Thursday, May 26, 2011

Friday's for A New Way to Be Human: forgiveness in a guest post

When I read this story from my friend Kirsten's blog, I asked her immediately if I could share it, word-for-word, here on a Friday.  I know no better proof of the mystery of a transformed heart than the act of forgiveness from one wounded person toward their wounder.  May God reward you, Kirsten, and your family for many generations because of your act of grace.

Please read Kirsten's words and then leave her a comment here or at her blog, Living A Life of Faith:

Forgiveness is such a hard concept for me. I've gotten better with it over the years especially with prayer but I still have to be very intentional in choosing to forgive.  

Twenty one years ago I got into a relationship that would last a short painful time, produce a beautiful child and fundamentally change who I was for a very long time. The anger, hurt, fear and resentment from this relationship would consume most of my adult life. This man was not a part of my son's life growing up, which at the time I was very grateful for. Where he was in his life was not a good place and would have brought even more heartache for my son and I if I had stayed with him. So I took my son, left and never looked back. I fought to protect him. Doing all that I felt was right at the time. He disappeared, moved from the area, I think. Gradually I stopped looking over my shoulder. Then out of nowhere, Support Collection Unit (SCU) would catch up with him and start collecting support again. Checks would come and not for very long but it was enough to bring up a lot of the old fears. Each year that passed the debt to us grew more and more. I held a lot of anger and resentment again this man for not paying support, for not taking care of the son he had. There were lots of times that I could have used that support, instead of going without a lot, instead of borrowing money from family, instead of turning to social services in my son's early days. 

A couple years ago the support checks began to come again. They've been consistent. I've been able to count on them, include them in my budget (especially since food budget with a teen can be pretty high). Frankly, I haven't thought much about him or our past since becoming a Christian and processing through a lot of my own past. That was until April 7, 2011. 

I got home from an amazing MOPS meeting to have a letter from the courts waiting from me. I didn't understand it all but what I did grasp was the fact that he had signed it in his lawyers office in Binghamton!! This meant he was here, he was living locally again, had been, in fact, for awhile. I'm very grateful that God has placed such an amazing husband in my life because through talking and prayer he was able to help me calm right down. Once I was calm I was able to hear God's voice more clearly and began to get a picture of what He was asking me to do. I wasn't thrilled with it but I was willing to listen.  We were in the middle of purchasing a house so I was packing and tending to other things in life. I started to gather info on what I needed to do for when I made the time to obey what God was asking of me. God gave me the final push on April 28th, the same day my husband got a promotion and raise.

You see He was asking me to forgive. To forgive past sins and debts...just as He has forgiven mine and wiped my account clean. That day I received further court papers with a date set in May. These papers included financials and letters from government agencies threatening to freeze his accounts till a certain amount of past support was paid. Anyway, for the first time I had compassion for this man as a human. I didn't see him as the "big bad wolf" of my early adulthood. My husband and I talked about it, prayed about it and I made the decision it was time to move on what God was asking of me. 

That day I called SCU and asked them to draw up my own petition to excuse him of the significant amount of back child support owed. I knew that none of it made sense to them. What they didn't understand was at this point in our lives God takes care of us, my husband provides for us and I don't have the desire to see someone else suffer because of his poor choices.  God's grace has poured forgiveness into my life for the horrible things I've done. Who was I to withhold grace when God was calling me to extend it??

As the day of court approached I felt an odd sense of peace. I actually tried to conjure up the feelings of anxiety I thought I should be feeling. That morning I had a MOPS steering meeting and as some of my friends were praying over me, one of them pointed out how good God is in scheduling this day on a day where I could have their support beforehand. Their prayers brought a huge sense of relieve as I headed back home to get ready for court. Knowing that I had my son's blessing, my husband's blessing, my friends prayers and God's prompting made facing him and this task all the easier. 

