On Grace

bravery, doubt, Faith, grace, Homeless, hope, mercy, Prayer, Redemption, Salvation, Trust, Vulnerability, wonder

If grace was matter, a substance to be measured, tallied, considered in a debate about comparables, how much would you say your cup would contain, how substantial would be the grace you’ve been shown?

I woke before light and stayed still until I saw the light coming across the hall, narrow slats on the carpet from the room with the silver tree.

I remembered the homeless one.

Three times I’ve now seen him, he finds spots to retreat in the woods near the abandoned mall. He looks to be mid-twenties, thin but not starving.

I first saw him camped in a shady spot. I shopped at Target then drove back to give him $5. I hurried my window down and sort of frantically thrust the money towards him. He said thanks and I drove away. I don’t know why I was scared of him or being harmed.

Then I saw him leaving all his bags in front of Target and dart inside and I worried someone might just take all his stuff and I wondered if he was worried. When I was done shopping, he and his stuff were gone.

I don’t know his story. I just want him to know what I know about grace.

It was 22 degrees in Carolina this morning.

I remembered the homeless one.

The third time I saw him, I had a back seat full of groceries and one last shopping stop. He was standing at the intersection, cardboard marked with a scrawl, “homeless”.

I looked his way, smiled that smile of mine that says worry, accompanies an inaudible moan.

I paid for my art supplies with cash and added a Hershey bar with almonds, wrapped in cash, $10 and headed back to the homeless man.

This time, I paused. I let the window all the way down. I gave him the candy bar and money, suggested he eat something good.

I looked at his eyes, he at mine.

And I told him strongly as if I was telling a long held secret to someone before you’re not sure of ever seeing them again.

God loves you.

And a second or two transpired that felt like hours and I repeated myself and added, “no matter what.”

I got the sense that he believed me or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he thought

Well, lady what good is that?!

I don’t know what he thought.

I just know my God is love and if I forget that I also stumble over the immeasurable gift of grace.

I fall into that pit of looking to others to determine my worth, to prove to myself that I’ve done enough and more to be worthy of this abundance of grace I’ve been shown.

Paul talked about this to people who continued to question their rights and their wrongs in an assessment of themselves and others to believe in their righteousness.

They believed and couldn’t fathom not believing it was all up to them to be good enough.

Paul told them he would never waste the death of Jesus by complicating it with his behavior.

“I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.”
‭‭Galatians‬ ‭2‬:‭21‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Grace matters, matters more than any effort we pursue, any accomplishment we know.

It matters more than our falters, our failures and thank goodness it matters so much more than our stubborn and strong or feeble and sad efforts to prove ourselves right enough not to be found wrong.

Here’s a song about such an incomprehensible thing, to know my God is love.

God is Love

My cup is full.

Thoughts on Psalms and Paint

Art, contentment, courage, curiousity, Faith, hope, mercy, mixed media painting, painting, Redemption, rest, Vulnerability, wonder
Goodness and Mercy

A few months ago, I discovered an online publication, “Collected Magazine”. I connected and they connected in reply. The result includes some of my artwork and an interview about my Psalm 23 series. Here’s the link:

Collected

Goodness and Mercy is available

Girl on Whiskey

Abuse Survivor, bravery, curiousity, fear, grace, hope, mercy, Prayer, Redemption, suicide loss, Vulnerability, wisdom, wonder

“…where have you come from, and where are you going?” Genesis 16:8

If I inventory my speculations, judgments, concerned observations and exchanges in chatty conversation last week or so, I could fill a page of my journal, the pages that typically contain personal/selfish prayers.

Think of Others

Like the practice of contour drawing, I laid down names on the paper. A simple free flow based on things I’ve heard, concerns I know and mostly, worries and hopes others have that only they know.

You can pray for others without “needing to know”.

Some names of people who have questionable behavior, names of some who’ve told me their woes and a really random one.

Facebook clamored yesterday around a sighting of a pretty girl on the loose, darting in and out of, in front of cars on the most cluttered and crowded road in our city, Whiskey.

Comments became jokes, a few worried, a few diagnosing the addiction she was caught in and one or two sincere worries over why she was running.

Speculation.

When I worked, I did my best to support families and friends of those who lost someone to a suicidal choice.

I learned that we ask a lot of questions, those of us who don’t know this tragically unique trauma.

I wrote an essay and titled it “The Tragedy of Speculation”.

Because, I noticed I needed a reason to know this wouldn’t, couldn’t happen to me.

I needed to justify the behavior of another from a distance, so that I could have assurance. In my time there, doing the work, the foundation of me living by “but for the grace of God, I go there” became solid, steady and strong.

I am grateful.

So, I rounded out my list of praying, with “girl on whiskey”, gave the page a header.

pray without ceasing

trust in the Lord.

