If you watched the above video (a clip from this year’s Easter Show), you saw how emotional I was while singing the cover of “I Can Only Imagine”. I could barely choke out the new lyrics I added to reflect the dark times we live in. Why?
Why do we get emotional when singing, painting, or maybe even some of you got a little teary while viewing my art? Just seeing the image of Jesus may make us feel powerful emotions. For some, it’s intense anger and malice, for others it’s overwhelming love and forgiveness.
I’ve attended many kinds of churches in multiple states and multiple countries. When living in Ireland, my family attended a church in downtown Cork. They were excited to see Americans, as an American had recently returned home and they were now without any in their congregation. They were keen to show off their “light lunch”, which they started up as a new tradition after their American friend told them about potlucks after church. Well, something got very lost in translation!
Yes, Irish and Americans both speak English, but trust me, Cork English is very different and hard for the uninitiated to understand. Also, the use of language and story telling, our different backgrounds, and the way we turn a phrase can cause some confusion. However it happened, the event they called “light lunch” was the biggest church feast I’ve ever had!
They were interested in our response. Did the Americans think that they’d done it up well? I’m laughing just thinking about it. It was a buffet rivaling a casino’s all you can eat binge fest- nothing like the more modest potlucks with casseroles (or “hot dish” as the Minnesotans call it), baked goods, and a few sides. Not that I haven’t been to large potlucks in which people went all out, but the Irish really took it to a whole new level. I have no idea how they got such an impression about American church lunches, but it was quite the experience!
I bring this up as an example of how church is all about perception. What we think church is, what we think it should be, and what it really is can sometimes match up perfectly, but often does not. A church is run by imperfect people and attended by imperfect people, so it will never be perfect. The history and religious foundations may be misunderstood, altered by political powers, or lacking understanding. The music may be off key. The speakers might stumble. The sound system may malfunction. Worst of all, people may leave church feeling more alone than when they came in.
The social and political aspects of church sometimes distracts and suffocates us. Maybe all we really want is the shared hope of life after death and seeing our loved ones again, redemption, mercy, unconditional love, forgiveness, deliverance, peace (“it is well with my soul” even when troubled times come), and gathering with other human beings who also want these spiritual gifts; sharing our lives with other families, seeing babies grow up, couples marrying, and supporting those who grieve- a community based on a genuine desire for everyone to be blessed by God. But the reality of how a church operates can be a vastly different experience than the raw honest emotion and connection that we long for.
So do we want to go to church? Is it worth the risk of feeling angry by something said at the pulpit, or by interactions with the congregation? It is worth feeling lonely, misunderstood, and rejected? Is it worth getting up early, making ourselves presentable, and pushing ourselves socially?
These, and more, are the questions I ask myself every time we move to a new place and need to settle the church question. I also go through this when a church situation is dysfunctional for our family and we need to look at making a change.
We’ve made changes. We’ve taken breaks. And we’ve somehow managed to still want to go to church. There are times when the Holy Spirit is in that place, and the love between fellow humans- many times complete strangers- is very real and powerful.
We have our boundaries though, and 2020’s government control of churches was one of them. We were half the choir, but when they banned singing as a response to orders without scientific foundation, we decided that they banned us. We did not return. For me, a church must be about the people who attend. More so than the political and religious order, more so than the government, more so than history and tradition, the church must be about the people. Jesus never pushed the lepers away, He went to them. He never rejected the elderly or the children. I can’t imagine a scenario in which Jesus would have agreed with the order to ban singing.
And in the end, I will not attend a church that violates my individual sovereign beliefs. Because, what critics say is largely untrue. Many of us do not attended church as cult-like drones, but instead our personal faith is the deciding force wherever we are, including church. And because of this, church (in many cases) is real. It is a space where humans gather, where personalities sit alongside each other, and our differences are tamed only by our desire for love.
When the government goes after the churches, we can imagine it’s because our gathering together gives us power that they do not want us to have. That alone should be enough reason to want to go to church? Maybe so. As I sit here today I don’t feel ready to face a new church experience, but I’m open to changing my mind and heart. I still want the things that I go to church for.
