“Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand…”
What an opening! It’s like picking up at the cliffhanger of some epic confrontation. Where season one ends and season two begins. It feels like an important moment. Like the whole trajectory of the rest of the story is riding on the decisions made right here.
When I browse the news apps or read my Twitter feed, that cliffhanger moment feels pretty familiar. When I look at the plethora of messages facing my children and me every day, I see a lot of uproar. A lot of vain things. I see a lot of people and ideas and circumstances and choices staking claim to our time and our hearts. I see a lot of the same uncertainty and turmoil found in the words of this psalm. It’s easy to question and even be fearful or worried.
Psalm two isn’t one of the touchy-feely ones. It’s not filled with love and encouragement and comfort. No, it’s raging. It’s nations and peoples on a rampage, defiant with the God they’ve misunderstood. It’s an Anointed King taking back what’s rightfully His. It’s rebellion and anger and tearing and scoffing and breaking and the terrifying fury of a just cause coming to fruition. It’s a warning and a call to discernment.
And like the first Psalm, it presents a contrast. A single, final line of comfort and respite in the war that’s being waged.
“How blessed are all who take refuge in Him.” psalm 2:12
The people described in the psalm are inexplicably seeking to rend and cast away the cords binding them to the one and only place they can ever find refuge. They exchange of a place of uproar for a place of blessing. In their quest for independence, they miss being welcomed into the one place they can be fully free and at peace.
My boys and I have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia this year. We’ve finally made it to The Last Battle, the final tome in this incredible series, and I couldn’t help but think of the story as I read this psalm. There’s a structure in the book that’s become a pivotal point of fear, confusion and false control for the people of Narnia. As the tale and final confrontation,unfolds we find that this place of such struggle is really a doorway. For those who are willing to believe and seek it, stepping through the door opens up a world of peace and refuge. But, the book describes a group of dwarfs who are intent on resisting the power and truth of Aslan, Narnia’s Great Lion. They are intent on not giving in — on not being “taken in” by the rightful ruler and owner of Narnia. Even as Aslan has opened the door to all the wonder and goodness the others can see and taste, the dwarfs see nothing but darkness and foul scraps of food. As they choose not to believe, Aslan explains that they are “so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” In their own stubbornness, they have shut themselves out of the refuge right in front of them.
This psalm is not an easy one to read and not an easy one to be comfortable with. It’s too revealing. Too much of an expose of the human heart we know so well. Too much of the righteous God we don’t always recognize. But, even in those raging words, there is a glimpse of hope. The hope and confidence of knowing how the story ends. Confidence in knowing that not everyone is wringing their hands. There is a King who will rule. There is an inheritance that will be given. And, therefore, there is a refuge that is available. Even in the face of uproars and vain things. There is a confidence and hope in knowing that although I may not know how to deal with the questions and the choices and the uproar all around us, I know Someone who does. And He offers a perfect place of refuge.
I’m starting to make a little progress on my Drawing Near series, and still working through a manageable routine — giving myself the time to paint, but also the time to reflect and let the words of the Psalms get below the surface of my thinking. To meditate on them.
It’s a fitting pursuit for today’s psalm, since one of its main themes is the value of meditating on God’s word.
“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” psalm 1:2-3
As I’ve been reading through Psalm 1, I’ve been struck by what a great contrast the words portray. The difference that occurs when we find our delight and focus our attention in God’s word is clear. As His law becomes our filter for how we conduct life, we find ourselves cultivating not only faith in Him, but fertile ground for ourselves to flourish. It’s hard to mistake the comfort found in the words “firmly planted by streams of water.” The passage describes a whole ecosystem of security and growth that is starkly contrasted with the meandering and searching found outside of this fertile ground. The imagery of wheat chaff blowing aimlessly in the wind, and of wanderers who can’t decide whether to walk or stand or sit pales in comparison to the nourished, verdant, fruit-bearing image of the tree. It depicts the quality of life emanating from a heart that is committed to understanding and internalizing God’s words. The strength and singleness of purpose, the firmness realized in that place of meditation is not easily swayed by lesser voices.
I needed this reminder today. I’m asking myself, what type of heart ecosystem am I nurturing? Is it an ungrounded, distracted, and withering place where fruit can’t be sustained? Or is it an ecosystem that produces real growth and prosperity and fertile ground to nourish my soul? One seeded by a delight in God’s true word?
