What I Discovered ‘Playing’ with Art

A very artistic writing friend of mine does a lot of “art journaling”—collage interpretations that flesh out visually what’s on her heart or in her head.  I’ve always been a little cautious about trying my hand at this endeavor, as I consider myself ‘not artistic.’
Well, fiddlesticks to that, I say.  I discovered when you sit yourself down with colored scraps of paper, old magazines and torn out poems or lines from your favorite discarded books that all sorts of ‘artistic’ things will materialize.
The recent challenge she posted echoed her series of the five ‘W’ questions of journalism. Part of the ‘what’ was to make a ‘tree of life’ collage.  I was intrigued, as I was unsure of what exactly my ‘tree of life’ would look like—just what did I consider to be life-giving to me? What particular pieces of the world and its wonders would I consider in my tree?
It’s funny how, when you sit with the flotsam and jetsam of cast-off materials, what amazing thing happen—you find words and pictures that speak to you in a way that nothing else can.
Not only speak, but call to you.
I have no idea why the Groucho Marx glasses figure so prominently in my finished piece—I hesitated to put them front and center—“what would people think?” They hardly represent the ‘spiritual’ side of me….

Other details sum up the ‘me’ of who I am much better: 
  • California oranges-I’m a Southern California girl from Orange County—you can take the girl out of Orange County but…well, you know
  • The Italian coffeemaker—top right corner—and cup of coffee-just below Groucho’s mustache—are the fuel of my days. Can’t live in Seattle without it. Can’t start the day without it.
  • Then there’s the obvious:
  • “A Good Book”—can never have too many
  • “Sowing Faith”—always, prayerfully
  • A bird singing—(in Groucho’s invisible ear)—the birds in my world bring me great joy.
  • “POETRY”–a whisper of a word (hard to see in the photo–just near the bird). Poems send their soft sounds into my world whenever I can stop and savor them.
  • “Journal”—yes, please. Every day. For over 20 years. Journal.
The Groucho drawing kept calling me and I finally gave in. “Life is just way too serious. The heart of me wants to be joyful and playful.” So bushy eyebrows and funny round glasses–smack dab in the middle.
But the phrase I was drawn to which surprised me the most was, “It might be…life.”
This season I’m in has been proving a challenge in other ways, art notwithstanding.
I’ve been dealing with back issues which have led to muscle weakness and tightness in my legs for over 2 months. The condition has colored my days, no doubt about it. 
I’ve spent some time talking to Jesus about it. Actually, no. I’ve spent a lot of time WORRYING about it—how long will it last?  I wish I could sleep without this pain. What will the doctors do?  I won’t be able to work in the garden and pull weeds (absolute death knell, I tell you—see “home and garden” above).
And on it goes—I truly have been worrying my prayers, beseeching God for a resolution. However, there’s nothing forthcoming as of yet, until I make another visit for an MRI then back to the doctor for A Plan. Which all takes time, meaning I have to wait and try not to conjure up the future.
So– I take one day at a time—trite but oh-so-true advice—and live in the moments.
The ones where I can have a cup of coffee outside on my deck and hear the birds.
Or water my garden or read a book or sit and journal.
Where I can sit and listen to my Jesus while He sows faith in ME.

The moments which, when put all together, will more than likely reflect the found words right above Groucho’s crazy eyebrows, “It might be life.”
For now it is…
What’s in YOUR tree of life?

Linking with Kelly for the #Small Wonder Linkup 

The Day Jesus Gave me a Conga Drum

      I made one New Year’s Resolution this year. O N E. (I never make New Year’s Resolutions as I am terrible at sustaining anything for much more than a few weeks.) 
And what was it? you ask. 
Just this—Take one day a week and work on your writing.  I’m a writer, I have this blog and I also write  poetry.  Some discipline in this writing endeavor would help, yes? Yes.  In the past, my modus operandi has been to wait for Holy Spirit inspiration to strike and write ‘when I had time.’ 

This year things would be different.
Every Wednesday afternoon, I’d head to the Library and write for 2-3 hours. Organize writing, begin original pieces, edit things for the blog, whatever, just work on my craft.
Three Wednesdays into my Grand Intention, I drove through the pouring rain, heading to the downtown library. As I parked my car and turned off the engine, I noticed out the front windshield there was a tall woman, clad in day-glo orange waders walking up to a van across from me. 

I scuttled through the downpour, umbrella aloft, book bag over my arm and glanced her way. “Seattle Public Utilities” was printed on the side, and the van’s sliding door was wide open.  Tools and equipment were hung on racks lining the vehicle and on the floor was a conga drum. Laying on its side. A conga drum.
Needless to say, I did a double take.
The woman was off loading some items, standing a bit to the side of the door.
     “Uh, hi,” I said. “So….tell me why there’s a conga drum in your van.”
     “Oh, we found it in the River.” (A tributary of the Cedar River flows under our city’s library). 

