It’s a God Thing!
Let me show you just how much God loves me. First I have to take you back a few years when Dave and I were at the REI garage sale shopping for raincoats. Sorting through all the racks of styles and sizes we came up with a dark grey coat for him but the only coat in my size was an incredibly ugly green. I’m not kidding, the color on the tag said “Bog/Moss.” At 50% off I figured I could live with it, but I was definitely not a happy camper. We bought the coats and when we got home Dave had the brilliant idea of checking the online outlet. Miracle of miracles, for the same price they had the same coat in my size, but it was brown with rose accents on the sleeve. We bought it, returned the ugly green thing to the store and I breathed a great sigh of relief.
Fast forward to 2016 which finds Dave and I preparing for a long walk in northern Spain, the Camino de Santiago. This, of course, involves properly equipping ourselves for the journey which means REI is now our new favorite store. First off we needed sturdy, lightweight boots. One more a trip to the REI garage sale and Dave got great boots in his size at half price but this time there is nothing for me. As we waited in the incredibly long check-out line I found a good pair of boots on the clearance rack in my size. And they were brown with rose-colored laces. It’s a sign, I just know it.
Now to find our backpacks. Dave did weeks of research to find the perfect balance of size, style, and weight. Off to REI once more and we discover those backpacks come in male and female versions. And the female version sitting right there on the shelf is a lovely shade of rose. Wow, it matches my boots and my raincoat. God loves me!
Since we will be carrying everything in our backpacks we needed to buy small lightweight travel towels. And so we can tell ours apart we bought two different colors. Dave got blue and mine is…you guessed it rose pink.
Lastly I knew I needed some sort of close-toed sandal to wear as an alternative to the boots. Scouring the shelves on all the outdoor stores in our local area we came up empty. Then one afternoon we happened to be in Roseville and stopped into an outdoor store we rarely frequent. Without much hope I asked at the counter about the sandals. As the sales clerk quickly walked to the back of the store, she called over her shoulder, “What size?” Now you have to understand here that while I am about 5 foot 4 inches tall, I wear a whopping size 10 shoe. I am definitely under-tall for my feet! The store was practically empty so when I yelled back, “Size 10,” it felt like it echoed endlessly off the shelves. Talk about embarrassing! By this time the clerk had reached the shoe section and she called back, “Wow, we have one pair here on the sales rack and they’re your size.” I ran back to find her holding up a box of closed-toed Keens and guess what color they were? A beautiful shade of rose. I am not kidding. These big boats match my backpack and my boots, and my raincoat perfectly. Unbelievable.
And that’s how God showed me just how much He loves me.
Art and Faith
Back in 2010 I had a solo art show of my eggs in the Art & Soul Gallery of our church. It was a huge leap of faith for me because it was the first time I really connected my art with my walk with God.
It ran throughout Lent, which is traditionally forty days of preparation for the Easter celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. Fasting and prayer often accompany this time of waiting. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. A time of soul-searching and repentance.
As I gave this thought and prayer, I recalled my childhood experiences with Lent. We usually chose to give something up as a reminder to pray and to look forward to the Easter celebration to come. It took a while but gradually words bubbled to the surface to express my Lenten experience. Fasting, prayer, listening, repentance. But the story didn’t stop there. At Easter fasting becomes abundance, prayer becomes hope, listening becomes growth and repentance becomes forgiveness. God’s story of love and transformation became more real now that I had words to express it.
Now I wanted to experience and express visually what that time of preparation meant to me. So the big question…how in the world do I take this colorful, traditional art done on eggs and give the viewer a sense of my own journey of faith? Eventually this thought crossed my mind. What if I gave up the use of color on these eggs? What if I only worked in black and white? My next thought was, “Are you crazy?”
I knew my designs would have to be strong enough to stand alone, without the distraction of color. How in the world do I create interest using only lines? I’d never tried this before and I was pretty sure I’d be able to do a few but could I create enough to fill the whole show? And what if I couldn’t come up with enough material in time? What if I failed? Fear, self-doubt, and a sense of the enormity of this task sidetracked me for a while.
As the days ticked by I kept hearing a soft voice say, “Just make one egg.” So I did.
“That wasn’t so hard,” I thought. And so I made another…and another…and pretty soon the design ideas flowed until chicken, duck, goose, and finally an ostrich egg all in black and white covered every surface of my workroom.
