Discovering Radiance

Living starts in-between your ears. It was something like this that my hometown pastor said during Sundays message. He was saying how sometimes before a week even begins, the list of things that must be done can be overwhelming and make you feel far busier or more rushed than you even really are. With my last post being about devotions or meditating on God’s word, for me through sketching, reading various books and making connections, I had to share my thoughts on “living between your own ears”.

In the evening, after that morning message, I was reading “Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art” by Claire Wellesley-Smith. I loved how she cited other artists and writers who, whether directly or not, seemed to have this call for the movement of Slow Art. We are surrounded by all these tools these days that are supposed to speed up processes of everything, from cooking to contacting people, but somewhere in that mindfulness has been lost.

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It has taken me twenty-eight years to sort of barely just figure out a little bit better how my own mind works. As an artist, introvert is often a blanket term tossed around, and I am comfortable with that term. Essentially, for me, it is being comfortable with solitude, being alone with out being lonely. In reading Claire’s book, I couldn’t help but connect my solitude, and working in it, with mindfulness. Taking the time to think through a project, a drawing, a painting, a series, gives me a chance to engage with it, sort things out beyond the project and get things sorted out between my ears. The author says something about the long amount of time it takes for her to regain concentration after engaging with external digital media, and I couldn’t agree more, as it can make me completely lose momentum in a drawing or painting.

Beyond my art, connecting more with the idea of lists or schedules like the pastor was pointing out, it can be so distracting to live fast. We can see twenty people’s opinion on a news story on Twitter in under twenty seconds, we can scroll through hundreds of pictures in less than a minute on Instagram, and we can start a group message with people all over the United States and get dozens of replies with in a matter of seconds. Actions that used to take a whole day, like to research or write to someone or about something now can be done in less than fifteen minutes. On this overload of media and images and messages, it can be hard to leave room to take things slow, to meditate on good things, or to be mindful.

Pslam 34:5 Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed.

This Psalm is how pastor finished his message, and I love it. In the context of today, we have all seen that person in distress from their hectic schedule, trying to keep up, they look exhausted. On the flip side, someone who has just taken the time to get a massage, or a weekend trip, or something, anything that is very deliberately un-rushed, always seem to glow, do they not? Well, what if every day, we took the time to meditate on Him, find that time to be mindful, make deliberate choices, wouldn’t we daily glow?

Start between your ears. Quiet your mind. Put the cellphone away. Pull out a pencil, a needle and thread, a paintbrush or a book and take it slow. You might just find yourself beaming!

 

Different Kind of Devotions

Daily devotions can elicit a feeling that “we forgot to do our homework” feeling can’t it? Never-mind forgetting it, when we hear daily devotions, sometimes we can even think, “I didn’t even bring my homework home to do.” We leave it at church or in the car when we turn off the ignition, stopping the flow of praise from the speakers, and walk into our homes completely disconnected from our Father.IMG_4145.JPG

I like to read, in fact, I have a really appetizing spring reading list I am picking through at the moment, and only one carry-over book from my December reading list, “The Meaning of Marriage” by Timothy Keller. I just can’t fly through that particular book, after reading pages of really good truths, I find I need to sit back and think about it. I don’t want to finish that particular book just for the sake of finishing it.

I’m beginning to notice that that’s how devotions always come across to me. You have to do it to get it done. I even heard the analogy once about tuning your orchestra at the end of a performance, and you wouldn’t do that would you? So tune up before the day gets started! And though that is a great analogy, sometimes it sets in and sets me up to rush through the tuning because “I have to get it done”.

In reality, I really enjoy the time it takes me to get to work and devoting that car ride to a time for prayer. Prayer has been a topic I have been reading a lot about lately, and by lately, I mean beginning right before Shane and I were Shane and I till now. It began with “God Whispers” by Margaret Feinberg, “The Daniel Prayer: Prayer That Moves Heaven and Changes Nations” by Anne Graham Lotz, and “The Mercy Prayer” by Robert Gelinas. Another book, “Why Keep Praying?: When You Don’t See Results” by Robert Morris is always floating around in my laptop bag, and I get it out from time to time for a quick “ah-ha” moment before it ends up hiding away again for weeks on end. Finally, I am slowly getting into the more devotionally minded “Before Amen” by Max Lucado, a book from my Grandma Hayes, a fan of Max Lucado.

Maybe I’ll get more into how my brain works in another post, but until then, as I was sketching this morning, listening to hymns picked with a banjo and strummed with a guitar, I realized how I get into my devotions is probably vastly different than half a dozen other people. While drawing, I was making connections with yesterday’s sermon, an art method book I was reading, and scripture that tied the two together. That is when I thought about how drawing can often bring me to a place of meditation and focus in a way not many other things can.