Court was not what I was expecting. First I was late, I know the enemy loves to just mess things up to laugh at us. I looked at that paper a bunch of times and every time I saw 3:30. I put it in my calendar as 3:30. At 3:15 as we were approaching Owego, I looked at the paper and it said 3:00. Boy did I panic!  Thankfully as I was trying to get ahold of the judge, she called me so I was able to let them know I was coming.   Anyway, I walked in, actually rushed in, in a flurry and there he was. It was the oddest feeling of nothing I've ever experienced. I was so worried all those young girl fears would come back. They didn't. With God on one side of me and my husband on the other I was able to face a piece of my past with strength and confidence. I felt the same compassion for him I'd feel for a complete stranger in a tough place. There was no anger anymore. It was the first step to a new sense of freedom. 

The final step was about to take place as the courtroom doors shut behind me. I wasn't prepared for the battle I was about to face. SCU told me the judge would probably ask if I was sure I wanted to excuse all back support and then just go forward with what I was asking. That was not the case. She was a very fair and wise judge but wasn't going to let me just walk away from this situation.  She presented some really good alternatives but I knew it wasn't what God was asking of me. Every option she put before me caused more anxiety for me. I wanted to accept and just leave but I knew I had to face her and stand by my conviction that I was doing the right thing. She said to me a few times that she didn't understand, that it didn't make sense. My response was that I was aware of that but it's what God had laid on my heart to do. My husband even told her it was about grace and forgiveness but she just didn't understand why I wanted to walk away from what was owed me. It was frustrating and hard for me because I have a hard time standing up to authority figures but I could feel the Holy Spirit encouraging me. The judge finally agreed to stop the support collection process which took the collection of over $30,000 out of the system's hands and placed it in my hands, which in my heart and in obedience to Christ has a zero balance.

I walked out of the court room with the oddest ear to ear grin because I felt such a freedom from the past, a freedom from unforgiveness, a freedom from obeying my Lord. I knew God had had His way, that he touched some lives and it was pretty amazing to be in the middle of that.  Randy's quote when we left "Well, that was fun to watch".  I'm not sure about fun but it was amazing to see God working. 

My prayers are that those who were present in that room had a glimpse of God's glory and that someday, somehow it will benefit my son on a personal level. I don't know what that means but I know what it's like to grow up without your father a part of your life. I ache for my son and the pain that I know is there in his heart. I had a dream last night where I told him (my son's biological father) to get his life straightened out and then he might be able to have a relationship with his son.  Will it ever come true? I don't know. I do know that I'm now in a place of peace about the past and that I won't stand in the way. I'll be there for my child but allow him to make his own choices about who's a part of his future. 

Thank you Lord for the work you do in our lives, for softening my hard heart and for teaching me about forgiveness and grace by pouring it into my life. 
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. ~matthew 6:14-15

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thursday is for Imperfect Prose: re-posting retreat

*This is re-post of my summary from the Ministers to Artists Retreat I attended last year at Laity Lodge in Kerrville, TX.  In about six hours I'm leaving to go again.  I blogged the heck out of last year's event; you can see the other posts here.*

encaustic workshop palettes (most of the photos in this post are from the fabulous Erik Newby)

Twelve years ago -- and only six months after giving birth to my fourth beautiful, amazing, delightful child -- I left home for a spring break road trip with my sister and her friend.  I was superfried, bonafide dog-tired. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and all other lly's, at the end of my rope.  The funny thing about the request is that I was invited as a kind of chaperon -- as if I had anything left to offer in the way of oversight!  It was I who was falling into a dangerous burn-out; a depression that feels something like dangling over a cavernous blackness, held by only a frayed diaper wipe.

We rolled southbound, swinging through my sister's Virginia campus long enough to sleep a short night before  throwing her, her bathing suit and her roadtrip music into the girlfriend's Ford Taurus.  Stereo blaring, we hit Florida like giggling bandits. 

