Screwtape, Wormwood, and Me

How many of you have ever read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis? I admit, I read it many years ago and remembered very little. I’ve had the privilege recently of being a substitute teacher at the school my children attend. Lately, I’ve spent a good amount of time in the 11th grade Rhetoric and Christian Thought class, and they’ve been reading The Screwtape Letters. We finished up the book recently, and I have been mulling it over ever since. 

If you’re not familiar with the book, Lewis has created a fictitious correspondence between a lead demon, Wormwood, and his nephew and junior tempter, Screwtape. The letters follow Wormwood’s advice to Screwtape on how to win the Patient away from the Enemy (God). Though the book was first published in 1942, it still speaks to the culture in which we currently live. 

screwtape letters blog
C.S. Lewis at his writing desk

I have no intention of reviewing the whole book for you here, though I would highly recommend that you read it! I want to focus in on the final letter (spoiler alert….) in which Wormwood berates Screwtape because the Patient has died while belonging to the Enemy. The demons have lost. Wormwood laments that now Screwtape has no more power over the Patient. 

The students and I discussed why the demon’s power is no longer effective. Many of them mentioned that Wormood details how the Patient has now seen who and what Screwtape is and how he operates. So, they surmised, the Patient is now wise to the tempter and the temptations and thus their power is removed. As we pushed further into the text, I think we found a much more significant reason.

screwtape letters blog

Wormwood writes, “All the delights of sense, or heart, or intellect, with which you [Screwtape] could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door.” Wormwood acknowledges that this fact is inexplicable. Let that sink in for a moment. 

Who the Patient now sees, in whose Presence he now resides, is so monumentally greater than anything that the demons could conjure up to tempt him. It is not his knowledge of Screwtape’s plans that renders them ineffective. It is because the Patient now has seen the “Enemy” face to face. Christ is so infinitely superior to anything and everyone else, that there is nothing that can tempt the Christian.

Screwtape Letters blog
“Christus Rex”, Chapel of the Resurrection, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana.

I was cut to the heart upon unpacking that metaphor. The students were a taken aback as well. The unspoken question then to us was “do I view Christ in that way?” Is He that much more glorious, lovely, valuable, worthy than anything this world has to offer? The “right” answer is a resounding “YES”! But does my life evidence that I really believe that? Am I more interested in the “raddled harlot” than the long lost love of my life?

This world has much to offer in the way of beauty and delights. This is an art blog after all, beauty makes it go 🙂 But we must remember that all the beauty this world affords is nothing compared to the One who makes that beauty. What are the things in your life (they are often good and valuable things) that compete with the beauty of the One who made you? Where are you tempted to seek comfort apart from Christ? 

Screwtape letters blog
Unfinished Landscape (The Cross at Sunset). c.1847. Oil on canvas. 32 x 48 1/2″. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid, Spain.

The Pslamist tells us that in His presence there is fullness of joy, and in His hand are pleasures forevermore. Let that promise encourage you as you face  your own temptations. There is a day coming when we will see Him face to face.

 

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Mother’s Day or Money Day?

I know this sounds un-American, but I have a close friend, who says that Mother’s Day is nothing but baloney–a made up day to sell greeting cards and goodies. Now, don’t get all worked up, even the founder of American Mother’s Day Anna Jarvis ended up criticizing the celebration for becoming too commercialized.

According to Wikipedia, Ann Jarvis [mom] “was very active within the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church community. It was during one of her Sunday school lessons in 1876 that her daughter, Anna Jarvis [daughter], allegedly found her inspiration for Mother’s Day, as Ann closed her lesson with a prayer, stating: “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother’s day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it.” On May 10, 1908, three years after her mother’s death, Anna Jarvis held a memorial ceremony to honor her mother and all mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, today the International Mother’s Day Shrine, in Grafton, West Virginia, marking the first official observance of Mother’s Day

Jarvis frequently referred to her mom’s memory during her efforts to maintain the sentimental heart of the day while also maintaining her own role as the founder of the holiday. 

