Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, The Saga Continues.....

     I don't know if it is the dreary rain falling, the damp, cold blanket of air that weighs heavily on everything, or the fact that this tree business is in my craw, but today has been one of those red letter days where everything seems to be a mess! 
     Several years ago I did what I thought was a grand thing and now, looking back on it, it was a complete idiotic thing to do, so I live with that crazy decision every Christmas. You see, I bought a "pre-lit" tree without asking my hubs. I have blogged about this tree saga for a couple of years because  it's sad and hysterically funny how it has evolved into a Christmas tradition in the Goodwin household. I will fill my new readers in on a few old details and then catch you all up on how the saga unfolds today. 
     We were always a real tree family you see. I loved the look, the smell, but I had had it with the cost of those trees year after year. So, after Christmas a few years back Linen's and Things had this gorgeous, 'pre-lit' tree 75% off, and on impulse I bought it. I was quite proud of my purchase but the look on my hubs face when I drug it out of my car was horror. I had not only broken a tradition we have always had, but I didn't call and run it past him, which is something we have always agreed we would do on big purchases. Without hashing it all up, I was in the dog house and couldn't take the tree back, so I packed it up and stored it for the next year. 
     The first year we used it the tree was pretty fabulous, after the hard feelings had simmered over the past year. I lit my, 'smells like a Christmas tree candle', which by the way, NEVER smells as good as the real thing, but it was lovely nonetheless. Problems started after Christmas when it was time to take it apart. You see, the 'pre-lit' tree turned out not to be 'pre-lit' so when I couldn't store it like I had the past year, and needed to take it apart, it wouldn't come apart due to all the wires. The reality of what type of tree this was sunk in and I, with jeers from my family, began the tedious process of unstringing this tree. I would have rather had the first layer of my epidermis peeled off than to unstring that tree!

     Over the years, this process made a complete mess of the structure of the tree. I broke connection after connection and as it evolved I eventually had about half of a  tree. I begged to get a real one, to go back to our tradition and admit defeat, but my sweet hubs, who as most of you know loves to turn trash to treasure, wouldn't hear of it. I was forced to get creative. It started with the use of fishing line, which on a few limbs still exists today. A year later I resorted to using duct tape. Last year, to my amazement, my cousin figured out how to snap the stems in without breaking the connections so it wasn't too bad. Regardless though, I was fed up with that tree so I drug it to the road for the trash. My hubs came home early, saw the carcass at the street, and said oh no, and drug it back in the house. 
     For the past few weeks I knew it was coming, the dreaded piecing together of that tree. I honestly thought about not putting one up too. James had moved out and I went back and forth, to tree or not to tree, that was the question! Alas, the tree won out, along with several verbal family members saying it would be a travesty not to put one up, so I caved. 
     This morning, I woke up to the dreariness of the day and started cleaning up a spot for that tree. We drug it from the shed into the house, and when pulling it out of the many bags it lived in, several new pieces fell off. I just shook my head and quietly said a few choice four letter words. The stem was rusted, the top was flat, overall it was a pretty sad tree. So, not to let the Grinch in me win out, I vowed to artistically piece this tree back together for one more year, and then, quietly pray that somehow the powers that be see fit for our Charlie Brown tree to break a leg, or a stem, or it's top off so the saga can end. Problem is, I wonder if any tree will ever be as memorable as this one. I think not, do you?

Here are the before pics. You can see the fishing line, the big hole in the side, the empty connections, and several lost limbs. It has now become a metaphor I feel for my life. A beautiful thing, with broken parts, wired and screwed back together, to shine brightly in a world that needs a few more bright spots than it already has. Stay tuned for the after, you will believe miracles exist when you see those. Happy Advent friends and early Christmas Holidays to you. May you find laughter in your hearts this season!

The pieces that 'should' be attached to the tree!

The connectors, all busted, and a sad piece of duct tape from last year.

The fishing line, enough said. 

And here is the final version, taken in the dark, to hide all the "piccadillos" it has. The lights make it look endearing don't you think? I couldn't for the life of me post the pics in real light, they would make you break out in song singing, "Oh Tannenbaum, oh Tannenbaum," .....and fall over with a great big belly laugh! What I am thankful for is this; my sweet husband and son who insisted on helping me. They strung the lights, they hung the ornaments, they made me laugh, and we all looked at the finished tree with great pride, and all was well in the land......limp star and all. LOL! I won't for the life of me straighten it. Merry Christmas friends!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Teaching Children the Concept of 'Beauty'

I have had the pleasure of working with kids through the past years either through tutoring or painting with them and even showing them that writing can actually be fun. Those moments are dear to me because I miss teaching kids a great deal. As a teacher, and I believe God calls certain people to that profession, having the opportunity to mold a child's understanding of the world around them is a humbling, grace filled opportunity that I hold sacred. 

My cousin Fran has a daughter who has painted with me. I love painting with children, because it brings me back to my true gift, the one of teaching. Fran called me the other day and explained that Lilly had to paint for a contest at school and the theme was, "Beautiful Is..." I thought for a minute and realized kids the ages of 3-8 might struggle to really grasp this concept so I thought of what suggestions I could give that might help her.  

For that age group beauty is a vague, abstract concept. It is not something they can grasp with their hands. Although they are surrounded by beautiful things each day, I doubt they look at a flower and see it as beautiful with a deep understanding of the idea. To help a child begin to consider this word I suggest using their five senses to experience the world around them and share in discussing it with you. Take your child to a florist or produce market and let them touch, smell, taste, and see the variety of colors. Then ask them, which ones are they drawn to, and why. Explain to them that those colors, objects, sounds, or feelings are those they find beautiful.  At a young age it must start with their experiences but as your children age, you will begin to spread their wings a bit and teach them that all beauty comes from within and even ugly can be beautiful.

I believe that we are created by God with an understanding for 'beauty' in each of us. Science can't explain the concept as to why when we see a rainbow or the face of a child we experience it as 'beautiful'. Part of me truly believes that what we find as beautiful is God's way of showing us what the Garden of Eden would have been like. We get little glimpses or tastes of what he meant for us, and I am grateful for those moments in life. 

As you compare and contrast songs, moments, feelings, textures, etc. with your child encourage them to explain why or why not they are drawn to one thing in particular. This conversation is critical in teaching them to live artistically and it will actually build a foundation for them to understand the scientific process as well. Most of all, have fun with the activity or conversation, because the process of the understanding is really the point, not the end result of did they get it. 

I hope some of you will choose to paint with your children during this holiday season. Those gifts are the most precious and 'beautiful' to give and receive. Beauty can be abstract to young ones but it doesn't have to be. If you want to truly show them something beautiful, give them a mirror. 
This is Lilly, she and her painting are both, BEAUTIFUL!


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why Angels and Crosses?

What a crazy week it has been in the Goodwin household! When I was physically able to start painting again I had no idea where it would lead me,other than to my art table and the occasional gallery visit. During the past few weeks doors have opened up for me to share my art with several different groups of people. I really gave that some thought and considered each venue. Normally, I don't paint for a specific group, but considering the holidays are around the corner, I really had to tweak my thinking on that. 
As I did, I also had a conversation with God about why I paint. First, I am grateful for the gift of creativity so I wanted to be a good steward of that. I also have learned that when I paint a cross or an angel, and then blog about it, people who read it are touched, it connects with them in a way that my 'normal' art doesn't. For that main reason, I chose to spend a good bit of time painting angels and crosses for the holidays. 
As I painted, I spent a lot of  time researching verses to go with each one, and can honestly say I haven't spent that much time perusing the bible since the days of our bible drills when I was a child. It was a meaningful experience to say the least. Most all of the paintings in this series have a verse, painted somewhere within, because besides being grateful for my gift of painting, I knew I HAD to use it to share my faith as well. So, as you look over some of these little gems, know that they were lovingly created and prayed over, each one. A prayer that simply was meant for whoever who sees one or purchases one, would gain some since of who Christ is in their life, and in hopes that it would bring them joy.
I wish I could say this was easy, that whipping these out was a walk in the park, but as all my disabled artist friends know, that is not the case for those of us who struggle with bodies that don't match our zeal for life. There were days I painted slower than others, but, as asked, I painted through it and saw the effort pay off, at least in the journey, not monetarily. Artists struggle in many ways, so I ask all of you to consider supporting your local art community this holiday season buy purchasing art as gifts for Christmas if you choose to celebrate it. I am thrilled to share my gift with you, not only the paintings, but the journey as well. Drop me a line, I would love to hear from you about your journey as well.








