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.

Why Do You Do What You Do Each Day?

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Kindred Spirits II

“Kindred Spirits” acrylic on canvas

What makes you get up in the morning? Is it a loved one? Is it your children or a mad desire to plan and organize? Is it a purposeful job that gets your creative juices going?

Why do you do what you do? Are your efforts passion driven for the sake of enjoyment and fulfillment or do you dread every moment and wish you were doing something else?

A paycheck drives most of us. Without it none of our dreams can come true. But in spite of that, if you’re born to create, nothing, not money, road blocks, handicaps or problems can keep you from doing what you were born to do.

Some people keep plodding along for the “fringe benefits:” a company car, health care supplements and bonuses.  Entrepreneurs build businesses so they may have more freedom to pursue their personal vision of success. Fringe benefits come through tax breaks, incentives and the “cost of doing business.”

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“Moonlight Magic” 11×14 acrylic on canvas

Human behavior is usually based on “what’s in it for me.” In negotiations, the buyer and seller must agree on what’s mutually beneficial to both. When someone does something nice for us, we feel like reciprocating; it’s a two-way street.

On a more personal level, when someone is kind to us, we are more likely to be kind to someone else. Every action has a reaction. Give a negative remark or a physical rebuff in a moment of impatience and watch the domino affect disperse outward to everyone else; cause and effect.

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“Broken Hearted” 11×14 pastel on Bristol; matted and ready to frame

Don’t confuse loud, obnoxious behavior with strength. There is great power in self-containment. A person who can face the world unafraid without having to dominate every situation is strong and in control. Self-confidence is built on clear, concise choices that build bridges not walls.

Tickles from God

“Tickles from God” acrylic on canvas

There is a Biblical phrase that says: “Cast your bread upon the water and it will come back to you.” We get what we give. If you are always out to “get people” before they get you that’s what you will receive in the end. Life has a way of dealing honestly with us. Even our faces at the end of life can betray what kind of a life we have lived and how much love we have given away.

Note that I didn’t say “how much love we have received.” I made a point of saying “how much love we have given away.” Like the bread (action) that is scattered on the water, our deeds will come back to us in greater measure. The more we shed light and love upon others, the greater the portion that comes back to us.

A Joyful Heart, 11 x 14 pastel

“A Joyful Heart,” 11 x 14 pastel on Bristol; matted and ready to frame

Some people wallow in self pity thinking that they never get enough of life’s goodness and pleasure. They hold on so tightly to what they have that they smother any chances for expansion or growth. In order to receive, we must first be an influence for good. If you don’t believe it, see what happens when you smile at someone in a long line of people.

Some will shy or turn away, after all, you’re a stranger. But don’t give up. Keep a positive attitude. Continue to smile. If someone bumps into you and apologizes, accept their apology. Don’t always be on the defensive. Not everyone is out to get you. Do some apologizing of your own. Thank people for their courtesy.

Now imagine every smile, every positive action radiating outward and repeated by others who pass your goodwill on to someone else. Like waves on the ocean, the tide shifts outward and inward. The ripple effect comes back to you with more positive vibes than you sent out in the first place.

Childhood can be Painful, but Nothing Lasts Forever

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“Beach Buddies II” 16 x 20 acrylic on canvas

I’ve never figured out why the news media and the talk shows delight in keeping us on the edge of our seats. Not from excitement, mind you, but unadulterated fear! I personally know many women who avoid the news altogether because of how it leaves them at the end of the day: wilted, worried, and unable to sleep. Like ostriches, they prefer having their news spoon fed to them in small doses.

I must admit I was quaking in my slippers when a new “super bug” made its debut on the Nightly News. The spread of this dreaded super-sect is caused from a “teensy weensy” camera on the end of a gastric probe commonly used by Gastrologists to detect stomach and bowel problems. Apparently, the magical instrument on the end of the probe is difficult if not impossible to sterilize.

My ears perked up as I moved to the edge of our soft leather couch. I had had that test this past year. My “hypochondriac tendencies” went on high alert. “Is that why I’ve been feeling so lousy these past few months?”

