Thursday, June 25, 2015

From the 2011 Archives {...for "Throw Back Thursday" - a post entitled "You Won't Find Perfection Here"...}


In honor of "Throw Back Thursday" { #TBT } I dusted off this gem
from the archives.  As much joy as I experienced then, in 2011, and in spite
of all the imperfection...little did I know that things were 
about to get even harder.
CRAZY-harder.
And things were also about to get even better.
CRAZY-better.
 I hope you enjoy...

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~



You won't find perfection here...

...because, to begin with, I have been fighting a stomach bug for two days. So I am in no mood to ply you with perfectly staged pictures of my sweet little life.


And I've just about had enough of some of the "Fundamentalista-blogs" out there, portraying life as though it were one big bubble blowing "we love Jesus, that's why everything's perfect" party. I've read through a couple tonight, and off the cuff...well, they are beginning to irk me. If I ever retract that statement, I shall blame my current state of nausea. I won't name names, though I could. I am half sorry I've recommended a couple of them in years past. I wasn't "onto" their game, then.


All those homemade dresses. And cooking. And knitting. And perfect children, both grown and not quite grown. And (here is the shame): no mention of even one struggle...I'm serious. Now that I have the luxury of looking over the body of work on these couple of blogs - I lie not - not a single struggle is mentioned beyond the death of loved ones.


Meanwhile, here at The Cottage, you've heard me talk about how Waltonesque we are here - with three generations under one (small, middle income, not-hip-or-architecturally-interesting) roof. But how did I put it?

"We are so Waltonesque....only Mama takes her half-an-Ambien at bedtime, and John Boy chews tobacco and can be mean sometimes."


We are trophies of grace - not a trophy family. And I am so daggum okay with that. Yes. I said daggum. Yes, I take a half an Ambien to get to sleep. If you had a crying grand baby in your house, if you had a less than perfect, sometimes noisy teenage son, and a husband who snored like a bulldog with a sinus issue, with no extra bedrooms to spare in your ordinary 60's tract home, you'd need a half an Ambien too. Deal with it.


We are in full time ministry. We home schooled each and every child from birth through high school graduation. (The youngest graduates this spring.) We never sewed our own dresses, we wore jeans. We did and we do bake bread, but only because we enjoy it. I knit because it keeps me sane.


We read CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples, the Iliad and the Odyssey, and Semus Heaney's translation of Beowulf. We listen to classical music, worship music, and a bit of Eric Clapton. Everyone (but me) sings and plays a musical instrument, and plays it skillfully. What is my point?  My point is this:

I have enough material to pretend with.

I have enough good going on, I could only tell you the good parts, and conveniently leave out the struggle.


I could. But why would I?


Both daughters married well, saved themselves for marriage, and married strong Christian men. One of my daughters gave us our first grandson in December of last year. She and her husband and our grandson live with us, because my daughter's husband was in graduate school getting his Master's, interning at a local high school for free, and working part time when they found out she was pregnant.


To take a small bit of the pressure off of them, they chose to move in with us for a season. They are now at the point at which they are scouring the papers, looking for the perfect house on a teacher's meager salary. They'll move back out next year.


Our other daughter married an artist, and they spend all their time developing his art business, and helping out with various ministries in our church.


And our oldest son is no longer in the Marines. He is the tobacco chewer - a habit the whole family fervently prays he soon outgrows. And he will. I don't doubt that. He is back in town, attempting to get a fresh start. As a family, we are trying to help him do that...help him just enough, but not too much.


Our youngest son is also a work-in-progress. He left home last year, and after a great deal of heartbreak and prayer, willingly came back home. He repented and asked for a fresh start, and we gave that to him. Do we know how it will all turn out? Not really.


All I know is that grace will accomplish what the law could never do. The law can't make anything righteous, but the bringing of a better hope most certainly HAS and most certainly WILL.


Does that all seem so...so...so blue collar? So not-fundamentalist-homeschooler? So much less than perfect?


Thank you. Thank you, thank you for saying so. Somebody has to live this life honestly, and embrace it with true joy. Because the last thing I want you to find, when you visit me here, is the same old bubble blowing perfectly-faked-life crap.