The show looked great in the gallery but I have no idea if anyone understood what I was trying to say with these eggs. And it doesn’t matter because the important part of the show for me was what I learned along the way. Sometimes God doesn’t give you the big picture. Sometimes you just have to start the journey and not focus on the goal. And sometimes you will find a joy in that journey that surprises you.
Many of you know that I play the cello. I began as an adult and have been taking lessons for nearly seven years now and although I can see progress, I still can’t bring myself to claim the title of cellist yet.
The learning curve for this instrument is steep. For each note the fingers of my left hand have to press an exact spot on the string to produce the correct pitch. Depending on the sound I want and what the next notes will be, I have to choose which finger to use and whether to press just my fingertip or a flattened finger onto the string. Do I hold it steady or rock my hand to create vibrato? Meanwhile to form the purest tone my right hand controls the pressure, angle and placement of the bow as well as its speed across the string. So many choices with each and every note.
Truth be told, practicing is not always a pleasant experience…for me or the other inhabitants of my house. If I know my practice session will include work on some horribly hard stuff, I try to schedule my cello time when no one else is home. If that can’t happen I warn my family with our code phrase, “It’s going to be two-door bad.” That’s means I not only close the door to the room where I am practicing, but I also close their door in order muffle the sound as much as possible.
Over the years I do see improvement in my playing but it’s a painfully long and slow process. Sometimes that’s discouraging. Cringing as I hit yet another awful note can be debilitating. If I stop my bow, the note is gone but its memory lingers to mock my attempts. I often think, “Should I just give up now and spare the world this agony?” Thankfully God whispers life lessons to me in odd moments like this. It struck me recently that each time I pick up the cello I have a choice. I can’t do anything about the bad notes I played before but I can make each note I am currently playing as beautiful as possible. Those past regrets take away from today’s beauty and I need to let them go. Learn from them but move on. A valuable life lesson indeed.
Arts Camp 2014 Recap
Here’s a glimpse of our week at Oak Hills Church Arts Camp!
God blessed me with 12 wonderfully creative 5th and 6th grade girls, two loving shepherd helpers and a calm and cheerful assistant teacher this year. Together we learned about God and His love for us while we learned the art of pysanky and how to create these jeweled wonders. We also learned that occasionally eggs break but life goes on because you get to start over on a new egg.
All valuable life lessons in my book.
Maybe it’s my “almost-an-empty-nester” stage but more and more I find myself taking stock of where I am in life, where I thought I would be at this age, and wondering what I will become in the future. And of course those dreaded comparisons and regrets start creeping in. The what-ifs and why-didn’t-I’s can all too easily overwhelm me and take away the joy of the present.
A while back I came across a line about allowing God to transform the broken places in your life into prisms. Can’t you just see that? What a beautiful word picture of redemption and hope. That idea has been rolling around in the back of my head for a while and so I began to review my life again. What if I start looking at my faults as prisms reflecting God’s beauty outside of my selfish little world? How this happens I don’t know but I’m holding onto God’s goodness and grace and letting Him be in charge, or at least I’m trying to.
I love when God whispers His truth to me through my art. I love it even more when I pay attention and actually listen. Over the years I have collected quite a pile of broken eggs. Some were completed and accidentally cracked. Some didn’t turn out as I’d hoped and were abandoned partway through the process. I couldn’t bring myself to toss any of them so they just sat in a drawer collecting dust. Every time I opened the drawer they shouted at me that I had failed in some way.
Now what if I used those broken bits somehow? Could I really transform them into something more? After a lot of experimentation I can finally say yes.
These egg mosaics have been a challenge and a delight to create. I’m still discovering new ways to improve my designs and having fun in the process. Not only that, I will be teaching a class on this technique at the Pysanky USA retreat in Pennsylvania next week.
Arts Camp 2013
There is nothing better than combining kids and God and art all at the same time. That’s what Arts Camp at Oak Hills Church does…and does very well I might add. Our Children’s Pastor, Colleen Gray and her amazing team turn our church campus and hundreds of volunteers into a smooth-running, exciting, enthusiastic machine where nearly three hundred kids get to experience God for a whole week through arts such as Dance, Theater, Music, Visual Arts, Creative Craftsmanship, and Culinary Arts.
