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Brussels, Peace and the Distraction of TV

I haven’t watched TV for days.

Taking time away from the distraction of television; to read my recently purchased books, to write and work on preliminary sketches for a painting I’m doing, I have found it has been an incredibly peace filled experience.  I have been committed to  finding this specific type of solitude within my own home.  I have felt the increasing need over the course of the past year and a half to have peace, but I confess,  I had to make a conscious decision for this to happen.  The act is simple yet so hard.

I just turn it off.  

Over the last week, I’ve enjoyed the sound of the rain, the sound it makes as is sloshes down the gutter and lands on the ground.

I have enjoyed the recent sunny days we have had here in Portland and I looked at the signs of spring in my own yard. I took notice.  I could actually hear the  sound of the birds chirping through closed windows that had not yet been open for the day.

I can’t hear the sound of birds with the television on.

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I could hear the sound of my bare feet walking on the hardwood and the distant noise of the train nearby. I heard the cat fight down the street and the faint sounds of small children squealing with laughter a block over.

The days seemed longer, quiet, and peaceful.

Most of my communication with family and friends is either by text or email. For us, it is the easiest way to communicate without disturbing someone in the middle of a work day and we can get back to each other when it is convenient.

This afternoon, my phone rang. It was my mother. We had talked earlier in the day and she called back to check on a detail discussed earlier. In passing she asked me if I had been watching television and of course I let her know I had been enjoying the quiet. The peace I had so carefully nurtured was at risk of coming to an abrupt end.

She told me about Brussels.

The news was devastating for many families. She told me I should turn on the television. My mother is a tender sweet woman. She would never intentionally want to rattle anyone. We hung up. I just couldn’t do it.

At least for the moment, I refused to turn on the distraction .

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You see, my husband travels all over the world. It is hitting close to home now. For all of us, everywhere.

He had just been in Brussels a few weeks ago, while traveling to another country

 

We traveled together to Germany last fall  and fell in love with the city as soon as we stepped foot on the cobblestone.

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And together we fell in love with France as we looked out of our flat one warm night, the year before.

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Travel is a very real part of our life. It is what we do.

As husband and wife we make a good team and it means that we trust in the process. I am not rattled by the amount of time he spends traveling as most wives would be. We know this is what he is called to do and I am called along with him as his wife and I support what he does. I stay busy with my own work writing and painting and projects as they come in and I travel with him whenever I can.

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This evening, the quiet will be interrupted with a simple click connecting the electricity giving power to the distraction. I don’t really want to know the details, but I can’t stay in this haven of solitude and peace and ignore the outside fever pitch of horror that happened today; to the innocent, to the weary travelers trying to get home. I won’t want to ignore the information about those trying to get to the foreign city to do their job, away from their families that trust in the process of taking care of their beloved.

I will want to know the details; the tragedy of the Americans that are suffering in Brussels tonight.

I can’t ignore the many families plight that could have been ours just weeks ago.

My husband will be boarding a flight in the morning from a country fifteen hours different from the Pacific Northwest. I pray he gets here safe and secure within this wonderful country of ours. I want him to feel the quiet and peace of our home.

It is what all the families wanted for their loved ones.

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I am going to have to look at the world outside these four walls.  I will turn on the very necessary distraction for tonight but I cannot, nor will I, allow it or them, to take away my peace.

We just can’t allow it.

We will be praying for the families affected by the tragedy in Brussels.

We want to help ease their sorrow and let them know they are not alone.

We turn on the television for many reasons and it is certainly not all bad. I want to turn it on for just a little while for the important information, but for me, it will need to go off again.  I will want to gather the fragmented peace in my own home that those hateful actions so recklessly tried to steal.

 Peace fragmented for so many on this one solitary planet we all must call home.

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The Empty Director’s Chair

I rented a studio for two days, thinking this would be a productive and creative way to jump-start my writing again after much neglect.  The house where I rented the studio is called the “Willamette Writers Dream House”.  It is an appropriate name.  I had an excuse for not writing and this place had taken away all my excuses.  I was not home, looking at all the undone chores or the projects I should complete.

