Saturday, 31 December 2016

New Years Eve by Susan L.

  A year end task is done. All the birthday info, anniversary dates, upcoming events like my daughter's wedding in August have been transferred to the new 2017 calendar. I also make note of unusual weather events like snow in late April and the year it happened. I have a thing about weather. Oh. A note wasn't made about Easter weekend's ice storm this past spring...done.
  This year's calendar, courtesy of the heating oil company, has some lovely pictures of Ontario. I recognize several of them like the one taken in Algonquin Park. I fell in love with the beauty of the Algonquin area when we went camping there a couple summers ago.
  It doesn't look like H and I will be going camping this year. Both of us have weddings out of province in late summer. Although I am thinking of going somewhere for a short trip. Even solo. It would be easy enough to simply put my air mattress in the car because the seats fold flat making a tent unnecessary. The dining tent can be put up and taken down by one person. It's ideal if it rains and keeps the mosquitoes at bay.
  I'd take my paints and do like I did with the solo Nova Scotia trip: stop when something inspired me. It's exciting just thinking about it. Even if I don't go away, it's something that could be done on a day drive about the countryside. It's just a matter of hopping in the car.
  It's something to think about anyways. Lord, I lift it to You.
  I don't know what the year will bring. Already there are a couple of significant and wonderful blessings like a new grandchild (unless he/she arrives before midnight but it doesn't look like it) and a new son-in-law. I hope and pray there are many more blessings. Not only for me but for my family, friends, and my readers as well.
  Here's wishing you all the best and a thousand fold blessings for 2017.
  "How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; When I awake, I am still with You." Ps 139:17-18

Friday, 30 December 2016

Joys of Technology by Susan L.

  There's a vicious snow belt between here and my son's home in Sarnia. Yesterday's snow squalls hammered the highways down his way even though my drive to my mom's was blessed with clear but mucky and wet roads. I must remember to check the windshield washer in the car!
  Jacob's ladders, golden sunbeams, broke through the clouds. A whispered "wow" was an expression of utter joy at their brilliance. Dark, roiling snow clouds to the west paralleled my drive south.
  My son, with infinite wisdom, opted not to make the three and a half hour drive. A friend on the road he was about to embark on let him know the conditions were atrocious in the snow belt. Driving conditions were supposed to be bad in the same area today as well making the trip home just as dangerous.
  Family is far too important to make a drive that could end disastrously.
  After supper, we hooked up via the internet so they could partake in the adult's gift exchange game and spend some time chatting with everyone. There were a lot of laughs. It was wonderful to see them. Even more so because they were safe at home.
  We also hooked up with my daughter (it was lovely to see her!) in Nova Scotia for a bit as well although a glitch cut that short. Technology can be wonderful when it works, not so much when it has a hissy fit.
  Christmas dinner with the family was a much quieter affair than originally planned. Hopefully, at some point in the next week, we will be able to all get together. If we land at my Mom's, ordering pizza will be dinner. That is if Bump holds off his/her arrival time!
  We'll just have to see what the weather brings.
  Lord, watch over and protect my loved ones in their travels near and far. Lord, watch over everyone's loved ones in this season of travelling, visiting and breaking bread together. In Jesus' name I pray.
  "Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!" Ps 107:1

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Winter Wonderland by Susan L.