It’s not only super bugs we have to deal with. Many of the old diseases that were once eradicated are making a comeback; and with a vengeance! Outbreaks of old fashioned Red Measles have been playing out in large cities and states across the nation. Tuberculosis is becoming more and more prevalent. Yet not once have I heard anyone ask “What about all those illegal aliens who flooded the borders and were transported by bus to places across the country?” Most of them had never been immunized at all, and some were carrying viruses and bacteria that children in the United States had never come in contact with before.

When I was a child, Polio was not only a new word but a disease to be feared. Children who didn’t die from it were left crippled and prone to get diseases later on in life. The aftermath was almost as bad as the disease itself. If you survived, your limbs became shrunken and deformed, at least on one side, and you probably limped for the rest of your life.

“Few diseases frightened parents more in the early part of the 20th century. Polio struck in the warm summer months, sweeping through towns in epidemics every few years. Though most people recovered quickly from polio, some suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Many polio survivors were disabled for life. They were a visible, painful reminder to society of the enormous toll this disease took on young lives.” (Wickipedia)

My grade school playmate Eddie Knowles died from polio. We used to climb trees together and play outdoors all summer long. My mother would supply us with popsicles when we were sweaty and hot. Eddie liked to dunk his in the irrigation ditch running beside our property. It made the icy pop melt in his mouth. At the time, I firmly believed that this had caused his polio, although, we now know the disease is caused by a virus.

More from Wickipedia: “Because of widespread vaccination, polio was eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 1994. Today, it continues to circulate in a handful of countries, with occasional spread to neighboring countries. (Endemic countries are Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan as of 2013.) Vigorous vaccination programs are being conducted to eliminate these last pockets. Polio vaccination is still recommended worldwide because of the risk of imported cases. Polio has no cure, so prevention is the most effective means to combat it.”

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“India Rising — Prince of Thieves” mixed media

Another school mate, Alice Johnson, had polio, and because of it she was teased and taunted most of her childhood; but especially into the teen years. She had a shriveled right arm and leg, and when she limped, it made the smaller arm flop up and down. If not for the love of her family, I don’t think she would have survived the relentless nicknames and the other health problems she incurred.

As a kid, I had my own nemesis. During puberty I had hormonal problems which caused me to break out in pimples. For awhile, some people even thought I had the measles. It was a painful ordeal that took several months and years to rectify. Childhood is painful enough, but when we’re saddled with a disability or a visible problem it becomes almost unbearable.

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“Broken Hearted” pastel on Bristol; matted and ready to frame or canvas print

My heart goes out to these brave little souls who weather the taunts of their friends and deal with a fatal disease or a discriminating disability. As we mature, most of us outgrow the need to put others down so that we may appear better or smarter. My friend Nancy was one of those people. When I was 12 and feeling like a leper and the ugliest toad on earth, she invited me to her father’s ranch on the lake for the weekend. I was thrilled!

I learned how to ride bareback on a shiny black horse that reminded me of my two favorite books: “Black Beauty” and “Red Horse Hill.” After that ride, I fell in love with books about horses. I devoured them like peanuts.

About this time I also began bringing home stray cats. Animals don’t care what you look like or how ugly you feel, and these strays were sometimes as scabby and scrubby looking as I felt. They sopped up every ounce of love I could give, and then gave it back to me. Animals can heal a lost soul.

When I had a chance to give back, I made friends with the kids who had problems like Alice, the overweight friend who limped from having polio, and Gale who was neglected and so poor there was rarely anything to eat in her cupboards or refrigerator. One day I shared a moldy piece of cake with her that was left on the counter top. Her sad eyes told me how lonely she felt when she came home to an empty house after school.

Sadly I had a new problem to deal with: I was being teased and taunted for befriending the un-friendless, the outcast or the new kids in town. Thankfully, I ignored their sarcasm and did what I knew I had to do.

"Looking Outward" 3-D painting in an actual window frame

“Looking Outward” 3-D painting in an actual used window frame

Lorraine had a bedwetting problem. You could smell it when she walked into class. Every afternoon during story time, we’d hear the sound of water trickling to the floor and we knew it was Lorraine. She handled her humiliation well. The janitor was called and he mopped it up quickly and silently, and then the teacher would go back to reading. But at recess, Lorraine stood alone.