The house has six rooms to rent which are all theme based; “Scotland Yard” for mystery writers, “The Algonquin Room” which is like New York circa 1955, “The Bloomsbury Room” their English Garden room, “Middle Earth” for fantasy based writers and even a room called “Narnia” for those that love to write children’s books. When I was online looking at the different selections, I was specifically looking for a room with lots of light and large windows so that I could look outside. No particular “theme” jumped out at me.

The studio room I rented was the sixth and has an appropriate name as well “The Back Lot.” This room was Hollywood based, like a movie studio’s set, a back lot where all of the actors are behind the scenes. There was no bed, it had very plush carpet, two desks, some plants, a book shelf with lots of famous movie and television manuscripts and a wonderful heater. Right across from the desk where I chose to  type was a chair, a white directors chair, empty and haunting me for some reason that I could not put my finger on.  Why did this empty chair concern me?

I unloaded my bags which I had prepared for 48 hours of writing with my laptop, some books, my Bible and snacks. I even brought some of my art supplies and a camera, just in case I did something miraculous and actually finished something and wanted to do some illustrations. I would actually be prepared.

I had been writing for hours and time slipped by quickly.  Taking a break to make tea I started to add a chapter to a fictional story I had been working on all day, but instead, picked up a book on nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality. The book is called Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Something interesting started to emerge as the evening grew late and moved into the early hours of the morning. I wasn’t quite sure why I picked this particular book, nor why I brought my favorite Bible, but it would become clear as these things usually do.  While reading through the touching chapters in the book, I found myself laughing and then my tears flowed freely.  I absorbed the message the book was trying to make and also began reading some scriptures out of my favorite blue and very worn Bible.   I read from the book, then passages out of the Bible.  I had prayed earnestly that the Lord would work in my heart over the weekend.

I was originally more comfortable writing a fictional story and ignoring the nudging in my heart, but as I continued to read the book and open my heart to scripture I was beginning to embrace what was happening.

I knew this weekend was much more than I had anticipated.  I sat at my desk, crying softly, trying not to disturb the other writer in the house.  Would he think I should go home for some much-needed rest?

God indeed has a sense of humor, which I discovered, and is quite touching to me.

As I look around the room, movie posters fill the wall; “Gone with the Wind”, “The Godfather”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Casablanca” and even “Free Willy”.   An interesting triptych was behind me with Marilyn Monroe and James Dean in all of their early splendor.  James Dean’s caption reads, “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.”

I stood up and  walked around my desk to get a better view for the picture I wanted to take. “My life has been like a bad movie!!”, I said without realizing I had spoken out loud (sorry neighbor writer). I was not being melodramatic. I am not that good of an actor. Most people would shudder to think this quiet, neatly dressed preacher’s daughter would have such a complicated past. As I continued to absorb the atmosphere of the studio I was in, I pondered… would I ever let Christ rewrite the script of my life? Or would I continue to keep the manuscript in its first draft, hidden away, but being played out every day of my life? No revisions, no tense corrections, no character changes.

I would have to pick the studio that was centered on pretense, acting, melodrama….and an empty Director’s Chair!

My writer neighbor in the next room would never know my tears were for the grief I have for all the lost years of fumbling around wondering if Christ could ever possibly use my life for His purpose. I gently composed myself knowing that He certainly would, if only I could get out of His way. I began to feel that certain nudging to seriously contemplate my relationship with Christ. Where do I stand? What do I really believe? Am I all talk and no walk?  What am I and who am I to Him?

As I was thinking all these thoughts, the one constant in each of those sentences was “I”. Not Him, not Christ Jesus, the Lord of my life. The “I” in my life is all-consuming; overly conscious about my looks, my hair, my weight, my position in my career, leaves little room for anyone else. Was I seriously this  insecure?  The sad answer was, yes!  Without a doubt.

For me to really feel and know the grace of God, meant the “I” in my life had to come second.  Was I capable of doing this?  Had I lived so long in my disappointment with myself that it was even possible? Had the ingrained negative self talk of how complicated my life was permanently scarred me too deep to remove from my psyche?

Why was it so hard for me to internalize the best thing that had ever happened to me? Jesus loved me enough to die for me on an old, rugged, excruciatingly painful cross. He had already covered the complicated and difficult issues and made them His own to work out for me if only I would let Him. He loved me, not because I did anything to deserve it, but because of who I am in Him. His child.

