Mixed Media

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I’d been breathing different air all day because of a lighter teaching load, and a field trip to the library for my babies’ class, my affectionate term for my six and eight year olds. We read Dr. Suess stories in honor of his birthday yesterday and ate marshmallows and, back at school again, colored green eggs and ham pictures for the wall.

A side-note: In this school, we LOVE Dr. Suess! He makes our job easier and more pleasant in many ways. I love the magic of the babies stumbling to sound out English and hearing words fall off their tongues and catching the hang of the rhythm even if they don’t understand all the words. I laugh with them at all the crazy creatures and the colorful feet. If you’re trying to elicit language, these stories help!

Then I had a no-show student, and another cancelled, so I could go home early. On the way, I walked past a gift and art supply shop, and stopped to see the new window display and gasped at the beautiful new mugs. Every day, this proprietor changes at least one of the three window displays and I get huge pleasure out of just looking at things as I walk past. They’re always closed when I pass in the evening, but now I was earlier than normal, and remembered I needed some paper for a project and couldn’t resist the siren call.

This shop is cram-jam full of porcelain and glass and canvases and frames and notebooks. The walls behind the counter are covered and double-stacked with paint tubes, brushes, pastels, and more pens and pencils. I always imagine the paint flying out of all the tubes to create fantastic bright swirling designs in the space above it. This place holds endless possibilities to plan and dream about but I knew I had to keep moving because it was minutes before the shop closed and I didn’t want to make them impatient.

The younger shop assistant helped me graciously with a mixture of English and Polish and found the paper and pen I needed. The older lady appeared in her fluffy, elegant, white chignon, looking the perfect part of an art patron. I paid, but couldn’t quite leave. I just stood a couple seconds and looked around and sighed and said smiling, “I want many things.”

A rollicking chuckle came out of the girl, and she said, “Me too!”

Laughing with a stranger who speaks a different language from me is simply wondrous.

Shining Armor?

knight-602103_1280My cousin Caleb Mast is married to Sandra, and together they are a dynamic, beautiful team. Sandra is the guest writer in today’s post. Thanks for your wise words, Sandra!

Valentine’s Day is  another one of those holidays God has been speaking to me about, and I think it goes back to Caleb challenging my life in that of having a learning heart. A restless heart that never ceases to crave more. A heart searching for God, and what He desires of me.

And so this Valentine’s Day, I want to show the world and encourage other Christians as to what true love and romance is.

Soon after Caleb and I started dating, one of my best friends also starting dating. It was a wonderful time of sharing our excitement of budding love, and also sharing the painful part of letting go of our single-hood and the dreams we had dreamed in exchange for learning submission to God by way of following and submitting to a man. We both have similar personalities and our boyfriends (now our husbands!) also had similar personalities, which added an even greater depth to our discussions. In one of our many conversations, we were talking about the common “Knight in shining Armor” idea and how we thought that it was more than a little twisted in its descriptive name. We both concluded that we did not end up with a knight in shining armor… and neither did we wish too!

Here’s why:

The mental picture I get with the whole knight-in-shining-armor deal is a knight on his snow-white horse with shining, smooth, and spotless armor. Think about it. Would you really want a knight wearing an armor that is still smooth and spotless?? Somehow, by the grace of God, I ended up with a knight in weather-worn, muddy armor full of dings and dents, riding a tired and sweating horse! My knight isn’t the knight sitting proudly on his snow-white horse, with the sun glistening off his smooth and shiny helmet and sword.

My knight has fought too hard to have a spotless armor. He’s fought the dragons head-on, muddying his armor, taking the brunt of the blows, and bloodying his sword. Now THAT kind of mental picture has my heart pumping!!

I’m not sure why I had to give that intro to what I’m really dying to write about, but… that is my hero. That is my Caleb, my lover, my gift from God! He’s not the hot dude in the sporty outfit and hot-shot ride. He’s the hot dude wearing dirty jeans, sweating hard as he shovels mud out of a neighbor’s flooded house for hours. He’s the hero respectfully acknowledging older people and honoring authority in words and actions. He’s the mysterious guy in the background. You’ll see him spending time with the underdog before seeing him on a platform with everyone’s attention on himself.

To me, true love isn’t about Caleb buying me flowers, opening the doors for me, or singing me love songs, even though he does all this and more, making me laugh and melting my heart time and again.

