Brick and Mortar vs. Flesh and Blood – They Both require Care

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“Americana” 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas

I’m giving our villa “a dust up” in preparation for sale and asking myself “How would a potential buyer see this room, this painting, this piece of furniture or memorabilia?”

When I find something out-of-place or obtrusive, I have three choices:

  1. Put it in a Good Will box to be given away
  2. Place it in a container for “safe keeping”
  3. Dump it without regard for sentiment

Each item saved for Good Will must pass a certain test: Can it be cleaned? Would someone else be able to use this or is it just old junk?

The box for “safe keeping” holds stuff that a loved one has given me or that belonged to one of my parents or grandparents. I can’t throw these things away without feeling guilty. Besides, I might need some of them in our new place. I plan to put these things aside until nearer the actual move giving me a second chance to keep or to throw them away. In number three, some of the “dump” items may fall into this category.

In truth, I’m a sentimental saver. I have difficulty parting with gifts from loved ones even though they serve no logical purpose. And after a while, these items begin to clutter the walls and shelves and look like somebody’s junk to potential buyers seeing our home for the first time.

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“Moody Blues” 18 x 14 oil on canvas

These decisions can be painful. You soon discover what’s really of value and what’s simply ostentatious. Impulse buying adds an accumulation of stuff that makes its way to the dump box. You buy an item on sale, or someone else does and then gives it to you. In either case, you know you probably won’t miss any of it when it’s gone.

Wouldn’t it be great to give your body a clean sweep like this? You could keep only what adds real value to your life and cast away the rest. You could get rid of bad habits and regrets, put old grievances in a box and tape the lid shut, and finally focus on what’s important.

Gone are the “To Do” lists that were never finished, the half-made quilts, the dreams that got away. All could stop gathering dust in your closet and finally RIP at the bottom of some landfill for recycling. You could make a fresh start with more realistic goals and some well-defined dreams that come from deep inside of you instead of from peer pressure.

Once the cobwebs have been swept from your interior, you could start unearthing your most urgent needs and longings. Find out who you are and what you’re made of in the scheme of things.

What is your heart’s desire? Discover the spiritual roots of your personality and your divine nature. Discard the negative aspects of yourself that turn other people off. Scrub out the dingy coating that has crept inside and tarnished your luster. Let your hidden treasure shine through and regain your self confidence.

When all is said and done, your mortal body is the house you live in every day until “Death Do you part.” Then your immortal spirit is liberated from all physical encumbrances and restraints. Since you only live once, doesn’t it make sense to spend as much time getting your spiritual house in order as you spend on getting your physical house ready to sell to strangers?

The Cook

“The Cook” 11 x 14 acrylic on canvas

Is Truth Uncertain and Precarious or is it an Absolute Certainty?

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“Sea Swirls” 24 x 18 acrylic on wrapped canvas

Like me, you may still be in shock at the mass shooting in Orlando. Another terrorist decided who should live and who would die. He played judge and jury using a twisted ideology that believes in a God who commands his followers to maim and murder in order to prove their devotion to him.

Faith is a precious thing when it’s focused on truth and goodness. Whether you’re a non-believer or a doubter, just because you have an opinion or a belief in something doesn’t make it true. Truth is based on evidence, the testimony of others, and recorded history. Faith is a personal witness that confirms the truth in one’s heart. The evidence of faith is a changed life. Yes, I know. It’s complicated.

One young man who wanted to help in the chaos of Sunday’s massacre said it best. “I saw this guy who had just come out of the Club. He was in shock and injured. I told him I wanted to help. Although, I’m not a religious person, I felt like praying for him. I asked God to bless him that he would be all right.”

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“Sea Nymph” 24 x 18 acrylic on wrapped canvas

It is natural to turn to our creator, father and God in times of need. How sad that we wait for an emergency or death to talk to Him in prayer. Imagine the tragedies that could be averted if we would stay connected to our source of strength. What a difference this could make in our chaotic and dangerous world.

Like those people who were shot and killed, their lives snuffed out in an instant, you never know when your time will come. Whether you believe in God or not has nothing to do with the actual facts. You will meet God face to face when your life ends. Will you be ashamed, afraid, or filled with joy?

We each have only one life to live. We don’t get a “do-over” or a second chance. This is it!  If you knew for certain that there is a God and that He loves you completely and unconditionally, would that change the way you live and behave toward others? Would you rather believe in a God of forgiveness and love than a God who is pleased when you murder anyone who doesn’t think or act the way you do?

