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.
You might remember when I shared this painting in September, and now nearly two months have passed by. Autumn is going fast. Didn’t it feel like such as short time ago when summer ended? But here we are, and the holiday season is soon upon us.
My Christmas show is coming along. I hope that you will enjoy it and share it far and wide. We need as much joy as we can get! Well, that’s all for tonight. I had a busy Monday, did you? I’m tired. Good night, dear friends.
I talked about my grape vine in a July blog post “Is your life fruitful?” and I mentioned that grapes don’t appear every season, and may take a long time to produce any at all. This season, no grapes, but… the vine has proven useful. I’d placed a young tomato plant on the other side of the grape vine trellis, and as luck would have it, the tomato plant needed to be secured to grow up the trellis and the grape vine was the perfect rope to bind the tomato plant to the trellis. It saved me the work of tying it down, so that’s a happy discovery! I do wish there were grapes this year of course, but at least the vine is helping me with my tomatoes!
This situation feels like an extended metaphor about a fruitful life, as sometimes we expect fruit (results) from one area of our lives, but our work/relationship/financial/energy investment may surprise us with a benefit in an area of our lives we didn’t expect. So, let’s keep going! We may not see what we want right now, but when we put our hearts into each day, we’ll see positive developments, even if it takes a lot longer than we thought it would, and even if some of the changes are not what we expected.
In my blog post “New Painting- Peaceful Landscape” that I shared with you in June, I said, “I’ll talk about what this painting means to me in a future blog post. For now, I just want to share it and let you let it speak to you.” But I forgot to follow up! I never did tell you what I was thinking when I painted this.
This was a landscape from my own imagination, in which I didn’t look at anything while painting, nor did I plan it out. I intentionally let the art tell the story and evolve, as I listened to music and let myself feel whatever came to my heart. I meant to paint a scene that is warm and inviting, and would appeal to me as a retreat, but that’s not quite what happened.
Instead, it seems that I painted the deeper feelings; the reason why I wanted a special place to retreat to. Because this place doesn’t look relaxing to me. It’s very remote and a bit lonely looking. Quiet, and pretty, yes, but it looks like someone’s missing from that empty rocking chair, as if suddenly taken from their favorite spot and the tea or coffee cup that never got cleared. There’s probably still a last sip in it.
The cardinal is observing the scene, as if he understands and has empathy. The flowers are still in bloom, the fields reach toward a clear blue sky, and the evergreens are as fresh as ever. But the walkway has no feet upon it. The steps are vacant. The rocking chair is not in motion. The last sip will never be drunk.
Reflecting on those we’ve lost, and realizing the passage of time, and feeling the weight of the dark world upon our shoulders, sometimes it feels as if we need a retreat from the burden of broken dreams and better days that must wait, or may never come at all. But in imagining a retreat, I instead inadvertently, subconsciously, painted the emotions that were driving me to want a retreat.
Maybe next time I’ll paint the actual retreat, but by the time I finished painting through the feelings I didn’t even know I had, I felt as if I’d already had my retreat. It was me observing the cardinal in the tree, from my vantage point on the other side of the canvas looking in. Seeing the scene through his eyes was enough to restore my spirit for another day.
Nature goes on uninterrupted. Seasons change. Flowers bloom. Trees grow. Then all of it repeats. There is something comforting in the sameness, and even more comforting is the pattern of change. This (spiritual) season will change. Meanwhile, we can embrace the quiet, the steady stillness, and the cabin that waits for someone to come back. When we are blessed to be here for another day, may we never leave the last sip to grow cold.
How are you settling into October? Do you feel ready for the change of seasons? Autumn can feel bittersweet, as the smells and sights of fall can bring back memories of times past, and perhaps loved ones we’ve lost. But also in the air is the hope of the upcoming holiday season and the feeling that anything is possible. “To everything there is a season…” Ecclesiastes 3.
Sleep well, dear friends (in my time zone it is Sunday evening). We have another new week ahead and much to do. We are blessed to be here for another day. What shall we do with this gift of time?
Here we are, another Sunday will be soon over, and July too is gone. It’s now August and a new season is upon us. As we approach this upcoming week together, I wish you a productive and joyful experience- no matter what turmoil and fear is outside our doors. Spiritually, may we maintain focus and inner peace.
Watch me paint “Penguins” in 2 minutes (time lapse)
I hope this brightens your day! Here in the United States, we are past the dreary days of winter. I’d lived in snowy areas most of my life, but now I’m in the Deep South, where it seldom snows (it snowed the first season we moved down here, leading me to think that I brought it with me!). But even though I don’t have to shovel snow anymore or worry about freezing temperatures as low as -25 Fahrenheit, like when I lived in Minnesota (-31.6 Celsius), I still appreciate when the flowers bloom again, leaves return to the trees, and the sun warms up the land.