To see more angels and crosses, visit Facebook and join my fanpage, The Artwork of Ardith Goodwin, 

Monday, October 26, 2009

Serenity Prayer Angel

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."

13 years ago I came face to face with the reality and importance of that prayer. I was facing a divorce, raising a son on my own, and tried my best to hold my world together the best I could. In my own strength, my best, of course, just wasn't going to cut it. My auto-pilot of drifting numbly through life got turned off and the reality of the world that I thought I knew came crashing down. It was harsh to say the least. I spent the next couple of years struggle with depression and alcohol issues, and but for the grace of God, would I survive it all. 
Part of that recovery led me to many AA meetings where I met some of the most wonderful people in my life. We would close each meeting with that prayer, but I wouldn't really come to believe it, or embrace it, until many years later when my life experiences would teach me its true importance. 
I know there are probably many of you that secretly deal with addictions on a daily basis. I'm not just talking about drugs and alcohol either. I am talking about addictions to anything, like FB, soap operas, sex, or your neighbor's spouse,  that are so strong they take us out of reality and leave us in a world that doesn't really exist. Sometimes, at least for me, it was easier staying in that world, the one of fantasy or denial, because the reality of my true world was just something I wasn't ready for. Then I began to really think about this prayer and use it, daily, often over and over, to get me through some really difficult moments. 
Being a mom made this prayer one I would need many times. Watching my son grow into a young man had many highlites and some lows, but I am proud of who he is. That doesn't mean I agree with all of his choices. In those instances I use this prayer to talk to God so that I understand where I stop and my son begins. 
I also understand that for many who deal with addictions the concept of believing in God is difficult. I, as sure as I am breathing, believe that there is a higher power, whom I choose to call God. With that said, I also respect each person's right to make their own choice in the matter, I can't change them. What I can do is share how that one prayer, such a simple little thing,has kept me sane through many dark periods in my life. When my doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong, I prayed it. When my body failed me repeatedly, I prayed it. When I felt that call to go down the road of living in denial, I prayed it. And, when I felt like the whole world was falling in on my head I prayed it then, too. 
For some of us, it's not easy understanding what it means to be strong and courageous on a daily basis. I for one have more days where I feel lost than found, but that prayer is one that is part of me, and I believe God placed it in my life as a protection, against myself, and against other people's issues I try so hard to make my own. 
So, for today, in this moment, I share my Serenity Angel with you. Not to toot my own horn about a new painting, but to help maybe just one person realize those life altering decisions that have to be made on a daily basis can be done successfully if by only saying and embracing this simple prayer. You do not walk alone. You do not encounter emotions that others have not shared. You do not live a moment without God being with you as well. May this angel and the Serenity prayer bring hope to you, and me, who will always struggle with addictions, but hopefully rise above them.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Soldier's Cross of Courage

As I write this, somewhere in Afghanistan or abroad, and American soldier has just been wounded or killed in battle. Let that sink in for a minute. You are in a safe place most likely, reading this in the comfort of your home on your phone, and an American soldier has just had his or her life ended or tragically changed forever. How humbling that is to me. For the past years I have watched the war on TV, got frustrated over it, not understood it really, but the reality of the cost to American lives and families never really sunk in until this week. Going to http://icasualties.org I checked to see if a soldier died today. The last soldier listed died Oct. 17th, Spc. Michael A. Dahl Jr., 23, of Moreno Valley, Ca.,died Oct. 17 in Argahndab, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an IED. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Washington. Details about Spc. Dahl can be found here, http://freedomremembered.com/index.php/spc-michael-a-dahl/I don't know him, his family, what his life story was, all I know is that he is no longer with us and his family and friends are grieving the loss of someone they cherished and loved dearly. I can't really imagine. Because the media isn't allowed to show the caskets brought home on TV, I believe apathy sets in, at least for me I became desensitized to it, and for that I am horrified.

When I began the journey of painting crosses God put on my heart to paint one for our soldiers. For weeks I thought about it, how I would paint it, what it needed to have in it. The thoughts were not easy. I began researching lives of soldiers and how many wars Americans have fought in. I thought about my brother, my dad and uncles and cousins, my friends, and all who work and fought to serve our country. Then I began to pray and talk to God about it. After praying, the painting you see here began to evolve. A friend suggested the verse in Joshua but I was leaning towards one in Jeremiah. When she explained why the Joshua verse was so fitting, I prayed about it too, and God clearly said to share his story with soldiers, so I am. Joshua was going into battle himself, he was discouraged, he was afraid, and God said this to him: "
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

What a powerful message, so it became the story and verse behind my motivation for this cross.
I knew I wanted each branch of the military represented, but I didn't want it to be political. I added the five main branches by painting their emblems. I then thought about soldiers who are Christians, who pray for their fellow brothers and sisters who serve, and who die in battle. But I also thought about soldiers of different beliefs as well, so I chose to pray for all of them. The center represents the soldiers cross. When a soldier dies, they put the rifle in the ground, hang his or her hat on it, and lay the boots at the base. What a powerful image. I also wanted to honor the unknown soldiers who died in battle, so I painted the memorial for that, with a soldier in salute. On the cross is an angel, arms around the soldier's cross, for protection of those who serve their duty to country. The cross itself is purple, the color of courage and of the purple heart. The green border line represents life, which I pray and claim for each soldier at home and abroad. The 21 red dots represent the 21 wars our country has fought since its creation. The face of the angel is tri-colored, representing soldiers of different races, but Americans, who fight and defend our country. The flag sits behind the cross, but most importantly, the words, IN GOD WE TRUST, sit on the cross, to remind all of us that OUR country was founded under God, and regardless of religions, we put our faith in him as Christians for protect our loved ones as they serve and to provide for their families here at home. The word COURAGE is bold, because it takes great courage to volunteer to leave one's family and country to go fight in a war to defend our freedom. Joshua 1:9 sits in the background, not to overshadow the cross, but to remind those who serve that they are not alone, that others have gone before them, and that God is with them , wherever they go in battle or service to country. It is also painted in yellow, but when you move to the left or right, it glows blue, a color true to our our nation.

That's what the colors and symbols mean, but this is what it means to me. For the past couple of weeks as I worked on this cross, my left arm and neck began to really bother me. I knew I had neck issues, and had just bragged about feeling better after spending a year recovering from a lumbar spinal fusion. I went to have an MRI and found out that I had ruptured a disc in my neck and have a spur that is impinging on the nerve. I now face a possible surgery, my 21st, but am praying there will be options to avoid that. As I knew my own body was in pain while I painted it occurred to me how much pain our veterans live with on a daily basis. How much pain a family endures when they watch their loved ones walk on that plane to be gone for a year or two, and most of all, how much pain a family feels when they hear the words that their loved one has died in action is pain I will never know. My pain is easy compared to that, so on I painted and on I prayed. I prayed for those we have lost, and those who have been injured. I prayed in thanks for those who serve to support us here, their families, who quietly do their duty each day with little thanks. I prayed in thanks for my brother and dad and family members who serve or have served their country and felt proud to honor them through this cross. And then I prayed that this cross would reach those it was meant for, that it would bring them hope, relieve their fears, and possibly put a smile on the face of at least one soldier sacrificing his or her all, so I could paint it. For that soldier and all of them, THANK YOU!

