It’s that time of year again, when many people reflect on what redemption means. For those who practice Lent, this may mean taking part in fasting or giving something up. For many who don’t religiously participate, the Lenten season may still be a time of reflection. These challenging times are especially focused on what it means to be set free, both literally and spiritually.
Last night I had a nightmare that my husband, oldest daughter and I were in a car that was flung off a cliff. As the car descended, I told both of them that I loved them, and I reflected that I had a good life, if this should be the end. But I prayed frantically for a miracle. Then we landed- onto a thick black mat that seemed made of melted rubber, like children’s indoor commercial play-area flooring. The mat was floating on foamy water, as part of a landfill. Our car was nearly on the center of the mat. We had survived! My dream self said, (because we are alive) “We must be here for a reason.” Then, my awake self thought the same thing: We are alive. We must be here for a reason.
I spent the day doing more than I usually do. I am grateful to be here. Let every moment we’re here be heavy with purpose. May we treasure our time and our energy, lest our purpose be frittered away by the manufactured realities that others push on us. We were made for so much more than this. This Lenten season, let us reflect on what mercy is, and know that we are loved by God.
I finally finished my leftover project from before Christmas! Now you see why I was comparing having this painting on my easel in late January to taking down the Christmas tree late. It literally is a Christmas tree that, in canvas form, was sitting on my easel- which is in the kitchen of this small house- and staring at me every day! So, I thought by the time I got this done, I’d no longer care about it and neither would you, but the video is surprisingly cathartic to watch.
As I see the painting come alive in the magical time lapse fashion, it feels like a story. The music was rather random, but fit the emotion of the art perfectly- at least from the perspective I have at the moment. At first the music and the painting starts off as a pretty little thing, without much story to it. But then the music gets kind of odd and chaotic at the same time my video does too! What was happening during that part is that I was trying out my new tripod and my first attempt was a shambles. My head blocked a lot of the session. So, only parts of that session were usable (not a big deal, it wasn’t that important to skip ahead).
But it feels like the parts of Christmas that don’t live up to expectations, don’t go as planned, or maybe are a total disaster and are completely cut from the holiday. This year, we had plans to cook Cornish hens for Christmas dinner, but the refrigerator in the house we’re renting broke- completely dead. We had no refrigeration for weeks, as the process of getting management to send someone out, then having the repair guys say that it’s dead, and then getting approval for a new refrigerator, and then waiting for delivery people to bring it- well, it all takes time.
So for the entire Christmas week and all the way up to New Year’s, we had no place to thaw out the Cornish hens that were in our personally owned chest freezer we bought the LAST time the refrigerator went out (they repaired it that time but I knew it would simply die again later and I didn’t want to lose all our food again when it did!). The investment in the chest freezer was looking pretty wise, I must say! I froze everything I could, even raw eggs in baggies. Our food loss was very minimal.
We did buy a small refrigerator to get through this ordeal, otherwise we’d have had no refrigeration for the holidays (just the freezer). The mini fridge is too small for thawing Cornish hens, so that carefully laid plan for Christmas dinner fell apart. Because of this, I came up with Plan B, which was better than Plan A and will now be a regular thing, a new family tradition. I went with a Christmas morning breakfast that becomes a brunch as the morning turns into afternoon.
I had purchased a warming server to use over Thanksgiving and I realized it would be perfect for using on Christmas. So, here we have an example of how everything fell into place, but only after the frustration and stress of the broken refrigerator, which brought unpleasant emotions forward. I’m weary of living in a small rental house, but our life circumstances will keep us here for at least another Christmas, probably two.
I’ve had much worse cancellations of Christmas. It would take much more than a broken refrigerator to stop me from celebrating. There was the Christmas when Dad was terminally ill from cancer and I was dropped off at another family’s Christmas gathering while my parents were in the hospital for Dad’s chemo treatment.
I was fifteen years old and I remember feeling such awkwardness and humiliation to be the unexpected guest, sitting there while the family was exchanging presents (a large extended family gathering, most didn’t know who I was). The hosts (the only people I knew, friends of my parents) apparently felt compelled to wrap something up for me, and this was worse than if they didn’t. Or maybe not. That would have been horrible too, if sitting there overlooked and ignored. There was really no way to make things better. While strangers smiled at me while their eyes were filled with pity, I fumbled to unwrap whatever it is that they gave me as a token present. I don’t remember what it was.
