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As my boy and girl race to the finish line of another school year, the fact that I have not visited my blog since they started back to school last September keeps coming to my attention.  I guess I’ve been too busy stirring to string together words.  Following a pretty harrowing summer last year, I spent a delicious couple of weeks just gulping in the silence around me.  Finding relief in this stillness, I gave thanks that my boy and girl appeared to be successfully transitioning to the new school year and then proceeded to tackle the next set of goals on my to-do list.

From secretly devouring every last page of mixed-media art journals at B&N to signing-up for just about any art class that I could find and then going-on to create and sell my own art, I’ve done a LOT of learning and stretching over the past 5-6 years.  So grateful for the life that was breathed back into my soul through this process, I felt a deep yearning to give back to other women who might be in need of restoration, too.  That said, this Spring, I found myself on an airplane, flying across the country to Brave River Ranch in Idaho in order to become certified to teach a course called Soul Restoration.  A course that combines art and soul work into one beautiful, life-changing curriculum.

It seems, in my journey to become whole again, that I’ve needed to gather a good measure of necessary ingredients:  intense parenting lessons, self-awareness, forgiveness, art-making skills, courage, and acceptance, just to name a few.  While I’ve spent a good amount of time gathering and honing these things individually, it is now time to begin stirring it all together.  In her best-selling book, The Best Yes, Lisa Terkeurst describes the idea of plopping all the ingredients of an amazing cake recipe into a bowl and refusing to stir it:

There would be shiny yellow yolks on top of crisp white flour with a dab or two of brown from the vanilla. Little mounds of sugar would sit off to the side of the bowl along with the baking soda.  The milk splashed on top would sink into the flour bottom.  I would have a bowl full of potential that will never be if I don’t stir before baking.  I’m not exactly sure what might happen if I just dumped this all into a pan and popped it into the oven, unstirred, but I know it wouldn’t come out right. (p.227)

This stirring process? This is where I am right now in my life.  I could choose to dump all my wisdom into a pan and pop it into the oven, as is;  however, I’m more likely to end-up with a whole, edible cake if I take the time to stir the experiences and the lessons that I’ve been learning together before moving-on to the next step.  Stirring takes patience and effort.  I think I’m done only to find a patch of flour unearthed at the bottom of the mixing-bowl.  I alternate slow, laborious strokes with quick anticipation, sprinkling-in a handful of chocolate chips for extra-goodness. How is my cake going to turn-out?  Will it fall in the middle?  I am offered no guarantees that this cake will come-out looking or tasting good at all.  What I have learned, though, is that I have to trust the process.  And even if this particular cake doesn’t turn-out as I expect, I’ll likely gain whatever wisdom that I need to learn from the process and apply it to my next baking session.  This baking thing is not for the faint of heart. It is a lifelong process.

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birdback

With both hands, I cup the body of Mama Bird with her cracked, broken wings, and apply gentle pressure.  Kneading and smoothing.  Adding and taking away.  These wings, each lovingly shaped and adorned with small flowers, sat for a few weeks too long, wrapped in wet rags and sitting in a black garbage bag.   When I finally get around to attaching them to  Mama Bird’s body, the wings have started to dry and crack into pieces as I lift them from their solitary perches.  Wings left unused become frail and brittle.

Sensing the panic welling up inside me, my art teacher declares,  “You need to pop those suckers on soon and work from there!  There’s no way to do it gently.”  It is the end of class, so I pack-up the pieces and parts of my bird, once again, in wet rags and lug them home with me so that I can do some emergency repair work.   When I unwrap the clay that next morning, I feel a sense of reverence.  I aim to make this bird whole again.  I can’t help but think, as I hold these broken wings in my hands, that this must be how God feels when He cradles our broken spirits.