  Those postcard picture perfect mornings where the world is wrapped in freshly fallen snow make my heart skip with joy even if it means the driveway may need shovelling. Not a foot print mars the yard. The air is still. The sky a soft gray. Shadows are diffused and soft as well. Humps and bumps become works of art. Fluffy mushroom caps make the mundane into characters who, with a fanciful flight of imagination, could talk.
  The birds visiting my neighbour's feeder land in the branches with a puff. There's a Nuthatch who has found a branch in the lilac tree perfect for wedging seeds. She jams them in then patiently pecks away until the treat inside is made available. I see her there all the time in the same spot so it must be a good one!
  These sights are even more precious because they won't last. Before long, the wind will rise, the trees will shake off their blanket so they can doh-si-doh-bow-to-your-partner boogie. The squirrels who raid the bird feeders will bounce across the lawn. There's a rabbit somewhere who uses my shovelled driveway as a highway leaving bunny prints as the only evidence of his existence.
  The snow plow just went past dumping rumply-bumpy chunks of snow along the ditch and the end of the driveway. So much for pristine.
  It will be a beautiful drive to my Mom's today. We are celebrating my family Christmas. It will seem strange without my daughter there but she said she would try and call while we are all together. I am looking forward to seeing everyone.
  All of us are excitedly looking forward to Bump's entry into the world. It could be any day now even if the baby's due date is January 6. I know mom is ready. Those last few weeks of pregnancy seem terribly long!
  Gratitude and hope: the lifeblood of life. Lord, give me eyes to see and the ears to hear the joy You have for all Your creations. In Jesus' name I pray.
  "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." Acts 20:32

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Pressure by Susan L.

  I watch the ads on TV that portray women who race home from work, take care of the kids by helping them with homework or baking Pillsbury cookies while she makes a full, nutritious dinner before tossing them into the Ford van to take them and all the other kids in the neighbourhood to hockey practice. These women keep a spotless home thanks to Dyson and Swiffer, make homemade Christmas cards and decorate the house according to the latest home d├ęcor guru. They go to the gym or yoga, fold laundry washed in Tide and scented with long lasting Downy fabric softener, yet still find time (and money I might add) to shop with their friends. Whew!! I am exhausted just watching the thirty second glimpse into life impossible! Oh, they also take the time while grocery shopping to look at Blue Buffalo pet food labels to make sure Mr. Wiggles gets only the best.
  It's everywhere we look.
  Like the cough syrup ad that emphasises moms don't take sick days.
  I am in the process of watching an old, black and white movie from the late thirties, "Made For Each Other". I love James Stewart with his goofy, bumbling sincerity. The stay-at-home mom has hired help to maintain a small apartment and help with the baby while the dad goes off to work. (The maid who wouldn't wash diapers was fired.) I smile at her perfect makeup, even in the middle of the night!
  When did we evolve to become wonder women? Yet, there's pressure on men, too. James, in the movie, struggles with his inability to provide the best for his family and weeps at the growing debt. A sign of his inadequacies. This was in the era before credit cards were successfully marketed and debt became a part of life. That's a whole other post!
  There's pressure to perform on all of us. Assembly line education, assembly line jobs, assembly line retirement build the box of supposed to be's. Perhaps it isn't performing but believing we need to conform that shreds our confidence and our identity in Christ.
  So we get sick. Anxiety, addictions, mental health struggles, heart disease, high blood pressure are what challenge us as we try and fit a square peg in a round hole.
  Lord, help me be a round peg. Help me find the place and space where I fit. Help me embrace the identity and plans You have for my life. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
  "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tender hearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing." 1 Pet 3:8-9

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Coming Home by Susan L.

  This test of not blogging any more has ended up being an unhealthy exercise. I find myself drifting through the day feeling at a loss without having grounded each morning in time spent with the Lord.  
  This is not a good thing.
  My anxiety has increased and I'm left rather out of sorts, frazzled and adrift. Toss in cranky as well. It's difficult to organize and prioritize the day without spending this crucial hour in prayer. There's room for unwanted thoughts to make themselves known. There's room for unwanted behaviours, like obsessive Solitaire playing while I wait to go to work, (forgive me Lord) that have taken the place of connecting with my Maker.
  I lack the discipline to pull out my Bible each morning like the plan had been. There always seems to be a distraction or something else that needs to be done. The "honey do's" have a way of invading and taking over. Funny, that.
  Doing the blog works. Reading God's Word doesn't. Forgive me, my Lord, for being so easily led away from You. Doing the blog by having the discipline to sit down each morning and write is easy for me because it doesn't feel like an onerous task. It isn't a chore. It's a blessing in my life and a celebration of God's gifts. More importantly, it's a celebration of His presence in my life.
  It's also something I look forward to. Seeing what scripture the Lord will lead me to each morning is a high point in my day. So it should be. Excited anticipation is a far better way to begin a day instead of chasing squirrels.
  So I am back, feeling content and happy that this is where I need to be, that this is what I need to do.
  Peace is a wonderful thing. I look forward to the next leg of this journey. Lord, I surrender it to You, to Your plans, to Your dreams for my life because they far exceed anything I could possibly imagine.
  "Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them." Mk 11:29

