Thursday, July 29, 2010

Projects of Late

It all started with a trip to Home Depot for an extension cord for the lights I strung on my back porch. I peeked into the garden section "just to look", and somehow I left with everything I needed to turn the area beside my back steps from this:

to this:

I love it so much that I can barely stand leaving it at home by itself when I go away. ;) From left to right, may I introduce Black-eyed Susans, Lavender, Carnations, Daylilies, and Coral Bells? The antique window I got off Craigslist last winter, the old rake was in the garage, and the little lantern I hung on the rake I got at an unknown thrift store, circa 2006.

When the lavender blooms, it's going to look so French-cottage-y. 

Other finds and projects of late:

I took this mirror home from Salvation Army and heeded its plea to cover its gilded embarrassment with ivory spray-paint. She was so grateful, she now makes my tiny hallway a much nicer place to be.

After seeing an outdoor chandelier made from a wire basket on, I've been wanting to make one for my back porch. While re-arranging things in the garage, I found a box of stuff left by previous tenants. The box contained a touchlamp shade, minus the glass. I had a metal candle plate that perfectly fit the base when I turned it upside-down, so I bent the tabs up to hold it in place. The natural-colored cord I had on hand worked fine for hanging it, and the pendants are earrings I found in the clearance aisle of Walmart.

Eating at the table beneath it is even more fun than before. :)

Does anyone know what this flower is?

It bloomed of its own accord in my backyard. I didn't mind in the least. Might it be a sort of poppy? The multiple petals are fringed, giving it a happy pompom-type of bloom.  I hope they re-seed themselves and come back next year!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"When We're Human"

Did you ever wonder if your life is really effecting change in the world, if anyone will attend your funeral and cry because they realize a light has gone out, a spot left unfilled? 

I do, sometimes. 

What I have to offer, what I actually do in the course of my day sometimes seems minuscule. I am human, and sometimes I feel small and rather weak. Stargazing from my balcony last night, whispering my requests to God, the sense of my own helplessness startled me. That's what it is to be human, isn't it? We're pretty resilient. We can do things. We play a big role; I mean, God doesn't do much without us. And yet... we're so fragile. We all have hopes we whisper to the stars; situations beyond our control, things we'd change if we could... but we can't. Physically, emotionally, we get hurt and come face-to-face with our vulnerability. We're pretty limited. 

It's the realization of what needs to be changed in this world, the many neighborhoods and people who desperately need the light of hope, that has compelled me to approach my life in the way I have. Whether or not they remember my name, I want people to have been better loved because I lived. I guess it's easy for me to start viewing myself as a heroine in the epic story of the ages. 

And then I meet people like her.

Of the 14 of my girls, she seemed to "have it together" the most. Rarely had an incident, never needed redirection. Stayed out of escalating situations. Pictures of her one-year-old cherub were plastered all over her bedroom wall, and she seemed responsible and mature enough, despite her sixteen years, to be a good mommy upon her release from custody. 

I have to admit, I overlooked her. With thirteen other girls, some of whom have rather unavoidable ways of asking for the attention and love they need, it kinda happened without my realization. 

She went home for a court hearing a few weeks ago. While she was home, she ran. If she's caught, she'll go to a placement much less desirable than where I work. And so she's sixteen. On the streets with her baby.

As I reviewed her database, putting all her legal work in order before it goes into the black hole of permanent records, I took the time to read her court order, detailing the events leading to her placement. 

All her life, she was raped on a regular basis by her uncle. Her family says her little girl is the result of one of those horrific instances, but she insists she had a boyfriend who's in the army... that's why no one knows about him. Eventually, she ran away from home. When she was found and taken into custody, the STD's her uncle had given her had gone untreated to the point where she couldn't even walk. 

As her story unfolded in the computer-generated staccato of a legal document that could not even begin to capture the fear, the betrayal, the helplessness, and the pain, I cried. In front of my co-worker, I cried over a court order. 

Did I do anything to bring her hope? Did she know, from her interactions with me, that she is precious, priceless, and passionately loved by the God who know what it is to suffer horribly?

I'm not the heroine I'd like to imagine. My efforts sometimes look like five dinner rolls and two small trout, a paltry snack in the hungry eyes of five thousand people. You know what comforts me? I know a Man who loves to take small gifts and use them in ways that bring glory to Himself, so that all the people know that He cares about their hunger. 

