Fragile Vessels

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Years ago I did a commissioned art series for a church pastored by someone that I hold in high esteem and care deeply for.  It was an advent series that we entitled “Fragile Vessels”. These vessels were made out of old papers, lace, and fabrics and were set on the stairs leading up to the altar and lit from within with candles.  The sermon series dealt with the fragility of human life, the appearance of the Christ as a small infant, the resiliency of the human spirit – the complexity that is the Christian faith.

I strongly believe that art should be experienced with more than the eyes and therefore these pieces were handled a great deal – especially by the children of the congregation.  There was damage as would be expected of fragile pieces.

At the end of the advent season, these pieces were returned to me and were carefully stored in a box.  They are among the objects that I have struggled with the disposition of in recent days.

At the time, I was seriously exploring a vocation as a minister.  Since then, my path has changed dramatically.  I don’t doubt that my journey today is the correct one, but would be lying to say that I don’t have some regrets about how things turned out.

I would say that I am still a believer in God, but my interest in “organized” religion has changed dramatically.  I question more and study further.  I am open to the beliefs of others.  I am not so sure of anything anymore.  My faith is not blind.  I am older and more mature.  The world is complicated.  The answers not so clear.

The pastor that these pieces were created with and for is no longer an active part of my life.  I’m not very good at staying in touch with people – even those I care about.  On some level though, I still feel a strong connection with her.  She is fighting a difficult health battle right now.

We are fragile vessels.

Words rarely fail me.  In this case they have.  Prayer just seems inadequate.  I couldn’t sleep tonight thinking about my inability to let go of these art pieces, her illness, our loss of connection, and my failure to find words to articulate my thoughts and feelings.

And then I thought about the fact that many cultures believe that prayer can be carried by smoke in the wind upwards towards heaven.

The fragile vessel made of old paper, lace and fabric wouldn’t stay lit.  The fire kept going out.  And then a light rain started to fall.

Maybe we are stronger than we think.  Maybe we don’t have all the answers.  Maybe we aren’t meant to understand it all or know what the outcome shall be.

Some things are just a mystery.

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Grace

My fingers on the keyboard.

What to write?

So many things happening in the world and my life:  world tragedies, a college graduation, homeschool to catch up on, holiday preparation or lack thereof, housework or the lack thereof, illness, my last art class today and it’s lesson plan or lack thereof, 3 broken-down cars in the driveway, planning transportation for four people with only one car, politics, stupid people, a friend’s surgery, the fragility of life, priorities, a vivid idea for an art project in my head, kiddos coming home, kiddos leaving, finances..

All swirling around in my head.  What to do first?  What can wait?  What doesn’t need to be dealt with at all?  What can I do?  What should I do?

No wonder that it can seem easier to do nothing at all.  Anxiety complicates it all – depression takes hold.

So easy to say, “Simplify!”  But, what does that really mean?

Eliminate what’s not essential.  Figure out what matters most.  Prioritize.  Have realistic goals.  Have a plan.  Don’t buy what you don’t need.  Don’t do what you don’t need to do.  Don’t have what isn’t useful or what doesn’t bring you joy.

But, day to day, the whirlwind of the everyday can sweep away the plan, the priorities, the intent to live a more simple life.

Life isn’t simple.  People aren’t simple.  The unexpected happens.  People do stupid stuff that messes with the plan.  I do stupid stuff that knocks me off track.

What word do I want to type?

GRACE.

That’s the word I want to live into today – in all of it’s definitions.

The grace of forgiveness.

The short prayer of thanks.

The simple elegance or refinement of movement.

The courteous goodwill.

The attractively polite manner of behaving.

The bestowal of blessings.

To do honor or credit to…

GRACE for you, for me, for the whole world.

Amen.  (so be it)

Hamster Wheel of Life

How has it been almost two days since I last posted?  It seems like time flies by so fast and yet nothing of significance has happened to write about.

…so busy running around the wheel of life like a hamster and never really getting anywhere.

But that’s not really true is it?

In terms of “significant” life-changing events, nothing has happened.

