Have Faith

When the hubs handed me these flowers today he said, “These have a little summer in them, but they’re also a reminder that change is on its way…”I needed that – after a year, I mean a WEEK of virtual 4th grade – technology failures, tween meltdowns, screen fatigue, off the hook anxiety, and everyone reacting to everyone else’s reactions – by Friday I was DONE. I was running away to Australia like that little boy in the horrible, no good, very bad day book. But Australia has its own set of problems and getting there, its own set of challenges. Truth is, I don’t think any of us actually longs for a complete absence of challenge in our lives. Most of us have valiantly made it through some pretty intense seasons. We’ve dragged ourselves over some pretty tall hurdles. We’ve stood back up after some pretty ugly beat downs. We’ve rallied our hearts to give it one more shot after some pretty heartbreaking betrayals. But what I think we truly long for in our moments of frailty and not-having-it-all-togetherness is the assurance that God is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do – that He is capable and strong and not thrown by this mess at all. We need to have faith. Faith that this will not be our undoing. Faith that He is bigger than our fear. Faith that no matter how much our flesh falters and fails and freaks out, we are still His. Faith that endures the searing heat of late summer, knowing that the cooling and gloriousness of fall is close behind. Faith that change is on its way. It’s the very essence of God’s creator DNA – new beginnings, redeemed situations, transformed hearts, altered trajectories. It’s stunning really – the One who has not even a shadow of turning within Himself has the power to change everything around Him. Even this crummy week. So take heart my friend – let it not be troubled. This too shall pass – you are not stuck or overlooked or forgotten. John 16:33 says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This week, may you find the assurance your heart longs for…and in finding Him, the perfect peace that only He brings.

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Grace for the Pivot

Today feels like I’m squeezing lemons to make lemonade…only to realize I’ve nicked up my hands while slicing the lemons. You know the tiny little cuts you don’t even realize are there, until the acidic juice hits and makes you want booboo kisses from your mama. Today I want booboo kisses from my mama. I’m doing the best I can – we’re all doing the best we can, really – making lemonade out of lemons. We’re trying to stay positive, not let the fear take hold – keeping our eyes focused on Jesus and our hearts connected to those we love. But this Covid-19 thing is real in ways we haven’t dealt with reality in quite some time. And by some time I mean ever. So today it stings…in a variety of places. It’s Day 2 of distance learning for my daughter, and the entire day has been one massive meltdown. It’s Week 2 of off-site officing for me, and even though we’re trying to use technology to stay connected I’m finding it difficult to juggle the new reality. It’s a Season of Unknowns for my husband as the majority of his income has gone the way of mandated quarantines – with closed restaurants and church gatherings, canceled theater performances and social distancing. But we press on, trying to make something palatable, refreshing even, out of the sour fruit. I’m attempting to work each day – that is, while I’m not homeschooling my 3rd grader in core math that I don’t even understand, prepping the next meal for the restless natives or trying to keep my house from being swallowed up by the Piles Of Stuff monster. I thought being a mom who was also working outside the home was tough, but it doesn’t even come close to trying to work while we’re ALL AT home together. The disruptions are agitating, to say the least, not to mention the emotional tug of war between work responsibilities and wanting to engage with my family. How do I do it all well? What I’d really love is the freedom to play – to be carefree and whimsical and imaginative, untethered from responsibilities or harsh realities – to do thoughtful things for my neighbors, to have a broader view of the kingdom opportunities this pandemic offers, to make these moments matter. But today I find my heart still in survival-mode lockdown – trying to adjust to the new normal, trying to find different rhythms, trying to make sense out of what isn’t.Maybe that lemonade is a bit too tart for your liking – just trying to keep myself honest here. Being a fixer by nature I can move too quickly to sweeten things up – and quick fixes are not what I’m looking for in this season. Otherwise, I’d be glued to social media or binging on some mind-numbing streaming service series or just staying under the covers for the rest of the day. No, what I’m in search of is the grace to pivot. See, I know God works in mysterious ways. I know that God sees the bigger picture. I know that He works all things for my good. I know an awful lot of amazing things about God in my head…and even in my heart. But all too often I’ve used them to placate, disconnect, and numb out from the stinging realities of life gone sideways. What I’m starting to realize is that when gospel knowledge becomes living breathing transformational salve for my soul – it’s the power of grace in action. Grace tempers my snarky impulses to bite back. Grace soothes the prickly spines of fear and anxiety lodged in my heart. Grace reminds me that I am not stuck and this too shall pass. Grace lets me be myself, not some alter-ego superhuman mutant version of me – I can feel everything and nothing at all and think way too much about some things and forget all about others and admit that I’m far less competent than I’d like you to think I am – and yet Grace says that’s all okay…and God can still work with that and through that and in spite of that. Grace doesn’t pretend that life isn’t tart – that it doesn’t sting on abraded hearts – instead it brings perfect balance to the sour and the sweet. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10 So I’m asking – no, I’m pleading with God – to give me grace for this mandated season of pivot. Grace for the painful present and the frightful future and all the glorious God-filled moments in-between. I pray that His grace will be like a tall, refreshing glass of cool lemonade on a swelteringly hot summer’s day. And I pray the same for you, my friend. May you draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, that you may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (paraphrased) – Hebrews 4:16 ESV What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ – Zechariah 4:7 NAS

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The Rising Tide

The news is bad. Each day it seems worse…and more complex…and more uncertain. Daily I have to fight my addiction to MORE information. Higher death tolls, faster spread rate, lack of protective equipment…the list goes on and on. I hear the words that we’re doing good, but nothing I read sounds very good, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel good at all. Each grim reality crashes like a wave onto the shore of our hearts. The media is selling facts over fear and science instead of supposition. But “Knowledge is Power” is just a lie – you can know everything there is to know about a thing, but it doesn’t mean you can keep it from happening. You can do your part to help “flatten the curve,” but there’s no guarantee you’ll escape unscathed. Heartbreaking tales of love and loss are passed around like old war stories – only difference is they’re happening in our lifetime – to people we know. And fear creeps up little by little like the evening tide. Predictions have been wrong. Advice waffles between “dos” and “don’ts”. There’ve been a million “I said that yesterday but don’t mean it today.” Experts can’t seem to agree and models can’t possibly encompass the endless variables of every unique situation. But my heart wants answers. I don’t want shifty sand – I want rock-solid incontrovertible fact. THEN I can rest. THEN I can move forward with a plan. I don’t like NOT knowing – it leaves me feeling powerless. I’m a DOER, and there’s always room for more to be done. But we’re told to wait, do less, shelter in place…and I feel itchy in my soul. (I can feel my heart begin to race as that confession spills onto my keyboard.) As an artist, God has granted me the gift of feeling things deeply…but that doesn’t make those feelings altogether accurate. So, oddly enough, I’ve had to quarantine myself from the quarantine news. I can only trust my fragile state with a few sound bites at a time. And as I’ve detoxed, a remarkable phenomenon has occurred. The tides have turned. Now I no longer feel the waves of fear creeping higher, but God’s MERCY! I can busy myself with building whatever sandcastle of delusion I want, stack one anxiety on top of the other like a stone altar of stress, drag a big stick through the wet sand to spell out the words H-E-L-P M-E, or build a blazing hot fire on the shoreline in hopes that a far-away vessel might see my distress signal and rescue me. I can do all of that and more. But eventually and inevitably the waves of God’s mercy return and sweep it all away – every care, every neurotic obsession, every restless wandering of my heart – dragged deep into the sea…because the sea is BIG ENOUGH to hold it all. Every last bit of it. Truth is, every day can start fresh for us – wave-washed smooth sand, new shells scattered about like stars to discover, tiny claw prints from sandpipers and seagulls scurrying about, and the smell of new beginnings in the salty air. Lamentations 3:23-24 says it like this: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I will hope in him.” So let the waves of mercy wash over you, my friend. Again and again and again. For GREAT is His faithfulness. His mercies NEVER come to an end.

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“With You in Mind”

These days of fear and unrest can be difficult to navigate…but art and music can be salve to the aching soul. This painting was done during a time of worship and devotion on Good Friday as we considered the sacrifice of Jesus and joined in His sufferings.

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The Dust & The Dirt

In my family, we didn’t do much in the way of observing Lent. It was a bit too liturgical for the church I grew up in, and as kids, our focus was solely on frilly dresses and white patent leather shoes, and OF COURSE, Easter baskets and bunnies and the goodies that would leave me on a perpetual sugar high for a month. Needless to say, Ash Wednesday definitely didn’t show up on our calendar, either. And to this day, I’ve never actually participated in a public Ash Wednesday service. But I have to admit, my heart has been so drawn to the symbolic themes it embodies – the solemn recognition of our full-circle connection to the dust (Gen. 3:19, “for you are dust and to dust you shall return”) and the corporate repentance for our sins. Why not observe a sacred assembly of hearts where we collectively come clean? Joel 2:12-13 reminds us: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,    “return to me with all your heart,with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;and rend your hearts and not your garments.”Return to the Lord your God,    for he is gracious and merciful,slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. As an adult, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the contemplative nature of Lent – the idea of coming to terms with the human condition and acknowledging my own culpability in it – owning up to and mourning the need for a Savior before celebrating His resurrection with great joy. It gives Easter morning context and gravity. It reminds us of what we’ve been saved from – what our condition would be without the sacrifice. It invites us a bit closer to death so that we can celebrate life. Oddly enough, my soul is okay with that – digging in the dirt, getting my hands dirty in the mess of me. Today I will sit in the dust – with fasting and weeping and mourning. I will rend my heart and set my face on the Lord my God who saved me from my wretched state. I will return to the Lord with all my heart and bask in His grace and mercy, ever thankful that He loves us lavishly in spite of it all. Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust? As the season of Lent arrives, what blessing do you need to claim from the ashes? BLESSING THE DUST All those daysyou felt like dust,like dirt,as if all you had to dowas turn your facetoward the windand be scatteredto the four cornersor swept awayby the smallest breathas insubstantial—did you not knowwhat the Holy Onecan do with dust?This is the daywe freely saywe are scorched.This is the hourwe are markedby what has made itthrough the burning.This is the momentwe ask for the blessingthat lives withinthe ancient ashes,that makes its homeinside the soil ofthis sacred earth.So let us be markednot for sorrow.And let us be markednot for shame.Let us be markednot for false humilityor for thinkingwe are lessthan we arebut for claimingwhat God can dowithin the dust,within the dirt,within the stuffof which the worldis madeand the stars that blazein our bonesand the galaxies that spiralinside the smudgewe bear. From Jan Richardson’s “Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons”

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Deep

I’d been through the darkest years of my life and had somehow survived thanks to the kindness of close friends and church family. But it was such an anomaly – an uncharacteristic blip on the screen – that it was easy to just tie a millstone around it all and send it straight to the bottom of the sea. Out of sight, out of mind. But then came the dream: all around me was inky blackness and I was keenly aware that I was deep down in the ocean where even light gave up the fight. Overhead a warm glow appeared – like a Touched By An Angel moment – illuminating a rusty, carbuncled door of a sunken ship. I tried and tried to turn the huge round hatch handle, but it wouldn’t budge. I used my feet and legs to try and force the door open, to no avail. And as I labored, I felt the Lord lean in and gently say, You buried it good and deep, didn’t ya? And just like the crew discovering ruins from the Titanic, with one simple question He uncovered the wreckage of my not-so-perfect life, and with it, he raised the disappointment and fear and shame from the dark depths and brought them up into the light. You see, I may have hidden it from people around me, but I hadn’t hidden it from Him – He knew right where it was all along. Truth be told, there is no depth so deep that His love can’t reach it. No matter the inky blackness. No matter the years that have rolled past. No matter the disappointment and fear and shame. No matter how truly dead a thing might be. Because God has a way of resurrecting dead things. 1 You have searched me, Lord,    and you know me.2 You know when I sit and when I rise;    you perceive my thoughts from afar.3 You discern my going out and my lying down;    you are familiar with all my ways.4 Before a word is on my tongue    you, Lord, know it completely.5 You hem me in behind and before,    and you lay your hand upon me.6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,    too lofty for me to attain.7 Where can I go from your Spirit?    Where can I flee from your presence?8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,    if I settle on the far side of the sea,10 even there your hand will guide me,    your right hand will hold me fast.11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me    and the light become night around me,”12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;    the night will shine like the day,    for darkness is as light to you. – Psalm 139

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Listen

Listen…to the sound of the silence around you, the beating of the heart within you. Listen to the feelings coursing through your veins that have never been given the power of voice. Listen to the memories of old – moaning in deep, hollow tones on cold, dark days. Listen to the ache of long-held regret and the craving for long-overdue acquittal. Listen to the distant laughter when hearts were carefree and weightless as dandelion seeds. Listen to the love that reaches out – arms open wide – to embrace the world, again and again. Listen to the babbling brook of joy dancing over the jagged rocks in your soul. Listen to the courage pounding out rhythms of hope and love and living. Listen to the beauty wafting through your heart like a sweet, complicated symphony. Listen to the song of you…and then sing it. Loudly.

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Life Over Death

It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve painted during a worship service, let alone painted as my husband played drums on the worship team. We love it when we get to use our gifts in tandem worship. We’re just better when we’re together. I’d decided during the week to give myself much grace in the process of listening for God’s voice and discerning what He’d like me to paint. Earlier on, it freaked me out when He remained silent, but I guess through the years I’ve learned to trust this dance of ours…having watched as He made His way around the dance floor…moving people into places, lining up stories and hearts, creating moments in time that don’t exist outside of Him. It is nothing short of breathtaking. So I guess I should’ve known the extraordinary was beginning to stir as I prepared for the Sunday service. Not a single word from Him. Not a peep. Not a momentary perception of a possible leaning in some direction. But my heart was at peace in the silence and I was still able to call up that mental checklist, gather up my supplies with surprising ease and place them by the door in readied anticipation. And my heart continued to wait. Maybe in the shower the next morning, as I washed my hair…maybe then I’d sense that undeniable knowing. Nope. Just peace…peace and quiet. But I was strangely okay with that. I knew that He knew what He was doing. It wasn’t until we were about halfway through our early morning trek to the next city down the highway that the strangest thought hit my head and heart: Valley of Dry Bones. I couldn’t shake it: Valley of Dry Bones. Well, alrighty then…I had no idea which direction to take or how a painting of a skeleton would be edifying in a worship environment – ESPECIALLY ON MOTHER’S DAY, but if I’ve learned anything, it seems that the crazier the idea, the more Him it usually is. So I opened up the passage in Ezekiel and read this: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” – Ezekiel 37:1-14 I don’t remember any of the music that the worship team played, but my heart was stirred…that usually happens when I step into the zone. But I do remember painting a skeleton reclining in the dirt, but it wasn’t scary or heavy with death. It felt hauntingly lovely. Vines sprung up from the dry earth beneath, covering it in green leaves and flowers…symbols of life and beauty. Wind from above swirled about, like the very breath of God blew through those bones…driving out the raven of death that would pick away every last hope of life. And just like that, it was over. We only sang 3 songs…but I was told that I could paint throughout the entire service if needed. But surprisingly enough, when the 3 songs were done, so was I. As I sat down for the service, I wondered “What was THAT all about?!” Enter Debbie. Church Administrator and announcement sharer extraordinaire. But she interrupted herself mid-delivery to say, “I just can’t stop looking at that painting!” After service, a soft-spoken man approached me as I was cleaning up my supplies to say, “You have NO IDEA how this painting speaks to what many in our church are going through right now.” Confirmation. It wasn’t such a crazy painting after all. (Skeletons in a church service must be more okay that I would’ve imagined.) Debbie made her way through the crowd to ask if she could take a picture of the painting with her cell phone so that she could have it to look at later on. She blended back into the lingering group of people and re-emerged with her husband…and wanted to know a bit more about the painting. How did I paint like this? What did it mean? So I shared with them about the Valley of Dry Bones and the symbolism of each element. She stood quiet for a moment and broke her silence with, “You don’t know anything about my story, do you?” I answered that I knew nothing, and she proceeded to share. Seems two years ago, Debbie’s oldest son went in for a standard checkup, and it was discovered that he had cancer of the thyroid. He’d had it removed and after treatment was doing much better. Two months ago, Debbie’s youngest son was complaining about his chest hurting and doctors discovered a very rare form of lymphatic cancer. Two weeks ago, Debbie found a lump during a routine breast exam and, after consultation with her doctor, was informed that she had the exact same rare form of cancer that her younger son had. The family had been through the wringer, but what struck me was Debbie’s peaceful assurance. She wasn’t afraid, she was confident. She wasn’t questioning God’s protection, she was resting in His love. She wasn’t doubting His faithfulness, she was celebrating His goodness in spite of all of the scary stuff happening in her family’s life.  Truth is, I don’t know Debbie all that well, but I know this: that kind of assurance only comes from wrestling those demons of fear and doubt back to the pit that they came from. She had anchored her heart into the immovable unshakable truth of God. She REFUSED to believe the lies that ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ I fell so in love with her undaunted courage that I sent the painting home with her. It was rightfully hers anyway…God-breathed in every way. They hung it in their home as a reminder to trust that God’s Beauty and Life would show up in the most desperate places. This story doesn’t have a Hallmark ending…Matthew fought hard against his cancer – his sweet, young bride and family by his side throughout the whole journey. Friends stormed heaven’s gates with prayer and worship until they physically lost their voices, every treatment was tried, every option exhausted. And on the morning of March 13th, 2020, 23-year-old Matthew went home to be with Jesus. The family was heartbroken and to this day they mourn and grieve in such beautiful ways. But here’s the kicker that’s hard for some to wrap their brain around: Matthew’s death didn’t change the truth about God! It didn’t alter His character or mar His stellar reputation – God is still good, He is still faithful, He is still the Bringer of Hope and the Giver of Life. He still brings beauty to our brokenness and breathes life into our dry and weary bones. The painting now has new meaning to me…and I’m sure to Debbie’s family. These tabernacles of flesh are just temporary dwelling places. And by a divine act of grace God breathed healing and new life into Matthew and gave him a body that would know no sickness or pain.  Beauty sprang up from the dust and Eternal Life triumphed over fear and death…‘that ALL may testify that He is the Lord.’ The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