True love, one worth celebrating, is about him making the effort to daily pray for me and with me. It’s watching him tell our little son, Desmond, about Jesus, praying with him for orphans around the world, witnessing to others while Desmond watches, desiring to be an example to him and open his heart and mind to the bigger picture.

It’s about him loving people even if they are disagreeable and hard to love. It’s about him respecting his parents even when he doesn’t see eye to eye with them on everything. It’s about him accepting my family and all our weird quirks that continue to surprise him. It’s about those moments when he comes to me with slumped shoulders and confesses some of the weaknesses God has brought to his attention. It’s about watching him do hard things, about him keeping the goals he sets. It’s about him standing up in church and baring his heart, even when I know not everyone agrees or understands him. It’s about him choosing to forgive me when my selfish side controls my actions and words and hurts him deeply.
THAT makes me really melt. That makes the tears fall as I realize what a hero God gave me. Caleb exemplifies Jesus to me, and  challenges me to a closer walk with Him, the Greatest Hero of All.

All that said, don’t think I always have this respectful, awe-like attitude towards Caleb. I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes—mostly because I don’t feel as patient and loving as Caleb is—I criticize his niceness, and get impatient with how patient he is with difficult people. That’s why I need moments like this to reflect and help me remember what true gallantry really is!!

Our marriage and home has been a green house for me. Honestly, the more I’m with my husband, the more I grow spiritually. I love the late-night discussions we have, the tears we shed for the lost souls we personally know and those we don’t, the prayers we pray for those we love deeply and those we need God’s grace to love at all.

I love when, after timidly sharing with him a wild idea I have, he says “go for it”. And how I feel believed-in even if the idea is pretty crazy. And vice versa. I love watching him step out and do hard things and cheering him on. I love being accountable to each other in big and small ways.

I love when he comes home from work, and I love sending him off to work. Because I know he’ll use his spiritual armor. I know he’ll use his spiritual sword. I know satan trembles. I know God smiles. And when he comes home, I help him dress his wounds… on my knees. And then we rehearse the victories. And pray and cry together and do whatever is necessary to prepare for the next day’s battle.

That’s my knight in muddy armor.

Maybe the world won’t notice. Maybe the church won’t notice. But those hungry for a battle worth fighting for will notice.

One of my greatest wishes while living where God has called us is to impact youth with a godly example of marriage and true love. This generation is fast falling. Young kids are wrapped up in finding love. They are really young kids, desperate for a very warped version of love.

I both tremble and grieve at the young girls I see walking around seductively, placing themselves in dangerous situations, longing for affirmation, attention, and love. I grieve for the young boys I see through the window shades, playing video game after video game filled with blood, guts and gory actions just to have something to do… and maybe feel half like a heroic warrior?

It’s all satan’s counterfeits to temporarily fill the gaping hole only God can fill! TVs are numbing the pain, distracting them from the gnawing hunger for love and fulfillment and meaning in life.

Yet even more saddening then all of this to me is some of the attitudes I’ve heard from Christians.  “I can’t see how they can spend so much time watching TV and playing such horrible video games!” “It’s so sad that they can’t find better things to do.” And many other glib and naive comments.

Is it really any wonder this is what kids are doing? Who’s fault is it that they don’t have anything better to do? Who, WHO will exemplify any other option if we don’t spend time with them and open our hearts and homes to them?

Yes, open our homes to these “terrible, heathen” children and youth. My heart’s cry is to bring them into our home and, by God’s grace and mercy, give them a taste of heaven on earth. I pray continually God’s presence to fill our home so that those who walk inside the doors will immediately both feel and “smell” something different.

Because WHO is going to show these children there IS true meaning in life, there IS tangible joy, deep peace and fulfillment in life? Obviously not their parents, who themselves are not sure of their sexuality, have multiple partners, and are also lost in trying to find meaning to their lives.

And sadly, too many Christians are more worried about getting their hands dirty than for the salvation of these precious souls. So who, WHO will show them JESUS?? Who will love them, disciple them, and by their victorious, Christ-filled life show them there is hope? That true love is not red and pink hearts, roses, kisses, and sex??

So I share all this to hopefully pass along by burden for this generation. They ARE watching us, whether we know it or not. Often the judgemental, holier-than-thou attitudes we have are exactly what turn them away from Jesus and convince them their “fun” lives are worth the pain and emptiness they feel deep down.