No cure for cancer found here.

No Mona Lisa painted.

Haven’t discovered the secret to world peace.

But the busyness of my life is the stuff of real life.  Things have to be done (sometimes over and over again) and although some of it doesn’t seem to be  all that important, life quickly becomes chaos if it is left undone.

Doing dishes, washing laundry, balancing the checkbook, paying bills, schoolwork, actually paying attention to loved ones, late night phone calls answering life questions (or pretending like you actually know the answers), running errands and dropping everything to fix a problem…

It all adds up to something important – this thing we call life.  One person doing what needs to be done in their life and touching another life in the process.  All connecting and getting things done and adding it all together to create something bigger and better.

I try to remember this.  I often fail.  Today I felt the tiny doubts and darkness start to creep in.  What’s the point?  I can’t “balance” anything when there is more need than supply.  I can’t keep up with all that needs to be done.  I’m losing ground and really tired.  I haven’t finished what needs to be done today and now it’s already tomorrow.

It is tomorrow.  Everything didn’t get done and yet the world hasn’t ended.  In the morning I can jump back on my wheel and start running.

Or maybe not.  Maybe I will choose to do each task as if it is taking me somewhere and not a pointless turn around the wheel.  I can choose to believe that my efforts are important and real and significant.

It is a choice isn’t it.

Not exciting.

Not glamorous.

Lots of dried on food, stains that won’t come out, missing socks, explaining a math concept again, chicken poop, dog hair, and someone asking, “where is my…”.

Or I can choose to see the home-cooked meal, running water, warm clothing, time spent with my child, fresh eggs, dogs that are excited when I come home and family that think I know more than I really do.

What’s happened since I last wrote?  Nothing much and everything!

I hope your journey around the sun tomorrow is more than just running on a hamster wheel.  I think we can change the world!

Decluttered on Thursday:

  1. plastic bowls
  2. a too-big sweater that I love, but someone else needs more than me
  3. 3 earrings – a pair that I never wear and one that has been waiting for a lost mate way too long
  4. a reusable grocery bag – got way too many
  5. a pen that only writes some of the time.  It seems to be the one that I always grab when I really need a pen

And today:

  1. underwear bought in the wrong size and never returned to the store
  2. an empty photo storage box
  3. a scarf – pretty, but I never wear it
  4. a pillowcase
  5. a shirt that I really, really want to fit, but no matter how many times I put it on is still too small

 

What makes a good story?

What makes a good story?  Interesting questions isn’t it?  In my opinion it ranks right up there with what is good art or what is a beautiful home.  Questions without answers – or rather questions with way too many answers.  None of the answers wrong and none of them necessarily right.

Just questions to think about (or not) depending on your philosophical bent or lack thereof.

I think a good story is one that someone can relate to.  It doesn’t have to find a huge following.  A one person audience can be enough.  I think I’ll go so far as to say that a good story doesn’t necessarily need to find an audience at all.  It may just be a story that needs to be told.

I’m often at a loss to explain why I am writing here on this blog.  To an audience of people I know and even more that I will never actually meet.  Some good people and probably more than a few not so nice people.  Why write at all?  Why risk?  What’s the point?

I have a story.  We all do.  I’m sure that there are people out there with far more writing skill and most definitely more interesting stories to tell.  I’ve never really travelled extensively.  I don’t have a glamorous job.  I’m not rich or beautiful or profoundly intelligent.  I’d say that I’m solidly average.  But, most of us are.

In my quest to live a more intentional life – a life of thoughtful choices – I’ve learned (am learning) to question the wisdom of following the stories of those who appear to be “better” than me.  Those whose life appears to be “more”.  Celebrities who are famous for absolutely nothing that has made the world a better place.  People who talk a lot and really have nothing significant to say.  Damaging stories that make us want more and better – homes, clothes, cars, detergent, hair, personalities, relationships….

I tell my story.

A story of a 54 year old woman who struggles with her weight.  Who can’t eat one Little Debbie snack cake and leave the rest in the box.  Who has been known to eat frosting from a can.  Who buys healthy food, but doesn’t always make good choices.  Who lost a lot of weight, but only because I had a major health crisis to motivate me.

