matter how cold it is and feel sand under my toes and feel ocean waves wash over my soul again. And eat lots of seafood. I will greet all these things as one greets a very old familiar friend. Elaine and I will walk on the beach and savor a victory knowing that because in Him, we have it. In Him, all things are held together.

I will try my best to put my natural state of anxiety behind me this week and look forward to the journey. Because that’s half the fun.