I pledge to honor our heroes, those who serve, and those who have fallen serving. Freedom is not free. My challenge to you is to choose to share this cross and its story with those you love, those who serve, and may it be an artistic way to remind us all to never forget, to lift up in prayer, and to never take for granted the sacrifices they give so that we may live such comfortable lives in our great country.
(To see the steps in the creation of this cross on FB join my fan page, The Artwork of Ardith Goodwin)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Work and the Nature of God, What a loaded topic!

Ideas for painting have been coming in by the droves lately. I am grateful, but for some artists that can be overwhelming and they tend to shut down because of creativity overload. Thankfully, that hasn't happened this time and I have been pleased with my new works, although the journey to paint them hasn't been easy by any means. Most all my blog followers know my lower back has issues. Well, my whole spine has issues and that, for what ever reason, is the revelation that it seems to be the season for back issues. I had been able to deal with my neck pain for the past few years because my lumbar was so bad, but since I have been painting, it has royally screwed up the disc in my neck and now painting has become a mountain to climb. I don't mind mountains, I am just a bit peeved lately at how many I have been asked to climb. I feel guilty even writing that, but it's honestly how I feel in this moment. You see, my painting has brought me sanity the past few months. I have seen it touch people, I have seen God use it to reach others, and I have seen it light up the faces of many who need a little bit of light in their worlds. Flat out, I won't give it up at this point until my arm is completely numb and I am going to claim that this too shall pass so I can paint on. I have pretty much flushed, got off my pity pot, and am choosing to embrace joy from this point on, and I wanted to leave you with the thought of me *grinning from ear to ear* despite the mountain.

As to the nature of God comment. There will be a blog coming up completely devoted to that topic but this came up in conversation this week and for once, when asked, I knew the answer like I was breathing. I couldn't have answered it quickly a year ago, but the other day I did. For me, the true nature of God is this: He desires an intimate, daily relationship with us to share His grace and love with us so that we can share it with others. That's not complicated for me to get, it's not waxing philosophical, it's just what he has shown me. It's not tied to being religious, being right or wrong, it's simply the understanding the God adores us and wants to share our moments. Then we are free to share them with others and well.....the world can change that way, one person at a time can't it? Ok, off my soap box for now :). I have a fan page on Facebook, The Artwork of Ardith Goodwin. If you are a FB peep, join it, I would love to share this walk with you. Hope you all like my new works. God's Peace, Love, and my hope that you know you are fabulous!
Here are a couple of new pieces that I have been able to work on.

Almost forgot! The library painting I did, "Love Reading, Love the World" got honorable mention in the show. The quality of the work was so good, that I was thrilled just to be juried in. If you get by the Grelot library before Dec. 4, go upstairs and see the show, it's one not to miss.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Healing Cross

Many of you have read this story on FB, but for those who haven't, I am posting it here by request. Peace friends!

After creating the cross for Mike Napoli I have laid in bed all hours of the night thinking about the significance of crosses. I have always loved them, collect bling blingy ones to wear around my neck, and hold the cross of Jesus on the crucifix most sacred. But it got me thinking just what crosses mean to each person and for some people, I realized they are a way to celebrate a life, a love, or a dream. The concept of healing to me is quite important. Many of you know I struggle with chronic pain from a long list of health issues but I have also come to understand that faith in our loving God goes a long way in helping minimize or even take that pain away. I have also watched over the years many loved ones and friends family members fight courageous battles against cancer and other life threatening diseases. I don't understand at all why some are healed and some are not, but I have come to a peace about that and I share it here with you.

I believe God does not want harm to come to us. During the course of our lives things happen and the consequences of those things, intentional or not, have results that affect our bodies, minds, and spirits. As a dear friend taught me, God is capable of only his very best towards us, and in that I hold fast and firm as to the healing power that surrounds us. I have also watched dear friends lose the battle with illness and though it's heartbreaking and makes me intensely angry at times I realize that outcome may just be God's way of "healing" that body once and for all. I find great peace and comfort in that.

This cross was created for those of us who suffer with pain or illness or know those who do. There is no magical claim of healing in it from me, but there is much prayer that has been put into it as it was created. While I thought about what to add or leave out, I considered all those people, like Angelique's son, who faces a tremendous fight ahead. I thought of my friends who struggle with mental illness, my husbands back, my dad's body, my sister and her family. I even thought of as many people I know who suffer from lack of love and compassion. As I thought about these people and issues I prayed to God through this cross. I asked him that those who see it or have it will find peace, comfort, and know that he holds them gently in his hand at all times, in health and in wellness.
The color green is significant, it's the sign of life!
The swirls in the background represent God's breath and the Hebrew word Kavod.
The angel is an angel of healing.
The purple represents courage, which all of us who suffer need tons of.
Red is the color of Christ's blood, which in its essence assures us eternal life.
The rings throughout the picture represent eternal, unending love.
Orange is the color of joy, which is so precious and hard to find in times of illness.
There is the symbol of psychology to the left, the cadaceous for the medical field to the right.
The oil lamp serves two fold, one of anointing and one of Florence Nightingale, who represents nursing.
39 circles in the outer rings, if you believe this, represent the 39 lashes Jesus received on the cross, and the 39 root diseases that all others spread from.
The waves represent water, healing water and tears that we all need to cleanse us.
The two hand are Christ's hands and healing hands, when they are laid on us in prayer. They spread healing light, into our universe, for us t embrace in times of need.
The scripture is 3 John ch. 1:2, Behold, I pray that you may prosper in all things, and be in health, just as your soul prospers.
The leaves and brown color represent the tree of life, that we all spring from.
The red cross at the top represents just that, The Red Cross, who help us in time of illness and need.
The four corner prisms represent strength, because we all need as much as we can get when we are ill.
The bold colors are to brighten the hearts and days of those who are ill and their caretakers.
And, last but not least, the heart of the angel, which represents true love, the heart of God who adores us, and our love for one another.

If you know someone in need of healing who might need a pick me up feel free to share this cross, it's intended to do just that. Peace Peeps, I love you all! Ardith

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Library Show I Got In!

WoooooooHooooooo! I got into my first juried show at the library with these two pictures. I entered the Mobile Public Library Art Show and both pieces got juried in. I still laugh at "Flannery, I'm Your Many" and the "Love Reading, Love the World" speaks to the teacher in me. I haven't added them to my website yet but that will come. Spent the last few weeks dealing with a bad asthma attack which landed my behind back in the hospital but it was only for a brisk visit, thank God. The painting has been good for me, hard on my neck, but good for the soul. I am working on a new cross, one on TRUST, but it is turning out to be a tad challenging. Will update my God moments later along with my new work. We are headed to Birmingham for my one year check up on my spine surgery. Lower back is good, I am grateful, but most of all, always thankful to God for the journey! Peace Peeps! Ardith

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Beautiful Life Well Lived

I was in Atlanta last week on Sept. 11 and as I lay on my bed after a long day of walking I decided to take some time to think about what possibly could be going through the heads of all those families on this day who lost a loved one. It was hard to imagine really. I haven't lost a family member in such a way, but in looking over those who I do still share breath with each day I was almost paralyzed with fear at the thought of losing one or all of them. So, I simply said a prayer for them and then turned my attention on my dear friend Monica who had lost her beloved dad to a courageous battle with cancer earlier in the week.
Mike Napoli was one of those rare gems in life. He exuded life by living out loud, in a humble kind of way, through his ministry as a priest, a husband, a dad, a grandad, a best friend, and he served his country. Although I wasn't nearly as close to him or El as I was Monica, what stuck out to me like a sore thumb was the beautiful children he helped raise and their commitment to serve God outwardly and with joy. Men like Mike seem to be rare these days, at least to me. I know a ton of people, and a ton of Christians, but I know few who have chosen to live a life dedicated to Christ like Monica and her family, and to that I give Mike and El a whole bunch of credit.
His grandson Ben posted some old pics of Mike and it was obvious how much he loved life, loved laughter, but most of all, LOVED his family. I can only hope and pray when I go they can say the same for me.