The molding process?  It can hurt and it might last longer than we would like.  In the case of Mama Bird, with some work, I am able to put her back together, all in one piece, but her transformation is still not over.  We have glazing issues, where for some odd reason, the “feather white” glaze that I have so carefully chosen, chips-off in tiny pieces when we remove her from the kiln.  Even with repeated glazing and firing at higher temperatures, Mama Bird’s glaze continues to flake-off in places.  For some reason, though, I am okay with it.  Her “shabby chic” exterior speaks to me.  The bare clay peeking through is evidence of Mama Bird’s journey.  Scars of a warrior.

Early on, I had decided to keep the hole open in Mama Bird’s chest where I hollowed her for firing.

birdfront (2)
I imagine a huge spray of colorful flowers flowing from that hollow, spilling forth with beauty.  The tiny little flowers that I fashioned from vintage fabric and wire sit patiently in a block of green foam while Mama Bird undergoes her many transformations.  Now it is time to fill that hollow space.  After playing with flower arrangements and securing the wires with a final dose of resin, I step back from Mama Bird and take a look.  There is still something missing. This mama bird is a warrior.  She needs a crown.

WarriorMamaBird1

To all my fellow warrior mamas out there, I want you to know that it is never too late to repair your wings.  We make mistakes.  We suffer losses and heartaches.  We may even feel so broken that we cannot fly again.  But God, the Master Artist?  He specializes in crafting beauty from our brokenness.

 

 

 

Bentrotting

My boy stands still in the middle of the kitchen with a little grin on his face and a faraway look in his eyes when my girl asks him what he is thinking about.  “I was remembering what it felt like to canter yesterday,” he replies.  My boy with the gentle soul also possesses a speedy streak.  He loves to barrel down the driveway on his Green Machine and spin-out at the bottom and is known to be heavy-footed when driving his Grandma’s golf cart.  Now, he has discovered the thrill of riding fast on a horse…

For a number of years now, my boy has taken to horseback riding as a form of exercise and therapy for his autism.  For the most part, he has remained content with walking around the ring on his horse, slow trotting and doing a few very low jumps;  however, after attending an inclusive horseback riding camp this summer, my boy got a taste of what it feels like to ride a bit more independently and fell in love with idea of competing in shows to win ribbons.  “This is going to be my sport!” he declares boldly.  “I want to learn more than what I am doing in therapy riding.”

So, naturally, when my boy with autism expresses a keen interest in something that is good for him in so many ways, I seek to figure-out a way to start the process of transitioning him to regular riding lessons.   Someone willing to teach him lessons on the weekend (his energy is spent after a long day at school during the week), at a reasonable price, and, ideally, one-to-one.  I mention my boy’s desire to Helen, the owner of the therapeutic riding center, and she jumps on it immediately, setting us up with one of the regular riding teachers at her barn, a young lady named Sophie with a soft, sweet spirit.

Several weeks later, we arrive for my boy’s very first “regular” lesson, a big milestone on his journey.  He has the whole inside ring to himself and performs each and every request with great pride and confidence.  Midway through the lesson, my boy’s horse unexpectedly goes into a canter with my boy hanging-on, mouth wide open.  When they come to a stop and my boy realizes that he is okay, he excitedly shouts, “That was fun!” With great valor, he shares his cantering experience with friends and family in the days that follow.

All geared-up for his next lesson the next week, my boy is likely dreaming of flying across fields on his horse, just like the boy in one of his favorite movies, The Black Stallion.  Only this time,  my girl is joining him for his lesson.  My boy and girl.  When the going gets tough, they totally have each other’s back.  At the same time, they are brother and sister and each possesses a healthy dose of competitiveness with the other.  My girl participates in a variety of other sports and enjoys doing some riding when she is not in the midst of swim season or basketball season.  It can be tricky when she rides with her brother, as riding just comes a bit more naturally to her, even though she does not ride as often.