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I don’t have to follow someone else’s formula of waking up early, timing out a prayer that is sufficient enough before I read the next chapter in a book meant for devotions. I can do it my way, as long as I am doing it.

Psalm 119:97 Oh how I love your law!
    It is my meditation all the day.
98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
    for it is ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
    for your testimonies are my meditation.

Our First New Years

Last New Years, Shane and I were going to leave a day later than my parents to head to Connecticut. I was excited to head up, and had an audio book at the ready for us. That morning, full of vim and vigor, we packed the car, but by the time we were thirty minutes on the road I was doubled over begging Shane to turn back. I had gotten the flu. So we spent New Years at my parents home, Shane kindly bringing me ginger ale and crackers and I really don’t remember much of the first day.

This year could not be the same! I doubled down on cinnamon and vitamin C and felt confident I would not be too sick to miss out on one of my favorite traditions of visiting my New England family. Family that could now be called our New England family.

So up we drove, listening to the audio book intended for last year, The Bride Collector by Ted Dekker. We left a half an hour before my parents, but by the end of the journey, they were following us as I navigated around traffic and eventually landed us on 95, though not before we passed through the town of Bethel, Connecticut, where we passed three bookstores. Three. Also a library. So many books!

When we arrived, we nestled in to my aunts home and the first night enjoyed hot buttered rums. The next evening was our annual gift exchange. It is amazing that we still keep up this gift exchange despite all us cousins being grown, starting families, and new little ones running around.

I think it is less about the presents and more about the presence. We have one night we spend all together, we blame it on the gifts, but in the end it is the togetherness, the food, the laughs that seem to keep this good thing going.

Many of the gifts, at least on the woman’s end, are handmade. This year, an end table I refurbished was bought by one cousin and given to another, meanwhile I painted a sign that read “Merry Christmas” on one side, and “Count Your Blessings” on the other for my aunt. In previous years, my dad has handmade benches, each year giving one to another cousin of mine. One of my aunts is great at knitting, so her talent is often given as a gift. It is this giving of your own gift, ones creativity or talent, that makes the gift giving so unique in our family.

With the men not often making something, it is fun to see their thoughtfulness. Honestly, to date, a gift card has not entered the gift exchange. This year, my cousin Meg’s husband had Shane’s name and got him a throwing ax. His reasoning was simple, he likes sharp things and he likes throwing sharp things, so why wouldn’t Shane? Shane loved it and got to explain how he has thrown axes at competitions and this started a whole new level of stories to be shared.

We have no price cap. We have no limitations. We have no expectations. We just appreciate what is given, because it is so often given out of love and joy, it isn’t some obligatory act. The only rule, get something for your name gift, for the person Kim’s computer randomly lines you up with. And it works.

“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.” -Desmond Tutu

The Gym

I brought up the numbers sixteen and forty-four in my blog post, “Being the Salt, Continued” for a reason. They are actions that can reach outside of our comfort circle, outside of the “handling fresh fruit” zone and can dip into delaying the decay. While I think it is important to encourage other christians, support them on their walks, have a mentor or be a mentor, or support our spouses by giving thanks to them to encourage and uplift them as I mentioned in my last post, when we are compared to salt in the book of Matthew, that’s an image that should cause us to reach beyond ourselves.

I have long been thinking about this salt idea since it was so repeatedly brought to my attention through a few different outlets, and since my routine is pretty set in stone, tucking in “gifts” as Ann Voskamp might refer to them has been on my mind. One place I regular is the gym. I could shrug off my time in the gym as everyone wears headphones and for the most part is in their own little world, but I didn’t want to shrug it off. Again, I’m shy, I might not be the one to go directly up to a stranger and invite them to church, but I do regularly wear hoodies to the gym.

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Over the years I have collected a good number of hoodies that have verses on them and bright images. I made them year after year for our VBS at our church and the little dance crew that would perform in the closing. As a gift, the dancers would get to keep their hoodies, and if I wasn’t dancing, I still kept one, usually just to make the minimum order it took to get them printed and because I designed them, so naturally I liked them. I try not to disguise their message, it’s a bold pop of encouragement.

One year the hoodies were a rich azure blue with bright white mountains and a cross. The verse was from Psalms 18. My cousin was one of the dancers at the time, and after VBS he still wore the hoodie. He was so excited to share with me his experience with it after VBS, and why he no longer had it, which I will now share with you.

