Category: Christianity

New Christian Art

My new art series ~ “Faith”

This is an oil painting on canvas called “Kitchen Devotions”.

I have a new camera!!! My videos look much better now. Please watch, only a few seconds of your time – worth it, I promise!

NEW! Art prints available for any of the art you see on this site – art gallery quality Giclee prints. 8 x 10s are $20 … they look very nice for framing. Other sizes available, cost will go up or down accordingly. Natalie’s Etsy store will be officially open soon, but for now you can order directly from her. (:::waving at you::: hey, it’s me, just shoot me an email if you want to order a print: ArtistNatalie@aol.com ~  I saw them and they are very nice, high quality)

A Light Lunch

Today we were invited to stay after church for a “light lunch”. This is Ireland. There’s no such thing as a light lunch!

American friends: doesn’t a light lunch suggest soup and salad, maybe some bread… possibly a tea sandwich and a cookie? Here in Cork, Ireland, the light lunch spread was this:

  • Lasagna – probably the best lasagna I’ve ever had
  • Meatballs – DEFINITELY the best I’ve ever had – what WAS that?
  • Fresh Salad
  • Fresh Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Soup
  • Chicken curry
  • Chili
  • Sausages
  • Potatoes (of course, right?)
  • Rice
  • Couscous
  • Bread
  • Cheese
  • Spicy chicken wings
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Chocolate
  • Dessert that was so awesome that I’m glad I made room for it! I think it was a torte? Homemade & *DELICIOUS*!

Well, all of this food has made me sleepy, but I’ll try to fill you in on our church story. I’ve lifted these photos of the church from the official website. The building is beautiful, agree?

TrinityPresbyterianAgain from the church website, this is the interior:

Trinity Front2sOur family has been sitting over there on the right hand side (not shown in this photo) every Sunday for the past four weeks.

Week one, we were late. It took Brent a while to find the place. But I was determined that our family would get ourselves to church, even if it meant being temporarily embarrassed about coming in late.

The service was exactly what we needed. It was simple. It was welcoming. It was peaceful. We had come to the right place.

Afterward, there was tea and biscuits (cookies). We stayed for that, because really, there was no escaping it anyway! Members of the church trapped us into the pews (seriously – the pews have only one way out and they were blocking it!), talking to us, shaking our hands, and welcoming us. Then, we were plied with tea, and when tea happens in Ireland, it’s best to go along with it. 🙂

Well, we have been to many, many churches. Sometimes we dive right in and become active in the church. Sometimes we stay for years. We’ve been Sunday School teachers, Praise and Worship Team leaders, choir members, Power Point techs, musicians, theater directors, etc. We’ve also had long absences from church – in which we didn’t attend any church at all. These breaks can last for years.

Always when we take the plunge and return, we expect a certain amount of handshaking. We know we’ll have to explain who we are and why we’re there. It’s the part about being new to a church that I  dread. But this was different.

I don’t know if it’s because we are an American family, with a built-in excuse for why we are new, or if this church treats everyone this way, but instead of feeling as if we had to account for why we’d never been inside their church before, we were welcomed as if we were coming home for the first time. I tell you, it felt so good.

It was only days before when I told Brent, “I can’t do this anymore. I need help.” The constant fear that we won’t get jobs in time to get permission to stay in Ireland was weighing on me. What if we are deported after we’ve given up everything to be here? Of course I felt all of this (and still do), but I was fighting hard to stay positive and fight for our new life. My family though… they were hard to talk to. They were weary. Brent was defeated. No amount of coaching would pep them up. Instead, I was wearing down too.

I couldn’t build my family up anymore, not by myself. I was exhausted. I said that their negativity was overwhelming me. I couldn’t be positive enough for all five of us. It was time for reinforcements. Why not try the church that was mysteriously calling to me when I was sitting in a near-empty house looking at a silent computer screen, searching for answers?

I’d found their website, back when moving to Ireland felt like an impossible dream. I could imagine my family going to that church. I can’t explain it. I stared at the web page and it was as if I had a memory of having been there before. I don’t know how else to say it.  I looked at several other church websites, but I always went back to this one. Then, when it was time to consider giving church a try, this church was the only one that made sense. It was as if God was calling us to this church… which is interesting because…

The church body is startled by what God is doing to their Irish church. For reasons that no one has an explanation for, only half of their congregation is Irish! The other half is international. People from all over the world are arriving at their church.