I also want to share a God moment in the passing of Mike Napoli that came unexpectedly at 4 am, gee are you surprised, the morning he died. I had been startled awake for some reason and God said to me, "Ardith, pray through the morning for the Napoli's." Hmmm.... I thought about that and decided the best way I could do that would be to paint. I had wanted to paint Mike a cross, had researched his genealogy and stuff, but had not begun the actual painting yet. So, at 4 am I began to draw and create the Mike Napoli cross you see here. The God part of all of it is that with each pencil line or brush stroke, I said a pray for him, so I can't tell you how many prayers are really in this cross, but enough for the family to know he was so loved. At around 8 am I got a text that Mike had passed at 4:55 am, exactly the time I was painting his cross. Still gives me chills. I finished it around 9 and delivered it that day to a grieving, tender family, but through the tears I could see the joy in their faces of a testament to a life well lived. The symbolism of the cross is important for you to understand the entire beauty of this man and his cross.

Green - The color of life that his family embraced for the past 7 years.
Red - The color of the blood of Christ and one of Mike's favorites.
Orange - Mike's favorite color
Purple - Royal Courage, which if you knew him he had
White - The grace and purity of Christ, and of Mike now with him
Blue and White Stripes, Fleur de Lise, and Two gold stars are from the official Napoli crest.
North Star - So he would easily find his way home.
Brown - Nature and Earth, Mike had a down to earth nature we all loved
Blue and Red Chevrons - in honor of service to country
51 outer dots in circle - Mike's favorite passage, Psalm 51
John 3:30, his favorite verse
2 gold rings in center, Mike and El's lifetime love
2 orange dots to each side - Dawn and Monica
2 red bars - their spouses
3 green bars - Darby, Sydney, Ben
N -Napoli
Blue vertical Bar - My favorite color, because I LOVE this family!

As exhausting as it was I knew flowers weren't my style and this gift was such a God thing. I missed his memorial, but they printed the cross on the bulletin, so in some small way I was there giving a hug to this great family, and my dear friend of 19 years.

Cancer is not fair is it? I don't understand why some people beat it and some don't. But, one thing I have learned from Monica is the we serve a God who is incapable of nothing but his very best towards us. In that, as I remember the 9/11 families, the Napoli's, and now another friend who's young son was just diagnosed this morning, I trust that to be true and ask that God hold ALL of us in his loving hands.

(Here's to you Mike on a BEAUTIFUL LIFE WELL LIVED!)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Trusting God and Walking With Him vs. Knowing of Him and Doing Things for Him

Have you ever wondered why, in the middle of the night, you get some of the best ideas to write about, rather during the day? I asked God about this, he laughed and said, "This one is easy, I have your undivided attention at night." I just layed there and knew he had me on that one, so here I sit, with another blog to write.

I am currently in a bookstudy at Christ Anglican Church and we are reading/discussing "True Faced" by John Lynch. To sum it up, he proposes that we actually walk through life wearing masks, some of us wear lots of them, and never fully embrace our authentic, God created selves. He then goes on to explain his understanding of how to finally take the masks off, and live a life free of them, in God's grace, and the thought of that had me hooked. What makes this book even more interesting to me, is that I am reading it just after reading "Walking with God", by John Eldridge, and the two of them combined have given me a whole new perspective of what this following God thing is all about, so I share my short take of that here with you, because God decided to wake me up at 2 am and said it's important. I have learned when things like that happen, not to ignore it, he always has a greater purpose.

So, in "True Faced", the idea that most of us live in one of two rooms in life, room one being Trusting God, and room two being Performing for God, is a concept that got me thinking. As I read through the first two chapters of 'True Faced', my new understanding that God desires an intimate relationship with me, from "Walking with God", kept popping in my head, and I knew the two were relevant. You see, I believe there are two rooms, but the Trusting God room is also connected to Walking with God, and the Performing for God is also connected to lots of people Knowing who God is. They all go hand in hand. And how is that relevant?

I can only speak for myself, but the difference in living in room one rather than in room two has changed my life, in remarkable ways. I'll start by explaining what living in room two, Knowing of God and Performing for him, looks like. I was raised in a Christian home and became a Christian at the age of 10. For 41 years, I knew who God was, believed in him, went to church for the most part, read my bible at times, did good things for people, helped others, tried to set a good example, prayed, sang in the choir, loved children, taught school, always leaned toward the idea that God was in control and his will would be done. Underneath all those masks, I was depressed, sad, had screwed up relationships, and felt condemned to always live like that, but could never let anyone see it (See the pattern here?) Lots of doing,lots of numbness, but very little living, and I had little understanding of what 'walking' with God not to mention 'trusting' him really meant. Was I happy? At times, but for the most part, due to lots of reasons, I wasn't, but could never explain why. Most people saw me as happy, (mask, mask, mask), but inwardly I was pretty empty, I questioned the whole God idea and believed life was cruel and at my best I was a screw up.

Now move to room one, Trusting God and walking with him daily. This room is much harder to stay in, or even walk into. It's easy to get caught up in the doing, because I can list all the "things" I do well, right, and for God, which help make me feel like I am a good Christian. But the trust isn't there really. Walking into this room is a whole other ball of wax, because it requires that first, I am willing to take my masks off and allow God to see me for who I really am, and see myself for that matter, and then swallow the fact that I don't have the answers, he does. It's also quite humbling. I went from a doer to first, a listener and someone who chooses to talk with God as I walk through my day, and second, I DO or NOT DO the things he asks. What? I thought the doing part was in room two. It is, but it's also in room one, in a different way. In room two, for the most part, I chose what I wanted to do, the when, why, and how, with no trust part for God and my life stayed royally screwed up, at least on the inside. In room one, I first have to talk to God, and then trust him to give me the direction HE wants me to take, and often it's not what I really want to do, which is hard. But, I can tell you like I am sitting here, the times I choose to talk with and trust God, have been life changing, to the point of OMG weird, but in a really awesome God way. Let me show you what this looks like.(I listed the "Performing for God" parts earlier), here are the Walking and Trusting God parts, at least a few.

1. I spent some time loading songs on my ipod a few weeks ago and as I was talking with God about some of the songs and he said, "Make your sister a cd." Hmmm...I was like, with what, and thought how strange. So I skimmed through songs and as I came across a title that seemed to stick out like a bird singing I added each to my playlist. After about 10, I asked if these were the right ones, and as I heard a yes, I then heard, 'rearrange' them. I thought about that, and then realized the ten songs I picked out were ones that started with lyrics about being flat on your knees in despair to the last one being about being delivered and praising God. I burned the cd, wrote a message on it, and put it aside. A few hours later my sister had to stop by, unexpectedly, and this is what she said. "I wish I had some music I could listen to in the car, just for me, the girls always get my music and I need some new stuff just for me." I almost fell out of my chair. I laughed, handed her the cd, and told her to read the wrapper, it simply said, " God has a message for you." Needless to say, the impact of that message is still working, and I am still amazed and mystified about God's timing.