Dad was hairless then and vomiting during meals. Mom wanted us to pretend we didn’t notice, so I was expected to eat normally even though vomiting noises were only a few feet away, as Dad was hurling into the kitchen sink while we ate. Nerves of steel, that’s what I had. Sometimes it makes me appear cold and detached, but that’s only how I get through a crisis.
We can never guarantee how we’d act in a situation, but in my own family- the one I’ve built as an adult- we are open and honest. I cannot imagine the dysfunction of expecting my children to eat normally while something that traumatic is happening. That’s just a snippet of course of what it was like to grow up while Dad was dying. Mom’s gone now. Otherwise I’d not feel comfortable saying even this much.
So, that’s Christmas for some of us. There are seasons of grief, dysfunction, anxiety, stress, and feeling alone even around others. I am always mindful of this when Christmas rolls around, and I try to help others see the beauty that I do- Christmas is a time marker. We are only asked to “be”. When we do this, we greet Christmas with the hope of the new year to come, regardless of whether or not the current year was good, bad, or in-between.
Back to the video… the music then changes to a calm, sentimental rhythm. And that’s how I feel about Christmas. As it unfolds, whatever stress and expectations we had start to ease up. When it does, we may feel depleted, depressed, tired, or simply relieved. We may feel content. The pace has shifted. The world is no longer running full speed ahead, pushing us to feel something, pushing us to honor our traditions, pushing us to take time off from our regular routine. Everything’s getting back to normal. It will soon be a new year, and an ordinary day.
It may be then that we truly feel Christmas for the first time, when we see it as a pretty picture, cozy and warm with memories of the past- comforted that the past is behind us and the present is here. There is a moment of reflection, and perhaps a recommitment to our faith . We want to be safe, protected, successful, and loved. We want the same for our loved ones. And that’s what we try to express with our Christmas trees and dessert coffees. The desire for Christmas doesn’t go away when Christmas ends.
In my blog post called “Season of Advent” I told you that I had a lot on my heart about Advent, but my story would have to wait because it was a long day and I was going to bed. Tonight I will try to put into words what I’m feeling. Those of you who have been following me for a while already know the story of this oil painting, but I’ll summarize it (and yet it will still take a long time to tell even the short version).
I painted this before I became a full time oil painter. You can probably tell that my setup was primitive. My art board kept sliding and falling because it was on a flimsy table-top easel. I didn’t have good lighting, and I filmed this with my old camcorder that didn’t have HD. But my heart was into this painting, more so than many of my others that would follow.
Dad died when he was 37, Mom died 25 years later. Both died from slow, torturing terminal illnesses. I was in my bedroom that shared my parents’ bedroom wall when Dad was dying from cancer in his room. I knew it was the end, and I tried not to listen, alone in my room while the relatives were with Hospice on the other side of the wall. Many years later, I was my mom’s caregiver. So, I experienced the deaths of both of my parents and both died traumatically. As in, these were not sudden deaths or dying-in-sleep deaths, but slow deaths that ended only after wishing it was over, and then feeling crushing guilt for feeling such a horrible thing. I could speak volumes about this, and maybe one day I will, as I think it could help others going through watching a loved one die. But that day is not today. I’ll move on:
When Mom was dying, she talked about Dad and her memories went back to when they were young and dating. When she died, it was like Dad died all over again, like they’d both gone together. No one (but me) would ever tell his stories again, as no one in my circle had ever met him. He was gone before I met my husband. The loss of my parents made my soul ache in a way I never knew was possible.
A few physical, tangible things remain, that prove their existence in this world. One of those is the Nativity set that they made together. Mom poured the ceramic molds to create the figures. Dad hand painted them. I was inspired to paint the main figures of the set as an oil painting representation (the art at the top of this blog post).