The mass shooting was horrific and senseless. Perhaps it will jar the rest of us from our complacency. Life is precious. We should not waste a moment of it or allow arrogance or pride to convince us that we have all the answers.

You can believe in a purple hippopotamus if you want to, or behave in unspeakable and hateful ways, but that doesn’t make your way of life or your faith true. If you choose, you can follow the majority to your death. You can follow a way of life because “everybody else is doing it;” but that doesn’t make it right or true.

Like the young man outside the club who felt compelled to pray for the injured gay bartender, even though he’d probably never done it before and wasn’t sure to whom he was praying. The “God of heaven and earth and all things that in them are” called out to him and would gather all of us “under His wings” if we but  believed on his name and hungered for his truth and righteousness.

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“Sea Breeze” 30 x 24 on wrapped canvas

Truth is not relative as some would have you believe. Truth is absolute and certain, and only comes from the God of truth and love when you are prepared to receive him. You must seek truth and listen in earnest for the whisperings of God’s Holy Spirit.

You and I are not called to judge or to bring condemnation to others. It is for us to heal the brokenhearted, bring comfort to those who are hurting, and leave the rest in God’s hands.

Who will keep your Children Safe in America’s Gun-free Zones?

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“Fuchsia Fantastic” 14 x 18 acrylic on canvas

I’ve always considered gardening to be as close to God as you can get. The miracle of planting a seed, caring for it, and then watching it grow is just short of creation. So many things can go wrong. If you forget to water, the seed will wither and die. A hungry caterpillar or rabbit may come along and chop off the blossoms or chew the plant into the ground. Lots of TLC is required in order to get your seedling to reach its full potential and produce.

Children are a lot like seeds. Sometimes their lives are snuffed out before they even begin. Genetic problems may hasten their demise or create a problem long after they’re born. The mother’s health can affect the baby’s well-being. The environment the infant is born into may be physically risky. The child may not receive the nourishment or love that it needs to grow. So much depends on circumstances as to whether the child will thrive and survive.

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“Hibiscus Glory” 16 x 20 Oil on acrylic canvas

Life is a precious gift and should be cherished and protected. Sometimes our priorities are topsy-turvy. We “worship and serve the creature more than the creator.” (Rom 1:21-25 KJV) A gorilla’s life may become more valuable to us than a small child’s; a human being who may one day discover a cure for cancer, or create a solution to eliminate genetic imperfections. The gorilla on the other hand has reached the full extent of its potential.

Have we come so far that we place animal life above that of humans? Has mankind become our next endangered species?

There’s much talk and angst between proponents of gun control and those who believe strongly in the 2nd amendment and the right of Americans to own a gun if they are of sound mind. I placed those words in italics because most of the school shootings have not only occurred in supposed “gun free” zones where there is no one equipped to protect the innocent, but the violence was imposed by those who were mentally disturbed and were still able to obtain a gun.

Until we make our schools and our environments safe, our children will continue to be exposed to unnecessary risk. Our laws must be enforced. There must never be gun-free areas where only criminals and predators are safe. The sale of illegal guns to criminals and the infirm must stop if the majority of our citizenry are to be kept safe.

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“Peaches ‘n Cream” 12 x 16 acrylic on wood panel

Although our pets and other animals bring joy into our lives, we must never place them above human life. They were created, after all, for our benefit. Even though I abhor animal cruelty, human life must not be relegated to a lower position of importance.

Taking care of our environment and being good stewards is commendable; so is having compassion on all living things, but not at the expense of human life. When we place human life secondary to “the planet, to “the world,” or to other forms of life, we make a mockery of God’s plan for human existence.

Before you become a champion for some other cause make sure that you’re not endangering your own life in the process. Study the issues on both sides. What are the long-term consequences? What does history reveal about this path? Have others made this same mistake before?

Don’t vote until you research the issues that face you. No matter what you decide, you will (along with others) face the consequences of your decision for many years to come.

Ordinary People – Who are they?

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“India Rising — Prince of Thieves” acrylic on canvas

A man watched his depressed wife murder their two children and then hand the gun over to him so he could fulfill his part in their suicide pact. He shot his wife and then could not pull the trigger to end his own life.

Afterward, when neighbors were asked to describe this husband and father, now accused of murder, they shrugged and said “he was just an ordinary man.”

Ordinary people sometimes commit egregious acts. The problem is that we only see the outside shell. It is what goes on inside the mind and the heart that triggers a horrible incident. What did that “ordinary” man do in his spare time when he wasn’t working or socializing with the neighbors? Was he drinking too much or getting hooked on something stronger?

