Tuesday, February 23, 2016

When you're trying to light up the place

Our friend Marni has just moved, and we went over to help her get things going in her new house.

“Do you think we can hang this?” she asked handing me a hanging lamp made of wood and corrugated cardboard. Really cute.

 “Sure,” I said taking it from her, but after turning it round and round, I couldn’t figure out how.

When we hung it from its cord on a hook we put in the ceiling, it just slid to the floor.

We sat down and stared at it. I guess we thought it might speak to us or something.

I Googled, “how to hang a hanging lamp.” There was surprisingly little help on the World Wide Web. You would’ve thought someone on this spinning planet had faced this before or maybe everyone knows how to do it except us.

What happened next reminded me of a situation a few years after my husband, Jerry, and I were married.

He came to me with a book he’d pulled from the shelf and held up the spine for me to read the title. “This is your philosophy, isn’t it?” I read the words on the book, Art from Found Materials.

I considered his question a moment. Sometimes, people around us can more clearly articulate our lives than we can. He was right. I nodded, “Yes, it’s my philosophy.”

We can wait our whole lives to get just the right tools, the right ingredients, the right resources, the right circumstances to solve a problem, to create, to do, to be, or we can look around us and with God's help, use what we have to reformulate the heartaches and disappointments, even the lack and create something lovely and surprising.

It's good to set goals. But often, life hands us circumstances for which we never planned, so we can learn to make art and beauty in those situations or we can grow bitter.

What were we going to do about this seemingly impossible to hang lamp? We considered a big box store. But neither Marni or I wanted to go, and we weren’t sure it would even help.  Between the two of us, we determined to take on this surly lamp with what we already had.

We looked through her toolbox and spotted some climbing cord. Purple. Hmm, maybe we could use this. Then we had the idea to take some wire off the back of a picture frame. Somehow, after putting the two together and a redo or two, we did it.

We were proud of ourselves. Purple climbing rope and everything. Now, after looking at the pictures, I’m thinking we might need another hook on the wall to run the cord across and down rather than just letting it hang. We’ll see.
I'm reminded of the Nester who says, "It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful." Oh, yes.
So, look around you. Use what you have.

Who knows what you might light up? With lamps and with life.

"Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine!" (Matthew 5:14-15 The Message).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

When you can't imagine what God might do

Often, we can’t even imagine what God might do.

A recent development has sure left me like a deer in the headlights.

I sat at my desk a cold winter eight years ago hammering out the script for Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees which would also become a novel. In addition to the main character, a young teenage girl, Mary Helen, I imagined her mentor, an eccentric artist, Aunt Laney, who painted large canvases of marsh scenes.

To my utter surprise, that novel and script went on to win several awards and was optioned for a movie. A year ago, I thought we had the green light for production and went into something of a panic, because sadly, the woman we thought might do the paintings for the movie developed serious health problems and had to step out of the project.

Though I was an art major and had imagined all these paintings, I felt wholly inadequate to produce them myself. I’d only done small watercolors since college, and these paintings should be oil. And they should be big. But I needed to make sure the paintings fit the concept I’d hoped for and with an independent film production, the budget would be limited to hire someone else to do them.  Oh, my. Could I really create these paintings? I had serious doubts, but just like many years before when I wondered whether I could be a writer, I heard God say, “Just start.” So I did. As I was making some progress, I learned the movie project had been put on hold. Again.

Seriously. What was this all about?

I wanted to quit with the painting. Why should I continue? But somehow with God’s help, I kept going and produced about a dozen paintings over the course of the year―marsh related scenes and other subjects,  often painting with a heavy heart because of my dad’s illness and death.

 I saw a notice in January about a juried exhibit selected from an arts foundation membership, which I’d recently joined. The exhibit would be held at a nearby state university gallery, but it seemed implausible my work could be chosen―the artists chosen for the exhibit the prior year were outstanding.  I felt out of my league. But I thought I should at least try. What did I have to lose? One thing about the writing life, it gets you used to rejection. So I sent in three images ―one of which was a painting I did from Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees.

Well guess what? I learned last week, the painting from my book was chosen for the exhibit― an underwater scene of a blue crab. Crazy, right? It started as a thing imagined for a story, but now, just like the paintings of the fictional Aunt Laney, it’s going to be hanging in a gallery for the entire month of March.

Please don’t hear me bragging. When I wrote the story, I never, ever thought anything like this would happen. This whole business brings tears to my eyes because it is clearly an example of "Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”(Ephesians 3:20).

And He for sure has. And is. And will.

So, whatever thing God has planted in your heart, just keep at it.

Don’t give up.

With God’s help you can do what you never thought possible.

I’ll  try to share links to the exhibit when they become available.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Love, sacrifice, and what his mama had to do with it all

When Jerry Jenkins came out with his “Ultimate Reading List” recently, I was not surprised at the author he said was in his opinion “our greatest living nonfiction writer.” (click here to see the list).

