I love watching birds in flight. The beautiful, majestic bald eagle soars high riding the wind, then dives down toward the water to catch a fish. This is the time of year that people start watching for eagles at Wolf Lodge Bay on Lake Coeur d'Alene, mid November to end of January, with the peak between Christmas and New Years. Last year peaked 217 eagles were counted on December 30 at Wolf Lodge Bay. The eagles come to feed on the kokanee salmon. Several birds can be spotted on the same trees. How many do you see in the photo here? I count 5.
Isaiah wrote: "but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not be faint."
The closest I come to flying is in an airplane. I recently took a trip to Colorado and on one of the flights we experienced a lot of turbulence (more than I remember ever experiencing before). I will admit that a plane dropping what feels like 2-3 feet suddenly and shifting and swaying makes me extremely nervous, terrified. I have an active imagination that can picture way too many scenarios. I realized that I could panic or I could trust the pilot, who had probably flown through plenty of turbulence, and pray. So I closed my eyes and relaxed. I allowed myself to ride the waves of air. It was like a rollercoaster up, down, toss to the right, now the left, drop and up again...It was not nearly so bad as I thought it would be.
And as I sat through it and relaxed into it, I began to think about my fears. How many of my fears are based on being out of control? How much do I not enjoy the things that put me in that position, like down hill skiing, roller coasters, huge water slides. Yet as an artist, very little of an art business is really under my control. I cannot predict what will sell or touch someone's heart. I cannot know which classes people will want to take. Oh I try and I stress myself out over it all.
Can I learn to ride the wind with my Lord?
Soaring with the wind like a bird on the wing
Can I learn to let go, close my eyes and trust
Ride the waves of air
Up and down, sideways, up
Trusting He will not let me fall
Let go and just ride
When relaxed it is not nearly so bad
As I thought it would be
Could I learn to enjoy it?
Would that be going too far?
Let it go.
Relax in His arms on the waves of the air
Trust and relax
Let it go, that control
Let it go
On Eagles' Wings, Watercolor
(Above) 7 in x 11 in
Painting: open hands/letting go
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” says the Lord of Hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)
At the end of my last newsletter, I was healing and thought I was done. But no, after two weeks I went for a follow up appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. The infection was still there and he wanted to go back in and remove the cyst sac and scrape out the infection. So four days later, I was back in the hospital, admitted. It would be overnight at least and he wanted to keep me until the right antibiotic would be found.
Waiting – in the hospital.
First there is the waiting on an empty stomach for the surgery. It was noon before the surgery finally took place. Then I began to see and experience all kinds of waiting:
In a hospital there is no control -
Vulnerability is high and you have to trust the doctors and nurses.
I had a couple of roommates. One who had had hip surgery and complications afterwards. She was bed ridden and needed a lot of help. She was in her 80’s. Physio came by every day just to get her to work on standing.
On my third day in the hospital, I wrote this poem from her point of view as I watched her situation in the hospital:
Stuck in this chair
Waiting for a nurse
“call” bell is dinging
No one responds, no one hears
Waiting an hour
Hoping they get here before I make a mess
Where are they?
Don’t they care?
Can’t wait much longer
Roommates are listening
But they cannot help
Shake my head,
In come the nurses
Lift in position to move me to the chair with a hole.
What a mess!
By the fourth day in the hospital, I was pacing the hallway. In the last newsletter I wrote about the difficulty of vulnerability, but I found it became even harder the longer I had to wait. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I paced the hallways waiting. I was frustrated, impatient ready to cry and realized that this is how I am with God. I wrote in my journal that day as I was waiting for the doctor to come by and let me go home:
“ Honestly, I do not like the lack of control when waiting for You, Lord. I don’t like giving up control. I don’t like the vulnerability in crying – I would rather hide my feelings. I don’t even have it as bad as some people here. Lord, I confess, I do not want to give up my control. I want to feel important and valid. I don’t like being a “nobody.” I confess, I do not like being vulnerable, weak and teary. I’d rather be sunshine than rain. Strengthen my faith that I can let go of control. It’s not about me. What does it mean to rest in Jesus, trusting in him, letting go?”
I am currently working on this painting, “Letting Go,” as I work through these feelings and experience. I started this painting last week at the Art Vocabulary of the Soul retreat, where I shared this journey. Our weekend focus was on God as our strength in our weakness. And he is. And I can rest in that as soon as I let go.