Today was a highly stressful day. We still haven’t closed on the house and we are now running out of time for the moving pods, truck, cleaning service (required to close out lease), and all of the other parts of this process. I’ve worked on cleaning and loading the pod all day and am exhausted. I’m struggling not to worry. It is difficult.
Sheltering trees (the theme of my painting in the video above) are places we can go when we need rest. “A shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain” – Isaiah 4:2-6 When we are under a great deal of stress, may we spiritually retreat to a sheltering tree.
In this emotional space we can breathe and remind ourselves of how difficult times do not last forever, and how often we emerge from a crisis stronger. When we are at peace it is “well with my (our) soul” and it’s much easier to handle stressful situations. It doesn’t mean we don’t ever lose control of our emotions or let anxiety get the better of us, but we may pull ourselves together more quickly. A restful spirit is a good companion to a faithful spirit. Faith leads to hope, and hope makes all the difference.
Well, the rental market has spiked out of control! The cheapest rent for the number of bedrooms we need, expanded to a wide area that would require a long commute, is $400 more per MONTH than we are currently paying. That’s nearly $5,000 USD extra we’ll have to pay this year in rent!!! And that’s IF we get the cheapest rent we’ve so far found, and those have already all sold out- already rented! So it goes up from there. There’s a house that would cost us over $1,000 more per month, so, over 12 grand for the year. No, no, no, that will sink us!
The property management of this house says that rents and home sales have gone crazy. There’s nothing they can do to help us, except honor their contract with the home owner and send us the vacate notice (because she wants to sell and cash in, which is understandable, but it means we are once again the LOSERS in this game of life, in which corrupt politics elevates some and crushes others. It feels like we are always the ones crushed! Do you feel the same?). So we’re being kicked out during this treasonous economic housing crisis, with only 2 months to find a place and move out. Except there’s no place to go and all of them will charge us way more than the rental house is worth.
Husband’s job offer is in this area (so we do not want to move yet again to another new state), but he won’t start until after his June graduation and assuming he passes his licensing exam (he will, but the exam testing dates haven’t even been posted yet so we don’t know how long the wait time will be for taking it, getting results back, and then getting the start date). It will be only a few months though, so I tried to find a 6 month lease option to cut down on the horrible rental costs (no) and then asked if an exception could be made. No such luck.
Well, I guess I better say goodnight. Tomorrow will be a better day. I will then be positive and willing to share something better than this. But, I think it’s good to allow myself to be human, and show you that my hope doesn’t come from an easy life. I am not privileged or special. I’m just a person who is sometimes lucky, and often not. My hope comes from faith that tomorrow will be better, and is deeply rooted in a love of God, goodness, happiness, nature, creativity, humor, the collective empathy of the best of humanity (like you!) and my family. Hope doesn’t come from circumstances or lineage. It comes from within.
I’m feeling better already. It will all work out, even if temporarily- it doesn’t. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t come from earthly prosperity or the easy road. It comes from a faithful life. Of course during times of extreme grief (which I’ve experienced and you probably have as well), we cannot expect ourselves to feel hope at all times. And that’s normal. But when the crisis is the type in which we still have our spouse and children, food on the table, and the expectation of a better future (like this housing situation I’m in), we can muster through another bad year.
God bless you and keep you, and may His face shine upon you, this day and always. And if you can spare a moment to pray that our family find the right housing, I’ll be grateful.
Yesterday’s post was bittersweet, looking back at the hobby farm life we lost. But our journey toward a new life, after almost a decade of working toward our goals- after selling nearly everything we had, moving five times- across three different states (up North, to Midwest, then finally to the Deep Coastal South) and even abroad (Ireland)- we are so near the end of this adventure. Hope is stirring within us that we may be able to buy a house within the next two years. HOME finally!
