Sail

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Before I tuck my son into bed at night, he must leap. He stares me in the eyes and waves his hand at me, “A little farther back, Momma,” he says, bending his legs while I mini-shuffle away from his Spiderman blanket where he stands.
I hold out my arms and he launches through the air like the Sail Cat, arms and legs reaching for the feathers of flight. His body, it keeps growing and gaining the solid weight of active boy, but I’ve decided to let him leap as long as I can catch him because in that one second of air, I hope that moment will nestle in his memory bank like a seed, rooting him in the joy of soaring on full faith.

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Authentic

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At twenty years old, I plunged my hands into an exquisite block of clay and shaped it into a smaller version of my parents’ scroungy cat, Tigger. Tigger was a giant fluffy orange tabby—possibly the most beautiful cat that existed. But I should have sculpted Chicken.

Some say you can’t tame a feral cat, but my Dad succeeded with Chicken, even charming the cat so much that Chicken would jump for his lap before he had a chance to sit down. Chicken was a miracle—a product of the efforts of a cat whisperer—if it wasn’t for the chance meeting of those two, that scroungy thing would have more than likely become coyote food.

It was with confliction that I shaped Tigger’s pointed ears and sassy face with my instructor’s voice in my ear, telling our class that fine art was not the stuff of happiness and cutsie things like cats; it was struggle, pain, oppression. To be honest I felt a little insulted that happiness was thought to be a bad influence on fine art.

For my next project, I adapted my charcoal sketch of a model into a raised oak panel; she was stripped bare much like a college student is when catapulted from their childhood home into a world of influences, vulnerable to all those things they haven’t learned about yet. I grabbed the large file and shaved the wood until her likeness came through; I ran her through the jigsaw, hoping the boldness of a woman uncovered would please my instructor. He was kind, but not overly impressed—I hadn’t made her story live and breathe yet.

I’ve walked longer in my adult shoes now, and have been down some of those galleries adorned with dark art. Picasso’s Guernica commands its station on the wall—I’ve never been in combat, but if anguish was a spirit, I imaging that’s what it could look like—as I gaze at the stark contrast between shock amidst a bleak existence, I can empathize, having experienced my own battles: a sick child, an excruciating season of slim finances, the sudden loss of my father. So yes, this dark art is Relevant.

A battle weary people are indeed worthy of a voice. Most of us don’t make it through childhood without feeling like an outcast at least a dozen times. Fuzzy cat sculptures don’t tell that story.

A happy painting I would gladly hang on my wall. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent.

A happy painting I would gladly hang on my wall. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent.

If my nude sculpture was still in existence, she would have acquired a good many scars—her jaw would be tight, and her hands damaged by a few more decades of sun—her belly marked with signs of new life—that’s not catering to a certain group of critics who declare happy art unrealistic, it’s the bold truth. But does it end there? I hope not, because the shadows that keep us under the model’s heel only lead to bricks in the hands of violent protestors and knives for words. I’m not sure if all I want to look at are scars.

Sculpting is for finding the story. Filing is for smoothing out the rough edges, not for arming naïve students with half-truths, although I imagine my instructor would have approved of Chicken—a would-be-dead cat who found redemption—who knew?

I wouldn’t want to hang the Guernica on my wall, but Chicken—that would have been a great reminder of hope.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

 

P.S. Wake is free today and tomorrow. Go here to get it. If you like YA Dystopian fiction and, well….art, you may like Wake.

The Circle

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Sometimes I wonder where all the lost things go…like the Dead Letter Office, is there a place in between tears for misplaced wedding rings and beloved toys?

After a particularly successful Show and Tell in elementary school, I left my beloved Miss Baker on the playground. All the way from the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Miss Baker was both an historical figure (one of the first animals launched into space) and best friend to me. When I hurried back to the bench where I left her, it stared at me cold and empty. Stolen, perhaps? In my mind, she was priceless–who wouldn’t want her? But she was mine. I cried a thousand tears for her.