2. Three weeks ago God said to me, "Time to write your testimony." I was like, again, "What?" To who, what for, what testimony? He simply said write it, so nine pages later I sent it to two people to read and asked them to give me some feed back on content, having no idea what point there was to writing it really. The following week I got an email from the leader of a woman's bible study group I attend. She wanted to know if I would give my testimony before the group that next week. Once again, almost fell out of my chair laughing. I told her about the humor in her request, and she just knew it was another God thing. She also had NO idea I had written it already before she asked. God Weird, but good!

3. This blog is an interesting part of me trusting God. If you read the posts written before Jan. of this year you notice a difference in the ones written lately. Why? Well, back in March, God said to me he would use this blog to reach people he needed to reach, and my story would be an important way to reach them. At first, I was like, "What story, you can't be serious, and what about my story would make a hill of beans difference to anyone who reads it?" God said, "Your whole story is important, but I'm asking you to trust me in writing this blog, take risks for me, and trust me." So, as you can see in March, my topics have been quite, 'different' to say the least. I have written about very personal topics, took risks to share personal, tragic events in my life, that I really DIDN'T care to share here, but trusted him regardless. What I didn't expect was the overwhelming response this blog would have on some people. (And I humbly say this, not trying to toot my horn at all) I have met people from all over the world, some atheists who don't believe in God, but choose to read my blog, and even met one person online, who I have never seen, who honestly was considering ending her life, but because of God's message that she is not alone, that there are actually people out there that understand her pain, she is actually still breathing and walking the Earth. I could go on and on about how these words impact people, but that's not the point. The words aren't mine, they are God's. If he told me to write fairy tales at this point I would, because even though I don't quite understand why he would ask me to do these things, he does, and that's the point really, Trusting God, Walking with him intimately, and living an authentic life like I never thought possible.

I wish I could say all of God's requests were easy but, honestly, sometimes, he tells me no, don't go there, and even in those times I see the impact of what the other choice would have been like, and I am grateful, regardless of the hurt I might feel, that I trusted him.

So,living in room one really isn't easy. It's actually the HARDEST way I have ever lived, because the evil powers that exist in this world are none too happy when I choose to stay in that room. It's much harder for them to get to me there. Oh, they try, they try so hard I often feel like I am being run over by a bus, and I often question when can I come up for air. But at the end of the day, when I close my eyes and talk to God about the whole deal, we laugh, he tells me how proud he is of me, how loved I am, and sometimes he simply puts his arms around me and helps hold me up. That type of trusting and following God I get, hook, line, and sinker. The other type, am I on enough committees, volunteering enough at church, keeping up with enough prayer lists, going to church enough, etc. will never be the type of life I believe God intended for me to live. (And I am in NO way dissing working at church. I am simply saying, are you 'doing' lots of things for God or asking and trusting him if you should be? He may want you writing a blog like me, rather than teaching Sunday school, my point is, ask him, that's all.) And the more I talk to him about it, the more he wants you to know the same thing, RUN TO ROOM NUMBER ONE! He has a hug and lots of love waiting for you there.

For those of you who read this blog and go, "Nobody talks to God or hears his voice, she must be nuts," let me explain. After 41 years one of my first prayers to God was that would he communicate with me in a way I would understand and would he please have a sense of humor? Ever since, we have a unique line of communication going that I can't explain, but honestly don't try to. It is what it is. I would challenge you that if you struggle with praying and feel that you never hear back from God, maybe change your prayer a bit. First ask him what I did. I can't say you will get the same result, I really have no clue, but what do you have to lose by asking?

The two books listed above are simply MUST reads for anyone wishing to walk through this life with a relationship with God and one with your true self. They are part of a bigger story of how my life has shifted, but I can't say enough about the impact they have had on me. All because those authors took risks and wrote the words God gave them. I'll be looking for you in room one, we are a humbled, messed up bunch, but filled with lots of love and acceptance.

A few AWESOME verses about the trust issue:

Psalms 51:10-13

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right [1] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Message about Rainbows (at least for me)

I have always been fascinated with rainbows. Actually, the color spectrum seen through prisms, which can also be seen in rainbows, is the attraction, at least I thought, until I really gave some deeper thought into the significance of rainbows in my life. My perspective on both is now different, and I share it here with you.

Lately I have been dealing with a spirit of condemnation about a lot things and several sources said I needed to look to the scriptures to see what God says about each 'issue' I have. The scripture to one of those came to me even before I knew I would be searching it out, and it came to me through the beauty of a rainbow. A few days ago my therapist told me that all evil spirits have a weakness, there are none that can't be defeated through God, and he asked if I knew of a Godly strength within me to help defeat it. I gave that some thought and the only thing that came to mind at the time was ever since I was alive I have always felt God's light within me, and I take that to be my faith in him, but describe it as his light. Now pure light is white, when all the colors of the visible light spectrum merge, it is white, and no one color is reflected off of our eyes. (that's a simple way to put it), but each color exists within that light, so as I see it, God is in me, his light exists in me, so all those colors exist in me as well. And, the colors of the rainbow are not simply red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Rainbows contain EVERY color that exists on this planet, our eyes are just not simply made to register each one on its own. Now, what do you know about me? This is easy for those of you who really know me but for those online, I'll fill you in.

When people describe me, my personality, my art, they always choose to use color. If any one person could ooze color, per say, it would be me, always has been, and I can't explain it, it is what it is. So, in the context of what defense I have my answer was that God's light and faith, living within me, is my greatest defense against the spirits that fight against me.

Now, let's fast forward, to this past weekend. It was the pits, for many reasons I won't list here, but just believe me when I say it ranked in the top five of all time bad ones on my list. I recall saying, and asking God repeatedly, "Why aren't you throwing me a lifeline here when you see me drowning? I just don't get it, or if it's there, would you make it more obvious, please?" Meanwhile, I lay here recovering from a really fun stomach virus that I had driving 6 hours to and 6 hours from UAB and the thought of our grass dying outside because it is being baked by this record setting heat. So, I crawled out of bed, went outside and grabbed the hose to start watering the grass, feeling like weak puppy water, as my best friend says. What do you think I saw while I did this? Yep, a RAINBOW across my field of vision as I held the sprayer. It took a minute or two to let this sink in, and then I began to laugh, out loud, because I got it, my lifeline that I had not been seeing. Not only did he show it to me, he even showed me a double one, a double rainbow, which if you know anything about rainbows, you know how rare they are. I stood there amazed and mystified about seeing two gorgeous rainbows in front of me. I started playing with the water to figure out why I could see them in some spots but not the others, and then it occurred to me, the sunlight had to be behind me, and the raindrops in front of me. I wish I could have cried out and let the emotion I felt about this exist outwardly, but I didn't. I just knew this was no coincidence, this was God sending me a message. So, usually when I know that, I stop what I'm doing and pay close attention so I don't miss it.

I walked into my house, wet and all, and Googled double rainbows. I began to see gorgeous pics of them, but more importantly I wanted to know how they were created, what was their purpose. As I read, I began to understand the significance of the sun being behind you and the rain in front, both having to exist at a set specific point in time for the rainbow to be created. And as I read, I closed my eyes and asked God what this mean, and here is what he said to me, " Ardith, you have always carried my true light within you, and you reflect it through your many different colors you choose to paint life with. All of those experiences you have lived and suffered through are important, they are the tears required to have my light reflect through you in the way it was meant to, as a rainbow. I have your back through each one, but it took teardrops, sometimes lots of them, to be able to reflect my love through you, and by your own colors, others see me in you. That power within you is more powerful than any evil spirit that is within or around you, and it is meant to be shared. But more importantly, you must first trust me in this and believe me completely, this promise I give to you, that through any pain you walk through, I, your father will not bring any harm to you.

