The Challenge of Art, Cooking, and the Olympics

When I’m not painting, working, or doing a Bible study, I’m watch cooking shows. Well, not really just me. Both my husband and I love a good cooking challenge, particularly a British one. 

Right now we’ve hunkered down to watch Series 7 on Great British Menu.  The theme for this series is the Olympics to celebrate the games coming to London back in 2012.  It’s a marathon series of 45 episodes which features great British chefs from different regions of the country with the challenge to cook for a prestigious Olympian feast. 

The chefs are tasked with creating a menu that captures the Olympic spirit. But really they are asked to challenge themselves, step out of their comfort zones, do something they’ve never done before; wow the judges with sublime gastronomy created with an artistic flair. In an effort to impress, there are botches, surprises, frustrations, and, of course winners. With plenty of pandemonium in the kitchen!

These chefs are the crème de la crème in Britain and have certainly been an inspiration for me. Why? 

It’s good for an artist to watch another artist get out of their comfort zone. Sometimes people will ask me, “why did you decide to paint that?” I purposefully have chosen to create some paintings that are downright difficult for me. I love a good challenge. One of those times was with my Apricot Canyon paintings.   

© Laura Gabel, “Apricot Canyon 2”. Soft pastel, 16 x 20. $650.
© Laura Gabel, “Apricot Canyon 2”. Soft pastel, 16 x 20. $650.
© Laura Gabel, “Apricot Canyon 1”. Textured pastel, 16 x 20. Private collection. challenge blog
© Laura Gabel, “Apricot Canyon 1”. Textured pastel, 16 x 20. Private collection.

Here, I created a textured surface, which was a new approach with pastel, to mimic rock formations and develop tactile depth. I wanted to stretch my technical abilities and I did.

Watching some of these chefs stick to comfort level and others going way out on a limb has been liberating for me. Often I will start something and wonder whether it is going to work. It is compelling to back yourself in a corner, learn from your mistakes, and come out with something better than you ever thought possible.

When I painted Into the Light, I had no idea how difficult it would be. I’m sure I reworked the shadow on her forehead and brushed out her nose more times than I can remember!

© Laura Gabel, "Into the Light". Soft Pastel on Velour 15.5 x 18.5. Private collection. challenge blog
© Laura Gabel, “Into the Light”. Soft Pastel on Velour 15.5 x 18.5. Private collection.

One thing that has come across over and over again in the Great British Menu is that these chefs experiment, experiment, experiment! I’d like to think that my mixed media painting of The Slugger was an exciting journey into the unknown using watercolor and pastel with a more impressionistic approach that stretched my capabilities.  

© 2015 Laura Gabel, "Batter Up". Private collection
© Laura Gabel. “The Slugger” , Pastel and Watercolor, 11 x 14. Private Collection.

Challenging yourself is a good thing. It’s a frustrating thing, but it’s a growing process and it reminds us that it’s really the journey, not the destination, that makes us who we are. 

” Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable.” 1 Corinthians 9:25. 

Whether it’s art, cooking or strengthening your Christian walk by memorizing scripture, going on a missions trip or mentoring a new believer. Stretch!! Challenge yourself! After all, our rewards are so much greater than an Olympic crown or an Olympic feast! What challenges have you had this year that have stretched you?

 

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Fragile, fierce, and faithful – my friend, Cathy

“Courage isn’t the towering oak, but the fragile flower that blooms in the snow.” (Anais Nin) Cathy has this quote listed as her favorite quote on her facebook profile. Having known her for over twenty years, it’s not hard for me to understand why that might be her favorite. 

Cathy is was one of the most courageous people I know. But she was also more fragile than she let on. Her story has been both a challenge and an encouragement to me, and I hope it will be to you as well. 

fragile blog (cassatt painting)
Mary Cassatt, The Child’s Bath. Oil on canvas, 39.48in x 262 in. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Catherine (Harper) Miller passed away last week. She wasn’t even fifty years old. But Cathy packed more into those four plus decades than most of us do in twice the time. She understood that life is fragile, but a life lived with courage chooses to bloom anyway.