In addition to her efforts to maintain her position and recognition as the holiday’s founder, Jarvis struggled against forces of commercialization that overwhelmed her original message. Among some of these forces were the confection, floral and greeting card industry. Anna said, “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.” 

Oh dear! This echo’s my friends thoughts that honoring a mom once a year, while ignoring her most of the time is really a heart issue.

Now I know that my mom strived to be a much better mother to me than her mother was to her. I am grateful for the love, care, and encouragement she gave us. But I know that many sons and daughters may find it very, very hard to love and honor their moms. Whether it’s favoritism, abandonment, cruelty or whatever, the pain of not having a mother that fulfills our perfect image of motherhood holds us back.

Many artists have portrayed their mothers, some in surprisingly beautiful ways. For instance, very few people would recognize this painting as Picasso’s, often known as the pioneer of cubism.

We get a real treat when looking at Albrecht Durer’s oil painting of his mother and later some of his thoughts about her.

After she in turn died in 1514, her son wrote “This my pious Mother … often had the plague and many other severe and strange illnesses, and she suffered great poverty, scorn, contempt, mocking words, terrors, and great adversities. Yet she bore no malice. Also she died hard … I felt so grieved for her that I cannot express it.” I think this famous sketch of her at age 63 conveys Durer’s sadness about her hard life. 

If you were to paint your mother, what would she look like to you today, right now? Would that painting show the hardness of your heart, your anger, your unforgiveness, your hurt?

As lovers of Christ, we are commanded to love one another. This is hard, but it is a command. That command doesn’t include nursing a grudge, replaying your woundedness or treasuring your martyred state. To mature in our faith in Christ is simple. We say no to ourselves and yes to God. It is simple, but no, it is not easy. A first step toward that may be to ask God to cleanse and change your heart.

Our last portrait is the famous and iconic painting of Whistler’s mother. Perhaps you can’t tell from looking at the painting of her what Whistler thought, or perhaps you can! In any of the above 3 moms, I myself love Picasso’s portrait of his mother. 

While God is often referred to as Father, the Scriptures do in fact use maternal imagery to show us that God loves us, provides for us and cares for us like a mother with her newborn. Isaiah tells of God as the One who feeds, comforts, and cares for His children; and while even some human mothers may forget their children, God never will. He is better than even the best mother. Jesus himself draws upon maternal imagery in Deuteronomy when he laments over Jerusalem His longing to gather His people as a mother hen gathers her chicks.

God wants us to know that His heart is for us. What about your heart?Perhaps you need to examine it this Mother’s Day.

 

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Who will you serve?

Last week, I had the pleasure to serve as a chaperone for my 5th grade daughter’s class field trip. At our school, 5th graders study early American history. As a capstone experience, they take a weeklong trip to Virginia where they visit Jamestown, Williamsburg, Monticello, and Yorktown. It is an incredible opportunity for the students to see history and walk in the shoes of the people they’ve been studying.

red bud and mountains - serve blog

Now, a week with ten and eleven year olds may not sound like much fun, and there were times when it was challenging. But, overall, the trip was incredible and our students had an amazing experience. I was along on the trip to serve as the official blogger/photographer, so it was my task each evening to spend some time recapping the day’s events so that parents who were back home could participate along with their 5th grader.

view away from mountains - serve blog

I think one of the most meaningful days for me was our trip to Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville. Monticello is a place of great beauty, creativity, ingenuity, and contradiction. The students discussed how a man who penned the words “all men are created equal” could own over one hundred slaves. A man who believed that educated men were capable of self government, yet prevented his own enslaved persons from that same self government. We stood in a slave cabin and gazed at the mansion Jefferson built for himself. The disparity was immense.

slave cabin - serve blog

Our students saw firsthand that while great men can create beautiful places and craft life changing documents and found incredible systems of government, they are also capable of great blindness, wickedness, and sin. Our guide asked us to ponder the question of whether the issue of slavery negates the goodness of Jefferson’s many other contributions. That is not a question with easy answers.

