When God Speaks Through His Word and Our Art

The bold black ink on white canvas caught my eye.  As I walked under the shaded outdoor patio of Elevate coffee, I noticed a girl tracing the penciled words with a thin brush; “Wow, that’s beautiful,” I said.  I took a closer look; the canvas read, “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”.

“Can I take a picture of it?” I asked.IMG_0644

She said yes and I clarified, “I’d like to show it to my husband.”  The phrase sounded pleasant though unfamiliar and I smiled.  I stretched out my hand and introduced myself.  My new friend’s name is Jasmin.  I promised her I would return to see the finished product.

God has done this before.  Once before Asa and I started dating, I was looking at his pottery on the shelves at Desert Dragon.  He had carved around his vessel the words: “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  The Lord had been speaking these words same words to my heart.  He was using them to make me desire holiness and freedom from sin.  Now, Asa and I had barely talked at this point.  In fact, I had seen him throw and had not appreciated his work.  It wasn’t until I saw his carved pottery that I realized how talented he is.  A couple days later, I apologized to him, “I’m sorry, but I totally underestimated you,” I said.  He smiled and proceeded to win my heart and marry me months later.

But the point of my story is that God speaks to us often through His Word and moreover, through art, which I love.  When I saw Jasmin’s canvas, I saw God’s faithfulness.  I know I can trust him.  Despite the fact that, last night, my husband and I talked about silence, uncertainty and money, I know I cannot falter in my heart when it comes to God.  Because he told me, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”.  He reminded me of his Word last night.  And then, there it was today in black and white: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”.

Inside of elevate, I found a friend from the ceramics studio.   “I just saw Asa last night at the studio!”  Heather hugged me and congratulated us.  We sat on the couches near the window.  On the other side friend continued working on her lettered canvas.  I felt in my heart something/someone say, “That canvas is yours.”  I continued to share pictures from the wedding.  My friend and I chatted for a while until I finished my Mocha Frappuccino and she needed to leave to pick up her kids from school.

I returned to my new friend Jasmin on the other side of the glass.  She was sitting with her finished canvas and her boyfriend, Washington.  I asked her why she picked that verse in particular.  “Sometimes God speaks a verse into my heart for that particular season of my life.  This is a time of transition for me and I felt like this verse spoke to that.”

“I love it,” I said.

Washington handed me the canvas, “It’s yours.”

Dear Lord Jesus, I always underestimate you.  I pray you continue to show me your faithfulness through your people, your Word and our art.  Thank you because you are not silent.  Give me ears to hear and eyes to see.  In your name, Jesus, Amen.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13IMG_0648

Metamorphosis: a gift, a new life and a very hungry caterpillar

To the optimists whose hearts are willing to listen to good news

My sister Karina has always had a knack for gift giving, but this time she hit the nail right on the head. Before we left for the airport Saturday morning she handed me a small blue bag and instructed me, “Don’t open until you’re in Phoenix.”  I tucked it into the picnic basket that I had found in salvation army.  Her gift did not go through security undetected.  An officer pulled me aside and checked the basket.
“Any explosives or fire arms in here?” he joked.  He sifted through my beat up NIV, pulled out my chopsticks and shin ramen cup noodles.  “What’s this?” he held Karina’s present. 
“No idea, Sir,” I said, “My sister gave it to me as a going away present.  I can open it if you like.” 
“I’ll put it through the machine and see.  If I need to I’ll open it.  Haha, hope your sister isn’t one for practical jokes.”  He took away the blue gift bag.  My curiosity was fueled.  The officer came back. 
“Hahaha, that would have been a good one.  You would have been so mad.  Here, you’re all clear.  Have good holiday, Miss.” 
I smiled and took my basked away and made my way to gate F10 and took a seat near a window where I could see the sun rising.  Immediately I tore into the little present.

photo (1)A week prior, we had taken a trip to Mitsuwa Mart in Arlington Heights and I had debated buying a Japanese translation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar from the bookstore.  But I ended up putting it back on the shelf.  Karina seized the opportunity and recruited our kid brother and our friend Victor to distract me while she made the purchase.  She tucked the book inside her purse and returned to us, cool as a cucumber and just in time for green tea ice cream.  Those sneaky ninjas were so careful not to spill the beans that I never suspected a thing.