It’s the first day of school for my kiddos, and I always seem to take it as a new beginning for myself as well — the first day of a new season, a new schedule, a new routine. I spent part of the morning cleaning my studio and organizing supplies and inventory to help me start my new “school year” on a fresh foot. Last week, I wrote about some of the challenges of this time of year for me as I find myself in more quietness during the day. Getting my creative space in order helps to keep my thinking uncluttered, as I embrace a little more productivity as a tradeoff for missing my little ones. It helps my creativity stay ripe for growth.
My husband, Mike, was a landscape designer. He told me once that, like many professions, the professors in his degree program often had a different definition of things than your average gardener would. For example, we talk about dirt, but landscape designers talk about soil. “Dirt” was relegated to a decidedly less glamorous position… “misplaced soil.” Likewise, in the world of landscaper-speak, a weed is a “misplaced plant.”
I thought about that the other day, as I’ve been thinking and dreaming and evaluating lately. Kind of weeding through my heart, pulling out things and pursuits and “priorities” that seem out of place. We’re all planted someplace, a place that may or may not be of our choosing, but as we set down roots, that place begins to reflect who we are, what we want, where we’re going. At least, in an authentic and conscious life, it does. And that’s the kind of life I want to live. It’s the kind of life I want to build for my children.
It’s been almost five years since Mike died, and the coming weeks and months will hold a number of “anniversaries” for us. As I’ve been weeding through those little bits of heart-outgrowth I mentioned earlier, I’ve recognized that I’ve spent a great part of the last five years trying to reclaim or make up for things I thought I lost when he died. Things I was afraid my kids would lose in not having their dad. And trying to figure out my place in the face of what’s happened. Whether I am that “misplaced plant” now that my life looks so much different that I expected. But, as I absorb this distance from what seemed like a defining moment, I’ve begun to let go of that pursuit. I’ve begun to finally dig in deeper in this place where I’ve been planted. And as I look around, I realize I can flourish here. It can be — it IS a place of abundance. It’s a place where I’m seeding all kinds of new possibilities. For myself and for the sweet little souls who inhabit this place with me.
So, I’m weeding through my heart. I’ve started to let go of some of those things and feelings and commitments that don’t seem to grow well in this new and time-seasoned place. And, I’m realizing some areas that need tending if the right seeds are to grow.
One of the areas I’m committed to growing this year is my closeness — my nearness — to God. My Father and Creator. The One who’s carried me through so much sorrow into joy. The One I recognize has shown us mercy in all things. The One who Fathers my children. The One who provides for our needs and brings peace to our fears.
I’ve wanted to be more intentional and diligent about drawing near to Him, recognizing that this drawing is bringing me closer not only to Him, but to the place He has for me, I haven been enjoying with him lately and we have the best times. “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good,” the psalmist described it.
So, I’m beginning a new painting and lettering journey. A series that lets me explore those thoughts and “draw near” through the book of Psalms. Because I so often process my thinking by writing and painting, I hope to use watercolor as a way to slow my thoughts and record them and the lessons I learn in a more meaningful and memorable way. I know this series will not be a daily one. I don’t want to create pressure for myself with another daily painting commitment, but I plan to start with Psalm 1 and move through at a pace that lets me absorb something new (or familiar) about God in each chapter. I will be sharing the painted journey along with some of my journaling here on the Frog Kisser blog and also on my Facebook page, so I hope you’ll follow along. I don’t do this to hold myself up as any strong example of Biblical wisdom or Christian faith — only as fellow journeyman in need of the Mighty One. I hope you’ll be encouraged by what you see.
My country, ’tis of thee,’
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring
~ Samuel Francis Smith (1831)
It’s a strange day in the Pond when I’m writing about oxen. I’ll start with that. I feel cluttered this week – distracted by so many thoughts, and juggling a growing list of projects and things I want to do with the kids. So, I guess oxen seem to fit right in. When I find myself surrounded by some combination of cluttered activities, cluttered goals, or cluttered thinking, this proverb often floats to the surface. Just a couple of lines from a rich book that stuck some time ago during a meditation. It’s a gentle reminder that brings much needed clarity…
For me, that growing sense of being overtaken by a cluttered spirit starts with the physical environment. I look around and find various buildings sets and racing tracks scattered around the living room. Cups in the sink. Blankets and shoes tossed aside on the floor. The remnant of one of Baby Girl’s craft projects on the table where an Independence Day centerpiece should be. Magazines and books piled up on my desk waiting to inspire me. Cards and prints that need packaging in the studio. Surfaces and spaces. All filled with things out of place. Or things reminding me of something that needs to be done.
