Pause

My daughter was recently diagnosed with a recipe for anything: a possible concussion, a strange virus, or dehydration. She had hit her head twice the day I picked her up from a slumber party—the week I had finished my latest batch of edits. Fun, and many frenzied weeks of school had exhausted her; work had exhausted me. Doctor’s orders were to rest. Chloe slept late for three days, lingering in a haze for the remainder of her awake time, and napping like she had run laps for a half century.
Rest: what we don’t do enough of, which is why I skipped my blog last week.

You’re disturbing my rest

Experts say to stay on top of things you must be in constant motion; that if you don’t make yourself stand above the fray you won’t make a difference in this world. That no one will hear you.
But rest softened Choe’s edge, and she and Noah enjoyed their playtime together again. To make her feel better, Noah shaved off several locks of his hair, and slathered on his Daddy’s deodorant to make her laugh. Laughter all the way to school—the product of rest.
We miss God’s touch when we fix our eyes to the front of the crowd. For your Tuesday, Here are a few beautiful pauses within the thick of motion.

Rise

My son is convinced that one, just one, of his nightmares was real. When the night spills over the blue sky, and the house creeks to the tune of the witching hour, he remembers it. “Do demons look like aliens?”

The same question, always. “They can, but Jesus will make them go away.”

“I know, but He took a long time to make them go away.”

We discuss the settling of houses, and how they have to get comfortable at night just like we do. I remind him that shadows often look like scary things just like clouds can resemble bunnies. These conversations almost convince him it was just a dream. Was it?

But, the dark haunts all of us, morphing worries into nightmares. Failures are monsters. Most people in my line of work experience so many failures, they often lose sight of their purpose underneath all the wounds. Success is intangible; a ghost, and sometimes is takes a very long time to get a clear look at it.

I worry about my little guy and the scars he’s developing at such a young age. But as we talk about shadows and monsters, holy week creeps by us and taps me on the shoulder, “Remember the curtain torn in two, the earthquake, rocks splitting open…the bodies of holy people rising from their tombs and appearing to many people? (Matthew 27).”

They weren’t the monsters—they weren’t aliens, or zombies, or anything that dwells in the dark splatter of night. They were spirits of victory. It took a lot of pain and blood for them to rise…it took a moment at 3 o’clock in the afternoon when God stepped away…and oh, did it seem like he was gone too long; utter forsaken agony, when all seemed lost…

…for Jesus to slay the nightmares. We must remember the nightmares have already been defeated.

As we carry our own crosses with monsters dumping humiliation after fear after pain upon us, and God seems so far away—we can take faith steps. We can breathe in faith and blow away the impossibilities, nodding our heads at the scary things rising, that are, in fact, signposts to victory.

Caged Birds

 

An old memory surfaced the other day as I walked the halls of the retirement home, my day job that’s actually a night job. The old ghost goes like this: I was eight, maybe ten years old, and walking through a drug store in Cottonwood with my mom. An elderly man shuffled along the pain-killer row, his head and neck bent down, his feet unsteady in his orthopedic shoes. From some mysterious place, a surge of compassion washed over me and I begged God to let me help old people one day. I’m not sure where that came from, but a little over a decade after finding I didn’t want to go where my Design degree tried to lead me (and after forgetting my strange plea in the drug store), I found myself working in a Retirement Resort to pay the bills until I figured out where to go next.

Late into the night when my duties slow, I pen novels at that desk now–someday I may write about the retirement place. Here are a few of the greatest hits from the grandparent generation.

A few weeks ago, a resident called me, concerned about an alarm in his Apt. I checked my pager and Teltron panel—my link to resident emergencies, medical and smoke—silence on my end. I’ve been working there 17 years—“alarms” can mean anything.

The first thing I noticed when I entered his Apt. was his fabulous collection of art supplies—there’s something about seeing a living room stuffed with easels and canvases—you know a working artist still has things to say about life. The second thing I noticed was that all familiar beep you don’t fully appreciate until you become a parent—I smiled, weighing my words. “It’s your TV,” I told him. “The beeps are to censor swear words.” He thought that was strange—probably because he’s an artist who thinks the world needs to hear a little more of life, but I was just thankful for the good laugh we had before I left.

Hattie (*code name*) was one of my favorites. She owned a bird named Sweetie. To be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of caged birds; they have wings—they should fly. But my job is to take care of the residents and I grew to love Sweetie. One late night while immersed in a book—before I decided to put them down and write my own—Hattie called in a panic. Sweetie had escaped her cage and was flying around her Apt. in a fury. She had damaged her wing. I hurried down the hall and called my husband because unlike me, he’s a fan of caged birds and talked me through the process of doctoring Sweetie’s wing—once I caught her. Instead of chasing her down, I just waited until she landed on her own, then Hattie helped hold her still while I slathered her wing in something goopy (I don’t remember what). Hattie’s last few years were difficult ones for her; she was locked in her own cage of illness, but Sweetie was her faithful companion. If Hattie needed to leave for the day, she clutched Sweetie’s cage to her side like a purse full of treasure. Sweetie sang to Hattie, bringing her comfort through many anxiety-ridden days.