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He was in another town with his friends, a day trip, just having fun, not out on a missions trip; they were stopped someplace when a woman came up to him and asked where he got his hoodie, to which he replied he hadn’t gotten it in a store and why he had it. For whatever reason though, the verse on the hoodie just really hit home with the stranger, and she told him it was exactly what she needed to hear, or see since it was on his hoodie. My cousin was so moved by this chance meeting that he gave his hoodie to the woman. She was so grateful. My cousin, in recounting the tale, apologized for not having his hoodie any more, perhaps thinking I would be offended he gave away a gift I gave him.

I was the complete opposite! My heart felt full and I wasn’t even the one who got to hug the stranger and give her the hoodie. I told him that was exactly what the hoodies were for, not that I or any of the other dancers have had experiences quite like this, but the message is big and bright so it can be noticed and shared.

Maybe someone will approach me about my hoodies when I wear them to the gym, maybe they won’t, but they’ll get to read them. Sometimes it is a silent connection, other times it can become a connection where you can literally give something away. Either way, again, I pray you can find a way to be the gift in our world today.

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Psalms 18:2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Thanks Best Friend

I told myself that I would finish three books by the end of December. When it comes to December goals, being the salt, giving, adding finishing three books didn’t seem like a stretch. The only issue is, I get distracted fairly easily while reading, because a point from the book will remind me of a song, another book, or a Bible verse and I will head off in that direction to look up those lyrics, line or verse.

It seemed important I set a goal on these particular books because I’ve been immersed in two for some time now. The first one “The Meaning of Marriage” by Timothy Keller was a pre-wedding gift from my cousin and bridesmaid, Carlie. “The Mercy Prayer” by Robert Gelinas is the second that I began soon after Scott passed, and am very close to finishing it. Finally, I am half way through “Be the Gift” by Ann Voskamp. While all of these books are handling a different topic, I am thoroughly enjoying the overlapping facts I am discovering.

Ann’s book has challenged me to be the gift through word or action, living a life daily given. Meanwhile, Robert’s book, more about prayer, really challenged in chapters six and seven to live on the border, to serve those who we might not normally serve. I combined those two ideas to how can I give to those on the border, how can I reach out and give to those I wouldn’t normally. This has been a challenge of sorts as I have shared how I can be shy and it is far easier to stay with in our comfort zones.

After reading a chapter about friendship in Timothy Keller’s book, I couldn’t help but begin to draw lines between this idea of giving from Ann’s book to giving in an intimate relationship such as a marriage. As the marriage book put it, a relationship where your partner should be your best friend, willing to be there for each other during your christian walk, help each other, and have the ability to be truthful with each other.

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I’ve come to really find out, you give a lot when you are in a marriage. Giving of yourself requires mercy, pity, and kindness, all carry a sense vulnerability. What if you show mercy, pity and are kind and you get no acknowledgment for those actions given? Giving and receiving no thanks can jade us towards the opportunity to give again. It can be an easy cycle to fall into of giving, getting hurt over the thankless response to our kindness, then with-holding a gift of kindness, and finally, in turn, becoming bitter and thankless ourselves. Something couples can easily fall back on is the go to statement of, “You don’t appreciate all I do.”; in other words, you don’t appreciate all the time and effort I give. I give up my time to make our lives better, your life better, and when is there a thank you given in return?

With these three books ideas really beginning to weave together, I thought instead of getting hung up on the thankless part, what about me giving thanks? For I am certain I do not say thank you for everything Shane does. When it comes down to it, I feel blessed that Shane often does come to the dinner table and says thank you for cooking, so what is something I can thank him for daily? Because I want to give in our marriage too, I want our marriage to benefit from my December goals of being the salt and giving.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

If I can gift that appreciation to him daily, well, studies show that can go a long way. Out of the many studies on gratitude, one  found that couples, after receiving gratitude, noticed that their partner was more responsive to their needs; overall, they were more satisfied with their relationship. Meanwhile another study reported that saying thank you strengthened a women’s marital commitment while it protected them against the negative effects of poor communication during a conflict. Could it be that just kicking things off by saying thanks can get the ball of communication rolling?

With Shane being so great at saying thank you every time I cook, maybe I can start there and say thank you for noticing and giving me feedback on what I do make. It may seem small, but at the end of the day, I love that I am married to my best friend and I do get to go along my christian walk with him and we get to help each other shine. Our marriage isn’t void of thank you’s, but when reading study after study of the positive benefits of being grateful has on a couple, it couldn’t hurt to add a pinch of thank you’s here and a dab of gratefulness there.

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Picture’s from a sort of engagement “shoot” we did while on a hike with my folks

Being the Salt, Continued

Living on the border or coming into contact with decay are images we can rebuff easily. It sounds hard, it sounds dirty, it doesn’t sound like “living on an island” or “handling fresh fruit”. But if Jesus did it, why can’t we? He purposely walked the border, he washed the feet, he gave his life.