Was he feeding the fires of revenge and hatred? Was he depressed? Did he spend his alone hours watching pornography and indulging in sexual fantasies or sadism. As Emerson once said “We are what we think.” We cannot know someone completely if their secret thoughts and acts are hidden.

When someone snaps, it’s usually the result of a gradual descent into depravity, pain, or grief; an accumulation of events that eventually reach a boiling point or explosion. The internal poison and pain build up until it must either find an outlet or an escape valve. Without this release, under pressure, acts of violence against self or others may occur.

There are no ordinary people. We are all subject to trauma, evil and sin. We all experience emotional and physical pain. It is simply an inescapable part of life. How can society prevent suicide or acts of violence from happening? How can we keep our family, friends and neighbors from acting out and, instead, reach out for help and assistance?

We need to pay attention. If you haven’t seen a neighbor in awhile and you know they are home, seek them out to see if they are all right. Don’t worry about being “nosy.” Assume a caring attitude and offer help. Sometimes a simple thing like taking the children for an afternoon to relieve an overwrought and over worked mom is all that is needed.

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My neighbor Alice hadn’t seen me or my children for awhile. One day she showed up on my doorstep with a shovel and a start of a plant from her yard that I had admired. “I think you need some sunshine,” she quipped. “Let’s plant this start together – do you remember this?” She displayed the green leaves with the lavender spray of flowers.

As we planted, we talked. The sunshine not only warmed my body but my soul. I never told her what was bothering me, although she suspected postpartum depression since I’d just given birth to my fourth child a few weeks before. It didn’t matter. Her presence gave me the support and caring I needed and probably prevented me from doing something foolish.

As Rivvy Neshama wrote in her book “Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a few Miracles,” if we would just “look around and ask ourselves what is wanted? What is needed?” We might be able to prevent a tragedy in our own family or neighborhood.

Ordinary people look like you and me. They may even act like you and me. But the fact is that there is no such person. Each individual is unique and unrepeatable. Instead of trying to lump them together into a common understandable and repeatable entity, we should seek out the traits that make them different. Not for the purpose of dividing us, but to recognize the special qualities that define each of us.

If a red flag goes up or your gut instincts tell you something is wrong, heed the warnings. Don’t give your trust to just anyone. Trust must be earned. Canned phrases like “Muslims are peaceful people,” or blacks can’t be trusted” only add to your internal confusion.

Not everyone has your best interests at heart. Even “ordinary” people may intend harm. Learn to trust yourself. I know I’ve done it. I’ve talked myself into disregarding my gut instincts by saying things like “that’s racist,” or thinking that “just because he or she is Arab doesn’t make them a terrorist.” But what if they are? What if those warning vibes going off in your head are right and there’s a reason why they’re going off?

“Love thy neighbor” but make sure your neighbor has good intentions. As Ronald Reagan once said “Trust, but verify.”

Ordinary people deserve your good will, but looks can be deceiving. In this distressful and confusing world, kindness and friendliness are needed more than ever, but don’t be a fool. You only have one life to live and perhaps one chance to save it.

Consider your surroundings. Proceed with caution. And trust your internal antennae. Don’t throw caution to the wind because you’re ashamed of feeling uneasy in someone else’s presence. Protect your instincts first and act before it’s too late.

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“Broken” 11×14 mixed media (SOLD); prints available.

The State of the Nation is only as Good as the Hearts of its People

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“Cafe’ Costa Rica” acrylic on 20 x 20 canvas (SOLD), prints available (close-up of coffee beans)

When I was raising my family, multi-tasking was encouraged for everyone who wanted to succeed. Instead of lighting the home fires, women were encouraged to engage in career acceleration, pushing many out of the home and into the marketplace. That’s when the songs “I am Woman” and “Nine to Five” were the beat we marched to in our efforts to accomplish more in less time and to be more productive.

I once bragged to a friend that I could bathe my two youngest while cleaning my bathroom fixtures and scrubbing the floor all at the same time. I made my own cake mixes, yogurt, granola and bread to save money, and I could whip up a meal and have it on the table within 30 minutes without the benefit of microwaves or crockpots.

"Queen of Diamonds" 20 x 20 acrylic mixed media on canvas

“Queen of Diamonds” 20 x 20 acrylic mixed media on canvas

A generation later, the results were a nation of hyperactive insomniacs who didn’t know how to “chill.” Multi-tasking became the cause celebre´ for depression and nervous breakdowns; the culprit for lack of focus, and the fragmenting of a person’s time and energy.