I read through Harapeko Aomushi on the plane and was surprised I fully understood it.  Of course the book is written for children and completely in hiragana the most basic characters of Japanese writing.  And it does help that I know the story in English by heart: “In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on the leaf…”

I’ve been holding back on writing about my obsession with butterflies because it seems a little childish.  But as I make this new transition I feel that it’s important to recognize what God has been teaching me since last August.  At the end of the summer of 2013, I was offered a part-time position in Grand Rapids, but I turned it down because in my heart I knew God was asking me to go home.  I found Christ as a freshmen at Hope College and knew that going back meant trusting that God would provide Christian community and a job.  Not only that but I learned that going back to Steger meant coming to terms with my old self.  My house alone is filled with relics from 18 years lived without knowledge of Jesus’ love and grace.  It was during this period that God began speaking to me through butterflies.  I can’t pin point when it began.  But suddenly I saw them every where.  On the cover of a devotional that my Japanese professor gave to me for my graduation.  Printed on the inside of a mug at my Tia Jessie’s house.  At the museum of science and industry, My friend Lauren and I watched a the Flight of the Butterflies in the Omnimax theater. For Christmas my mom gave me a butterfly necklace and for months it served as a reminder of the familiar verse: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

IMG_20131222_205457  IMG_20140107_162033  IMG_20131109_193638 (2)

But I didn’t feel new.  I was working at an incredibly challenging alternative school (ironically called RISE) and the tough work environment made me irritable toward the people I loved.  I asked myself, what the heck? you’re supposed to be representing Jesus Christ and look at you now!  And the butterflies kept coming along with temptations to return to my old self.  On the worst days, the butterflies were more like mosquitoes that I swatted away. On the best days, they were a reminder to step into the life that God has called me to live in Christ.

So as I read through this simple children’s book on my way to a new life in Phoenix, AZ, I remembered the complex reality of being born again in Christ.  I remembered the hunger.  How nothing would satisfy me though on Monday I ate through a whole apple and on Tuesday through two pears and on Wednesday through three plums and on Thursday through four strawberries and on Friday through five oranges and on Saturday ate through a plethora of things that I was never created to eat and made me sick.  And finally I ate through a green leaf.  This leaf to me represents God’s word.  And when I ate of it, I was transformed into something entirely new.  Everyday, I must accept this new life and choose to rise and fly.

Those pesky butterflies still follow me wherever I go.  But I feel like I’ve stepped into a different season and the metaphor has been etched into my heart. I am grateful to God for his patience and grace.  He has lead me into this desert land and I am eager to meet him here in a brand-new way.

Relevant verses (click link to view in context):

1. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35).

2. Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).

3. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Hey! Expect an update with pictures from AZ and reflections from induction and job training with Teach for America coming soon! Peace!

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight teach us about shame and grace

Synopsis

For those of you unfamiliar with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, let me fill you in on the romantic journey of the most honest and courteous knight of King Arthur’s round table.  Imagine this: King Arthur and his court are about to start their New Year’s feast when an impressive knight, entirely green including his horse, rides into the hall.  He says something along the lines of “remain calm.”  He holds an axe in one hand.  “I don’t wanna fight.”  He  challenges the court to a “Christmas game”, to strike him once with the axe with the condition that in a year he must strike back.  So Arthur rises to the challenge, but Sir Gawain volunteers to take his place.  He swings the ax and slices the Green Knights head off clean.  The Green Knight picks up his head and rides off saying, “See ya in a year”.  Soon, Gawain must brave the adventure to the Green Chapel where he will take a blow to the neck, but not before he faces temptation, three times by a beautiful lady in the Green Castle.  In the end, Gawain acquires a green girdle from Lady Bertilak; she claims the girdle will protect him.  He, fearing his life, hides the girdle from the master of the house, Sir Bertilak, to whom he has promised all that he gains during his stay in the Green Castle.