I was asked why we chose their church. I babbled something about their web site, but the truth is… I don’t know! It drew me in. When it was time to go to church, it was the one I was sure of.

Here are some of the countries represented by people in this church:

  • South Africa
  • Korea
  • UK
  • Hungary
  • Ghana
  • United States

And others… I’m still new so I don’t know all of the countries represented by the surprisingly large international population at this relatively small protestant church in Cork, Ireland. I got the impression that the Irish reverend and congregation members are astonished by this… and they think it’s wonderful. As do I!

We felt completely at home here, in this diverse congregation. We truly gathered for one common purpose. It was as if the hour spent in that building was an hour bathed in Light and Love. There was no language barrier, no cultural barrier, and nothing really needed to be said.

But people spoke to us anyway. During the after-service tea, they asked us detailed questions. And then they did something unexpected. They didn’t offer to help us. They just DID. They helped us immediately and swiftly. I could barely keep up as my family members were being led away to speak to various people. My desperate plea had been heard! Reinforcements were on the way! I could feel myself relaxing for the first time in months.

Here are two examples:

  1. Cassie saw a job opening at Apple’s international headquarters in Cork. She would love to get in! Someone at church works there and offered to speak to her manager on her behalf.
  2. Nicholas wants to apply to UCC but he’s been dragging his feet. An IT major talked to Nicholas at length and answered all of his questions. This encouragement was just what Nicholas needed to finally finish his application essay!

Keep in mind, this is a small church. I think there were maybe only four or five young adults there. How is it that these highly specific connections were made? I had reached the end of what I could do for them. They needed connections of their own.

And what about my husband? He was so down and out, struggling with the emotions of being unemployed for the first time in his life. He has had a job ever since he was a kid. He had a paper route, he de-tassled corn, he worked in an auto parts store, and at nineteen years old he joined the Army. After serving in Germany and then in Iraq, he got out. Thereafter he always held down at least one job, sometimes several jobs at once.

While he had a salaried job as a commercial photographer for almost twenty years, he also did odd jobs to pay for braces for two daughters, medical bills, and other life expenses. He’s been a security guard (he was armed with only a whistle – something that still cracks me up), he’s fixed toilets (well, there was a flooding incident when he botched a plumbing job, but that was quickly taken care of), he milked dairy cows (no, his laundry was NOT fun to do!), and more. He’s had few vacations. He’s worked himself to beyond the point of exhaustion. And now… he’s had to tell people over and over again that he has no job. BTW: This is Brent’s Go Fund Me Page

I had to get our lease agreement based on my author/artist connections. I had to get an Irish bank account in my name only. All of this is absurd. Brent has been the primary source of income for our entire marriage. Twenty-eight years of supporting me suddenly didn’t matter. Now he can’t even rent a house. It was wearing on him. Sure, he had courageously gone back to school to become a teacher. And yes, he finished with an A average. But the path to become certified is long and windy. The jubilation over finishing school has long faded.

It will be weeks before his certification in the States goes through, and then he has to start the process with the Irish Teaching Council to get certified to teach in Ireland. There are connections he needs to make in person, so sitting back in the States wouldn’t have helped. For example, he had to apply for a government issued number in person. He needs that number to get Garda vetted for the Irish Teaching Council. He got that done last week. Anyway… it’s a tedious game of hurry up and wait. No one seems to care that while prospective teachers are going through this process they are unable to get a full time permanent position. I guess they expect teachers to be young, female, and supported by someone else? No wonder they get so few men into the teaching profession. They can’t afford it, especially if they are older and have families.

But back to Brent…

Not working is more exhausting than working. And I just couldn’t prop him up anymore. I needed help. I was wearing down myself. I’d gotten sick, very sick, for the first time in years. I’ve struggled to get myself back on track. I have to let go and let God. It’s time to admit that I can’t do this myself. I can’t fix these big unknown problems. I can’t be “everything” and “everyone” for my family. There’s a church for that. THIS church.

