Preserve or Enjoy? Thoughts on Physical Objects

time2The creamy white wool blanket I found in the Goodwill bargain bins last week is still airing out on the wash line. It takes a good while for the moth ball smell to fade.  Some dedicated person embroidered their initials on it, and trimmed the edges in blanket stitch, in red.  Every time I go to a thrift store I find hand-embroidered table linens, handkerchiefs, and table runners.  There is pain and beauty in that; beauty in the handiwork and pain in the likelihood that the one who stitched it has passed, their careful, skillful work donated by family who didn’t appreciate it.

There was fine Irish table linen; the tablecloth and eight napkins in fine brocade.  It still had the noble, ornate label on each piece.  It sat among the broken laundry baskets, hangers, shoes, and textbooks like a queen atop a trash heap.  It was over fifty years old, but never once used.  Always saved for the most special occasion?  An occasion that never came?  It reminded me of a character in a  book I read long ago, which I’ve failed to track down.  She lay dying in her bed, and went on and on about her best sheets and linens being in the bureau; that she’d never used them; that they were in some way markers of her worth and good repute.  That to die without fine linen that had never been used would be shameful.

We were given a piece of blue and white china by a great aunt.  She explained that it had always been in her corner cupboard, with the other pieces of the set, never used.  Her mother had kept them in the same way, in another corner cupboard on the farm, only taking them out for a dusting once a year.  Beautiful dishes that never once held food, nor served at a meal.  This was strange to me.

One Christmas I was gifted a collectible Holiday Barbie.  She was magnificent, in a white sparkling ballgown, her blonde hair cascading in perfect curls.  I had asked for her, so earnestly, and there she was!  I went to open the box and was told not to; it was explained that she wouldn’t be worth anything if I took her out and played with her; that she was an investment of sorts.  I stared through the shiny plastic window at a toy I’d never get to play with and was perfectly miserable.

It wasn’t too long until I secretly freed her from her packaging and triumphantly (albeit guiltily) played.  I promptly lost her shoes, her brush, and her hair bore signs of brushing and handling.  My parents felt like it was a loss, but I felt as though it was finally a gain.

Preserve or enjoy?  I tend towards enjoy, I tend towards giving things stories and life.  I favor the Velveteen rabbit’s snags and bare spots, a loved object is more beautiful to me than a perfect one.

 

A Little Brave

Photo on 2-25-15 at 9.42 AM I don’t know where the change begins.  But there was, the other day, a very vigorous inner monologue that ran: “I am an artist, and I’d better start living as one”.  So, of course I cut my bangs.  I very imperfectly gave them the shape that I’ve admired on countless others rather than spending one more day without them.

After watching a YouTube tutorial I took our hair scissors in hand and looked into my reflection’s eyes in the splattered mirror and breathed.  And cut, and fixed, and trimmed and near laughed.  They turned out fine (to my taste I should say).  Imperfect and cute and endearingly quirky.  YouTube had also taught me how to do a sock bun and I made a perfectly coifed high bun to go along with my quirky imperfect bangs.  I smiled; it’s a good thing when you’ve wrested even the smallest of victories out of a weekday morning.

Photo on 2-25-15 at 9.41 AMThen it was time to get braver, a little.  I shopped my attic for my oil paintings; those that I could not bear to paint over nor throw out.  Many had met their end covered in white, a blank stretch for some future perfection to cover over.  Others have gone into the trash; sometimes our imperfection can be that painful.

Armed with a screw gun, I started a gallery wall and FOUR of my own works are RIGHT THERE on my wall.  Right on the wall that people visiting our home will see first.  In outright defiance of fear and the pride that hides all but the best, most marketable skills we have.  It was my version of taking a selfie without make-up.

On Facebook I wrote:

My great-grandmother Nora, whom I am named after, was a brave woman. During the Great Depression she had the nickname “Mrs. Got-Rocks” because even though times were hard and lean, she’d go out dressed to the nines with all her sparkly costume jewelry on. She learned to paint in her eighties, producing hundreds of works in oil and watercolor. She wasn’t afraid to try new things and she rejoiced in beauty. I thought of her today as I hung up three of my oil paintings which have been hiding in the attic. I often respond to my art with a mix of shame, fear, and joy; joy that something of what was in my heart was translated into color and pattern and form, shame and fear in dreading what label or impression another set of eyes will give it, have from it. I hung a small oil painting of hers, “Violets”, right above one of my works “Pears on the Horizon”, and just diagonally from them I hung an unfinished still life that I bought secondhand. It’s a smudged charcoal sketch of an apple and a pear; the pear’s stem rubbed out and begun again numerous times. There is in-progress-beauty all over it and also the frankness of being unfinished. How fitting a reminder for me, that God is always working on my heart, but that there IS present beauty, and I do not need to be afraid to display it.

And that’s where I am.  A little braver.  A bit more of an artist.  A bit more honest.

 

It’s Just The Astonishing Appetizer

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This place, these cabins in Chile along Lake Llanquihue, it has the most magical light.  We would descend upon this place all tired and ministry-worn, we’d come to be renewed and refreshed.  It did not disappoint.  There’s a wood fire-heated swimming pool.  There’s plantings of all sorts of native flowers and trees.  There’s blackberries growing wild, and wind-whipped waves thrashing across the lake.

We cooked in the tidy little kitchens, everything seeming homier and cozier with all that wicked wind tearing around outside.  We enjoyed comfy couches and a television and the novelty of being away.  We swam in the warm waters, we ate heartily, we walked along the blue lake and watched how the light shifted.

This was our place of shalom, our place of peaceful rest, of restoration.  The food seemed to taste better, the colors made to appear deeper, and the scriptures sunk into our hearts with weighted intensity and purpose.  There were no beggars at our gate or phone calls ringing or meetings or obligations of any sort other than the parental kind.  Beautiful gift of God.

 I know Heaven is beyond what my mind can conceive of, but I think I’ve experienced some lovely foretastes.  They cast my heart in eternity’s shape, they aim me aright.  They enable me to say to Suffering, “You’ll not always be with me; I’ll hold your hand and lean into you for what you’ll teach me and how you’ll make me ever more like Jesus”.  To say to Discontent, “Of course you are here, for I was never made to be satisfied with life’s fare”.  To say to Worldly Goods, “You are not my aim, you are an empty promise, you are a food which when eaten, causes hunger”.

God scatters his beauty like invitations, not that we fall in love with the creation, but with the Creator, the Artist, the Maker of all that jaw-dropping splendor.  That we read the promises He whispers in the smell of rain, the embrace of a grandmother, and the fierce red of a tulip.  God inviting.