Then, it moves to logistics – the thousand responsibilities to juggle in just keeping up. Waiting for Roto-rooter. Waiting for the cable guys. Shuffling to accommodate their maintenance. Juggling meetings. Getting meals together. New client projects. Each sweet little spirit wanting some attention and affirmation – one wanting help with hot glue, one with a tummy ache, one eager to start a new video project. When I look around, I see clothes and toys and mail that need weeding. Not to mention flower beds. Sally needs to go to the vet. My project schedule and supply closet need organizing. We should pull something out of our summer jar today. Someone wants to go swimming. And I might cry because the summer days are halfway gone, now.
And, then the clutter settles into heart matters. It’s a jumble of questions. What are the most important things? Am I spending time on them? How DO I want to spend my days? How am I doing? How are WE doing? A jumble of concerns and hopes and needs. Channeling this heart, who has a perpetual stream of big ideas and a hankering to accomplish them all. Comforting and giving confidence to this heart, who seems to struggle with a nagging fear that won’t let go. Nurturing and capturing the imagination of this heart, who won’t stop growing up, though he’d really like to. How do I manage all the decisions and expectations? How do I filter the influences on them, while preserving the precious spirits inside? How do I juggle the pull between home keeping and growing freelance projects? How do I prioritize my own list of creative pursuits? How do I NOT miss out on this time? Question after question, fueled by a clutter of thoughts and feelings and responsibilities.
That’s when an unlikely proverb about oxen rises to the surface. A gentle reminder of one truth… Life is messy. It just is. All the jobs and responsibilities, the space we create, the things we own, the precious people we love and the dreams we want to chase. They’re messy. The only way to avoid the mess is to avoid the life.
“Where no oxen are, the manger is clean.” Clean, pristine, free of debris and out-of-place fragments. A clean and uncluttered, empty place.
“Much increase comes from the strength of the ox.” It’s a shift in perspective. If the price of clean and neat constraint is emptiness, I don’t want it. I want full! That increase. That fullness. It can’t be achieved when tidiness is the ultimate benchmark. It can’t be experienced when everyone and everything stays in its place. Those narrow constraints of perfection and precision. To embrace the fullness is to embrace the messiness. The clutter. The complicated. The unclear and unkept.
Yes, I can insist on keeping all things tidy. I can reject the unexpected hope or worry or idea or plan in favor of some pristine routine and schedule and kitchen table. I can suck all the life out of our experiences and our time together, our hearts, our home, in service to neat plans, neat feelings and neat rooms. Or I can revel in the ripe energy of the life happening all around me. The friction of each little creative heart and creative pursuit rubbing against each other.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I value an ordered space. I need it. I thrive when I can prioritize what I see all around me with what is beautiful and full of memory and inspiration. So, I’m a big proponent of bringing the spaces we inhabit – where we nurture our family and hearts – to a comfortable place of order. But, I’m learning to balance that order with the freedom to breathe and do and enjoy without holding so tightly to where things ought to be. I hope I’m learning to extend that freedom to my children.
Those things out of place. They’re evidences of activities and games and projects experienced together. They’re the trappings of feeling like you’re at home, where anything goes and speaks and feels. Those logistics. They’re really the easy things. The things with clear expectations. The to-dos that make our home go and my business go. The products of having the freedom to clutch and shift when it’s needed. And, all those heart questions. The cacophony of my own wandering thoughts. They’re what come out when I take the time to stop and look and listen to the other souls around me. They’re the realization that knowing the question is often so much more powerful than knowing the answer.
So, I’m sitting in my studio, typing away on the computer. The Magic School Bus is playing on my tiny television, and Mrs. Frizzle is on her latest field trip. All three children are piled in the room, and I’m struggling to concentrate. Baby Girl has her beanbag heaped in the bay window with pillows and popcorn. Elisha and Travis are sharing the couch with more pillows, kool-aid, and episode commentary. Each one content and insistent that I be involved in the conversation. The work I planned to do isn’t getting done as quickly. But, the work of drawing near. Drawing together. Sharing time and space and the beauty of a messy manger. In this moment, that work seems right on track.