You can imagine how devastated my boy feels when his younger sister is able to get her horse to canter and his horse refuses.  He even tries switching horses with my girl, but still, he cannot get it to canter.  By the end of the lesson, my boy leaves in tears, feeling totally defeated.  Over the next week or so, he lugs this discouragement around with him, a heavy load, and it becomes the topic of many conversations.  My boy wants to feel like this horse thing is all his.  He wants to be special.  He hates how autism makes some things harder for him.  We talk a lot about how he is special just because of who he is, not what he accomplishes.  And how there is enough “specialness” to go around for everyone.  We talk about how, yes, it is discouraging to see others be “better” at things we want to be good at, but, that in life, there will always be people who can ride better, sing better, write better, etc.  And sometimes, we have to be content with enjoying the journey while we learn the skills to become better.  The important thing is that we persevere.

With these understandings, my boy returns to his lessons several weeks later with a renewed sense of calm and resolve.   He listens patiently, when the instructor reminds him to keep “quiet hands” as he steers the horse.  She breaks-down the process leading-up to cantering into bite-sized pieces so that he can digest the instructions more slowly.  And when the time comes to try to canter, once again, my boy does as he is told and squeezes the the horse’s belly with his outside leg, but then he awkwardly pulls back on the reigns, confusing the horse, and stopping him from going into a full canter.  With all his might, my boy holds himself together while Sophie soothingly explains what  happened.  “Just try to relax,” she says.  “The horse senses your anxiety and knows that you’re not quite ready to do what you are wanting to do.  If you can be patient and become strong on the little things, you will eventually reach your goal.”

I love how this instructor speaks truth to my boy.  Even more so, I love how my boy internalizes her words and applies them to other areas of struggle as we drive home.  “It’s just like math at school, Mom.   I get all anxious about not knowing how to do something and then it makes things harder.  But once I relax, I usually get it!”

I can learn a lesson or two from my boy.  Sometimes, I get all inspired by these great visions of what I want to do with my art, my writing, my life in general, and I want to be there yesterday.  Just like my boy, I start to feel discouraged that someone else is  a lot further along the journey than me.  I am learning, though, to pull myself back to Center and relax.  To become strong in the little things.  To trust the process. And one day, I too, will canter. When I am ready.

Ben&meflying(Another little peek of Ben’s Dream.)

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV)

With my boy and girl settling back into the fall school routine, I was all ready to dive-into creating art and taking steps to helping my business grow.  And then, life being what it is, the whole family came-down with a cold, the toilet overflowed, and a mysterious blistering rash showed-up on my girl’s elbow, then her face, and later my boy’s butt cheek…Yeah. I know. Gross.  Along with several previously scheduled autism-related doctor’s appointments, we threw in a couple of extra trips to the pediatrician to figure-out the rash, and before you know it, two weeks passed and not much art had been made on my end.

Sensing the discouragement, the little “Brain Bully” in my head seized the moment and started whispering things like,  “This is why you’ll never reach your dreams!  Your family life is just too demanding!  Do you really want to put all that energy into something that might not even work out?”   To drive the point home, I started an online art class, and immediately felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work being shared by my fellow classmates on the group Facebook page…Really, do these people have families?

So, yes, I felt a little anxious, if not a bit cynical.  Still, I  picked-up my paint brush for a few hours here and there throughout the following week. I crocheted some beads one afternoon while my boy and girl played contentedly outside. I pushed-through a class project that felt foreign to me.  Gradually,  the momentum  that I feared losing started to return.  Evidence of things not seen.