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The Way of the Cross

This devotion guide was created by my friend Tracy Grubbs, Creative Arts Director at Lake Forest Church. I’m so proud of her and the weight that this project bears. because (from what our research shows) it’s the only Protestant “Stations of the Cross” guide taken straight from scripture in existence. Tracy’s mix of ancient text and contemporary prose make for a stunning, poetic blend that comes across gently…almost as a barely spoken whisper. My hope is that you will make your own way through the images, scripture and prayers and be moved closer to your humanity; closer to the cross; closer to the heart of the One who suffered and died, just for you. ____________________________________________________________________________ THE WAY OF THE CROSS: During the Turkish occupation of the Holy Land in the late Middle Ages, when pilgrims were prevented from visiting its sacred sites, the custom arose of making replicas of those holy places, where the faithful might come to pray. One of the most popular of these devotions was the “Stations of the Way of the Cross,” which were imitations of the “stations,” or stopping places of prayer on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. By the late sixteenth century the fourteen stations, as we know them today, were erected in almost all Catholic churches. At each of the fourteen stations: Read the Scripture, view the image, pray the accompanying written prayer aloud or silently. Then meditate on the prayer and image, making the prayer your own. Either gently repeat the written prayer or pray your own life into the subject of that prayer, A Preparatory Prayer – St. Francis: Most merciful Lord, With a contrite heart and penitent spirit I bow down before Thy divine Majesty. I adore Thee as my supreme Lord and Master. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee above all things. I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, my only and supreme God. I firmly resolve to amend my life; and although I am unworthy to obtain mercy, yet looking upon Thy holy Cross, I am filled with peace and consolation. I will, therefore, meditate on Thy sufferings, and visit the Stations. O Loving Jesus, inflame my cold heart with Thy love, that I may live and die in union with Thee. Amen.  i. Jesus prays in garden Luke 22:39-44 Jesus left and made his way to the Mount of Olives, as was his custom, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived, he said to them, “Pray that you won’t give in to temptation.” He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt and prayed. He said, “Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Nevertheless, not my will but your will must be done.” Then a heavenly angel appeared to him and strengthened him. He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly. His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. PRAYER “Father, please?” Jesus prayed “Take this cup from me. If you will?” Sadness in your furrowed face and sorrow in your eyes, the smell of blood and streaming sweat, Son of God and Son of Man wrestles with the will of the Father. “Nevertheless, your will be done,” “Nevertheless…” Jesus, may we drink from our cup as you did from yours, Trusting in the goodness of the Father even in our suffering. Amen  We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. ii. Jesus betrayed and arrested Luke 22:47-53 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” PRAYER: With swords and clubs, they came for You, Son of Man. Soldiers, priests, religious ones, lead by a beloved friend. With a kiss, betrayed. Unjustly accused. And yet, you reject the sword and heal the wound. Lay down the arms. Jesus, may we forgive as you do, humbly and completely. Following in your footsteps, walking in the way of Love. Amen. We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. iii. Jesus tried by Sanhedrin Mark 14:53,55-56,60-64 They led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. The high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. PRAYER: Christ, here you stand before your accusers, Pummeled with allegations, with insinuations. Angry words spoken by threatened, fearful men. But you stand quietly. No rush to refute their lies. Letting the truth of who you are be the Answer they are looking for. Jesus, may we follow in your example of softly, yet boldly speaking truth in love. Amen. We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. iv. Jesus denied by Peter Mark 14:66-72 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. PRAYER: “I will never” “I will always” Swearing allegiance unto death. Peter, impulsive master of misunderstanding In the dark of night, he disowns, rejects, denies. As do we, day in and day out. We are all Peter. Wanting desperately to follow You but failing, dismissing you instead. But morning comes and with the rising of the sun, You offer forgiveness and redemption. Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. v. Jesus tried by Pilate Mark 15: 1-5, 15 The chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, “Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of.” Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed…. Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to be crucified. PRAYER:  “Behold your king,” says Pilate. “We have no king but Caesar,” the people shout, “Away with him.” And they sent you to your death. Lord Jesus, Word made flesh, Light for our dark world, God come to save us, may we never send you away. Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. vi. Jesus beaten and scourged John 19:1-3; Luke 22:63-64 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” PRAYER: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” In thorny crown and purple robe Son of God and Son of Man. Bearing my shame in the presence of scoffers. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. vii. Jesus carries the cross John 19:17-18 So they took Jesus and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. PRAYER: You were led to Golgotha, Lord, bearing the cross alone. Step by agonizing step you walked with the cross and its crushing load, “Take up your cross,” the Savior says, “If you would my disciple be; Forsake the past and come this day, And humbly follow after me.” Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world viii. Jesus helped by Simon Luke 23:26 As they led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a man from Cyrene, who was coming in from the countryside. They put the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus. PRAYER:  Simon, coming in from the fields, was forced to carry your cross. He had no choice in this; it was his lot. “Why is this happening to me?” “I’m not ready for this.” “I can’t.” Were these his thoughts? Are these my thoughts? Lord, when you ask me to pick up the cross and follow you, Am I willing? Will I walk that way with you? Give me a willing heart to follow. Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. ix. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem Luke 23:27-29 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are

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Thank God for Lop-sided Boobies

I’ve scorned my lop-sided boobies for most of my life. My mom said they’d even out once I had kids…which never happened. Hormone shifts just don’t come pre-packaged with adoption. But yesterday, a childhood friend lost both of her boobies, and today I’m aware of them on every woman I pass and catch the reflection of my own curves in the store window. I found putting my bra on this morning to be an awe-filled privilege, and admittedly, I’ve cupped my chest more than once today and whispered a soft, “Thank You.” Thank you for these lop-sided boobies. Looking at pictures from this past weekend, I’m less than happy with my new haircut. It’s too triangular. I think I look like a blonde cocker spaniel. Made a mental note to myself to get that fixed ASAP. Then I remembered helping a friend shave her whole head of hair off before the chemo took it first. I’m not sure why she asked me…we weren’t really that close. But it was one of the holiest moments I’ve ever had in my life. For some reason, I have a thick head of hair that makes most hairstylists marvel, but as I brushed and pulled it into a quick ponytail before exercise class today, I felt whiney self-absorbed, and petty. What a gift it is to have hair at all… every single strand that’s stuck to my scalp is a blessing. “Thank You.” Thank you for my cocker spaniel hair. Something shifted in my body a few years ago that no one has been able to pinpoint, but I gained 50 lbs in 3 months. I’d been thin all my life…how did this happen?! I didn’t change my eating habits. I didn’t go on some mad nutella binge. But the weight showed up, and has refused to leave. I’m active and I’ve tried every exercise program known to man. I’ve counted calories, given up soda and fast food, detoxed, juice fasted, gone gluten free and semi-vegetarian, and every combination you can think of…even my doctors are stumped. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore. The skinny girl I’ve seen for most of my life is now wrapped thickly in the body of my German grandmother. My under-chin has even fallen and it can’t get up. I’m not an over-eater, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. I begrudge having my picture taken now…because the way I look on the outside isn’t the way I feel on the inside. And then I think about sitting next to my friend who was fighting a hard, brave battle…reduced to skin pulled tight over skeleton. She didn’t much like having her picture taken either…and I know for a fact that she didn’t look on the outside like she felt on the inside. Were that today, I’d joke with her about gladly giving her some of my excess, and we’d laugh till we cried. “Thank You.” Thank you for my unexpected mom body. So the next time I’m wallowing around on my exercise mat in a class filled with matchstick thin Millenials, I will embrace these extra pounds and call them mine…and remember the wonderful meals spent with my family and friends. I will put on my bra with gratitude and thank God for being a girl. I will laugh at this bad haircut and be mindful that the next haircut is nothing short of a gift. All of the wrinkles and lumps and flaws are meant to serve as reminders that life comes with things that are just completely out of our control. And these things that command our attention and cause us to fret don’t matter a hill of beans at the end of the day. So I will breathe deeply and say YES to having my picture taken more often…lop-sided boobies, cocker spaniel hair, double chin and all…because it means that I am alive and well and surrounded by the beautiful places and people I love. And THAT, my friends, is priceless treasure. For you created my inmost being;    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;    your works are wonderful,    I know that full well.My frame was not hidden from you    when I was made in the secret place,    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.Your eyes saw my unformed body;    all the days ordained for me were written in your book    before one of them came to be.How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!    How vast is the sum of them!Were I to count them,    they would outnumber the grains of sand—    when I awake, I am still with you. – Psalm 139: 13-18

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Beyond The Wall

I painted for a Women’s Worship Night at CityChurch recently.  It was a chance for the ladies to intentionally connect with God and each other before the holiday madness began. I set up my easel and paints in a back corner of the fellowship hall, as my heart fluttered with anticipation at what God might do.  It just wasn’t like Him to leave us empty-handed.  He always seems so eager to speak to someone…to encourage…or to reveal more of His love and glory.  Even though I’ve grown to expect Him to move in some way, it’s still a little like Christmas Day when He does! Worship began, and the all-female voices sounded so delicate and light as they sang of God’s faithfulness.  I’m pretty sure that’s gotta be one of God’s favorite sounds of all time…and it was such a lovely setting in which to paint.  It just seemed to flow effortlessly from my heart, through the paint brush, onto the canvas. The worship time seemed to be over in a blink, and I was asked to come share about the painting I’d done. It wasn’t complicated: A brick wall.  Someone feels boxed in or like they’ve been beating their head against a brick wall, and they can’t seem to break through.  But  God sees beyond the wall.  He sees the beauty of the wide open pasture.  So He’s broken through the bricks and created a way of escape from the things that have us imprisoned. Some of us have already made our way through and have landed in a tree to rest, but we’re stuck there.  Our resting place has become a snare for us…because ultimately God intends for us to soar! That was it.  Nothing earth-shattering. I went back to my corner of the room as the Prayer Team began ministering to the women in the room.  Only to turn around and see my new friend Patrice Gopo standing there with notebook in hand.  She nervously shared that during  worship, she had spent her time writing out something that God had put on her heart.  I could tell she was stunned. You see, she was in the other back corner of the room…she had no idea what I was painting until I got up in front of the group to share.  And as she read aloud to me, I couldn’t help but weep.  It was so God.  So crazy-unbelievable-perfectly-woven-together-couldn’t-be-anything-BUT God…and He obviously had something on His mind. Here is what she had written in her notebook: I remember what it felt like to soar with the wind piercing my back, the sky wide open before me, the power infused from You as my wings cut through the air. I don’t remember first one wall, then the next and next and next. I don’t remember the roof placed atop the cage, the sharp blade of the scissors that cut the tip of my wing, a breath of down and feathers against the ground. But I remember the prison, the darkness, the inability to move, and I remember the hot tears spilled on the cold ground. Were they mine or were they Yours? But I also remember Your hand brushing those steel walls aside. Nothing but paper to You. I remember Your hand reaching down, scooping me up and pushing my brokenness towards the sky, the wind piercing my back just as it should be. So beautiful, the way God had simultaneously woven together imagery and words so heavy with intent. So like Him to deliver them so delicately to His cherished ones that night. How about you?  Are there areas in life where you feel like you’re beating your head against a brick wall?  Do you feel entrapped…like you’ll never get free? Do not fear…God has made a way of escape for you.  He sees beyond the wall.  He sees you soaring in the great wide open with the wind piercing your back…just as it should be. That’s it.  The simple truth. Pretty earth-shattering, if you ask me. God is just so good.

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Out of Brokenness

Heartbreak. Disappointment. Rejection. Abuse. Betrayal. The heavy stuff of life. Sometimes it feels like someone is standing on your chest. Sometimes it feels like everything that connects you to this earth has been untethered and your heart is adrift. Sometimes it feels like you dare not exhale or it will all crumble to pieces around you. Let’s be honest: most days we feel like anything BUT victorious. Broken and flawed as we are…and as dysfunctional as our families might have been…and as unapologetic as this world has become, our hearts can wind up a bit beaten and battered from the fight. But there is hope. Psalm 51:17 says: “Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice. Your pain matters to God. Your undoneness has His full attention. He moved heaven and earth to invade your emptiness. He sent Jesus to walk among the ruins of your life as an extension of His love. It was meant to change things…to alter your current reality…to affect the outcome of your anemic existence. No the story doesn’t simply end with your pain. Truth is, the story begins and ends with God’s love. Like massive, stone-hewn bookends, God’s unwavering love stands firm…and woven between the lines and letters on every page of every book, God’s enduring love

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Brave Wings – Teal Diva

Let’s be honest:  we’ve all lost far too many friends to cancer.  I’ve been to way too many funerals for friends that had so much life yet to live.  A few years ago our neighbor was given the terrifying news that her discomfort and bloating were due to ovarian cancer.  Something none of us ever want to walk through.  But instead of laying down and letting her life come to a grinding halt or feeling sorry for herself, Shannon did something completely counter-intuitive…she reached out instead of turning in.  She decided to make a difference and created Teal Diva. Her idea for Teal Diva was to rally women who had been diagnosed with gynecologic cancer and create a network that would strengthen, encourage, educate and increase awareness.  And when I say idea, I mean a great big hairy gotta-be-half-crazy kind of idea.  They’ve made men run races in tutus and teal stilettos, done countless 5ks, coaxed area restaurants to serve teal color-inspired fare, organized local salons to offer teal manis & pedis with part of the profits going to the cause, and even gotten the good people at Duke Energy to light up their famous skyscraper with glowing teal neon.  Oh, and did I mention the video?  It’s perhaps one of the most touching videos I’ve ever seen about women who are fighting through this life crisis with depth and dignity.  It’s so good, it’s winning all kinds of awards.  Rightfully so.  Do yourself a favor:  take a little time, grab some tissue and watch the video.  It’s time well spent.  For reals. Oddly enough, the idea for this painting was birthed on a visit to take food to one of my own friends who was going through chemo.  I was just taking her food…but I was absolutely stunned when she answered the door.  I’m not kidding when I say:  she was breathtakingly beautiful.  Her chemo had caused her hair to fall out, but she had wrapped her bald head in a chic black and white head wrap that draped down over one shoulder.  She looked more like someone from Hollywood than someone fighting the ravages of cancer.  I know she probably felt the most UN-beautiful at that point in her journey, but on my trip home I just couldn’t shake the thought:  SHE WAS SOOOO BEAUTIFUL!!! So after talking over the hedge with Shannon one night I decided to do a series of paintings featuring BEAUTIFUL Bald Women as a tribute to the women who are fighting the brave fight against all types of cancer…and as a declaration of the truth that they are all beautiful…and brave…and strong.  And as a good neighbor, since I’d hatched the idea with Shannon, I felt it was only fitting that I start with a painting for the Teal Divas. There was a certain weight about painting this one.  It was personal.  There are people I care for deeply who are in the middle of their survival story…and I’m just so honored to be able to give them tribute with canvas and paint.  Tomorrow it’s going to be auctioned off at a local fundraising event…and I hope it sells for a million dollars.  I mean it.  I wish some philanthropist would see it and throw down a check with lots and lots of zeros at the end of it.  Every single one of the women who have been given a diagnosis deserve that kind of response…that kind of respect. So if you know someone who is fighting gynecologic cancer, you might want to pass this on to them.  If you like it enough to want one for yourself or for a friend or loved one, I’ll be selling prints…and of course, I’ll be giving a portion of the profits to Teal Diva so that they can help to encourage more women and give them the kind of care and understanding that only comes from people who’ve been through it first hand. The girl in this painting is based on the touching story of Talia Castellano, a young girl who became a YouTube sensation amid her fight against cancer…mainly because she had spunk and mad makeup skills…and a “never quit” attitude.  She was one of those extraordinary people who will forever represent bravery, strength and beauty to me.  So this one is for ALL Teal Divas out there…with a loving nod to the sassy Little Miss who wouldn’t even let cancer steal her joy.