This story is bigger than mine, and He's writing into it His mercy. His love. I'll keep playing my little part. I'll most definitely try to see beyond the obvious, try to remember to take time for even those who seem to not need much from me, but I can trust Him to keep writing the story when I'm blind... when I'm human. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Celebration of Life

Laverne and Julie's wedding... the words that describe it are the words that describe them as people:







Their day was a vibrant celebration of their love for each other infused with a tangible love for the people in their lives.

Mine was the immense privilege of being candid photographer. Julie told me she wanted me to capture "the faces of me and my loved ones laughing, crying, and otherwise showing emotion", which meant I got a backstage pass to the most tender moments of the day. I tell you, at times I felt like I was treading on holy ground. :) To say that, just by being, they blessed me, is an understatement.

Here are a few of the blog-rated shots I can't help but share:

Pre-processional happy jitters with the bridesmaids.

Ready to walk the aisle with her proud papa.

Husband and wife! Tearful hugs with her parents. Notice Laverne? He couldn't let go of her one minute. They could both be hugging different people, but at least one arm was always around Julie. Too cute.

Flowers from the bride's mother's garden and river rocks made the perfect reception deco`r.

This was SO them. :) Bare feet.

Upon arriving at the reception site, guests were greeted and served meadow tea by the couple who, by this time, looked as if they'd never stop smiling.

Music. That was another thing. The ceremony music, done by a full choir of Laverne & Julie's friends, was stunningly splendid. The music continued as the reception festivities opened with songs by Julie's siblings and one of Laverne's brothers.

Thankful moments.

Lots of laughter.

This was another "so typical" thing: instead of having the bridal table served, Laverne and Julie went through the buffet line with the guests. Aren't they great?

Simply delicious food.

... and lots of time for the people they love.

It was one of those days which left no one in doubt of the fact that what Laverne and Julie have is real, life-giving, and good. One of the things that struck me the most was their gratitude for the people in their lives. They don't pretend to be self-made. Living out of that gratitude, they bless others at amazing depths.

The table containing gifts for the people who had a part in the wedding attracted much attention. Laverne and Julie gave books as gifts, books that perfectly fit each person. 
 As if being a part of their day wasn't gift enough, Laverne and Julie gave me this book:

"Drops Like Stars, a few thoughts on creativity and suffering", by Rob Bell.
I couldn't believe it! I've wanted the book for over a year! The really cool thing? They didn't know I've wanted it, they just thought it fit me. Laverne said that they thought of getting some more copies for other people who had part in the wedding, but decided that I was the only one getting one. I was speechless.

Visually, artistically, the book is a treat. It gives wings to the soul-words it contains like notes to lyrics. If you ever find the book for sale (which, to be clear, mine is not), clutch it to your chest and don't let go until it's legally yours! Let the clerk scan the bar code through your clenched fingers!

There's really no way to give you a synopsis of "Drops Like Stars", but these segments give you a little peak:

"Jesus doesn't give the story [of the prodigal son] the proper Hollywood ending

we've all come to expect...

...Some elder brothers never join the party.

Some fathers never throw one.

Some brothers never come back.

Some things never get resolved.

Lots of parties are missing somebody.

And when we try to resolve things 
too quickly or pretend that everyone
is there when they aren't or offer hollow,
superficial explanations... it's not honest
and it's not right and it's not real.
It's not how life is.


If we went to the ballet and
everybody in the audience was 
wearing snorkels or the musicians
were all red-haired banjo players
with no teeth or instead of being
handed a program we were handed 
a squirrel, we would immediately 
begin asking,

What is this?

But our real question would be,
Where is this? Where do we
put this? How do we place it?
Because our standard reference
points - the usual insulators -
wouldn't be there to guide us.

That's what happens when we suffer. We had things well planned out.
We knew what meant what. We had all our boxes properly organized
and labeled. But all that was disrupted when we began to suffer.

So there's "out of the box", which is often merely a variation of the same thing.
And then there are those who think and feel and live and create from a different place.
They've had their boxes smashed and their insulators dismantled until

they had no other option

but to imagine a totally new tomorrow."

That's just an introduction to a fascinating compilation of honesty, humor, photography, and quotes line this one by Abraham Joshua Heschel:

"Above all, remember that the meaning of life is to live it as if it were a work of art.
           You're not a machine.
When you're young, start working on this great work of art called your own existence."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

today's ruminations...

1 Corinthians 13
 1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
 4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant,
 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
 8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part;
 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
 13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Friday, July 9, 2010

a drawing...

One of my dearest friends is getting married tomorrow. It's been awe-inspiring, to watch her and her man become one. Tomorrow they seal it.

Julie asked for a drawing as a wedding gift.