I am realizing that creating art and living life are continuous acts of faith.  While I carry these visions and dreams that God has placed in my heart, with gentle hands, I must surrender the final outcome and how it will look to God.  I find such beauty and relief in knowing that it is not up to me to figure-out how long it will take or exactly how I will get there.  All God is asking me to do is to listen to his whispers and keep picking-up that paintbrush.  I think I can do that.

touchinghem
She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.
-Luke 8: 44

CircleBen and Emma

Last month, I began praying circles around my boy and girl. Prayers that their hearts might feel more peaceful and less anxious. Prayers that they might recognize their unique strengths and be at home in their own skin. My boy has courageously struggled to fight anxiety since the age of 2 or 3. Just falling to pieces over changes in schedule or a change in the environment, the hallmark of his autism. While he has developed much better coping strategies for these realities over time, he still comes face to face with anxiety on a daily basis. Lately, the sight of his sister’s untied shoes can send him over the edge. And then there’s my girl who would run and tremble, gripped with fear, at the mention or sound of someone throwing-up. She’s come a long ways, too, but being the product of a long line of anxious genes on both sides of the family, she still does her share of worrying.

This decision to pray circles around my children and their anxious hearts came as a result of a study that I completed with my girlfriends around Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker.  Mark tells of the legend of Honi, the circle maker. Honi was a sage who brought rain to his drought ridden people after drawing a circle, stepping inside it, dropping to his knees in prayer and vowing not to move from that circle until God provided the quenching rain which had eluded them for the past year.

When I chose to pray circles around my boy and girl, I had no idea that I was about to be blindsided by a telephone call a week after beginning my challenge. My children’s principal called and asked if it was a good time to talk and the alarm bells immediately started going-off in my head. Uh oh. What did my child do? What has happened to my child? Did something happen to his/her teacher? After reassuring me that my boy was fine, the principal explained that due to a new autism program being started at another school  in the fall, my boy was going to be moved on the basis that we lived closer to this new site. Actually, we live .25 miles further from said school; however, the real issue is that a blanket decision was made, requiring my boy, with autism, anxiety, OCD, and ADHD, to leave a school where he is thriving to transition into unknown territory, likely causing significant regression academically and behaviorally. This decision would not only affect my boy, but my girl, as well. For she attends the same school as my boy on a waiver so that they can be together.

My initial reaction was to sob off and on all day long. My husband, on the other hand, was ready to fight. And while I appreciated his passion, I wasn’t there yet. I really wasn’t sure how to read the information in front of me. Could this change be an even better opportunity? In spite of looking for the positive, though, I really didn’t see how a school could be any better fit for my boy and girl than where we are now. After a day or two of grieving and praying for guidance, I felt like God was leading me to “go to the mattress” for Ben. I needed to advocate for Ben to stay where he is in order to support the peaceful hearts for which I had begun praying on behalf of my boy and girl.

This is where The Circle Maker really kicks into high gear. Once I jumped on board with my husband, we spent the following days and weeks writing letters, seeking guidance from advocates, making comments at a special education advisory committee meeting, and checking-in with the staff at Ben’s school to let them know where we were in the process. While we received full-support from the school staff, our letters and pleas with those in charge of this decision were met with silence. No recognition of having received our letters. No calls. Nothing. The more time that went by without hearing anything, the harder we began to fight, forwarding our letters onto school board representatives and finally the Superintendent. In the meantime, I am fervently praying circles around our situation, praying as if my prayers are already answered. I refused to leave my circle until we were heard, reminding myself to pray through, as we so often tend to give-up right before the miracle is about to occur.

Our final plea was to be made at the School Board Meeting. The night before we were scheduled to speak, my husband and I submitted our comments along with a heartfelt letter written by my boy’s teacher on his behalf. Mind you, I am totally ill-at-ease with public speaking, but I needed to advocate for my boy. Exhausted, but at peace with the knowledge that we were doing all we could, our heads hit the pillow around midnight the night before the meeting.

That morning, I joined several of my girlfriends on a visit to a nearby retreat center to wrap-up our last session before summer break. Tired and distracted, I considered opting-out this time around, but figured it might be a good thing to get away from everything for a few hours. After finishing our study together in one of the retreat rooms, I climbed the stairs to the cupola overlooking the city. There, I opened my Bible and silently prayed for our meeting that evening. I prayed that our words would be met with a compassionate response for what is best for Ben.