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Painting at Lake Forest Church | “Believe”

One of my favorite pieces of imagery is from the movie “Gladiator”…when Maximus walks through the wheat field and runs his hand lightly across the top of the soft tassels.  It’s one of those visuals that continues to stick with me over time…so simple, but so rich with emotion.  It’s as though I can feel everything he was feeling. When I was tasked with painting an interpretation of John 6 for Lake Forest’s “re:Gift” series, and read the entire text, these two passages really jumped out at me: 35-36 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 47-48 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. It seems Jesus was trying to drive an important point home: “I’m the bread of life. Believe it.”  And as I let the passage fill my head and heart, the images from The Gladiator sprang to life in a new way…except there were wounds on the wrists of this Loving Warrior, and he touched the wheat with a familiarity only found between created and Creator. The Bread of Life walking through a wheat field…what a breathtaking metaphor. How odd that we have no problem believing the common wheat would one day be crushed to become a delicious loaf of bread. But we struggle to truly believe that this unimpressive hometown man would one day be crushed in order to satisfy the hunger of the whole world.  Such a mystery.  Such a leap of faith. Believe that I Am the Bread of Life. So follow the metaphor, if you will, as it develops into The Bread of Life…breaking bread…in the wheat field. I guess you could call it Reversed Foreshadowing, if such a thing exists. 😛 But consider the beauty of the progression…the wheat is cut off and ground up, having it’s form destroyed…but by doing so is transformed into bread, able to feed the thousands.  Then that bread is broken apart by the hands of The Bread of Life…feeding all of mankind, so that they will never go hungry again. Jesus was cut off from this world, beaten, crucified, buried…and resurrected.  In an ironic act of selfless love–by emptying himself…being broken…and dying–He was able to become the Victor, conquer death, and give us all eternal life.  Such a mystery.  Such a leap of faith. Believe that this is My body Broken for You. Are you hungry? Believe that He is The Bread of Life.  Are you thirsty? Believe that His body was Broken for You.  And if you believe, you will never hunger or thirst again. Such a mystery. Such a leap of faith. But even as He speaks the simple truth, His words are so full of emotion, it’s as though He can feel everything that I’m feeling. As Lake Forest’s series teachings illustrated, Jesus was the perfect example of re-gifting. So what are you doing with the gift that He has given you? How will you re-gift it so that the people around you will benefit from it? Such a mystery. Such a leap of faith.

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Painting for CharlotteOne | Micah 6:8

My friend David Hickman is a visionary. Years ago my husband and I stood in a church parking lot and talked about dreams, holy burdens, and the heart of God concerning the city of Charlotte. David had a BIG dream…a GOD-sized dream…a dream of gathering young adults beneath the cross of Jesus…regardless of denominational differences, rhetoric or dogma.  And more importantly, he had the unwavering faith and pit-bull tenacity it takes to transition that vision into a thriving reality. Today, CharlotteOne stands as a broad-reaching ministry with an exemplary testimony of area churches coming together in unity to worship God, make disciples, and do life.  That’s true New Testament stuff. This past Spring I was honored to be asked to paint as a part of their corporate worship experience.  The message was on Finding God’s WIll…a topic a lot of us struggle with regularly, regardless of our age.  It was a toughie…one that couldn’t be minimized with any kind of scriptural band aids.  No iconic cross in the corner or nebulous scriptural text would suffice…and so I leaned in. I leaned in to listen.  It’s so confusing.  I leaned in to hear His voice.  It’s like grasping for smoke.  I leaned in to hear His heart beat.  Who am I? Where do I go? What do I do?  I leaned in…and what I heard was no chaotic or random or unattainable.  It was filled with peace and comfort…and love. We make it so complicated and heavy…WHAT DOES GOD WANT ME TO DO?!?!?!  But it is quite simple, really: Micah 6:8 (NKJ) He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God. I’ve never heard it quite that clear before in all my 29++ years.  🙂  To be honest, it’s my new Life Filter.  These three simple questions have helped my weary heart to silence so much of the white noise…from the media, from friends and family, even from the Church.  There are a million voices telling you what you should or could do.  But God makes it simple. Does it promote justice for your fellow-man? (check.) Does it fully embrace and extend mercy? (check.) Does it compel you to walk humbly before God?  (check.) What a beautiful little list.  Notice that it’s not perfection-based or performance-based…but completely, undeniably, unregrettably LOVE based.  Nothing else really matters to God in the grand scheme of things.  Nothing catches His attention as much as these.  Nothing reflects His heart the way they do. As I painted that night, I felt my own chains of bondage falling away.  I felt a spiritual release from things I’d heaped upon my own soul in a lifelong attempt to earn God’s affection and acceptance.  I experienced an internal freedom from worry and strife that I hadn’t even realized was clouding my thinking.  The voices had blared in my head and now there was silence…such a peaceful clarity. The perfect setting for hearing His soft and gentle whisper. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.  

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Luttrell Commission | “Passages” (Rhythms of Grace)

There are defining moments in our lives.  Moments where we mark the passage of time.  Already with our 3 1/2-year-old, we’ve experienced several landmarks in what we hope will be a lifetime filled with them.  And already, we are wanting to pull up on the reins a bit to slow time’s passing.  Already, it’s barreling down the road at an unbridled pace. But that’s the burden of parenting, isn’t it?  Wanting so badly for them to become independent and experience all the good that life has for them, and yet wanting it to take 100 years to happen.  Yep, that’d be just about right. This week I was honored to participate in a defining moment for one of my husband’s drum students.  His parent’s are being extraordinarily intentional about making a wonderfully big deal out of this year’s birthday for him.  They are celebrating his rite of passage into manhood with a week of thoughtful presents and festivities, all befitting a young man. My commission was to create a visual for his bedroom that would reflect his love for music, rhythm, and his faith.  I used one of my drummer husband’s life scriptures for the cornerstone of the piece, which comes from Matthew 11:28-30: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Now that’s a rite of passage worth making…for all of us!

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Defining Moments

Last October I was invited to join a group of artists for a video shoot atop one of the uptown high-rises.  We were each asked to paint unique elements on a variety of stained glass panels forming a larger-than-life hourglass filled with sand.  Threads of that day’s shoot have since been woven into a powerful video production of Billy Graham sermon snippets, real life testimonies, and engaging imagery. It was an honor to work on such an important project…to represent Charlotte’s creative community…and to make some new friends along the way.  This presentation will be a part of a larger initiative from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association to be launched later this year, where people and churches can collaborate to spread the good news of the Gospel. Please feel free to pass this video around to family and friends…especially ones who need a reminder of The Hope that we find in relationship with Jesus. This project was definitely a Defining Moment in my creative and spiritual life…

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My Bride…My Beloved

Each worship event I paint for is special…because each time is different. Each has it’s own theme, flow and vibe. But last night was one of the most truly special evenings I’ve yet to experience in this God-journey I’ve been on for the past 6 years. The worship, led by the tender hearts of the United Pursuit Band, was so genuine and disarming…the room was filled with some of my favorite 20/30-somethings on the planet…and God’s presence was so weighty, yet so sweet. But I knew it was going to be just that way. You see, sometimes God shows me ahead of time what to paint, and sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes I have the entire idea, and sometimes I simply choose the first color to load on my brush as the music begins. Sometimes His voice is loud and clear, sometimes He is silent. Yet, for this particular event, He had shared His heart with me early on the day before. (Sometimes I think it’s easier to be clueless…!) She was a clear as day…this woman who was trying so desperately to cover herself up because of her guilt and shame. Her image haunted me throughout the day, and my heart grew heavy as began to feel the ache of God’s heart, because of her condition. As I pondered her, I felt the Lord lean in and say, “Tell her that she’s beautiful.” Ugh. My heart started to mourn… Setup went unusually smooth, and since there was worship music already playing in the auditorium, I decided to sit with my sketch book and quite myself just a bit. As I began to draw, her outline took shape quickly…since her image had been burned into my soul from the two days of carrying her around in my heart. But, unexpectedly, words began to pour out onto the page, as well. Words and words and words. I wasn’t thinking, I was just writing. I had no strategy in mind…no idea how it all connected…until the page was full, and I was done writing…and I read it from beginning to end. It was a love letter. Not from my heart, but from His. Not to the woman caught in adultery, like we envision ourselves to be…but to His bride…to His beloved. Painting was a flurry of color and brushstrokes as I translated the image in my heart onto the stark white paper in front of me. I was completely unaware of where I was in the painting process…completely disconnected from analysis and technique. It was as if I was following the movement of my paint brush, not the other way around. I do remember thinking to myself that it’d been a long, long time since I’d painted under this intensity of God’s presence…and well, anointing. By anointing, the definition that most resonates with me is, “to choose someone as a lead candidate for a position.”  And on this night, I was a messenger… I rarely get the opportunity to share about my paintings after they’re done…much less deliver something specific like this…this love letter to God’s Bride. But in an effortless way God wove the opportunity into the flow of the evening, and I knew I was supposed to read His letter out loud over His Beloved. So I choked back the tears, stepped to the mic and shared what was scrawled into my sketchbook.  I excused the somewhat feminine imagery, as I considered the Church as a whole in this declaration…since I know we ALL have it so upside down and backwards…the way we see ourselves, in such high-def contrast to the way He sees us. You are my bride…my Beloved. You feel shame…I see beauty. You feel weak…I see strength. You feel wicked…I see holiness. You feel timid…I see boldness. You feel forgotten…I see the one I could NEVER forget. You feel empty…I see the fullness. You feel dead…I see life. You feel broken…I see whole. You feel darkness…I see my light. You feel passed over…I see great promise. You feel worthless…I see my prized possession. You feel dirty…I see spotless. You feel despair…I see boundless hope. You feel fear…I see a courage that won’t back down. You feel deceitful…I see honesty. You feel lost…I see the way. You feel confused…I see my peace in you. You feel confined…I see freedom. You feel dead ends…I see fresh starts. You feel cheap…I see you as a priceless treasure. You feel banished…I see you wrapped in my embrace. You are my Bride…my Beloved. When I finished the room stood silent. No music to lighten the atmosphere in the room. No quick segue into a second round of worship songs. No attempt to tidy up, brush over or shrug off. Just beautiful, heavenly, awe-filled silence. And I knew that the message had found its home in the heart of someone present.  The weight was gone…and all that remained was a delicate awe. But here’s the kicker:  immediately after the worship concluded, I turned around to meet eye-to-eye with a young lady from the audience, and she gingerly told me her story: “I’ve been in such a bad place lately.  I’ve been feeling every single thing that you read out loud tonight.  But I feel like I’m supposed to tell you something else:  On my way here, I was really struggling, and in desperation I just asked God, ‘could you please just write me a letter to tell me how you see me?…I think it’s the only way I can hear you right now.’”   I was so overcome, I started weeping before she’d even finished her sentence.  I cried.  She cried.  We hung onto each other and cried for a while…both of us just so amazed by what had just happened.  I was completely undone by the lengths that God had gone to, to speak His truth into his precious Bride’s heart. She was beautiful. And just as I finished sharing with her, I turned, only to see the face of another young lady standing in front of me: “I was the woman at the well…and everyone knew it. But the Bride that you wrote about was me…God’s wanting me to let go of the way I’ve defined myself–by my past–and receive a new identity…the one that was in your letter.” Another stunning story of God capturing the heart of His beloved.  And she was beautiful. And yet another face, another story: “I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for years now.  I feel just like the things that you wrote.  Especially the part about being confined…and I want so desperately to know God’s freedom.” Another intimate invitation sent directly to yet another world-worn lover from her eager, expectant Groom.  And she was beautiful. Each sweet face, radiant with the permeating revelation of God’s lavish love for her. It is not a night that I will soon forget.  I hope that my heart holds on to it forever.  I hope that my own shame will be undeniably altered, as I let His love-speak wash over me.  I hope that as a collective tribe of the broken and yet betrothed, we will surrender to God’s passionate pursuit…and begin to let our distorted identity be consumed by a definitive innocence and purity that comes straight from the heart of a love-sick God. …because we are all His Bride…His Beloved. And we are beautiful.

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Painting at The Gathering

Sunday my husband and I were honored to serve the fantastic people of The Gathering: he  let God speak through his rhythms on the drum kit, I let God speak through my paint and brushes on canvas.  I can’t tell you how amazing it is to bring our different forms worship to the Lord together.  It re-confirms what we were truly created to do, and reminds us how much God wants us to partner with him in it. Th only directive I was given for the painting was that the message would be centered around things that crowd into our lives and distract us from our main focus: God. As the band practiced for worship that morning, I wrote out a list of things that can be the worst culprits.  As I completed the list, I realized how upside-down our thinking is…we let our lives get consumed by obligations, chaos and insanity…when really, if our heart’s focus was simply on God, He would bring peace into our chaos, and become our source of sanity. I felt the edges of vision for the painting starting to materialize: two hearts in juxtaposition…one filled with the list of words I’d written out…but there was one missing element: what to put inside the other heart.  I talked it over with the hubs, and we batted a few things around.  But as I leaned in and positioned my heart to really “listen”, I felt a strength and clarity begin to take shape.  The words that kept rattling through my soul?  ONLY YOU. It was only the second time I’d painted during the sermon and not during worship, but there was such a sweet peace about this being the visual representation of the word being given.  I finished the first heart, flipped the canvas and began to paint the second heart…only to hear the pastor emphatically say, “The thing we should be saying to God is: ‘ONLY YOU, God…ONLY YOU!’”  There it was.  The kind of moment that only the Holy Spirit can orchestrate.  In sports, the refer to it as the “sweet spot”…in photography, it’s “the money shot”.  In this situation, it was the undeniable realization that God truly is the source of all inspiration and creativity. Not to overstate the obvious, but I entitled the piece, “Only You”.  I’m posting the painting in both positions, so that you can read the words of distraction that crowd God out of our hearts.

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Barnes & Kennedy Commissions | “For the Love of…”

I have some customers who have become more like friends.  They’ve followed my creative journey, showed up at my art shows, and even invited me to paint as their group served at the Mooresville Soup Kitchen. Yesterday, they declared their undying love for each other and made life-changing promises as they exchanged rings before God, family & friends.  I couldn’t be happier!  From what I saw in their togetherness as a dating couple, I am convinced that God has brought these two together! Funny thing, both of them contacted me privately asking if they could commission a painting for the other…as their wedding gifts to each other.  At first I felt awkward, like I should say something…but quickly my initial feelings took a back seat to the overwhelming sense that this was just a fun, quirky way to confirm that these two were DEFINITELY meant for each other! I took some time to listen.  I listened to them.  I listened to God.  I listened to scripture and the Creative Spirit of God inside of me, and I came up two painting ideas that I though expressed their heart for each other, and God’s heart for them…and in a creative way, my heart for their marriage. As a part of the celebration, I thought I’d share the paintings with you!  Enjoy! (just click on the image for a larger view, so that you can read the text/sentiments involved):   HAPPY MARRIAGE DAY, Justin & Rachael Barnes! ©2012 Melody Hogan.  All rights reserved.