We were accused, by the so-called experts, of short-changing our spouse and our children. Some women came back home and recommitted themselves to family life, while others were too entrenched in the upward climb to turn back. They had come close to the “glass ceiling;” and by golly, they were going to crash it if it killed them. The casualties were enormous. The ones who made it never looked back.

Once abortion was legalized, women were set free to crash the barriers that had held them back previously. The toll has only recently been felt as the Social Security Fund dries up because there are not enough workers to replace those who either have been aborted or who are on welfare. America has painted herself into a proverbial corner.

The women whose children grew up and moved on in their absence feel cheated of the experience of motherhood. They rushed here and there, watched their kid’s games and celebrated their achievements, but do they really know them? How many times have they actually had a loving conversation without telling their kids to “hurry up, we’ve got to get going?” or criticized their obnoxious antics and behavior.

Today, we look around us and see not a nation of happy and well-adjusted people, but a country full of drug addicts who participate in road rage, riots in the streets, and mayhem. Our leaders are immoral and dishonest. The people in whom we put our trust are untrustworthy. Tyrants rule in our board rooms and on our streets. We have made a mockery of that which once was sacred and blasphemed the God who gave us life.

"Blending In" 11 x 14 acrylic on canvas (How often do we "Blend in, rather than Standing Up?"

“Blending In” 11 x 14 acrylic on canvas (How often do we “Blend in, rather than Standing Up?”

Collectively, we desecrate the holy, the weak, and elevate the swindler and the swine. We worship pleasure and wealth and turn our backs on the lowly and common. Children in many cases dishonor parents and parents turn their backs on the children who need them. There is a lack of common decency and respect. “It’s all about me” rings from the rafters of homes, automobiles and businesses. “I want what I want, and I want it now.”

Never in the history of the world has there been more need of a Savior to bring us back to our Heavenly roots. Jesus said: 7 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love, does not know God because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is God: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for sin.”
(I John 4:7-10 NIV)

“If this is true,” you say, “then why isn’t there peace on earth? Why is there so much violence?”

First off, God is not the author of confusion, nor violence, nor evil. Mankind does that very well without him. Before Christ was crucified, he did clarify this point for us: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth give I unto you.” (In other words, His peace is within) “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

Our world could use a little more peace, especially in the hearts of its people.

"Lady in Waiting" oil on canvas (prints available)

“Lady in Waiting” oil on canvas (prints available)

Wars are Won and Lost but the Greatest Battles are Fought Within the Heart

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“Americana” 16×20 acrylic on canvas

When I was a child, I’d sneak a flashlight into bed and read under the covers. Somehow my mother always knew what I was up to; but before she did, I had many an adventure.

I’ve always loved to read. I worry that today people are so plugged into their smart phones, games, and movies that they miss out on the thrill of imagination and the deep emotional connection only a good book can bring.

Of course, people once said that eventually libraries would be obsolete and that children would forget how to read. Then along came Kindle, and now probably more people read than ever before because they have a lightweight device they can slip into a backpack or purse, take to the beach, or read on a plane. And what of the libraries? They adapted.

“An Open Book” mixed media on canvas (SOLD) Prints available

Libraries today are centered on the new technology to make research and information gathering even better. They’ve transferred the old video movies onto DVDs or online experiences. And fortunately, the patrons are there in throngs.

The regional library I go to is always busy from morning until night. The library also sponsors early voting and other community events from art shows to guest speakers continuing their reputation as the prime learning and information center in the area.

Books can take us out of our comfort zone. They may jar us, rattle our cage, and challenge our perceptions. Books may actually change us. Good literature can enlarge our souls and make us better people. In the same vein, negative or poorly written books not only waste our time, but may make us less than what we can be because they appeal to our baser nature.

“Victims of war” — Innocent children.

I just finished reading a beautifully written book on my Kindle called “All the Light we cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. It falls into my favorite genre, historical fiction; but it is far different from any war story I have ever read. The exquisite character revelations and subtleties are sublime. I could hardly put the book down and I hated coming to end. I became so close to the lead characters that I laughed and cried with them. I felt their fear and their pain.

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In my lifetime, World War II slashed an ugly gash across the world, although, I was too young to remember it. My father worked at the shipyards in Bremerton, Washington, repairing ships that had been damaged. He was a welder. He was a giant. I rode astride his shoulders and felt that he could conquer the earth.

