Friday, August 29, 2014

Mary: the Mother of God

Wonder what sort of woman Mary was?

Did God select her as the earthly mother of his son because she was so holy? So gracious? So maternal? So wise beyond her years?

Was Jesus' mother a competent and worthy young woman? Was she masterful and talented at the things she tried to do? Was she accomplished? Well spoken? Smart? Graceful? Resourceful? Admired? Wise?

Was Mary a good cook? An excellent housekeeper? An able teacher and disciplinarian?

Was Mary a good wife and did she make Joseph happy and proud?

Was she pretty? Beautiful? Saintly?

I wonder? Was Mary sometimes a bewildered young mother uncertain of what her real role was and what God expected of her? Did the load ever feel just too too heavy? Certainly, there must have been times when she felt misunderstood and persecuted... the ridicule about Jesus being illegitimate was still happening decades after his birth.

Did Mary enjoy living in Nazareth -- a place derided by the more important folk of her day -- or did she long for something more exciting and fun? Did she ever wish for more than Joseph's humble means could provide? Did she bear patiently with her workload and the heat of the summer and cold of the winter seasons or did she sometimes complain and grumble and feel impatient and put upon?

Mary was chosen among all women of all time to be Jesus' mother. God could have chosen any of us -- any of us at all -- to be his mother. It's not anything Mary asked for or hoped for or longed for. It was just something that, well, for lack of a better word -- HAPPENED to her. It just one day, out of the complete blue, happened to her.

If we had been choosing Jesus' mother, would we have chosen a young, poor, uneducated, simple woman to be his mother? More likely,we would have given him every advantage to ensure a prosperous and successful  homelife and upbringing and it would have included not only a stable and well-to-do home, but also a stable and well-to-do community in which to live and learn.

The way God does things so often seems counterproductive. He makes the wise foolish and the foolish wise. He makes the strong weak and the weak strong. He makes the proud humble and the humble proud and the first last and the last first.

Wonder what sort of woman Mary was? Young. Naive. Foolish. Weak. Humble. Poor. Unimportant. Overwhelmed. Confused. Last.

Why choose her?

Why Mary? Why? Why why why? What qualified her for such an honor?

I believe it was because of one thing: Mary was obedient.

She was humbly, confidently, foolishly, naively, dependently, patiently, decidedly obedient.

Obedience is something that, as Americans, we don't take too seriously. We like a rebel and an independent thinker who doesn't mind to stir it up. Obedience seems bland and boring and unintellectual. You don't have to be too bright to be obedient. You don't really have to be too good at anything. We don't really hold obedience in high regard. We even think it's sort of trite. We teach our children to question authority! We think respect has to always be earned (not given until lost) and we sometimes think obedience indicates weakness.

But to God, obedience is an honorable and important part of who he created us to be. The Israelites failed to attain all the blessings God had planned for them because they were disobedient. Does the same thing happen to us?

Wonder what sort of woman Mary was? Sometimes I think she understood a concept that is completely foreign to me. She was obedient.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord.  "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 1:18-20

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Lydia's Boa

Our two-year-old granddaughter, Lydia, is positioned to set this world on fire.A diamond set between two hard-as-rock boys, this fearless little girl is as delicate and ladylike as an old fashioned Snow White (NOT the Snow White portrayed by that sulking vampire-lover) but also holds her own in every category.

One day when the kids were at work with us, my daughter Alicia and I struggled to put a giant air conditioner into a back window. While the boys watched Bambi on the DVD player, Lydia quietly observed her mother and me for quite a time before deciding the coast was clear. She stealthily swiped a screw driver and a screw from our little pile of tools and commenced to patiently installing the screws into a metal part laying on a shelf.

Lydia is a problem-solver. She accesses situations and determines how best to proceed. She arranges her toys to suit her even if it takes great effort. She pushes her baby carriages and shopping cart through mazes of toys and furniture and, if needed, lifts them over any and all obstacles. She almost always has a baby doll in tow -- she's an excellent mother, an excellent mother -- but still manages to handle all the other domestic issues that present themselves to her all while looking stylish and behaving like a lady.