You need this back story to understand our behavior the night we hit Daytona Beach.  First of all, it was night.  Also, hot and stormy.  The silent sky over the Atlantic held jagged,  fluorescent bolts of lightening, a blinking marquee showing coming storm attractions.  Kaley and Ellen ran  the hardpacked sand -- fully clothed -- all the way into the frothing surf.  I watched from the soft sand, vicariously living their delight. 

It was an inebriated college student, tottering into my sandy reverie, that reminded me of my chaperon responsibilities. Oh, beautiful irony -- the drunk frat guy had more sense than the stay-at-home, mini-van-driving mom! 

Excuse me, miss?  But they're crazy, for one thing.

He continued his granular zig-zag toward Daytona's downtown strip before I could find out the other thing.  An implausible guardian angel, he seemed to have much wisdom for us.

a blurry scan of our beach antics

For some reason, this is the story that came to mind while I was at the retreat.  Stories do that sometimes. When my mind is stalling to explain new thoughts, experiences, feelings, it is often a metaphor that saves the day.  Like the kingdom-proclaiming Messiah, sometimes the best way I know how to translate the intangible to the tangible is to start my sentences with:  " It's like ...."

Without question, the artistic energy surrounding me at the retreat was an overwhelming force of beauty, breaking through my well-groomed reserves of exhaustion and ministry disillusionment.  I've attended plenty of events with  talented people.  Other events where creative people from across the country wander campuses, huddling around steaming hot beverages, holding earnest conversations.  Here, though, there was an arresting difference.  I can only guess it was a difference of enterprise.  A fearless, risk-taking way of life, art-making, and people-serving that brought to memory those two lightening-storm, surf dancers.  When I tried to explain it to Brian, the best I could do (other than the drunken guardian story) was to sputter: "It's like these people have five or six sentence vocations."

What I mean by that is that almost no one at the retreat could describe what they did for a living in a predictable category,  like you'd find in a survey scroll-down box.  Even more astonishing was the complete lack of qualifiers these people felt obligated to give about their chosen way of wild living.

Example? Gen makes art and loves to travel.  Her husband, Mat, is a theologian, loves to travel and has an ambition to know and serve Muslim people.  Therefore, it made perfect sense to them to [in Gen's words]: for this international non-profit missionagency. We look to connect visual artists around the globe to ways to serve by creating cultural exchange and community enhancement projects. We arrange these opportunities for artists and lead them on cross cultural excursions. I love my job and thank God He designed such a unique way for me to serve.

The Carsons have also founded an art collective, promoting artwork from the artists they've met around the world.  A place where, they hope, by piecing together the images from individual artists making art in order to make sense of the world, a fuller vision of the world will be captured.  A site to collect, promote and sell those works?  Well, of course.

Shannon is an encaustic artist with a deep affection for beeswax and an uncommonly delightful outlook on art and life.  Her husband Erik is about all things photography and web design.  He is also a kind man with a standing high jump that would make any Olympian take notice.  Also, he grew up in Germany with his missionary parents.  Naturally, they've determined that all these pieces put together [intheir own words]:

We believe that God has called us to use our abilities in visual and media arts in full time missions work in southwest Germany. As we've travelled, we've witnessed firsthand how God is raising a generation of Christian creative people who want to engage culture in a new way. 

As Shannon shares in a recent interview, once she completes her master's degree at Regent College, they will leave for a small town near the Black Forest in Germany. Part of their team is already at work there, renovating a 25,000 square foot abandoned building into a community art center where Shannon will serve as a studio artist and teacher. Erik will continue working with GemStone Media, creating resources like print material, websites, and short videos for churches and missionaries in Europe.  By all means.