Whew, that was a lot, a big " I wouldn't want to miss it message" and then I stumbled onto a blog about rainbows where someone had commented this message about them:

God made a covenant with his people, a promise, that he would never harm the Earth by flooding it like that again, and God never lies. Don't ever believe there is only scientific phenomenon behind rainbows, it is God's promise to us.
I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between me and the Earth. Never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. Genesis 9:13, 15 (Anonymous)

And then I knew it, the point of the entire message, which led me back to my list of condemnations I feel and me having to look up scriptures about each one. Here is the one this answers, the first of many I feel I will share with you:I feel condemned to never know how to fully trust God.
There, I said it, but what do we know about this verse in the bible and why God said it? He made a covenant to his people that the Earth would NEVER be flooded again to end all of human life, and to my knowledge, that has never happened, which means when God makes a promise he keeps it, HE CAN BE TRUSTED! Now I know this trust thing is a daily walk, but for me in this day, this was a much appreciated message I needed, a lifeline I had been missing. And, as I walked to the car to get my laptop so I could come and write this, I opened the car door, and hanging from my rear view mirror is a large, crystal shaped teardrop I like to call my disco ball, and inside my car there where hundreds of tiny rainbows dancing all over my car. God's light, shining through my teardrop, showing me rainbows. Ahhh, what a moment that was. And this last part is the kicker, to the significance of it all, do you know what the letters of the rainbow stand for? (At least in my opinion)

May God send you a rainbow so you may know and believe that his love and trust for you are real with every breath you take. That is my prayer for each of you today.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Ten Year Perspective

I've been in therapy for a while. Shocking! Me, in therapy? LOL, I can't imagine life right now without a little help from the big guy upstairs and those he anoints down here, so for now, I am GRATEFUL for the opportunity to talk out my issues so they don't control me, oppress me, keep me from joy and it isn't always easy. Honestly there are days that I want to put on my happy face and run for the hills, there are days that I just hang my head and wish I was on any other planet but this one, and then there are days that I hear a familiar voice saying, " I know how you feel" or "I'm going through the same thing" and then I know I am right where I am supposed to be for now. There are even days I drop my crackberry, no, submerge it in a full glass of tea, kill it, and stop and lay hands on it and pray because I am willing to be "silly for God" as a friend said. (That phone was healed too, can't explain, but worked like a charm.) I won't spend this post bragging about my therapist, although he is the best I have ever seen, because it is God through him that helps him be so effective, so to God I say thank you, deeply. This post will be two poems, one from 1999 and one from now, to show myself how my perspective has changed, and honestly the second one isn't written yet, so its content is a mystery. I start here, 7-22-99

Hourglass of my Soul
Eyes closing, gentle
Images of my childhood
flash like billboards.
Each vision separate, yet distinct,
a world unto itself
united in the universe called "me."

Spliced fragments of my humanness
forming the essence of who I am today.
Echoing the passions of a misspent youth.
Incessant reruns of mistakes,
a young girl merely learning how to embrace life.

Triumphs and tragedies
frame each scene
leaving me to question
my choices and their
inevitable course on the
roadmap of my life.

I know where I've come from
I know where I'm going.
Save time and the hourglasses last grain
I may once again bask in the light of a new day
rejoicing in the gift of humanity.

Tears fell and will fall
reminding me of what once was
and will be.
Drawing from the wellspring of my spirit
to pen words to page
recording the fundamental truth
of what it means to be alive,
a soul within and without.

And here 10 years later, almost scared to write this one, but never call me a chicken!

Your Name

Days go by where strength is hard to come by
and I look upward to you, for the lifeline to hold on to
with frail hands, broken hearted pieces, and quietly
as if drifting on a moonflake, I hear it,
your name.

Your name fills my soul, and heals its brokenness.
Your name finds the darkest places in my heart
and with grace, gently forms bonds once broken
by choices and pain from external to inward wounds.

Curve after curve of difficult mountains to climb
seemed insurmountable, and days I knew my last
breath was near you sent your voice, once again,
floating softly in the wind, through the trees, your name
Your name, saying, "It is well, It is well with my soul"

Countless moments of doubt, of confusion blanket me
like a skin that won't scrub off and is part of me.
But for now, I no longer fight the parts of me that feel foreign
they are of me, part of me, and beautifully made.
And in them, in the likeness of my creator, I hear your name
I hear your name calling out to me, picking my face up
off the floor, and saying my child, every part of you,
is wonderfully made because I made you in my image.

Your brokenness I know,
for my son was broken and is now whole.
Your loss, I know,
for I lost my son, and then he was found.
Your pain I understand,
for in losing my son, my pain was heartbreaking.
Your sadness I know,
because in your free will choices are made.
In your confusion, I bring clarity,
because I know the spirit who confuses you.
I know your innermost thoughts, your desires, your hopes, your pain,
I know you, because You are of me.

And my eyes close, the tears flow,
and with my lips I say your name,
and know you are here, with me in all things, beside me,
carrying me, and in nothing will I be afraid.
And I close my eyes and say your name,
and I close my eyes, lift my head, and hear it,
the angels in heaven singing your name,
to my heart,
to my spirit,
to my strength
so that on this day, and all days forward,
I will know it like I am breathing, your name,
Jehovah, Abba, Father, Daddy!

And with that, I believe a lot has changed in ten years. I'll have to ponder this one a bit, but my first instinct is to say "Hallelujah!" If you physically can't paint, write, then paint with words, often your masterpieces come as a wordsmith, not as a painter.

1 Unto thee lift I up mine eyes,

O thou that dwellest in the heavens.
2 Behold, as the eyes of servants look
unto the
hand of their masters,

and as the eyes of a maiden unto the
hand of her mistress;
so our eyes wait upon the LORD
our God,
until that he have mercy upon us.

PSALMS 123:1-2

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What makes you laugh?

These are pics of the VBS at Christ Anglican Church in Mobile.

Well, after my last post I was blown away by the number of replies I got, because I also posted it on my Facebook page. What occurred to me, after reading them all, was that depression appears to be an epidemic in our life, for many different reasons, and the fight for our laughter, our joy, is of utmost importance. So, I began thinking about what makes me laugh, when were the times in my life that I was rolling on the floor laughing with pure joy, or when was I just chuckling to myself at my own clumsiness, fruticakeness, or accidental mess I walked into. As I thought about these an underlying theme began to surface, a lot of those moments had something to do with children.

My true calling from God was to be a teacher. For ten years I taught elementary school, and the laughter and joy I found in the faces of those kids was addicting. There was one little second grade girl, she had tiny freckles across her nose and the most gorgeous red hair. She walked up to me with almost a rage talking 90 to nothing. I got her to calm down and asked what was wrong, and she went into this litany of how Michael had called her the "E" word. I was perplexed, I had no idea what the E word was, but didn't want my lack of understanding to invalidate her feelings. So, I asked, what is the E word. Without hesitation she said, "Ediot!" I lost it, I just couldn't help it, she was so upset, and had no clue why I would laugh, so I quietly explained the spelling error, and she said to me, "I guess that makes me one too doesn't it?" She then turned around and hugged Michael. Now I have no clue how a 2nd grader could have comprehended the meaning so well, but she did, and the laughter made it bearable for all involved, and everyone ended up cracking up in that moment. Kids are instinctively joyful, full of laughter aren't they?