Here's the point: I'm okay! I lived through the turmoil! I survived finding out that my family is less than perfect. Yet. Yet, there is so much beauty in my life these days, it often overwhelms me.


I am overflowing with joy. After wrestling through law and gospel issues, and actually applying the gospel to my private world (THUS "ordering it") I discovered that the good news is actually good news. And it brings health and beauty into lives. It mends people and hearts and relationships. I'm living proof.


Note: "beauty" and "perfection" have never been synonymous.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Kimono: Wear Your Praise Wednesday {...instead of "Fashion Friday"...}



Many, many bloggers are doing the "fashion Friday" thing.  And I love the ones that do.  In fact, there are a couple of bloggers I follow simply because their fashion Friday posts are so much fun.  I thought I'd try my own twist...

..."To grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion—to give them an ornament (a crown) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit..."  Isaiah 61:3

So, this is way outside my comfort zone.



Can't you just tell?  (I look so excited about this post, in that shot above...but stay with me.  I try harder to be happy, here in a minute...)

Even though I'm asked all the time to share my quasi-secrets about fashion, even though I get the occasional compliment for looking "so good" "for my age"...even though some people think I have become pretty good at dressing for my age and my body type, even though my husband looks my way often, and passionately declares, "My grandma never looked like that."

Never (nevah-evah) have I posted "fashion" pictures of myself.  Selfies on Instagram are one thing...full blown fashion posts on my blog are another.  I have shared Pinterest pictures here on my blog, many times, featuring outfits I adored and fashion trends I was interested in.

But something kept nagging at me, and it was this:  I love pretty clothes.  I love seeing a woman who is well put together.  And "wearing my praise" actually played a large part in my process of healing from clinical depression, which you can read more about that struggle here and here.

That "heavy, burdened and failing spirit" spoken of in Isaiah 61?  I know how it feels.  And I know you have to fight that thing every which way but loose.  Getting dressed in something expressive of praise was just one weapon in my arsenal - but every weapon counts when your life is on the line.

Somehow, back then, getting up every morning and choosing (emphasis on the choice) something cute to wear - something other than baggy sweats - became a means of self-care.  And self-care was severely lacking in my life, in that season.  Self-care still isn't my super power, but an awareness of my weaknesses is half the victory over them.

I by far don't have the perfect figure.  I by far do not consider myself photogenic or model material.  That is exactly, precisely why I have decided to be brave.  Several years back, I learned that I have to be brave, and be brave publicly as well as privately, so that perhaps others can find courage and permission to be the same.   So I even shot myself sleeveless.  

In years past, I would have wanted to just shoot myself, sleeveless.  Like, the bad kind of "shoot myself".  Today, here is what I really know:  women who practice self-compassion really are the best at having real compassion for others.  

When I see a woman who is hard on herself, I am actually a little afraid of her.  Because I know she would eventually turn some of that onto me.  I am not fooled by judgement, masquerading as self deprecation.  If she isn't happy with who she is, if she isn't using her very own unique gifts to be a blessing...she will at some point begrudge me for being happy with myself, and she will be jealous of me for using my gifts.  That's the  nature of unhappiness.

If she judges herself harshly, for how she talks or how she looks in a pair of shorts or a sleeveless top...she will judge me, too, eventually. 

You think about that.  

Women are the hardest on other women.  And why?  Because we are so dang hard on ourselves.

I'm breaking out.  I'm breaking free of all of it.  While you will never find me posting truly awful pictures of myself (well....actually, I sometimes do - because I find some of them hilarious) you also will hopefully never find me hating on myself.  I have made a covenant with my eyes, to look upon myself with a little bit of the same compassion and love I feel for those pictures of my granddaughters.

Who ever looked at a picture of their little girl, or their little grand-girl, and hated on it, or thought, "That's a terrible angle.  Look at that hair.  What an awful outfit."

Nobody in the whole history of ever, I hope.

I realize some of this flies in the face of religion.  While it is so very true that "humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself, less" - I also believe true humility is impossible without a firm understanding of the covenant love of God.  When you practice true self-compassion (seeing yourself through the eyes of grace) it becomes easy to think of yourself less and less.  Met needs don't strive for attention.