I didn't know where to start. But I thought about the richness the combining of Julie and Laverne's lives has brought... and how their love is a sort of surrender of boundaries, a willingness to be reshaped a little... to become part of something more complex and mysterious, something new...

...and here's what came:

Here's a closer (blurrier) shot:

Sorry, cell phone pictures aren't just super with detail. 

I'm a little hooked on the abstract feel of the combination of India ink and oil pastel. One of these days, I'll do a detailed graphite or charcoal again...

Art critics, what say ye?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Developmental Difficulties

Critical thinking and problem solving are important developmental skills, as any parent or teacher knows. Behind the puzzle-piecing, word searches, and math problems, we learn how to find answers. Even more important, but perhaps more obscure is another lesson: that the presence of problems is indicative of the reality of solutions.

Homelessness, juvenile delinquency, crime, road rage... and shopping cart rage ;) are all evidences of a broken humanity. They are problems, but we seem to accept them as inevitable and exempt of sustainable answers. Like priests and Levites, we walk by the unkempt on the far side of the sidewalk. Why are we afraid to look them in the eye?

I sense two fears that contribute to our ignoring people in these situations:
  • There is no solution to the cause of their suffering.
  • If a solution exists, it is too complex for my level of of knowledge, time restraints, or resources.
I venture to say that there is always a solution. Yes, it might be complex. It might not look like the answer we envision and it most likely won't be solved as neatly as facts on paper, but it exists! How do I know? Because Jesus came to this very ground, for the very people that walk it. He showed us how to offer healing; tragic indeed it will be if we allow our lack of faith in His steps to cripple our steps toward the world He imagined could be restored through love.


Love is both the means and the answer. I find this truer all the time.

G., aged 17, has earned her reputation. From where I sit to write this, I can see the hall with plywood nailed to the wall, covering the hole she left in the wall with her bare fist. One of my superiors no longer works this unit because G. threatens to (at the very least) maim her as soon as she steps through the door. She gleefully informed me of how many staff have quit on the spot due to her and her home-girls.

For the first few weeks, I didn't have a single issue with G. Maybe it's because I know the ghetto code: you get in some one's face, and you're asking for a fight; if someone gets in your face and you respond in kind, you're taking up the challenge to a fight. Maybe. It also has a lot to do with my belief that love is stronger than anything else. It seemed to be working in the prevention of showdowns, but would it work when one arose? How long would it take for G. to try to push me around?

It happened last week. I was sitting at the staff desk, finishing up my end-of-shift paperwork. G. and a peer were hanging over it, talking to me. The staff desk itself is a bone of contention. The kids aren't allowed behind it. The coveted restricted phone is on the desk. The computer and log book contain sensitive information. Seeing that clients respect the perimeter is a chronic battle. As we were talking, G. sat on the desk. It wasn't just about getting comfortable, I could tell. It was about seeing how many inches I'd give her.

"Oh, boy. Here we go," I thought as I asked her to move. G. grinned at me, a dimpled challenge. She kept talking, making the story she was telling more animated. I saw the challenge, but I wanted her to know that, while I was not going to let her disrespect slide, I was going to respect her in the process.

When she paused for breath, "G., did I ask you to do something?"

G. looked at her peer, a girl new to the unit. Was she going to use this opportunity to make sure V. knew where she ranked in the Hierarchy of Toughness? She launched into another stream of talk. It sure looked like it.

"G." I waited until she looked at me. "I hate to make a big deal about such a small thing as where you sit, but this IS the third time I'm asking you to move off the desk."

She stared me down while V. watched with wide eyes. A slow smile made G.'s dimple re-appear. "Know what?" she said to V., "she axs nice. I gonna do it for her. Yo, people gets in ma face an' it gets me mad, but she cool." She slid off the desk.

I thanked her and suppressed a fist pump. It worked! Weehah!

If you're in love with Jesus, you have what it takes to work change in the brokenness around you. Do the little things, the looking people in the eyes and smiling... but don't be content with the little things. Ask God to give you a vision for bigger ways to let the love you've been given touch others.

I see it happening all around me. A family took in a young neighbor girl and her little son who would have been taken by the state and put into separate foster care homes. They are on every family picture, their faces radiant, obviously thriving. How different would their lives be if my friends not opened their home? Would the girl, in search of love, have fallen into an abusive relationship? Would the she have learned to love her son well? Would her son have been another statistic of gang violence? For them, the cycle of lovelessness, neglect, and abuse has been broken.