Let’s spend more time in God’s Word, bathe ourselves in His presence (where fullness of joy alone is found), ask for His love to overtake us, and live out of THAT! Let’s open our homes to kids seeking love and affirmation, let’s showcase Christ and His bride in our marriages and homes so these kids can see there is something different out there… there IS another option than what they too often see!

We can’t force them to drink of the Living Water but we can show them there IS living water and that it is more than enough, and we can make them thirsty for it themselves!

This Valentine’s Day I am grateful for a love-filled marriage, for a Godly and loving husband, for a brave and bold leader, for how much Caleb has taught me by example, and I want to share my blessings with those hungry for something greater.

We’ve been blessed to be a blessing!!

 

Even in Australia

A couple Sundays ago, I was bogged down in terrible language fatigue. I was lost most of the morning in the general assembly, and also later when (trying to) talk Polish with friends. It was like my tongue was thick with fur and my brain was frozen, gooey molasses, and I don’t want to admit it, but I was so disheartened I went to bed and cried.

The next day, I spent several hours at my friend’s house. She fed me and made me tea and her children were angelically happy and quiet and friendly. She and I talked of life and questions with no answers and miracles, and it was most relaxing and soul-nourishing.

While I was driving home, it came to me: those hours were Polish submersion and I hadn’t even thought of it. My friend knows enough English that I could switch to that when I got stuck, but language was no barrier that day. I was amazed.

I told this story to my Polish-friend-who-lives-in-Ireland, and she nodded with a simple explanation: “Good days, bad days.” She knows what she’s talking about it, and she’s right.

Saturday I trotted over to the market to buy my fix of pickles. The sun was trying to shine, it was a weekend, there was a dusting of snow around–it was a nice morning. But all the adults I passed were scowling. They met my eye with such misery and coldness that it made me shiver and want to cry and keep my eyes to the ground.

But the little girls in the line behind me were enjoying the snow, throwing little snow balls at each other, and one snowball nearly flew into the pickle barrel. The twinkly-eyed lady who fishes out the pickles for customers looked up and SMILED! She didn’t scold the girls for disturbing her, and I wanted to hug her. She and the little girls were the only bright spots in the market.

Then I walked down another street, past more Very Grumpy People, and my heart was breaking for their bleakness and joy-less expressions. I walked past this fire hydrant, a colorful character who is slowly reclaiming this town from its former grim communist grey.

Here he is in the summer:

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but Saturday, in the cold wind and snow, someone had carefully put a stocking cap on his head. I chuckled aloud, and felt better the whole day.

Good days, bad days. Bad minutes, good minutes.

I tend to be all-or-nothing, so when it’s a bad day, it’s a Really Horrible Terrible Day and nothing will ever be right again. When I grow up, I hope I can remember to keep calm and not panic because the good minutes always come again.

Even in the winter, even in Poland.

*Photo credit: Ola Kierska

 

 

My Favorite Therapy

Several years ago, I was home for a weekend, and mom showed me some art. Its official brand name is called Zentangle*, and it was created by Rick and Maria, who give classes to train and inspire people with this kind of art. Some people feel uncomfortable with that name, so they call it ‘pentangle’ or ‘creative doodling.’ Either way, it’s a kind of art she thought I might like.

I DID like it, and I still do. So last night I made this for a friend’s birthday:DSC06381

Basically, it’s an elaborate form of doodling. This is from my first practice notebook:

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Technically, every pattern has its own name but I don’t know any names. I just find a pattern I like, and do it. You start with a square or circle or any shape, and with a pencil, draw random lines and swirls, and then use a pen to fill in those shapes with designs of your choice. Afterward, erase the pencil lines.

It appeals to me because of its simplicity and I can be an artist without being an artist. All I need is a pen and paper. At home, this is my tool box:

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but when I leave the house, all I take is one pen (usually black gel) and one small hardcover unlined notebook where I practice and can slide in a card or two to work on. I’ve stopped doing much work in the notebook except for practicing patterns a little, because I’d rather put that time into something useful.

So I make cards. I LOVE buying cards, but I’ve hardly bought any the past couple years. One thing better than buying (or getting!) cards is making them. One of my favorite things to do in the evening is to sit down with my pens and a blank card, listen to something, and doodle. Pop a little jewel sticker on somewhere, and that’s it.