I’m a wife who loves her husband and a mom who loves her children – but I have been known to yell way more than I should have over things that weren’t worth yelling about.  I worry about the things I’ve done wrong and sometimes wonder if I’ve done anything right.

I’m a homemaker that doesn’t always do a very good job of keeping house.  I have hoarding tendencies that I deal with all the time.  I “pile” things and worry more about what the inside of the cabinets look like than the whole house.  I bounce between wanting to get rid of everything and thinking I can pull off a “cozy and cluttered” ambiance.   Sometimes the laundry is done and sometimes we are scrambling for clean underwear.

I worry about the environment and try to recycle.  We don’t have curbside so sometimes it just gets thrown away.  I read a blog about a zero-waste home and wonder what I’m doing wrong.  The best I can do Is shred our junk-mail and use it as chicken coop bedding.  Other than that, it’s rather hit-or-miss.

I wonder what I should be doing to make the world a better place.  Most of the time, I don’t even know how to make my own home a better place.

This story could go on and on.

Mostly, I worry about being enough.  About doing enough.  About caring enough.  About whether it will matter if I spent time on this planet or not.

Is it enough to try?  And fail.  To be average.

I’m going to say yes.  It matters.  It has to.  It’s all most of us ordinary folks have.  We try. We fail.  We try again.

We hope.

We tell our stories so we know we aren’t alone.

Lonely and alone

It’s quiet around here today.  I am home alone – but not lonely.  There’s a difference, ya’ know.

Hubby, youngest daughter and I tried a new church today.  I have a long and complicated history with church.  Long story short:  I used to and now I don’t.

I’m still a believer.  Just not an attendee – and not a believer in organized worship.  I’m not sure I ever will be again.  I don’t know.  My life and I have changed.  I do miss the community.  I don’t miss the scheduled worship (and meetings and busy-work).

My life seems more intentional now.  Worship is a moment, an observation, an experience – not an hour on Sunday morning.

Prayer is a continuous and ongoing conversation.

Service is a spontaneous reaction to circumstance and not planned.

The church service was strange.  I liked some things about it.  And I didn’t like a lot of things about it.  The worship environment was beautiful.  The message was good.  Worship was uncluttered and focused.

But it all seemed carefully planned.  And as I looked around the room, there was little diversity. Everyone looked happy.  The people in the seats didn’t look like the folks I spend my days with.  My husband and I were the oldest people in the room.  No one looked like they were worried about whether their next paycheck would be enough or if there would be another paycheck.  No one looked like they needed to be there.   Everything looked fine and good.  I’m sure they were perfectly nice people.   I’m sure that If I go back, I would enjoy getting to know some of them.

Maybe the timing wasn’t right.  Maybe it was just me.  Maybe my focus needs to remain where it is right now – on family, home, friends and self.

Will I go back and give it another try?  I don’t know.  I think I’ve reached an age and stage of life where appearances aren’t all that important.  I hope so anyway.  It’s what I’m striving for.  I want real.  I want tears and hugs.  I want fear and reassurance.  I want to know what the challenges are and to work to find solutions.  I want emotions and truth and sharing.  I want to be there for people who need me and I want someone to be there for me.  My life is messy and I want to be with people who are struggling just like I am.   I’m past trying to keep up a front and pretending like everything is just fine.  I grew up in that house and in that family – and everything wasn’t fine.

I felt lonely.

Except for two of my favorite people in the seats next to me, I felt like I was the only one in the room.

I enjoy being alone sometimes (maybe a lot).

I don’t like lonely.  It’s a big scary world out there…and sometimes right here, too.

Choosing to look for the joy

Hmmmm…been a long time away from here and it is ever so hard to start writing again.  Lots has happened and there is a small component of guilt as well.  The perfectionist in me struggles with not doing everything well…if you can’t do it perfectly, don’t do it at all…  That’s the “old” me, or rather the me that I’m trying to outgrow.  But old habits die hard – especially if we stop paying close attention and start living on autopilot…

…which is what I’ve found myself doing a lot of lately.