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The Creative Booty Call

Chances are, at some point in your creative career, you’ve fallen prey to the Creative Booty Call…maybe without even realizing it. To define Creative Booty Call we’ll use the same characteristics as those used in the cultural reference: the phone rings late at night or there’s a 3 a.m. knock on your door the person on the other end is looking for services they might otherwise pay for, but in this instance they are wanting it for free being with them always leaves you feeling empty and used you spend days kicking yourself for letting it happen YET AGAIN, and swear that next time, you’ll be smarter they’ve never publicly acknowledged your relationship, except maybe casual friendship…and they make a point to not socialize with you outside of this “arrangement” and when they DO choose to enter into a serious relationship, it’s always with someone else I’ve fallen prey to this scenario more times than I’d like to admit in my creative career. Out of nowhere, I’ll get a frantic phone call or text…sometimes it’ll even be from people on my client list. They’re in desperate need of a last-minute design service from me.  The excuses for not planning ahead or not contacting me sooner are always in bountiful supply, as an attempt to somehow soften the blow of what they’re really getting ready to ask me for…but buried beneath that pile heap is still the same audacious request: drop everything, forget your life or your obligations or other clients, and give them what they need…while they wait impatiently for it. So you cancel the appointments that have been on your schedule for weeks, you put off the current project you’ve been working on that is paying full price, you sacrifice time with your family, physical resources (like sleep…and food…and hygiene..and your last bit of sanity) to run to the aid of your comrade who is in critical need. In the end, you’ve given them the best that you have to give, for nothing in return. Nothing beyond a rushed “attaboy”…not a referral, not a mention on Twitter or Facebook…and certainly not a penny of actual generated income. For many, it is even more dastardly than that:  You’re called or emailed because of your creative expertise in a particular area. You give the advice willingly, even joyfully, because it’s your passion…and you LOVE to talk about your passion. Suuuure you could be a professional consultant, making thousands of dollars per project for all of the wisdom and insight you have to give…but of course, they’re simply looking for a little free advice.  You hang up the phone with a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach…and emptiness that’s hard to describe…I don’t know, kinda like you’ve been used.  Oh, and by the way…they’ll never publicly acknowledge the great ideas you provided for them.  And the kicker is, when they DO choose to invest in a professional relationship regarding your topic of discussion, it’ll undoubtably be with someone else. Does any of this sound familiar?  Sadly, I knew it would.  But the reality regarding Booty Calls, which ever kind they might be, is that we’re the ones that set the parameters…and if I might be so bold as to say it this way:  If you’re tired of being a Creative Booty Call…the solution starts with YOU! Steps to help you avoid the Creative Booty Call: Business hours are business hours.  After hours are, well…after.  One of the biggest challenges of creative work, especially freelance, is the setting of boundaries between your business and personal life.  But if you don’t set some working parameters, then you will always be working…that’s just how creative careers are.  All work and no play makes Jack a cranky, burned out, uninspired so-in-so that no one wants to be around.  So do yourself a favor:  clock in and clock out. Healthy professional relationships are beneficial to both parties.  If you feel tapped after every meeting you have with a client or you feel empty and used each time you deliver advice to an associate, it may be time to have the D.T.R. talk over coffee.  Defining the relationship can go a long way to increase your productivity and your sense of satisfaction on the job. Give yourself permission to set and communicate strong boundaries. While it may feel like your being fussy or a tad bit diva, strong boundaries will simply enable you to enjoy the different parts of your life in deeper richer ways without the build-up of resentment or the cause for conflict with opposing parties.  Think about what you want and need from the relationship, and communicate that clearly to your contact.  If met with resistance,  let it be a clear indication of the other person’s lack of value or honor for your expertise or services.  While we all want to “give back” and help out where we can, even Scripture says that a workman is worthy of his wages.  In the least, consider working out some kind of barter that wouldn’t be such a financial drain on them, but that would also provide some kind of positive benefit for you as well. You don’t have to answer the door.  You’ve seen it all before on some agonizingly anemic chick flick, where in the middle of the night there’s a knock on the door…and as the actress stumbles and bumbles her way through her dark apartment, you almost feel like shouting, “Don’t be stupid!  Girl, don’t you EVEN answer that door!”…but she always does.  And the guy on the other side of that door knows that she always will.  She is the one that allows it to be a Booty Call in the first place.  If she had only stood up to him and said, “no” or never opened the door, she would be quickly be removed from the BC list. Don’t be afraid to lose out.  I think many of us mean well.  We think: maybe it’ll lead to more business…maybe it’ll garner some kind of recognition…maybe I’ll feel like I’ve contributed something or shared my knowledge.  But the stinging truth is: very rarely does a Booty Call become a long-term relationship. There are the BC’s, and then there are the one’s you take home to meet your mama.  Don’t be afraid to lose out on a few casual relationships in order to save your best for Mr. Right. It’ll be worth a little silence on the phone or a few less email requests in the inbox to be able to focus your best efforts on your best clients.  You know that the best professional relationships are worth the wait.  And they’ll treat you with integrity, respect and honor. Be ready to move on.  This is where it takes some emotional fortitude.  It’s one step in the right direction to have an awareness that things just aren’t right…that you aren’t happy with the current arrangement…and that there’s nothing about this that’s healthy.  But it’s another step…and a huge on at that…to actually muster up the guts to do something about it.  It takes a lot of guts to NOT open the door…or NOT answer the frantic voicemail…or NOT respond to the do-or-die email.  But it’s the only way to begin to set the healthy boundaries you need to sustain and grow a thriving creative career.  Trust yourself enough to know what is right for you and for your well-being. Some things to consider: It might be time to do an assessment on the services you have to offer.  Do you have valuable advice to offer people?  Do you give it the value it deserves?  Do you have healthy boundaries in place that allow you to enjoy your life and your career, separately? If you find yourself offering advice regularly, it might be time to organize your experience and knowledge into a product or program that can be marketed to people in need of your expertise.  Considering other options to the “freebie” could open new professional opportunities for you that you never knew were there before.  Consultancy and other avenues may offer you that same sense of satisfaction you were finding in giving away “free advice”…but with personal ad financial rewards for you, as well.  Maybe it’s time to be paid for what you know, and not just for what you do. You may need to wrestle down that pesky need to be liked in order to truly free yourself from the lure of the Creative Booty Call.  We all love to be loved.  But it’s not really love when it comes at our expense.  The more emotionally healthy you get, the more freedom you will experience creatively…and the stronger your creative career will be.  Some ways to re-establish a healthy sense of yourself: make a list of all of the things that are special and unique about your creativity or your services.  Not only will this provide you with some killer copy to use in your marketing pieces, but it will help you define who you are and what you want out of your career and professional relationships. request client testimonials…you’ll discover some of your biggest fans, and be reminded of the great ideas you had and the fantastic work you did…and don’t forget:  they were happy to pay full price for it! post the testimonials around your office for added encouragement on those days when it’s hard to say “no” to the freebie fix. consider writing a “manifesto” for your creative enterprise that clearly states what you value most, how you want to represent those values, and who you want to be in the process. Never forget:  you are an active participant in defining your creative relationships. Choose the kind of relationships that build you up, support you, and inspire you to be your creative best.  Don’t settle for the Booty Call.  Have the courage to wait for Mr. Right. Originally featured on http://www.SacredMuse.us our website supporting creative community.  (If you would like to feature this post on your website, please ask permission and offer the proper credits.

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Robles Commission

This is a series of pieces I painted for my friends Rich & Jenny Robles.  Each canvas represents a principle they value and hope to foster in their family. ©2012 Melody Hogan.  All rights reserved.

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Rubbo Commission | “Back To Back”

Commissioned painting for my dear friend Karen Rubbo. Kudos to Michael Rubbo for the great birthday gift idea for his bride. They gave me free reign, and this is what God wanted to speak over her…how cool is that?!

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Couch Commission | “On The Heights”

A friend of mine, Jamie Couch, commissioned me to do a painting for a friend of his who’s husband died recently in a hunting accident. He leaves behind a lovely wife, two strapping young boys and a baby on the way. So honored to be asked to paint a memorial piece for them…humbled really.

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Clark Rogers Benefit | “Hope” & “Love”

  These paintings were done in honor of our great friend and best man, Clark Rogers, during a benefit concert held on his behalf. The “Hope” painting was auctioned off…and in an act of selfless generosity, the winning bidder donated his bid, letting the next bidder in line take home the painting, so the piece brought in DOUBLE the value! The “Love” painting was given as a gift to Clark’s bride of 3 yrs., Lisa, in memory of the extraordinary event. Churches from all over the community came out to show their love & support,, with over 1,000 people giving testimony of Clark’s influence on their lives. Over $25,000 was raised that night to help offset the huge medical debt they’d incurred in battling Clark’s rare form of cancer. It was a beautiful reminder of what the body of Christ should look and operate like in this world. The night’s festivities were simulcasted into his hospital room in Mexico, where he and his family were able to witness the countless lives that he’d touched in attendance. Three days later, Clark received his ultimate healing, and went home to be with Jesus. Our faith and lives were forever changed because of this ardent worshiper of God.

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Chips and Cheese

My husband and I snuggled in the other night to watch a movie. We had our feet propped up, our warm blankets draped cozily across us, and our standard fare of tortilla chips, pub cheese, sodas, and the remote lined up just within arms reach. Sheer perfection. The only thing that came close to dulling the brilliance of the evening was an “issue” I had with the chips. You see, I’m a pretty simple, laid back kind of gal. I’m not picky or fussy or high maintenance when it comes to much of anything, especially chips. But one thing is certain, if I’m having dip with my chips, then I at least expect the chip to fulfill its primary function. Kind of like a field goal kicker in football…but don’t get me started on that! It’s just that if you’re going to be known as a functional part of something (i.e. “chips and dip”), then is it too much to ask that said chip would actually fulfill that function? Call me crazy. Anyway…I digress. My ramping frustration came from the fact that every time I reached in to grab a chip and attempted to scoop up some dip, inevitably the chip would break. One would crack here. One would crack there. One that looked absolutely perfect in the bowl completely disintegrated mid-scoop. It was the weirdest thing! But a funny turn of events happened as we made our way towards the bottom of the chip bowl. The chips that were not whole…the ones that were already broken and fragmented…when bunched together, were able to scoop up far more pub cheese than any of their “perfectly whole” counterparts. Finally, I was able to scoop and munch to my heart’s delight. I was one happy camper. Then the thought crossed my mind:  We’re all just like that big bowl of chips! There are chips that look fantastically put together – whole, complete, without weakness or flaw. All indications are that they are independently capable and competent. And yet, all too often, they fall apart under pressure…finding that their unexposed areas of weakness have done them in. Then there are the chips that have been minimized by life’s trials and hardships – nicked and broken and fragile at best – they find themselves unwittingly at the bottom of the bowl. But when joined with others like them, they become a strong, productive, unified force – able to accomplish far more than any of them could achieve on their own. Clearly by chips, I mean people. Truth is, we were created to be in community. We were never intended to be alone. The world is a harsh and oftentimes brutal place. It doesn’t seek forgiveness, and it deals out judgment with a heavy hand. It can very quickly become a cold and empty place should we try to go it alone. But if we allow ourselves to be known for who we truly are – transparent about our broken and fragile state – and if we learn to trust people with the sensitive and sometimes painful things of our authentic selves, then we open the door to the influence of their strength and courage in our own lives. Designed to be in community. Designed for strength that can only be unleashed when we embrace our own weakness. Designed to do great things for the world, but never completely independent of the world. It’s comforting to know we’re not alone. It’s an even greater comfort to know we’re not the only broken chip in the bowl. And it’s both comforting and humbling to realize that we truly do need each other – that we’re better together. I don’t know about you…but I’ve got a lot more “cheese to scoop” in my life. I want so badly to make a difference and have an impact on this world. Big deal if I find myself at the bottom of the bowl. The way I see it: I’m in excellent company.

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top view photo of sliced pizza

Pizza – With Mercy on the Side

I know we’ve all been there at one time in life or another – where the very thing you need to happen just isn’t coming soon enough and your heart is waging the war between what is on it’s way and what reality has to offer right now. Truly, I think this is one of our most significant life moments. This is where you show what you’re really made of. This is The Big Test. This is the point where you make an inward decision to muster up every ounce of courage inside of you and rally the troops to victory, or raise the white flag of surrender and concede in absolute and utter defeat…folding to the pressure of not yet realizing what is yet to come. It happens to all of us in a myriad of different ways, but this particular test on this particular day for my husband and me was a simple financial one. It went something like this: paycheck equals “X” amount of dollars…bills equal “X” amount of dollars…and Column A minus Column B left us nothing but the anxiety of holding our breath until the next payday. Sound familiar? Our hearts were weary from having been in this position one too many times before, and quite frankly our spirits were crushed and we were just downright fed up. So my husband came up with the greatest idea: let’s comb the entire house for all of the loose change we could find, and go buy one of those cheapy take-out pizzas. Simple enough in strategy, but its effect on our mindset was nothing but profound. We felt like college kids all over again. We started shouting through the house as we discovered unexpected treasure. We even turned it into a competition to see who could scavenge for the most money. By the end of our adventure, we’d scrounged up just enough to make our typical purchase of a pepperoni pizza, breadsticks, and buffalo ranch dipping sauce (for me…’cuz I’m the princess). We loaded up into the car, black labs and all, and laughed the entire way to the pizza shop. So, with the confidence of a “hunter” (insert Neanderthal man noises here) my husband stepped up to the counter, emptied his pockets of every silver coin he had on him, and boldy stated, “I’ve got $6.35 to work with, what’ll that buy us?” Having already keyed in our “usual” purchase, the manager made another entry that brought the price down lower than “usual”. And he gave us TWO marinara sauces…and TWO buffalo ranch sauces…and the freshest pizza and breadsticks he had on hand. You see, he wasn’t responding to the sale, he was responding to the need. In one tiny transaction that would barely make a dent in his sales totals for the day, he made an impact on our hearts that turned a miserable situation into something not only bearable but delightful. With a few strokes of the register keys, he made us feel human again. And probably not even having a full grasp of his action’s impact on us, he restored our joy and completely transformed how we felt about our situation. In monetary terms, it cost him very little…but the emotional pay off was priceless. He saw an opportunity to “Pay it Forward”…and in a very tangible way, he made it happen. He saw through the transaction and responded to the need.  Truth be told, I think I saw my husband skip to the car to deliver the good news. The question is this: Are you doing life one transaction at a time…focused on the payout at the end of all your interactions and hard work? Or are you moving beyond the ins and outs of everyday negotiations and responding to people’s real needs? (What’s funny is that in the end, it seems to be the simplest things that have the biggest impact.) Oh, and to answer my husband’s question, I’ll give you an answer born out of actual life experience: six dollars and thirty-five cents buys a lifetime of loyalty and repeat business…when you move with compassion and throw in a little mercy on the side!

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Princess Warrior

I am a Princess Warrior…with face set like flint and heart strapped into place, I answer the call into battle. My hands do not tremble, my knees do not quiver, my heart does not faint. White-hot Strength runs through my veins, once cold with crippling fear. I am a Princess Warrior…efficient and agile, rushing to the defense of those I love most. Worthy of the fight, the memory of their faces fuels my passionate pursuit of the one that devises their destruction. Selfish gain is sacrificed on the altar of committed persistence. I will not waver; I will not tire; I will not falter; He will not fail. I am a Princess Warrior…armed to the teeth with everything I need to defeat the Enemy – the coward that skulks and schemes in the cover of night: an oozie strapped to my thigh, a dagger tucked into the shaft of my boot, and night vision goggles holstered to my shoulder – ready to cut through the toughest defenses and pierce through the darkest deception. I am a Princess Warrior…trained through fiery trials, practiced in pain, refined by my own imperfections, and empowered with liberating Truth. I pledge my undying allegiance to this Movement of Mercy, this Resistance against Rebellion…this Fight for Freedom. I serve the King, and Him alone. I answer to His voice. I heed His call. I carry out His commands. I am a Princess Warrior…stealth and covert, I move effortlessly through the masses. My eyes locked on the target, my Focus fixed on the Father…my Senses are sharp and my hand rests ready on my Sword. I rely on the periphery of my Vision for laser-like Discernment and Wisdom beyond my years. I am a Princess Warrior…compelled by the cries of those in distress and determined to unleash deliberate Destruction on the Deceiver…to raise up that which is laid to ruins…to bring Comfort as salve to the wounded heart and Hope to the weary soul. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The hour is late. The times are tragic. The casualties hitting far too close to home. I am a Princess Warrior…raising my sword in undaunted Defiance…wielding my Weapon with God-given Grace. My legs stand firm as a tower. My eyes are a beacon of light. I am fluid and elegant. I am stable and strong. I am valiant…and victorious…and vehemently His. I am a Princess Warrior…commissioned to captivate, anointed to annihilate, and licensed to liberate. This is a frontal assault on the one who seduces the souls of the saints. This is Affirmative Action. This is Divine Intervention. This is Destiny’s Child. No apologies. No excuses. No recall. No regrets. I am a Princess Warrior…

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From Absurd to Absolutely

As an act of utter defiance against my impending 40th birthday, my husband and I decided to train for a triathlon. Actually, decided isn’t quite the right word to use…more accurately, I was coerced. You see, it’s a crazy enough notion in its own right – this “exert-yourself-til-you-just-wanna-die-while-someone-actually-times-you” kind of thing…but for those who really knew me, it was considered the most ludicrous thing they’d ever heard. I was no longer a spry I’ve-got-energy-to-burn 20-something. True, I was a sports fan, but not actively involved in my own game since my college days…and to be quite honest, my shadow hadn’t crossed the threshold of a fitness center in over five years. And that, my friends, was the little bit of trivia that got me into this mess in the first place. During our courtship three years ago, I made the silly mistake of whining about my lack of fitness-related activity…and the next thing you know, I’m being challenged to enter a triathlon. The only logical defense I have against such a hair-brained idea: blinding love. Enough said. To add a little insight into the male perspective on things, HE thought it was the smartest thing we could do to test out this budding relationship of ours. In mustering up the inner courage to face a challenge much bigger than ourselves, we’d be able to really get to know each other from the inside out. You’d be amazed at how clearly you begin to see yourself when all of the personal junk comes floating to the surface…all of the fear…all of the insecurity…all of the unbelief. Each time one of us hit one of those walls, it gave us insight into each other’s character and exposed what we were truly made of. I have to admit (even in writing) that he was right. It was a brilliant plan. So we spent 3 months training together – narrowly escaping death-by-drowning as I attempted to swim the full length of the pool for the first time in over 2 decades; taking a nasty spill on my bike and being assisted by every emergency response team on the entire Peninsula; fearing that I’d lost a lung somewhere in junior high PE, which would validate the panic I felt as I gasped for air each time we tried to complete a run. Between you and me, it was stinkin’ hard work – but something in it was so gratifying. We were toughing it out. We were fighting through. We were not going to be defeated. WAe were not giving up. And we were GOING to cross the finish line…together. Out of all the grueling adversity, determination was born, and a sense of ability rose up from the insecurity, and fear collapsed under the weight of child-like anticipation as race day approached. It was one of those “life moments” where we knew we’d done the hard work…and the impossible seemed well within our grasp. So on race day – at the end of swimming through post-hurricane ocean swells, and biking against shoreline wind gusts that made us feel like we were riding backward, and after losing my remaining lung on the last leg of the run – I was overcome with emotion as I saw the orange cones taper down toward the finish line.  We’d done it. Unlike dozens of people around us, we finished the race. Mind you, we didn’t shatter any long-standing records. In fact, a 70-year-old man passed me during the bike ride and shouted back at me, Don’t give up! Great. So we finished humbly, you might say…but we finished. All of that fear, insecurity and unbelief no longer had a hold on us. And best of all: we’d finished together. It was one of the most powerful feelings I’d ever experienced. (By the way, you know that dorky fist-in-the-air thing runners always do as they cross the finish line? You HAVE to do it. It just comes up out of you…with a whoop and a holler, I might add.) Then to make a memorable moment simply unforgettable as we crossed the finish line Mr. Wonderful got down on one knee and proposed in front of the entire race crowd! The moral of the story is simply this: You put in the hard work, and even the craziest, most impossible ideas on earth can result in life-changing payoffs in the end.

