As I ended out the old year, I listened to a free webinar given by Renovaré called ‘Don’t Just do Something, Pray!’ It was originally recorded in September, but I just got around to it. So glad I did. It was hosted by Carolyn Arends and featured Lisa Koons and Pete Greig. They tackled some difficult issues with grace, humility, and wisdom. There is much to think about and put into practice and I’m so glad they have archived the webinar. If you are interested in listening, you can find it here: https://renovare.org/events/dont-just-do-something-pray
Anyone who knows me well, knows that prayer is vital to me. I’m not talking about the insipid, “my thoughts and prayers go to you” that are spouted by so many civic leaders in times of crisis. Because if prayer is really part of your DNA, you will eventually take action and not just spout platitudes.
No, my method of prayer is PUSH. Pray Until Something Happens. I took God at His word years ago and go to the mat with things on my heart and mind. I do not hold back in feelings and expressions. I’ve sometimes prayed in groups and have shocked some folks with how blunt I am. I remember a friend saying, “Did you really say that to God?” And I replied, “Do you think he doesn’t already know?” Why would I lie to God if I’m trying to pour out my heart about a situation?
God is big enough to take your feelings, your anger, and your frustration. I sometimes picture a toddler having a meltdown, sitting on a loving parent’s lap. A child will pound on the chest of an adult, screaming and crying while the parent soothes and calms the child until they can speak about the issue as best as the child can understand. I picture myself as that child and God as the loving Father I never knew growing up. Once I pour everything out, we can start a real conversation. The Lord created those emotions and wants them expressed in healthy ways. Pushing them down to look holy is pointless.
But sometimes, I just want to sit with God in meditation. Just silently sit and experience God. Thanks to this webinar, I’ve found a wonderful tool that helps me with that because frankly, my mind wanders. It’s called the Lectio 365 app for either Apple or Android phones. Based on an ancient practice called Lectio Divina, this app guides you in prayer and meditation daily. I started yesterday and I’m making it my new daily practice to start each day. It takes about ten minutes to still yourself and pray through.
Data has shown that one of the most online searched topics during COVID has been prayer. If you’re looking to learn about prayer, start with this. You can find it here: https://www.24-7prayer.com/dailydevotional
Happy New Year.
My apologies for being MIA the past couple months. After the medical issues I experienced in spring, friends and family were also dealing with personal crises. Dad is winding down and getting harder and harder to understand. Mike’s uncle had two strokes. A friend has been in and out of the hospital with no answers as to what might be the issue. In fact, I got a text to update me on her situation as I sit and compose this. One thing after another and after a while I’ve just lost heart for writing.
But I have been working on painting and photography. Images work when words fail. At least they do for me. The painting is mostly abstract work. On Mondays I volunteer at an urban coffee house where coffee and bagels are free and the cafe is a safe place for people in the neighborhood to create community. I was talking with one of the guys over coffee asking me what my paintings were about. I told him it was about the mystery of prayer. That the paintings were black on black with metallics thrown in to represent what prayer is like - a spiritual quest to represent prayer in paint. Up to that point the conversation had been pretty superficial. He stopped eating and looked me in the eye. “That’s really powerful,” he said. “I like the way you think.” That took me by surprise. Can’t say I’ve heard that very often.
Images work when words fail. I find in prayer I am often at a loss for words, but that’s where I can trust that God can read my heart. My tears are my prayers. My anguish and feelings are my prayers. My paintings are my prayers. And God, being good and gracious, hears and understands those prayers.
I’ll leave you with this triptych. It’s called Mystery, Questions, Wonder.
After I'd posted the first icon I wrote (factoid - you write an icon, you don't paint it), a friend who is undergoing treatment for cancer commented how much she liked it. So much so, she was wondering how she might be able to acquire it. The tradition of creating icons has a pretty strict stipulation that you don't give away your first one because it is full of your frailties and flesh, not spirit and prayer. While she was gracious when I explained that, I determined she'd have one to help her along in her healing journey.
Carolyn Rock and the rest of the West Michigan iconography family were gracious in assisting me with materials, prayer, and moral support in creating the Archangel Gabriel. The messenger. My prayer is that he brings a message of healing to my friend.