Like I said, I could complete a book with my experiences with retirees, but the catalyst for my writing career began with Bessie (*code name*). Bessie had developed Alzheimer’s disease, going from clarity one day to mental nightmare the next, rapidly declining from what has to be one of the worst diseases to haunt mankind.
She got to where she couldn’t dress herself or ask for a glass of water, but that same mysterious force that prompted my childhood prayer simmered inside Bessie as one last gift. She couldn’t form a complete sentence, or remember the right words for anything except one—a bible verse. Many if I remember correctly, but the one she gave me in her sweet chirping voice came the very night an idea for my first book nestled inside me:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11.

This THE DAY my artistic fingers starting itching like crazy for an outlet.

Ten years later, the experiences with Bessie and my Grandpa (Dementia) inspired a short story now published in an anthology praised by a few of the most respected Authors of faith. The interesting thing about that is it’s a novel categorized as speculative fiction—the genre described by our traditional friends as the most “out there” and “unbelievable” of all genres. It is “out there”, but when you put all the pieces together—a retirement home, two people who have lost their minds, a caged bird who sang to her lady, the spontaneous prayer of a child and a genre thought to be for only those “weird” people—God can work with anything and anyone, and seems to have a preference for telling His most powerful stories from the least expected places. Maybe because the logical part of the world has forgotten that truths, no matter the magic that touches it, can’t be caged.

Time Is Not The Enemy

Evidently, our attention spans have gotten so short we don’t want much depth in entertainment anymore (according to a billion quick articles)–we just want hook, thrill, and on to the next. This is true to some extent, but I don’t think this trend will last. Or if it does, humanity will go mad with this frenetic pace, unable to find meaning within the blink of an eye.

That’s probably why, when my husband and I took off for Sedona for the weekend to celebrate our anniversary, I forgot my deodorant. And my glasses (for reading a super fast-paced but depthless book before sleep), and….a shirt to wear the next day. Let’s see, there are the kids to get ready for the Grandparents, the two books I’m preparing at once (shall we say fast-paced depth?), the day job with the crazy hours responsible for making me sluggish much of the time.

Did I mention this was the FIRST time J and I have taken anything more than several hours off to celebrate our anniversary? In SEVENTEEN years? Year after year, we say we can’t afford a whole weekend, well–one of us, or both, I think it was J, but I don’t remember who because I’m too busy doing lots of fast-paced stuff, decided we needed to slow down a bit. And slim pocketbooks can become idols if we’re not careful.

Deodorant or not.

It was awesome. We took in some art, a church built in rock, and were able to walk leisurely. That’s an ancient word for relaxing.

Upon return, I realized it was time for the annual trying on of the wedding dress 100_4179day for Chloe. She wants the dress now. But this one thing to wait for, at least, will help teach her that NOW is not always good.

Hope is good though. And deodorant.

Happy Monday. May it be leisurely in all the important ways.

Authentic

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.

Up

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,

storm
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.

The Healing Room

I’ve been debating about writing this here, as our true story is not finished, but I don’t believe we have to know everything to share the hope we’ve been given.

You may know our son, Noah, has been diagnosed with Indeterminate Colitis, an autoimmune disease that may or may not be Crohn’s Disease. The mystery of this disease, and all the terrible things it can lead to has wrapped our hearts in a vice; squeezing ever so tight with worry. Impossible to predict, impossible to know if he’ll have it another year or forever. The financial strain is enough to make us wonder if we’ll make it another year without ruin, but God has proved Himself faithful in the areas of finance: a generous family member or friend, a random check in the mail, a surprise discount from the hospital.

My husband heard about this place called The Healing Room. Believers from local churches join together inside a medical clinic one evening a week to pray for those in need of miracles.

We read of Jesus healing those who believe in Him. We grow up being told this…we may even know someone who has miraculously recovered from an illness, but two thousand years of Jesus making footprints in the sands of this Earth is a long way from our cynical culture today. And even though some of us know him and know He can, we wonder if He will. Why some, but not all? Will we be like Paul, forever inflicted with a thorn in the flesh to remind us of where to fix our eyes?

Maybe our faith is too full of questions and not enough belief. But how do we help our six-year-old understand the complexities? I prayed about this, worried that if we took Noah for prayer and he wasn’t healed that he would lose his faith.

John and I explained to him about healing…that miracles do happen, but sometimes God lets people stay sick. They become God’s heroes.