Last weekend we celebrated our anniversary with a nice dinner on the eve of our anniversary, and then on the actual date we drove to the area where we want to buy a house, about an hour’s drive from here. We daydreamed and imagined ourselves living there. Then we stopped by a gift store and looked for something special to remember the day by. Both of us saw this pretty little trinket at the same time. Our son had given me a similar cardinal gift for Christmas just a couple of months ago, so it seemed like this would make a nice addition. Well…
I didn’t know about this little message attached to the bluebird until after we already chose to buy it. Near the bottom of the card it says “Bless this home and family with love and happiness”. So we took that as a sign! Now the bluebird hangs in the center of the small house we’re renting, on a decorative tree that we keep up all year long with our family pictures, fairy lights and some other decor on it.
Whenever I look at our bluebird of happiness ornament, not only will I think back fondly of our anniversary, but I’ll be reminded to have faith that our hard work will pay off. After many years of uncertainty and temporary places, we’ll be HOME! And this hope gives me motivation to stay the course. Sometimes all it takes is one small thing to keep us going. When we look for that one small thing, we find it.
This world is uncertain and unstable, and perhaps your life is right now also. Whatever we’re waiting for, let us be expectant and confident that this season will pass, and one day the things we hope for will happen. God bless you and yours, this day and always.
Sometimes this world throws so much darkness, chaos, confusion, fear, malice, violence and dangerous, heartless tyranny at us that there’s very little left to say. In these times, I feel opposing forces vying for my attention: faith and fear. Fear associates closely with suspicion, resentment, bitterness, anger and ultimately hate. So I must choose faith. Faith leads to trust, forgiveness, grace, peace and ultimately love.
The fires may rage, but we are delivered. We are like this little child led by our Guardian Angel. Or, maybe we are that angel to someone else. We can focus on the fire or believe in deliverance from it. When we believe that we are protected and loved, it is well with our soul.
A guardian lion statue is meant to symbolize prosperity and protection and is usually installed on behalf of a city or a wealthy person’s home. I was inspired to paint a fantasy representation of the resin winged lion statue in Savannah, Georgia. I imagined the lion standing at the edge of a cliff, guarding the land from whatever darkness may threaten its shores.
The real Georgian shoreline isn’t lined with cliffs, but the imagery is meant to universally apply in a spiritual sense, in any way that the viewer chooses. The concept of Guardians is appealing and comforting. Don’t we wish that such a winged lion exists, who will protect us, and keep us prosperous?
Believing in a spiritual protector and a God who blesses us requires faith. Wouldn’t it be easier if we could see something tangible, maybe as obvious as a golden winged lion? And yet, sometimes, faith comes as easily as this. There are times in our lives when darkness and fear overtakes us. In that dark place we may feel absolutely certain of the presence of a spiritual guardian, of angels, divine intervention, and God.
But when the crisis passes, we may doubt our experience. Always trust yourself and honor the certainty of the presence of divine love, protection, and blessings. Work to hold on to those moments when we have no doubts. Life feels so much easier when we believe that someone is looking out for us.
What scares you? Fires, hurricanes, storms, floods, criminal violence, car/plane/train crashes, losing a loved one, medical issues, loss of freedom? Open spaces, closed spaces, heights, water, heat, cold? Social anxiety in a crowd, or isolation when not in one? When things stay the same, or when things change? Finding your own way, or being told what to think?
Faith is about believing even when there is no evidence of our belief. We just “know”. Some call it intuition. Others think of this as a spiritual commitment to hold certain truths in our hearts, never wavering or disloyal to a higher calling. Usually this relates to living a moral life, defined by our personal values. For animals, faith seems much less complicated. Little birds may be literally pushed out of the nest by their mothers, but in a few short seconds they believe that they can fly- and indeed, they can.
When we believe in who we are, and the abilities we were born with, we trust that we can do what we were meant to do. Faith comes easier, requiring no proof of our claims, if we make a spiritual, intellectual, and physical commitment to be true to our purpose. If we believe we are meant to be strong, healthy, and positive for our families and communities, we can act in faith to BE strong, healthy, and positive.