Vito Aiuto is a Presbyterian pastor in Brooklyn (and a proud Sicilian).  When he married his wife Monique, they decided they'd like to be, among other things, a musical family.  So he taught himself to play guitar and she the glockenspiel (yes, indeed).  They played together in their living room using old hymnals and shape note songbooks.  Sometimes their friend and Brooklyn neighbor Sufjan Stevenswould play with them.  Indubitably, this partnership grew into recordings and musical tours as The Welcome Wagon. Still, Vito is a pastor, Monique is a mother of their toddler son and they keep playing around with songs and notes and lyrics in their living room. 

The [utterly delightful] Welcome Wagon

For crying out loud, Charlie Peacock's own wikipedia page says that he is "difficult to categorize."  His job title includes singer/songwriter, pianist, record producer, session musician, music industry consultant, co-founder of artist development and music publishing company, mentor, author and social justice advocate. His wife Andi loves to write, garden, cook, study theology, and show hospitality. Naturally, the two have worked side by side over the years mentoring young artists through their non-profit organization, Art House America.

The Art House America mission is to contribute to the making of artists and artful people who become highly imaginative and creative culture makers, who continue to mature spiritually, love well, and make known the kingdom of God. Andi and Charlie's home, the Art House, a one-hundred-year-old, renovated country church provides the setting for their work, which includes owning and operating a recording studio, and running award-winning music/film production and publishing companies. (Cardus audio, March 2010)

But, of course.

Miriam Jones and Charlie Peacock

Miriam and Jez Carr are shining examples of ministry at Charlie and Andi's Art House.  Actually, Miriam Jones is the recording name.  And she can sing and share her heart with nitty-gritty honesty.  She told the story of a recent recording she made with Charlie Peacock.  And how, after recording all her best stuff, CP congratulated her and then challenged her to go write some more.  That she had more to offer the project.  She followed his lead and came up with this tune.  If, for no other reason, this makes me glad for the ministry of Art House.

I also met Brian who teaches at a classical school, Jeff Guy who paints and runs an arts ministry, Terri who is an arts pastor at a church in Austin (also, of her four children, two of them currently working in  film in LA) and Brie , an NYU theatre grad, arts pastor and new mama. These are the names and stories of just a few. The more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense that this would be the group gathered at a retreat dreamed up by the ambitious and passionate David and Phaedra Taylor.

To conclude this series as a witness to those who were gathered at Laity Lodge in the early breezes of a Texas March, this post speaks to us as those scattered.  As I pulled out of the camp and back onto Route 41 toward San Antonio, I was caught by the sign at the entrance: Road Work Ahead.

I shared this story about the spring break and the lightening storm and the crazy for one thingstatement.  I shared it during Sunday  morning Eucharist. I told the group:

You guys are crazy, for one thing...

... but this time, I know the second thing.  In addition to an your almost reckless pursuit of God's purposes for your lives, you and the work you do is also beautiful.  I told them that. And I told them how hard it was for me to come to this event.  How small and insignificant my life experiences, education and talents feel in comparison to the stories I heard. I told them how before the retreat when David solicited our prayer needs I replied that I felt like a little kid at the big kids table.  And how David had left a message in my voice mail telling me that was not true.  That, in the best sense of the word, I had every right to be at this table.  The common table.  And that when I'm thinking otherwise I needed to tell Jesus so He could help me.

All weekend long, this table motif showed up.  When we sat at breakfast, lunch and dinner tables -- discoursing on themes of art, ministry, books, family, wounds and please, pass the bread.  It showed up one lunch time when I sat in the wrong seat; I took my seat too soon, not knowing if the seat was free. This resulted in me spending the rest of the afternoon in my cabin crying for some crazy, junior-high flashback reason.  Most of all, it showed up at the bread and wine Sunday morning.  All my life, I've not been sure which seat at the table was open for me.  I'm still not entirely certain, but I do know that there is a place for me.  It is a good seat and a good fellowship and I hold a common place there.  Now and forever.

