Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Children have often been a source of light for me. I have admired their sense of purpose, their kindnesses, their creative ways of coping with life and their wonderful senses of humor. I know there are countless similar acts out there among you.
A few that have touched me this past week:
Ezra, 5, whose ankles and knees were aching the other night. As his mom massaged his legs, she explained he was having growing pains and they should pray to ask God to help him with the pain, he paused in his tears and said, "ok, let's pray for Margie too cause her ankles hurt too." He also sent me a “get well” card. Thank you Ezra!
Kaiden, our 12 year old grandson, told his twin brother, “No, you go first, you’re older.”
Ava Lou, 5, brought her mom two sealed envelopes to mail to us, her grandparents. About the same time, her dad noticed his stash of quarters was missing. On questioning likely culprits, Ava began to cry. She had taken them to send to us because, in anticipation of seeing us this weekend in Fargo at the hockey tournament*, she wanted us to have money we could give her for treats. (It’s our habit to buy them treats and she was trying to generously help with the cost! NOT steal the money from her dad.)
Granddaughter Isobel, 9: “It is important and good to say ‘thank you’ for the presents you send. I love the earrings with cuffs and the nail polish and jeans. Thank you.” (She hardly ever uses contractions.)
And finally, this from our son when he was five. It recently made its way back to the refrigerator door.
“God’s kingdom is made up of people like these” Mt. 19:14. (The Message) So thankful to be part of this great troop of children. What privileges we share! What joys and sorrows!
*Sadly, after all, we will not be able to join our family for Anson’s hockey tournament in Fargo this weekend. My back went out. When it takes you twenty minutes to get to the bathroom and back? You’re in trouble. I guess from horsing my kneeler around and shifting to crutches and walking boot. Whatever. Trying again to be “spiritually philosophical” about things out of one’s control.
Thanks for stopping by. If you have any children acts of kindness encounters you'd like to share. Send them to me.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
We have a new piece of art – Heavenly Bodies – a painting acquired from Shaun LaRose. The fact that he is our son-in-law has nothing to do with how accomplished he is and how beautiful his work. This particular painting is in a place where I can look at it everyday and be reminded that none of us are alone in the brokenness we bear in our bodies. It also reminds me that no matter how pitiful I think my life – this is not the end of the story as we wait along with so many others for the restoration and healing of all things.
|Heavenly Bodies detail|
Both my wife and son suffer with chronic illness. At an early age my son has to experience pain, fatigue and sometimes a resulting depression. We pray for healing, longing for healthy bodies but know God’s story often coincides with our suffering. Yet, we long with eager expectation for the heavenly bodies we will receive when all things will be made new.
I painted this over a paint by number of Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ to signify the divide, or as my wife puts it The Fog, that lies between those who are in good health and those who are dealing with pain. Bordering each side of the image are x-rays that depict lower esophagitis, the chief source of pain for my son Kaiden. As I worked on this design I considered the regrowth of new flesh through cellular reproduction and thus you will see the pattern of cellular growth in the background. Lastly, the frame itself was constructed with the idea of icons or objects of prayer in mind. I thought about the small catholic prayer petition stations and desired to make an object that evoked intercessory prayer for those around us who experience chronic pain and broken bodies.
This week I had to come to an unwelcome decision - I’m not going to the L’Abri conference in Rochester where we reconnect with people each year. There have been some complications with healing - the incisions on my ankle have become infected and the bone regrowth is slower than we hoped so I’m not yet allowed to put weight on my leg. I thought around all the angles of how to make it work. Perhaps it was the vision of that long hallway with a slight downgrade that runs from the elevators to the ballroom where the lectures are held that made me face reality. I could see myself on my kneeler, brakes smoking, people jumping out of the way as I careened past. The logistics of being there ended up not being feasible.
I am disappointed. At times I have managed to be content with immobility and pain and I tell myself I am determined to learn more about accepting that this is where God has me for now, so relax. But the next moment I say, what the heck? And I toss it out in favor of being depressed with this mess of rotten bones.
Shaun’s painting proposes that we look with a keener eye and heart at bodies that suffer brokenness in this life. I’m looking.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
It always encourages me when I come across a writer who writes more slowly than me. One year at the Festival for Faith and Writing at Calvin College, I went to a workshop given by a man who had taken twenty years to publish his book. I left snapping my fingers saying, yessss. For my first book, The Exact Place, took seven years from start to finish.
|Jake & Joie Meador|
So what to do when you come across someone who writes so fast his pencils smoke?
