Thank you for stopping by my blog.

I write day after day because I discover extraordinary lessons from ordinary life experiences. I record my visual portraits of everyday life filled with something sacred in hopes that my reflections might bring an insight that blesses my readers.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Waiting for sunset

These are folks that assemble each night in Florida to see the sunset. As I too was a snow bird last year, I loved watching the sacred sunsets.

Each night I watched crippled, bent over folks shuffle through the sand to find a resting place. Suddenly, it hit me. We are all waiting for our final sunset. Each of us seeks, finds, creates, and inquires. Each person wonders what will happen in their future. Will they slip away like the silent sun behind the horizon? I guess deep down, all of us hope for such an easy passing into eternity. The sun previews each night how to slip away with dignity and rest for the night. The sun impacts each one of us. It provides the warmth needed for our food and existence. I thank God when I see sunrise each day. I am so grateful to see a new morn. I eagerly plan all that I want to do this day. I take not one moment for granted.

I begin the day studying scripture and talking to the Lord. I allow His word to shape me and direct me. I meditate on His love and sacrifice. I ask Him how I could bless Him this day. What person needs a meal, a smile, or a bit of encouragement? Which flower will He help me paint and see through His eyes and His creation? I ponder how I can end this day just like the sun. Have I given warmth or nourishment to anyone? Is there one last part of this day that I need to glorify God. Can I just "be" with Him in the garden and watch the sun slip into slumber? I never look at a sunset that I wonder will this be my last. Will Jesus call me or return? Sunsets are miracles in my mind's eye. They are day markers. They are symbolic memories. Each setting sun holds a dream, a day gone, and an expectation of what tomorrow will bring.

When Shadows Matter

When Shadows Matter

As a child, I would walk quickly trying to trick my shadow. I laughed when my shadow grew tall and skinny. I played tricks on my shadow by sitting under the palm trees to hide from my constant partner. My shadow was my playmate and personal friend.

My Uncle Albert taught me about shadows. He was bald and entertaining to a five year old. He would show me shadows on the wall of a rabbit, fox, and alligator. I waited each afternoon to visit him and comb his hair. He just smiled broadly and sat quietly as I combed through his invisible hair. Then, he would tell me to look at the wall. Suddenly, shadows really mattered.

In my art classes, I have learned the importance of a shadow. It must be in a strategic place to make the painting have depth and believability. Creating shadows and light paths supports the artist’s vision. Shadows create form and value. Without shading and shadows a painting would seem flat and lifeless.

I have learned to respect shadows through the years. But, most importantly God has taught me the importance of shadows through His word.

God promises to use His shadow for my safe keeping. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” Psa. 17:8 Many a time I have visualized a giant wing over me, around me, and under me. I hid in its protection and prayed for mercy. I am intrigued by shadows and realize that even though I cannot touch them, they are real. I need only remind myself that I can’t touch God, but I know He is real. The shadow teaching reminds me of my need for faith.

We are told that our days are like a shadow. We are here today but will wither away like a fleeting shadow. I am reminded in this verse how fragile life is. I must make each moment special and beautiful, so it will be worth remembering. My shadow will flee, but my mercy and love will be remembered. “He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” Job 14:2

I remember vividly the day I saw the shadow of death in Israel. The mountain cast dark shadows and created black ravines. I visually could see what David described as the shadow of death. It was vast, dark, and lonely. Each time I pray this verse, I reflect on the importance of that shadow. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psa. 23:4

I think about shadows often. His shadow gives me protection and rest. I desire to be in His shadow always. I yearn to be the apple of His eye. I realize that shadows are a blessing and important in our lives.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Learning to drink tea

The Art of Tea

This is Ava, my four year old granddaughter; she is drinking tea at our annual toddler tea. We began the tradition at age two. Now, a two year old tea party is similar to a Cat in A Hat party. That is another post.

Tea has brought meaning and reflection to me. As a child in the South, I loved watching my mother’s friends come for tea. Their large brimmed hats laden with flowers and jewels made them look beautiful to my five year old eyes. I watched as they sipped from my mother’s china cups. The table was adorned with fresh flowers and a starched white tablecloth. Matching napkins trimmed with delicate lace lay on their laps. It was a magical moment as I heard their laughter and chatter. I dreamed of having friends with pretty hats and gloves just like Mama.

I have drunk tea with friends who visit just to disclose their heartache. Many a cup of tea tasted salty because of the weeping we shared. Other times, I have served tea to giggling ladies who had stories to share about the travels we had together. Photos, stories, and tea magnified our travels. I have shared a warm mug of tea with my sweet husband. No fancy napkins were needed. We just embraced our cups with love for each other. .

Memories of drinking tea with my Kazakh friends bring joy to my heart. Their tradition is priceless. They take time for tea four to six times a day. They share their admiration and praise for the gathered guest.. I cherished holding their blue and white cups with no handles. Just as the tea warmed my hands, their hospitality embraced my spirit. Tea in Kazakhstan is not only a tradition but a process. The host fills each cup carefully asking if guest desire sugar, tea, or more hot water. She then passes the cup to the visitor at the farthest end of the table. It is in this ritual that each guest is honored by the other guest. The process continues until cups have been handled with care. Toasts are given to each guest recalling their gifts and contributions. This immediately establishes a positive ambiance. Soon, all are sipping and laughing about the day’s journey.