My mother washed our bedding and clothes in the bath tub by hand because they couldn’t afford a wash machine. She hung our clothes on a wooden rack in our living room around a hot oil stove.

After a bath, my older sister and I would crowd around the stove in the middle of winter to warm ourselves. More than once, I dropped my towel and burned my bottom bending over to pick it up.

A fox hole and a gun, his only protection.

A fox hole and a gun, his only protection.

We shopped in a warehouse that had sawdust on its floors. We used our ration book to decide what we could buy and then tried to make our purchases last through the month. Remembering how it was and what we experienced could still not compare to the people and countries that were occupied during World War II.

You think you know what poverty is try boiling potato peelings in a pot without meat and squeezing the last bit of nutrition from them as your meal for the day. And when fresh water is not available, try drinking from the saved water in your bath tub or a few pails set aside for that purpose.

Survivors of German Prison Camps after World War II ended.

Survivors of German Prison Camps after World War II ended.

When a sweet orange or a loaf of bread comes your way, you are filled with tears of gratitude. Most of us never experience real hunger. There is always someone somewhere who will provide for our needs. Not so during war when imprisonment, danger and scarcity makes it almost impossible to conduct business or to plant or harvest.

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Even in war times we have a choice to act with integrity and gratitude. There are always those who use the chaos to their advantage. They take from those who have and they hurt the weak and vulnerable. May that never be said of you. If your character and who you are sink to the lowest levels of human behavior, then the real war has already been lost.

In Our Absence—Behind the Scenes

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Mount Rainier at a distance.

Mount Rainier at a distance.

A rock is thrown into a lake and creates rings that continue outward until you can no longer see them or the ripple effect that follows.

As human beings, we cast our words, our talents, our actions outward and they continue on, affecting everyone who comes in direct contact with us or indirectly through hearsay and  influence whether for good or for evil. Cause and affect; time marches on, even when we’re gone, and things change.

Mount Rainier "up close and personal."

Mount Rainier “up close and personal.”

When we returned, the weeds had grown; the Bougainvillea had sprouted sucker branches that shot three feet beyond the original plant. Palm trees and Southern pine had been removed at the West Gate and the ground was being scraped and carved for new Condos.

In place of the shrubs and greenery we expected, metallic diggers and large-treaded tractors stood in defiance. The scarred earth lay bruised and exposed in place of the grass we had left behind. I mourned quietly for the raccoons, squirrels, possums, armadillos and birds left homeless and perhaps dead in their wake.

At the base of the mountain:  Still a long way off. (the base is usually covered with snow).

At the base of the mountain: Still a long way off. (the base is usually covered with snow).

At home, we replenished the empty refrigerator and pantry. A clerk where we shop was obviously pregnant. I had not noticed her condition before we left. Now she was burgeoning with ripe expectation. Could this ballooning have happened in only three weeks time?

All around, there were new things happening. The entrance to our complex had been re-tarred. The roadway greeted us with a black sheen and a smooth ride. Our mail was in the box just as we had requested, and surprise, surprise – while we were gone, the world kept turning and operating without our help.

Me and my sweetheart chatting while resting. My daughter caught us unawares.

Me and my sweetheart chatting while resting. My daughter caught us unawares.

Somewhere in this state of insignificance and unimportance that all of us feel from time to time, a young man, thinking only of himself and operating from hatred, decided to change the equation. He would have his moment in the flashing lights of fame and recognition. But instead of the light from above, he was surrounded by darkness and inspired by evil.

Today he remains in a dark cell as a caged animal because he acted in rage and from base animal instincts rather than from reason and love. Yet as he shot the living and ended their mortality, he also freed them to a higher calling.

A beautiful glacier lake on the way to Mount Rainier.

A beautiful glacier lake on the way to Mount Rainier; a female caribou stands in the water.

To his surprise, instead of meeting hate for hate, he was surrounded by love. His so-called enemies were his friends. They chose to forgive him in spite of his egregious actions. They sought to live as they believed and to honor their Lord and Savior.

Instead of the “Christian hypocrites” that many in society were expecting, these humble followers made a commitment to each other and to their God that this heinous crime would not influence their faith or fulfill the hatred that had walked among them.

In the absence of their loved ones and with the indictment of the murderer, these valiant men, women and children walked with their heads held high; their aching hearts filled with the peace of God.

May the blessings of Heaven surround these faithful souls in South Carolina.