Well, I think many factors are woven together in a person that makes his or her writing style unique. Personal habits, stage of life, natural talent. And it helps to be someone who doesn’t wait for ideal conditions in which to write. (I am expert on that topic. I often avoid putting words to paper because I am waiting for my body, the pantry, the weather, the stars to align before I get down to business.) So I applaud this young friend, Jake Meador – as he pours himself wholeheartedly into the art of writing. He has a fascinating array of interests and is able to write well about each of them. From theology to soccer columns, journalism reports to blog posts about the demands of love in Harry Potter, they all pour out of his head. I once asked him how he managed to write so prolifically and yet do it well. He answered like this – and I have permission to share:
“My wife and I joke that I have undiagnosed Asperger’s, which is actually a real possibility, and so being in a place with noise is actually awful for my working. I need silence b/c I want to focus super intensely on whatever I'm doing, but I hear everything at the same time at close to the same volume, so being able to focus is hard for me if I'm in a place with a lot of noise. So I either work in a home office or in the stacks at the local university's research library. The upside to the Asperger’s is that I'm able to do a ton of writing in a fairly short amount of time at a level I'm happy with, which is probably the only reason I can write for four soccer sites while also doing work for Mere Orthodoxy, Fare Forward, and whatever freelance stuff I pick up.”
Yesterday Jake posted a piece about the work of Wendell Berry on Fare Forward. It is so insightful that Jake had me wanting to go back to read all of Berry’s work in order to explore this particular theme. His piece is a summary, in a way, of Berry’s understanding of what it means “to daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation.” Clearly, the burden of learning to live in creation lovingly and knowingly is suffused throughout Berry’s essays and works of fiction. Jake’s summary is done with such tender insight I had to share it with you. Go to the site, read the post. You’ll be blessed.
“In Berry’s work, marriage isn’t simply a social contract or an emotional bond; it’s a way of orienting oneself to the rhythms of creation. It’s the process of undergoing an organic “breaking,” much as one would break the earth when plowing, in order to produce a harvest. Seeds are planted and in time we reap a harvest—Paul might say a resurrection. For Berry the language of marriage is never far from the language of health, flourishing, and beauty.” - Wendell Berry’s Room of Love by Jake Meador.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
That rug was what Maira Kalman would call a “favorite thing” something that makes you gasp with delight. Those are the things, she writes, that are worth keeping. Because of her illustrated book – My Favorite Things and her work (she calls her work “curating a life”) for a museum, I have a fuzzy little gauge, a sweet reminder that it’s okay to keep a few things you really like even as you simplify life. You might even admit you love them. This past year has been one of letting things go before we made our big move last May. Things were given away. Sold on Craig’s list. Taken to Salvation Army. Dumped or recycled. Some things were a little hard to give up – like the fragile “Flow Blue” antique china I inherited from Denis’ great-grandparents. A big old buffet with wood inlay from the 1940s. Those two particular things were easier to give up because a family member was delighted to have them. It was a relief to fling other things out of the house. Old paintings and faded photographs that made me grimace, not gasp – Gone! A large patchwork quilt kept for years out of guilt – Gone! Years ago it was a gift from Denis’ step-grandmother. Wouldn’t that normally be a welcome gift? You would think. But this was one ugly quilt with large patches of polyester prints from old dresses backed by a muddy gold fabric, she warned me I had better appreciate that quilt because it had taken her a long time to make it! So I kept it year after year, even after she died. It didn’t even reinvent itself to become an interesting retro piece of Americana. It remained repellent. I gave it away to someone who dumbfounded me by liking it.
As I wrote in a recent blog post, “I understand that not EVERYthing needs to make me gasp. I don’t want to have a hard time breathing when I climb into bed at night. I mean. There needs to be calm scenes. Functionality. Quiet colors. Soft beds. Crisp sheets. None of that has to make me gasp. We understand. But it is a useful measure I’m going to be checking in with now and then.”