I simply stopped looking for the joy.

Honestly it’s not been the summer that I dreamed about – full of fun, memory making activities and lots of restful time to prepare for the school year ahead.  It started off well enough, but somehow snowballed into one challenge after another.

But there was plenty of joy to be found.  It all depends on how I choose to look at it.

We did get our back mortgage caught up with all of it’s late charges!  Without a doubt that was a joyful thing indeed.  And we’ve been working through the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover so I even managed to set up our emergency fund.

Then…

The dryer died.  Dead.  It’s been coming on for a while.  Remember the crazy noise and the on-line repair tutorials.  Not this time.  Thank goodness for that emergency fund, right?

Then the thermostat started going out on the oven.  Guessing temperatures, anyone?  Hubby found a great deal on one at work.  A great deal!  Okay, we’ve got the emergency fund and we need an oven. Done.

Then…the BIG one.  The “what-the-hell did I do wrong to deserve this crap” break-down.  Our  central air-conditioning unit quits working.  In August.  In Central Texas.  Three service calls and estimates later, we have a price for replacement.  The general consensus is that it can’t be fixed as it’s over 10 years old and is beyond repair.  Cost:  around $7000.00.  No emergency fund for that, my friend.  We’re “camping in a few rooms of our house with some loaner portable A/C units.

Then, there’s the vacation at the beach that came with it’s own set of issues.  Two car break-downs that resulted in repairs and a trailer rental to haul one home.  A trip to the minor-emergency clinic and a case of bronchitis that turned into an asthma diagnosis, and….  Well, you get the picture.  A vacation to remember, right?

But, that’s where the title of this story comes into play.  “Choosing to look for the joy”.  I’m not going to lie.  I’ve been in a bit of a depressed mood.  (That may be an understatement)  I haven’t been choosing to look for the joy.  I’ve been sad.  I’ve been “down”.  I’ve been feeling sorry for myself.  I’ve wondered where you can turn in a resignation letter to life and just quit.

Then…yesterday, this story start writing itself in my head.  And I stared seeing the bits of joy that have happened this summer.  Quiet moments for the most part.  They didn’t shout out their arrival like the A/C breakdown did.  The joy just sort of happened and waited for me to notice – and appreciate.  I just got so busy running from one problem to another and worrying that I never stopped to be grateful for the good stuff.

Bad stuff has happened aplenty this summer.  Lots more than I’ve shared here.

But…here’s a small listing of the joy that’s come along for the ride…

  • a solid roof over our heads to shelter us and a caught-up mortgage to keep it over our heads
  • new knowledge about money management that I am sharing with my kids so that their life can be easier and they can learn from my mistakes.  Knowledge can be powerful.
  • Health insurance that made medical care available for us when we needed it.
  • The most beautiful beach weather I’ve seen in all the years we’ve been going to Corpus Christi.  Calm winds, bright skies, moderate temperatures, no seaweed, and clear, clear water.
  • A lovely card in the mail from someone I’ve never met in person, but who sensed that I need some love
  • A new, part-time teaching job at a private school close to home.  I’m teaching art once a week and am already in love with my kids.  Such talent and enthusiasm!
  • Friends that have been there along the way and have helped out when we need a helping hand.
  • A successful first week of school for us.  One week in and we are only two days “behind” schedule.
  • A fun field trip to the art museum that included my hubby.
  • Children who are finding their own way in this “big ole world” – making decisions, making mistakes, trying new things and discovering their own joy.

It does seem that life has been “one step forward and two steps back” for too long around here.  So many things are broken and need to be fixed (literally and figuratively).  I get tired.   It can seem hopeless.  And pointless.  Like I said, I can’t figure out where to turn in my resignation…to life.

But, I don’t have a lot of “quit” in me.  And, I’m not going to “plod” through one step at a time.

I am going to take it one step at a time, but I’m going to choose to “step lightly”.  I’m going to look for the joy…I’m going to search for it.  I’m going to do whatever it takes to find it.