It is this history that spurs me to host toddler teas. I want my granddaughters to know the importance of tea. We have pretend teas on almost every visit. Even Ellis at eighteen months drinks imaginary tea with us. She will be introduced to her formal tea gathering next summer. She will be two and ready for a tea mate. My inheritance to the girls is to recognize that filling a cup with tea brings warmth and friendship on the simplest of days.

Learning to paint

Blue Lady
When I painted this lady, I used all ultramarine blue to lay her on the canvas. I just started painting and watched her appear. My sister was visiting and giving me painting lessons. I loved how sister would guide me carefully through each layer of painting. She would watch me design and paint. She sat on the porch with me and watched me, and then she would go in the house to watch TV. Then, she would return and peek at what I was doing.

Betty Ann has painted over sixty years and produces magnificent art works. Perhaps this is why I never tried to paint. I knew I could not paint like her. She had always been the artist in our family. I was the writer and the teacher. Now, in my sixties, I am trying to be a painter. She had encouraged me for years. I just was too busy rearing children and teaching school. Retirement gave me time for the plunge into oil paint.

I was trying a new technique I had studied on this blue lady. I painted her in an impressionistic style but decided to give her eyes detail and focus. When I would get stuck, I would call to my sister. “Sister, come look. Are her eyes too far apart? Are the shadows right?" I thought she would have blue eyes and suddenly I had painted them brown. I tried to make her have long straight hair, and it turned out curly. My sister just laughed and told me that someone was guiding my hand and my artist eye.

It was reassuring to have my sister available for questions and critique. I had lost my fear of not being able to paint as well as her. I replaced it with a hunger for her knowledge. She had training and skill that I needed. She was willing to offer it and help me learn my way around a canvas. This day was such a warm memory. I love my sister dearly. She is six years my elder, but no one knows that. We are still two girls playing, laughing, and creating.

When I was five, Betty Ann would have art lessons on our front porch in Florida. I loved watching her draw the things her teacher suggested. Mrs. Hoight, her art teacher, would gently suggest and show Betty where shadows should be. She explained that painting was just using light and dark to form the desired images. Now, sixty years later, Betty was giving me a porch lesson in painting. What she had learned, she was sharing with a new artist. My sister’s instruction was filled with wisdom and laughter.

The day of the blue lady painting taught me to love my sister even more. The day brought forth a painting that seemed to pop out of the canvas with such ease. This opportunity was provided by God. I just trusted God to move in me. I know my own skills and talents are limited. I must rely on Him when I paint because I get stuck and don’t have my sister on the porch to help me. I learned that porch day that my sister wasn’t my competitor but instead my advocate. My paintings were not going to look like hers because I had one year of experience and she had sixty. I relied on God and asked for His help. Each time I approach a new canvas, I remember my porch teachings at five and sixty-five. Both brought me pleasure and learning. However, best of all, the lesson taught me art expression is a gift from God. We are made in His image. He finds pleasure when we learn to create.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Neighborhood Circle

My Neighborhood Circle

I have lived in my neighborhood for thirty-eight years. I have walked the circle path for thirty years. I know every drive way, each landscape and flower and tree like the back of my hand. Countless steps record memories of new babies being born on our block. Other steps remind me of the day I heard weeping in these streets because three teen boys were killed in an auto wreck on their way home from school. My memories include neighbors that moved out of our addition and new ones that chose to live here. All these mesh in the paths of my brain. I pray walk and talk to God about their different needs. Each time I walk a familiar “neighbor story” surfaces for a few seconds. Children have died, moms have been abandoned by husbands, and in the last few years three men in our small community have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Husbands have gained jobs and new opportunities that moved them from my circle path. Other families have lost their jobs when the economy turned for the worst. Many have battled cancer, heart conditions, and other illnesses.

Many of my former students now own these homes. It lifts my spirits when I pass by their homes and see how well they are doing on their earth journey. They frequently call out to me, wave to me, or stop me to tell me their latest family news or prayer request. These are the perks from teaching thirty-three years in the same area.

Tonight was especially warm and humid. I decided biking might be cooler than walking. I made numerous stops. First Jake had such a long face because school was starting already. Next, I passed Angie, who I taught 28 years ago. She looked the same to me, just a little more like a mom than a teen. We reminisced about past teachers of English at Delta. We laughed that she now had a senior there. The full circle of life was apparent to me as we talked of her days at Delta.

Next, I saw my neighbor, Ivy. He has been in Iraq the last couple of years. I have been faithful to pray for his safety and health. There he was standing on his driveway as I biked up his street. I stopped and gave him a long hug and thanked him for risking his life to protect our country. Tearfully I welcomed him back. He said all of our prayers had sustained him.

Then, I passed another teacher friend who had borrowed my recumbent today. She loved her ride to Gaston with her dad. She is convinced that she needs a recumbent bike. She was sneaking to a neighbor’s to engage in a playful trick. Her eyes sparkled as much as when she was a teenager.

These are my neighbors, my former students, my friends, and my inspiration. There are people in my neighborhood that need a hot meal, an invitation to our simple patio outings, or just a smile and a wave. These long walks have shaped me in many ways. Granted, they have strengthened my heart, as well as made me grateful for such wonderful neighbors. On my block, there are five families that have been neighbors for over thirty-five years. We really care deeply for each other.

Face to face friends and neighbors are essential to my character and daily life. God has graciously surrounded me with so much love and support. I guess that is why I keep walking the village circle. I am just blessed and shaped by my neighbors.