Driving home afterward, my cell phone chimed, interrupting my thoughts. My husband and I aren’t in the habit of calling each other much throughout the day, so I figured it was something important when I answered. “I just got a call and it looks like they are willing to work with us.” The decision had been made to allow Ben (and Emma) to continue attending their current school, minus a few logistical transportation issues! All I kept thinking was, “Thank you Jesus!” I felt  like I had won a major court case!

Later that afternoon, upon letting the clerk of the school board know that we no longer would be speaking, we learned that it was the clerk, herself, who acted as the pivotal person in our case. We’re not sure whether she chose to speak-up for us as a result of reading our comments or if she received directives from above; however, I am convinced that God used that clerk to bring about a resolution on Ben’s behalf.

This circle is not the first and certainly won’t be the last to be drawn around my family. And when the time comes, again, I will find strength in God’s faithfulness amidst the many circles drawn and answered throughout my life.

WalkbyFaith
I walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

“I don’t like being in this place.”  I share this thought with my friend Cheryl where we sit at the edge of an empty retreat room.   All these months together, we have nourished and encouraged each other in our faith journeys and now I sit here feeling like a hypocrite.  It seems that in my quest to expand my understanding of God, I have landed in a place where I am questioning my faith.  How can I discuss overcoming failure and obstacles in the context of faith when I am plagued with questions about God and Christianity?  I want to feel grounded.  I want to be able to provide some nugget of wisdom or inspiration.  And, yet, doubt keeps disturbing my comfort.  What if Christianity isn’t the only way to know God?  What if all that I know to be true is not the Truth?

I keep turning these questions over in my mind and out loud, hoping that my friend might say something to make all the questions disappear.  And, God love her, my friend knows better.  She sits and listens.   She remains present.  No judgement.  No condemnation.   When there is nothing more to say, she simply makes the comment that there are some things that we have to just “sit with” for a while.  For when we allow ourselves to be okay with not having the answers, we come-out with a stronger understanding in the end.

Later that afternoon, Cheryl and I pull our chairs up to a table, bits of cloth and embellishments sprawled in front of us.  We set-out to create prayer flags.  Flags bearing reminders of our intentions for the summer ahead with our children.  After sorting through the selection of cloth and trim and arranging a few chosen pieces onto a small rectangle of muslin, we begin the process of sewing our prayers.  I move the needle in and out of the soft fabric and notice the quieting of my mind, once in turmoil with questions.  Conversation flows gently and easily  between my friend and me.  At one point, I look-out the large window across the room to see the sky darkening, heralding the coming of a Spring thunderstorm.  Trees bend in the wind and rain patters on the roof over our heads.

I sew prayers and God washes away my doubt and confusion.  In its place, he offers grace.  Gratitude fills my heart.  Gratitude for a God who allows me to question Him.  Gratitude for my friend who sits with me in my questions.

A year or so ago, I stumbled upon a dear friend’s blog where I marveled at the beauty of her words and how they resonated within me.  Admittedly technology challenged, I was not even aware of the “blogging world” until then, and yet, the idea of creating a space where I might share my faith journey, with all its bumps and bruises, took hold in my heart and has not let go.

I have felt, for some time, God gently nudging me to share my story with other women.  Not because my life is all that unusual or exciting,  but rather because He intends  to use my ordinary struggles to encourage others in, perhaps, extraordinary ways.   Over the years, I have cherished opportunities to sit with a  girlfriend, warm mugs of coffee  in our hands, and share what’s going on in our lives.  Steam rising from our cups, there is no hidden agenda or need to rush,  only the expectation of offering and hearing one another’s hearts.

And so, I find myself here this morning at The Blue Mug.  My blue pottery mug, filled with hot spiced cinnamon tea, sits beside me and I ponder where this new adventure might lead, trusting that God has blessed me so that I might be a  blessing to someone else (Genesis 12: 1-2).

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