As it turns out, because of a broken ankle, I’ve had more occasion to enjoy it as it hangs on the wall of our bedroom. Certain patterns and colors make me happy. In a Japanese philosophy called Naikan, people are reminded “to be grateful for everything. If you are sitting in a chair, you need to realize that someone made that chair, and someone sold it, and someone delivered it – and you are the beneficiary of all that. Just because they didn’t do it especially for you doesn’t mean you aren’t blessed to be using it and enjoying it. …[thus] life becomes a series of small miracles, and you may start to notice everything that goes right in a typical life and not the few things that go wrong.” - The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe.
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
What is it called when the words you say have a meaning completely opposite from their actual definition? Here's a for instance that is pretty innocuous. Or is it? I'm not sure.
In conversation if you tell someone something and they respond in a hearty voice with, “Good!” or "Great!" You kinda get they don't mean good or great at all. What they probably mean is, I don't have time to listen to your pathetic stories. Or, you are boring me so bad, I’d like to slap you, but I love Jesus. Or, leftovers again? Or….?
The satirist at The Cresset, (a literary and art journal published by Valparaiso University) – Tom Willadsen, wrote a little rant about what "Bless your heart," really means, and it got me thinking about my own use of handy verbal punctuation and a little habit I have of taking others to task for their use of it.
I've had some conversations about that very phrase and my friends agreed that, for example, if someone says, "Bless her heart, she's trying to lose weight" what that really means is: “I’m sure glad I’m a size 4!” Or, “too bad she can’t stay on that diet, because she’s a big momma.” Or, “I lay money on it. She’s a closet eater.” I had already decided not to use that comment again. But there are others I need to excise. Just saying I’m not exactly snow-white here.
“I now use the phrase as a verbal crossed fingers behind my back. I say “Bless your heart,: but I mean:
· Each day in my prayers I lament that you had children, or
· As far as I can tell, your sole purpose on the planet is to irritate everyone you encounter, or
· Given a choice between having white-hot tungsten spikes thrust through my lungs, and accepting your invitation, I’m going with the spikes, or
· Remember that device I told you about that measures my hostility? Your request has rendered it obsolete, or
· I hate you.”
My thinking this is funny might reveal something twisted in me. I can yammer on about how we ought to be living and growing in the fruit of the spirit – in fact, only the other day I pressed hard on someone who was verbally unkind to another. This could be dangerous, like I’m the self-righteous, brickhead Publican dumping on the Sinner over in the corner.
On the other hand, if satire is, as the dictionary defines it, “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices;” and if satire is what Willadsen is doing, then, he succeeded and maybe we can laugh because we see ourselves and humor helps it go down a little more easily.
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
I recently discovered the artist and writer Maira Kalman and am utterly charmed. In the first glances at her work I wondered if I was looking at a child’s art project because her drawings are folky and simple. But what quickly emerges is cunning truth about the subject and a subtle humor that reveals a mature hand behind the work. Her gift is to give you pause. To reconsider what you nearly passed by, what you so quickly consigned to the trite and ordinary, to pause for a minute and find unexpected meaning and/or beauty.
BrainPickings describes her work as having: “a spartan sincerity … an elegantly choreographed spontaneity – words meticulously chosen to be as simple as possible, yet impossibly expressive; drawings that invoke childhood yet brim with the complex awarenesses of a life lived long and wide.”
She has published a number of books but the one I discovered first was My Favorite Things. I had to get past the title – at first, all I could hear was Julie Andrews droning on … “these are a few of my favorite things… da-da, da, dah..” But the book quickly invites you to look at her list and think in new categories. At the same time she asks the reader a serious question: “How do you curate a life?” I ask, how do you curate your life? Or mine?
“…We begin with a portrait…” she writes.
In her hand-written, plain prose she tells us she has been chosen to curate an exhibition for a small museum in New York City, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and what a dilemma it is to choose from among centuries-worth of objects! Post cards from the Hotel Celeste in Tunisia. Hats. A fragile vase carefully painted in red and green and signed – someone loved it enough to keep it over a lifetime then pass it on.
This is why her work captured me: It struck me that her filter is one through which we could all strain our own collections. She writes: “The pieces I chose were based on ONE thing only – a gasp of DELIGHT.” Then she asks, “Isn’t that the only way to CURATE a LIFE? To live among things that make you GASP with delight?” (p. 9)
Of COURSE, not everything is going to make you gasp. What inspires me may quietly turn you off. (If you are kind you won’t mention it. And I promise your inspirations won’t make me sign you up for an exorcism.) I began to realize that is why some of the very things others pass over will make another “gasp with delight.” It can be quite an individual matter. For example, I could see by the cover illustration on her book that Kalman enjoys photos of dandies from the 1930s. The way they dressed and paraded across the sand in their garish red and white stripped suits on the beach at Coney Island looking all satisfied with themselves. They make me smile.