She's bold. She's fearless. She funny. She's loving. She's spunky. She's ornery. She's bright. She's quick. She's sweet. She's bigger than life.

A couple weeks ago our church hosted a family reunion and had various small animals and reptiles brought in from a reptile farm somewhere around St. Louis. Lydia petted the alligators and iguanas and stroked the hedge hog and exclaimed about the tarantulas. Then, in her fluffy-cotton-candy dress, she tried on the boa, happily engaged with the handler and Princess the Python for about ten minutes.

How do we become who we are? Are we born a certain way or do the sum of our experiences -- and how we interpret them -- make us into the people we are?

Who will Lydia be in ten years? In twenty? In fifty?

She'll be the girl with the hat and the dress and the shoes and the boa, that's who.

And she will be magnificent.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Longmire, Gloria, King George and Dad

Gloria and Longmire
Last year, late in the summer and into the fall, was a sad and difficult time for us, filled with a variety of disappointments, disillusionment, and life-altering events. Many things had to be accomplished in a few short weeks -- almost all with insufficient resources -- and personal tragedies and dramas had to be relegated to the pile of problems we would think about when there was a spare moment and an ounce of energy. Often, it felt as though our loads couldn't get any heavier or we would simply collapse where we stood... and yet, the fountain was open and continued to gush difficulty and sadness.

Our front entry at the shop -- my tribute. 
One evening I came home from another heat-festering and physically-demanding day at work, so tired I could barely stand to even stay alive. I was even too dirty to stay alive. Too tired. Too dirty. Too sweaty. Too discouraged. Too forgotten. Too mean.

Instead of going inside (where I'd immediately need to take fifteen minutes to care for our little wiener dogs who would accost me as I came into the door), I dragged over and sat on the old metal arbor with the intention of spending a little time feeling sorry for myself and my sad and difficult plight.

I was so tired I couldn't think. So tired I couldn't see. So tired I couldn't feel. I just sat and looked but when I looked out across the yard I wasn't seeing a thing. When Shoobydoo, one of our old ugly cats, came around to greet me by swishing her tail across my bare legs, it made me mad that even she wanted something from me when I had nothing else to give and so I huffed at her and turned the other direction on the arbor and looked out over the driveway.

There, past my filthy old red truck, were two peacocks, quietly picking their way through the gravel under the woodpile beyond. They moved stealthily into the yard and toward me as I looked on in utter astonishment. Shoobydoo walked over to them and greeted them as she'd greeted me and the peacocks seemed familiar with her.

Dad and his old watches and knives.
Gloria and Longmire, and even the big boy peacock we call King George (who has all his feathers) are still visiting a year later and each encounter is intriguing and wonderful. They belong to a neighbor who lives about a half mile away and the peacocks travels back and forth across our back field fairly regularly. We often hear them calling to one another. Actually, they seem to enjoy roosting on our roof and then screaming in their formidable peacock way.

But on that particular day last August, as I looked upon those beautiful and quiet birds at my feet, I was mystified once again by all that our lives encompass. The endless details that we seek to master but which often instead seem to conquer us are insignificant when compared to the very real and magnificent details God has prepared for us in this world: His endless, effortless details.

I told my dad about the peacocks and showed him the pictures I had taken. In his bed in the nursing home, he said he would like to see them but of course, he never would and he knew it and so did I.

We finished that time in our lives. We. Finished.

Oh, there's still tons of work to do at the shop and our resources are still lacking in a variety of areas and many of the changes that came upon us last summer are permanent. But we finished that season -- we finished -- and we won't ever have to repeat it again.

Sometimes a person will tell you that there is a reason why all the things that happen, happen. I know it must be true for them. But me. I don't seem to get any wiser or richer or more spiritual or Godly or learn a thing. I just stay dazed and confused and overwhelmed. So me. Well, I don't know why all the things that happen, happen.

What do I know after last year? Nothing. Not a blamed thing.
Those peacocks -- they were a mystery to me. My time with them was fleeting and I think about them and hope to see them again every day. When I do, it seems magical and enchanting and I love them. What a fine thing: those peacocks.