So, week one – there was instant relief! WHEW! It was like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t have to do this alone, and I didn’t have to lean too heavily on our Irish friends either — they’ve nearly adopted us! No, it was time that we plugged into the community and made our own way. We only had to get through one day at a time and then it would be Sunday again.

On week two we followed through on an after-church lunch invitation from the week before. Before we get to that though, I have to mention that there was an engaging guest speaker during the service who really captured my attention. I talked with him and bought his book during tea time. I’m reading his book now. This was an interesting connection because Cassie and Nicholas are studying Japanese and his book is about his years in Japan.

Back to week two and our lunch date:

We followed the couple to their home, which was on the other side of Cork, where we hadn’t yet been to before. It was a beautiful drive. At the time we had a small rental car, so we were unpleasantly squished, but it was well worth it.

“Lunch” was an elaborate meal (roasted chicken, vegetables, and potatoes) followed by tea and dessert (a large slab of apple pie with hot custard spooned over it). We were very full and it was late afternoon by the time we wrapped up Sunday feasting and conversation.

After lunch we were shown a beautiful HANDCRAFTED organ! WHAT?!!? Brent makes handcrafted musical instruments and Nicholas has been his apprentice, so this was right up their alley. I mean, seriously??? How did we end up with this perfect match? This organ is extraordinary! It’s mammoth, for one thing! And it was pure genius how this man built it – he’s an engineer by the way. He took keyboard keys from an inexpensive keyboard and laid them into a gorgeous wooden instrument. There’s a massive speaker built in that rattles the house! 🙂

His wife gave us a delightful impromptu concert. She plays beautifully. It was fun to watch her hands move so fast across the keys. What was best of all is the obvious love between the pair of them. What a treat to spend time in their home!

On to week three…

On week three I was prepared to coast through the service. I was looking forward to singing the songs and sitting peacefully in the pew until tea time. There was no lunch date today and I was planning to go home without any excitement. I could shut my busy brain down. Or could I? The sermon had me with the opening statement. Oh dear, I didn’t expect to get emotional. I’m someone who rarely cries. I hate crying. I get mad if I’m tricked into watching a sad movie. I’m still mad at Disney/Pixar for making me cry during Toy Story 3. But there I was, trying to blink back the tears. Because the reverend was saying a few simple words that spoke directly to my heart:

God knows. God cares.

My best friend from school told me something similar: God sees. God loves you.

Some of you reading this are shaking your heads and thinking, “So what? That sounds like a common theme for a church.” Obviously I’ve heard it said that God loves me, that Jesus loves me. But what I needed to hear is that God knows what’s going on in my life, that He sees. That’s not a message I usually hear in church, even though it seems obvious. I’m a person who needs to be reminded that I matter. Maybe you feel the same.

Sometimes I feel invisible. No matter how hard I push, I’m often forgotten by people. Don’t you ever feel that way? I mean, weeks slip by and people are busy. Maybe months slip by. The next thing you know, years have passed. And… well, maybe by then we’ve given up on that person being in our lives. But God isn’t that way. He sees us always. We are never forgotten. And He’ll never slip out of our lives. And no matter how far from home we go, He’s there. He’s waiting for us on the other side. He’s already there, ahead of us.

I don’t know how to put this into words any more than I already have, other than to share a song with you that I played over and over again when I was feeling overwhelmed by the unknowns. In the weeks before our big move to Ireland, this song helped me get through the anxiety and the loneliness. I played it while I was painting. Pay attention to the lyrics: Already There by Casting Crowns

Bottom line, week three was spiritually personal for me, as if God was sending me a direct message. Brent was moved by the sermon too – a different part of it, having to do with faith and not worrying, staying strong, etc. He came away from it feeling positive.

And now we’re at week four, today.

Today they fed us a “light” lunch. It sure wasn’t light. But maybe it was Light? Is that what they meant? If so, they got it exactly right.