So let's talk about the kimono.

Did you know you can wear it with just about anything?  You can wear it with shorts like artist Alisa Burke did here.


My favorite is to wear the kimono jacket with boyfriend jeans and a long, layered tank, with a long, lean necklace.  (See my necklace designs here)

Some of this goes against some of the prevailing "age appropriate dress" wisdom.  I have mixed feelings about those rules.  Some of them apply, some of them don't.  I am not one to wear purple nail polish or have little pictures painted on my nails or to wear patterned pants.  But I also wear with impunity some things that maybe the fashion Powers That Be might say an almost-50-year-old woman should not wear.

I'm good with that.  I think I have learned to split the difference in a way that works for me.






...the foundation of The Kimono Look.  Every kimono is worn over something, right? (Please tell me you wear yours over something...) But it has to be the right something.  In my opinion, a kimono over a short, casual dress works, but a kimono over a long dress or skirt doesn't.  The best thing to layer underneath, I think, are denim shorts and a T-shirt, or slouchy "boyfriend" jeans and a tank or T.  Caveat:  really, really ripped "boyfriend" jeans belong on no body but a 19 year old body, kapeesh?

So start with an outfit with "good bones" - your jeans or shorts, plus tank or T....




...then, just toss that kimono on!  Layers are our friends.



So, here is another kimono jacket, and another look:



To be quite honest, I didn't like the kimono I was wearing with the shorts...but it was the only one I had!  I took these shots earlier yesterday - and then today, after having a totally fun, absolutely delightful lunch with my sister (I digress...) I popped into Marshall's and found this little number - in 20 minutes flat -  on clearance for $11!

So when I got home, I tossed it on over the tank and boyfriend jeans I was already wearing, and broke out the remote shutter clicker thingy.

The things I do for you.



Made of a sheer polyester chiffon, this piece is actually sturdy, even though it is whispy and light.  I would think nothing of tossing it in the washing machine, hanging it to dry, and tossing it right back on my body.  Every. single. day.

I love it that much.

That's really it!  The kimono is the perfect, light, breezy, weightless layer to wear all summer long, especially if you are the kind who isn't happy with the way your arms look.

And if you are that kind, please don't say so around me...I'll get scared of you.


Friday, June 19, 2015

On the Easel Today {...works in progress...}


This is a 12"x12" mixed media original entitled "She Knew {...Quiet Confidence...}"

Rendered in acrylic, charcoal, graphite, willow stick, oil pastel, as well as vintage papers, and art papers, she began life like this:


...and about half way through, she had become this:



She is SOLD.  She literally sold before her finish coat of Dorland's wax was dry.

So today, I began work on this piece {she is almost finished...}



She began her life like this:


...with pitiful little wings.

But I took the gesso to that dinky wing, and now girlfriend has a majestic wingspan...one that goes right off the canvas.

Her mid-point looked like this:




And now {once again} here is the almost-finished-result:


She is a 12"x12" mixed media original, entitled "Time to Fly".  She was rendered on canvas board, in acrylics, charcoal, acrylic gesso, oil pastel, Pan pastel, willow stick, and bamboo pen dipped in India ink.  She has an iridescent quality because of the color palette I went with...so much texture and detail, no photograph can do her justice.

She will be beautifully framed, and available for purchase for $275.  Feel free to contact me directly if you are interested in giving her a good home.

My policy is to offer free shipping...UNTIL each painting is properly shot for prints, scanned, and posted up in my shop.  Once a painting goes up and is available in my online shop - well, all that extra work justifies shipping charges.  So if you want "Time to Fly", you may want to email me within the next few days.

I enjoy sharing my process with others - and I truly enjoy hearing about other artists and their particular process they utilize when they work.

Did you know that it is your time to fly?  If not you...who?  If not now...when?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Do You Celebrate Your "Firsts" {...a few fun thoughts on Biblical "first fruits"...}


I tossed on one of my new $3 infinity scarves to harvest from my garden this morning.  It was perfect - just enough to hold the cilantro flowers, basil clippings, a few pickling cucumbers, and some banana peppers.