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Have Faith

When the hubs handed me these flowers today he said, “These have a little summer in them, but they’re also a reminder that change is on its way…”I needed that – after a year, I mean a WEEK of virtual 4th grade – technology failures, tween meltdowns, screen fatigue, off the hook anxiety, and everyone reacting to everyone else’s reactions – by Friday I was DONE. I was running away to Australia like that little boy in the horrible, no good, very bad day book. But Australia has its own set of problems and getting there, its own set of challenges. Truth is, I don’t think any of us actually longs for a complete absence of challenge in our lives. Most of us have valiantly made it through some pretty intense seasons. We’ve dragged ourselves over some pretty tall hurdles. We’ve stood back up after some pretty ugly beat downs. We’ve rallied our hearts to give it one more shot after some pretty heartbreaking betrayals. But what I think we truly long for in our moments of frailty and not-having-it-all-togetherness is the assurance that God is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do – that He is capable and strong and not thrown by this mess at all. We need to have faith. Faith that this will not be our undoing. Faith that He is bigger than our fear. Faith that no matter how much our flesh falters and fails and freaks out, we are still His. Faith that endures the searing heat of late summer, knowing that the cooling and gloriousness of fall is close behind. Faith that change is on its way. It’s the very essence of God’s creator DNA – new beginnings, redeemed situations, transformed hearts, altered trajectories. It’s stunning really – the One who has not even a shadow of turning within Himself has the power to change everything around Him. Even this crummy week. So take heart my friend – let it not be troubled. This too shall pass – you are not stuck or overlooked or forgotten. John 16:33 says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This week, may you find the assurance your heart longs for…and in finding Him, the perfect peace that only He brings.

Grace for the Pivot

Today feels like I’m squeezing lemons to make lemonade…only to realize I’ve nicked up my hands while slicing the lemons. You know the tiny little cuts you don’t even realize are there, until the acidic juice hits and makes you want booboo kisses from your mama. Today I want booboo kisses from my mama. I’m doing the best I can – we’re all doing the best we can, really – making lemonade out of lemons. We’re trying to stay positive, not let the fear take hold – keeping our eyes focused on Jesus and our hearts connected to those we love. But this Covid-19 thing is real in ways we haven’t dealt with reality in quite some time. And by some time I mean ever. So today it stings…in a variety of places. It’s Day 2 of distance learning for my daughter, and the entire day has been one massive meltdown. It’s Week 2 of off-site officing for me, and even though we’re trying to use technology to stay connected I’m finding it difficult to juggle the new reality. It’s a Season of Unknowns for my husband as the majority of his income has gone the way of mandated quarantines – with closed restaurants and church gatherings, canceled theater performances and social distancing. But we press on, trying to make something palatable, refreshing even, out of the sour fruit. I’m attempting to work each day – that is, while I’m not homeschooling my 3rd grader in core math that I don’t even understand, prepping the next meal for the restless natives or trying to keep my house from being swallowed up by the Piles Of Stuff monster. I thought being a mom who was also working outside the home was tough, but it doesn’t even come close to trying to work while we’re ALL AT home together. The disruptions are agitating, to say the least, not to mention the emotional tug of war between work responsibilities and wanting to engage with my family. How do I do it all well? What I’d really love is the freedom to play – to be carefree and whimsical and imaginative, untethered from responsibilities or harsh realities – to do thoughtful things for my neighbors, to have a broader view of the kingdom opportunities this pandemic offers, to make these moments matter. But today I find my heart still in survival-mode lockdown – trying to adjust to the new normal, trying to find different rhythms, trying to make sense out of what isn’t.Maybe that lemonade is a bit too tart for your liking – just trying to keep myself honest here. Being a fixer by nature I can move too quickly to sweeten things up – and quick fixes are not what I’m looking for in this season. Otherwise, I’d be glued to social media or binging on some mind-numbing streaming service series or just staying under the covers for the rest of the day. No, what I’m in search of is the grace to pivot. See, I know God works in mysterious ways. I know that God sees the bigger picture. I know that He works all things for my good. I know an awful lot of amazing things about God in my head…and even in my heart. But all too often I’ve used them to placate, disconnect, and numb out from the stinging realities of life gone sideways. What I’m starting to realize is that when gospel knowledge becomes living breathing transformational salve for my soul – it’s the power of grace in action. Grace tempers my snarky impulses to bite back. Grace soothes the prickly spines of fear and anxiety lodged in my heart. Grace reminds me that I am not stuck and this too shall pass. Grace lets me be myself, not some alter-ego superhuman mutant version of me – I can feel everything and nothing at all and think way too much about some things and forget all about others and admit that I’m far less competent than I’d like you to think I am – and yet Grace says that’s all okay…and God can still work with that and through that and in spite of that. Grace doesn’t pretend that life isn’t tart – that it doesn’t sting on abraded hearts – instead it brings perfect balance to the sour and the sweet. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10 So I’m asking – no, I’m pleading with God – to give me grace for this mandated season of pivot. Grace for the painful present and the frightful future and all the glorious God-filled moments in-between. I pray that His grace will be like a tall, refreshing glass of cool lemonade on a swelteringly hot summer’s day. And I pray the same for you, my friend. May you draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, that you may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (paraphrased) – Hebrews 4:16 ESV What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ – Zechariah 4:7 NAS

The Rising Tide

The news is bad. Each day it seems worse…and more complex…and more uncertain. Daily I have to fight my addiction to MORE information. Higher death tolls, faster spread rate, lack of protective equipment…the list goes on and on. I hear the words that we’re doing good, but nothing I read sounds very good, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel good at all. Each grim reality crashes like a wave onto the shore of our hearts. The media is selling facts over fear and science instead of supposition. But “Knowledge is Power” is just a lie – you can know everything there is to know about a thing, but it doesn’t mean you can keep it from happening. You can do your part to help “flatten the curve,” but there’s no guarantee you’ll escape unscathed. Heartbreaking tales of love and loss are passed around like old war stories – only difference is they’re happening in our lifetime – to people we know. And fear creeps up little by little like the evening tide. Predictions have been wrong. Advice waffles between “dos” and “don’ts”. There’ve been a million “I said that yesterday but don’t mean it today.” Experts can’t seem to agree and models can’t possibly encompass the endless variables of every unique situation. But my heart wants answers. I don’t want shifty sand – I want rock-solid incontrovertible fact. THEN I can rest. THEN I can move forward with a plan. I don’t like NOT knowing – it leaves me feeling powerless. I’m a DOER, and there’s always room for more to be done. But we’re told to wait, do less, shelter in place…and I feel itchy in my soul. (I can feel my heart begin to race as that confession spills onto my keyboard.) As an artist, God has granted me the gift of feeling things deeply…but that doesn’t make those feelings altogether accurate. So, oddly enough, I’ve had to quarantine myself from the quarantine news. I can only trust my fragile state with a few sound bites at a time. And as I’ve detoxed, a remarkable phenomenon has occurred. The tides have turned. Now I no longer feel the waves of fear creeping higher, but God’s MERCY! I can busy myself with building whatever sandcastle of delusion I want, stack one anxiety on top of the other like a stone altar of stress, drag a big stick through the wet sand to spell out the words H-E-L-P M-E, or build a blazing hot fire on the shoreline in hopes that a far-away vessel might see my distress signal and rescue me. I can do all of that and more. But eventually and inevitably the waves of God’s mercy return and sweep it all away – every care, every neurotic obsession, every restless wandering of my heart – dragged deep into the sea…because the sea is BIG ENOUGH to hold it all. Every last bit of it. Truth is, every day can start fresh for us – wave-washed smooth sand, new shells scattered about like stars to discover, tiny claw prints from sandpipers and seagulls scurrying about, and the smell of new beginnings in the salty air. Lamentations 3:23-24 says it like this: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I will hope in him.” So let the waves of mercy wash over you, my friend. Again and again and again. For GREAT is His faithfulness. His mercies NEVER come to an end.

“With You in Mind”

These days of fear and unrest can be difficult to navigate…but art and music can be salve to the aching soul. This painting was done during a time of worship and devotion on Good Friday as we considered the sacrifice of Jesus and joined in His sufferings.

The Dust & The Dirt

In my family, we didn’t do much in the way of observing Lent. It was a bit too liturgical for the church I grew up in, and as kids, our focus was solely on frilly dresses and white patent leather shoes, and OF COURSE, Easter baskets and bunnies and the goodies that would leave me on a perpetual sugar high for a month. Needless to say, Ash Wednesday definitely didn’t show up on our calendar, either. And to this day, I’ve never actually participated in a public Ash Wednesday service. But I have to admit, my heart has been so drawn to the symbolic themes it embodies – the solemn recognition of our full-circle connection to the dust (Gen. 3:19, “for you are dust and to dust you shall return”) and the corporate repentance for our sins. Why not observe a sacred assembly of hearts where we collectively come clean? Joel 2:12-13 reminds us: “Yet even now,” declares the Lord,    “return to me with all your heart,with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;and rend your hearts and not your garments.”Return to the Lord your God,    for he is gracious and merciful,slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. As an adult, I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the contemplative nature of Lent – the idea of coming to terms with the human condition and acknowledging my own culpability in it – owning up to and mourning the need for a Savior before celebrating His resurrection with great joy. It gives Easter morning context and gravity. It reminds us of what we’ve been saved from – what our condition would be without the sacrifice. It invites us a bit closer to death so that we can celebrate life. Oddly enough, my soul is okay with that – digging in the dirt, getting my hands dirty in the mess of me. Today I will sit in the dust – with fasting and weeping and mourning. I will rend my heart and set my face on the Lord my God who saved me from my wretched state. I will return to the Lord with all my heart and bask in His grace and mercy, ever thankful that He loves us lavishly in spite of it all. Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust? As the season of Lent arrives, what blessing do you need to claim from the ashes? BLESSING THE DUST All those daysyou felt like dust,like dirt,as if all you had to dowas turn your facetoward the windand be scatteredto the four cornersor swept awayby the smallest breathas insubstantial—did you not knowwhat the Holy Onecan do with dust?This is the daywe freely saywe are scorched.This is the hourwe are markedby what has made itthrough the burning.This is the momentwe ask for the blessingthat lives withinthe ancient ashes,that makes its homeinside the soil ofthis sacred earth.So let us be markednot for sorrow.And let us be markednot for shame.Let us be markednot for false humilityor for thinkingwe are lessthan we arebut for claimingwhat God can dowithin the dust,within the dirt,within the stuffof which the worldis madeand the stars that blazein our bonesand the galaxies that spiralinside the smudgewe bear. From Jan Richardson’s “Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons”

Deep

I’d been through the darkest years of my life and had somehow survived thanks to the kindness of close friends and church family. But it was such an anomaly – an uncharacteristic blip on the screen – that it was easy to just tie a millstone around it all and send it straight to the bottom of the sea. Out of sight, out of mind. But then came the dream: all around me was inky blackness and I was keenly aware that I was deep down in the ocean where even light gave up the fight. Overhead a warm glow appeared – like a Touched By An Angel moment – illuminating a rusty, carbuncled door of a sunken ship. I tried and tried to turn the huge round hatch handle, but it wouldn’t budge. I used my feet and legs to try and force the door open, to no avail. And as I labored, I felt the Lord lean in and gently say, You buried it good and deep, didn’t ya? And just like the crew discovering ruins from the Titanic, with one simple question He uncovered the wreckage of my not-so-perfect life, and with it, he raised the disappointment and fear and shame from the dark depths and brought them up into the light. You see, I may have hidden it from people around me, but I hadn’t hidden it from Him – He knew right where it was all along. Truth be told, there is no depth so deep that His love can’t reach it. No matter the inky blackness. No matter the years that have rolled past. No matter the disappointment and fear and shame. No matter how truly dead a thing might be. Because God has a way of resurrecting dead things. 1 You have searched me, Lord,    and you know me.2 You know when I sit and when I rise;    you perceive my thoughts from afar.3 You discern my going out and my lying down;    you are familiar with all my ways.4 Before a word is on my tongue    you, Lord, know it completely.5 You hem me in behind and before,    and you lay your hand upon me.6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,    too lofty for me to attain.7 Where can I go from your Spirit?    Where can I flee from your presence?8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,    if I settle on the far side of the sea,10 even there your hand will guide me,    your right hand will hold me fast.11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me    and the light become night around me,”12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;    the night will shine like the day,    for darkness is as light to you. – Psalm 139

Listen

Listen…to the sound of the silence around you, the beating of the heart within you. Listen to the feelings coursing through your veins that have never been given the power of voice. Listen to the memories of old – moaning in deep, hollow tones on cold, dark days. Listen to the ache of long-held regret and the craving for long-overdue acquittal. Listen to the distant laughter when hearts were carefree and weightless as dandelion seeds. Listen to the love that reaches out – arms open wide – to embrace the world, again and again. Listen to the babbling brook of joy dancing over the jagged rocks in your soul. Listen to the courage pounding out rhythms of hope and love and living. Listen to the beauty wafting through your heart like a sweet, complicated symphony. Listen to the song of you…and then sing it. Loudly.

Life Over Death

It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve painted during a worship service, let alone painted as my husband played drums on the worship team. We love it when we get to use our gifts in tandem worship. We’re just better when we’re together. I’d decided during the week to give myself much grace in the process of listening for God’s voice and discerning what He’d like me to paint. Earlier on, it freaked me out when He remained silent, but I guess through the years I’ve learned to trust this dance of ours…having watched as He made His way around the dance floor…moving people into places, lining up stories and hearts, creating moments in time that don’t exist outside of Him. It is nothing short of breathtaking. So I guess I should’ve known the extraordinary was beginning to stir as I prepared for the Sunday service. Not a single word from Him. Not a peep. Not a momentary perception of a possible leaning in some direction. But my heart was at peace in the silence and I was still able to call up that mental checklist, gather up my supplies with surprising ease and place them by the door in readied anticipation. And my heart continued to wait. Maybe in the shower the next morning, as I washed my hair…maybe then I’d sense that undeniable knowing. Nope. Just peace…peace and quiet. But I was strangely okay with that. I knew that He knew what He was doing. It wasn’t until we were about halfway through our early morning trek to the next city down the highway that the strangest thought hit my head and heart: Valley of Dry Bones. I couldn’t shake it: Valley of Dry Bones. Well, alrighty then…I had no idea which direction to take or how a painting of a skeleton would be edifying in a worship environment – ESPECIALLY ON MOTHER’S DAY, but if I’ve learned anything, it seems that the crazier the idea, the more Him it usually is. So I opened up the passage in Ezekiel and read this: “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” – Ezekiel 37:1-14 I don’t remember any of the music that the worship team played, but my heart was stirred…that usually happens when I step into the zone. But I do remember painting a skeleton reclining in the dirt, but it wasn’t scary or heavy with death. It felt hauntingly lovely. Vines sprung up from the dry earth beneath, covering it in green leaves and flowers…symbols of life and beauty. Wind from above swirled about, like the very breath of God blew through those bones…driving out the raven of death that would pick away every last hope of life. And just like that, it was over. We only sang 3 songs…but I was told that I could paint throughout the entire service if needed. But surprisingly enough, when the 3 songs were done, so was I. As I sat down for the service, I wondered “What was THAT all about?!” Enter Debbie. Church Administrator and announcement sharer extraordinaire. But she interrupted herself mid-delivery to say, “I just can’t stop looking at that painting!” After service, a soft-spoken man approached me as I was cleaning up my supplies to say, “You have NO IDEA how this painting speaks to what many in our church are going through right now.” Confirmation. It wasn’t such a crazy painting after all. (Skeletons in a church service must be more okay that I would’ve imagined.) Debbie made her way through the crowd to ask if she could take a picture of the painting with her cell phone so that she could have it to look at later on. She blended back into the lingering group of people and re-emerged with her husband…and wanted to know a bit more about the painting. How did I paint like this? What did it mean? So I shared with them about the Valley of Dry Bones and the symbolism of each element. She stood quiet for a moment and broke her silence with, “You don’t know anything about my story, do you?” I answered that I knew nothing, and she proceeded to share. Seems two years ago, Debbie’s oldest son went in for a standard checkup, and it was discovered that he had cancer of the thyroid. He’d had it removed and after treatment was doing much better. Two months ago, Debbie’s youngest son was complaining about his chest hurting and doctors discovered a very rare form of lymphatic cancer. Two weeks ago, Debbie found a lump during a routine breast exam and, after consultation with her doctor, was informed that she had the exact same rare form of cancer that her younger son had. The family had been through the wringer, but what struck me was Debbie’s peaceful assurance. She wasn’t afraid, she was confident. She wasn’t questioning God’s protection, she was resting in His love. She wasn’t doubting His faithfulness, she was celebrating His goodness in spite of all of the scary stuff happening in her family’s life.  Truth is, I don’t know Debbie all that well, but I know this: that kind of assurance only comes from wrestling those demons of fear and doubt back to the pit that they came from. She had anchored her heart into the immovable unshakable truth of God. She REFUSED to believe the lies that ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ I fell so in love with her undaunted courage that I sent the painting home with her. It was rightfully hers anyway…God-breathed in every way. They hung it in their home as a reminder to trust that God’s Beauty and Life would show up in the most desperate places. This story doesn’t have a Hallmark ending…Matthew fought hard against his cancer – his sweet, young bride and family by his side throughout the whole journey. Friends stormed heaven’s gates with prayer and worship until they physically lost their voices, every treatment was tried, every option exhausted. And on the morning of March 13th, 2020, 23-year-old Matthew went home to be with Jesus. The family was heartbroken and to this day they mourn and grieve in such beautiful ways. But here’s the kicker that’s hard for some to wrap their brain around: Matthew’s death didn’t change the truth about God! It didn’t alter His character or mar His stellar reputation – God is still good, He is still faithful, He is still the Bringer of Hope and the Giver of Life. He still brings beauty to our brokenness and breathes life into our dry and weary bones. The painting now has new meaning to me…and I’m sure to Debbie’s family. These tabernacles of flesh are just temporary dwelling places. And by a divine act of grace God breathed healing and new life into Matthew and gave him a body that would know no sickness or pain.  Beauty sprang up from the dust and Eternal Life triumphed over fear and death…‘that ALL may testify that He is the Lord.’ The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