After a couple weeks it was finished, and I presented it to my friend. She was speechless. No small feat.
Have a glimpse. And while you're thinking of it, join me in prayer for her healing.
The key turns, the door opens and I step into the studio. How long has it been? One week? Two? More? I honestly can’t remember but the plants need watering. It’s obvious I was hopeful of returning soon when I was last here. My palette is laid out, colors mixed and all is covered with a sheet of thin plastic to keep the paint fresh for the next day. To no avail. I find the paint scraper to clean off the glass, but I don’t have the heart to put out new paint.
Instead, I study the photo of the model and analyze the drawing. In the last painting session, the values improved but I once again drifted off in measuring and have to re-draw and make adjustments. I sigh. Will I ever get these paintings done? I was so excited when I was first contacted for this project. So much so, I volunteered to do two portraits rather than one.
Another sigh. I turn my attention to the plants. I can do something about that. Finding two gallon jugs, I make the trip down the hall for the janitor’s closet. I forget to take the key with me, so it’s the restroom sink instead. Back in the studio, I see the poinsettia is blooming and I rotate the pot. I notice one of the plants is looking quite bleached out. The full light is too much for it and I need to move it. I’d moved the small palm the last time I was here and it’s much happier in its new location. I give it a drink.
The plants are not too bad off but the water soaks quickly into the dry soil and shortly the greenery perks up. When was the last time I watered my soul? I’ve been so busy dipping into my spiritual reservoir to give to others that I’ve failed to recognize it has run dry.
Sorrow upon sorrow fills my life right now. Watching my in-laws slowly losing ground, a friend entering hospice care, another friend’s husband with only a few months to live…one emotional weight after another creating a desert in my heart.
Rather than spend time trying to paint when I’ve nothing to say and no energy to say it, I decide it’s time for quiet meditation to tap into the Living Water and refill my spiritual well. I select some CDs that currently speak to my heart and just soak it in as I quietly sit in the studio. It’s a struggle to still my mind – there are so many things that need attending to. But I’m worth fighting for, so I stay with it. Hebrews 4:11 comes to mind. It is labor and diligence that helps us enter into rest. It takes about 20 or 30 minutes to finally settle my mind and get to a place of prayerful meditation. While it is time well spent, when it is over the issues of life come crowding back in. It seems the well needs more time being filled. Time I don’t have in this season of life.
But it is a start and I now recognize the need. But I am so weary.
There are times I am amazed at the wonderful man I have for a husband. It’s not that I didn’t date good men when I was young and single, but because I didn’t have a good self-image, I would sabotage those relationships and end up obsessing over men who, frankly, were trouble.
But I did a wise thing in my youth. I prayed a very fervent and sincere prayer. Seeing many of my friends doing foolish and destructive things for ‘love’, I knew that on my own I would make the very same mistakes. So, I cried out to God not to let me settle for second best. In spite of my foolishness and willfulness, He honored that prayer; but I did not make it easy for Him.
Nonetheless, I ended up with a man who is kind and supportive beyond measure. He has been a studio assistant, a copy editor, a compassionate caregiver, a lifter and mover of heavy things and whatever else I’ve needed along the way. He cares for me, encourages me, he’s helped me care for my mother as she descended into Alzheimer’s and now he’s caring for his parents. Just this week, he took care of me as I went through some medical procedures, he cared for his dad as he had to relinquish his driver’s license, and in the middle of the night he cared for his mother’s geriatric cat who is diabetic and was in serious stress of an unknown infection – going to pick up the cat and his parents, taking them to the animal hospital, and caring for his mother as she had to leave her beloved pet for the night. Now he is making sure the cat lives another day by going over twice each day to get antibiotics down her throat, ointment into her eyes, and give her shots of insulin.
His sacrifices for love are monumental. I am truly blessed. I will leave you with this....
Sonnet by William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his
height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy
lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
I have so much to do. I know you do, too, but this is my whine.
I’m taking the summer off to try to get things done. Work has been slow, so there’s no hardship on my co-workers.