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They’re not witty or gilt-edged or elaborate, but they’re original and full of heart, which is what a card is about, isn’t it? The middle one was a wedding card. The round ones are die-cut cards I bought really cheaply at Michael’s when I was in the US a couple years ago, and now I just cut my own from card stock. I experiment with colors of paper and ink, but always go back to the classic black on white.

I like the rich darkness of a gel Pilot pen,(but it smears if I’m careless) but micron pigma pens are also nice because the different size nibs give you texture and variety. I’d like to learn more about shading, but so far, I’m scared that using a pencil to shade will get too smudgy.

The post-modern mantra that some of the artists use in this is “There are no rules.” But I disagree. My rules have to do with texture and balance. I want the eye to move around the page, so that not everything is immediately apparent. I like starting a piece and not knowing what it’s going to look like in the end.  I like the tactile limitations of pen and paper, and the mindfulness it demands. Disclaimer: This is NOT something to do when listening to a boring lecture or message. I always dislike when my students doodle while I’m talking, so I try to give speakers the attention they deserve, and you should too!

The possibilities with creative doodling are endless. You can use a sharpie to put any design on any piece of ceramic, bake it to set the ink, then paint over all of it with clear nail polish. You can use it in woodburning, quilting, on a chalkboard (isn’t that all the rage right now?), an envelope, or the frost of a window. I used it to decorate a price list at school: DSC04120

You know as well as I do that our world is increasingly narrowing into digital medium. Have you never spread out your fingers on a book page to make it bigger? That’s a dead give-away that means you need to do something creative with your hands. Zentangling is one of my methods of finding alternatives to a digital world. I believe very strongly that we are more whole people if we use our hands to make something that didn’t exist before. You can do this in a myriad ways: plant seeds, make kefir, cut an onion for soup, wash a window. Not only is hand-work practical, but it involves the whole person, and releases tensions that get knotted up if you’re just being sedentary all day.

I found this art in a time when I was in deep depression, and it met a need I didn’t even know I had. Since then, my eyes have been opened to details of light and lines and design. I’ve discovered a new world I never knew before, and it even led me to dabbling in acrylic paint and chalk pastels, something I thought only artists or school children do.

I don’t see myself as an artist, but more as a student discovering beauty. My therapy of choice is creative doodling. I go for a week or so and then my fingers get itchy to do something, and after I make a card, I feel relaxed again. (I think my house-mates are glad when I’m not so twitchy. Do I tangle for their sakes? Not really.) I find most patterns on Pinterest, (you can follow my ‘dangles to tangle’ board) but sometimes I see a pattern in ironwork or a fence or an ad’s graphics and make it my own. My favorite artist is Helen Williams because of her use of lines, light, and shadow. Rick and Maria are real masters, and find inspiration in anything. Their slogan is “Everything is possible one stroke at a time.”

After a few years of experimenting and learning, I’m sort of starting to believe them.

*Disclaimer: please don’t jump on me for the name. It’s just a word. I find no spiritual process in it, no zoning out, no meditation, no aligning my center. It’s just something I do with my hands that makes me happy on many levels. Is that fair enough?

What You Really Want, part V

pixabay/IsaacFryxelius

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Continued from Part IV:

Admitting and acknowledging loss is healthy, but staying in the place of endlessly verbalizing everything that’s wrong in your life will make you ugly. Guaranteed. You’ve got a choice, no matter where you are, to wither into bitterness, or bloom into joy. Emotional honesty is one step in the journey. Choice is another.

Choose Joy

In every season, life is going to be cruel and relentless and you will cry your eyes out over a myriad things, but you can choose joy. Things won’t ever be fair and your friends will have privileges you don’t, but you can choose joy. Could it be possible that you have gifts they’d like to have?

There is glory and beauty in the darkness, could we but see! And to see, we have only to look. (Giovanni, 1513)

In every life stage, we will need to choose joy and live with purpose in order to live fully. Technically, it’s the same for everyone: be thankful here and now, and carry the posture of living with open hands to accept whatever is given. Practically, it’s going to look different for different people with different giftings.

For you now, when you read stories to children who aren’t your own, can you try to delight in their shining eyes and pudgy fingers? When the tenth friend loses her heart to a wonderful man and you feel left behind, can you find just two things today to put on your Thanks List? Can you intentionally plan a way to serve someone beside you, choosing to be less princess and more servant even if everything in you screams against it?