monticello - serve blog

The students were fascinated with all of Jefferson’s many scientific experiments and our science teacher was certainly grateful to hear our guides remark that science is everywhere. The gardens around Monticello are still being cultivated with descendants of the seeds Jefferson planted or Lewis and Clark brought back from their expedition. The clocks Jefferson designed still toll the correct hour, season, and even day of the week. History is living and our students marveled at the plantation life they experienced today. We saw both the greatness and the baseness of mankind.

cabin and gardens - serve blog

I realize that slavery is still an exceedingly controversial topic, but if my 5th grader can wrestle with it, so can we. How we treat our fellow human beings says a lot about who we serve. If I am primarily interested in serving myself, then others are a means to an end. If my needs come first, then others have value only in so far as they can meet my needs or assist in accomplishing my agenda. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he was opposed to slavery, yet he failed to free his own slaves. He realized that he could not maintain his lifestyle without his slaves, and that mattered more to him than his stated ideals. How many times are we just as guilty of saying one thing, but evidencing another by the way we live?

cupola and gardens - serve blog

After our trip to Monticello, we were reminded in our evening devotion that there is One who Himself experienced greater heights than Monticello and took on greater baseness than slavery. And we are called to have the same mind as Christ Jesus.  We are called to consider others better than ourselves, to be humble, to serve others. Jefferson served his country well.  We want to call our students to serve each other well, and in so doing, they, too can change the world. What about you? Who are you serving?

 

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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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Magnificence and a moment at the Morse

I wrote recently of my family visit to the Morse Museum, and I’d like to return to that fascinating museum in today’s post. This week is Holy Week, a celebration of last week of the life of Christ, culminating in the glorious celebration of His resurrection on Easter Sunday. At first glance, the Morse Museum may appear to have very little to do with Holy Week, but keep reading, and I think you’ll be surprised.

Morse Museum, Tiffany chapel 1
Tiffany Chapel Reredos, c. 1893
 Laurelton Hall, Long Island, New York, 1902–57
 Exhibited: World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893
 Glass mosaic
 Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York City, 1892–1900
 90 x 72 in.

Tucked away in the exhibit halls of the Morse museum in a magnificent work called simply “The Chapel”. But there is nothing simple about this chapel. Originally crafted by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the chapel re-opened at its current home in Winter Park in 1999.

Morse Museum, Tiffany chapel 2
View of the chapel interior designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Though originally displayed as a work of art, the chapel was so exquisite, that male patrons would remove their hats, and all who entered would sit in reverent silence, as if entering a functioning church. In fact, after the 1893 exhibition, the chapel would be moved to St. John the Divine in New York City, where it did actually function as a chapel.

Morse Museum, Tiffany chapel 3
Altar from the Tiffany chapel interior at the Morse Museum.

There is a deep connection between art and worship. Anthony Esolen in his book ten ways to destroy the imagination of your child states that “In both art and worship, the heart seeks out something beyond itself – a beauty or a power that is not its own.” (pg. 225) Tiffany’s chapel does exactly that – it shows us a beauty and a power that is so clearly not our own.

Morse Museum, Tiffany chapel 4
Baptistery and Field of Lilies leaded-glass window from the Tiffany chapel interior at the Morse Museum. Photo by Raymond Martinot.

Even as we entered the chapel at the Morse Museum, there was a little placard urging silence, and we coached our children to be respectful and quiet. The day we visited, there was a small crowd of other folks in the chapel as well – some were sitting quietly, admiring the art, some were taking photos and pointing out details in the mosaics, some appeared to be praying.

Morse Museum, Tiffany chapel 5
Lectern from the Tiffany chapel interior at the Morse Museum.

When we encounter great works of art, silence is often our best response. We are confronted with the transcendent, and words somehow seem inadequate.

Morse Museum, Tiffany Chapel 6
View of Tiffany chapel leaded-glass windows and electrolier. Left to right: The Story of the Cross, c. 1892; Adoration, c. 1900–1916; Christ Blessing the Evangelists, c. 1892. Photo by Jimmy Cohrssen.

For Christians, the events of Holy Week are the pinnacle of our faith. Good Friday services are often marked by silence and a contemplative sadness as we reflect on the death of Christ for our sins. Easter services in contrast resound with joy and delight as we celebrate His resurrection.