I wish I’d found a way to reach out to her, but I didn’t; although, I thought about her a lot. I did hear she married and had a family. I’m certain she eventually overcame her lack of muscle control.

These problems seem insurmountable when we’re young. They only become bearable when we have a friend or a loving family.

And you know what? Our lives don’t really change that much as we grow older. There are new hurdles to overcome and harder challenges to cope with. Acceptance is sometimes the only way to suffer through. “. . Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

If we just wait it out and hope for the best, we will finally get to the other side.

Let the Healing Begin; Ways to Beat the Odds

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Looking Outward (16 x 20) acrylic; frame: Old Window

Looking Outward (16 x 20) acrylic; frame: Old Window

The body is a miraculous organ that under normal circumstances functions to heal itself if injured. When attacked either by accident, bacteria or virus, through our own carelessness or that of someone else’s the body’s defenses (the immune system) kick in. Even if they don’t, modern medicine is there to take over the job and provide much needed support.

An emotional injury is quite another matter. Our very heart and soul are under siege. The mind is fooled into thinking it’s our fault either through manipulation, abuse, or false accusations. Confusion sets in. We can’t process the pain. Did we cause it? Did we say or do something wrong? Are we unlovable? Are the things the other person said about us true?

The internal pain goes deeper than we ever thought possible. So deep that some people who experience an emotional injury feel actual physical pain like a knife piercing their heart or a feeling that  life and breath are being squeezed out of them in a spasm of muscular pressure. There have been occurrences of people dying from a broken heart or who have had a nervous breakdown as a result of suffering emotional trauma similar to the PTS syndrome veterans experience in war time.

Tickles from God

“Tickles from God” acrylic on canvas

Such tragedies happen because we are human. How do you deal with reality when your whole being is swirling around in a surreal world of physical and emotional pain? How do you get off the Merry-Go-Round that keeps replaying the past? You look for answers, but there are none. If you replay the memory again, perhaps you’ll find a reason to make this nightmare stop or go away? Like an old-fashioned record, you’re stuck reliving the pain again and again.

This is the time to reach out for help. Friends may offer sympathy; but they have none of the skills needed to help you, or to ensure that you make a safe transition to wellness. A psychologist or psychiatrist may help you understand what has happened and guide you to a better place, but the work of healing is still yours.

Falling on your knees in prayer can help you feel the power and love of God. This action alone will give you strength to do the hard work. Trying to heal without God is like covering an open wound with a dirty rag. It’s like burying your sorrows in a dark room, curled up in a ball, and hoping that you’ll recover. The saving, healing grace of Jesus Christ must be received in openness and light.

"With These Hands -- Wonder" oil on canvas

“With These Hands — Wonder” oil on canvas

Doctor’s may heal your mind and your body, but only God can heal the jagged wounds of the heart. Spiritual pain needs a Savior. Sins of all kinds need a Redeemer to give you hope and remind you that you’re not alone. He is “worthy to be praised,” and he can heal you of your broken heart just as he did mine.

I have seen people flounder in unbelief. God throws them a life line, and they ignore it because they do not recognize his voice. They have turned away from him so often that he has become a stranger. They do not trust what they have not seen. They do not listen to one in whom they do not believe.

Instead they trust in people, humans like themselves with weaknesses, lusts and desires. They read what so-called experts have written or said as if it were gospel. They trust in the arm of flesh because it is all they know. God’s Word is mocked and treated like myth or legend. In their heart of hearts they are devoid of truth and without a light in a dark world.

Healing is a process; one that takes time and effort. There are no easy fixes or magic solutions. Some people try to find comfort in a bottle, or a needle or other physical gratification. But they are never satisfied, never filled. Their hunger creates a vacuum that sucks the life out of everything and everyone they touch.

The “Bread of Life” satisfies that deep hunger and begins the healing. The new life that follows brings peace and contentment. There is no other way. Jesus is the “well-spring” of life and his healing is permanent and eternal.

Why have I used this message in my “The Art of Living” blog?” Because in my own personal life my faith is as basic to my survival as food, water and shelter. My faith is vital to my overall satisfaction and happiness; A life void of faith is a life not worth living. (See my other blog: “Witness Spoken Here”)

Link  http://www.witness-spokenhere.com