I hope the pretty girl gone crazy on Whiskey is better today. I pray she finds her way and that it is safe.

Steady.

And I pray for others who were the subjects of my speculation, snarky comments masked as concern and I open my palm to heaven remembering it’s God who knows the way I go.

Also, knows where I came from.

Now time for page two, I just remembered more names.

“pray continually,”
‭‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Enough

Art, contentment, courage, curiousity, Faith, family, hope, mercy, patience, Peace, Redemption, wonder

A noticer of people, on Monday I watched from my car in the Hobby Lobby parking lot. I noticed the clothing of others; vibrant yellow, a too long skirt on a woman, a man who walked beside his wife dressed as if accompanying her to the craft store was a hot date,

A young girl with black boots, arms covered in ink and every accessory a display of matching energy as she danced by, like a little bird on a mission.


A woman dressed completely in drab black, long skirt, shirt and too big cardigan, I watched her shuffling in orthopedic/athletic shoes that were so big I could’ve put my fist in the spot for her heels.

For a minute, I was sad, felt it was my place to fix her.

Should I offer to give her my shoes or give her money for a pair that fit? Thinking, here I sit, about to go and buy more paint as I enjoy my Chick-Fil-A and she needs shoes.

Or does she?

Who am I to know what defines “abundance” for her?

I thought about her all day. My thoughts went from sympathy to more of “I think she’s okay”.

And today, I wake to Job’s words again coupled with Ann Voskamp’s email, reminding me that I’m not the maker or measuring tool for abundance, only called to do what God created me for and to notice in places less obvious.

To see it in me, the abundant life through Christ, to quietly consider every moment just how abundance looks, feels, is expressed through me.

To see my little deposit of abundance in the faces of others.

God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells, for he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.”
‭‭Job‬ ‭28:23-24‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The Creator knows us, us as artists, executives, teachers or skilled fixers of things…as creatives, makers of families, lovers of the beautifully crafted earth around us.

Notice today.

He knows the way.

Abundance is in and around you.

Don’t miss it, don’t miss a thing.

Notice God today.

Say a little secret prayer,

“Abundance, God…show me the way to it.”

You are loved.

The Personality of Praise

bravery, confidence, contentment, courage, Faith, mercy, praise, Redemption, Trust, Vulnerability, wisdom

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
‭‭Psalm‬ ‭139:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

A flowering bush hidden by the fence is so exotic it seems more fit for another country. The blooms like tiny cups of strawberry buttercream on a tiny spoon, the center a plop of darkness.

My granddaughter decided

“These beautiful flowers, Grandma…they’re blueberry blooms”.

She plucked a few “babies” and I picked a branch full of blooms for inside.

The splendid color praising a very sweet Saturday.

Rarely do I pass by the patch of grass shaded by pines and hidden by high fence.

The place of the flowers showing their brilliant display.

Yesterday, I was moved in a sweet heavy way by the nearness of spontaneous praise, the connectedness to another who felt the words of a song and proclaimed in a way that was personal, something they only knew, were fearing or taking hold of in renewed faith.

Once, I sat beside a woman with a jawline changed by the ravaging in her body evidenced by the cloth covering her head.

I felt her being comforted by song. I embraced it beside her. We listened together.

I touched her arm in a goodbye as we exited. I hope my look said “I care”, words felt unnecessary.

She’d surely heard them in abundance already I was certain.

Another time, I sat next to a man about my age who looked like he’d been a linebacker in his day. He smiled as if he’d been lonely when I asked if the seat was vacant and he made affirming sounds during the message.

My favorite part was his singing, his abandonment to the joining with others maybe better at singing than he or I.

He sang along.

He sang loud enough to be heard clearly, his one voice in the crowd of others.

I listened.

One Sunday, I found a spot next to a woman who was large and strong and dressed up for Sunday in a way that said confident joy. Once the music began, I saw my first impression was accurate.

Joyous.

Because she sang like the old cliche’ “like no one was listening”, like maybe she understood what Maya Angelou felt…

like a splendid bird who had been set free from its cage.

Like me.

Together, we were in an old country church with the windows up in August. She swayed and her swaying body made me sway.

We became secret sisters.

Reluctantly, I went to church last night. Sullen over feeling alone, burdened by answers not coming soon enough and vulnerable over what it seems God is calling me to that I sort of wish He wouldn’t.

I listened to a podcast on the way, one hosted by a woman who is learned because of her scholarly credentials coupled with the dilemma of serious illness, typically an honest and helpful voice, interesting.

She is a researcher, well read and well respected, a historian of religion.

She once believed in “praise and worship” and has now decided she doesn’t. She is now quite critical of what she defines as manipulative.

Although she misses the beauty of joining others in worship, she’s just not “taking the bait” anymore.