I’ve been frantically trying to work in the studio, edit a manuscript and complete projects in the house. Mike and I were up late last night working on trying to complete an herb garden. We worked until a storm came in – or rather Mike did. I saw it coming, packed up my tools and went to soak in the tub. My husband is a diehard and kept at it.
Even with taking time off, I can’t see how I can get everything done. So when the going gets tough, the not-so-tough play computer solitaire. So much so, that now I have tennis elbow and am getting acoustic compression treatments to get it to heal. I’m not really impressed with myself, to be honest.
It is time for some serious prayer, but I seem to be rather lost even there. Me – the woman who loves prayer, who has spent hours in prayer, and who has received supernatural healing through prayer for crying out loud.
What is up with that?
Fortunately, I’ve stumbled on a book that seems to be helping me find my way again. It’s a work of fiction. I heard the author at a conference at Calvin College and made a mental note that I wanted to read her book. The title is Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown.
It’s the stories of four woman going through a spiritual formation class. I can see bits of myself in each woman. As I read their journey, it’s guiding me back to a place of deeper prayer and contemplation in ways I’d forgotten about. This book is filled with spiritual insights and gentle truths.
I think I’ll set aside my panic attack for now and read another chapter.
A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out an email account that I rarely use. Most of the emails were spam and I was deleting entire pages of junk when one message caught my eye. I can’t really tell you why I didn’t delete it with the rest. It was from someone I didn’t know, had an attachment, and the heading wasn’t something that I knew anything about. There was just a gentle nudge on my heart to check it out.
It was from a man named Robert Swenson representing a group called Freedom 58. He had seen my profile on a website I’d completely forgotten about. I had been invited to this group about ten years ago or so and I posted my contact info but never completed a page. Sort of like my LinkedIn or Google Plus profiles. Imagine my surprise when someone actually contacted me from this site (www.christiansinportraiture.com).
Mr. Swenson introduced himself and the ministry he and his wife are heading and asked if I’d be willing to donate a painting to help end human trafficking. I asked my husband if he’d ever heard of Robert Swenson, and he asked, “The All American football player?” Yes, that would be him. A former professional player for the Broncos was contacting me about portraiture for a ministry to work against human slavery. This was getting interesting.
I started researching the Freedom Fifty Eight Project. Part of Freedom 58 is this call to artists to donate their time to paint a portrait of someone who was formerly enslaved. Essentially, creating dignity portraits. Photos and canvases are supplied to the portraitist. The Freedom Fifty Eight Project is looking for a significant number of artists for this project with the hope to develop exhibits to showcase the problem. The art exhibits are dedicated to raising awareness about modern day slavery and other forms of violent oppression. The secondary purpose of the exhibits is to drive people to the web site www.Feedom58project.com for more information, resources and opportunities for action.
Once I realized this was a legitimate organization and request (as opposed to the “Dear Beloved, help me move money out of this country/ministry” scam), I contacted Mr. Swenson to ask more questions. He was very helpful and soon I found myself volunteering to paint not one, but two portraits.
Here are some things you may not know about modern day slavery…
There are 30 million slaves today
Human Trafficking is a $32 Billion Industry
2 million women and children are trafficked annually
Human Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world
Children as young as 6 years old are being trafficked
A large box containing photo reference materials, return postage labels, and canvases arrived this past weekend and Tuesday I laid in the first layer on one of the portraits. As I was painting this lovely young woman who radiates dignity, I found I was praying over her. It had been a lovely day.
This is a unique opportunity for artists to give the violently oppressed the first taste of dignity, beauty and hope through their own God given gifts and passion - in the form of a painting. To participate and to get more detailed information on the vision and opportunity please email Bob Swenson at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Freedodm Fifty Eight Project, go to http://www.freedom58project.com/about-us/purpose/
I hope you’ll join me in supporting this cause, and I hope you’ll share this information with others.
God’s sense of humor always catches me by surprise. Since timing is an important element of humor, that makes sense.
Take today, for example. I have been looking for my flute for several months. The urge to start playing again hit me but I could not find that thing. Today’s prayer theme was complaining to the Lord that my prayer life makes no difference, and by the early evening I suspect God was tired of hearing me whine.
A still, small voice said, “Try me.”
“Okay. Where’ my flute?”