My father -- he was a mystery to me. My time with him was fleeting and I think about him and hope to see him again every day. When I do, it will be magical and enchanting because I love him. What a fine thing: my father.

Monday, July 7, 2014

This Beautiful Light

A wall in the gallery in the early evening light.
I love the light.

I love the way it comes into your home or where you're working and transforms the colors in the room.

I love the patterns it layers onto the wall and onto the faces of those you love.

I love the late-day sun and the way it tousles the leaves when the wind stirs through the trees.

I love the light on water -- any water, not just important water -- the light on puddles and ditches and in the tiny sprinkles on a window.

I love the light sifting through the dust on our old dirt road after a car passes by. It's stirringly beautiful in a way that's not sensible unless you've seen it yourself or unless you have either an artist's soul or an humble soul or an old soul.

I love the low winter light and the light from the North best. 

And I love the light behind big, dark billowing thunderclouds that turns the edges of them orange-yellow and disconcertingly threatening.

My younger daughter, Alicia, is consistently bothered  because I prefer to have the lights off in a room and she doesn't see any reason to live life in the dark.

"It's not dark in here," I say even when it is.

"It's dark in here," she says. "I can't see anything."

So she turns off the darkness.

And turns on the light.

And when she does, we lose the real light -- the natural light -- God's light.

Sometimes, at night, when the moon is full and I've remembered to open the drapes, the light will awaken us when it reaches the far western sky. I like to open the windows then and watch the moonlight lay patterns on the curtains as they move in the breeze.

My older daughter told me once that the curtains in our bedroom are okay for me, but look like they belong to an old person. "But I like how they look in the light," I said and she reiterated that they were fine for me but that she wouldn't want such old-lady curtains.

Next time she's at my house when the moon is big, I'll open the windows and let the wind into the house and then wake her to show her how the light looks filtering through the ruffles on the Priscilla curtains and embroidery work on the drapes. I don't know what she'll think. Probably, she will not like it. Probably, she will wish I hadn't bothered her with the minutia of my life.

Wonder why the light makes freckles on our faces? It made freckles on my brother and sister's faces and my children's faces and mine too. My cousins have freckles.

It's taken me decades to decide I wasn't cheated because God decided to make me and those that I love the most with freckles. Actually, now, when I paint a portrait -- any portrait at all -- I always paint them with freckles because...

Freckles, maybe..? Yes, maybe. Maybe they affirm to us that God loves how we look in the light.


Maybe so.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Riding on the Clouds

The window next to the design counter.
Something happened this week at the shop.

We're almost six months in our new location now and it seems that during most of that time it's been a harsh and hopeless winter. We trudged through a lot of desperate days in February and even into this month as it's continued to dip into merciless temperatures day-in and day-out. But yesterday we opened our windows and let the wind inside.

You're right. It was still too cold to do that. But how can a person really live or breathe with the windows closed? My poor husband has put up with this ideology from me for 32 years because we sleep with the windows open almost every night in every season. (To do otherwise, obviously, would cause instant suffocation and relentless complaining and carrying on.)

One of the front windows at the shop.   
So with wild abandon of common sense we opened our windows and the wind caressed our souls while we worked. We could smell the earth and the sky and the promise of the rain that was still miles away. And with that cool sweet wind permeating our afternoon we thought maybe it was possible that it would -- eventually -- be Spring. We thought maybe we might even survive this harsh and unfriendly winter to see it.

When I got home last night I immediately raised the bedroom window and sat on the edge of the bed, resting my chin on the window sill to watch the clouds boil into the sky and the bare black branches on the trees shiver and frenzy in anticipation.  Frankie, our eight-year-old wiener dog, paced nervously back and forth on the bed, whining occasionally, as he always does as the thunder drew closer while Lucy, our fifteen-year-old wiener dog, stretched out under the blankets for her after-supper-sleep. Frankie simply couldn't be calmed or comforted. Lucy simply couldn't have been happier or more content.

It's been a hard winter in every single way. And all winter long I've stomped around like Frankie, incapable of receiving any comfort at all and whining more than occasionally. My goodness. It has been hard. But if I could have settled down... If I could have stopped stomping around, maybe I could have been happier and possibly even content.  Like Lucy. Just cuddled in to rest. 