For some reason I can’t remember, I told this story to Chloe when she was four. Being an aficionado of monkeys herself, she immediately burst into tears, heartbroken over my childhood loss. Every so often, she would bring it up in conversation, this injustice that simmered in her heart whenever we talked of beloved things.

After my work schedule tripled this month, leaving Chloe with pools for eyes every time I stepped out the door, that old memory kindled in her heart, and when I came home from work one dark morning in the hours of zzzzzz, she had completed a gift for me.miss-baker

A brand new Miss Baker, sewn from her sweet fingers and the depths of her heart.
I don’t know where Miss Baker went that day on the playground, but she has come back to me in a much more precious way than she did the first time.

Us

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In my world, multi-tasking is necessary evil, but let’s not forget that it’s still evil. I used to think something was wrong with me when I had trouble jumping from one project to another. If I have ten pots on the stove, most of them will turn out “okay”, you know what I mean? But if I have one or two…they usually turn out great. That’s why I only paid attention to about two subjects in school…those ones usually turned out great, heh.

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A few people called me names like lazy or unmotivated. One teacher in a particularly evil class thought comparing me to my older, high achieving brother would help get me interested in his class. Every. Day. In order to cope, I ignored that teacher for the rest of the year, accepting a lower grade so he would just leave me alone. Thankfully, most of my feelings about being different were assuaged when I became a writer. We study personalities, psychology, and culture in order to write accurately and as many of us will tell you, finding out how many ways people are wired is like holding a homemade chocolate cake in your hands—it all suddenly makes sense.

Just to be clear how unwise it is to pressure people to fit in the same mold, here’s an illustration: In one of my classes, we were told if we didn’t achieve higher rankings in the subjects we struggled with, we’d be scrubbing toilets at McDonald’s. I have two things to say to that.
1. I’m not, even after burning a certain textbook from a certain class.
2. Why do we continuously demean the blue collar class with comments like that when we know we couldn’t survive without them?

Maybe lessons from unwise leaders are the rocks in the hands of protesters—I’m not talking about the peaceful protests about civil rights—I’m talking about protesting issues and/or methods that are less normal—things that seem unjust to those who have never seen the beauty of a homemade chocolate cake. We know this type of protest when it does nothing but divide people further.
These are people who think those two odd pots on the end of the stove are useless, never fully tasting them to see how much they could complete a meal.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 Matthew 5:9

 

Our Wonderland of Clouds

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Noah got a telescope for Christmas—a beautiful white Christmas it was; magical, like those you see in a shaken snow globe. But those clouds wouldn’t lift, and it wasn’t until a week later that we had a clear night in which to gaze at the moon.

The kids pressed their faces to the eye piece, the moon pulling the corners of their mouths up in smiles like the coming tide. Bumpy spots and rocks and stuff, cool!

But those clouds, they hid the moon again, so we wait longer to see oursnow-1022667_1280 mysterious moon.

Underneath those gray clouds, I’m reading the Bible, trying to wrap the Miracle phenomenon around my brain. Healings, signs and wonders; a pause for the sun. We see things today, but I sure wish God would lead me as a pillar of cloud for the confusing days and a pillar of fire for those dark nights. I’ve heard of missionaries experiencing wonders, but…not so many in the United States of Comfort.

I come to Acts, where Peter and John are released from prison. This when Christians are so harshly persecuted that many leave Jerusalem. But when the two men gather with their fellow believers, Peter and John don’t pray for safety—they pray for boldness.

I pray for safety all the time—for my family, my friends. I also pray for good health and deliverance for those suffering. Sometimes I pray for boldness, but I include in the same prayers for safekeeping.

In our snow-globe wonderland, we live under a protective bubble… perhaps that’s what keeps us from seeing many things far beyond what we could imagine. Feel welcome to post your theories in the comments.

To all Davids

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My daughter recently reminded me of something about the heart muscle. A few months ago, she started band, equipped with the flute my dad bought me in High School–solid silver second-hand beauty with as many problems as a third-hand car. While a very nice instrument, it needs some very expensive repairs. Sometimes it won’t grab a note, and because all the pads need replaced, the tone is airy.