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

1230 Posts By Susan L.

  On my way home from Home Church last night, I felt the tender leading of the Lord regarding my blog. A little more than four years ago, I embarked on this journey. It wasn't planned. It wasn't something I'd set out to accomplish. It simply began the moment the internet was available at home via a cell phone.
  This has been a wonderful experience. I've been challenged and encouraged by my readers. To know that people from as far away as Asia, Europe, Africa and South America have visited serves to remind me it's truly a global village, that all of us are united in ways we can't even begin to understand. It has left me feeling humbled and deeply honoured.
  The writing has grounded each day in scriptures. It's been amazing how faithful the Lord has been in leading me to find the right one!
  It's time to take a break, to put the laptop away. For how long, I don't know. The future is like a hilly, winding road. I can see bits of it off in the distance but there's much that is hidden. Whether or not the blog will be part of that future, I don't know.
  Part of surrendering this daily routine is because it is a public forum. I am obligated to censor what is shared to a certain degree for confidentiality reasons. That, and some things are better left to be discussed with my Lord alone in quiet moments of prayer.
  I feel I am being called to go deeper into my faith. This requires complete and often brutal honesty. To do this publicly is impossible. Again, it's about confidentiality. Much of my story I am not at liberty to share.
  It's also about being utterly vulnerable so I can listen, learn and grow as a person and as a follower of Jesus. The partial ability to do this publicly isn't enough right now.
  One of the questions posed at church was the scripture of Jesus asking, "What do you want?"
  I want to go deeper. I want to understand God's love.
  Not doing this every day will take some adjustment. The thought of surrendering the blog has left me both sad and excited because endings are the start of new beginnings. I can't wait to see where it takes me!
  God bless you, dear readers and thank you.
  The End.
  "Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it." Lk 9:23

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

First Day of Advent: Hope by Susan L.

  The following was read at church last Sunday in celebration of Advent. It is being shared on my church's website as well.

The lighthouse perched on world’s end: a constant guide to safe harbours and protection from unforgiving shores.
A window streaming golden light when sunshine rays have vanished:
“I am waiting for you”, it says.
“Welcome home.”
A candle flickering, keeping storm born shadows at bay.
A star of stars in the midnight depths of heaven.
A quest of kings and shepherds.
A Hope beyond all hope waiting to be found.
A Babe born.
The Light of the world. The Saviour. The King of kings.
Lord, You are my Light in the darkness. You are my Guide through the shadows and the storms of this mortal life.
You are my Refuge, my Hope in troubles and in trials.
Let the Light of Hope burn fiercely within me. Let me be Your candle in the night. Help me be a hope bearer for those who have none, who do not know You, who are lost. Help me share the Hope of Christmas that is with me each and every moment of every day I breathe.
 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Jn 3:16

Monday, 28 November 2016

Back It Up by Susan L.