Fear can be a mysteriously beautiful thing, just like an out of control forest fire. When we are afraid, we are aware of how fragile life is, and how vulnerable we are. We are aware of how precious time is. We may see our role in this universe as very small, but each of us are a tiny intersection point on a vast web. We matter. Every life connects to other lives. When we lose a connection point, part of the web falls apart. All of this may come to us in a fuzzy sort of way that we don’t analyze, but on a gut level our focus is sharper when we are afraid.
Fear is an opportunity. Do we rise? Do we respond with cowardice, submission, and defeat? Do we abdicate our responsibilities to others, and let them dictate our lives? When we give up our authority, when we surrender our sovereign self, we allow fear to be an excuse to abandon who we are, to lay down our purpose under the cloak of compliance.
When we choose to rise in the face of fear, some may call it choosing faith over fear. But perhaps it’s more fitting to say that we choose faith through fear. Fear can be an exhilarating journey; when we are aware of death, we are aware of LIFE. Our passion to live may be ignited, cultivated, and utilized to provide lasting change. We may “level up” spiritually, intellectually, and even physically. Mind, body and spirit are always connected. When we elevate in one, we elevate our full selves.
Fear can be a blessing. The choice is ours. Fight for your purpose. Never give in, back down, or give up in the face of fear. Embrace what scares you and stand firmly rooted in who you are. May your responses be in alignment with your core values, and never compromised by the demands of other entities, agendas, or people.
I finally started my new painting today, after two days of planning to do so, but getting distracted by family things. I don’t regret going with the moment and focusing on the family. Awareness of time helps us choose what’s most important. Even though my vocation is very important to me, work is work. It is here today, and gone tomorrow, even if I become successful enough to be legendary. One day my art will mean whatever people want it to mean, with or without me.
But love is forever. What we invest in people lives on spiritually, eternally. When we experience fear, we understand this concept in a heightened way that is a blessing, should we accept. I accept. I hope you do as well.
Watch me paint this deer in 2 minutes (time lapse)
You might remember when I shared this painting in April, while it was still fresh on my canvas? This art is a good choice for today’s blog post. Peace and tranquility are part of nature. Does “nature” include human nature? Why not?
Humans are complex beings. As a result, we often overthink things. We can be easily out of balance. Mind, body, and spirit can be skewed too heavily by our thoughts while our bodies and spirits are neglected. When this happens, the stress, worries, and fears that are generated by processing world, community, and personal daily events will dominate us. There is no peace in chaos when we can only see the chaos.
There is no doubt that these are troubled times, but every generation has its share of trouble. Even in extreme chaos, danger, oppression, and war, it is possible to achieve spiritual peace. It helps to study the philosophy, lifestyle habits and beliefs of peaceful people. What traits do such people have in common? What can we observe and attempt to bring into our own lives? How does spiritual peace help us survive hardships and oppression?
Spiritual peace creates strength that is resistant to propaganda, manipulation, steering, and more overt coercion. People who have a peaceful spirit often share these things in common:
Spending regular time outdoors
Eating nutritious fresh foods
Getting regular physical exercise (this can be from daily tasks, not necessarily a planned fitness routine- an active lifestyle may be enough)
Sleeping well, playing well, loving well
Practicing a personal, intimate faith that one strongly believes in
Educating the mind (not just receiving whatever comes through the “news” or social media, but a real focused effort to learn something new, or to study a familiar subject in more depth, learning a new language, contemplating mathematical or scientific concepts, exploring philosophy/sociology/psychology, learning about botany/gardening/homesteading, etc.)
Notice that the first four items on the list are related to the BODY part of the mind/body/spirit equation. Often, if we are dispirited, depressed, anxious, short tempered, or if spiritual peace eludes us in any way, the cause can be traced to something physical. We may be simply overtired. We might be hungry- even if we’ve eaten. When our diets are terrible, we are deficient in the right nutrients to fill us up. We may have a chemical imbalance that can be helped by changing our diets, adding more physical exercise, and better sleeping habits.
