Third Graders in Togas


What scares you? What do you fear? And what do you do when faced with your fears?

My daughter is terrified of being in front of people. She attends third grade at a classical school. As part of their history studies, they have been learning about the ancient Greeks and Romans, including their mythology. They have also been able to take an elective in drama. To integrate history and drama, they recently performed three plays: Echo & Narcissus, Demeter and Persephone and Pandora’s Box.

My daughter was cast as Hera, the Queen of the gods, and she was petrified. The morning of the performance, she didn’t have butterflies fluttering in her stomach, but rather full-grown birds flapping about her insides. Nothing seemed to go right as she was getting ready for school. She waved at me nervously when I came to take my seat in the assembly room. The play started off well; she was hitting her marks and saying her lines with great emotion. But then it happened. She forgot a line. I could see it in her face, her hands covered her face, she tapped her foot anxiously. This mama prayed fervently for her to remember and not to run off stage. Then she relaxed. The line came to her, she delivered it flawlessly, and the play went on. I was so very proud of her. She faced her fear, and though she faltered for a moment, she rose above it and conquered it.

Too often we let our fears get the best of us. Sometimes when we face that crucial moment, it goes better than we imagined. But frequently we falter. My daughter faced one of those moments; she had a choice to keep going or to let her fear get the best of her. 

What do you do when confronted with your fears? I might try to come up with a quick plan to get out, around, over, away from the fear. I don’t want to pass through it or dwell in it; that’s too risky. But what joys might I miss by taking evasive action instead of facing that fear, even if it means failing?

I am convicted by the words of King David when he says “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).

I don’t know what you are facing. Many of us face far greater fears that a forgotten line in a third grade play. Let me encourage you to keep facing that fear, and even should you falter, there can still be joy. Salvation is found only in the One who provides light and life in the midst of our fears, who faced the sum of all fears on a cross, whose empty tomb marked His triumph over anything that ought to ever make us afraid.





These pears started a dialogue in my head as I was painting! The pear in the front (foreground) just seem to “muscle in” for first place.  However, the last pear in the background seemed to be sitting up straight and lovely, almost happy. 

The title “Me First” was born. Do you have the “Me First” syndrome? Of course you do, admit it! Even if you’re shy or the one that hangs back. You, like me, have the gene that says self is the most important thing. Much of our lives are spent being dominated by what we want and what we think will make us happy. Soon what you have, may end up taking first place. Your identity becomes fused and confused by your possessions. They possess you and me! 

Year ago I heard Henri Nouwen speak on “I am my house, I am my social club, I am my job.” It was a totally memorable talk and impacted my life for the better. You can see it here.

I want to encourage you to develop your identity in the solid things in life: God, family, and being a person with a servant’s heart. How do you want to be remembered–by your jewelry, by your car, or by those you loved and spent time with? Be the pear in the background! Have you had a “Me First” approach or identity crisis, let me know.

Before I paint, I study, think and work out the design and the approach. This still life has texture and gold flecks in certain places. It ($395.00) is strikingly framed in black with a green suede mat,  making it 13 1/2″ x 13 1/2″. Pastel image size is 7 x 7. 

A perfect reminder that being first isn’t the most satisfying place to live. 



Finish the Hat

grande jatte

Date night is a rare occurrence in our home, so when Justin and I had the chance to get discounted theater tickets and free babysitting, we jumped at the opportunity. Sunday in the Park with George  is a Steven Sondheim musical that pulls its inspiration from the Georges Seurat painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte.

While we did enjoy our night out and the production, what was most encouraging to me was our conversation afterwards. The second song in the play, Color and Light,” pits the artist Seurat against his lover Dot as she laments wanting to go to a show while he is obsessed with his painting and his need to finish the hat.

Then in one of the final numbers, Move On,”, Dot remarks that what mattered was that she made a choice, not what the choice was. The choice she made was to leave Seurat to be with the stable-but-dull baker. While she loved Seurat, he was constantly working and neglected her in pursuit of his art. She then encourages the young artist to simply move on, make a choice, any choice will do.

In our fast paced world today, I think the temptation for all of us is to “finish the hat.”  We obsess over the task at hand, convinced that we must complete it whatever the cost. Unfortunately, the reality for most of us is that it’s not just one hat we’re trying to finish, but a whole haberdashery.

But is the only important thing simply to make a choice, any choice, even if that choice means leaving someone we love and settling for comfort? But it isn’t any better to continue to finish our hat regardless of the effect on those we love, is it? Shouldn’t there be a better way? What if there is a better way? Can we work together to choose those things which are most important, being willing to leave some hats unfinished?

Yes, I, for one, am grateful that Seurat did finish that magnificent painting. But was it worth the price of losing the one he loved? I have hats of my own that need to be finished — my family needs food to eat and clean clothes to wear (and this post needs finishing, too). But while I do have a choice, not just any choice will do. I do have a choice, and the content of that choice matters. I can finish the hat on my time table, regardless of the consequences. Or I can choose the things that matter most and order my life accordingly. 

What hats are you trying so hard to finish? Are there things you are neglecting in the process? How do we make the right choice, not just any choice, but what matters most? Let me encourage you to think about the choices we make, why we make them, and that, sometimes, that hat can stay unfinished, if even just for the moment.

Perhaps that’s what was most encouraging to me in thinking about the play and the painting. Those are people in the painting — people with wants, needs, feelings. That’s what matters.

Daddy, Billie Holiday & a Silhouette

Just like all of us, my dad had many facets to his personality. His day job required precision with numbers as an accountant; on some weekends he worked on the “Gateway Clipper” river boat as a bartender. Other weekends he played drums in a jazz band. We heard lots of Billie Holiday songs in our home.

This painting “Into the Light 1” was triggered by those moody songs. If you haven’t heard any of Billie’s songs from the 1940’s and ’50s you must. Listen here.

Her life wasn’t all that great. Working on this painting wasn’t all that great either, especially since I redid certain parts of her face–that’s a 12 hour forehead! Nothing is as easy as it looks, which brings me to the phrase my dad always repeated to me, my brother and my sister: “Confidence, Determination, No Fear! It was sort of a mantra for him. Whenever I would do battle at school (and school work was always a battle for me), my dad would say this phrase. So I would go into my math tests after he tutored me with a bit more courage. That’s the way I approach my painting. Do I have fear? You bet, but I have the  determination to work through the fear and I am confident that it will all turn out. This “CDNF” phrase is imprinted into my psyche.

Which leads me to ask, what are you imprinting with your words to those around you? Is it something they’ll treasure? If not, then develop your own encouraging phrase and use it! Or take my dad’s. Do you have encouraging phrase? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.