My story will now abruptly switch gears. This (the images and video of my Nativity painting) is the art that BLM/Antifa conspired to delete from my website. At the time, I had very few visitors to my website, so it was very obvious what had happened. But, just in case it wasn’t clear, they made sure to upload a snarky devil cartoon in place of the blog post and art that they deleted. This was part of a larger terror campaign against me and many others in January 2017 (and this sort of thing- and worse- continues to happen to this day). I had done nothing wrong. I was just on a list of names of people who had supported an independent social media platform (one that I later quit, and never had any real association with other than enjoying posting my art there and making friendly connections). Anyway, rather than get too far into this, I want to focus only on how it affected me to be targeted, afraid that they’d go after my kids, and how violating it was that they deleted my art.
It was a spiritual attack. My parents were both cremated. I have no grave to visit. I have no flowers to lay down. My painting was a memorial tribute to them. My website at the time had few eyes ever on it, so it was such a shock when my site was invaded and my files were rummaged through. I’d told the story about my parents in that blog. Who could be so heartless as to delete it? No empathy? No human warmth?
I had done nothing to these people. I didn’t even know who they were. I was no threat to them. I was a broken, grieving person who was experiencing the loss of my husband’s and my own jobs, the uprooting of our family, having to sell what we built and believed to be our “forever” home, watching our kids take pictures of their favorite climbing tree and every room of their childhood house (the house in the above pictures)… while we were headed for years of rental homes and instability as we worked to rebuild our lives.
We are still not fully arrived into our new lives, but we are nearly there. My husband went back to college and there was an internship period as well, so it’s been a long road. But he is now on the last leg of it. I too am “nearly there” in my new vocation. As we move into this season, there’s a lot to reflect upon and a lot to look forward to. When sold our home, we also sold most of our possessions to finance the rebuilding of our lives. None of the things from the above photos are ours anymore, except for the Nativity set and each other. So, this particular set by my parents is very dear to me, as well as nativity scenes in general for their spiritual meaning.
Advent is a time of year when many Christians go through a time of serious reflection and joyful expectation. Like I mentioned, I went through a prolonged period of deep reflection and hope that lasted several years, and it was during that time when the “activists”, sponsored by my own government, put me on a target list. I was frightened that they’d find my kids on campus, as they knew their faces and where I lived. I didn’t know how far they’d take the terror campaign against the people on their list.
Yet, even then, what struck me the most was the deletion of my Nativity painting. Something inside me changed that day. I learned who I am, and I am a fighter. I believe strongly in honoring life, both on this side of it and beyond. I will never give in, give up, or back down. I will not be silenced. I will not be defined by others, by a collective, a mob, a cult, or a government. I am an individual. I am sovereign. My motives are my own, based on my life experiences that are unique to me. I will not be judged or condemned by those who have no spiritual authority over me. I will not lay down my paintbrushes. I will never stop reflecting on what was, nor will I ever stop expecting joy in the future.
The season of Advent brings out the Nativity scenes, and I will never be able to experience this in the same way again. It is highly personal, and the spiritual connection is much stronger than it ever was. And because of this, I am currently working on a new Nativity oil painting. I hope you will connect with it, and feel the beauty of peace, reflection, and anticipation of joy- in this life, and beyond. No amount of hate can stop this love. It is a gift for all who wish to receive it. God bless you and your family.
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I think of this painting whenever I feel a connection with you, the friends I make when I share my life online. This art was inspired by my habit of eating breakfast at the computer, waking up in the morning as I catch up with what everyone’s talking about. What did I miss? The world never sleeps.
That’s my old coffee cup in that painting. I haven’t used that one in a while. That’s also my old phone and a small dish I stopped using for my egg. I cook eggs in a large batch for the whole family now, as everyone’s eating more eggs these days. I don’t know where that blue pen is anymore. Interesting how ordinary, trivial things change over time. When our habits change, it’s a small reflection of how our lives are changing in a more profound way, ways that are much more significant than coffee cups and how we prepare our eggs.
Yesterday, in my blog post called “Season of Advent” I said that I had a lot of thoughts about Advent on my heart to share later, and I also wanted to tell you the story of the special cake I made. Since today was another very long day, I’ll just catch up with one of these: the cake. Advent will have to wait for another time, although the cake is related in a way.
The cake is chocolate with all kinds of things thrown into it. The topping is a white chocolate peppermint glaze (the pinkish red you see is finely crushed candy canes added on top of the glaze, in addition to what’s already in the glaze). Sorry for the sloppy presentation, as it is sitting on a cookie sheet that is cluttered with glaze. Hopefully you can figure out the shape of the cake. It really did look very pretty.