The Way of the Cross

This devotion guide was created by my friend Tracy Grubbs, Creative Arts Director at Lake Forest Church. I’m so proud of her and the weight that this project bears. because (from what our research shows) it’s the only Protestant “Stations of the Cross” guide taken straight from scripture in existence. Tracy’s mix of ancient text and contemporary prose make for a stunning, poetic blend that comes across gently…almost as a barely spoken whisper. My hope is that you will make your own way through the images, scripture and prayers and be moved closer to your humanity; closer to the cross; closer to the heart of the One who suffered and died, just for you. ____________________________________________________________________________ THE WAY OF THE CROSS: During the Turkish occupation of the Holy Land in the late Middle Ages, when pilgrims were prevented from visiting its sacred sites, the custom arose of making replicas of those holy places, where the faithful might come to pray. One of the most popular of these devotions was the “Stations of the Way of the Cross,” which were imitations of the “stations,” or stopping places of prayer on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. By the late sixteenth century the fourteen stations, as we know them today, were erected in almost all Catholic churches. At each of the fourteen stations: Read the Scripture, view the image, pray the accompanying written prayer aloud or silently. Then meditate on the prayer and image, making the prayer your own. Either gently repeat the written prayer or pray your own life into the subject of that prayer, A Preparatory Prayer – St. Francis: Most merciful Lord, With a contrite heart and penitent spirit I bow down before Thy divine Majesty. I adore Thee as my supreme Lord and Master. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee above all things. I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, my only and supreme God. I firmly resolve to amend my life; and although I am unworthy to obtain mercy, yet looking upon Thy holy Cross, I am filled with peace and consolation. I will, therefore, meditate on Thy sufferings, and visit the Stations. O Loving Jesus, inflame my cold heart with Thy love, that I may live and die in union with Thee. Amen.  i. Jesus prays in garden Luke 22:39-44 Jesus left and made his way to the Mount of Olives, as was his custom, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived, he said to them, “Pray that you won’t give in to temptation.” He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt and prayed. He said, “Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Nevertheless, not my will but your will must be done.” Then a heavenly angel appeared to him and strengthened him. He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly. His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. PRAYER “Father, please?” Jesus prayed “Take this cup from me. If you will?” Sadness in your furrowed face and sorrow in your eyes, the smell of blood and streaming sweat, Son of God and Son of Man wrestles with the will of the Father. “Nevertheless, your will be done,” “Nevertheless…” Jesus, may we drink from our cup as you did from yours, Trusting in the goodness of the Father even in our suffering. Amen  We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. ii. Jesus betrayed and arrested Luke 22:47-53 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” PRAYER: With swords and clubs, they came for You, Son of Man. Soldiers, priests, religious ones, lead by a beloved friend. With a kiss, betrayed. Unjustly accused. And yet, you reject the sword and heal the wound. Lay down the arms. Jesus, may we forgive as you do, humbly and completely. Following in your footsteps, walking in the way of Love. Amen. We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. iii. Jesus tried by Sanhedrin Mark 14:53,55-56,60-64 They led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. The high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. PRAYER: Christ, here you stand before your accusers, Pummeled with allegations, with insinuations. Angry words spoken by threatened, fearful men. But you stand quietly. No rush to refute their lies. Letting the truth of who you are be the Answer they are looking for. Jesus, may we follow in your example of softly, yet boldly speaking truth in love. Amen. We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. iv. Jesus denied by Peter Mark 14:66-72 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. PRAYER: “I will never” “I will always” Swearing allegiance unto death. Peter, impulsive master of misunderstanding In the dark of night, he disowns, rejects, denies. As do we, day in and day out. We are all Peter. Wanting desperately to follow You but failing, dismissing you instead. But morning comes and with the rising of the sun, You offer forgiveness and redemption. Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. v. Jesus tried by Pilate Mark 15: 1-5, 15 The chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, “Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of.” Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed…. Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to be crucified. PRAYER:  “Behold your king,” says Pilate. “We have no king but Caesar,” the people shout, “Away with him.” And they sent you to your death. Lord Jesus, Word made flesh, Light for our dark world, God come to save us, may we never send you away. Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. vi. Jesus beaten and scourged John 19:1-3; Luke 22:63-64 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” PRAYER: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” In thorny crown and purple robe Son of God and Son of Man. Bearing my shame in the presence of scoffers. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities” Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. vii. Jesus carries the cross John 19:17-18 So they took Jesus and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. PRAYER: You were led to Golgotha, Lord, bearing the cross alone. Step by agonizing step you walked with the cross and its crushing load, “Take up your cross,” the Savior says, “If you would my disciple be; Forsake the past and come this day, And humbly follow after me.” Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world viii. Jesus helped by Simon Luke 23:26 As they led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a man from Cyrene, who was coming in from the countryside. They put the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus. PRAYER:  Simon, coming in from the fields, was forced to carry your cross. He had no choice in this; it was his lot. “Why is this happening to me?” “I’m not ready for this.” “I can’t.” Were these his thoughts? Are these my thoughts? Lord, when you ask me to pick up the cross and follow you, Am I willing? Will I walk that way with you? Give me a willing heart to follow. Amen We adore You, O Christ and we praise you. Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world. ix. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem Luke 23:27-29 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are

Thank God for Lop-sided Boobies

I’ve scorned my lop-sided boobies for most of my life. My mom said they’d even out once I had kids…which never happened. Hormone shifts just don’t come pre-packaged with adoption. But yesterday, a childhood friend lost both of her boobies, and today I’m aware of them on every woman I pass and catch the reflection of my own curves in the store window. I found putting my bra on this morning to be an awe-filled privilege, and admittedly, I’ve cupped my chest more than once today and whispered a soft, “Thank You.” Thank you for these lop-sided boobies. Looking at pictures from this past weekend, I’m less than happy with my new haircut. It’s too triangular. I think I look like a blonde cocker spaniel. Made a mental note to myself to get that fixed ASAP. Then I remembered helping a friend shave her whole head of hair off before the chemo took it first. I’m not sure why she asked me…we weren’t really that close. But it was one of the holiest moments I’ve ever had in my life. For some reason, I have a thick head of hair that makes most hairstylists marvel, but as I brushed and pulled it into a quick ponytail before exercise class today, I felt whiney self-absorbed, and petty. What a gift it is to have hair at all… every single strand that’s stuck to my scalp is a blessing. “Thank You.” Thank you for my cocker spaniel hair. Something shifted in my body a few years ago that no one has been able to pinpoint, but I gained 50 lbs in 3 months. I’d been thin all my life…how did this happen?! I didn’t change my eating habits. I didn’t go on some mad nutella binge. But the weight showed up, and has refused to leave. I’m active and I’ve tried every exercise program known to man. I’ve counted calories, given up soda and fast food, detoxed, juice fasted, gone gluten free and semi-vegetarian, and every combination you can think of…even my doctors are stumped. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror anymore. The skinny girl I’ve seen for most of my life is now wrapped thickly in the body of my German grandmother. My under-chin has even fallen and it can’t get up. I’m not an over-eater, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. I begrudge having my picture taken now…because the way I look on the outside isn’t the way I feel on the inside. And then I think about sitting next to my friend who was fighting a hard, brave battle…reduced to skin pulled tight over skeleton. She didn’t much like having her picture taken either…and I know for a fact that she didn’t look on the outside like she felt on the inside. Were that today, I’d joke with her about gladly giving her some of my excess, and we’d laugh till we cried. “Thank You.” Thank you for my unexpected mom body. So the next time I’m wallowing around on my exercise mat in a class filled with matchstick thin Millenials, I will embrace these extra pounds and call them mine…and remember the wonderful meals spent with my family and friends. I will put on my bra with gratitude and thank God for being a girl. I will laugh at this bad haircut and be mindful that the next haircut is nothing short of a gift. All of the wrinkles and lumps and flaws are meant to serve as reminders that life comes with things that are just completely out of our control. And these things that command our attention and cause us to fret don’t matter a hill of beans at the end of the day. So I will breathe deeply and say YES to having my picture taken more often…lop-sided boobies, cocker spaniel hair, double chin and all…because it means that I am alive and well and surrounded by the beautiful places and people I love. And THAT, my friends, is priceless treasure. For you created my inmost being;    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;    your works are wonderful,    I know that full well.My frame was not hidden from you    when I was made in the secret place,    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.Your eyes saw my unformed body;    all the days ordained for me were written in your book    before one of them came to be.How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!    How vast is the sum of them!Were I to count them,    they would outnumber the grains of sand—    when I awake, I am still with you. – Psalm 139: 13-18

Beyond The Wall

I painted for a Women’s Worship Night at CityChurch recently.  It was a chance for the ladies to intentionally connect with God and each other before the holiday madness began. I set up my easel and paints in a back corner of the fellowship hall, as my heart fluttered with anticipation at what God might do.  It just wasn’t like Him to leave us empty-handed.  He always seems so eager to speak to someone…to encourage…or to reveal more of His love and glory.  Even though I’ve grown to expect Him to move in some way, it’s still a little like Christmas Day when He does! Worship began, and the all-female voices sounded so delicate and light as they sang of God’s faithfulness.  I’m pretty sure that’s gotta be one of God’s favorite sounds of all time…and it was such a lovely setting in which to paint.  It just seemed to flow effortlessly from my heart, through the paint brush, onto the canvas. The worship time seemed to be over in a blink, and I was asked to come share about the painting I’d done. It wasn’t complicated: A brick wall.  Someone feels boxed in or like they’ve been beating their head against a brick wall, and they can’t seem to break through.  But  God sees beyond the wall.  He sees the beauty of the wide open pasture.  So He’s broken through the bricks and created a way of escape from the things that have us imprisoned. Some of us have already made our way through and have landed in a tree to rest, but we’re stuck there.  Our resting place has become a snare for us…because ultimately God intends for us to soar! That was it.  Nothing earth-shattering. I went back to my corner of the room as the Prayer Team began ministering to the women in the room.  Only to turn around and see my new friend Patrice Gopo standing there with notebook in hand.  She nervously shared that during  worship, she had spent her time writing out something that God had put on her heart.  I could tell she was stunned. You see, she was in the other back corner of the room…she had no idea what I was painting until I got up in front of the group to share.  And as she read aloud to me, I couldn’t help but weep.  It was so God.  So crazy-unbelievable-perfectly-woven-together-couldn’t-be-anything-BUT God…and He obviously had something on His mind. Here is what she had written in her notebook: I remember what it felt like to soar with the wind piercing my back, the sky wide open before me, the power infused from You as my wings cut through the air. I don’t remember first one wall, then the next and next and next. I don’t remember the roof placed atop the cage, the sharp blade of the scissors that cut the tip of my wing, a breath of down and feathers against the ground. But I remember the prison, the darkness, the inability to move, and I remember the hot tears spilled on the cold ground. Were they mine or were they Yours? But I also remember Your hand brushing those steel walls aside. Nothing but paper to You. I remember Your hand reaching down, scooping me up and pushing my brokenness towards the sky, the wind piercing my back just as it should be. So beautiful, the way God had simultaneously woven together imagery and words so heavy with intent. So like Him to deliver them so delicately to His cherished ones that night. How about you?  Are there areas in life where you feel like you’re beating your head against a brick wall?  Do you feel entrapped…like you’ll never get free? Do not fear…God has made a way of escape for you.  He sees beyond the wall.  He sees you soaring in the great wide open with the wind piercing your back…just as it should be. That’s it.  The simple truth. Pretty earth-shattering, if you ask me. God is just so good.

Out of Brokenness

Heartbreak. Disappointment. Rejection. Abuse. Betrayal. The heavy stuff of life. Sometimes it feels like someone is standing on your chest. Sometimes it feels like everything that connects you to this earth has been untethered and your heart is adrift. Sometimes it feels like you dare not exhale or it will all crumble to pieces around you. Let’s be honest: most days we feel like anything BUT victorious. Broken and flawed as we are…and as dysfunctional as our families might have been…and as unapologetic as this world has become, our hearts can wind up a bit beaten and battered from the fight. But there is hope. Psalm 51:17 says: “Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice. Your pain matters to God. Your undoneness has His full attention. He moved heaven and earth to invade your emptiness. He sent Jesus to walk among the ruins of your life as an extension of His love. It was meant to change things…to alter your current reality…to affect the outcome of your anemic existence. No the story doesn’t simply end with your pain. Truth is, the story begins and ends with God’s love. Like massive, stone-hewn bookends, God’s unwavering love stands firm…and woven between the lines and letters on every page of every book, God’s enduring love

Brave Wings – Teal Diva

Let’s be honest:  we’ve all lost far too many friends to cancer.  I’ve been to way too many funerals for friends that had so much life yet to live.  A few years ago our neighbor was given the terrifying news that her discomfort and bloating were due to ovarian cancer.  Something none of us ever want to walk through.  But instead of laying down and letting her life come to a grinding halt or feeling sorry for herself, Shannon did something completely counter-intuitive…she reached out instead of turning in.  She decided to make a difference and created Teal Diva. Her idea for Teal Diva was to rally women who had been diagnosed with gynecologic cancer and create a network that would strengthen, encourage, educate and increase awareness.  And when I say idea, I mean a great big hairy gotta-be-half-crazy kind of idea.  They’ve made men run races in tutus and teal stilettos, done countless 5ks, coaxed area restaurants to serve teal color-inspired fare, organized local salons to offer teal manis & pedis with part of the profits going to the cause, and even gotten the good people at Duke Energy to light up their famous skyscraper with glowing teal neon.  Oh, and did I mention the video?  It’s perhaps one of the most touching videos I’ve ever seen about women who are fighting through this life crisis with depth and dignity.  It’s so good, it’s winning all kinds of awards.  Rightfully so.  Do yourself a favor:  take a little time, grab some tissue and watch the video.  It’s time well spent.  For reals. Oddly enough, the idea for this painting was birthed on a visit to take food to one of my own friends who was going through chemo.  I was just taking her food…but I was absolutely stunned when she answered the door.  I’m not kidding when I say:  she was breathtakingly beautiful.  Her chemo had caused her hair to fall out, but she had wrapped her bald head in a chic black and white head wrap that draped down over one shoulder.  She looked more like someone from Hollywood than someone fighting the ravages of cancer.  I know she probably felt the most UN-beautiful at that point in her journey, but on my trip home I just couldn’t shake the thought:  SHE WAS SOOOO BEAUTIFUL!!! So after talking over the hedge with Shannon one night I decided to do a series of paintings featuring BEAUTIFUL Bald Women as a tribute to the women who are fighting the brave fight against all types of cancer…and as a declaration of the truth that they are all beautiful…and brave…and strong.  And as a good neighbor, since I’d hatched the idea with Shannon, I felt it was only fitting that I start with a painting for the Teal Divas. There was a certain weight about painting this one.  It was personal.  There are people I care for deeply who are in the middle of their survival story…and I’m just so honored to be able to give them tribute with canvas and paint.  Tomorrow it’s going to be auctioned off at a local fundraising event…and I hope it sells for a million dollars.  I mean it.  I wish some philanthropist would see it and throw down a check with lots and lots of zeros at the end of it.  Every single one of the women who have been given a diagnosis deserve that kind of response…that kind of respect. So if you know someone who is fighting gynecologic cancer, you might want to pass this on to them.  If you like it enough to want one for yourself or for a friend or loved one, I’ll be selling prints…and of course, I’ll be giving a portion of the profits to Teal Diva so that they can help to encourage more women and give them the kind of care and understanding that only comes from people who’ve been through it first hand. The girl in this painting is based on the touching story of Talia Castellano, a young girl who became a YouTube sensation amid her fight against cancer…mainly because she had spunk and mad makeup skills…and a “never quit” attitude.  She was one of those extraordinary people who will forever represent bravery, strength and beauty to me.  So this one is for ALL Teal Divas out there…with a loving nod to the sassy Little Miss who wouldn’t even let cancer steal her joy.