As I gazed around the room I was drawn to one focal point; that empty Director’s Chair.

The Directors Chair;  The most important chair on any set. Nothing gets by the director. It absolutely cannot be in the film unless the director has allowed it to be. The actors move and say and do what is in the best interest of the film when a good director is seated in this chair.

The Director’s Chair. It was like it was sitting there staring at me, like it was going to suddenly come alive to say, “Um, when are you going to let Me have control? When are you going to let Me sit there and direct where your life is headed? You know…I am patient. I know how you are…deep in your fantasies of some grand life you think you can make for yourself…You can sit there and write your fiction, that is ok.  I am still here, waiting.”

The chair sat empty in the “Back Lot” studio.  I knew God was reminding me that many times I take the seat, thinking I can do a better job.  He is such a gentleman and lets me sit there. I think many times that it needs to be me  directing my own life. I fear God wont be there when I look over to see what I am supposed to do. Many times it is because I am already planted there.

After that day, who would it be sitting in that chair? God or me?

After writing for several more hours, I noticed the time being 9:00 am. As the morning was awakening; a very large smudged patio window emerged…The window bugged me. Really? Good grief, I just dealt with the empty chair. Am I really that easily distracted, I thought to myself?

The studio I chose sat on the ground level and opened up to a magnificent mature garden patio. It had brick, stone and winding vines creating another area I couldn’t wait to explore. In between me and the garden was a new sliding door.  The problem was, it had been streaked by someone trying to clean it, but apparently with a dirty cloth. You would not have noticed it later in the day. With the light coming in early in the morning, when the garden is most beautiful with the sun shining down on everything, it irritated me that someone did that.  Did they not know I would be there trying to concentrate and have everything just so…so I could be creative!  How dare them not do it right!

I knew there was a beautiful garden there, but I couldn’t enjoy it because of the streaked window. What did I do?  Well of course, I tried to fix it!  I knew every noise could be heard by the writer that came and chose to be in the room right next to me (how dare him), so I tried to be very quiet.  I tiptoed to the cleaning closet and I opened the door (which of course squeaked) and got a new cloth to clean the window.  I sprayed, wiped, sprayed, wiped….inside and out.  I sat at my desk and behold…..the same streaks!  I was mad now.  I got the napkins (the only two I had left) and finished the job right.  It was clear with no smudges and the garden was truly beautifully inviting.

I sat down at my desk to write and it hit me again!  Could I not just enjoy the room and write without judging someone else’s work, which, just so happens to be the exact same thing I did?

God’s humor ….gotta love it!

Does it seem like to you, that sometimes God is so close that we trip over ourselves to get ahead of Him? To try to do all the work? To pat ourselves on the back for a “job well done” that, well, isn’t really all that good?  Do I think I can reach all the corners of my past to clean every speck away, or am I continuously re-wiping the same grime, over and over again, just thinking I pushed it out of the way just enough so I can see outside myself?

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.”

Do I rob God of what He intended for me, am I so self-indulgent that I cannot see that what needs to be healed is on the inside first? I am afraid that has been the case most of my life.  I mess up, then think, well, what is the point then. I did not do that perfectly, and someone might criticize me, so I wont try again. Me, me, me…it is ridiculous.  It isn’t about me at all.

Matthew 23:26 goes on to say “You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”

 

So, I think to myself; get serious with the Lord of your life, from the INSIDE out. So what, you messed up, does that mean that you are forever in that state? No. God gives forgiveness, mercy and grace. (I really need to re-read what I just wrote, about a dozen times so I get it!)

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I that I have for you, DECLARES the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope” 

Now, I know I am probably not supposed to change how the scripture looks, but did you ever notice how in this passage, it doesn’t say “says the Lord”, it says “declares the Lord”. How impactful it is when He says that He DECLARES something.

