Sunday, December 1, 2013

Borrowed art, slow Grace and stars in our eyes

Star Song by Luci Shaw

We have been having
epiphanies like stars
all this year long.
And now, at its close,
when the planets
are shining through frost,
light runs like music
in the bones,
and the heart keeps rising
at the sound of any song.
An old magic flows
at the silver calling
of a bell,
high and clear.
Falling.  Falling.
Sounding the death knell
of our old year,
telling the new appearing
of Christ, our Morning Star.

Now, burst,
all our bell throats!
every clapper tongue!
Stun the still night.
Jesus himself gleams through
our high heart notes
(it is no fable).
It is he whose light
glistens in each song sung,
and in the true
coming together again
to the stable
of all of us: shepherds,
sages, his women and men,
common and faithful,
or wealthy and wise,
with carillon hearts,
and, suddenly, stars in our eyes.

If you've read here long or at my old blog you know I love Advent more than any other time of the year. The order of the liturgical season leading up to celebrating Christ's birth keeps my heart in a circle of never forgetting.  It reminds my soul continually how the plan for Redemption was THE only plan. Throughout the Old Testament there are the hints and guesses that grow into clear signs of who would come to save us.  I love spending an entire month so mindful of the miracle. Christmas is a big reflection of what God asks us to do with our lives all year long.  He wants us to watch and wait.  He wants us to draw near to the simple and humble and the human so we can really finally understand what a sacrifice God becoming man was and is.  It's Grace in slow motion, step by step to Bethlehem.

Dan and I had a much needed date night last night.  I felt well.  I did not have a headache.  We were together in such a "normal" way, and we were reminded it can be good again.  It IS good again.  For so long we have lived in a place of doubting this and not really knowing how to adjust our marriage.  The time I've spent not writing here I have been healing and living with my family and those close to me. There are a hundred moments I could have captured for you where something was being repaired or restored in the past month.  I didn't want to waste even a second of the time documenting, because it has felt fragile and unsure, like borrowing something we might not get to keep.  Holding things loosely is part of our nature now.  My eyes have been opened to this beautiful way to live.  It used to hurt.  Now it feels like an exhale.  I am lighter and floating just a little knowing I can bear so much pain and loss and not just survive but actually be transformed into something better . . . more like Him and less like this world.  I'm not clutching or striving right now.  Maybe it's because the bill collectors quit calling for the holiday weekend, but I hope it's something deeper and longer lasting too.  

Growing up in Staunton, Virginia our amazing public library had large reproduction art pieces that were framed, and you could check them out to hang in your home for awhile.  I was obsessed with decorating and design since I was a young child.  I was always wanting to make my space inspiring and beautiful.  My mom would let me check out the art from time to time.  My favorite was one of irises printed on a grass cloth type canvas framed in gold.  We didn't grow up with much actual art in our home.  There were cross stitch samplers of Bible verses and one big watercolor painting of my sister on a carousel hung over our couch.  That's about it.  I didn't have exposure to art through museums or my schoolwork either. It was just something that felt important to me like a good thread count and the right lighting.  It was something I was born hungry for like poetry and architecture.  It is something we all need and want at some level if we are honest with ourselves.  In many ways the place I grew up became the canvas I studied.  Watching the seasons change year after year in the Shenandoah Valley shapes your soul for beauty.  All art is born from the master artist, our Creator, and I was blessed to live in the bowels of one of His special studios for many years.

Thanksgiving and the month of December are a time for looking backward and forward.  As I play this long year in my mind one of my deepest blessings has been a friendship that came out of a strange and unexpected place.  It has grown into part of my healing so deeply I don't know if one would have been possible without the other.  We are different in many ways and kindred in just as many. This creates an honesty and perfect iron sharpening iron way of communicating that is rare. We found out early on we both have a love for all kinds of art and need beauty around us in our day to day to be okay.  Besides a whimsical collection from an Ohio watercolor artist Dan and I bought at the beach in North Carolina 2006, which we have refused to part with during all our losses, we don't own much meaningful art anymore. In our one year lived in and cherished home we have large walls with just empty space which is okay with us and especially me.  I don't want to hang things just to have something there.  Everything in my life now really should reflect meaning and sometimes the empty space is just good.  It's part of the waiting for restoration and healing.  

Not long after my hardware removal surgery, the second of three major surgeries in a row this fall, my new friend showed up on my doorstep holding a large piece of framed art to borrow.  She had been in my room and even spent time lying in bed with me when I was too sick to get up.  She could see I spent most of my hours turned on my left side facing a large blank wall.  This particular piece of art had been in her bedroom and brought her encouragement through pain. It's a stunningly painted forest with the richest colors creating a depth you have to trudge through. You have to explore it layer by layer until you reach this little patch of yellow, yes, light, at the very end of your journey.  She brought it on a day I felt so hopeless, so sick, so lost in the woods I could not imagine making it through.  She left the painting here for me to borrow.  We hung it on the big empty wall I face when I am in bed the sickest.  No matter what I could see the light.  I could move towards the light.  The painting changes depending on the day and the mood and yes, the light, and it has never looked exactly the same twice.  I am still caught off guard when I stop to consider it.  I still cry when I tell the story of how a little block of the purest shade of yellow somehow helps me believe it is going to be okay.  

Several weeks later my friend showed up with a religious piece to borrow.  It is in our living room over the mantel.  Dan and I sat enjoying our coffee this morning discussing this particular piece. Beyond the literal meaning we have our own interpretations.  The angel and light overshadow the struggle below of man.  It is a hopeful piece.  It came from an artist whose friend knew he was agnostic so he asked him to study Scripture and paint a series of work depicting Biblical stories in prayer of stirring his heart to come to see the truths he held dear.  I think I will need to return this piece after the holidays before I become too attached, but it has illuminated our simple holiday decorating and speaks to the spiritual journey we are on this and every Christmas season.  

Pulled by the tinsel and things and expectation of things I see the angel speaking to us glad tidings of great joy.  Sit down.  Be still. Listen to how this aching and hurting and waiting will unfold now. I know there were days and weeks and even months without a sign. You thought I had left you here without a Savior.  Your suffering and your broken bodies and hearts will be healed by His stripes.  A baby born of a virgin is just the beginning of the miracle.  You will be saved!  Do you believe?  Can Redemption happen so slowly it begins as a shoot from a stump?  Can it be as simple as a scene in a manger?  

Light a candle tonight.  
Take one step.  
He is coming.  
We have stars in our eyes.  

(Our family celebrates by lighting Advent candles daily instead of weekly.  We use the Advent journey handmade by Ann Voskamp's son, Caleb, which also allows you to add pieces and continue on through Lent to Easter.  We gather around each night and take turns reading and then we sing and pray.  I'm excited Danica is a reader this year too.  We've collected quite a few resources but still use the book A Family Advent: Keeping the Savior in the Season for our main readings.  I have been working through Ann's new Advent devotional book The Greatest Gift since it came out and have gifted it over and over already.  If you've never taken a daily Advent journey I would highly suggest this as a simple place to begin.  Many of you who have loved us and cared for us these years now ask me how you can bless us during this season.  My answer is simple.  We have every thing we need.  Share in our healing.  Share in our restoration. We are dreaming impossible things like a week together in 2014 in the Outer Banks instead of all Dan's vacation and time off being spent in a hospital with me. This is our family's wish.  The challenges we will continue to face financially will be there in the new year, but with renewed hope of some measure of health for me our faith in manna living stays strong. If you are near, come visit us (just don't wear any perfume or cologne!) and let us hug you and tell you "thank you" out loud.  Light a candle tonight.  Watch and wait with us.  Our Hope remains!)

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