This is the life that I have.  I am grateful for it.   I’m going to choose to look for the joy.

I Shall Get My Hands Dirty

Some days you wake up with a head full of dreams and a heart full of hope and…

the day doesn’t measure up to your expectations.  Maybe it couldn’t because your expectations were too high – you hoped and dreamed of too much, but…

I’m not going to dream smaller dreams or hope for less and…

instead of feeling down and giving up, I’m going to get my hands dirty…

I’m going to make something and paint something and fill up the empty spots within myself by creating and doing…

I shall get my hands dirty.

What People Need

It’s Friday evening and another week is ending.  My husband and son are off to work.  Both are temporarily on the night shift prepping for inventory.  Oldest daughter is still at camp.

Second daughter who is home during summer break is not actually home but at a friend’s house.  Her summer session online class started already:  She is taking Introduction to Philosophy.  I watched part of her first online lecture with her last night.  I think I’ve lost a lot of brain cells since college.  I took  Philosophy a few or more years ago and made an “A”.  Last night  I felt like I was watching the professor’s lips move, but didn’t understand a single thing he said.  Either he is the worst lecturer ever or I need to start exercising my brain.  It’s probably me.  Those were some really big words he was using!

It’s just me and the youngest at home tonight.  She is tired from a week of getting up early (for us) to go to Vacation Bible School.  She was invited by a friend from the homeschool group.  She had a really good time and made me quite proud with some of the things she shared when she came home each day.

I guess I’ll share here that we aren’t active in a church congregation and haven’t been for many years now.  There was a time when I was the one running the show…Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, etc…  I’m still a believer in Jesus, but have lost interest in the organized church.  I don’t begrudge anyone who attends and do believe that there are some great churches doing great work out there in the world.  I’ve just moved on, in a sense, to a different place and it isn’t a good fit for me anymore.

I have a lot of friends who live in a lot of different belief systems – some are followers of Christ to varying degrees and quite a few who aren’t.  I’m good with that…more than good.  I love being surrounded by people who think differently than I do.  I love the discussion of and exposure to differing ideas and ideals.  I can’t imagine only hanging out with folks who believe or live just like me.

I personally choose to believe in a God because it gives me comfort knowing that life isn’t a series of random events happening for no particular reason in no particular order.  I need to believe in something.

Mostly, I just desire to be a good person.  A person who does good things and will leave the world in a slightly better condition when I move on.  The concept of Jesus works for me in that respect.  Kind of like a great role model.  The Bible is also a pretty fascinating piece of literature with some good stories and guidelines in it.  Do I believe it is meant to be taken literally in all aspects.  Ummmm, NO.  The world changes and the people in it change and we have a brain that we should be thinking with.

You won’t find me preaching here although I’m sure my beliefs will slip in every now and then.  This blog is about my life so it would be hard to leave out much.  What I’m trying to say is that’s just not what I’m here to write about.  It’s not so much that I don’t want to offend anyone or am trying to attract a certain type of reader.  My faith is just an intrinsic part of who I am and I don’t feel the need to share at every opportunity.  Once again, I’m not judging or rejecting different viewpoints…I personally follow blogs that are very “Christian” and some that aren’t at all.

As people we are all so different…we come from different backgrounds, experiences and cultures.   As a result, we have different needs.  We will just naturally believe in different things.  We are all seeking something – some truth.  Many times we are talking about the same thing, but using different words to describe or express it.

What a beautiful world we could live in if we were all more tolerant of our differences and embraced our similarities!

I’m aware that there are those that would classify me as a lousy sort of Christian and some who would believe I was way too Christian just for writing what I’ve written.  I’m a people pleaser so it saddens me to think that anyone wouldn’t like me for any reason, but since starting this blog, I’ve become braver.  I’m just doing the best I can in putting together a belief system that helps me to lead a  life that is good for me and beneficial for the world I live in.

Back to what led me onto this “rabbit trail” in the first place…my youngest came home from VBS the first day and told me that she needed to bring an offering the next day.  Ooops – been out of church for awhile and forgot about that.