The red and gold ornaments are sculpted out of fondant. The bow is fondant shaped over the molded wreath. As I said yesterday, it went well “for the most part”. I loved the glaze, which ended up being my own take on it because I substituted a couple of things. But I did not like the cake. I found it revolting! It had a custard or bread pudding type texture, kind of spongy and wet. It was gross in my opinion. The guys liked it and are apparently going to end up eating the whole thing (most of it anyway), which is quite a feat, given that the other issue I had is that the cake ended up much larger than I expected. It did not fit in my fancy dessert display stand! That’s why it’s sitting on the messy cookie sheet in my pictures. After decorating it I had nowhere to move it to!
So, it was a hit and a miss. The “hit” parts involve the mold being awesome and easy to make snazzy with decorations. We also really liked the new peppermint glaze that I made with white chocolate chip morsels (8 oz), 1/4 cup candy canes crushed into a fine powder (so fine, it’s like dust, using a mortar and pestle), peppermint extract (1/2 teaspoon) and 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream. I had seen a similar recipe but didn’t follow it exactly and I really liked how this came out, so I’ll make my version again in the future. I think it would be delicious on chocolate cupcakes and I’ll try that next- with my own chocolate cake batter this time though!
The good news is that I’ve been looking for new things to add to our family traditions and the wreath mold will definitely make a return next year. I also think the peppermint glaze will see a number of returns. In the balance, I consider the special cake to be a big success even if the girls and I didn’t care for the cake itself (the guys are not displeased that they have the entire rest of the cake to themselves!). Mixed reviews, but overall, it was worth doing and I’m happy with the experience.
I’ve been pushing myself to work harder and try new things. BE more by doing more. It’s amazing how much more joyful life is when we put more of our energy into living. A cake isn’t “just” a cake. Nothing is too small to make bigger. Everything matters when we believe that it does.
God bless you and keep you, may His face shine upon you and give you peace, joy, (and peppermint glaze from me)!
Do you ever see yourself in the past, through a photograph, a video, through the eyes of an old friend or relative, or maybe a memory that flashes through your mind after hearing a certain song? Whatever the triggering moment, sometimes we fleetingly see our past selves. It can be a jarring experience. This was the case for me today when I edited this video.
I shared the story behind this angels painting in a June blog post called “Are you an angel?“. When I painted this I was still using my old camcorder and the footage is grainy. I tried to brighten and fix it today, but there was only so much I could do. I changed the music and smoothed the footage out a bit. That’s about all I can do since the raw footage isn’t very good. While I was editing the video, I felt like I was looking at a stranger.
This younger version of me doesn’t look vastly different from who I am now, yet I barely recognize myself. Why? Has it been so long ago that I’ve aged into a different person? That’s unsettling, and a bit of a shock. No, I don’t think that’s it.
I studied the face in the video and realized that I look sad. I painted this before we moved to Ireland. I think it was the year after Mom died, when we sold the house we’d worked so hard to build (I shared some of this with you in a post called “Downsizing our Dreams“), and when our first child went away to college. In such a short period of time I lost my only remaining close relative, my child left home, I lost my job (my home studio and arts program that I had built from nothing and had dedicated so much to), and my husband, who was losing his job, had just had surgery.
No wonder I was sad! But my melancholy wasn’t solely about our circumstances and hardships. In brokenness, we find healing. We learn what parts of ourselves we want to put back together, and which pieces we don’t. This process can feel profoundly sad, as we may be temporarily lost.
When we lose the people, places, and purpose that defined us, we have an opportunity to make different choices. This can be a liberating and life-changing experience. We can be more of who we were always meant to be. But, for a while, we may not know who that person is. It was during this period of brokenness that I painted the angels art. When I saw my sad face in that video, it struck me how far I’ve come.
Have you ever had a period of reflection like this, that hits you out of the blue? May we feel proud of how far we’ve come and the journey it took to get there. May we find joy in endurance, and passion for the road ahead. The journey never ends; we merely find easier paths from time to time, never knowing when the terrain will prove difficult again. When we look back on who we used to be, may we feel blessed to be who we are now, and encouraged that the best is yet to come.