     “You found it in the river? Seriously?”
     “Yeah, we were surveying and doing some site work for the Public Utilities and dredged it up.”
I couldn’t hide my interest in the instrument.  “Wow, what’re you going to do with it?”
     “We were just gonna take it to the Goodwill, but you can have it if you want it. I could put it in the back of your car.”
     I was simultaneously trying to keep my cool while jumping up and down inside, telling myself to keep it together.
            I would love it!” I said. “Thank you SO much!” Then she graciously hauled it into the back of my car.
            And just like that, I ended up with a 3 foot high conga drum (with a built-in stand attached), drenched in river water but without a speck of damage, given to me by a stranger in the parking lot of the Library one pouring-down-rainy day.

You know those little prayer/dreams you pray/think about, the impossible, ‘this is too small to bother God with’ ones?  They’re at the back of your mind, hidden under the layers of Everything Serious that Makes Sense, rarely surfacing.
I had a dream like that. “One day I want a djembe drum.” A djembe (‘gem-bay’) is an African hand drum that sits on the floor and is played with the palm and heel of one’s hand. I learned to play one two years ago at our Women’s Retreat and found, lo and behold, I rock at percussion. I can actually sing, play an instrument and keep the beat AT THE SAME TIME. Like a real musician.
But seriously, it’s not like percussion instruments are in our household budget. So I just sorta told Jesus, “I would love to have a hand drum some day,” and left it at that. Maybe it wasn’t even a real prayer, more like a, “gosh, it would be awesome if….” thought. And here was God, giving me the answer–a hand drum of my very own. I still can’t believe it.

What little dream are you holding today? 
pssssst! if these words touched you or spoke to you in some way,
would you consider clicking on one of the little ‘share’ buttons
below to spread the word?
I’d be ever so grateful.

Silent Nights, Holy Times

The whirrrrring, geeeeeezing sound of not one, but two remote control cars is masked outside my door as I steal away to this quiet space in the study.  Quiet is a relative term. It’s more like the muffled, not-completely-deafening roar of a jumbo jet revving its engines while one watches on the other side of the airport glass.

There’s a Disney movie blaring in the other room (even though I requested we turn off the surround sound) and distant conversations in the kitchen about lunchmeat and sourdough and ‘where are the chips!?’

Son and daughter-in-law arrived Christmas night with the 5 grandchildren and it has been Family Time All the Time in the Collins household. Each one of the grandchildren is a delight and a joy, unique and interesting, full of life. But I’m not, ahem, used to so much intense input around the clock. Color me grateful for a few stolen moments here to collect my thoughts.

As their visit comes to a close and the troops gather to leave, an effort not unlike mounting Hannibal’s campaign to traverse the Alps, I think it’s best to get out of the way.

I will miss them: there have been moments of precious quiet in front of the fire, Grandpa reading stories at bedtime, hilarious laughter at the Children’s Museum, Christmas polkas with the Aunt and Uncle and an especially peaceful, holy night on Christmas Eve.

As my son is fond of repeating, not “it’s all good,” but “It’s all God.”

It’s all God–the gentle, warm times around a fire, the snuggling in a blanket with a story, the worship together on Christmas Sunday, the uproarious ness of children’s games and laughter. The wonder of watching birds outside the window and the tears in a heart-to-heart conversation during the stolen moments in a quiet car.

Yes, He is Emmanuel, God with us. The King who calls us in the middle of the Where We Are Now to the Where We Really Belong.

That is the pull I feel–longing to listen to God’s voice, to soak in His word, to wash in moments of worship and journal my thoughts. It’s the kingdom planted in my soul, that tension between the what is and what is not…. I’ve had every intention each morning of my family’s visit to steal away for some quiet time with Jesus, but it was not to be.

Instead, I find in these in-between times of Christmas and New Years there are still Holy Times, nonetheless. He is truly God Everywhere–at the Children’s Museum, by the fire, on the trampoline–hooray!–at the window with the birds. He is God with us.

Happy (almost) New Year, my friends. May you see Him everywhere you are.

When Worship Looks like a Bass Player in a Flannel Shirt

 “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
                                      Mary’s Song, Luke Chapter 1, vv. 47,48
       One of the joys of the Christmas season at our church is to see the transformation each year from ordinary worship space to glorious, decorated festive space.  A volunteer team of folks gather of a morning, led by a gifted floral designer, and set about transforming with snowflakes, holly, ribbon and glitter galore. Soon there are trees of all sizes, gifts buried in ‘snow’, tinsel, garlands, wreaths, and voila!, our sanctuary is a wonder-filled space.
      The room is filled with a bit of magic, where beauty lifts our spirits and adorns our praises. 
       When God came to Mary via the angel to announce His plan to use her (“who me?!” “yes, you”) her response was an immediate “be it unto Me, Lord.”  Her next breath also reminded God who He was dealing with.
       “I am only a humble servant, Lord, but I will be a handmaiden for you.”

