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Archive for stories

drawing near . Psalm Two

“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.

drawing near . Psalm One

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?

Drawing Near

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.

sketch journal 062717 . Strength of the Ox

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.

letters to my daughter . 060817 Time

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!).

 

letters to my children . 050117

To my babies. To all our babies…

Today is hard. It may even be very hard. So hard you are tired of it. Very tired. You may be hurt. Or confused. Or afraid. You may not think there’s an end to what you face. But, there will be. You may not think you can make it. But, you can. You CAN. You may not believe you are strong enough. But, you are. You may not believe you’re worth it. But, you are.  You may not think there’s a shred of hope. But, there is. There IS. Today, you may not believe there’s a way through this struggle in front of you. But we can find one. Together. You may not feel brave. But, a day will come when you are. Another day will come. Give that day a chance. Just a small chance. Today is hard. Very hard. So hard you give up on it. Just, please. Please. Don’t give up on tomorrow.

reading log . Inspired by MLK

One of my goals for 2017 is to read at least 25 books. The goal fits into my thinking on three areas of growth I want for myself this year. I’ll share more on that later in the week, but in short, I see this goal of concentrated, intentional reading as a way to expand my thinking and creativity.

I tend to be a binge topic reader. So, while I often have what I deem a “doesn’t require much thought” book in the mix as a way to relax, I also usually have one or two more “serious” reads that fit into whatever binge topic of the moment. For the last two years, it’s been politics and political history — mainly covering a curiosity about the last fifty years. Given the craziness of the current political climate and the uncertainty of the presidency beginning later this week, some of those reads have left a knot in the pit of my stomach. So much about the last few years has seemed a discouraging redux of unrest and social stretching. This year, I wanted to take some of that immersion in history, and tweak it to stretch my own understanding of justice — and injustice. To open my eyes to more marginalized hearts.

So, for the next books on my night stand, I’ve turned to some of the lions in the fight for social justice… a list to prime the pump of my own willingness to speak out, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this day we celebrate his legacy. 

Strength to Love
by Martin Luther King Jr.

Published in 1963, this collection of sermon notes, bible studies, and convictions about faith and justice served to not only codify the ideals of a movement, but to inspire a new generation of nonviolent activism. Oddly, I’d never heard of it until we visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis a few years ago. The book was in Dr. King’s briefcase in the Lorraine Motel where he was shot in 1968. In her forward to the book, Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, wrote: “If there is one book Martin Luther King Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love.” She described it as the best explanation of “his belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.” 

Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation
by Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly

Clarence Jones was a speech writer and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., and his book offers an account of the weeks leading up to the March on Washington and how the “I Have a Dream” speech came to be. I heard about this book during the coverage of the 6oth anniversary of the March a few years ago, in an interview with Mr. Jones. As a “storyteller” often tasked with framing client messages, I am excited to read this account of how that role is applied to social justice.

March Trilogy
by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

I’ve been holding off on reading this trilogy until the final book came out in 2016. The graphic novels tell the personal story of Congressman Lewis, and his iconic involvement in the civil rights movement. Book One offers an account of his growing up years, his meeting of Dr. King, and the beginnings of the Nashville lunch counter sit-in campaign. Book Two covers efforts during the bus boycott, Congressman Lewis’ rise as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, his speech at the March on Washington and the Birmingham church bombing. Book Three, which won a 2016 National Book Award, continues the story including accounts of Freedom Summer, the fight against voter suppression and the march to Selma. The format of the books was inspired by the 1958 comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. We have much to learn from this American hero who is still standing for freedom today. I’ve promised to pass these on to my son when I finish reading them.

Love is Love
Comic Anthology

Love is Love is an anthology of graphic impressions contributed by numerous writers and artists as a response to the Orlando Pulse shooting. The book, organized by Marc Andreyko, benefits the survivors of that terror attack, and shares many of the fears and reactions from the tragic event. Because I have dear friends in the LGBT community, I choose to look carefully at this uncomfortable and raw reaction to unspeakable violence.