These are things that we probably already know, but if you’re like me, you need a reminder to stay focused and on track. The next item on the list refers to spiritual health. It does no good to choose “nothing” or to let ourselves fall into a mindless ritual of religious practice. These things don’t empower us or inspire us. We must dedicate our hearts to an active belief and practice of our personal, deeply connected faith.
Last on the list is the MIND part of the mind/body/spirit equation. The mind drives us, and therefore we must keep it in check. We must make sure that other influences don’t hijack us. The best way to do this, is to take control of our minds by making our own choices about what to fill our brains with. Choose good things, and good things will result.
Learning a new language in the area of literal language (such as a foreign language, sign language, or Braille), or the language of art, music, or numbers, expands our minds while overtaking the “weeds” in our brains. Create new neural pathways by directing your brain toward enlightenment, empowerment, and encouragement. Seek good things and your brain will find them. Not only that, but our minds are capable of modifying our bodies and communicating our desires and habits to our physical self.
Scientists know about neural pathways. Do we know science? Dark powerful entities know science, and their motives for their usage of it are often profit based (profit may be financial, an exchange of power, or something more sinister). What if we were aware of how amazing we are, and took control over our mind, body, spirit?
Psychological warfare only works on a willing victim. If we are not victims, and not willing, this type of abuse doesn’t work on us. Lies have little influence over those who are confident in the truth and in our ability to reason, our skills in logical thinking, and our reliance upon intuition and faith over blind compliance to an authority. Protecting ourselves during these troubled times is about being strong. It is about peace in chaos.
Watch me paint this angel in 2 minutes (time lapse)
A tribute to the Turning Angel monument, built over the graves of five children killed in a factory explosion in the early 1900’s:
She was recently vandalized, toppled, and had a broken wing. She is made whole here. This was my first time painting in only black and white, with no color at all. When I first heard about this statue being toppled and damaged, something about it tugged at my heart. When I found out that it was a memorial over the graves of five children, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I looked up the statue to see what it looked like… and decided to paint it. I understand how that feels… to create something to honor the deaths of people, and to have someone destroy it in a hateful action. That beautiful angel statue, installed as a memorial for children who died so tragically young- toppled to the ground with a broken wing…"
- from book "50 Oil Paintings Inspired by my Christian Faith" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas
I know what it’s like to have my art destroyed, and I know what it’s like to be broken as a person. Because we share bits of ourselves when we create, when our creations are destroyed by hateful actions, all of the broken bits of our spirit are remembered and past brokenness is felt anew.
When “activists” (terrorists) listed me for ruination, threats, harassment, and more- committing libel against me and other crimes- they also hacked into my website and deleted my artwork. They uploaded a snarky devil cartoon in place of my blog about my dead parents, deleting this video that I painted in their memory:
My son helped me recover all of the files that they deleted. The original painting was safe. But the violation of my rights and privacy was deeply felt. They had seen my personal files that were stored in the non-public areas of my site, including pictures of my family, my children. They knew where I lived.
This is the complete handcrafted, handpainted nativity set that my parents made. It is the only thing I have left that is in this picture. Everything else- all of it- including the furniture, candles, decorations, and tree are all gone. We kept only a few of the small ornaments from the tree and the nativity set. Everything else was sold… including this house that we’d built after many years of working hard to earn it.
I’ve blogged bits and pieces about our journey of starting over, but that’s not the focus of this post. What I’m trying to share is that my heartfelt post about that nativity set and my painting video of it, held many layers of profound emotion. It represented a bittersweet letting go of painful loss, while honoring who I lost, and the life I lost.
When I chose to share such an intimate part of my spirit, it was my intellectual property alone. Deleting it was theft. When the devil cartoon was inserted in its place, it was a hate crime against not only my faith, but also a desecration of my parents. They have no grave to visit, as both chose to be cremated. I honored them with my public words and art. Terrorists destroyed my memorial.