So, I stopped listening as I began to feel conflicted and that “critical spirit” that’s not beneficial began to creep in.

I thought of her jadedness. I can relate.

I felt sad for her. Her scary illness had caused her to become cynical, to be expectant of bad things, to decide maybe, after all, God is “not good, not great”.

I switched to music and listened.

One hand on the wheel on the crowded interstate, the other raised in agreement to a song about prayers, circumstances and healing.

Three or four years ago, I too believed most people were faking praise, were desperate for attention or just liked it when church felt more like a nightclub than a sanctuary.

Then, I landed on the second row from the stage because I was late. Pondering on my drive there, my ambivalence over my commitments and asking God to help me know where I belong.

God answered that day.

A thought, a word,

the Holy Spirit.

“You resist most what you need most.”

I need to feel connected to worship, I need to be led by vocalists and musicians to do so.

Not manipulating me, rather encouraging me.

It’ll be rare for me to be seen raising my hands. I’m more private, more quiet. I believe made “wonderfully” that way.

My personality of praise is more receptive, more being alongside the extravagant praises of others and with eyes closed, a simple opening of my hand, palm towards heaven.

In a way, I suppose, an exchange.

Freely receiving the goodness of God and privately, quietly joining others in a praise that says “Thank you”.

I’ll never stop singing.

Quietly.

Steadily, and mostly in secret places.

Being so grateful to stand so close to others made different by God’s design, that the praise they give, I get to join in.

A spirit of grace, love and mercy, one that’s not critical.

May what you’ve been resisting find you today, my prayer.

And another, let there be a song that beckons the jaded, the reluctant, the uncertain of us today.

May we not be resistant.

Acquiescence

Abuse Survivor, Art, bravery, confidence, contentment, courage, Faith, memoir, mercy, Peace, Redemption, rest, self-portrait, Vulnerability, wisdom
“Blue Ribbon Girl”

Months ago, we reintroduced ourselves in the parking lot. They were a family. She had a baby in her arms and another on her hip. The oldest, a boy was clinging to her legs, locked arms holding with all his little might.

A man stood by. He allowed our brief catching up, listened as she answered timidly, not meeting my eye, that she was okay. I watched all of them pile into a tiny car and slowly drive away.

She was a tough one, struggled to make up her mind that life could be better. She didn’t stay long, only enough time to bring her tiny firstborn into the world.

Then, she left the shelter, starry-eyed over her aims to try to have a “family”.

The next time I saw her, she was running the register and she saw me before I saw her. Face down and eyes of a child who’d been discovered in the wrong, she tentatively said hello.

Again, “Is everything okay?”

“Yes.”

“I’m working here now and I like it and the babies are okay.”

Smiles and see you soons were exchanged.

Yesterday, she sat on a pale pink bicycle, its basket loaded with groceries. I hurried up to see her. We talked about her bike, how much I loved it, old fashioned cruiser, no gears, simple and sort of cool.

She told me she needed it for work and how she’s not too far away but had been missing work, just came back after her daddy passed away.

Her face was stoic. He had been in a bad car accident and he never got better. I told her I was sorry.

I noticed the box of “Nutty Buddies” and thought she better get home, but she kept talking and the resolve despite her grief and trials was in her eyes, meeting mine and wide opening up with determination.

She told me she’d seen another of the shelter’s residents, this woman I thought had successfully moved on in work and raising her daughter.

She told me, “No, I don’t know what happened.”

“Well, I hope I see her too.” I said as I thought of how I wished she’d been able to stay stable, to stay in the “better than before”.

We said goodbye and I watched her cross four lanes of traffic towards her home.

I wondered about the man/father of the babies. I wondered about the other woman who has fallen back into hardship. I wondered if I should have driven her home.

For a second, I thought about the one I thought would make it, the old language of programmatic inputs and outcomes and for another second, I felt I’d failed her.

Then thought of a word God woke me with a few days ago, “shifting” and how everyone grows and then maybe dries up, withers and then along comes a little grace and rain and look it’s breaking through the hard earth, the left alone to rest soil.

Growth.

We shift to better in a moment, an hour, a day or sometimes after a long hard season of barrenness or mistakes of our making.

Acquiescence, a beautiful (even if reluctant) acceptance that may not make sense to others, but brings light and peace, resilience to our faces.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Blue Ribbon Girl” was painted a few years ago to remember the college girl who left art and after a bit of life and shifts, is finally home.”

What’s your story? Your home?

Find your way back.

Grow as you go.

Stilled

Angels, confidence, contentment, Faith, grace, hope, memoir, mercy, Peace, Redemption, Vulnerability, wisdom, wonder

“because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭1:78‬ ‭ESV‬‬

To ease into the end of yesterday, I sat on the steps of the pool. It’s one of “my things”.

