Aging Gracefully

In just a few days, I will have a BIG birthday--celebrating seven decades of life. Many people have asked me, "How do you feel about this birthday?" My answer is usually two-part, 1) there is nothing I can do about it, and 2) disbelief. I do not think I ever really imagined myself at seventy. How can this be? I vividly remember when my mom turned this age--and I thought of her as an old woman. I definitely do not visualize myself in the same way! (You may laugh now.)

Many years ago, I asked the Lord to allow me to "grow old gracefully." I have to admit--that was much easier to say when I was younger, than it is to daily live it out. I have come to view the aging process with the image of "shrinking." Life seems to be contracting. Downsizing our home forced the elimination of many treasured items. A limited income restricts our freedom to travel or engage in many of our "normal" activities. The pain, stiffness and other physical issues bring limitations. Opportunities for work or service are often restricted because of the cultural assumption that advanced age means we have nothing to offer or cannot perform. All these realities caused me to wonder, how does one respond with grace when life seems to be characterized by loss?

But, I am not writing a lament for all the losses of this aging process. Years ago, I was confronted with the quote by Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, who studied those who physically lived, but emotionally died during the time of internment, and those who experienced the same horrors, but went on to live fruitful lives. He concluded, "When everything else is stripped away, we are left with the last human freedom, the choice to decide how to respond to any given situation. The last human freedom is the ability to choose one's attitude." Yes, responding with grace is a choice. In spite of circumstances, God declares that I can choose to be "reverent, not a gossip, not given to addiction, sensible, kind, and a teacher of love and what is good" (excerpts from Titus 2). In other words, as an aging woman, I can be full of grace that overflows to others.

Many years ago, my husband and I claimed the promise in Psalm 92:12-14 that we would flourish in old age. Verse 14 declares, "They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green." God does not see the restrictions inherent in the aging process as limiting factors in serving Him. His calling to grow spiritually and to serve others comes with no age restriction or retirement date. He expects us to allow Him to use the many experiences of our lives to be a blessing to others. We are to continue to nurture the soul of our neighbors and our city. None of His commands have an expiration date. 

So--what am I doing on the eve of this major milestone? Just what I have been called to do all of my life: grow in love of God; share with others the incredible reality of a life lived as God's beloved child; submit my (aching) body and soul into His care; allow Him to demonstrate his faithfulness in my many years of life to speak hope to others; and to look forward to the ever-so-closer time that I enter into eternity with Him.

It is time to flourish. "Happy Birthday to Me!"

Art's Metaphors for God's Work

I am finding that writing blog posts while I am writing a book to be a daunting task. Either I do not have sufficient discipline--or emotional strength--to do both well. But, recently I was astounded by a revelation from God concerning the beautiful picture painted by certain artistic metaphors. I am still unpacking the full significance of these artistic treasures, but I'll share a couple of them for your consideration.

I have often referred to my deep grief experience following the murder of our eldest son as a time of "breaking" or even "being shattered." But, as I stood in the studio of my artist friend, Mako Fujimura, I saw that what I had actually experienced was a "crushing." Mako is a master artist in the 17th-Century art of Nihonga ("Japanese Painting"). This is not the place for me to detail how his artistic style replicates my experience, but it is sufficient to highlight the method for the metaphor will be clear. Mako takes precious minerals and carefully crushes then in a time-consuming effort with a mortar and pestle. Once the granules are exactly the right size, he mixes them with a very special glue, using his hands in a gentle, but consistent manner. Only once the pigments are deemed exactly right by the Master Craftsman, does he begin the laborious task of applying the color in a layer by layer fashion. Gold or silver leaf is then carefully applied. The result is a luminous, deep treasure of beauty. 

God's promise to me that He could take the "broken (crushed) pieces of my life and make something beautiful" came alive as I witnessed Mako's art-making. The Creator, the real Master Artist, is producing beauty in a life--not merely on a canvas of silk or hand-made paper. Repeatedly God's Word reminds of this promise. "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed" (Psalm 34:18) is merely one of the many Scriptures. God is producing an piece of art--unique, yet infinitely beautiful WITH the crushed pieces of our lives.

Two other metaphors from art involved the making of pottery. God, the Creator, is called "the one who forms"--an ancient name for a potter. In Jeremiah 18 and Isaiah 64 God is called the "potter" and we are the "clay." God, as the Sovereign Ruler, can form us as he wills and can "crush" us back into a moldable lump of clay for his refashioning. 

A special form of pottery is the Japanese "Kintsugi." The artisans, greatly respecting the materials and form of a piece of pottery, refuses to discard cracked or damage pieces. Instead, this method of "golden joinery" fills the cracks with precious gold, silver or platinum, mixed with lacquer. The end result is a piece of art worth so much more than before the damage occurred. Again, such is our God. 2 Corinthians 4:7 calls us "clay pots holding the spiritual treasure"--which shines through in the cracks and holes of our lives. Beauty and strength hides within us--waiting to be revealed in our brokenness. God doesn't reject us, nor does he hide our flaws--but reveals himself in all his glory.

These themes will be explored more deeply in my upcoming book, but I wanted to share my "ah-ha" moment with God so that you might be encouraged as well. Allow God to make something beautiful out of your brokenness today.


Grieving the Process

The election of 2016 for President is winding down, but the ugly rhetoric is increasing. As I view Twitter, Facebook, and various blogs, I am deeply grieved by what I see. It doesn't matter which candidate or political party you are supporting, social media is replete with attacks, half-truths and out-right lies. What grieves me is that followers of Jesus are as guilty as blatant unbelievers in posting such trash. 