These last two weeks I fully intended to finish that painting I started so I would be able to show you, but I didn’t. I would like to say that there was a good reason for this, but there isn’t. I procrastinated. I found many other things to do instead. I even found other paintings to start and work on.
This morning, I was going to get up early and finish it. Well, that didn’t happen either. So here I am thinking about procrastination instead. It made me think of the verses in Romans chapter 7, where Paul is talking about the law and sin, our human condition. In verse 15 he says, “I do not understand my own action. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” And again in verses 18-20:
18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Now you may think this is a bit extreme for procrastination, but it got me thinking. Why do I find myself procrastinating? What am I afraid of? What fear is my ego obsessed with now? Hmm. The fear of failure and what others will think of me and what I do, keeps looming over me.
I liked where I had started with the painting and I didn’t want to mess it up! Therefore, I started a smaller “practice” piece. I also wanted to work on taking a video as I worked. So, I tried that out on the practice one as well. (It will take more practice to get that right. It is hard to see through my hand what I am doing in the video.) I have attached the “practice painting” which actually I like how it turned out. And I have the tiny bit more of the one I am working on – you can see what it is more clearly.
I tell my students to play and practice and not to worry about getting it ‘right.’ Trust the process of where it takes you. It would be good to listen to my own advice.
Is procrastination bad? Whenever I let my fears rule me, letting my ego put up its defense and safety nets, I am hiding my true self even from me. I am not trusting God, but relying on myself. I am working too hard to get it all "right."
And I fail. Fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Isn’t it odd that when I acknowledge and work through my fears, they let go of me. For me, it is also taking a step further, an expectation to receive and be open to what God is sending my way. Trusting the process, letting go of my agenda.
If I was to say that I can do it on my own though, I would be untrue to the Holy Spirit who is nudging me and giving me the courage to see and face myself. With Paul I say, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ Our Lord!
Can I learn to trust the process?
Do you find yourself procrastinating? What are the fears you are running from when you procrastinate?
“Crack! Thud!” …. Silence … murmuring voices… “Julie!”
It was late, I had been drifting off to sleep. I wondered what Reena (my 15 year old daughter) and Sam were doing working on the basement reno so late.
Sam was in the living room figuring out his new phone and ignored the noises – thinking it was Reena doing something.
It actually was Reena, but she wasn’t working on the reno. She had opened the freezer to get something and was almost hit by the ice falling off the lid.
Talia (our other daughter) slept through it all.
On Saturday morning, Sam was scraping the popcorn stuff off the ceiling of the basement where we are renovating. He moved the freezer out of the way to do it. We took Reena to her dance class and left from there for Calgary to see our granddaughter for a 24-hour visit.
Monday and Tuesdays were normal busy days. No one worked on the basement. No one needed anything from the freezer.
Late Tuesday night (11:30 pm or so) Reena opened the large chest freezer, came to get her dad – and then Sam called my name. As I came downstairs, after dragging myself awake, I was greeted with, “I broke the freezer.” Something had happened when Sam moved it on Saturday, and it had been off for over 3 days.
My first thought was of how much food was in it, particularly the whole lamb I had recently purchased from the farmer’s market. In the past when confronted with this sort of dilemma, I would panic or accuse, or any number of reactions.
Instead of reacting, I chose to live in the moment and be present to the now, not the what if or what was. I felt calm as I checked out the situation in the freezer. Surprisingly most of it was still quite frozen. (I do keep a lot of turkey broth like ice whiich must have helped.) I then went to assess the freezer upstairs to see what room we might have up there to rescue what was still frozen in the chest freezer. Especially if it was truly broken, as it was midnight and we couldn’t go buy a new one.
While I started moving and shifting the food, Sam looked at the problem of the pulled out wires to see if he could figure it out.
It was not what I wanted to do. It was not what Sam wanted to do, but it was here before us and needed to be done.
By the time I had made room and moved all the (still mostly solid) frozen meat and some not so frozen fruit upstairs, (If stacked neatly it is amazing how much you can get into the little freezer above the fridge.) Sam had used a blower to clean out the dust, and discovered a wire had been dislodged but not broken. He had located a possible place for it to go back in, which was, of course, difficult to get to. We managed to do it between the two of us – and plugged the freezer in and IT ACTUALLY RUMBLED BACK ON! Weren’t we surprised!