Morse Museum, Tiffany Chapel 7
The Story of the Cross, c. 1892
 Leaded glass
Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, New York City, 1892–1900
D. 104 1/2 in.

A trip to the Morse Museum and a time for reflection in the beauty of the chapel can be the perfect venue for me to reflect on these Holy Week events. And I am not alone in those thoughts. In fact, the Morse Museum is free on Easter weekend. A tradition begun in 1986, the museum offers a free open house on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. If you are in the area, I suggest you work in a visit to the Morse and a visit to your local church to celebrate this Holy Week. He is Risen!

 

All photos graciously provided by and used with permission of the Morse Museum.

 

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How Can All Things Be Made Beautiful?

He has made everything beautiful in its time,” the writer of Ecclesiastes confidently asserts. But sometimes, our lives don’t feel so beautiful and we find ourselves waiting for that day in which all things will be indeed beautiful. Perhaps you find yourself wondering how, when, or even if those things in your life can ever be made beautiful.

Christine Hoover has written a new book entitled, Searching for Spring: How God Makes All Things Beautiful in Time. In her book, she utilizes the framework on Ecclesiastes 3 to frame both our seasons of waiting and our joyful hope of what is to come.

The Beautiful Story

I particularly appreciated the underlying structure of the book where Christine takes us through the whole story of redemptive history. She looks first at God’s creation (the definition of beautiful), the marring of that beauty in the fall, the beginning on the restoration of beauty through the redemption found in Christ, and finally, the largest part of the book is devoted to our anticipation of the time of restoration and consummation, when all things will again be made beautiful. Oftentimes, in books that talk about waiting, we can lose the forest for the trees when all we focus on is our waiting. By placing our waiting within the context of the larger biblical narrative, Christine helps us to have a Godward perspective instead of an inward, selfish approach. Her book is not a simple “hang in there, life is hard, it will get better” approach. Rather, she grounds all that she writes in the whole counsel of God.

New Life seasons and beautiful
© Laura Gabel, “New LIfe Ps. 92:14”. Acrylic on canvas, 29.25 x 23. $850.

When we think of all things being made beautiful, we each bring our own presuppositions and ideas to the table. And it is often the disconnect between our ideas and our reality that cause us to chafe in the seasons of waiting. Here again, Christine offers a helpful and gentle rebuke. “In our definition, beauty means no negativity, no suffering, no longing, and no waiting. Beauty is…instant and consumable. We must be careful what we call beautiful.” (p. 58, emphasis added). Because God is the creator of all that is, He is the One who gets to define what true beauty is, and His idea is often very different from ours.

The Not-So-Beautiful Waiting

But waiting is hard, and we don’t like it. We want quick resolution, easy answers that still take our pain seriously. We search anywhere and everywhere, but often not where we need to. “Displacing the whole counsel of God, we instead search for Instagram mantras that make us feel better for the moment.” (p.81). Christine is careful not to offer such thin hope. Rather, she takes us time and time again back to the Scriptures to see how God works in all things to craft a beauty unimaginable out of those “inconsolable things” that mar the beauty of our lives. Hard things will come, some will stay a long time. But there is a greater hope and a greater beauty that awaits those who trust in Christ.

Winter with My Lover beautiful
© Laura Gabel, “Winter with My Lover”. Charcoal, 10 x 12. Private collection.

The Gospel is the ultimate story of beauty coming after waiting, pain, hurt, and death, for in it, Christ accomplished redemption for His people. Christine urges us to sink our anchor deep in that truth. “The Holy Spirit draws me back to the Word for sustenance, because in its pages are the words of life. I need the gospel of Jesus every day because I forget, because the world is noisy and distracting and, by it, my flesh is easily drawn away from joy.” (p. 166)

On the whole, I found the book to be a great reminder of how God is most often at work in the difficult places in my life, and in the lives of those around me. Yes, the waiting is hard. But it is but one piece of the greater story that God is writing. I need to be reminded of the bigger picture. Christine’s writing is honest, engaging, unpretentious and rooted in the Scriptures. I did, on occasion, find the chapter title and divisions to be a little bit unclear (in terms of matching with the content of the chapter), but what was written in the chapters was clear even if the connections were not always so obvious. I’ve known Christine for years, though we’ve never met in person. It felt as though we were having coffee together in her Virginia home while we waited very literally for Spring to begin creeping over the Blue Ridge. I appreciate her honesty, and her dogged commitment to bringing all things back to the sovereignty of God.