 

Resting Faith

Angel figure in flowers (Natalie's house)

Faith According to You: a Christian Devotional
Faith According to You: a Christian Devotional

Chapter 6

Resting in Faith
Sometimes resting in faith is more difficult than working toward it. Resting requires more faith than doing. Not only do we need to let go of people and situations beyond our control, but we have to let go of everything—even the things that we can fix by working hard. Resting in faith means believing that God’s purpose will prevail because He is God, not because of anything we’ve done, or anything we’ve yet to do. Events will unfold at their own time. When God tells us to rest, we need to have faith that He will take care of everything during that time.
When I was a teenager I had a poster that said “Pray as if it’s up to God and then work as if it’s up to you.” I was completely committed to that motto. And I worked hard. I worked very hard. I worked hard at school, at relationships, and at my spiritual life. I continued to work hard every year of my life. It never occurred to me that my poster was lacking in depth. On the surface, this was good advice, but when looking deeper, it was actually quite horrible advice for someone like me. The motto justified my weak position: I felt more comfortable when I could do things for myself. As long as I could fix the problem by working harder, I knew I had everything under control.
But you see, God has everything under control. A strong work ethic is a wonderful thing, and God appreciates good and faithful servants, but He doesn’t want us to confuse working hard with “earning” spiritual rewards that we can’t possibly earn. Sure, the Bible mentions that we’ll be rewarded for our good deeds. That’s not what I mean. I mean that we never have to earn God’s love. And what is love, according to God?

1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Charity (love) suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

We don’t need to do anything to earn God’s love and in fact we can’t earn it. When we are full of God’s love we believe all things, we hope all things and we endure all things. We can rest upon the Lord, knowing that He’ll take care of shop while we’re gone. We’ve left things in the best possible hands!
Renewing our Strength

Isaiah 40:31
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Faith is a blessing. It’s not just about obedience, discipline and letting go. It’s about resting. It’s about believing that the Lord will renew our strength. We will become like eagles! We will run! We won’t be weary. We will walk. We will not faint.
Remember where we were on our imaginary faith journey? We were riding down the open road with the sunroof down. The wind was in our hair, the sun was shining upon us, and we were eager to see what God had in store for us right around the bend. Our next adventure will be exhilarating! God has something big in store for us.
Let Him prepare us. Let us rest. Let us have faith that God will renew our strength. He won’t let us fall. He won’t let us fall down. We won’t be faint. We will walk. We will run. We will fly!
Rest up, my friend. We have left the car. We have boarded a plane! We can take a nap while the pilot drives.

Our Legacy

When my mother was ill she was missing her own mom. I noticed when the sadness took over her and there wasn’t anything I do about it. While I had been a good daughter to her, I could never replace her mother. My mother was choked up when she said, “Mom was a hard worker.”
If you have children, you are leaving them a legacy whether you make a conscious effort to do so or not. They will know who you were and what you did with your life. What will your life mean to them? What does your life mean to them now? It’s never too late to change directions. It’s never too late to finish what we’ve started. If you’ve veered off the path or if you’ve gotten stuck in traffic, it’s not too late to get back on track.
It’s also never too early to think about how we’d like to be remembered. Imagine that the Bible was still being written today. Imagine that our stories were included! What would be of significance to mention? What have we done to inspire others? What have we done that illustrates a point that Jesus wants us to learn? Have we given Him our last penny? Have we washed His feet? Have we let in a stranger at our door? What have we done? What is our legacy?
I have created two picture books as a tribute to my parents. The first is “Grandpa Smiles”. I illustrated it with my oil paintings. The story is about my son and my father. You can get the e-book version of “Grandpa Smiles” free, by the way, and you can watch me paint the pictures too. But that’s not the book I want to talk about. The second book is called “Nana Plays”. It is about my mom.
Through these books I helped shape my parents’ legacy. This was easy to do for my dad because my relationship with him was uncomplicated. It was much more difficult to do for my mother, but I prayed over it and in the end I know that I did right by her. I know that I represented the legacy that she wanted to be remembered by.
Most important to her in all the world was her three grandchildren, my children. “Nana Plays” is about my youngest child and Mom. Frozen in time within the pages of that book is a painted representation of Mom playing “Pretty, Pretty Princess” with Savannah, then a little girl. Savannah’s memory of Nana as a playful and fun grandmother will be forever fresh. The paintings live on, and so does her love of her grandchildren.
Take a leap of faith to create a legacy for yourself. You are stronger than you think you are. You are capable of doing more than you expect to be able to do. You can leave a lasting mark on this world. You can make a difference. Sometimes all you need to do is love one small child to be remembered forever.