Practice only discouraged Chloe because her efforts were thwarted by the $350 worth of hiccups in the keys, so she often put it away after five minutes of frustration. (Did I mention we were anticipating our insurance deductible roll over where one of our son’s three medications cost $1,000 a bottle?)push-ups-888024_1280 But she wanted to perform a duet at her years-end concert, in which she had to audition with a handicapped flute, so she called her partner, and together they practiced over speaker phone with a few asthmatic notes. Chloe just decided she would make it–and she did.

So I’m thinking about this as John and I watch the trillionth season of Survivor, and there’s this really skinny guy, David, who looks like he lifts no more than a pencil each day, and is an anxious sort, kind of like our Chloe. He was afraid of bugs and loud noises. The first time I saw him attempt a challenge among several muscled men and women, I thought something jerkified like, “pffft.” But this guy, he started to make friends and somewhere along the way he finds confidence. Then he decides he’s going to succeed.

He doesn’t win, but he comes very close, and even wins a few challenges–yes, even those that require strength, endurance, and, well–I think it boils down to sheer will power. He started to outlast the walking muscles and the born-to-live-outdoors types.

The reason he didn’t win (although I would call his evolution a success)? The other players voted him off because he was the biggest threat out there. The guy who once trembled at the sight of a bird.

What is your Goliath? Exercise that heart muscle.

What Matters

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Once upon a time, I journeyed east where I met up with Christian writers from various patches of this earth who liked to write extraordinary fiction—fiction containing more than ladies in floral sleeves gathered around Amish quilts. Fiction that emulates realms as colorful as the one God made for us.

Some of us think the world has forgotten how extraordinary God is.

In the cafeteria, between classes, I met a man wearing a sign on his back that said, “Ask me about short stories.”

Initially, I thought I didn’t have time for that—I was mid-novel, juggling minions and two jobs on my kids’ summer vacation.

But my friend, Louise, beckoned him over and we talked.

Back home, I decided to scratch out a new story anyway—but would it matter?

I work part time at a retirement resort—despite the reactions I get from people when I tell them what I do, a retirement place can be a fascinating place to work, especially at night when things quiet down. Residents have shared their stories with me, their advice, regrets. It’s also the point where many pass from this life to the next; a portal to the Great Beyond, if you will. I’ve seen stuff…so I threw bits of this “stuff” into a short story and it’s mythic-orbits-covernow published in an anthology released today.

How thrilled was I when I found out I’d be in a book with such a great group of talents, and that New York Times Bestselling Author Tosca Lee read an advanced copy and gave us the words, “A truly enjoyable and impressive anthology.”

Sometimes, everyone needs encouragement like this to know that their efforts matter. That our time is not wasted when we veer away from our normal course to grab hold of something new. Maybe the opportunities God puts in our paths can look like time-suckers, or inconveniences, but are really the very thing we’ve been asking for. What if, before we did/said anything–or didn’t, we tell ourselves, “maybe this will matter.”

The Perfect Gift

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What’s to be found on the day after Christmas? The things we received are nice, maybe even needed, but they don’t satisfy–and that’s what we’re really looking for isn’t it? That thing that fills the empty/hurting places.

My greatest gift this year was the ability to attend my kids’ Christmas performances (all 5 of them) without any conflict with my mysteriously increasing hours at work or the stomach bug that resides with us this month. Jesus hears every prayer, every longing.

We were also blessed with a white Christmas–such winter magic is a raritysnow-xmas in Arizona.

And finally, the reminder that Jesus showers us with such abundant grace when we keep our eyes on his star, and not on our disappointments. What’s a disappointment when we have unconditional Love?

Up

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Sometimes when the sky fills with a gray storm flurry
pelting me with hail and fail and impossibilities,
I slide from behind my laptop,
stiff from laboring in my seat,

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My body chilled, but hands hot from pounding out words that find no purchase,
and throw on some spandex.
Then I face the floor and push it away,
arms burning,two, six, ten
begin again.
The floor appears to be a wall that won’t move
but I keep pushing it away
soon, my arms have developed enough strength to lift
me
Up.
Back straight, eyes ahead
looking beyond that storm which is not
strong enough to hold me down.