Okay. Now what. The thought came to me that those big ice chunks that were now loose could be taken out – an opportunity to clean out the years of built up ice or we could just leave it and I could go back to bed. I opened the freezer – and decided to act on the thought. So we worked together and got it done, and moved back downstairs a portion of the food I had taken upstairs. By the time we were done the whole little midnight adventure had only taken about an hour or so, and I felt a deep satisfaction and thankfulness.
And we thanked God: for Reena paying attention to what she was feeling as she went into the freezer and acting on it, for a good solid freezer that can keep food so cold for 4 days, that it now worked again, and that we were able to be present to the situation and do what needed to be done.
We were talking earlier that evening at our home group about what it looks like to walk everyday with Jesus. We talked about the need to listen to the nudging’s of the Holy Spirit, to live in the present moment as we work out our calling in some of the most ordinary, mundane parts of life.
It could have been a very different experience if we had reacted differently.
Is it all just a matter of perspective? Any thoughts?
Over the past few weeks, I have been stewing about scripture to select for the upcoming Art, Vocabulary of the Soul Retreat. It has been a slow process. As I think back over the last few years and every time, it usually is a slow process. I read the Bible and I listen to the nudging of the Holy Spirit, I wait some more. I talk to others and come back to it. I listen to the stories of some of the participants coming and I wait some more for the nudging of the Holy Spirit. I am waiting for the peace that comes when it is altogether.
As I wait there is a battle going on inside of me, with my inner critics vociferously taking in my head. What if I get it wrong? What if I can not choose something that goes together? What if everyone hates it? What if I fail to listen when God has nudged me? I don’t want to wait, and listen. I want it solved and ready. It all feels a bit like crashing waves, violent and powerful battering the peace I desire.
Paul writes in Romans 8:1 "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…"
These are valid fears and feelings. It is my ego, or as Paul talks about it in Romans, my flesh, that condemns me. It condemns, because when I am relying on my self I cannot live up to the ego’s standards. But praise be to God there is another perspective. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The way past the inner critics is to acknowledge the fears and then turn the perspective. This isn’t about me.
Later in Romans 8, Paul wrote in verses 15-16, "the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children."
I am God’s daughter; I belong to him. In that perspective I can look past myself and see. Who is God gathering together, and what does He want to do for the weekend? Even if this is not always easy to do, to let go and trust the process. As I trust the process, I am turning myself over to God, and trusting my Father. I am trusting that he will meet me here as I prepare, that the people he wants to be there will be, and that he will meet with each person coming. Trusting the process is letting God lead me as slowly as he chooses to, and not racing ahead on my own. After all, is it slow because I get in the way?
For all of that I am excited for the retreat, I look forward to seeing what God will do in each person there. God has shown this time after time that He does meet each person there and amazing things happen every time. I look forward to seeing what he will do this time.
Our numbers for the retreat are complete. The scripture is selected and I can now get excited for the retreat. Please partner with us in prayer: as we each prepare our hearts to hear what God has in store for us and as we participate in the weekend – June 24-26.
I pray that according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-20)
When I was studying Ephesians, a few years ago, this prayer stood out. I have long yearned to be able to comprehend, really comprehend, God’s love for me in my inmost being, and I yearned to be filled with all the fullness of God. Around 2001, I started a year of praying this prayer over myself and my family. I changed the pronouns to make the prayer personal.
What got me started on this today was thinking of praying this over Reena, our daughter who is in South Korea for a year. This is how I would do it. And if you are reading this, please pray this with me, for her:
I pray that according to the riches of Your glory, LORD, that You may grant that Reena may be strengthened in her inner being with power through Your Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in her heart through faith as she is being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that Reena may have the power to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that she may be filled with all the fullness of God.
As things go with me there was a season of praying every day but as time passed, I prayed less often until I was doing something else entirely and had virtually forgotten about it. It was a few years later when I was writing about the Living Water Series that I realized my prayers had been answered and were still being answered. I can look back now and see how God was working in me:
Back then, I had a feeling that I needed to do more in the Living Water Series but I wasn’t quite sure how or what to do. So I took a weekend at King’s Fold Retreat Centre to listen to God – to see what else I was meant to do for it, what I was missing. I read through all of the scriptures and my notes again. Then I went out to walk the labyrinth. The labyrinth is a prayer walk which allows you to focus on God while you pray and listen to him. As I walked, I asked God what else and He answered, “You need to let the passion out.” I responded, “I’m scared.” He answered by giving me a picture. The picture was of Him holding my hand like a child holds the hand of their father.
