A Regal Reminder

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The regal or royal walnut moth is one of the largest moths around my area. They are a gorgeous vibrant orange with a muted brown almost grey with cream highlights. These striking colors are just one part of what makes them so interesting. After all, these moths begin as a giant caterpillar, green and almost frightening. They have large horns that look menacing and if you find one, if you handle it, it may thrash it’s bulging body in attempts to scare you. In all reality, the regal moth’s caterpillar form, the hickory horned devil, is a docile, chubby green caterpillar that means no harm. 

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These caterpillars can be as big as an average hotdog and you may find it on the ground rather than on a branch because of its peculiar life cycle. The hickory horned devil does something a little different compared to most caterpillars seeing that it doesn’t spin a cocoon that we naturally relate to most moths. Instead, the little devil makes his way down from shade trees and burrows in the ground, choosing the earth to make his transformation into the beautiful regal moth. 

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Maybe it is strange that I would be writing about an insect in the dead of winter, but right now is when the transformation is taking place. The sun is shining less and snow blankets the earth in its sheet of white, but underneath all of that, down in the dormant earth, a small creature is being transformed into something beautiful. The change is happening now, even through all this wind and ice. 

Maybe you are in your winter in life. You just don’t see a change happening, all you see is cold, unforgiving harsh weather patterns. But, change can happen in the wait. Maybe you are watching someone else weather the cold storms and you can’t understand why they are not changing the way you think they should, maybe the change is happening underneath, deep down, where you just can’t see it yet. 

I pray that this moth is a reminder for you this weekend, whether you are waiting out your own winter storm or watching someone you love weather their own, God made it possible for a green, horned slow moving caterpillar find it in themselves to dig deep and wait it out just to reemerge a beautiful moth. So if God has a plan for a caterpillar, He certainly has a plan for you. 

Big Group Jesus

Mark Hall wrote a great book that I got at the 2017 Creation Festival called “Your Own Jesus”, and I am finally picking up speed and finishing it. Okay, so I am halfway through, not near the end, but that is further than I was in 2017. Everything he wrote is hitting me at just the right moment taking the time to dive into it now though.

This year at Creation, I saw such an exciting preacher, and I was so moved, I thought, how do I hang onto this fire when I leave? I do not want to leave it at this festival. I need to be living this, because other people need to be feeling this, and if I am the only one they run into who knows this great feeling, well then I better be on fire still, overflowing and ready to tell them why I feel so good. So when my husband said he wanted to study Revelation then invited me to listen to the audio book I got for him about it on a long car drive, I said okay. Then, I signed up for an online Bible study that wrapped up in the last full week in September. I just ordered myself a book by the same writer who wrote the Bible study I was a part of to continue this growth, to keep this fire lit, because as Mark Hall says in his book, we have to do things to keep that feeling awake outside of a concert.

In a concert, we can ride on the emotions of the music and those around us, and then he said sometimes by the time we get to the parking lot, the feeling is fading. We experience what he calls “Big Group Jesus”, but we never experience our own Jesus. I sort of had this understanding when walking out of Creation, but it is so encouraging to read it from his perspective with his clever labels attached to these feelings.

If you feel like you’ve just been taking part in “Big Group Jesus”, then I invite you to check out Romans 12 that reminds us that we are a living sacrifice and by offering ourselves, we worship God. 

Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

When we are surrounded by dim lighting, beautiful music, hands raised, it feels good, and it is good to worship like that with others; to find our own Jesus, we have to be willing to give ourselves up outside of the sanctuary, concert hall, or music festival. This can make us uncomfortable to think of giving up our own time, after all, so often in this hectic world, every second is precious. 

But what if before you had breakfast, you read a devotional? It by no means is this kind of fasting we read about in Daniel where for three weeks he ate no “choice” food and it isn’t like Jesus fasting for forty days and forty nights, but it is a start in saying, “My day starts out with  you, God, what do you want to fill me up with?” Or maybe an easy way to start to hand over your time is using commute time for prayer and worship. 

If you are looking for ways to be a blazing fire, then I suggest reading “Your Own Jesus”. Or maybe your fire is completely out, and you are just looking for a spark again, I still suggest that book. But, I also invite you to pray and ask God to show you where you can give time to him so that you can discover this worship outside of Sundays or a concert. He wants our hearts, but at the end of the day, it is up to us to give them because we have free will. Music helps me dance into a better place, spirit, or mood so often, so I will leave you with this tune about shining like heaven on earth!

 

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.

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.

Clarion River Float

Last weekend was filled with waterfalls and small hikes, and this weekend was spent floating down the Clarion River. Our starting point was Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, and we pulled out at the Halton bridge. It is a two day trip in which we always camp overnight at Pine Tree Island. Shane and I were two of a handful of adults on a youth groups trip.

I have been going on this same trip since I was a small child, nestled in the middle of my parents canoe munching on trail mix. Then I got to enjoy the trip with friends as a member of my childhood churches youthgroup. Through college I still wet along as a sort of leader because we never had an abundance of female leaders on the float. I still go as that female leader, and Shane, this year and last, joined us.

I love the Clarion River float with the youth group. I still live for capture the flag in the dark and don’t mind running full speed in the dark woods. I love sitting around the campfire enjoying everyone’s company. I’m blessed that I can still be a part of this long tradition, and love that Shane can come and enjoy and help out too.

Sunday morning, one of the church’s interns gave a brief message about God creating the beauty around us, and how even when we are right in the thick of it, sometimes we miss the general splendor. We forget how wonderfully creative our God is, and we don’t always make the connection that this creative all-powerful, most powerful being loves us. It really is a breathtaking thought.

God, the creator of the universe, whose creativity surrounds us, loves me and loves you.

It made me think deeper into this idea of God’s presence and the idea of kavanah. Kavanah means “intention” or “direction of the heart”. Each time we pray, we should have this intention or direction of the heart, because as rabbis put it, “A prayer without kavanah is like a body with out a soul.” I read that Abraham Heschel described it as an “attentiveness to God” or the ability to “sense the preciousness of being able to pray”.

That idea of kavanah just so matched the awh that the intern was speaking of. Every morning we get up, not always acknowledging that everything around us was made possible by God, and we are blessed to speak with him. That time we share in prayer is precious, is beautiful, and should be a time we are attentive to him too and not just assume it is me time.

We floated the last day in the pouring rain. Rain on the river creates a different kind of silence than any other. One where your imagination can run wild, but also one where there seems to be a buffer between you and the worlds distractions. The outlook for this week appears to be many more days of rain, and I don’t know if that is how the weather looks in your area, but if it is, and if you can, crack open a window, let the breeze flow in, and let that sense of kavanah fill you.

Luke 19:40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”