(Jerry Jenkins and I, sorry for the blurry picture)
Having had several classes at writer’s conferences with Jenkins, I have a lot of respect for his insights, so I'm glad I too, had come to the same conclusion. 

All Over but the Shoutin’ convinced me.  And if that weren’t enough, I have never received a magazine each month more eagerly than my Southern Living, and after I snatch it from the mailbox, I read Rick Bragg’s essay before anything else.

But I have to tell you, this month I flat out bawled when I read Bragg’s article about his mama and her cooking.

The February issue of Southern Living is a double issue, so not only does he have his usual column, but also a poignant article entitled, “My Mama’s Cooking: lessons on life and cooking from a woman who’s never consulted a recipe.” And there he is sitting on the  front porch with his mama and her with a bowl of green beans in her lap―this mama he said pulled him behind her on a sack when he was a baby so she could pick cotton to support the family and had to “iron forty pounds of clothes to make four dollars.”

Bragg grew up on one of the most ragged edges imaginable in rural Alabama. And yet, somehow, and maybe in large part to the sacrificial love of his beloved Mama, he became a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for The New York Times.

His story boggles my mind.

So does his mama’s.

That picture of Bragg and his mama on her porch―I look carefully. Beyond them on the wall beside the front door, something else, a small cross nailed on the boards.

The back cover of All Over But the Shoutin’ says Bragg was “seemingly destined for either the cotton mills or the penitentiary.”  No doubt according to his accounts.

In my mind’s eye, I see his mama praying and calling out to God on behalf of Rick and his two brothers.

Today, he’s a professor at the University of Alabama.

His mama once said she “wished he was closer to Jesus.”

I tell you, after seeing what her prayers, love, and sacrifice have already accomplished, I think she will probably get her way.

We talk a lot about things we’re passionate about, but in our culture, the word passion has lost  meaning, because passion holds an element of sacrifice.  In a month where we’re focusing on love, let’s not forget love means sacrifice. I’ve already talked myself under conviction about this more than once in recent days.

So this Valentine’s Day, love on, and be willing to give up whatever is needed for the object of your affection.

Rick Bragg’s mama will be proud of you.

“Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that” (Ephesians 5:2 The Message).

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What can happen in the middle of a science experiment

We visited the grandkids this past weekend, and early Saturday morning, our granddaughter persuaded Bapa to help her with a science experiment. This was a sweet time just for them, but the old home schooling mom in me threatened to rise up and insert herself to make sure they were doing it right, so to avoid this, while they set up in the kitchen, I preoccupied myself in an adjacent sitting room with reading the Pioneer Woman. I hadn’t looked at her blog in weeks, and she’s the only person on earth who actually makes me want to cook. Plus, I love the pictures of her Bassett hounds.

So, as I’m reading my tablet, this song from Mercy Me blares from a speaker hooked to our granddaughter’s phone. Ingredients in the kitchen are gathered, discussions held about what to do, an oven door is opened, and then sounds I don’t recognize.

What’s going on in there? I can’t really see (You can see my struggle in trying to keep out of things).

I lean around a lamp that’s in my line of vision.


 (I'm having technical difficulties with this video, if you're receiving by email and it's not working, try going to the One Ringing Bell Site or facebook friend request me to see it on my page).
As I lift my tablet camera to capture the scene, I’m not even aware for a few moments of the moisture that’s sliding down my cheeks.

Oh, how precious.

They had just dropped the task at hand and moved by the music burst into a shag lesson. When the song ended these two were back to leaning over their experiment.

Dancing sometimes has nothing to do with a fancy dress and a tuxedo. Sometimes, it’s the spinning in your pajamas that moves the heart to new places.

It’s seizing that moment of joy and not letting it pass by you.

It’s not waiting til everything is just so to dance, because we all know that on this earth, it’s never going to be just so.

It’s dancing right where you are in the middle of the dirty dishes, the roof that’s leaking, the heart that’s aching.

As I watched the scene of joy unfold before me, it seemed as if the Lord whispered to my own heart, “Dance with me?”

My friend Julie is one of those people who picks a new word to live by every year. And I was intrigued when after several years of picking very serious spiritual words like surrender, she felt led to choose dance (more about that here).

Hmm, dance. I liked it. But I had no idea God would speak to me so soon about this very same thing.

Yesterday, my daughter came home for a visit. I walked into her room, and she was digging in her closet and pulling out her old Pointe shoes and leotards. She was a dancer for many years, but has found it difficult to keep up with during college. She recently finished her graduation requirements.
I asked the obvious. "What are you doing?"

“I’ve scheduled classes with the Atlanta Ballet,” she said. “I’m working too much.”

It’s been sixty hours a week for some time. She really does need to dance.

But it seems God is saying that I do, too.
And friend, maybe you need to stop what you’re doing and do a little pirouette yourself. So, using the title of a song that Lee Ann Womack sent to the top of the charts years ago, "I Hope You Dance." 
"Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp" (Psalm 149:3).
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