This lovable baby penguin still cheers me, even though I’m embracing spring as I share this new painting. Joy is never out of season. May you feel as free and loved as this little penguin, no matter whether you stand in snow or atop warm dry land.
First, the oil painting, then the shameful story behind it… make sure you don’t miss my bonus video- real life new footage of the elusive Painted Bunting!
Watch me paint this lizard in 1 minute (time lapse)
“During our first summer in Georgia, the thing I feared most happened: the air conditioning went out. We had to deal with the intense humid heat with no AC [air conditioning, cooling]! The days and nights dragged on as we waited for the situation to be resolved.
The weeks before this happened, I’d made a new friend: a cute lizard on the glass patio door. He kept me company while I was working on my computer nearby. I named him Henry.
On one of our sweltering nights without air conditioning, I left the glass patio door open, which exposed a small gap in the seal of the sliding screen door. The hour was late night, nearly midnight, and my husband was working the night shift. That’s when Henry got IN. I chased him until I was overheated and sweaty. Finally, with the help of a spray bottle of water, I corralled him out the open door, while yelling, 'Get out, Henry, you bast-rd!' I realized too late, that our new neighbors didn’t know 'Henry' is a lizard.
Since then, I’ve rekindled my friendship with our patio lizards, as they keep the doors free of bugs. I’ve watched a lizard eat an entire pesky moth in two seconds time. As long as they stay on the other side of the door, we are good pals.”
- from the book "50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas
Update to the above story…
If our neighbors heard me in my crazy fit of heat-induced delirium, they’ve politely never mentioned it. No air conditioning while knee deep in the humidity of a scorching Georgia summer is akin to boiling one’s organs while draining the brain of consciousness. When chasing that slippery little lizard, I was near the brink of delirium.
Fortunately, the air conditioning is working just fine so far at the beginning of this new season. We saw the first sightings of the return of the lizards. One tiny lizard was declared the cutest one she’s ever seen by my daughter, and then she spotted another lizard that seemed to change colors (like the lizard in my oil painting video, which is inadvertent due to changes in lighting while filming, but it gives the illusion of the real life way that lizards change hues from green to brown and back again).
The lizards have a much higher favorability rating since they’ve not come back indoors, but they can’t beat the popularity of the birds. The cardinals are active and seem to have a nest nearby. Hummingbirds are crazy with hunger at all times of the day. But, it’s the elusive one that most catches our breath…
The painted bunting is back!!! There seems to always be just one each season (and sometimes his female companion). I call him the “elusive” painted bunting because it’s hard to get photos and video of him. He’s skittish of any sign of movement. It’s difficult to adjust the camera or zoom in to follow his movements, or even be quick enough to capture him at all.
I was able to get fantastic footage that I shared previously in the blog post “Bunting is REAL!“. I captured that during last season, from inside the house. This time, I was outside, from a different angle. The new footage isn’t as nice, but it’s fun to see anyway, as it puts you in the moment.
When I was processing this video for you this morning, I saw a flash of light from the patio window. I had a feeling… yep, it was the sun hitting the tower bird feeder because someone was in it and made it sway… YES! It was the painted bunting, back again this morning for breakfast. I tried to grab my camera, but he flitted off.
Here’s the glorious footage from last season, in case you missed it and didn’t want to bother clicking on the link I shared earlier… or if you just want to watch it again to compare. Notice how bright his colors are? It’s very difficult to get the breathtaking vivid hues to show up on camera. I’m glad I painted him. Oils do this bird justice better than my camera does. But, this footage here is pretty close!
I’ll continue to try to capture the elusive painted bunting. It would be nice to catch him when he’s perched on a more natural habitat, like when he’s waiting in the trees for the bird feeder to be free of pesky threats like other birds or women with cameras.
Not every blog post has to be a metaphor for loftier thoughts, but I do see one in this post. Why do my husband and I gush over this elusive bird, while largely ignoring many other types of birds, and never filming the lizards at all? Is it because the painted bunting is so exotic and beautiful, or because he is rare, his season with us very short, and he’s difficult to catch sight of?
Our human nature is to value more the things that are fleeting and rare, the moments that are difficult to obtain, and the experiences that require work and luck to achieve. It seems we’re always chasing after that mysterious combination of destiny and control. So while the common lizard may zip past our feet, we’ll barely glance at him when the painted bunting flies overhead.
But when winter stretches on too long, as this one did, and the first lizard makes his appearance, the sighting of his tiny green crawling, climbing, and leaping body induces relief and delight! So happy to see you, dear Lizard! For when we are without the joys of abundant life, we miss the lizards equally as the elusive painted buntings. All creatures great and small, we appreciate them all!