I first met Cathy when I was young and single and living in Chicago. We would end up being roommates for three years. At the time, she was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru), as part of their “Here’s Life Inner City” component. Cathy had a heart for inner city Chicago. She lived, worked, and played in the midst of very fragile communities, laboring to bring the hope of the Gospel to some of the darkest corners of our city. 

fragile blog (Alice Neel painting)
Alice Neel, Mother and Child, 1926 Oil on canvas 26 x 28 inches 66 x 71.1 cm © The Estate of Alice Neel Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

Cathy loved people. She had a smile that would light up a room and immediately make you feel welcomed. Our home was constantly filled with people – people over for dinner, just to chat, studying the Scriptures, playing games. We practiced hospitality with a fierceness that I want to recapture. 

fragile blog (Elizabeth Catlett sculpture)
Elizabeth Catlett, Mother and Child, Terra cotta, 11 1/4 x 7 x 7″ (28.6 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm). Gift of The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art, The Modern Women’s Fund, and Dr. Alfred Gold (by exchange)

Lest you think that Cathy was some kind of super human, I can assure you that she was just as fragile as anyone else. She knew that she was a sinner in need of God’s grace. Cathy certainly had her struggles, there were battles she fought internally for years. We had hard conversations over the years we lived together; we shared our victories and mourned our failures together. 

What kept Cathy centered in the midst of everything was her complete and total devotion to Christ. She knew that His mercies are new every morning; that in her weakness, He was strong; that He would complete the work He began in her. And it was out of that faithfulness that she was able to serve. 

fragile blog (Renoir painting)
Renoir, Auguste, Child with Toys – Gabrielle and the Artist’s Son, Jean. 1895-1896, oil on canvas, overall: 54.3 x 65.4 cm (21 3/8 x 25 3/4 in.), framed: 65.7 x 76.7 x 3.5 cm (25 7/8 x 30 3/16 x 1 3/8 in.). Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Life took us along different paths, and she ended up in Wisconsin while I am in Florida. Over the last two decades, Cathy went on to foster over 70 children, and to adopt six. She didn’t pick the best and the brightest; she signed up for the most difficult cases. She loved on and cared for the fragile ones – medically complex, babies, older children, anyone who needed a home. She even reached out to birth parents to help them as well. Cathy’s facebook name was “Cathy momofmany”, and indeed, she was.

Six years ago, she married her soulmate. God was so gracious to grant Cathy a partner in life who shared her love for the outcast and forgotten. Together, they were raising other fragile flowers to bloom in the snow. 

fragile blog (Gaugin painting)
Paul Gaugin, Polynesian Woman with Children, 1901, Oil on linen canvas, 97 x 74 cm (38 3/16 x 29 1/8 in.). Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.

One month after her marriage, Cathy was diagnosed with cancer. She fought bravely. In her last week, as she was in hospice, I was overwhelmed at the stories people were sharing of how she had loved them well. Her oldest daughter was a testimony to Cathy’s influence as she bravely managed phone calls and visitors to her mom’s bedside. I met Nidra when she was only a toddler, and was so encouraged to see the woman that she has become. And I know that Cathy wouldn’t take any credit for that – she would, rightly, attribute all to the grace of God. 

fragile blog - roommate picture
The Three Amigas – Michelle, Cathy, Shelley

Last week, my friend walked through the gates of glory. She stood in the presence of her true Love and heard, “well done, good and faithful servant.” From that moment, she entered into the joy of her Master and is truly at home. Those of us who remain will mourn, but not as those without hope. For all of us who trust in Christ, we will be reunited one day. And while we still labor here, we can take courage from Cathy’s example.

Will you love the least of these? Who needs your smile and care today? To whom can you show hospitality? Who are the forgotten ones in your neighborhood?