She volunteered that they were collecting money to send talking Bibles to Africa. Okay, not really my thing, but okay.

The next day, she came home and told me that one of her teachers had a collection jar on her desk to provide meals for children in Africa.  She said,”I hope it’s okay that I put my money in there instead of the Bible collection.  If people are hungry, they need food. I think that it’s more important that we feed them first.”

I just smiled and told her that I thought that was a good idea.

Making Art

First of all – since my husband so very kindly shared this on facebook already – the broom has been found.  It was right behind the very desk that I typed the missing broom post at.  It was leaning against the wall.  If I’d simply turned around, I would have seen it.

I suppose there is an entire post or commentary there:  what we need (or want) is often right there with us, but we keep searching far and wide for it, unaware of it’s proximity.

But, that’s not what today’s post is about.

Today, I want to take a moment to reflect on an important lesson I have learned (am learning) this week.  It’s a bit about who I am, where I belong, and what I need to be doing…

The world is a mighty big place.  There are a lot of things wrong in it.  There are a lot of things right about it.  There are unlimited causes to fight for.  Injustices that are great and small.  Some exist on a world scale and some are in our own homes.  Some we know about because they are “in our face” on the news, in social media, in conversation at every turn.  Some we never hear about for whatever reason.  Some we embrace and some we ignore.

Sometimes we choose to fight for a cause because it is deeply personal for us.  It affects us directly or someone we know.

We might be drawn to an issue for reasons we don’t understand.

In any case, I believe it is important to work for social justice – to stand for something – to work towards making the world a better place.  For everyone.

I try to do that in my own little way.  I often believe that I don’t do enough. That I should be doing more and trying harder.

But, we can’t all do great and powerful things.  We aren’t all going to make the news carrying protest signs.  We can’t all be heroes (for lack of a better word).

Kudos to those who do.  We need heroes.

It’s equally important to have those who work behind the lines.  Those who do the little things that make a difference.  Some will never be known for the work they did – a  small act of kindness that multiplied into something much more for example.  Every person plays their part – the laundry always has to be done, the dishes washed, the trash picked up, and the meals prepared.  I don’t know that there is any honest work that should be downplayed or deemed less important than any other.

My lesson this week is as follows…

I “jumped” into social media this week and made a statement.  The issue, the statement, the consequences or lack thereof aren’t really relevant to this discussion.  I don’t regret doing so.  But, I am suffering the consequences.  Maybe suffering isn’t the correct word.  Perhaps I should say, I am experiencing the consequences.  Old wounds have been opened and I am dealing with old hurts and pain that I thought I had already dealt with and put to rest.  This isn’t totally a bad thing.  I believe that we need to deal with our emotions and feelings in order to grow and fully develop.

I’m just weary, anxious and somewhat depressed. I’m tired and stressed.  Dealing with the emotions (mine and others) is exhausting.  Thinking carefully about what I want to say and making sure it is clear and to the point – and that it won’t be misunderstood.  Considering both sides of the situation and being considerate and compassionate about those involved.  Playing nice when others don’t.  Letting the angry words go because I understand the anger is rooted in hurt and pain. Dealing with the frustration when someone can’t see that their words are unfair and just plain mean.

Sometimes something will seem so obvious to me – and it seems like nobody else can see it.  I try hard to be open to the fact that they are thinking the same of me.

I’m feeling out of place, exposed and vulnerable.

I just want to wrap myself in a safe cocoon.

I just want to go into my studio and make something.

And that, more and more, seems to be where I belong. Behind the scenes making art. A more solitary existence.  Speaking through my work.  Sometimes it makes a statement.  Sometimes it illustrates a story.  Sometimes it makes me feel better.  Sometimes it makes a point.  Sometimes it just is…

I’ve been told that I write well.  That I speak well.  That I argue/discuss/debate well.  Maybe so.  I don’t know for sure.

I do know that just because you can do something – doesn’t mean that you necessarily should.

Just because you can say something – doesn’t mean that you should.

And it doesn’t mean that I never will again.

But for right now, I’m going to go into my studio and make some art.