There is work ahead for sure.  Brian and I are entering a new season.  Starting January 2011, he will have a new job.  It will be a perfect job for this time in our lives.  We just don't know what it is yet.  We do know that we have a fellowship among crazy, beautiful people who make common look exceptional.  Naturally.

from the book pile, 2011: Luci Shaw, Walker Percy

I've been working my way through the tower of books teetering off the antique writing desk that serves as my nightstand.  Working my way through reading and working my way through the thoughts and learnings each title provokes.

When I first started this blog in 2006 (is it possible that this April marked my fifth anniversary of blogging?!?) one of my goals was to nurture a forum that kept me accountable for the cultural goods I consume.  Of course, I didn't really know then to articulate the goal in those terms.  The truth dawns gradually: as in in worship so as in culture -- I did not make it, but it is making me.

Having also gotten quite clear with the truth that I will never be a professional book reviewer, I've let myself off the hook and changed up the way I document my reading.  Hope you enjoy!


16The Secret Trees
Author: Luci Shaw
Genre: Poetry
Published: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1976

General Impression:  Even thought I've met Luci Shaw in person, she does not know me.  Even if I'd never sat five feet away from her, crying from the words she shared, I'd know we were kindred spirits.  Even if I hadn't read her non-fiction work encouraging artists, Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination and Spirit: A Reflection on Creativity, I'd have learned her lessons to the next generation.

I'd know all of this from her poems

And that's before I'd even read a single book of her poetry.  I knew all that from the few random poems gathered in various articles, collections and anthologies I'd read.  I figured it was about time I actually read a book of her poetry.  And why not start near the beginning?  Well, not quite the beginning since this is actually her second published book of poetry.  But it's the first one I could find on

Maybe we wouldn't actually be bosom friends if the opportunity arose, maybe it's just the mark of a good poet that I read her words and think: "Yes, I feel the same way when I read the gospel stories about Jesus!"  or "I thought I was the only one who notices the life-giving happening when a forest is transformed into a house!"  Even better are the times I think:  "I always wanted to say that, but never thought I had permission."

I've finished this book, but I'll never be done reading it.
Favorite (short) poem from this book


crossed the gap
another way
he changed his pace
but not 
his company
The Moviegoer

17.  The Moviegoer

AuthorWalker Percy
Genre: Fiction
PublishedRandom House, 1960

General Impression:  This title sat on my to-read list for years before I finally found a copy I could swap for online.  I've been reading it a few pages at a time during my cardio workouts on the gym and commercial breaks of the Yankees games on the gym television.

I only mention this information because it's possible that negatively-impacted my enjoyment of Percy's story.  As it turns out, I'm sort of more fond of the story of the author than I am of his infamous character Binx Bolling in this National Book Award-winning novel.  Or maybe it's just that I don't have much patience for wishy-washy wanderers?  

There's not question, though, the merits of Percy's writing.  I saw, felt, heard and smelled the French Quarter.  I was drawn into the post-Korean war era, as well as the main character's tension between malaise and thrill.  One Times reviewer describes the "feel" of the story this way: “The Moviegoer” is a kind of jazz riff, for meditative voice instead of saxophone. It’s very French Quarter in that way: languid, semi-depressed, and sexy. Binx’s self-deprecating, subtly barbed humor and his ironic aping of the suave Hollywood lead’s persona make him feel and sound like a kind of Southern, literary Jack Kennedy, a Louisiana Camus. No doubt this is some version of Walker Percy’s own idealized image of manhood, and of himself." 

All that being said, I still didn't like him.  Even when the epilogue describes a sort of life transformation, I didn't like him. Perhaps this says more about my faults than his?  