       God is in the habit of using humble folks who will say “yes” to His ask, who will let him transform ordinary to miraculous. Why? So He gets all the credit for the glory when the amazing impossible happens.
      When I glance around the sanctuary on any Sunday morning, taking notice of who is lifing their voice and arms in song, I am overwhelmed at what God has done with the people I call brothers and sisters. There is a lot of amazing impossible stories these folks on my right and left could tell.
          We are a down-to-earth group, a slice of every day America. A room full of people foolish enough to believe in the same Saviour whose care binds us together. There are men and women of all ages, all colors, all sizes who can share about their ‘yes’ to God’s ask, their “Be it unto me” that led to wonders. No, that led to miracles. 
          There are no lowly shepherds here (this is church in the ‘burbs, after all), no servant girls, per se. But we long to be–need to be–a waiting and watching people. And while we wait and watch, we walk together. Through divorce and death, healing from and dealing with cancer, recovering from loss, renewing our faith, hanging on by a thread.  
       We are car mechanics and Sudanese refugees, wheelchair-bound and learning disabled. We are just getting by, just getting settled, just trying to get well.
          And our God loves that.
          He loves K back up front with the worship team, her bass line filling the stage, the worship inside spilling through the simple façade of a flannel shirt, skater shoes and baggie pants.  She loves Jesus with all her heart and is grateful to be here. “It’s good to be back,” she told me a few weeks ago, “That other church was okay, but I wanted to come worship here. I knew they’d welcome me.”
          When Mary visited (“hurried”) to see her Aunt Elizabeth, she shared the astonishing news of what had been promised.
          Her declaration was not words of what would be done in the future….the birth of her son Jesus nine months hence, but what God had ALREADYaccomplished.  The promise of power and glory was a done deal.
51 “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    remembering to be merciful.”
Luke, Chapter 1

          Transformation, change, healing–they don’t often come with the suddenness we would like, the instantaneous “wow! Look at that” of a bursting-at-the-seams Christmas-filled sanctuary. 

         No, it is more of a lifetime of yesses, staying hungry knowing God will fill us, falling forward because He will lift us up. Lifting our arms towards the Father who said, when He was sending His son to save us–salvation is not only coming, it is HERE.

Glory to God in the highest!

Linking with Jennifer Lee for Tell His Story

How to Build a Bridge with Words

First item on the grocery list: postage stamps. In ALL CAPS. I’ve written it down three times this week, only to return with pasta, bread and milk, but no stamps.

This necessitates an emergency trip to the drugstore; I HAVE to get my Grandson’s birthday card in the mail.

While the counter clerk rings up a couple of other items (I believe there was dark chocolate in the basket), I ask for two books of stamps.
“We’ve got flags and Rudolph,” she announces. To  commemorate the upcoming holiday, obviously.

For a split second I consider mumbling something about no Madonna and Child on the stamps, or at least Jesus in the manger. After all, “that’s what Christmas is all about.”

Thank God for split seconds. They can make all the difference.

Internally, I scroll through social media’s recent protest about Starbuck’s plain red Christmas cups.  Seasonal hot beverage containers  with no design, no hint of anything that commemorated Christmas.  Supposedly missing ‘the whole point’ of the holiday.

Opinions were bandied about far and wide that Starbucks was declaring a ‘War on Christmas.’ Christians were supposed to take sides. It got ugly. And ridiculous.
Turns out the manufactured ‘controversy was generated by somebody with an iphone and a Facebook page; the sad end of the story is well, history.

I was pretty sure Jesus was okay with plain red cups; I asked for two books of Rudolph.

As the clerk handed them to me, I remarked about the charming and familiar sight of cartoon characters depicted on the page. All the old friends from Burl Ives’ 1964 classic, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” are there—Sam the Snowman, Hermey the Elf, the Abominable Snowman, Santa himself and of course, Rudolph.

Nothing says ‘Christmas’ like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

For another split second I remember our pastor’s recent message about bringing Jesus into every conversation. I send up an arrow prayer, “God, I know Christmas is all about your Son’s birth as Saviour, not about Rudolph or Santa Claus.
I also know December 25th isn’t actually Jesus’ birthday; that’s probably not the point.
Is there a way to build a bridge here?”
I begin by commenting to the clerk about shared memories of the cartoon when it first aired on television years ago.  Chuckling together about our common ‘old age’ and love of Christmas classics, I include the young man in line behind me.

He’s probably all of 25.

I swing wide my arm and gesture towards him, including him in the conversation. Surely he’s seen the Rudolph classic?  It’s shown every year at Christmas, just like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol.”

“Yeah, I remember watching it as a kid. It’s great. The Abominable Snowman was my favorite.  The music’s fun, too.  Who’s the guy that told the story?”

“Burl Ives.”

“Burl Ives. Yeah, they show that every year. It’s like a Christmas tradition.”

My purchase finished, I say goodnight to the clerk and the young man and head out the door.

Holy Spirit says, “That’s what Christmas is all about. Jesus came to Earth, yes, to save people but people need to get to Him first.”

The only way to bring people to Jesus is to build a bridge,laying planks of peace one conversation at a time. To reach wide our arms and our hands, invite people into the invisible Kingdom we inhabit and show them a better way.  

In the season ahead, especially in the world we’re waking up to each day, we need to find words that will bring us together, find ways to that will point to peace.

We need to share with a heart that cares about people over polemics.

And we need to remember the only red that matters is the blood our Saviour shed to free ALL of us, whether we love reindeer, Rudolph or red cups.