I hurried back to my room and started writing. I had never felt anything so amazing before and words just started pouring out onto the paper. From this outpour of those words came four poems and the ideas for the last paintings for the Living Water series.
As I look back on it now, I can see how God was filling me up and pouring through me. It was beautiful and I yearned for more of it. I have always wanted to experience that again, in the exact same way, but as I look back on it now, I can see God doesn’t tend to repeat encounters exactly. He is unpredictable in how he lavishes us with his love. He is full of surprises and the evidence is all around us if we would just open up our eyes and our hearts to him.
It makes me wonder how often do I block him by not “letting the passion out” and by not holding his hand? I have written several times of my need to let go and trust. It does seem to be a daily battle. God doesn’t want to just trickle his Living Water through me, He wants to saturate me, if I will let him.
This leads me to the idea of saturation. God wants to saturate us, fill us up to over flowing, to spill over with that love to the world around us.
One of the last paintings I did for the Living Water Series: Out of the Believer’s Heart, was based on John 7:37-38 and Ezekiel 47. In Ezekiel 47, the water flows out of the temple and brings life to the world. We are the temple for the Holy Spirit. He flows through us and out into the world.
In 2013, I went all the way across the world to Croatia to see the Plitvice Lakes National Park, just to hear God sing to me through the waterfalls just how much he wants to saturate me.
More on the theme of Saturation:
I am Loved poem - one of the 4 poems I mention above
Blessing Cup painting - I painted over a ten year period, 1994-2004. After the Living Water Series was complete, I realized that God had been showing this theme of Saturation early on with this painting.
The onWORD conference with the EPWahl Centre and Taylor Seminary, Sep 29-30, 2017, has invited eighteen artists to show their painted interpretations of the story of the Prodigal Son, the theme of the conference. There will be 30 paintings altogether. I feel privileged to have two paintings in the show. Let me tell you about them.
Prodigal son painting: When He Came To Himself, Acrylic on Canvas, 16” x 20”
The prodigal had squandered his inheritance, all that he had received from his father. The only job he could find was feeding pigs, which for Jews, who believed that pigs were unclean, was the lowest of the low.
While feeding the pigs, he comes to himself. He has an awakening, a realization. He sees the truth of himself and the situation he has made for himself. He is ready to face himself and what he has done. He envisions his journey back to humble himself before his father in repentance.
To the left in the painting is the darkness out of which he is emerging, his rich purple robes are in tatters, the pigs are a barrier of going home. He comes awake to himself, realizing where he’s been and what he left behind. In his coming awake, he is ready to surrender; surrender his will, his waywardness, all that had driven him from his father’s house. He imagines going home and falling to his knees before his father, hoping for a place among the servants.
As I thought about this and worked on the painting, I considered that it is not only the prodigal son who needs to come to himself, but the older brother, too, who needs to come awake, to see himself before he too can be set free of his own burdens and self-righteousness.
This is where the second painting comes in: I am Loved, Acylic on Gallery Canvas, 20” x 24”
Both brothers have a misconception of the Father. The younger hopes to be forgiven and gain a place among the servants. The older brother only sees a task master. The truth is the Father loves both sons as they are, not for their actions. He is waiting to welcome them into his embrace. He ran to meet the younger brother and had a celebration. He came outside to find the older brother to bring him into the celebration, “Son, you are always with me, and everything that is mine is yours.”
At times, I have felt myself in different parts of the story. More often, I find myself in the older brother’s part, as I still need to ‘Come to myself,’ to wake up and be aware of my own self-righteous actions and motivations that take me away from the Father. Then I, too, can go to the Father and feel again his great love for me as his daughter.
Where are you in the story?
The paintings will be on display at the onWORD Conference Sept 29-30 at Bethel lutheran Church. There will be a silent auction for the paintings. Sign up today to take in the conference and see the artists’ interpretations of the Prodigal Son.