I’m just now getting to share this sketch journal entry from our farm trip a few weeks ago. When we’re there, I love to sit out on the deck overlooking our back pasture in the mornings. It’s always been very peaceful to me, and this particular morning, I got to see a little rain storm come through. I’ve seen countless rain showers and even thunderstorms move through Busy Bee over the years, but sometimes the most ordinary moments become extraordinary when you force yourself to stop and take it all in. That morning, I decided to wait it out on the deck rather than running back inside, and it turned out to be a real joy.
Today’s lettering practice is brought to you by two exciting pieces of information…
One, it’s summer. I know that’s old news, but THIS is the week I’m trying to help us settle into some kind of flexible routine with getting client work finished, moving forward with Pond project ideas, achieving a measure of the “lazy, hazy” summer element, AND taking advantage of the blessing of all my kids at home with me for this season. We’ve spent the last two weeks in celebration mode that school is out and spending down time at the farm, and now, we’re home where at least a little bit of routine and intention are needed to keep the balls rolling. This is the second year we’ve chosen not to participate in any kind of summer care-giver program for the kids, and the first year I decided not to fill their time up with various camps. I’ve been feeling through the last semester that they (and I as the mommy/schedule maker/logistics coordinator) needed a break from so much scheduled and structured activities. I wanted us all to have free time – a concept that seems to be so undervalued in these days of rushing toward achievement after achievement.
So, the big question abounding is time! How do I manage it and capitalize on it all at the same time? Along with feeling like it’s ok to waste it every now and then? I’m still working through those decisions and balancing how and when I focus on work. And when I choose to set it aside. These days are precious. There are only a few years, really, when the concept of “summer vacation” is even possible for all of us in the same way, at the same time, in the same place. And, although I don’t like to think about it, there may be few years when all three of my little ones actually WANT to hang out with Mommy. So, today, I want to be able to say “Yes, I have time.” Even if I feel like I don’t. Even if it means I’m on Illustrator at the crack of dawn or rolling out block printing inks at midnight. When they have time. While we all have this rare and blessed time. I want to say “yes.”
The second bit of excitement sponsoring today’s practice is more of a programming note… my nifty Benks flexible arm iPhone holder arrived this week, and after a squeal of delight, I decided to try it out for overhead videos this morning! I have a small tripod that I sometimes use, but I was looking for something that could get more of a straight-on shot. It clips right onto the desk or table, and you can swivel or position the arm to capture your workspace. I’m still experimenting with making sure the shot is stabilized because I wiggle so much when I’m painting and my work table is showing its age. But, I love how it works, and I see tons of possibilities for this little tool. There it is in my set-up from this morning — cutting open the Amazon box to painting on camera in about 15 minutes (including time for choosing morning tunes!).
We spent last week at Busy Bee, enjoying farm wanderings. It was very rainy, which kept us inside much of the time, but we had a few opportunities to explore pastures and shady roads. With all the water, mushrooms were growing everywhere! Searches under the overgrown trees brought all kinds of glistening shapes and colors popping out from the leftover leaves from last winter. Many were still holding water from the rains, and I couldn’t help but imagine fairy baths and frog tea parties going on in these magical shapes. Here’s a collection of some of our finds. I need to look them up to see the official names, but for now, I’m too busy thinking of fairies and toads.
With the arrival of summer vacation, we’ve placed our Summer Jar on the coffee table. For the last several years, we’ve used the jar to inspire fun activities to help us make the most of our summer days. The summer jar “things” are really just ordinary. Yes, some are fun trips to take or experiences we want to repeat. But, some things are just things we do at home. Some things nobody would understand but us. But, when we look back at the end of our short 75 days of summer vacation, I hope the Summer Jar “things” will help us know we’ve had a summer. And we’ve lived it. And loved during it. We tend to rush. And, sometime we need reminders to slow down. To enjoy one another. To find joy. And to capture each moment fully.
For me, along with Summer Jar, part of my desire for the summer is to recapture some of my own creative spirit that’s been germinating over the last few months. I want to pursue some new ideas, some new media, and some new and more unfiltered ways of sharing thoughts… of telling stories. Today’s “sketch story” is a small glimpse. I don’t have a grand plan. I don’t know if I can really explain what I want to do, and if I could, I would need way more space than what I have here. So, I’ve decided to embrace the sprit of wonder and curiosity and real thought, and just go with whatever comes next. I hope to infuse this blog space with an even more authentic glimpse of my heart and creative pursuits. So, you may begin to see some changes and experiments. I hope you’ll take these steps with me, and that they’ll perhaps offer some inspiration in chasing your own dreams and ideas.