Painting at Lake Forest Church | “Believe”

One of my favorite pieces of imagery is from the movie “Gladiator”…when Maximus walks through the wheat field and runs his hand lightly across the top of the soft tassels.  It’s one of those visuals that continues to stick with me over time…so simple, but so rich with emotion.  It’s as though I can feel everything he was feeling. When I was tasked with painting an interpretation of John 6 for Lake Forest’s “re:Gift” series, and read the entire text, these two passages really jumped out at me: 35-36 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 47-48 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. It seems Jesus was trying to drive an important point home: “I’m the bread of life. Believe it.”  And as I let the passage fill my head and heart, the images from The Gladiator sprang to life in a new way…except there were wounds on the wrists of this Loving Warrior, and he touched the wheat with a familiarity only found between created and Creator. The Bread of Life walking through a wheat field…what a breathtaking metaphor. How odd that we have no problem believing the common wheat would one day be crushed to become a delicious loaf of bread. But we struggle to truly believe that this unimpressive hometown man would one day be crushed in order to satisfy the hunger of the whole world.  Such a mystery.  Such a leap of faith. Believe that I Am the Bread of Life. So follow the metaphor, if you will, as it develops into The Bread of Life…breaking bread…in the wheat field. I guess you could call it Reversed Foreshadowing, if such a thing exists. 😛 But consider the beauty of the progression…the wheat is cut off and ground up, having it’s form destroyed…but by doing so is transformed into bread, able to feed the thousands.  Then that bread is broken apart by the hands of The Bread of Life…feeding all of mankind, so that they will never go hungry again. Jesus was cut off from this world, beaten, crucified, buried…and resurrected.  In an ironic act of selfless love–by emptying himself…being broken…and dying–He was able to become the Victor, conquer death, and give us all eternal life.  Such a mystery.  Such a leap of faith. Believe that this is My body Broken for You. Are you hungry? Believe that He is The Bread of Life.  Are you thirsty? Believe that His body was Broken for You.  And if you believe, you will never hunger or thirst again. Such a mystery. Such a leap of faith. But even as He speaks the simple truth, His words are so full of emotion, it’s as though He can feel everything that I’m feeling. As Lake Forest’s series teachings illustrated, Jesus was the perfect example of re-gifting. So what are you doing with the gift that He has given you? How will you re-gift it so that the people around you will benefit from it? Such a mystery. Such a leap of faith.

Painting for CharlotteOne | Micah 6:8

My friend David Hickman is a visionary. Years ago my husband and I stood in a church parking lot and talked about dreams, holy burdens, and the heart of God concerning the city of Charlotte. David had a BIG dream…a GOD-sized dream…a dream of gathering young adults beneath the cross of Jesus…regardless of denominational differences, rhetoric or dogma.  And more importantly, he had the unwavering faith and pit-bull tenacity it takes to transition that vision into a thriving reality. Today, CharlotteOne stands as a broad-reaching ministry with an exemplary testimony of area churches coming together in unity to worship God, make disciples, and do life.  That’s true New Testament stuff. This past Spring I was honored to be asked to paint as a part of their corporate worship experience.  The message was on Finding God’s WIll…a topic a lot of us struggle with regularly, regardless of our age.  It was a toughie…one that couldn’t be minimized with any kind of scriptural band aids.  No iconic cross in the corner or nebulous scriptural text would suffice…and so I leaned in. I leaned in to listen.  It’s so confusing.  I leaned in to hear His voice.  It’s like grasping for smoke.  I leaned in to hear His heart beat.  Who am I? Where do I go? What do I do?  I leaned in…and what I heard was no chaotic or random or unattainable.  It was filled with peace and comfort…and love. We make it so complicated and heavy…WHAT DOES GOD WANT ME TO DO?!?!?!  But it is quite simple, really: Micah 6:8 (NKJ) He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God. I’ve never heard it quite that clear before in all my 29++ years.  🙂  To be honest, it’s my new Life Filter.  These three simple questions have helped my weary heart to silence so much of the white noise…from the media, from friends and family, even from the Church.  There are a million voices telling you what you should or could do.  But God makes it simple. Does it promote justice for your fellow-man? (check.) Does it fully embrace and extend mercy? (check.) Does it compel you to walk humbly before God?  (check.) What a beautiful little list.  Notice that it’s not perfection-based or performance-based…but completely, undeniably, unregrettably LOVE based.  Nothing else really matters to God in the grand scheme of things.  Nothing catches His attention as much as these.  Nothing reflects His heart the way they do. As I painted that night, I felt my own chains of bondage falling away.  I felt a spiritual release from things I’d heaped upon my own soul in a lifelong attempt to earn God’s affection and acceptance.  I experienced an internal freedom from worry and strife that I hadn’t even realized was clouding my thinking.  The voices had blared in my head and now there was silence…such a peaceful clarity. The perfect setting for hearing His soft and gentle whisper. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.  

Luttrell Commission | “Passages” (Rhythms of Grace)

There are defining moments in our lives.  Moments where we mark the passage of time.  Already with our 3 1/2-year-old, we’ve experienced several landmarks in what we hope will be a lifetime filled with them.  And already, we are wanting to pull up on the reins a bit to slow time’s passing.  Already, it’s barreling down the road at an unbridled pace. But that’s the burden of parenting, isn’t it?  Wanting so badly for them to become independent and experience all the good that life has for them, and yet wanting it to take 100 years to happen.  Yep, that’d be just about right. This week I was honored to participate in a defining moment for one of my husband’s drum students.  His parent’s are being extraordinarily intentional about making a wonderfully big deal out of this year’s birthday for him.  They are celebrating his rite of passage into manhood with a week of thoughtful presents and festivities, all befitting a young man. My commission was to create a visual for his bedroom that would reflect his love for music, rhythm, and his faith.  I used one of my drummer husband’s life scriptures for the cornerstone of the piece, which comes from Matthew 11:28-30: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Now that’s a rite of passage worth making…for all of us!

Defining Moments

Last October I was invited to join a group of artists for a video shoot atop one of the uptown high-rises.  We were each asked to paint unique elements on a variety of stained glass panels forming a larger-than-life hourglass filled with sand.  Threads of that day’s shoot have since been woven into a powerful video production of Billy Graham sermon snippets, real life testimonies, and engaging imagery. It was an honor to work on such an important project…to represent Charlotte’s creative community…and to make some new friends along the way.  This presentation will be a part of a larger initiative from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association to be launched later this year, where people and churches can collaborate to spread the good news of the Gospel. Please feel free to pass this video around to family and friends…especially ones who need a reminder of The Hope that we find in relationship with Jesus. This project was definitely a Defining Moment in my creative and spiritual life…

My Bride…My Beloved

Each worship event I paint for is special…because each time is different. Each has it’s own theme, flow and vibe. But last night was one of the most truly special evenings I’ve yet to experience in this God-journey I’ve been on for the past 6 years. The worship, led by the tender hearts of the United Pursuit Band, was so genuine and disarming…the room was filled with some of my favorite 20/30-somethings on the planet…and God’s presence was so weighty, yet so sweet. But I knew it was going to be just that way. You see, sometimes God shows me ahead of time what to paint, and sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes I have the entire idea, and sometimes I simply choose the first color to load on my brush as the music begins. Sometimes His voice is loud and clear, sometimes He is silent. Yet, for this particular event, He had shared His heart with me early on the day before. (Sometimes I think it’s easier to be clueless…!) She was a clear as day…this woman who was trying so desperately to cover herself up because of her guilt and shame. Her image haunted me throughout the day, and my heart grew heavy as began to feel the ache of God’s heart, because of her condition. As I pondered her, I felt the Lord lean in and say, “Tell her that she’s beautiful.” Ugh. My heart started to mourn… Setup went unusually smooth, and since there was worship music already playing in the auditorium, I decided to sit with my sketch book and quite myself just a bit. As I began to draw, her outline took shape quickly…since her image had been burned into my soul from the two days of carrying her around in my heart. But, unexpectedly, words began to pour out onto the page, as well. Words and words and words. I wasn’t thinking, I was just writing. I had no strategy in mind…no idea how it all connected…until the page was full, and I was done writing…and I read it from beginning to end. It was a love letter. Not from my heart, but from His. Not to the woman caught in adultery, like we envision ourselves to be…but to His bride…to His beloved. Painting was a flurry of color and brushstrokes as I translated the image in my heart onto the stark white paper in front of me. I was completely unaware of where I was in the painting process…completely disconnected from analysis and technique. It was as if I was following the movement of my paint brush, not the other way around. I do remember thinking to myself that it’d been a long, long time since I’d painted under this intensity of God’s presence…and well, anointing. By anointing, the definition that most resonates with me is, “to choose someone as a lead candidate for a position.”  And on this night, I was a messenger… I rarely get the opportunity to share about my paintings after they’re done…much less deliver something specific like this…this love letter to God’s Bride. But in an effortless way God wove the opportunity into the flow of the evening, and I knew I was supposed to read His letter out loud over His Beloved. So I choked back the tears, stepped to the mic and shared what was scrawled into my sketchbook.  I excused the somewhat feminine imagery, as I considered the Church as a whole in this declaration…since I know we ALL have it so upside down and backwards…the way we see ourselves, in such high-def contrast to the way He sees us. You are my bride…my Beloved. You feel shame…I see beauty. You feel weak…I see strength. You feel wicked…I see holiness. You feel timid…I see boldness. You feel forgotten…I see the one I could NEVER forget. You feel empty…I see the fullness. You feel dead…I see life. You feel broken…I see whole. You feel darkness…I see my light. You feel passed over…I see great promise. You feel worthless…I see my prized possession. You feel dirty…I see spotless. You feel despair…I see boundless hope. You feel fear…I see a courage that won’t back down. You feel deceitful…I see honesty. You feel lost…I see the way. You feel confused…I see my peace in you. You feel confined…I see freedom. You feel dead ends…I see fresh starts. You feel cheap…I see you as a priceless treasure. You feel banished…I see you wrapped in my embrace. You are my Bride…my Beloved. When I finished the room stood silent. No music to lighten the atmosphere in the room. No quick segue into a second round of worship songs. No attempt to tidy up, brush over or shrug off. Just beautiful, heavenly, awe-filled silence. And I knew that the message had found its home in the heart of someone present.  The weight was gone…and all that remained was a delicate awe. But here’s the kicker:  immediately after the worship concluded, I turned around to meet eye-to-eye with a young lady from the audience, and she gingerly told me her story: “I’ve been in such a bad place lately.  I’ve been feeling every single thing that you read out loud tonight.  But I feel like I’m supposed to tell you something else:  On my way here, I was really struggling, and in desperation I just asked God, ‘could you please just write me a letter to tell me how you see me?…I think it’s the only way I can hear you right now.’”   I was so overcome, I started weeping before she’d even finished her sentence.  I cried.  She cried.  We hung onto each other and cried for a while…both of us just so amazed by what had just happened.  I was completely undone by the lengths that God had gone to, to speak His truth into his precious Bride’s heart. She was beautiful. And just as I finished sharing with her, I turned, only to see the face of another young lady standing in front of me: “I was the woman at the well…and everyone knew it. But the Bride that you wrote about was me…God’s wanting me to let go of the way I’ve defined myself–by my past–and receive a new identity…the one that was in your letter.” Another stunning story of God capturing the heart of His beloved.  And she was beautiful. And yet another face, another story: “I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for years now.  I feel just like the things that you wrote.  Especially the part about being confined…and I want so desperately to know God’s freedom.” Another intimate invitation sent directly to yet another world-worn lover from her eager, expectant Groom.  And she was beautiful. Each sweet face, radiant with the permeating revelation of God’s lavish love for her. It is not a night that I will soon forget.  I hope that my heart holds on to it forever.  I hope that my own shame will be undeniably altered, as I let His love-speak wash over me.  I hope that as a collective tribe of the broken and yet betrothed, we will surrender to God’s passionate pursuit…and begin to let our distorted identity be consumed by a definitive innocence and purity that comes straight from the heart of a love-sick God. …because we are all His Bride…His Beloved. And we are beautiful.

Painting at The Gathering

Sunday my husband and I were honored to serve the fantastic people of The Gathering: he  let God speak through his rhythms on the drum kit, I let God speak through my paint and brushes on canvas.  I can’t tell you how amazing it is to bring our different forms worship to the Lord together.  It re-confirms what we were truly created to do, and reminds us how much God wants us to partner with him in it. Th only directive I was given for the painting was that the message would be centered around things that crowd into our lives and distract us from our main focus: God. As the band practiced for worship that morning, I wrote out a list of things that can be the worst culprits.  As I completed the list, I realized how upside-down our thinking is…we let our lives get consumed by obligations, chaos and insanity…when really, if our heart’s focus was simply on God, He would bring peace into our chaos, and become our source of sanity. I felt the edges of vision for the painting starting to materialize: two hearts in juxtaposition…one filled with the list of words I’d written out…but there was one missing element: what to put inside the other heart.  I talked it over with the hubs, and we batted a few things around.  But as I leaned in and positioned my heart to really “listen”, I felt a strength and clarity begin to take shape.  The words that kept rattling through my soul?  ONLY YOU. It was only the second time I’d painted during the sermon and not during worship, but there was such a sweet peace about this being the visual representation of the word being given.  I finished the first heart, flipped the canvas and began to paint the second heart…only to hear the pastor emphatically say, “The thing we should be saying to God is: ‘ONLY YOU, God…ONLY YOU!’”  There it was.  The kind of moment that only the Holy Spirit can orchestrate.  In sports, the refer to it as the “sweet spot”…in photography, it’s “the money shot”.  In this situation, it was the undeniable realization that God truly is the source of all inspiration and creativity. Not to overstate the obvious, but I entitled the piece, “Only You”.  I’m posting the painting in both positions, so that you can read the words of distraction that crowd God out of our hearts.

Barnes & Kennedy Commissions | “For the Love of…”

I have some customers who have become more like friends.  They’ve followed my creative journey, showed up at my art shows, and even invited me to paint as their group served at the Mooresville Soup Kitchen. Yesterday, they declared their undying love for each other and made life-changing promises as they exchanged rings before God, family & friends.  I couldn’t be happier!  From what I saw in their togetherness as a dating couple, I am convinced that God has brought these two together! Funny thing, both of them contacted me privately asking if they could commission a painting for the other…as their wedding gifts to each other.  At first I felt awkward, like I should say something…but quickly my initial feelings took a back seat to the overwhelming sense that this was just a fun, quirky way to confirm that these two were DEFINITELY meant for each other! I took some time to listen.  I listened to them.  I listened to God.  I listened to scripture and the Creative Spirit of God inside of me, and I came up two painting ideas that I though expressed their heart for each other, and God’s heart for them…and in a creative way, my heart for their marriage. As a part of the celebration, I thought I’d share the paintings with you!  Enjoy! (just click on the image for a larger view, so that you can read the text/sentiments involved):   HAPPY MARRIAGE DAY, Justin & Rachael Barnes! ©2012 Melody Hogan.  All rights reserved.