Noah was unsure, nervous about doing something so foreign. He said he’d think about it. I asked God for confirmation that we were doing the right thing, and if so, would he encourage Noah?

Over the next week as I drove my kids to school, a few people called in to our local radio station to report miraculous healings. I leaned in. Is that you, God?

Shortly after, we visited with our neighbors during their fall yard sale. Noah loves looking for new treasures and was delighted to join me. A beautiful, state of the art electric wheelchair was displayed in their driveway. Something compelled me to ask why they were selling such a nice piece of equipment—people don’t buy those for temporary problems–and they both walked very well. So I asked.

“He had MS, but doesn’t anymore. He was healed,” said Mrs. Neighbor.

“What happened?” I asked, Noah at my side listening.

“Prayer, I guess.”

I turned to Noah, repeated what she said, like he didn’t hear it the first time.

“I’ll do it.” He smiled. Wide.

Later, when the kids were at school, I dropped to my knees and requested a special favor from God. I believe those signs were from You. Thank you. If you 100_4125don’t heal him, please give him a “God moment” so he doesn’t lose his faith.

When the sun had left the city in darkness a few Thursday nights later, Noah and I walked into The Healing Room. I could feel the prayer as soon as we entered; I felt embraced by it the whole time we were there. We filled out some paperwork about us and our specific prayer request: Healing from the colitis, healing from the pain.

Before they brought us into the room, they prayed. Over us, over the problem, over any special word from God.

Noah and I stood against a wall underneath a sign reminding us that miracles come from God, not from the people praying. His light-up shoes blinked off as he stopped; my breath came quick as they anointed us both with oil. As soon as the Prayer Man touched Noah’s right wrist, Noah’s right shoe lit up—his foot hadn’t budged. Noah beamed.

When we prayed, they repeated 1 Peter 2:24 where Jesus says, “…By His stripes you are healed.” As soon as they said the words, a picture of Jesus on the cross, taking the wounds of the world upon Himself filled my mind’s eye. Wearing a crown of blood, his head fell forward and tipped toward me—and then, gone. That was enough for me–no matter what happened, God is good. God is Love.

They prayed over Noah for a second time, then invited us to come back again. Some battles take more prayer than others, they said.

His pain was less that night. By the next day, it was completely gone. A few symptoms remain, but we came away with three things. One shoe light (Noah’s God moment), partial healing (no more pain), and a few scriptures impressed upon the prayer warriors, one of them being…And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus Philippians 4:19.

That leaves us at the unfinished part of our story. We will go back on another Thursday night in the hopes that Noah’s healing will be complete. Will the other shoe light for my boy, giving us another miracle, or will he be one of God’s heroes?

The Healing Room is nationwide, my friends. I suspect some of you may need to go. Please check out this link to find one closest to you. http://healingrooms.com/

A Single Beautiful Thing

There was a man in my college photography class who taught us how to capture a beautiful shot from anywhere. “Zoom in,” he said, “It’s about focus.” When he propped his photo up on our critique board, I saw a shadowed arch, eye-catching in its imperfection flowing through a gray sea. I didn’t think crack in a sidewalk until he told us that’s what it was.

I’m not sure what got me thinking about this seventeen-year-old memory; maybe some of you can relate, but when you become a parent, focusing on any single20160516_091434 thing becomes folklore. A crack in the sidewalk becomes a collection point for Cheerios overflowing beyond the crevice— milk and all— onto my freshly mopped floor.

Maybe it’s my son with the indeterminate illness, and my friend with the cancer diagnosis. The hard things like to come at once, so how do we manage to focus on a single beautiful thing amidst cold, hard reality?

If Peter had kept his eyes on Jesus, his feet would not have slipped through the water. He saw the storm, the waves–he even suspected Jesus was a ghost. But the few moments he focused on the Lord, he got his miracle—one that’s been documented to help us through every one of our hard seasons. An old reminder of what could be.

Jesus traveled with a team—I’m thinking of all of you right now. Let’s climb inside this boat together and fix our eyes on our King.

Pedaling Forward

Chloe just graduated to a new bike—a perfect infusion of pink and purple wonder-girl, just in time for spring. We didn’t realize how much she had grown until she laid down her old bike, replete with scratches and memories, and climbed onto her new one. What a difference! I thought her recent struggle to pedal was due to lack of riding, but no—she had moved into a new season of girlhood.

Off she cruised, uphill, over dirt and broken pavement; strong enough to handle itbike all despite the cold winter of insidedom. She was a little disappointed when her pristinely black tires arrived home coated in dirt, but was invigorated enough from her experience to let it go.

It seems to be a season of change for us, as well as for a few friends. Whether we think we’re ready to go forward or not, staying in our comfort zones may be more of a hindrance than we realize. In being called to the next step in our stories we may get a little dirty, but the experience can be spectacular.