I have been talking to God a lot lately about my desire to be surrounded by kids, because they are close to my heart. A few weeks ago he placed the VBS at Christ Anglican Church in my mind and said he would give me the physical ability to help if I was willing. So, I volunteered and said simply how can I help? They were in need of someone to help with their decorations and set designs, so I knew that was right up my ally.
As we worked with ideas, drew crazy fish and horses, and termite mounds our days were filled with laughter, and I felt God's presence in every moment I spent working towards that goal. I realized that even though, for now, it wouldn't be safe for me to actively work and play around the kids because of my spine issues, the effort I could put into making their world magical would bring smiles on their faces and create memories in their lives, which to me, brings a smile on my face like no other. So for the past two weeks, and on some days thought the pain would really be too much to get through, God provided me with the ability to make it through, with joy.

I do have to share one oh so hilarious day because it simply puts into perspective the laughter part of this adventure.
We had been working and drawing and painting and I had been wearing a pair of hospital scrubs, because well, I kinda have a few if you know me. When I got out of the car in my driveway I bent over to grab my purse and realized my pants had been split in a way too obvious place. Horror filled my eyes because I had no idea how many people I had mooned all morning bending over. I started laughing, and laughing, and though my back was killing me, I just couldn't help realizing it was one of those crazy, Ardithian moments that just happen in my life. Later that day, after posting it on Facebook my friends promised they didn't notice so at some point between church and home I ripped my pants. So, for the poor folks at the gas station and Walmart that I may or may not have mooned I am so sorry, but I bet my life a few of them were cracking up, and in that, I brought a smile to their faces, and my rip was well worth it.

In our darkest hours I have found many, many of you tell me that what brings them out of it is to surround yourself with what brings you joy. For me, it's children, my husband and son, my friends and family, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, (the original one). I prayed for God to have a sense of humor, and he so has, he has also told me that as my emotional and mental spirit heal, I will find the key to a lifelong understanding of pure joy, and then be able to share it with others. I look forward to that journey. Though it may be difficult at first to muddle through, the goal is so worth the effort, and the opportunity to share it with you, is what motivates me to dive right in!
"The One whose throne is in heaven sits laughing. . . ." (Psalms 2:4)

(A compilation of actual Church Bulletin and Service bloopers)

* Our next song is "Angels We Have Heard Get High."

* Don't let worry kill you--let the church help.

* Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.

* For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

* Weight Watchers will meet a 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

* Jean will be leading a weight-management series Wednesday nights. She's use the program herself and has been growing like crazy!

* The rosebud on the altar this morning is to announce the birth of David Alan Belzer, the sin of Rev. and Mrs. Julius Belzer.

* This afternoon there will be a meeting in the South and North ends of the church. Children will be baptized at both ends.

* Tuesday at 4:00 P.M. there will be an ice cream social. All ladies giving milk will please come early.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Depression is a Weird Animal

As I write this the feeling of empty numbness lays heavy on my heart and I can't really say why. Depression is a weird animal. For some it comes in waves, knocking them down to where they sleep for days, or cry for hours and hours over nothing in particular. For others it comes after some type of trauma, and takes them by surprise, almost like a thief in the night coming to steal their joy. But for me, it sticks to me like white on rice, quite subtley, for as long as I remember, and has no beginning and no end. A doctor once told me I have 'dysthymia', which is a low grade depression over time, and then I understood a bit about myself, and hated it all at the same time.

Now for those of you who know me, this might come as a surprise, or it might not. When I meet most people they tend to always tell me how joyful and happy I seem. I'm not surprised by it, because I know God gave me a gift of optimism, but there are times that I feel like screaming out, "Do you not have any idea how miserable I feel, do you not see it?" But I know they don't, and I am grateful that the spirit they see in me is not one of the enemy, but one of God. And I wish that were enough, to know that God's spirit is in me, beaming forth with positive light, but for me it just isn't, and I carry a great deal of guilt around because of it. The thought of 'snap out of it', or 'get off your pity pot and flush' comes dancing through my head, taunting me, and I honestly feel helpless to fight against that. There are times I talk to God about it, and experience real joy, and then very quietly it comes creeping back in, like a wet blanket of dew covering each morning. What I would give to find the solution to once and for all be rid of this quiet sadness in my heart.

I have spent a lifetime of dealing with it, this depression, and there have been times it was worse than it is now, but there has not been a time that I can remember that it hasn't in some way been with me. So I started thinking about ways depression is dealt with, to try and get some sense of where I was going wrong. I know the danger and damage that substance abuse brings, the false sense of security it gives you each time you give in and try to quiet the voices in your head. I know the cruel harm it brings when you try desperately to stuff the wounds and hurt that your heart feels only to have it fester and rare its ugly head later down the road. And, I know the fear and trepidation it brings when sitting in a therapist's office and it makes you feel like crawling in your own skin because of the raw emotion it brings up that you have tried to deny your entire life. At best it's exhausting. At worse it takes your life.

In more ways than one it takes your life. It actually can bring you on your knees to the point where you are so blind to hope that you finally cave and end your life. I have experienced this with friends, and the loss never heals. What I also find horrific is that due to my own chronic pain issues, the meds I take are like depression fairy dust, their side effects act as novocain for the heart, where you feel nothing, see nothing, experience nothing, just go through the motions. Life is taken away by that, and then the reality of the benefit of the medicine to treat the pain must be weighed against the toll it takes on the loss of your spirit. One might as well throw craps to see which option is better.

I wish I had some magical answer here, like I found the cure so I could share it with everyone and help some of you with your own pain, but for today I have no answers. For today, I am merely sharing this struggle with you so some of you don't feel alone in this walk, or embarrassed, or hate yourself for living a beautiful life but not being able to embrace its beauty. If I had a wish I would so wish for everyone to be given the keys to unlocking the true joy they are meant to experience as they walk this Earth, it would save families, stop wars, make pain bearable, and mostly bring us closer to God. And what I know, at least for me, is that God must be the key here. The times in my life that I have felt the lowest, he has always found some way to gently reach out, pick my face up, and show me that he loves me. Ahhhh, just the thought brings me some peace, and then, like a brilliant idea that flashes quickly in the mind, I see it, HOPE. For without it, there would be no reason to press on, no reason to love, or laugh, or live really. And in the brief instant that I could wrap my fingers around it God says to me, stay in the moment, talk with him, walk with him, share this pain with him, for he understands it all too well. And I remember the song that was playing as I pulled in the driveway today, "Always", here is the most beautiful lyric I could leave you with:

I believe always, always
our savior never fails.
Even when all hope is gone
God knows our pain
and his promise remains,
He will be with you always
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10
The drawing above was one I did the year I went on disability. It's not one of my favorites, but it is one that shows my brutally honest mood at the time, how fitting.
If you deal with the same issues I would love to know I am not alone in this. Drop me a line so we can pull each other up by the bootstraps, (as most people say in 12 step programs). Love you peeps, with God's love wrapped all between us.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where did our childhood go?

Exactly one day and seven hours ago my son James was walking across the stage receiving his diploma from high school. It was a bittersweet moment for me, because on one hand I am so proud of him, but on the other hand it is a red letter day marking the end of his childhood which makes me really sad. I don't have anymore little ones following behind him, he is my one and only, besides my six wonderful step children who all went before him. So, in this moment, I am taking some time to reflect on just what it means to lose our childhood.

I remember it like it was yesterday growing up in Puerto Rico on a military base where my father was stationed. It was one of those places that seemed magical to a child, filled with whimsical playgrounds, matinee movies, and with every holiday a reason to have a parade. I remember vividly the mango trees that lined the sidewalks and as we played and loss track of time, our hunger would be satiated simply by grabbing a big one of the tree and pigging out. I can't imagine any better place to grow up, except for the 42 acres around my grandparents house where I did most of my growing.