Another family befriended a young couple, ages 18 and 17, trying to be parents to a 4-year-old and a baby. The young couple has no support from their parents, and already their relationship is fraught with tensions. Going to the zoo together, spending time at my friends' home... They are being shown how to love and respect each other; how to love their children. Recently, my friends invited the couple to live with them until they found a more suitable place to live, then helped them move. Was it a sacrifice? Absolutely! My friends have young children as well, but they'd rather inconvenience themselves than live for themselves.

A little girl in my town lives in a very chaotic home. A friend of mine spends a few evenings a week taking her to the playground to play or out for ice cream. The child is soaking up the love and attention, and she acts much less anxious than when I first met her.

Let love be your means, your impetus.

Let love be your offering.

We can change things.

Do something on your own. Collaborate with your friends, your family, your church. Get creative this summer. And the rest of this year. We can make a difference in the most difficult problems plaguing the human race... because we've been loved... by the Incarnation of Love.

Sunday, July 4, 2010



Discover the exciting lives of Gary and Elaine, the people who live in the beautiful spaces pictured in your favorite catalogs! 

Catalog Living has been my daily laugh lately. NOW, for a LIMITED TIME, it can be yours. FREE!*

*Special conditions and hidden fees apply.**

**No, they don't.

And there you have it: my poke at both celebrity fascination and advertising, all in one package. For real, the website is funny. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

horticulture therapy. and a book.

You know what?

I'm a believer.

In Jesus Christ, most definitely,

but also in the therapeutic value of the world He gave us.

For me, nothing calms, focuses, and comforts me more than growing things and making my space in the world productive and beautiful.

Here are some of the results:

My heirloom Pink Brandywine tomatoes are doing splendidly. Call me weird, but there is just something about raising plants from seed that makes them much more endearing. :) You're wondering about the black plastic in the background? I'm raising cucumbers for a local horticulture program's annual pickling project. Due to a lack of a more organic mulch to control the weeds where (hopefully) the vines will sprawl... plastic! Because the previous tenants didn't use the garden, weeds are prolific. Hopefully all the nasty black plastic will smother them and next year will be easier. Meanwhile, I hoe away at the rest of the soil. Oh, and the marigolds? One of my mom's gardening tricks is to plant marigolds between tomatoes. The marigolds act as a natural pest-repellent. It works, too. The Japanese beetles have been massacring my poor daisies, but my tomatoes don't have a spot.  

I'll spare your eyes the trauma of a "before" picture of the front of my house. (Actually, I forgot to take one. But it's most definitely a mercy.) Grass grew right up to the steps, around the bushes... For one thing, it made the house look like a cracker box sitting on the ground. Not properly established, if you know what I mean. For another thing, mowing was a bear... and not a cute little panda, either. No matter how hard one tried to shove the mower under and around the bushes or into the crannies around the steps, a lush fringe of green remained. To top it off, the level of the grass being significantly higher than the walks, a nice long "skinned" strip graced the edge, like a bad haircut caused by a ridge in the skull. 

Using concrete blocks, bricks, and rocks I found at various locations on the property, I built a little retaining wall and proceeded to remove sod, a rewarding but monotonous process. My one hope is that all the earthworms I severed in the digging will happily grow into separate organisms and live happily ever after. The little dots of color are actually salvia, delphiniums, tickseed, moonflowers, and daisies. Once they mature, life will be more colorful. Meanwhile, my house looks happier... and I smile every time I pull into the driveway.

This was another Difficult to Mow area, which someone had partially remedied by laying an almost solid cover of flat rocks. "Almost" is key here. Grass had come up between the rocks, so I removed a few (both grass clumps and rocks) and planted hostas I brought with me from Lancaster. Thanks, Kathy! 

On the porch is my potted herb garden. The black pot in the distance contains my newest endeavor. I admired a friend's tea rose bush this morning, and she promptly cut a sweet rose for me. I read that honey can be used as an organic rooting hormone, and I hope the article was right. I wounded the bottom of the cutting, smeared it in honey, removed the lower leaves, immersed six inches of the cutting in loose potting soil, and inverted a container over the leafed, exposed end. The Rosebush Project has begun, adding to my family of growy things. :)

I wonder if Thomas More would hold that my pleasure in gardening is the release of an inner need? He (I'm sorry, the character he created to speak for him) maintains that the only real pleasures are the absence of discomfort and the the release of inner needs. Maybe I'm not enough of a narcissist, because I'm pretty sure some of my pleasures are a bit external, gifts I receive from beings and objects outside myself. Although it is possible I have an inner need to commune with said beings and objects. Hmm. More has some interesting things to say about asceticism, wealth, and ego, too.  If you've never read "Utopia", do. Sociology with a side of tongue-in-cheek humor at its best.