So, my journey of seeing inspired by MLK begins. I hope to read with an open mind and an open heart. I hope to share some of my reactions as I make sense of them. And I’m excited to see how these new perspectives will color my own work and voice.

letters to my daughter . 110816

It’s not a perfect democracy. Not a perfect process. And they’re never perfect candidates. But this right — this privilege — is one of the reasons this whole experiment got started… “in order to form a more perfect union.” So, even when our citizenship stretched us. Even when it requires us to step outside what’s easy. Even when it requires us to make a hard choice, we VOTE. We speak our voice freely at the ballot box. Because many in our world don’t have that privilege. And many died to make sure we do.

letters to my daughter . 091916

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This is one of those hard weeks for me. It marks four years since my husband, Mike, died. I keep looking for the time when these types of anniversaries don’t require me to retreat or take time off or climb out of that deep reservoir of grief and memories I seem to slip into. Each year is a little different, and I think a little easier. This one is easier than last year, and I’m trusting next year will be easier still.

My little ones were so young when he died. I sometimes wonder exactly what they remember. Baby Girl was only four at the time. This year, she’s lived as long without her father as she lived with him. It will take longer for the boys to reach that milestone, but they’ll get there. When those memories they do have rise to the surface, I find myself trying to shore them up. They look to me for confirmation that they really do remember what they think they remember. That their dad really was like what they think they remember. That he really did the things they think they remember.

It breaks my heart. In the way the detailed level of my own memories sometimes does. But, I’ve realized that one of my greatest services to them as this loss — this absence — meets each new stage of their upbringing is to help them remember. When they can’t remember, I’ll help them to be as sure of their dad as they can be.

letters to my daughter . 091216

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It started out as a threat. I’m not ashamed to admit it. School mornings are tough at our house. School Monday mornings are tougher. Nobody wants to get up, including the Mommy in the room. I try my best to keep it positive, but sometimes that first hour of the day tries to do us in with cajoling, begging, groaning, and more often than not, a little raising of the voices as I try to pry my children from their beds to get started with the day.

Sometimes I resort to threats. The first (and least invasive, in my singular opinion) is this: “Do I need to start singing?” Yep. I threaten to sing if I don’t get a response to the admonitions to wake up and sit up. Now, I like to sing. And, my children are used to me adding my own brand of wackiness to situations by breaking out in show tunes, or 80’s tunes, or jazz tunes, or the occasional beat box. There was a period when they were younger (and the words were simpler) when I sang a song for every spelling word on their lists as we practiced for tests. But, that’s another story.

So, singing is not really all that unusual or earth-shattering around our house. In the mornings, however, it’s gotten pretty rare because of the groaning responses emanating from their beds. Enter the threat. Usually the morning singing threat is met with a chorus of “NO!”, followed by begrudging movement under the covers as they attempt to open their eyes to the light. This morning, however, something astonishing happened. When I asked the infamous question, “Do I need to start singing?”, Elisha Bug gave a small, half-sleepy grin and responded, “Maybe.”

Holy wow. Maybe. For a Monday morning, that’s pretty amazing. So, I brought out my usual morning song — the old Lake Forest Ranch camp favorite we sung at morning council to “wake up” the echo living on the other side of the lake.

Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory!
Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory!
Rise! And shine! And give God! The glory, glory!
Children of the Lord!

I sang it. I got some giggles — so as to indicate an actual awakening of the 4th grader. And then, this from Bug: “We might need the kick.” (More giggles.)

Now, Bug was clearly toying with me. Another good sign that we were actually waking up. “The kick” refers to my history of inserting a cheerleader kick/clap under the leg after the third “Rise! And shine!”

I was all in now. So, round two of Rise and Shine came, including the requested kick, more giggles, and the morning routine begun.

Just a morning. Just a Monday. Just an ordinary moment. That I hope we’ll never forget.

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