When I read the old testament – particularly the prophets I see this God with an achingly Big Heart yearning for his people to “turn to him and live” (Amos 5). God doesn’t ‘need us,’ but he does long for a relationship with us. He went so far as to die for us.
I was thinking of this as I read Psalm 13:1 – “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Does God ever wonder that about me? The following “conversation” is the result of that wondering…
How long, my daughter, will you turn away from Me and go your own way?
When will you trust Me with all of yourself?
Don’t you know how much I long to hold you as I walk with you?
I am right here next to you; don’t you see me? Can’t you feel my presence?
When will you let Me lift the burden from your shoulders?
Let me enfold you in My embrace. I have loved you since before you were born. I knit you together in your mother’s womb. I know your past, I know your present and I know your future.
Won’t you let go and trust me?
Oh my Lord and Father, I want to trust you, I do. I just don't know how to let go. Why do I keep wanting to take control?
Oh my child, it is fear that keeps you from trusting me. In order to trust me you need to let go of your fear. You hold onto it like armor, yet it is full of holes and lies. Your fear and your ego tell you that only you can solve or achieve what is before you. This is not true. Open your eyes to My truth, I am the way, I am your life. Walk with me. Let me show you who you really are, whom I made you to be.
I am afraid, Lord.
I know. That is the point, my child. Let me hold your hand. We will do this together. Trust Me.
How many times have you done this, Lord, given me the courage to walk into your trust, holding your hand? Too many to count. Yet I have to be reminded to trust each time. Oh how stubborn I can be. How do you have patience for me?
Oh my child, I am patient because I love you and I delight in in you. You are mine and I will hold you fast.
Take my hand.
One of the things I like to do in the summertime is to go out sketching and painting “en plein air.”
En plein air (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃ plɛn ɛːʁ]), or plein air painting, is a phrase borrowed from the French equivalent meaning "open (in full) air". It is particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors, also called French: peinture sur le motif ("painting of the object(s) or what the eye actually sees"), where a painter reproduces the actual visual conditions seen at the time of the painting. This method contrasts with studio painting or academic rules; those might create a predetermined look. (Wikipedia)
It is different to paint from life than just using photos. Photos tend to flatten the image. When I hike, I take a camera and at least a small sketchbook, much to my family’s chagrin. (I had to learn to sketch quickly and take photos on the go, but I seem to be perpetually lagging behind. After all I had an agenda – capture as many ideas/ photo references as possible.)
Even so, it is nice to be with people who don’t mind sitting still for a bit. I have a friend who invited me to Kananaskis Country several times. 3- 5 days of hiking and painting and relaxing with no one waiting for me to get done. On these occasions, I would pack up a backpack full of supplies and carry them the distance and come home with a mostly finished painting.
When hiking, I want to get a great picture or idea – and capture it. I would come home with hundreds of photos (with digital photography it is thousands of photo references!) and a few sketches for the depth perception. From these, I start planning paintings. I sometimes go on a hike with a specific idea for which I am seeking sketches and photo references.
I enjoy taking the time to sketch, but it isn’t just the need to paint what I see that draws me to the outdoors. I have learned that sometimes it is nice to even just sit and absorb the beauty without trying to draw it. It feel’s a bit like I’m “drinking” in God’s creation. There are so many metaphors in creation that lead back to God. In the stillness of just being present, as I sit and listen and wait in quiet, I can hear and see the metaphors and things that God is whispering to me.
For God alone my soul waits in silence… Psalm 62
It has been a long journey, this learning to wait, to enjoy moments, not to be rushing on to the next thing to do or paint. For me, it is a process of letting go of agendas, of accomplishment, and of worrying about making the people around me happy with me. At times, I fall back into the old patterns, but I am learning to recognize this in myself. On a hike I don’t take quite so many photos, and I sit and absorb as much as I sit and draw/paint.
A couple of years ago, my husband, Sam, and I took a trip to Europe. Since we were flying, I had to find compact art supplies that I could take on the plane. Traveling light. Now it is my art/camera travel bag for wherever I am going – hiking, road trip etc. I can even pair that down to a smaller size and take just the essentials.
This Saturday morning (July 23), I will be teaching en plein air on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River in Devon. I will be teaching sketching as well as painting: how to capture what is before us; what to paint, what to leave out; and eye training. There is still room in the workshop, if you would like to come.
Are you curious about what is in my art-camera bag?