But I’m shy.

I get it.

I’m shy too.

I can sit for a whole evening enjoying conversation and not coming out of my shell. Then again, out of nervousness, I could talk your ear off over facts that are a little bootless for the current situation. Surprisingly, even though I am a teacher, a dance teacher no less, it isn’t my first instinct to get up and steal the limelight or make a scene.

So how can a shy person be the salt? Shy or not, how can we, creatures of habit, be the salt? My first excuse as to why I wasn’t “very good salt” was that I’m shy, but then I thought that is a poor excuse, so my brain promptly came up with a second excuse of I don’t have time to break out of my routine. My routine is generally wake up, tackle my to-do list at home, go to the gym some days, then work, then bed, repeat. But, another great book has challenged me the way “The Mercy Prayer” and the Family Talk podcast “Fight for Freedom in a Godless Society” have.

“Be the Gift” by Ann Voskamp is yet another beautifully written book by Ann that brings pictures to life with words and touches the heart. Though an easy read, I can only make it through a few pages before I have to stop and reflect. As it suggests, she challenges that we bring ourselves to be the gift, to give of ourselves, even through the brokenness. I could go on all day about her writing and this book, but what I want to look at in context to this blogpost is the “Gift Idea” pages in the back.

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What a perfect way to look at being the salt this time of year, a gift list. As you can guess, these aren’t things that are for yourself, but instead, it is ideas to give of yourself. With my love of all things list related, it seems conceivable to me that I could tuck a few of her ideas into my own to-do list. They are acts of every size, and depending on how shy you may or may not be, some that sound small may be very big, like number sixteen:

16. Choose the ministry of smiling at everyone today. It’s contagious!

Meanwhile, number forty-four makes it easier to live on the border while staying more anonymous:

44. Make a donation of any amount to a group or cause of your choosing.

Shy or not, routine oriented or not, I pray that these are some ways to kickstart your calling to be the salt and light in this world.

Matthew 5:13 ““You are the salt of the earth…”

 

Just a Pinch of Salt

How many recipes do we look at that say “Add a pinch of salt” or “Season to taste with salt”? Other recipes are far more direct, a half a teaspoon here a fourth there. Salt is definitely a staple in the kitchen.

Lately I have heard it more than once out of that context. I’ve heard the verse and I have heard many people say how as christians we are to be the salt in the world, but I was reading a page or two from a book titled “The Mercy Prayer” by Robert Gelinas that really gave an urgency to the need to be salt in this world. He actually brought it up after speaking about the ten men who lived on the outskirts of town because of their leprosy.

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The author takes note on how Luke recorded the path that Jesus was taking to Jerusalem, the border between Samaria and Galilee. It is here that the ten cry out for pity, or eleison and as the author points out, it is translated mercy. The challenge is then given to the reader, are we aware of those in need of mercy? With so much bad in the world, there are many outlets where we can reach out, but do we? This is where Robert Gelinas makes the poignant point that salt slows down decay only when in contact with the meat. Salt is useless unless it is in contact with the meat.

I had just read those words when my sister in law suggested a podcast to me, Family Talk. Eager to switch up my routine while driving of just music, I enjoy a good podcast, so I downloaded a few random episodes of Family Talk. One of them titled “Fight for Freedom in a Godless Society” had the great speaker Dr Robert Jeffress on it, and wouldn’t you know it, he brought up that same idea of being the salt in this world. Honestly, some of the facts he gave about our country were just so disheartening, and I know we are familiar with them, but the idea that we as the salt can help slow down the decay of our decrepit world was encouraging.

Honestly, sometimes messages like the one on that particular episode by Dr Robert Jeffress can make things seem hopeless. It makes it easier to ignore the big issues if we settle for that hopelessness too. He said something to the affect of the only reason we are pushing back against the evil is to give our world a little bit longer to hear the truth and be saved, which makes me take it back to the image of the salt, we slow the decay. He ended with this great quote though, “If you think it is too dark out there to do it, remember this, the light shines brightest in the darkness… Ladies and gentleman, if your goal in life, like so many christians, is peace, prosperity-the absence of any kind of pain, then these are truly terrifying, depressing days in which we’re living. But if your goal, like the apostle Paul, is to share Jesus Christ with as many people as possible, there has never been a better time to be alive than right now! Because the darker and darker this world becomes, the brighter the hope of the gospel shines.”

I think that when we hear something repeated, in various contexts, that it is God whispering to us. This time of the year, it is easier to be the salt as we naturally enter a season of giving. I pray that this was an encouragement to you to be aware of moments where you can live on the border like Jesus Christ, be the salt, and have a goal like Paul.