To me it sounds like He is yelling it out to the world for all to take notice. “Hey, I know what plans I have for my child, don’t you mess with my kid…ok? they’re MINE!” What love comes through that scripture! He declares the plans, no hints, no grey area. I think of God in this scripture like this: My big strong father figure gently placing me behind Him as He steps in between me and some bad person trying to hurt me and puffs His chest out in love and determination that nothing will get past Him to hurt me.  ABSOULUTELY NOTHING!  Wow!!  I love this.

Jeremiah 29: 12 says: “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.” 

I don’t feel like I am heard many times, mainly because I do not feel that I express myself well verbally. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings have occurred because I could not communicate what I really mean.  My heart says one thing, but my mouth says something else. I either say something when I am hurt and defensive, or nervous and don’t think things through. Many times I just don’t say anything and keep it in.  Inside, my heart is saying “I really care about you and I see that you are struggling with this. I know you can do it, because you are wonderful at what you do, but at this very moment, can I help you? We can do this together, what fun!!  (and I am sincere in my head)!”  My mouth says “I can do that for you” or “I can fix that” and the other person may misunderstand my intentions and hear me saying “You can’t do this without me, you need me because you can’t do this”.

I can backspace when I write, but if I say something, I can’t take it back…it is forever out there, hovering. I ache to help people, but when I look inside, all I think about is ‘If they knew me, they wouldn’t like me, so I will keep everyone at arm’s length.”  Each of us have been insulted, hurt or disappointed and I am no exception. But I have also done this to others.

With God, I know I don’t have to pretend,  act or worry about what I mean, because He knows my heart. This gives me encouragement to go to Him in prayer. I just need to continue to do it.

Jeremiah 29: 13 says: “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” 

This is tougher for me, because the question I have to be painfully truthful about with myself is…. am I really searching for Him with all of my heart? Are there other things that have taken His place in the priority of my life? I am afraid so.  In the book I just read on Christian spirituality, the author talked about having his Bible on the floor next to his bed, then slowly after about a week, he was picking up his dirty clothes and found his Bible there.

My situation is a bit different in that I talk to God…alot! I wake up praying almost every morning for God to help me, my husband and my children through the day. I have my “requests”, my directives to get in before I start my long day (because I fear, He might not have heard them the day before). W hen I read the author’s description of where his Bible was, I cringed as I thought about mine.  My Bible from my teenage years is my favorite one. It was on the table by my bedroom door, under my journal, under some advertisements, under a bag of jerky I wanted to send my son, under some shirts I neatly folded to put in the box with his jerky.  Four layers down.  That was where God’s word was.

Now no joking here; my light blue “Bible in a Year”  was at the head of my bed: under more mail, under my paystub, under my weekly vitamin organizer, under my pen. Four layers down. I am not exaggerating. That was where God’s word was that day.

Remember, I was at the “Back Lot” studio, surrounded by pictures and manuscripts written for famous actors. I chuckled as I imagined a poster on the wall next to them; Bethany Jackson starring in her award-winning role, acting in and performing as… “Perfect Little Preacher’s Daughter”… coming to a theatre near you!!

Actors; acting.  God’s children; acting like they aren’t His beloved children.

I realized how much I loved Christ at that moment, knowing how very patient He has been with me all these years.  He has saved me from myself many times when I would have crumbled without Him. He has been guiding me and directing the path of my life, even when I did not know it. Even when I would not follow the path He wanted me to take. When I would let Him in, He has always been faithful to show me His unwavering love and compassion for me. He has loved me when I have been unlovable. He has surrounded me with His presence when, at times, life became almost unbearable for me to face.  I have had such peace in Him.  I have had to realize that it is not about me, but, rather Him living in me. I want to focus more on Him, than myself. While I sure don’t seem to have Him where He should be many times in my life, I know that He loves me still. I am not perfect, but His love for me is.  It has not been, nor will it ever be conditional on what I have or have not done.

I took a long stretch and leaned back in the comfy high back chair I have sat in for a day and a half, looked outside at the beautiful garden and thoroughly loved the day that God blessed me with.  I cherished that moment, knowing He was loving me with His gentle humor.  I felt warm inside knowing He cared enough to get my attention with the simple things that would touch me personally and intimately. He has a way of getting the point across very clear, without any judgments’ attached.

I thought of this as I looked across the room, and realized that all that it took, was an empty Director’s chair.

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