An Excerpt:  

"For the past four years now I have been living uneventfully in Gentilly, a middle class suburb of new Orleans. Except for the banana plants in th patios and the curlicues of iron on the Walgreen drugstore one would never guess it was part of new Orleans. Most of the houses are either old-style California bungalows or new-style Daytona cottages. But this is what like about it. I can't stand the old world atmosphere of the French Quarter or the genteel charm of the Garden District. I lived in the Quarter for two years, but in the end I got tired of Birmingham businessmen smirking around Bourbon Street and the homosexuals and patio connoisseurs on Royal Street. My uncle and aunt live in a gracious house in the Garden District and are very kind to me. But whenever I try to live there, I find myself first in a rage during which I develop strong opinions on a variety of subjects and write letters to editors, then in a depression during which I lie rigid as a stick for hours staring straight up at the plaster medallion in the ceiling of my bedroom."

One of my favorite descriptive paragraphs:

"The boards of the dock, warming in the sun, begin to give off a piney-winey smell. The last tendril of ground fog burns away, leaving the water black as tea. The tree is solitary and mournful, a poor thing after all. Across the bayou the egret humps over, as peaked and disheveled as a buzzard."


Wednesday is for Words: Kaley Ehret

Normally, the Wednesday posts include excerpts from fiction, non-fiction or poetry I'm enjoying.  Today I'm compelled to post an e-mail excerpt instead.  This is from my sister Kaley after I sent our family and praying friends a brief update on finding a job for Brian.  

I'm not going to take the time now to share anything from that email update, except to say that I was asking for prayer for our emotional wellness after a week of feeling the grief of letting go of something we'd both hoped would be God's provision. 

From Kaley's email: 
I found myself totally empathizing with you as I read your email.  The absolute hardest part of Wes's unemployment was getting our hopes up and then letting them come crashing down again.  It almost would have been easier not to let ourselves dream. ... And, of course, the not knowing what the future holds pretty much stinks.  
God DOES have GOOD plans for Brian and for you.  Of that I have no doubt.  So feel free to let us feel HOPE for you while you learn to let go...
Love you. Kaley

I'm reminded of the words of Catherine of Siena I posted yesterday, the words about the communal impact of the way we give and receive good and harm.  Perhaps, after reading Kaley's note we could amend Catherine's statement to include:  
"They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors... [you can not hope or give up hope without doing the same for your neighbors] ...all of you together make up one common vineyard, the whole Christian assembly, and you are all united in the vineyard of the mystic body of holy Church from which you draw your life [and hope]."
My Sisters

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday is for Hospitality: make your home in Me

James Grashow

John 15 shares this intimate invitation from the Messiah:  Make your home in Me just as I do in you.  Abide in my love. This is how I love you.  


In our perspective, as the Church living with the Holy Spirit, the statement is astounding enough.  Imagine being the first-person listeners to the Man Jesus declaring that He's made His home in you. 

And not only to find our home in Him: "This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends."


Houseplant Atlanta
James Grashow

In this week's Easter reading from The Rising by Wendy M. Wright, the author shares an excerpt from the Italian holy woman, Catherine of Siena, in her fourteenth century theological treatise The Dialogue.  Catherine wrote her masterpiece as a conversation between the Father God and herself.
"You, then, are my workers. You have come from me, the supreme eternal gardener, and I have engrafted you onto the vine by making myself one with you.
Keep in mind that each of you has your own vineyard. But every one is joined to your neighbors' vineyards without any dividing lines. They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors.
all of you together make up one common vineyard, the whole Christian assembly, and you are all united in the vineyard of the mystic body of holy Church from which you draw your life. In the vineyard is planted the vine, which is my only-begotten Son, into whom you must be engrafted."
Not only does the love of the Father welcome us to make our home in His Son and His Son to make His home in us.  The love of the Father creates a home for us in each other.


Tonight is the final Tuesday for our small group to gather in our home.  We've been piling in on each other each week, landing on couches, porch rockers, kitchen tables.  Eating popcorn, drinking tea, sluicing off the grime and grief of our long work days.  Andy and Maria bring their homemade wine.  We drink together, passing glasses to taste, declaring our favorites.  Their basement vineyard has become our own.

Sculpture Houseplants, Purple
James Grasow

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