Beautiful Sovereignty

“God is sovereign over and active in the the unseen places—in your soul, in your relationships, in your future. God is able to make all things new and, with the broken pieces of your life, he can make something beautiful too. In face, that has been his plan all along.” (p. 41)

Catherine's Springtime beautiful

Perhaps you find yourself awash in a season of spiritual or emotional winter. You are waiting, but beauty seems out of reach. Pick up a copy of Christine’s book, read it alongside your Bible. Be encouraged to know that God is a work in your waiting. And He will, in His time, make all things beautiful.

 

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Do you have an undivided heart?

When was the last time you had a heart check? I was speaking with an ex-alcoholic the other night and having been clean for over 20 years he imparted some interesting but not surprising advice.

John said, “I discovered that the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it.”

This statement has astonishing implications, not just for artists, but for moms, dads, writers, and retirees, really anyone! At this point, you might be thinking: what are you talking about Laura, I’m not an addict!

Well, if you are an artist this statement could be taken very positively. In other words the more you paint, the more you want to paint. And, naturally, the better you get at it. Edgar Degas said “One must do the same subject over again 10 times, a hundred times. In art nothing must resemble an accident…” When looking at Degas’ craftsmanship and his pastel paintings, there is no doubt that his work is superb. His obsession with the ballet and theatre, gave Degas the reputation as a painter of dancers. In total, Degas did about 1200 paintings and 75 small-scale sculptures during his lifetime.

undivided heart degas ballet
Dancing Class, 1871, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

On the other hand, my friend John’s statement can pose some serious problems if you are a Christian. Why? I’m sure my good friend Peggy who made us a beautiful quilt would love to do nothing else but be a “quilting fool” because the more she quilts, the more she loves it, the better she gets at refining her craft, the more she creatively thinks up new ideas.

count the love undivided heart quilt

Maybe you’re not an artist or a quilter or an ex-addict. Maybe you’re a mom or dad who loves your kids, loves being with them, loves helping and nurturing them, loves encouraging them, loves worrying about them. Wait, did I write worry? Yes, it could be you worry about their safety incessantly. The more you are with them, the more you want to be with them. Well, what could be wrong with that?

Again, what can be wrong with being a great artist, fantastic quilter, super mom, grandmother or devoted dad? Nothing and everything.  My friends thoughts are a double edged sword and the sooner you “discover” it, the better.

To be great at something, you must be consumed. 

Many of us don’t want to be great, but nevertheless we are consumed. I learned a long time ago, that as much as I loved art, as much as I believed that the more I practiced, the more paintings I painted, not only would I become good. I could become super good!

If you are a Christian, this kind of thinking can cause a schism in your life. Why? Because the more you do it, whatever that “it” is—even if it isn’t bad, the more you want to do it.  God commands us to love Him with our whole heart (nine times in Deuteronomy alone) Christ says that loving God with all of who we are – heart, soul, mind and strength is the greatest commandment. He wants all of us. Am I saying he doesn’t want me to be a really great painter or that you shouldn’t be a really good grandparent or super golfer?

Does that mean I should feel guilty about wanting to be a terrific artist or you should feel guilty because you love golf and want to be on the course a lot? No.

I’m a practical person, so here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • Do you find yourself thinking about what ever “it” is more than God?
  • Does this good (or maybe not so good thing) occupy time that is meant for your relationship with Jesus?
  • Does it seem like your affection is drawn towards “it” rather than to Him?

Nothing should be more precious than your relationship with Christ. Perhaps I’ll never be a great painter, but I do want to be a great lover and friend of the Lord. I Him to have my whole heart. Have you heard the song, More Precious Than Silver?