You've been punked.

You’ve been punked.

The day has finally arrived and Sir Gawain ties a girdle around his waist and goes to meet the Green Knight.  After all is said and done, Sir Gawain comes out of it with only a small wound on his neck.  “You’ve been punked,” says GK who it turns out is also Sir Bertilak.  “This was all a test on your integrity.”  Sir Gawain is overwhelmingly ashamed.  “Haha, don’t worry about it,” says GK, “At least you’re not a womanizer.  You did all this to protect your life.  And besides you confessed, so I forgive you.  It’s all forgotten.”  But Sir Gawain says, “I suck at life.  I can’t believe I did that.  I’m a coward.”  He goes back to Arthur’s court where he is greeted with kisses and pats on the shoulder while he broods, “I’m such a loser.  I can never forgive myself.”  And then they all laugh, eat and drink and wear green girdles around their necks as symbols of Sir Gawain’s adventure.

What’s the point?

Sir Gawain is suppose to be the most humble and honest of the Round Table.  Everyone respects him and praises him and when they do he responds, “I’m not that great.”  He sets the bar up pretty high for all the Knights at the Round Table including himself.  This is not a bad thing.  The problem is that his identity rests solely on his ability not to fall into temptation.   This is why he cannot accept the grace offered to him by the Green Knight when he fails.  His disappointment comes from the fact that he lost his integrity.

Perhaps, this has happened to you.  You made a mistake and return to God with head hung low and a wound on your neck.  And he says to you, “I do not keep a record of wrongs.  My love never fails.  You are clean despite all odds because of what Christ has done.” And you respond, “I can’t believe I did that.  I can never forgive myself.”  Don’t think for a second, that this response is a humble one.  Instead, step down from your high horse and accept the grace of God.  Let him welcome you into his arms and teach you to walk in his ways.

Two Quotes

I leave you with the following quotes which I feel apply to my life. I hope that you find truth here as well.  To read them in context, just click the quote.

1: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
2: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hunger for Glory: Beowulf Dies on an Empty Stomach

Aside

“‘If more of us valued food, cheer and song above hoarded gold it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!'”
Thorin’s last words from The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien

While the writer of Beowulf, a classic epic poem, intertwines heroic values and Christian values, the tension that these often contradictory values create does not threaten the overall integrity of the story. Although the Christian writer illustrates heroic values of glory, treasure and pride, he equally illustrates the ephemeral nature of life and thus questions the significance of these values.

The last three lines of the poem glorify Beowulf as a “man most gracious and fair-minded kindest to his people and keenest to win fame” (lines 3180-2). Beowulf had generously given to his subjects both kindness and riches which is clearly a Christian value. On the other hand, the later trait, his hunger for fame, taints the first. Humility would be the more Christian of traits for a king, but Beowulf does not appear to have a humble bone in his body.

Well, even if he did have one, all his bones were burned on his funeral pyre. Every battle in Beowulf’s past had climaxed to the final one with the dragon, a symbol of Beowulf’s burning hunger for glory.

Beowulf and the Dragon (J.R. Skelton, 1908)

Perhaps this hunger, this greed, points to something bigger.  Perhaps, like all humans, Beowulf longs for the eternal.   To quote C.S. Lewis, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  Yet, Beowulf would die without the satisfaction of the knowledge of Christ.  Beowulf would sacrifice his life for earthly treasure  and afterward would be consumed by fire.  What use to man is a pile of gold and a chorus of exaltations once he is dead?  Can riches and respect defer the judgement of the Almighty?   All the ashes that were left were buried with the treasure “as useless to men now as it ever was” (line 3167).  With these words, the writer laments that the treasure was unworthy of Beowulf’s life.