The Creative Booty Call

Chances are, at some point in your creative career, you’ve fallen prey to the Creative Booty Call…maybe without even realizing it. To define Creative Booty Call we’ll use the same characteristics as those used in the cultural reference: the phone rings late at night or there’s a 3 a.m. knock on your door the person on the other end is looking for services they might otherwise pay for, but in this instance they are wanting it for free being with them always leaves you feeling empty and used you spend days kicking yourself for letting it happen YET AGAIN, and swear that next time, you’ll be smarter they’ve never publicly acknowledged your relationship, except maybe casual friendship…and they make a point to not socialize with you outside of this “arrangement” and when they DO choose to enter into a serious relationship, it’s always with someone else I’ve fallen prey to this scenario more times than I’d like to admit in my creative career. Out of nowhere, I’ll get a frantic phone call or text…sometimes it’ll even be from people on my client list. They’re in desperate need of a last-minute design service from me.  The excuses for not planning ahead or not contacting me sooner are always in bountiful supply, as an attempt to somehow soften the blow of what they’re really getting ready to ask me for…but buried beneath that pile heap is still the same audacious request: drop everything, forget your life or your obligations or other clients, and give them what they need…while they wait impatiently for it. So you cancel the appointments that have been on your schedule for weeks, you put off the current project you’ve been working on that is paying full price, you sacrifice time with your family, physical resources (like sleep…and food…and hygiene..and your last bit of sanity) to run to the aid of your comrade who is in critical need. In the end, you’ve given them the best that you have to give, for nothing in return. Nothing beyond a rushed “attaboy”…not a referral, not a mention on Twitter or Facebook…and certainly not a penny of actual generated income. For many, it is even more dastardly than that:  You’re called or emailed because of your creative expertise in a particular area. You give the advice willingly, even joyfully, because it’s your passion…and you LOVE to talk about your passion. Suuuure you could be a professional consultant, making thousands of dollars per project for all of the wisdom and insight you have to give…but of course, they’re simply looking for a little free advice.  You hang up the phone with a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach…and emptiness that’s hard to describe…I don’t know, kinda like you’ve been used.  Oh, and by the way…they’ll never publicly acknowledge the great ideas you provided for them.  And the kicker is, when they DO choose to invest in a professional relationship regarding your topic of discussion, it’ll undoubtably be with someone else. Does any of this sound familiar?  Sadly, I knew it would.  But the reality regarding Booty Calls, which ever kind they might be, is that we’re the ones that set the parameters…and if I might be so bold as to say it this way:  If you’re tired of being a Creative Booty Call…the solution starts with YOU! Steps to help you avoid the Creative Booty Call: Business hours are business hours.  After hours are, well…after.  One of the biggest challenges of creative work, especially freelance, is the setting of boundaries between your business and personal life.  But if you don’t set some working parameters, then you will always be working…that’s just how creative careers are.  All work and no play makes Jack a cranky, burned out, uninspired so-in-so that no one wants to be around.  So do yourself a favor:  clock in and clock out. Healthy professional relationships are beneficial to both parties.  If you feel tapped after every meeting you have with a client or you feel empty and used each time you deliver advice to an associate, it may be time to have the D.T.R. talk over coffee.  Defining the relationship can go a long way to increase your productivity and your sense of satisfaction on the job. Give yourself permission to set and communicate strong boundaries. While it may feel like your being fussy or a tad bit diva, strong boundaries will simply enable you to enjoy the different parts of your life in deeper richer ways without the build-up of resentment or the cause for conflict with opposing parties.  Think about what you want and need from the relationship, and communicate that clearly to your contact.  If met with resistance,  let it be a clear indication of the other person’s lack of value or honor for your expertise or services.  While we all want to “give back” and help out where we can, even Scripture says that a workman is worthy of his wages.  In the least, consider working out some kind of barter that wouldn’t be such a financial drain on them, but that would also provide some kind of positive benefit for you as well. You don’t have to answer the door.  You’ve seen it all before on some agonizingly anemic chick flick, where in the middle of the night there’s a knock on the door…and as the actress stumbles and bumbles her way through her dark apartment, you almost feel like shouting, “Don’t be stupid!  Girl, don’t you EVEN answer that door!”…but she always does.  And the guy on the other side of that door knows that she always will.  She is the one that allows it to be a Booty Call in the first place.  If she had only stood up to him and said, “no” or never opened the door, she would be quickly be removed from the BC list. Don’t be afraid to lose out.  I think many of us mean well.  We think: maybe it’ll lead to more business…maybe it’ll garner some kind of recognition…maybe I’ll feel like I’ve contributed something or shared my knowledge.  But the stinging truth is: very rarely does a Booty Call become a long-term relationship. There are the BC’s, and then there are the one’s you take home to meet your mama.  Don’t be afraid to lose out on a few casual relationships in order to save your best for Mr. Right. It’ll be worth a little silence on the phone or a few less email requests in the inbox to be able to focus your best efforts on your best clients.  You know that the best professional relationships are worth the wait.  And they’ll treat you with integrity, respect and honor. Be ready to move on.  This is where it takes some emotional fortitude.  It’s one step in the right direction to have an awareness that things just aren’t right…that you aren’t happy with the current arrangement…and that there’s nothing about this that’s healthy.  But it’s another step…and a huge on at that…to actually muster up the guts to do something about it.  It takes a lot of guts to NOT open the door…or NOT answer the frantic voicemail…or NOT respond to the do-or-die email.  But it’s the only way to begin to set the healthy boundaries you need to sustain and grow a thriving creative career.  Trust yourself enough to know what is right for you and for your well-being. Some things to consider: It might be time to do an assessment on the services you have to offer.  Do you have valuable advice to offer people?  Do you give it the value it deserves?  Do you have healthy boundaries in place that allow you to enjoy your life and your career, separately? If you find yourself offering advice regularly, it might be time to organize your experience and knowledge into a product or program that can be marketed to people in need of your expertise.  Considering other options to the “freebie” could open new professional opportunities for you that you never knew were there before.  Consultancy and other avenues may offer you that same sense of satisfaction you were finding in giving away “free advice”…but with personal ad financial rewards for you, as well.  Maybe it’s time to be paid for what you know, and not just for what you do. You may need to wrestle down that pesky need to be liked in order to truly free yourself from the lure of the Creative Booty Call.  We all love to be loved.  But it’s not really love when it comes at our expense.  The more emotionally healthy you get, the more freedom you will experience creatively…and the stronger your creative career will be.  Some ways to re-establish a healthy sense of yourself: make a list of all of the things that are special and unique about your creativity or your services.  Not only will this provide you with some killer copy to use in your marketing pieces, but it will help you define who you are and what you want out of your career and professional relationships. request client testimonials…you’ll discover some of your biggest fans, and be reminded of the great ideas you had and the fantastic work you did…and don’t forget:  they were happy to pay full price for it! post the testimonials around your office for added encouragement on those days when it’s hard to say “no” to the freebie fix. consider writing a “manifesto” for your creative enterprise that clearly states what you value most, how you want to represent those values, and who you want to be in the process. Never forget:  you are an active participant in defining your creative relationships. Choose the kind of relationships that build you up, support you, and inspire you to be your creative best.  Don’t settle for the Booty Call.  Have the courage to wait for Mr. Right. Originally featured on http://www.SacredMuse.us our website supporting creative community.  (If you would like to feature this post on your website, please ask permission and offer the proper credits.

Robles Commission

This is a series of pieces I painted for my friends Rich & Jenny Robles.  Each canvas represents a principle they value and hope to foster in their family. ©2012 Melody Hogan.  All rights reserved.

Rubbo Commission | “Back To Back”

Commissioned painting for my dear friend Karen Rubbo. Kudos to Michael Rubbo for the great birthday gift idea for his bride. They gave me free reign, and this is what God wanted to speak over her…how cool is that?!

Couch Commission | “On The Heights”

A friend of mine, Jamie Couch, commissioned me to do a painting for a friend of his who’s husband died recently in a hunting accident. He leaves behind a lovely wife, two strapping young boys and a baby on the way. So honored to be asked to paint a memorial piece for them…humbled really.

Clark Rogers Benefit | “Hope” & “Love”

  These paintings were done in honor of our great friend and best man, Clark Rogers, during a benefit concert held on his behalf. The “Hope” painting was auctioned off…and in an act of selfless generosity, the winning bidder donated his bid, letting the next bidder in line take home the painting, so the piece brought in DOUBLE the value! The “Love” painting was given as a gift to Clark’s bride of 3 yrs., Lisa, in memory of the extraordinary event. Churches from all over the community came out to show their love & support,, with over 1,000 people giving testimony of Clark’s influence on their lives. Over $25,000 was raised that night to help offset the huge medical debt they’d incurred in battling Clark’s rare form of cancer. It was a beautiful reminder of what the body of Christ should look and operate like in this world. The night’s festivities were simulcasted into his hospital room in Mexico, where he and his family were able to witness the countless lives that he’d touched in attendance. Three days later, Clark received his ultimate healing, and went home to be with Jesus. Our faith and lives were forever changed because of this ardent worshiper of God.

Chips and Cheese

My husband and I snuggled in the other night to watch a movie. We had our feet propped up, our warm blankets draped cozily across us, and our standard fare of tortilla chips, pub cheese, sodas, and the remote lined up just within arms reach. Sheer perfection. The only thing that came close to dulling the brilliance of the evening was an “issue” I had with the chips. You see, I’m a pretty simple, laid back kind of gal. I’m not picky or fussy or high maintenance when it comes to much of anything, especially chips. But one thing is certain, if I’m having dip with my chips, then I at least expect the chip to fulfill its primary function. Kind of like a field goal kicker in football…but don’t get me started on that! It’s just that if you’re going to be known as a functional part of something (i.e. “chips and dip”), then is it too much to ask that said chip would actually fulfill that function? Call me crazy. Anyway…I digress. My ramping frustration came from the fact that every time I reached in to grab a chip and attempted to scoop up some dip, inevitably the chip would break. One would crack here. One would crack there. One that looked absolutely perfect in the bowl completely disintegrated mid-scoop. It was the weirdest thing! But a funny turn of events happened as we made our way towards the bottom of the chip bowl. The chips that were not whole…the ones that were already broken and fragmented…when bunched together, were able to scoop up far more pub cheese than any of their “perfectly whole” counterparts. Finally, I was able to scoop and munch to my heart’s delight. I was one happy camper. Then the thought crossed my mind:  We’re all just like that big bowl of chips! There are chips that look fantastically put together – whole, complete, without weakness or flaw. All indications are that they are independently capable and competent. And yet, all too often, they fall apart under pressure…finding that their unexposed areas of weakness have done them in. Then there are the chips that have been minimized by life’s trials and hardships – nicked and broken and fragile at best – they find themselves unwittingly at the bottom of the bowl. But when joined with others like them, they become a strong, productive, unified force – able to accomplish far more than any of them could achieve on their own. Clearly by chips, I mean people. Truth is, we were created to be in community. We were never intended to be alone. The world is a harsh and oftentimes brutal place. It doesn’t seek forgiveness, and it deals out judgment with a heavy hand. It can very quickly become a cold and empty place should we try to go it alone. But if we allow ourselves to be known for who we truly are – transparent about our broken and fragile state – and if we learn to trust people with the sensitive and sometimes painful things of our authentic selves, then we open the door to the influence of their strength and courage in our own lives. Designed to be in community. Designed for strength that can only be unleashed when we embrace our own weakness. Designed to do great things for the world, but never completely independent of the world. It’s comforting to know we’re not alone. It’s an even greater comfort to know we’re not the only broken chip in the bowl. And it’s both comforting and humbling to realize that we truly do need each other – that we’re better together. I don’t know about you…but I’ve got a lot more “cheese to scoop” in my life. I want so badly to make a difference and have an impact on this world. Big deal if I find myself at the bottom of the bowl. The way I see it: I’m in excellent company.

top view photo of sliced pizza

Pizza – With Mercy on the Side

I know we’ve all been there at one time in life or another – where the very thing you need to happen just isn’t coming soon enough and your heart is waging the war between what is on it’s way and what reality has to offer right now. Truly, I think this is one of our most significant life moments. This is where you show what you’re really made of. This is The Big Test. This is the point where you make an inward decision to muster up every ounce of courage inside of you and rally the troops to victory, or raise the white flag of surrender and concede in absolute and utter defeat…folding to the pressure of not yet realizing what is yet to come. It happens to all of us in a myriad of different ways, but this particular test on this particular day for my husband and me was a simple financial one. It went something like this: paycheck equals “X” amount of dollars…bills equal “X” amount of dollars…and Column A minus Column B left us nothing but the anxiety of holding our breath until the next payday. Sound familiar? Our hearts were weary from having been in this position one too many times before, and quite frankly our spirits were crushed and we were just downright fed up. So my husband came up with the greatest idea: let’s comb the entire house for all of the loose change we could find, and go buy one of those cheapy take-out pizzas. Simple enough in strategy, but its effect on our mindset was nothing but profound. We felt like college kids all over again. We started shouting through the house as we discovered unexpected treasure. We even turned it into a competition to see who could scavenge for the most money. By the end of our adventure, we’d scrounged up just enough to make our typical purchase of a pepperoni pizza, breadsticks, and buffalo ranch dipping sauce (for me…’cuz I’m the princess). We loaded up into the car, black labs and all, and laughed the entire way to the pizza shop. So, with the confidence of a “hunter” (insert Neanderthal man noises here) my husband stepped up to the counter, emptied his pockets of every silver coin he had on him, and boldy stated, “I’ve got $6.35 to work with, what’ll that buy us?” Having already keyed in our “usual” purchase, the manager made another entry that brought the price down lower than “usual”. And he gave us TWO marinara sauces…and TWO buffalo ranch sauces…and the freshest pizza and breadsticks he had on hand. You see, he wasn’t responding to the sale, he was responding to the need. In one tiny transaction that would barely make a dent in his sales totals for the day, he made an impact on our hearts that turned a miserable situation into something not only bearable but delightful. With a few strokes of the register keys, he made us feel human again. And probably not even having a full grasp of his action’s impact on us, he restored our joy and completely transformed how we felt about our situation. In monetary terms, it cost him very little…but the emotional pay off was priceless. He saw an opportunity to “Pay it Forward”…and in a very tangible way, he made it happen. He saw through the transaction and responded to the need.  Truth be told, I think I saw my husband skip to the car to deliver the good news. The question is this: Are you doing life one transaction at a time…focused on the payout at the end of all your interactions and hard work? Or are you moving beyond the ins and outs of everyday negotiations and responding to people’s real needs? (What’s funny is that in the end, it seems to be the simplest things that have the biggest impact.) Oh, and to answer my husband’s question, I’ll give you an answer born out of actual life experience: six dollars and thirty-five cents buys a lifetime of loyalty and repeat business…when you move with compassion and throw in a little mercy on the side!

Princess Warrior

I am a Princess Warrior…with face set like flint and heart strapped into place, I answer the call into battle. My hands do not tremble, my knees do not quiver, my heart does not faint. White-hot Strength runs through my veins, once cold with crippling fear. I am a Princess Warrior…efficient and agile, rushing to the defense of those I love most. Worthy of the fight, the memory of their faces fuels my passionate pursuit of the one that devises their destruction. Selfish gain is sacrificed on the altar of committed persistence. I will not waver; I will not tire; I will not falter; He will not fail. I am a Princess Warrior…armed to the teeth with everything I need to defeat the Enemy – the coward that skulks and schemes in the cover of night: an oozie strapped to my thigh, a dagger tucked into the shaft of my boot, and night vision goggles holstered to my shoulder – ready to cut through the toughest defenses and pierce through the darkest deception. I am a Princess Warrior…trained through fiery trials, practiced in pain, refined by my own imperfections, and empowered with liberating Truth. I pledge my undying allegiance to this Movement of Mercy, this Resistance against Rebellion…this Fight for Freedom. I serve the King, and Him alone. I answer to His voice. I heed His call. I carry out His commands. I am a Princess Warrior…stealth and covert, I move effortlessly through the masses. My eyes locked on the target, my Focus fixed on the Father…my Senses are sharp and my hand rests ready on my Sword. I rely on the periphery of my Vision for laser-like Discernment and Wisdom beyond my years. I am a Princess Warrior…compelled by the cries of those in distress and determined to unleash deliberate Destruction on the Deceiver…to raise up that which is laid to ruins…to bring Comfort as salve to the wounded heart and Hope to the weary soul. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The hour is late. The times are tragic. The casualties hitting far too close to home. I am a Princess Warrior…raising my sword in undaunted Defiance…wielding my Weapon with God-given Grace. My legs stand firm as a tower. My eyes are a beacon of light. I am fluid and elegant. I am stable and strong. I am valiant…and victorious…and vehemently His. I am a Princess Warrior…commissioned to captivate, anointed to annihilate, and licensed to liberate. This is a frontal assault on the one who seduces the souls of the saints. This is Affirmative Action. This is Divine Intervention. This is Destiny’s Child. No apologies. No excuses. No recall. No regrets. I am a Princess Warrior…

From Absurd to Absolutely

As an act of utter defiance against my impending 40th birthday, my husband and I decided to train for a triathlon. Actually, decided isn’t quite the right word to use…more accurately, I was coerced. You see, it’s a crazy enough notion in its own right – this “exert-yourself-til-you-just-wanna-die-while-someone-actually-times-you” kind of thing…but for those who really knew me, it was considered the most ludicrous thing they’d ever heard. I was no longer a spry I’ve-got-energy-to-burn 20-something. True, I was a sports fan, but not actively involved in my own game since my college days…and to be quite honest, my shadow hadn’t crossed the threshold of a fitness center in over five years. And that, my friends, was the little bit of trivia that got me into this mess in the first place. During our courtship three years ago, I made the silly mistake of whining about my lack of fitness-related activity…and the next thing you know, I’m being challenged to enter a triathlon. The only logical defense I have against such a hair-brained idea: blinding love. Enough said. To add a little insight into the male perspective on things, HE thought it was the smartest thing we could do to test out this budding relationship of ours. In mustering up the inner courage to face a challenge much bigger than ourselves, we’d be able to really get to know each other from the inside out. You’d be amazed at how clearly you begin to see yourself when all of the personal junk comes floating to the surface…all of the fear…all of the insecurity…all of the unbelief. Each time one of us hit one of those walls, it gave us insight into each other’s character and exposed what we were truly made of. I have to admit (even in writing) that he was right. It was a brilliant plan. So we spent 3 months training together – narrowly escaping death-by-drowning as I attempted to swim the full length of the pool for the first time in over 2 decades; taking a nasty spill on my bike and being assisted by every emergency response team on the entire Peninsula; fearing that I’d lost a lung somewhere in junior high PE, which would validate the panic I felt as I gasped for air each time we tried to complete a run. Between you and me, it was stinkin’ hard work – but something in it was so gratifying. We were toughing it out. We were fighting through. We were not going to be defeated. WAe were not giving up. And we were GOING to cross the finish line…together. Out of all the grueling adversity, determination was born, and a sense of ability rose up from the insecurity, and fear collapsed under the weight of child-like anticipation as race day approached. It was one of those “life moments” where we knew we’d done the hard work…and the impossible seemed well within our grasp. So on race day – at the end of swimming through post-hurricane ocean swells, and biking against shoreline wind gusts that made us feel like we were riding backward, and after losing my remaining lung on the last leg of the run – I was overcome with emotion as I saw the orange cones taper down toward the finish line.  We’d done it. Unlike dozens of people around us, we finished the race. Mind you, we didn’t shatter any long-standing records. In fact, a 70-year-old man passed me during the bike ride and shouted back at me, Don’t give up! Great. So we finished humbly, you might say…but we finished. All of that fear, insecurity and unbelief no longer had a hold on us. And best of all: we’d finished together. It was one of the most powerful feelings I’d ever experienced. (By the way, you know that dorky fist-in-the-air thing runners always do as they cross the finish line? You HAVE to do it. It just comes up out of you…with a whoop and a holler, I might add.) Then to make a memorable moment simply unforgettable as we crossed the finish line Mr. Wonderful got down on one knee and proposed in front of the entire race crowd! The moral of the story is simply this: You put in the hard work, and even the craziest, most impossible ideas on earth can result in life-changing payoffs in the end.

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