Probably the most insidious temptation is to believe the lie that even God has forgotten you, left you behind, and thus you’ll have to cope on your own forever. This lie is absolutely toxic. Please don’t swallow it!

God, in His endless faithfulness, will give you reasons to believe the truth, but you need to keep your eyes open to see it. The changeless truth is that He’s intimately acquainted with everything that makes you ache and smile. He’s never turned His face away from you—not even for a second—and even when you feel like despairing, He’s up to something good. It’s true!

Joy is far more than positive thinking or collecting cute sayings on Pinterest* or posing with a Starbucks cup. Joy comes from knowing your designer’s heart and knowing His intentions for you are good, good, good. Always. You can hang your heart on that and you will have joy that bubbles out often, and even if no man notices it, that joy will make you beautiful!

Which is really what you want, isn’t it?

 

This was an article I wrote for Daughters of Promise, a beautiful magazine for young women. Maybe you want to subscribe to it for the year, or give it for a gift?

*Relax–I LOVE Pinterest! =)

What You Really Want, IV

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Continued from Part III:

When you start looking for things to be thankful for, you’ll be surprised at what emerges. Try it!

Self-pity equals wrinkles

Think of the most beautiful lady you know. I’m going to guess that she doesn’t spend much time pitying herself, but that her face is turned toward the light, and that she shines even when she’s honest about hard things.

There’s very little virtue in chirping “I’m alright—everything’s fine—who needs a man anyway?” I’m always on a search for emotional honesty because it’s at that point that truth can start soaking in, change us, and bring us to freedom. It’s ok to tell God that you’re tired of waking up alone and that it stinks to go to weddings alone. God’s big enough to take any rants you have. I hope that you also have a few friends with whom you can be honest. It’s ok to cry. You’re allowed to admit that you grieve a love that has no name or face.

Being honest (Jesus can take it off you!) means being vulnerable but also knowing the truest, most loyal love you will ever know.

You will not know the comfort and companionship of Jesus if you always insist that you’re ok, don’t need any help, and are never lonely.

While I was writing this article, I was drinking coffee in a darling café in Warsaw. (The café’s name was “Między Słowami” which means “among words.” Yes, it was as idyllic as it sounds. I’m very, very rich!) I looked up suddenly, and across the room, a tall, dark man was watching me. He was so handsome, I stopped breathing for a minute. He was too far away for me to see any emotion in his face, (Interest? Curiosity?) but a wave of something washed over me because suddenly I wanted to be noticed, delighted in, seen as beautiful, because no man does that for me.

Being honest about the voids I feel is ok, but I couldn’t stay there, and left the café when my coffee was finished.

Admitting and acknowledging loss is healthy, but staying in the place of endlessly verbalizing everything that’s wrong in your life will make you ugly. Guaranteed. You’ve got a choice, no matter where you are, to wither into bitterness, or bloom into joy. Emotional honesty is one step in the journey. Choice is another.

What You Really Want, III

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Continued from Part II:

Because—and this is something to face squarely—you’re not a princess. As the Polish say so smoothly: you’re not the bellybutton of the world! Less princess and more servant will make your life richer than you can imagine.

Thanks multiplies joy

Being intentionally thankful for specific things makes your life blossom. One day I was pitying myself about being far away from my friends and my friend Jenny said, “Anita, you HAVE to give thanks NOW for THIS. If you don’t, you’re going to become a bitter, miserable person.” I burst into tears and said I don’t want to be bitter and miserable. So later that day, even though I felt everything was gray and dismal, I heard a CD playing beautiful songs and I made myself thank God that I could hear. I was washing dishes and looked out the window and saw bright blue sky and made myself thank God that I could see.

It was a baby step, but it was in the right direction, and I started thinking about how overwhelmingly rich I am, just by acknowledging two senses.

My friend Sarah says being thankful is life-changing. She was burning out by working full time and going to college and pulling all-nighters for brutal classes. She found a little hide-out in a stairwell at college that became her refuge. Here she could sit on the carpet and cry and list the things she was thankful for, despite her extreme exhaustion. One day as she sat there, she heard another student in the stairwell on his phone, talking for ten minutes, telling his friend that prayer makes a difference and that he should keep praying because God hears. Sarah put that conversation on her list. When you start looking for things to be thankful for, you’ll be surprised at what emerges. Try it!