I let the cool water calm my aching legs, notice my toes.

The clouds and tops of trees, a mirrored reflection for filtering my thoughts and pausing.

I listened to a meditation that led to being brave enough to believe in right next to me nearness of God.

I prayed, longingly and admittedly a tad half-heartedly

maybe it will be.

Eyes tightly squeezed, I felt warm tears stream down toward my chin. I opened my eyes and a butterfly danced then rested, yellow and payne’s gray paint color bordered.

The meditation ended.

I lingered, amazed yesterday evening.

The presence of God in a butterfly on an old overgrown shrub, the softness of its appearing, the grace of the the Amen,

It’s because of God’s tender love that you cried.

Were stilled.

Be still.

Stilled.

Remember and rise.

Be expectant. God is near.

Here’s the guided meditation app.

https://www.pauseapp.com/

Like Children Walking

bravery, Children, contentment, courage, Faith, fear, hope, memoir, mercy, Peace, Prayer, Redemption, Stillness, Trust, Vulnerability, walking, wisdom, wonder

When the peace of Jesus finds us, it is a gentle collision. “Gentle collision” is how my morning words began, hurried and half asleep.

I wrote that faith meeting fear is and will always be a gentle collision.

Never Walking Alone

Loosely but never unraveled is the tether that connects us to believing.

Never dragging us along.

Nor yanking us into attention in a sort of frantic wake up call.

A walk that’s never perilous, always patient.

Like a walk together when one is the older or younger one.

Not at all like my walks alone, the walk of a stubborn and wide stride stepping, a walk either going hard and proud or walking hard and fast away from something that keeps catching up.

This is not the walk of a child who wonders. Wonders not where or how we’ll go, only wonders as she wanders.

Before Jesus spoke of the gentle way of walking, of carrying the good things or junk we’ve taken as our own, he talked about little children, about their wisdom and their understanding.

Children who have a greater grasp on the divine, a more tangible understanding.

An understanding not garnered by incessant questioning.

The wind blew our hair yesterday. The sky was periwinkle blue and the warmth of Spring landed on bare arms and freckled our faces.

“Thank you, Lord, for the breeze.” she said.

We walked together. Me, occasionally pointing out of the hills of ants and noticing the ground as we went, scanning for baby snakes that might scurry close to our toes.

She, close beside or freely ahead, “let’s dance”.

Together, gently. I fell into the rhythm of a child with steps slow with going and then resting.

Waiting and then walking.

Going and then resting.

No rush, no worry.

“At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭11:25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I handed her the yellow flowers and lifted her from behind to my back.

Shifting the weight until she laid her cheek on my back, her tiny legs belting my waist.

Then we walked together, her weight pushing me forward.

Together, we walked back home.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭11:28-30‬ ‭ESV‬‬

A gentle collision it is, the meeting of faith and fear, of melded together walking, of simply saying yes to the soft beckon not to walk alone.

I stepped over the circled place in the sand where we’d stopped to dance.

“Ring around the rosies, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes…

We all fall down”.

We all fall down.

We do.

Then lifted up gently, we walk again.

Just Mercy

Abuse Survivor, bravery, courage, Faith, family, Forgiveness, memoir, mercy, Peace, Prayer, Redemption, Trust, wisdom

Many years ago an itinerant preacher advised me to “just pray for mercy” and I did.

I didn’t fully understand mercy as a new single mama to my children. I did pray for it though and my life has been and is the evidence my prayers were heard.

Consider mercy.

The punishment or consequence that you actually deserve being stopped from occurring.

I think of that quiet preacher man who stopped by and the brevity of his words, his wisdom. I imagine if he’d said to me, “Well, this is a mess and I don’t know how on earth you’ll be okay, but young lady…pray for mercy, maybe, just maybe you’ll get it.”

He’d have walked away and I’d have been more hopeless.

I thank God for the unexpected visit and the simple words He gave the country preacher. Also, for the grandma and grandpa in the black station wagon who pulled in the yard every Sunday morning to take my children to the white church on the hill pastored by this quietly wise man.

“Just pray for mercy”, the gentle man said.

Today I read again about the woman who sat at Jesus’s feet, her tears falling and her hair used to wash the feet of Jesus along with expensive ointment she’d poured out for him.

Her actions were questioned.

Had she been so bold to invite herself there or was it bold determination, bravery and humble hope for better?

I remember those feelings.

Jesus told the critics, yes her sins are many and her choice, to come here uninvited is a choice I welcome. His mercy met her extravagant gesture, her known sin.

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭7:47-48‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Consider the mercy you’ve known, will be given again and again. Mercy, unmerited favor, good things when bad made more sense.

Mercy that sees you fully, but never says no.

Today, when you encounter someone in need of mercy, I pray that you give it and that in exchange you sense in equal measure, extravagant love!