In just a few weeks, that scarf will not cut it.  I will need my giant jute tote with the leather handles.

But this is a season of "first fruits" in my life...those first, tiny, tip-of-the-iceberg pickings and clippings of a mighty blessed harvest yet to come.  So many sweet firsts...and the Lord has had plenty to say to me about them.

I picked the first (and only) ripe blueberry from our garden a few days ago.  Sweetly, that's when He began to speak to me about how the first fruits of anything are always a prelude to what is to come.  He asked me if that berry I just so ceremoniously popped into my mouth was at all bitter.  No.  It was completely sweet.

He said, "If the first fruits are sweet, the crop will be sweeter.  It's time, now, to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I really am calling you all the way out of your time of mourning...

(and it was an important, designated time - I needed you to fill up several of my bottles as stored-up intercession against the season of "outpouring"...when I open those bottles and pour out the blessing on your prodigals)

...it is time to come all the way into a season of sweetness, with no bitter in it."

My daughter, her husband and their baby girls are getting settled in across the street.  This morning was a "sweet first", as The Preacher and I leisurely walked across the cul-de-sac to say good morning...and it was the first time in almost a week where he didn't stay to work his backside off.  It was the first morning I have felt human, after a several-days-long bout with menopausal hot flashes.

(Just keeping it real, homies...)

We snuggled babies, and chatted rugs and floors and happy plans, and after about ten minutes we walked home - he to make some important calls and do some Bible study, me to work in the garden.

More first fruits of what is in store.

In the original Hebrew, the words "first fruits" is bikkurim - literally meaning "Promise to Come".

Many preachers will try to use the concept of "first fruits" as a way to get you to tithe or to give.  As someone who has loved and served the church most all my life, you almost cannot overstate the importance and privilege and responsibility every single saint has to be giving regularly into his or her "storehouse - also known as their local church.

But nowhere in the New Covenant do we find those words "first fruits" having anything to do with tithes or offerings.  In the New Testament, first fruits always act as a metaphor to illustrate those who experience God's favor through "first things".

Try not to miss the blessing of "first fruits".  They are sprinkled throughout our days.

That first kiss.  (Oh, that first kiss...)
That first blueberry.
That first rain, after a prolonged season of drought.
That first sunny day, after a prolonged season of rain.
That first child getting their first driver's license.
That first cucumber.
That first tomato of the year.

That first phone call, after days or weeks (or years) of strained silence.

That first painting you sold, for $20
The first full night of sleep, after months of round-the-clock nursing or bottle feeding

Almost every day has, tucked within it, the first fruits of more precious promises yet to come.  If your heart's eyes have been half-closed, how much you miss!

First fruits are sweet.

First fruits are special.  They are kind of holy.

And here's the thing:  They don't have to be "sown" or "sacrificed" in order to get more.

I mean, feel free to share the joy...but let that be the real reason you share.  Because sharing is so dang fun.

Because first things are not for sowing or sacrificing...they are for savoring and celebrating.

Here is how I savored my first fruits today:


($3 infinity scarf from Target - no link available, you just have to check the "dollar bins" at the front of your local store..."Mimi's Nest" ring from Melody Joy Designs...my necklace and fabric cuff (it has the one word "summer" embroidered on it - which in my world is the synonym for "happy") are my own design - available for purchase)






(cilantro blossoms in a thrifted pitcher - unknown source.  Soy candle from Target.  Original art by my new next door neighbor and son-in-love Jonathan Howe...)




(when you clip the blossom-heads from your basil, and the stems aren't long enough for anything else, but you really want to be able to enjoy those tiny "first fruits"....place them in either an old Coke Life bottle {that's how I roll, usually} OR a vintage bulb-forcing-vase like this one here...which if you get there, and it is sold, I apologize in advance...because it's pulling on me like you. can't. believe.)


I want to gently prompt you to have a plan for celebrating this summer's little "firsts".  Every person reading this will experience them.

Please notice it, when you do.  Please come back and share with me how you savored them.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

There is Coming a Mighty Season of Full Restoration {...thoughts on grace and gospel...}

I wish I could communicate to you the sweetness of tonight.  I am living a dream I have not earned and do not deserve.