So, when I heard about the “Turning Angel” memorial being destroyed, it touched my heart. I can only imagine the pain of those parents who lost their child that day. It happened long ago, and it’s unknown (to me) if any of the remaining families still feel that grief to this day. But even if no one from the current generation was deeply effected by the attack on the memorial, I believe that the energy of hate and destruction has an impact on humanity as a whole.
As humans, do we create or destroy?
Do we build each other up or tear each other down?
Do we say a kind word, or give a backhanded compliment?
Do we favor sarcasm and dry humor more often than whimsy and silliness? In other words, does “humor” become an excuse for mean-spirited interactions and exchanges that create pessimism?
Do we choose dark over light, or light over dark?
We don’t have to literally destroy an angel, breaking her wings as she topples to the ground. We don’t have to delete baby Jesus and a poignant story about dead parents. No, often when we destroy what others create the method is much more subtle. We don’t even always see evidence of it. There are no broken wings or snarky devil cartoons to show what we’ve done.
When someone creates a joyful spirit that fills the space of the room, and we destroy it with one unkind word, we destroy what others have created. We can do this without saying a word as well. All it takes is giving someone the silent treatment, the cold shoulder, or displaying a rude expression on our faces. In one second, the spiritual wings break.
The thought I kept going back to is that the person(s) who deleted my blog posts and my art had seen the story of why I painted that nativity set. Perhaps they didn’t read it carefully, but surely parts of it would have reached their minds. Why choose a devil cartoon? I truly can’t imagine seeing the grieved heart of a fellow human and choosing to delete their private pain that they’d decided to publicly share. It took several steps to hack into my site and do this, and they did it over the course of two days, with multiple messages left for me. The point is, they had time to reconsider their actions, yet still chose to hurt me in this way. It wasn’t a spontaneous action, but one that was done with full intention.
My guess is that these were young people who would have been too cowardly to confront me to my face, but perhaps not. It’s a dark soul who shows no empathy for another, who places one’s own agenda ahead of the grief of a fellow human being. It is this sociopath tendency that is quite chilling. To various degrees, we all have the capacity to destroy without empathy. How far would we go to destroy someone?
I believe that when we create, we aid in the redemption of the human spirit. We counter the heart of man that is capable of wickedness, by sharing something of ourselves. Creation is more powerful than destruction. While one unkind word is felt more deeply than a chorus of praise, in the end good always wins. The solution to destruction is creation. The solution to hate is never more hate. That’s not what justice is.
We live in an unfair world. Life is unkind. That’s how it has been since the beginning of time, and how it will always be. There’s good and bad; joy and pain, and sometimes we cause these hardships ourselves by oppressing each other or by allowing others to grow powerful enough to become an entity that oppresses us all.
We don’t set the wrongs right by hurting each other. We set them right by pioneering new ways to make the world a better place, and standing strong in the truth. Justice is about holding people accountable who are directly responsible for committing crimes. It’s not about acts of terrorism to coerce change through hurting innocent people. It is not about changing the definition of “innocent” until it excuses targeting people who have legally committed no crimes. Somewhere along the way, society decided that terrorism is OK and hate is OK, if we agree with the cause. Once we allow mobs to decide what the law means, we have no protection from destruction of ideas, property, and lives.
Terrorism is never legal, even if the cause is (supposedly) just. Terrorism is always criminal. People innocent of a criminal act are always legally innocent, and cannot legally be judged guilty for wrong thoughts, wrong associations, wrong beliefs, or having been born in the wrong type of body. A society that sanctions lawlessness destroys itself, as there is no protection for anyone- especially the vulnerable who are then twice victimized.
I was afraid for a while. I feared that they’d come after me again at any moment. But I’ve discovered that I’m not only a survivor of life’s hardships, but a fighter. I put my painting of baby Jesus back on my site, and I continued to paint more art featuring Jesus.
When we live unafraid, we don’t give in to terrorists. We continue to share organically, without self-censorship. We openly express love through the generosity of our creations. Stay strong. Humanity needs each and every one of you. Create loving words. Be that light in the darkness. The difference you make is incalculable. Don’t let hate intimidate you. Love is always stronger than hate- always.