The seven fifth/sixth grade girls in my pysanky class accomplished much more than any previous year’s class. Most of them finished four eggs and some more than that. I beamed as they proudly showed their parents the results of their focused work in class. And their excitement spilled over at home as parent after parent reported back to me how their child couldn’t stop talking about their eggs and how sad they were when Friday finally arrived.
It’s an exhausting week but well worth the effort. After a few days of restorative quiet here at home, I find myself wondering…is it too soon to start looking forward to Arts Camp next year?
Playing It Safe
Years ago we added onto our house and remodeled our kitchen, a project I had dreamed of for decades. New cabinets, new floor, new appliances, and new countertops…a dream come true. In all the decisions that come with a big project like this, the most stressful for me was choosing the countertop. Fairly quickly I decided on the material, but picking the color was another story. House décor trends called for warm tans and golds but I really prefer the cool colors like white, grey, and especially blue. I knew this was a once-in-my-lifetime commitment and I didn’t want to make a mistake so I spent most of my time debating over light colors like grey and white. They were all nice, clean-looking, neutral (because what if we had to sell the house???) and I didn’t love any of them, but they were all “safe.”
In the midst of all this, I spoke with my sister about my color angst. She listened patiently and then said, “If you really like blue, then pick blue.” What? Blue countertops? I’d never seen it in any fancy kitchen magazine, or home show, or in real life either. Who would put blue counters in a kitchen? It’s just not done! At least that was my initial reaction. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right. I like blue. In fact, I love blue, and this was my kitchen, and I plan to live here with those countertops for a good long time and who cares about resale value?
I realized my reluctance to choose blue came from a desire to do the reasonable thing, to play it “safe,” to not make waves, to not attract attention, or ruffle anyone’s feathers. And that is my nature. I like being behind the scenes, unnoticed, invisible. But that’s not really how God calls us to live, is it? A life spend hiding is a life half-lived. How many experiences have I missed because I wasn’t willing to be bold? To put my toe outside my comfort zone and risk a little?
These days I still love my blue countertops and I’m so glad I didn’t go the safe neutral route. Now if I could only remember that lesson every single day…
I believe God built into each of us a desire for community, both with Him and with our fellow travelers on this earth. As an artist, I find that rubbing elbows with other artists inspires my in my art and in my spiritual walk in a way nothing else does. And I don’t get to experience that very often. That’s why I so look forward to the annual conference on faith and art called Intersections, held at Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California.
This conference covers a broad range of the arts, from drama, to dance, to music, to film, to visual, technical, and even the culinary arts. Throughout the day we were encouraged to use the supplies on our tables to paint a small section of plastic that we could stick to a window in the back of the auditorium. As the day progressed, so did our group “stained glass window.”
The visual artists were easy to spot. They dove right into the paints and started producing multiple pieces right away. I found watching the non-visual artists even more interesting. In some I saw the initial reluctance give way to experimentation and finally a joy at simply playing with paint.
Even more fun, was watching people add their painted pieces to the growing design on the window. Intricate designs and plain colored pieces randomly combined to create beauty where before there was nothing but empty space.
Great speakers, God-breathed conversations, and thought-provoking words filled our time together. The icing on the cake for me came as we wrapped up at the end of the day. With the light from outside shining in, our group “stained glass window” became a physical representation of community to me. And I needed that. I really needed that. In fact, we all do.
A Matter of Perspective
My husband, Dave, is quite tall and I am not so it has led to many interesting “discussions” over the years. Hanging a wall picture practically guarantees the inevitable “height war.” Higher, lower, no higher, how about here, no lower and eventually we settle on some middle ground which neither satisfies nor offends either of us.
And while I sincerely appreciate the fact that Dave can reach a serving dish in a high cupboard so I don’t have to climb onto the counter to get it, there are other times when it’s irritating dealing with things like a car seat so far back I can’t even touch the pedals. There’s no getting around it, we just live in different height worlds.
A while back Dave called me to look out our window onto the backyard. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked. I couldn’t see anything but dim shadows of trees and was frankly wondering what my thoroughly analytical, practical husband was talking about.
“There, look at the pond,” he said, and still I saw nothing out of the ordinary. “Don’t you see the full moon reflecting off the water?” he asked.