“Did you look in your music stand travel bag?”
Well…no. I’d gone through the basement and the upstairs spare room. I was convinced it was buried in the rubble that is my former studio. But now my curiosity was peaked. I got the bag out, dusted off the cobwebs, and looked inside.
My mother and father were two very immature people who should have never married, nor should they have had children. By the time I was four years old, I was living with my grandparents. In contrast to my parents, Grandma Kate was a rock of faith that anchored me in a turbulent childhood, and her prayers continue to affect me to this day. Her life was hard: a hard childhood, a hard marriage, death of a child, prodigal children, and even raising a grandchild until her very hard death. She was a woman of faith and prayer, but at the time I couldn't say that I saw much change in her circumstances from that faith and prayer. That may be because I was so self-absorbed, as children often are.
Her husband (my grandfather) did eventually come to faith, but to my way of thinking back then, it was too little too late. She was in poor health, their marriage had fifty years of abuses stacked up, and change comes slowly. His eternal destiny might have been changed, but it didn't seem to change the seventy plus years of misery which made her life.
Still, I can't shake her influence. I did not know her Savior until after she'd died, nor did her daughter - my mother. Grandma did not see much fruit from her prayer, yet often when I would come in from playing or from school I'd find her kneeling by her bed praying or sitting in the front room reading her bible. She stayed faithful in spite of years of not seeing any results. She had the faith of Abraham – to grasp God's promises and not let go, even though she didn't live to see the results. I think she's amazing.
When I was eleven, my grandparents sold their farm, and we moved into a very small ranch house in a suburb of Detroit to live with my mother. Up to that point, I had only seen my mother every other weekend when she would come from the city to the farm to visit. She always seemed so glamorous to me. She dressed nicely for work and would come to the farm on Friday nights straight from her job in bookkeeping for a major retailer. She was so beautiful.
But living with her was another matter.
By the time I was twelve, Grandma was in the hospital almost non-stop. She died when I was fourteen and my grandfather died a few months later. The man who'd been so unkind to her all their married days found he couldn't live without her, and while there was nothing wrong with him physically, he willed himself to die.
There I was, alone as a teenager with my mother. As one can imagine, it wasn't a smooth transition. My parents had separated when I was three and divorced when I was four. After that, my mother gave me to my grandparents. I had always thought it was because mom couldn't find child care, but the truth of the matter was that she really wasn't that interested in being a mother. We didn't really know each other, and, as we started off on this new part of our story, we found we didn't really like each other very much. That never changed.
Even so, Grandma's prayers followed us.
It was 8 a.m. and I was sitting in a local park, listening to the birds call back and forth. While scientists have ascertained that what they are really doing is proclaiming their territory (essentially saying, “Mine! Mine! Mine!”), I prefer a more poetic view of their melodious work.
Birdsong brings relief
to my longing
I'm just as ecstatic as they are,
but with nothing to say!
Please universal soul,
practice some song
The poem turns into a prayer. “Please Lord, practice Your song, Your love, Your joy, Your artistry through me.” As I pray this, my thoughts turn to the Psalms, which are prayers turned into poetry. Learning them has been a good way to increase my prayer vocabulary. What do the Psalms say about birds singing? “The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches,” Psalm 104:12. They are singing in earnest this morning.
The singing birds, the lush green park, the summer morning mist continue my meditations toward the psalms. “Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You. Show me the way I should go, for to You I entrust my life," Psalm 148:3.
Worship and poetry entwined.
Later in the week, I returned to that prayer. “Please Lord, practice Your song, Your love, Your something through me.” This was as I was approaching a restaurant to meet a friend who was grieving. I wanted to serve the Lord well, and my friend well. What I thought would be an hour or two, ended up being an entire day of loving service as we went to a park, talked about loss, had ice cream, lost her keys, and retraced all our steps.
As I was driving home, I realized that God had taken me up on my prayer. What I think is important to do (projects, generally), is not as important in His economy. A grieving heart in need of comfort and company was His plan for that day. What if I had not made myself available to Him to practice His song of love? He would have found another way to bring comfort, but I would have lost a valuable experience and lesson. I would not have been God's song.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.