Which brings us to another character from familiar story of a rich fool.  Jesus tells us about him in the 12th chapter of Luke.  The man can be commended for his shrewdness.  How many people could benefit from storing up treasure for many years to “relax, eat, drink and be merry”?  But God calls this man out, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you and the things you have prepared whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20).  In the same way, Beowulf faces death on an empty stomach.  “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (12:21).

Similar to The Hobbit’s hero Thorin, Beowulf is a noble character with both admirable qualities and tragic vices.  The integrity of the writer of Beowulf lies in the fact that he neither undermines the importance of heroic values to the protagonist nor does he neglect the futility behind the objects of his pursuit.  Let these men be like parables to all of us.  That we (myself included) may learn to give our lives for true gold that doesn’t perish.

Dumpster Diving: The Make-Up of Stories and Dreams

I am one chapter into Robert Olen Butler’s book “From Where You Dream.” This is the first post I write among many about his sharp observations on the process of writing fiction.  Butler advises the aspiring writer to toss aside her ambition “to be the person on the dust jacket” (13). Trash the desire to be published! to be famous, to win a prize, to create art.

self explanatory 🙂

Instead, let the sensual experience of life teach you a little something about creation. The worst stories come from ideas: generalizations, abstractions, analysis. For a story to be real it must be experienced while it is written  like a dream. As new-agey as this is going to sound, bear with me, a story much be entered into like a house. You must find the door: what color is it? Wrap your hands around the handle, and swing the door wide open. Walk in. See, hear, feel. Taste, smell. Simultaneously, write.
Butler ventures that our bodies have built up plenty of defences to keep us out of our dreams while we are conscious  I can see why. The other night I had another one of those pants-less-in-class dreams. I’m not sure why those are so typical. I am an awfully forgetful person, but in my waking moments seldom do I ever forget to put on pants before I go to class. The point is that normal people don’t want to revisit the place they dream. Which is why it’s so hard to find the door to a good story.

For me it is more of a heavy lid to a dark dumpster full of sensory details both good and bad. Many of them I try to avoid because they are broken and I don’t want to be hurt. My literal dreams, those that take place when I’m asleep, are not always pretty and often take the colour of those past experiences that I would rather not relive.

When I first became a Christian, I thought I was no longer allowed to break. In my father’s house there’s this bowl of porcelain fruit. My poetry, like this hollow fruit, was shiny, polished and completely artificial. Inedible. When my readers asked for substance, I was insulted. Why couldn’t they accept my ideas? Were they too religious? I didn’t want to cut myself on the jagged edges of the things inside the dumpster.

This isn’t me, but, next time I dumpster dive, I’ll make sure to wear heels, nylons and a long black skirt. Pretty classy.

But in the end, it wasn’t poetry that called me to deal with my past. It was God:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).

Recently, I have heard a rumour going around that Christian art is dead or dying at the least. But I don’t think its true. Most art worth your time speaks truth. Most art worth your time recognizes the fallen nature of this planet. If anyone on this crazy globe can speak these about these two things, it is the Christian, broken and familiar with her hurts and failures.

I am not attached to my past. It is afterall in a dumpster. But I will not refuse to scavenger there for pieces, images that glorify God. Whether for their brokenness or for their wholeness. Mr. Butler, I will take your challenge to dumpster dive from where I dream. I got my head lamp on, and I’m about to take the plunge

My day on a pirate ship

We have a parrot now. He came with a boat load of toys and speaking Español. So we named him Rico. He lost most of his feathers in a sword fight and now he can’t fly. We’re thinking of sending him to my sister Katrina who lives in the southern suburbs of Chicago, but we’re afraid he’ll get sea sick along the way.
Thank goodness Captain Cooper finally decided to take swimming lessons. After our last incident with the rubber ducky, he refused to come on deck. Now, everyone knows that Cooper isn’t a real pirate. He doesn’t even have an eye patch and Rico refuses to stand on his shoulder.
Everything would be fine if it weren’t for the lice infestation on board. Oh, we also found out the ship has termites, and our next voyage must me canceled. So much for treasure hunts.