In my observation, it seems that the underlying philosophy is, "The end justifies the means." My childhood pastor often repeated, "It is NEVER right to do wrong in order to have a chance to do right." Yet, that is exactly what is happening, especially on social media. It seems it doesn't matter if the damaging headline is misleading or even true. The goal is to defeat "the enemy"--and anything goes in accomplishing it. Articles are posted from unchecked (and often scurrilous) sources, just because it supports my position. Photos that are clearly photo-shopped (and therefore, a lie) are propagated--again just to defeat "the other side". Documentaries are praised, but never checked for the veracity of their claims, as long as they agree with me. It seems it doesn't matter--use any means to succeed for your position.

There are real issues involved in this campaign. There are also very serious character issues to consider with both candidates. It is right to have a position or to take a stand. But, without a commitment to TRUTH, none of this really matters in the melee of campaign fervor. The damage done to our country in how we approached this campaign will leave deep, putrid sores.

I fear we've played into the hands of the Enemy as the people who call themselves Christians (or Evangelicals) have engaged in God-less, ugly practices. . . often even worse that those who do not have a relationship with Christ.

I am grieved by what I've witnessed. I believe our God is grieved also. He is Truth--and never resorts to lies or half-truths (which are the same as lies) to speak His message or work His plan. God is also full of grace and mercy. He repeatedly commands us to "love our enemies" and "pray for our enemies". He never condones creating unfounded fear or using shoddy practices. He calls us to love, to be kind, to show respect (even when we disagree) and to "go high when others go low". He tells us to "consider others above ourselves". He calls us to serve, not to attack each other.

Again, this is not a campaign speech for any candidate. It is a call for fellow believers to engage in the political process with the same attitude as Jesus--in truth, beauty and goodness.  

How will recover from this election trauma and the grief that it has caused?

Sounds of Silence

As I sit peacefully on the deck of our little cabin in the North Carolina woods, I realize that the silence is never without a cacophony of sounds--

  • singing of birds that call from one to another;
  • chirping cicadas and crickets;
  • rustling leaves, blown by the gentle breeze;
  • falling branches and pine cones;
  • scurrying of voles and mice in the fallen leaves;
  • chattering of squirrels;
  • buzzing of bees;
  • dripping of water from the leaves due to last night's rainfall; and
  • periodic claps of thunder or rainfall.

These sounds celebrate the existence by each facet of God's creation and join in the chorus of praise for the Creator. These sounds do not decide to be filled with praise. . . it is inherent in their creation. Psalm 148:7-10 declares this reality,

"Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!"

What we as humans consider to be "silence" is merely the absence of the human voice, technology or the evidence of "civilization". These things may actually create noise, not sounds. This noise may or may not be offered in praise. It is this noise we seek to flee in order to find rest or be restored.

Finally, a thought from Mother Teresa on "silence":

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.

May we bring praise to God in the understanding that "silence is beauty" (Makoto Fujimura).

The Numinous Experience through Color

I have to admit--this is a "blog-in-process" and not one that I can write emphatically. But, as I am doing research for my next book, fulfilling the "homework" given to me by my mentor, and attempting to engage in experiential learning (which I believe is the most transformative), I want to share what I am learning.

Recently, my husband and I went to Washington, D.C. and spent an extended amount of time in the Rothko Room of the Phillips Collection gallery. This gallery was the first one for modern art in the United States and contains an amazing number of quality--both well-known and obscure--pieces of contemporary art. But, my specific assignment was to spend time in the one small room that contains four large Rothko paintings and a bench in the center. As I entered the room, I was struck with the depth and vibrancy of the colors used by Rothko in these squares or rectangles of color. But, the longer I focussed on these canvases, the more profound they became.

As I stared at the colors that seemed to be hanging or hovering on the canvas, the more I was aware of the power of color. Each painting elicited an emotional response dependent on the colors used-- peace, disquiet, joy, wonder or delight. Just from the use of color.

As art often does for me, my mind was taken back to the source of creativity, the Creator God. While I've much yet to understand, I realized that these colors were but refractions of the light waves. All colors are the result of light being broken or bent. Amazing. As I thought of God, the source of Light, I mused on the possibilities of what existed before the Creation when only the Triune God existed. . . pure, blinding Light. Did color exist at that time? Does color exist when there are no eyes to behold the broken or refracted light? Obviously, I have much yet to learn about color theory, but sitting in the midst of the luminous offerings of color, my mind did dwell on these questions.

Also, I meditated on the spiritual truth that as the Light of God shines forth through the brokenness of our world and of our lives, it results in the beauty of color that brings healing, peace and joy. I remember my own experience of hearing from God in an abstract art gallery when in deep despair and grief. God clearly assured me that He could make something beautiful out of the broken pieces of my heart and soul, if I would trust Him with my pain. And so He has done. How often do we prevent our lives being God's prism of brilliant colors because we deny the Light to shine through our brokenness?

It is said that Rothko stated about his paintings during his abstract period, "tragic experience is the only source book for art" and that these paintings were "experiences of tragedy and ecstasy, as the basic condition of existence." (Jacob Baal-Teshuva in Rothko ). While I believe he understood the power of these paintings, I wonder if he ever comprehended the spiritual depth of them. . . of how they spoke of the Creator Himself. 

For me, sitting in the midst of this designated Rothko Room, it was a numinous experience of transcendence and transformation. God be praised.