Mystified, I answered no. That’s when it hit us both. Dave could see it and I couldn’t because I wasn’t tall enough. When I stood on a chair the landscape changed dramatically and a brilliant full moon sparkled on the black pond water like none I had ever seen before. It was a gorgeous sight, but one that I simply couldn’t see until I changed my perspective.
I learned a valuable lesson that night. Sometimes a change in perspective makes all the difference.
If a Tree Falls in the Forest…
Sharing our art with others brings up the question, “Is it still art even if no one else ever sees it?” I used to think the answer was a total yes, but now I’m not so sure. Art has both a giving and a receiving aspect. It involves both the artist and the art patron. I believe it was actually meant to be shared with a wider audience and not hoarded by its creator.
As some of you may know, in addition to being an egg artist, I also play the cello. I have been taking lessons for a while now and find it’s the most absorbing and yet most difficult thing I’ve ever attempted. I work hard when I practice and enjoy it tremendously. What I don’t enjoy are the recitals my teacher schedules two or three times each year. Thankfully he has separate ones for his younger and older students. Believe me, it really helps to know I won’t have to follow a fourth grader playing a piece much more difficult than mine. Still, I get nervous at the thought of playing in public. And just so you understand how much of a weenie I am, this particular “public” is only the other adult students and sometimes a few family members. Even so, it is PUBLIC playing, not my usual me-and-the-cello-with-the-door-to-the-rest-of-the-house-closed.
I’ve been told repeatedly that the more you do something, the easier it gets. I know lots of “real musicians” who say they love playing before an audience. I have to say I’m still waiting for that to happen with me. On the feeling scale from “terrifying to fun,” my score is still a lot closer to terrified. But I keep at it because I want to be able to share my music with others. As a growth area in my life, this is not easy but I’m convinced it’s absolutely necessary. My prayer is that I will continue to step outside my comfortable boundaries to see what God has in store for me out there. In the meantime, I have to go practice!
Giving Yourself Grace
Creating these eggs is a never-ending adventure in experimentation and I’ve made my share of poor color and design choices over the years. It took me quite a while to realize it is okay to dislike a piece enough to destroy it and try again. Now I give myself permission to cut my losses and move on sometimes. It hasn’t always been this way, though.
Let me tell you the story of what we refer to in my family as “The Ugly Cake.” Years ago when my oldest son, Ryan, turned 14 I decided to try making an ice cream roll birthday cake like the ones at Baskin-Robbins. The yellow cake part baked without incident and I dutifully rolled it up in a towel when it came out of the oven just like the cookbook said. As I finished rolling it, I noticed a wrinkle in the towel so without thinking, I stretched the two side edges to get rid of the wrinkle. Unfortunately the hot cake was firmly attached to the towel at this point and it split crosswise into two rolls. Oh well, I thought to myself. I can glue it together with the ice cream filling. No one will ever know.
Once cooled, I gently unrolled the cake to find that not only had it split into two rolls, it unrolled with a series of cracks so deep that I could see the towel below. Still believing I had a chance, I dutifully spread softened chocolate ice cream over the pieces of cake and rolled it back up as I went. I could tell it looked pretty pitiful at this point, but hoping for the best, I stuck it in the freezer.
When I checked later, I realized the ice cream must have been too soft because the weight of the cake caused it to ooze out of all the edges of the cake. Alarmed, I yanked it out of the freezer with perhaps a little too much vigor. Because the ice cream wasn’t hard all the way through the cake, the top half slid right over the edge of the pan and onto my arm.
Ever the optimist, I scooted the pieces back together and decided I could still save it if I just made a chocolate glaze and covered up what I now referred to as the “Ugly Cake.” I quickly threw together a decadent shiny chocolate glaze to try to hide the many mounting flaws. However, I forgot the cake was cold and instead of flowing gracefully over its sides, the warm glaze just sat in a lump on the top of the mess.
Desperate now, I spread the glaze as far as it would go, shoved the cake back in the freezer, and drove with Ryan to Baskin-Robbins where we chose a cake from the many beauties in their freezer. I did finally show the “Ugly Cake” to the rest of the family and we had a good laugh at my adventure.
The lesson here? There are definitely times to admit your mistakes, give up, and move on. You might even laugh about them someday.