{experiencing community through the sharing of a meal is one of God's best gifts - one Christ died to give us!}



As The Preacher and I fellowshipped with our young friends tonight, we talked about their upcoming wedding ceremony and the way they want it conducted.  We also talked about how our daughter Sarah and her husband Jonathan and their two baby girls spent the first night in their new home directly across from us.  Right next to that home, lives my other daughter -  her identical twin sister Hannah and her husband Justin and their precious little boy.

As of today, the Preacher and I have three of our four grand babies across the street.  

After a sumptuous dinner of paella and bread and wine, after fellowship and prayer and winding up this couple's final pre-marriage counseling, we invited them to walk across the cul-de-sac with us, and join us in praying a blessing over Jonathan and Sarah's new home.

They had already built the first wood fire that fireplace has seen (after removing the old gas logs) and we all gathered in close and spent some time in prayer.  Tim and I were surrounded by our natural children, by a young couple that we love as though they were our own children - they truly are spiritual children - and our grandchildren.

Friends, I don't care who you are....that is a moment.  That is the fruit of lives lived fully committed to the Gospel of the finished work of Christ.


I had Justin grab this candid shot for me - as the prayer was winding up in the dimly-lit room, the vintage console record player was playing some long-forgotten swing tunes, and my Preacher and our soon-to-be-married young friends, and our children and grandchildren stood chatting...and by chatting, I mean they were literally recounting the blessings of God and basking in the sweet presence of the Lord that already fills that home.

Then, the four of us - my Preacher, our friends, and me walked (walked!!!!) back up to my home and we gathered dishes up in the kitchen, and said our goodbyes to them on our front porch, as the waterfall made its ever-soothing sounds in the background.

Their wedding day is only two weeks away, so this night was beyond poignant and special - complete with my giving the bride a very special gift...something very personal, from me to her....something so perfect for her.  {wink, wink}

I wish I could show you how it felt to say goodbye to those young house guests...and then to stand in our own doorway, arms around each other, looking across the street at the glow of the lights in the two homes of our two grown daughters and their husbands and children.  To peek in the window to our left and see Hannah and Justin busy putting Timothy to bed....and then to look straight across and see the embers of the Howe family fireplace glowing still, as they put their baby girls to bed for the night.

"All this, because two people fell in love"....that's only HALF the truth.

"All this, because God is good and He gives manifold grace upon grace upon grace."  That about sums it up.

This is the kind of goodness God wants to lavish upon you, if you will just believe the Gospel.  Your works of obedience will not earn you this depth of lavish blessing.  It will be by grace through faith.  We Atchleys...Howes....McConnells....Trenthams....we are not His favorites.  What He has done for us, He will do for you.  The sweetness we experienced tonight, He wants to pour out in churches all over this city and around the world.

The grace of God enables us to live in community well, friends.

Tonight was a good, good night...and just the first fruits of a sweet, sweet life.

I have not earned it.  I do not deserve it.

But here I am.

Monday, May 4, 2015

On Mother's Day and Honor's Wounded Blessing {...for MOST, this relationship needs some healing...}




That day when I humbled myself and acknowledged that my mom had always loved me.

{...even with her own wounded places, and now me with my wounded places, and I am certain my grown children all have their wounded places...}

That day when I humbled myself and acknowledged that my mom had always loved me every bit as much as I love my own children. That day when I realized that I didn't have to re-parent myself, that it wasn't all about me anyway, that my mother was allowed to raise me the best she could with the knowledge she had.

That day, years ago, when I owned up to the fact that, regardless of my perceptions, or her mistakes, or our collective brokenness, there was never a day when I was not loved by her as much as I loved my own babies.  Never. a. day.  

That was the day I grew up....exponentially.   

That was the day I appropriated the kind of Gospel that gets up inside my brain and renews my old patterns and transforms my thinking and re-writes history. That was the day I walked free. That was the day I stopped being the victim in a universe that revolved around my imagined (and real) offenses.