I guess there's something Frankie doesn't know about storms. The Lord rides on the clouds. He rides on the clouds. Glorious glorious glorious.

"Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him -- his name is the Lord." Psalm 68:4

Calm down, little Frankie. It's just a storm. Calm down, little sister. It's just a storm. When the rain comes, it'll wash the storm away.  Meanwhile, ride on the wind. High on the wind, little sister, is the Lord.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

This Old Life

Lydia reads Goldilocks and the Three Bears,
 having chosen the smallest chair in the house for herself for the task.
 That's our babydoll!
 Always ladylike and always completely and totally cool.
As Micah often says, "Go, Lydia, Go!"
As I sit on this old couch in this old house, I look out this old window and see the rugged black sculpture of the same old oak tree I've been looking at for decades against that old and tired Missouri-white sky. On my lap is an old afghan we received as a wedding present over thirty years ago and lying on my legs and feet beneath that cover are two old wiener dogs, one fifteen and snoring and the other eight and always alert in case I should happen to open a bag of potato chips.

Outside that old window are the now broken and partial wind chimes that have clinked around in the wind for years.When my daughters were little, we called them prayer bells and, imagining their sweet tones accompanied our prayers to heaven, hung them in branches all over the yard. They still ring. They still ring and ring and ring and can be heard throughout the house and into the fields and woods beyond. So many prayers. So many many prayers.

The old dirt road that rolls with dust just to the south of this old house was built in part by my grandfather when he was young and strong and beautiful and raising a family of his own a little more than a mile farther down this road. And the old oak tree that I see from this window? He planted that when my mother and father were still young and strong and beautiful and building their own little two-room house here on this little high hill when they married almost sixty years ago.

And now. Now. Now so many are gone. My father. My father-in-law. My grandparents. My brother. Aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and co-workers and so very many people we worshiped together with week after week.

What is loss? Just the passing of time? Is simple change equivalent to loss? Is loss something that happens or is loss merely the sum of how we interpret what happens? How often in these last several months have I asked aloud to an empty room, an empty house, an empty car, an empty office, an empty sky, "Dad? Where are you? Where did you go?"

In this last year of often desperate and difficult times, I wrote a lengthy list of all the things I perceived as negative in my life. It replaced the lengthy list I had written eighteen months prior to that. One long night as I lay side-by-side in bed with my younger daughter (we spend the night with one another once in a while and never sleep... only talk of deep and wonderful or silly and wonderful things all through the dark hours), I recounted my bitterness and sadness and inability to see even the possibility of anything better.

"You can't say everything has been terrible," she said.

"It is! It is!" I wailed.

"Three years?" She said softly. "In three years -- Micah, Lydia, Jonah, Raphael. In just three years."

These little souls come into the world with such aplomb. We celebrate and look in wonder, mystified by how they change and grow each day. We love them joyfully and deeply and profoundly and fearfully and with complete abandon. We search their faces and their personal quirks and find our children in them. We see their difficulties and shortcomings and see ourselves and our spouses and our souls grieve for the difficulties we know they will endure because of them.

After Alicia's answer to me in the dark, I felt no better.  Instead, I said, "Great. Now I can't even feel sorry for myself. That's just great, Always gotta ruin my big pity-party."

I'm a forgetful and ungrateful soul. I long for the things that were... I forget the things that are... living day by day in a state of distraction and selfishness that prevents me from perceiving God's current and ongoing and overwhelming and overflowing blessings.

The floors in this old house sag lower with each passing season and the old oak at the edge of the yard sheds huge branches into the yard with each ice or thunder storm. I find that I grow older and more experienced, but not much wiser. But the prayer bells still ring. They accompany our prayers. If we will but humble ourselves and pray, their sweet soft song will accompany our prayers into the the very Throne Room of our gracious and forgiving Father in Heaven. And from this old home by this old road on this old hill beneath this old sky, they will carry the names of these new souls -- Micah, Lydia, Jonah, Raphael -- high and clear and precious in the sweet Spring wind.