Eternal Life

Titus 1:1-3
Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness;
In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour

1 John 2:24-26
Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.

John 4:13-15
Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

John 3:14-17
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

And my personal favorite:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

I could have kept going with these references to eternal life or life everlasting. God has promised it to us over and over. And this is for our benefit—it is meant to give us hope! If we truly believe that we’ll have eternal life, there is nothing left to fear.
We can trust that God will see us through to the other side. Not even death is a permanent condition. We will live again, forever. One day we’ll see our loved ones again. We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Now I can’t pretend that I know what all of this means exactly. How do we all fit in the same house? Do we really need to understand the mystery of all of this? Somehow, I just know that the words in these Scriptures are true. I know it. Do you know it? How do you know?
We know it because we have faith that it is true. Some of us have had firsthand spiritual experiences that have convinced us of this truth. Others have had to believe in eternal life based solely on hearing the stories of others, studying the Scriptures, and trusting in God’s written promises. If you’ve never experienced a miracle, please read other people’s stories about encounters with angels and miracles. There are more books and compilations of these stories than I could even begin to list! You’ll find these collections easily with a simple keyword search, a quick browsing of a bookstore’s aisles, or a trip to your local library. Have I ever experienced unexplained events, mysterious circumstances or divine intervention? That’s a book for another day.
Today’s focus is not on convincing you of an afterlife or of eternal life. It is about assuming that you already believe in these things. And if you do, I encourage you to anchor yourself to that truth. Believing that we will one day live with God forever has the power to sustain our faith for all the days of our life here on Earth. When we know that our salvation is assured, when we know that we’ll one day live in Heaven with those who have gone before us, when we know that Jesus is there waiting for us, how can we fear? There’s nothing to fear and everything to gain. There is joy and peace for all of us. We only need to have faith.
God bless you on your faith journey. May you feel the wind in your hair and may the sun shine upon you. May you walk, may you run, may you fly!
Homework for Chapter Six
1. Do you have enough faith to rest upon the Lord?
Hints: Do you get enough sleep at night? Do you frequently feel “under the weather”, do you often catch colds or other viruses, or do you suffer from stress related illnesses? Does your mind race when you’re trying to sleep? Do you have difficulty focusing on the task at hand because your mind is always working on the next task? Are you too busy to worship and rest one day of the week?

2. Make a list of 5 ways to renew your strength.
Hints: There’s a lot we can do to take care of ourselves. Do you exercise regularly? Do you eat well? Do you make time for friends? Do you read books for pleasure? Do you take time out to play games with the children in your life? Do you spend time in nature? Do you paint, write poetry, or play music?

3. What is your legacy? What would you like to be remembered for? Think of the fruits of the Spirit for ideas. Which of these spiritual gifts are your personal strengths? Perhaps you can build a legacy around these gifts. Who can you help? How can you make a difference?

4. What do you imagine when you think about eternal life? How does God’s promise of an everlasting life encourage you to continue on your pilgrimage?
Hints: Do you think about streets of gold, people or animals you’ve loved, or seeing Jesus? Do you think about freedom from pain and illness, freedom from struggle, or freedom from death?

5. Pray about your faith journey. Write about it in your prayer journal. Ask for rest when you are weary. Seek encouragement when you feel weak. Keep track of prayers asked and answered. Write updates in your journal about how you’re doing.

If you are doing this exercise with a partner or group:
Make a plan for how you’ll continue to support each other after this devotional is over. Consider meeting once a month to share highlights from your prayer journals. Help each other through your pilgrimage. We don’t have to travel alone.

Assignment: Even if you’ve already read it before, please read the book “Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan or my personal favorite “Little Pilgrim’s Progress” by Helen Taylor. Reading a classic allegorical book about a pilgrimage is a wonderful way to motivate yourself for continuing success on your faith journey.