Some of the lyrics are: “Lord, you are more precious than silver. Lord, you are more costly than gold. Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds, And nothing I desire compares with you.”

My friend John, is no longer consumed by his addiction, he has a new identity. He is a friend of God.

Have you found yourself being consumed by something that is distancing you from Jesus? How’s your heart?

 

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Man’s Best Friend – a Flying Dog!

Animals are so much fun to paint, especially a dog. Dogs have so much personality! They remind us of ourselves. Their antics are a relief and a laugh in our stressed out, high pressure world. Dogs come in so many shapes, sizes and colors and make us laugh and cry. They engage us with affection, protection and calmness. I’ve painted a few dogs and even a wolf in the last couple of years

But what makes dogs so special to me is the absolute love, loyalty, and joy they have for their owners.  The excitement a dog has for you when you come home just can’t be matched. Our kids, co-workers and spouses may take us for granted sometimes, but not our dogs! They have boundless love and enthusiasm.

So last year when we ran our free pet portrait contest, I got lucky. You read that correctly, yes the winner was picked by a machine and they soon will be the fortunate owners of a beautiful pastel of their dog, but truly I got lucky! Why?

When you are an artist, some commission photos are better than others and some are downright difficult. But when I saw the “machine picked” winner, I thanked the Lord!

Here’s a picture of Doc and as you can see, the photographer marvelously captured Doc with all four feet off the ground!

To give you an idea of this stunning feat, look at the size of Doc with his owners.

He is a BIG dog. Average weight for the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is 132-154 pounds. You can read more about them here.

The prize was to be an 8 x 10 pastel, but I just couldn’t do it. To do Doc justice, I just had to use 14 x 11 painting grounds. Here is my start:

I reformatted the view of Doc to make him front and center, to show that amazing joy and love running right toward the viewer. Here he is with a start of some color

Now I’m gaining a bit more locomotion on his coloring and personality, but the tongue and details are yet to come

Here is Doc below finally finished in all his delightful glory. Such a magnificent creature designed by our Lord to give us joy and fellowship.

Dogs are often called “Man’s Best Friend”, and for many of us, that statement certainly rings true. But at the end of the day, a dog is still just a dog. What if there was a friend even better?

I believe the best friend we could ever have is Jesus. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

How magnificent that the Creator of the universe truly wants to be “Man’s Best Friend.”  Surely Job (Job 37:5) was right when he said, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.”

Write and tell me about your pets or your relationship with God. Feel free to drop in a picture of your own furry friend! And if you don’t consider yourself to have Jesus as your friend, I’d love the chance to talk to you about that too!

 

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Inside Out Peace

Most people know that one visual symbol for peace is the dove, but why?  According to Wikipedia, “The use of a dove as a symbol of peace originated with early Christians, who portrayed baptism accompanied by a dove, often on their sepulchres. The New Testament compared the dove to the Spirit of God that descended on Jesus during his baptism.” (see Matthew 3:16)

Other people equate peace to a river. You may have heard the old gospel song: “I’ve got peace like a river.”

You can’t find peace by watching television, talking on your cell phone, or playing video games.

But many people have a feeling of peace when they see nature in all its beauty. Gazing at God’s magnificent creation, whether it’s a peaceful stream, a river, a beautiful bird, or taking a walk at the ocean can sooth the cares and troubles of this world.

Walking on the beach is one of my favorite pastimes and gives me a clear channel to hear from God, which is why I created Seaside:

peace blog
© Laura Gabel, “Seaside”. Oil, 16×20. Private Collection

But I learned a long time ago, that no dove, no mountain view, no crashing waves, no painting or photograph can really give me peace. All the outside symbols are lovely and give me a sense of God’s greatness and creativity, but…

Peace is an inside job.

People search for it in other people, places or things, but the disciple John recounts Jesus saying, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14:27).

The inner peace that Christ gives is because He gives Himself to us.

True peace cannot be found outside His presence. It comes from Him and is never found where He is not.

I obtain this peace by opening my heart to His presence, calling upon Him, reading His word.

If peaceful times have not been yours lately, trying calling upon Jesus to soothe your soul with His presence.

 

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