That was the day I, myself, became a woman capable of living in healthy community with the family of God, as well as my own family.  That was the day I, myself, became a leader.

It was pretty revolutionary.  And I am the Queen of Understatement.

Seems like almost everyone has "mother issues" these days.  I wonder if it isn't almost fashionable to bash mothers and mothers-in-law.  

On the side of compassion - if that is you, if there is some woundedness in that relationship, you are not alone.  In my experience, we are the majority.  And we can minister and administer such grace to one another!

But when there is bitterness?  When you are "the victim"?  When there is resentment and when the relationship takes on a punitive tone?  (when, in your mind, you are finding ways to put a parent "in her place", or withhold in the relationship) Sometimes, there can be a deep disconnect with the concept of femininity itself at the root of all the complaining.

Consider that.


It ain't healthy, that's all I am going to say.  When my female-ness makes up half of the image of Very God - it becomes high time to respect femininity, even in its fallen state.  There is a lot of strength and good to be found there.

That day I quit judging my mother, and found fresh respect for myself.  For all women.

For you, the "that day" I speak of, can be today.  Whether you are sixteen or sixty, you can truly find yourself with a new lease on life, when you choose honor in what may at one time have been a difficult relationship.  And may I add, whether that parent is living or dead.  In fact, if they are gone and beyond the sound of your voice, it might be more important for you to hold a space of honor for them in your heart, always.

It's one week away, friends. Mother's Day is a week away.  Never forget: the road to true prosperity is paved with authentic honoring of your father AND your mother. I love how God didn't leave our momma out of the command.  

Mothers everywhere...adoptive mothers, biological mothers, spiritual mothers...may I tell you....you are not an afterthought. Given any kind of halfway normal family dynamic (assuming your mother didn't send anyone to the hospital in a fit of rage) and especially if your mother was as wildly imperfect as I was (and am) as a parent, God totally expects a mother's children, grown or not, to honor her.

                                       (this original, as well as a giclee, is available in my shop)

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Do You Love What Christ Loves? {...Christ loves His Church...}


(..the front door of our church, where I am a devoted member of the body and bride of Christ..)

"Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, the one the apostles called Barnabas, which is translated Son of Encouragement, sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet." (Acts 4)

Can I share with you why Barnabus - that wise, generous, encouraging leader of substantial means - why he went through the apostles in his giving?

Ask yourself: why didn't Barnabus just give directly to people he knew were in need?  He was a grown man, he owned property, he had worked hard, he had means, he didn't have to let anybody "be the boss of him".  I am certain he knew that church leadership was flawed, sometimes.  So why did this great man - obviously very wise - why did he go through church leadership?

Because Barnabus was a leader. And true leaders will never cut and run...and they will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook...and a true leader would never exploit their means or their  influence. 

In short, Barnabus lived in the fear of the Lord.  Barnabus did not want people to look at him and think, "Wow. Barnabus is amazing. And if he ever needs anything from me, he's got it."

Barnabus wanted people to look at the Bride and think, "Wow. The church is amazing. The Bride is incredible - and this thing God is doing in the earth is worth my sacrificial offering of time, talent, and treasure, too!"

Short testimony: We have lived this at Harvest Church.  I won't say who, or when, but not so long ago, a family in our church was blessed to rent a large home they could never have otherwise afforded...because a couple in our church came to the leadership of Harvest and told the leadership FIRST that they wanted to rent their beautiful home to a certain family for the same amount they were used to paying for what was a dump, by comparison.   

It is an incredible story of provision and blessing, and it was done in a very book of Acts style. To this day, there are no strings attached on this home, or the family renting it. It was just quietly done. And it went through leadership, because this couple would rather others look at the Bride and gasp at HER beauty.

Of all things God made, animal, vegetable, and mineral...people are His favorite.  And of all the people of the earth, His church is His very favorite.  

How are you spending your time, talent, and treasure?  A beautiful Bride is the glory of her Groom - she makes His praise glorious.  Me, all by myself, I do not constitute "the bride of Christ".  You, all by yourself, and however much Jesus loves you (and He does...far more than you know...) you do not constitute "the Bride".

Why not invest in what Christ died to obtain?