I often daydreamed a lot when I was a kid and actually had a teacher write on one of my report cards, 'daydreams a lot'. Isn't that what being a child is all about? Gazing off into our imaginations, the ones God created, and soaring into another world of beautiful watercolor ponies or rainbow colored trees dripping with sugared tulips you could eat? Oh, how I miss those moments when being a child was our only concern, our 'work' per say, where we were free to simply be and play, create and build, dream and wonder about the world we live in and the worlds we wished we did.
I'm not sure why God created us to realize the beauty of childhood only when it has slipped through our fingers, it is a conversation I hope to have with him. Quite possibly he knew that if we understood just how precious childhood is, we may never have been willing to grow up, into adulthood, and honestly many of us haven't, for the most part. (At least I hope I haven't.)

Part of getting ready for James's big day was creating a DVD slideshow of his journey to graduation. I pulled the bags of pictures I had sorted and labeled last summer and painstakingly began pulling out the pics I thought would fit him best. It was a beautiful reminder of how precious his life has been to me, and how precious he is as my son. From the moment he came into this world we took pictures. Gazing into his beautiful face we saw how much potential he had and began praying that his life would be blessed. Throughout his early years there were those pictures of him with wild hair, messy faces, chubby cheeks, and those oh so candid shots of his wild spirit refusing to mold to the status quo. It is those pictures I love the most, the ones that captured his true self through the lens. These pictures took me back to moments I had long forgotten. Ones that were truly what life was meant to be like, surrounded by family and friends, but most of all love.

And in that I realize just what childhood was supposed to be to all of us, a time for unconditional love. God places children in our lives to be treasured, to be enjoyed, and most of all to be loved. I fear that so many of us hurry through the pace of our lives with so much stress that we miss the very moments God places in our paths to be enjoyed. I can't tell you what I would give to turn back the clock and be able to hold my son in my lap and read him another bed time story of Curious George, or let him take his shoes off and play in the mud despite being in clothes that would stain. Those moments for me are gone, like chasing the coattails of priceless memories, but never really catching up to them. And although I keep a childlike spirit within me, as does James, I can never get those precious moments back can I? So what to do with this realization? Tell those of you who still have children in your lives to stop what you are doing, pick your child up and find some reason to laugh with them, play with them, get the play-doh out or by all means, PAINT with them or turn Facebook off and go blow bubbles with them. Actively LOVE them so they will never spend a moment doubting if they were loved or not. But most of all, hug them and tell them how much you love them. Never underestimate the power of a hug and the words "I Love You" in your child's life. You simply will never get those moments back and the more of them you can build with your children, the more of them you will have to look back on and know they were loved, that you did your job well with them.

I believe God has a special place in his heart for children. Those times I feel closest to him I picture myself as a child in his lap, not as an adult, and there is great comfort in that. James is now on his way into adulthood and I am proud of the young man he has become. He will always be my squirt, my sweet little fellow who loved to pinch my cheeks and make the Chubbis laugh and I will always see him as that. But as he grows into adulthood I pray he takes with him the wonder and imagination he had as a child, the one God created in him, because it is in that, that makes our adult lives worth living, and allows us to once again, find our childhood. And in finding our childhood, it just might help some of us find a pathway to be closer to God.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wrestling with our Insignificance

I've been feeling insignificant lately. When I say that to people they looked kind of stunned, like I've lost my mind, but honestly that's exactly how I feel at times. See, for me, I completely get that God is significant, but wrapping my little fingers around the thought that I am is a whole other ball of wax. So, today, after therapy, (yes I go to therapy and highly suggest you consider it) I realized I had to deal with this issue, because it's been like a monkey on my back that drives me to distraction.

My life has not been dull, if anything that is an understatement. I have had my share of horrific life experiences, physical issues have been unrelenting, and the emotional skeletons in my closet have had a hay day anytime I open the door. Despite all of that I have somehow managed to live a pretty decent life and have been thankful for all that God has blessed me with. So why the issue of insignificance here? For starters, I keep saying to myself, "Why would anyone care what thoughts or words I have, and why would they matter?" and then I would follow with " I must have lost my mind to think anything I have lived through would mean a hill of beans to anyone else" ( see the pattern here?) Oh, the self-doubt and talk are quiet telling. What's even more telling is that my conversations with God have been like, "Ardith, you are too hard on yourself, I love you, come get a hug, I created you unique like no other, hello, you do matter." Yet, for all of what I hear him say I still at times give into the notion that I am totally insignificant. Hmph! What gives?
So, I gave this more thought and asked God to show me what I need to get here and this is what he said. "It's time to read the book of Job, Ardith." Eeeeekkk! I have avoided that book like the plague. I read it a long time ago, and know all about his story, but it wasn't one I wanted to dive in to because I was hoping and praying God wasn't saying to me that I had to walk down Job's path to get his point across. I'm standing here going "Hello, OK, I get this, can we call a truce, I give it all to you and I go on to live a happy life?" Oh if it were that easy.
As I began to read I quickly realized that there was more to this than Job just losing everything, putting total faith in God, and then getting it all back. Job had to understand that he actually was "insignificant" in relation to God's significance.

Job 40:4 (Job says) "Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to thee? I lay my hand on my mouth, Once I have spoken, and I will not answer, Even twice and I will add no more.

Job wasn't saying here, Oh God, I'm a mess, even though I have lived a good life, I really don't matter much do I?" What he is saying here is that you, the almighty God are the significant one and in you I am significant as well. Do you think he thought for a minute, while he was walking through pure hell, that his story would be important and God would use it for his glory? I doubt that. I have a feeling Job was stunned, not quite understanding why he was being afflicted and made to suffer, and trying his best to make some sense of it. In the end, what he did was remarkable. He truly placed his total faith in God and gave him the glory. Look at what his story has done thousands of years later. Look at how God made the story of Job SO significant!

This was quite a revelation for me. I had been feeling insignificant, which in reality I alone am, but in the eyes of God, I am just as important as my neighbor to him and my story, like yours, is significant as well. And how can I apply this to my five minute walk in this world? It gets interesting here. With every breathe I take, despite my mood, my feelings, my circumstances, if I honestly walk with God in those minutes, he will use them for a significant purpose. His significance makes me significant. How about that! And then I look back at Job and realize what he lost, what he lived through, and what he learned. He lost his family, his wealth, his health, and on and on. Looking back at my life, and I am in no way saying I have suffered like Job, I have dealt with being a crime victim, a victim of sexual assault, a victim of auto mobile accidents, a victim of poor health, a victim of substance abuse,a victim of divorce, a victim of depression, a victim, victim, victim. I have lost a lot, but it all doesn't matter if I am not willing to say that despite it all my faith is in God and he alone is worthy of my praise. It also won't help me one bit if I get on my pitty pot about being a victim and pitch a royal fit. Will it change one thing? Not... so then I begin seeing the lesson God wants me to learn in this, that in him I am significant. He wants me to see that my circle of influence goes way past what I actually see and comprehend, so being willing to first understand that and second trust that he knows way more than me is why putting total faith in him is vital.
I wish I could say that this ends the lesson but it doesn't. As I drove home today I realized how far back the insignificant feelings go for me, all the way back to age five, and I realize there will be work to do on this subject. What I at least know for today is that the gifts God has given me are all significant in him, he will use them if I choose to give them to him, and he will move mountains if I am willing to simply kick the first rock down the hill. We all have our gifts don't we? We all are really good at some things. So my question to you is this? Are you willing to cave into the idea that you are insignificant and don't matter, or are you willing to consider that in God, your gifts, or acts, or kind words, may be the very ones that could totally change the life of another person, and bring them closer to God? Something to think about isn't it?