 

If Cathy’s story has touched you, would you consider donating to help out her family? Hospice care is expensive, and I know they would appreciate any help: Donate here.

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Suffering when there Isn’t a Happy Ending

I was deeply moved by my friend Pam Jarvis’ exploration of suffering as she pondered Christ’s death. My pastor has often said that we should carry the crucified Christ and His resurrection with us daily, not just once a year. I have put Pam’s article together with a series of paintings that seem to me to exemplify some of her thoughts. I look forward to your comments.

A Good Friday Reflection on Grief and Suffering

We had a huge disappointment this week in our family.  I cried bitter tears because I prayed and others prayed and we all thought it was going to turn our well.  Faithful effort and believing in God’s provision did not result in a real need being answered in a positive way.  It wasn’t as serious as someone dying or getting a terminal diagnosis, or a horrible car accident, a breakup of a marriage, or losing a child.  Looking at the horrible things people around the world are suffering, it doesn’t compare.  But it hurt.

JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID – La Muerte de Marat (Museos Reales de Bellas Artes de Bélgica, 1793. Óleo sobre lienzo, 165 x 128 cm

Where is Jesus when suffering happens?

I was pondering our response, as Christians, to suffering. In the American evangelical church, we are sorely lacking.  We avoid suffering, run from others who are feeling pain or loss, or try to say easy platitudes like “it will get better,” “God is sovereign”, “God works together all things for our good”.  These are all true, of course, but when we have a grave disappointment or are with people who are grieving or lost something important to them, what is our response? Let’s ponder this:

The kitchen maid, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, 1738 – c.1740, oil, canvas, 37.5 x 46.2 cm

I started looking at the account of Jesus’s Crucifixion and I noticed different responses to His suffering and death.  Jesus’s mother Mary, and her sister Mary, and Mary Magdalene were near the cross.  John (the Scriptures don’t name this disciple), was present. Most scholars agree he was the best friend of Jesus,“the one he loved”. Jesus noticed them,  as he said, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

The other disciples all ran away. (Matt. 26:56)

His closest inner circle fled in fear of being arrested.

Most of us can identify with the difficulty of being with someone we love who is in pain; words don’t really help, sometimes they even make it worse, and we don’t know the right thing to say to fix it or make it better.  Some of us stuff or numb the pain, don’t acknowledge the hurt, or we just hide or run away, like the disciples. I have done all of these things.

Where does our comfort come from in times of loss and grief?  I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be Mary, seeing your son willingly go through unimaginable torture.

The Scream, Edvard Munch (Norwegian, Løten 1863–1944 Ekely), 1895, Lithograph, 20 1/4 x 15 5/8 in. (51.4 x 39.7 cm)

Yet, she stayed.  The two other Marys stayed. John stayed.

The New Testament has many references to the word stay, remain or abide (not a word we usually use). In the Greek, the word abide has these meanings: “To continue to be present, to be held continually, to last or endure, to wait for.”

We are shown in the book of John that the ones who treasured Jesus were present, staying with Him, abiding and enduring the pain and suffering they were witnessing. Even though there was not a happy ending that day, they waited and even, in their sorrow, prepared his body for burial.

We do know, for those of us who believe, that there is a promised victorious day coming because of the cross and resurrection. He is now alive to “abide” with us, to be present when there is overwhelming sorrow.  We are promised in Lamentations 3

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Christina’s World, Andrew Wyeth, Tempera on panel, 32 1/4 x 47 3/4″ (81.9 x 121.3 cm)

We belong to Him. He is with us in our pain, if we seek His presence and abide and wait with Him. When people we know are suffering, we can be present with them, just like Jesus is with us. He was a “man of sorrows familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3).  This Good Friday His presence is with us in our disappointment.  We do have hope as we wait; Our Resurrected King will wipe away every tear from our eyes; and there will no longer be death; there will no longer be sorrow and anguish, or crying, or pain; for the former order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:4

This song says it better than I can:

Blessing and Honor to the King of Kings!

Love,
Pam

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