I understand that not EVERYthing needs to make me gasp. I don’t want to have an asthma attack when I climb into bed at night. I mean. There needs to be calm scenes. Functionality. Quiet colors. Soft beds. Crisp sheets. Most of my bedroom is not required to make me gasp. We understand. But there are things I might now keep and others I may shed because she has named this way of curating.
I am intrigued by possibilities. By a new way of thinking about what everyday things can delight. What causes us to gasp? In this world with so much that is broken, broken, broken, I wonder if we could keep some of those good things, and also share a little. Like the annoying “Little Drummer Boy,” (oops. I guess he’s not on my gasping list.) perhaps I can give you what I have, which isn’t much, I admit. I can give what I write this year. I can keep on trying to stay focused long enough to make something of it. If my writing can cause you to, well, if not GASP with delight, but perhaps give a slight twitch in your nucleus accumbens (look it up.) that would make me very happy.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Tell me what made you think I’d want to read about what you did yesterday? Your books didn’t arrive on the UPS truck when they were supposed to and now all your orders are late? You need new socks because all your old ones have holes? Waaa. Hearing about whatever it is you are up to is a waste of my time. Throw rotten fish.
There is a person in my life who sits on my shoulder, watching, someone who lifts an eyebrow and a corner of the lip while reading my sentences. I sense a cynical vibe asking, why aren’t you doing something more meaningful? Feeding the hungry? Something valuable. Perhaps you should clean your closet or something. But stop this bushwa.
We (Denis & I) often talk about how every square inch of life and reality belongs to the Lord Christ. That includes calling and vocation. Part of my calling right now is writing. Working on another manuscript. Posting to my blog. Writing my quarterly publication “Letters from the House Between.” Answering mail. Even after all these years of understanding the importance of being faithful in what you’ve been called to do today and not imagining some big sensational save or Pulitzer Prize for your astonishing work, I can have doubts about what I do.
This isn’t strictly a “Christian” problem; people who don’t necessarily practice a faith also suffer from the guilt of living in a world with so much misery and sorrow and trying to reckon the worth of what they do. Recently I watched a 60 Minutes program about Syrian refugees that was so heartbreaking I sat on the couch and bawled. How could I be living in safety with a bowl of popcorn and a can of Coke while thousands were escaping up a hill into a Jordanian refugee camp - their wounded bodies and hearts repositories of violence – their faces pinched with starvation and fear – How could I go about being a barista or a software developer or a writer? Especially a writer? (Opportunities to help do abound. And we can find them. That is a good topic for another time.) But, I’ve needed to reaffirm that it isn’t just okay, it is good to write.
Molly Wizenberg concludes her book Delancy: A Man, A Woman, ARestaurant, A Marriage by trying to work out their dilemma regarding the significance of opening a restaurant and her choice to write.
“…when I decided to quit graduate school, I was newly broken up with a boyfriend. He was a very kind, serious, thoughtful guy, someone who tutors kids with severe learning disabilities in his free time. I remember feeling so frivolous in comparison, so guilty, as I thought about giving up academia to try being a food writer. Food writing wasn’t important. It wouldn’t save a life. I did it anyway, because I wanted to, but I certainly couldn’t justify it on the grounds of world peace. That justification doesn’t work for opening a restaurant either. But there is something about Delancey that, to me, matters just as much: We get to make people happy. We get to give people a good night. We get to spend our days doing work that we can be proud of, and when we’re done, there’s all the pizza you can eat.” P 225.
What I do everyday does matter. It may not be worthy of a Ten Best Books list, but I know this is what God has for me to do right now. If I listened too much to my doubts or to that person who sits on my shoulder sifting my words, paralysis would set in. Wizenberg may not be able to say “God has made me for this purpose” and understand that because they are making the best pizzas they can and she is being a good food writer honors God, but I can say it. He has created humans to live and work before him and it pleases him to bless us however big or small, significant or insignificant our work.