  In carrying my crock pot upstairs at church yesterday, I strained my back. It's so frustrating that such a light object could cause such injury. No matter what position I'm in, it merrily spasms away from my lower back down through my legs.
  The irony in all of this is lunch wasn't pot luck. I'd gone through all the church emails but couldn't find out what was happening. Instead, pizza was brought in. Since I'd skipped the Christmas pot luck party the night before, I decided to leave them for anyone who wanted them. They went over well and gave those who had gluten sensitivities something to eat for lunch. Was it a mix up? Was it meant to be? Or maybe it was the Lord redeeming my mistake.
  He does that frequently.
  After church, a friend came over. We went for a long, leisurely stroll in the park. It helped my back.
  I am blessed by this new friendship far more than because it's walking company. Our conversations range far and deep as we get to know one another and as we share our faith.
  Answered prayers.
  For that I am most thankful. God knows how hard it is for me to develop relationships. Time and again, He has brought someone into my life when I need it the most. Yet, at the same time, it validates my own worth because I can be of some small service for them as well.
  It's hard being vulnerable. Yet an honest relationship cannot be forged otherwise.
  Right now, as the Lord is walking me through another layer of healing grief, I am vulnerable. For the first time, I am okay with that. It's where I need to be.
  I confess it has taken me several weeks to reach this point. Up until now, I'd been running, distracting myself from facing and embracing where the Lord was leading me.
  Keeping the lid on the box, hiding, denying, is exhausting. Exhausted is good. It means there's no choice but to lean on the Lord and trust in His process, His way, His love.
  "I called on Your name, O Lord, from the lowest pit. You have heard my voice: "Do not hide Your ear from my sighing, from my cry for help." You drew near on the day I called on You, and said, "Do not fear!" Lam 3:55-57

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Meatball Mystery by Susan L.

  There's a pot luck lunch followed by a meeting after church tomorrow. There's a pound of hamburger defrosted in the fridge to make meatballs with. Everybody likes meatballs. I recently learned how to cook them in the oven so it takes a fraction of the time it used to. Gone are the days when they were frying pan browned before being added to a recipe.
  My personal favorite is sweet and sour. Meatball stew comes a close second. Then there's the idea of doing a pasta and meatball casserole. Whatever choice made means a trip to the grocery store because the pantry is rather bare of meal making accessories.
  I'll make it today, heat it up tomorrow morning before going to church, then toss it into the crock pot. That way it'll stay hot for lunch.
  Whenever I make or eat sweet and sour meatballs it reminds me of when I was bitten by a dog, a Black Lab. It was going for my throat and missed. The dog's quick slash and grab resulted in seventeen stitches around my upper and lower lips.
  My mom made the meatballs for dinner. Too sore to open my mouth wide enough to eat them, I mashed up the meatballs until they were small enough to fit up a straw. I only had a couple because it was a lot of work for little reward but my, oh, my they were tasty!
 The doctor who sewed me up consulted with a plastic surgeon before he began so he did a fine job. I am thankful the bite healed with a barely noticeable scar. Even so, and here's an added benefit to aging, the older I get, the more wrinkled I get, the more it disappears. 
  That was a long time ago and it lead to teaching my yet to be stepdaughter and stepson what to do in the event of a dog attack. We had them curling up into a ball to protect their necks and faces. I wonder if they remember?
  For a long time, I had issues with big dogs. I am still not comfortable around Black Labs even though I've met plenty of nice ones.
  Thinking about dogs always brings to mind my Duke or Doofus as he was lovingly nicknamed. A massive, hundred and twenty pounds of floppy eared, German Shepherd with the sweetest disposition. I am always surprised at how much I miss him still, a decade after he was laid to rest.
  And that's enough melancholy memories. Time to get into some meatball manufacturing.
  "All whoever came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." Jn 10:8-9

Friday, 25 November 2016

The Circle Theatre by Susan L.

   I gotta give the ole brain a break today. Sometimes it's hard to do that especially when the hamsters get running the gray matter wheels.
  H and I went to see "Fantastic Beasts" at the local cinema Wednesday night. It was about the effects of abuse, anger, betrayal, emotional suppression...the beasts played only a small part. Perhaps watching the trailer or reading the book before going to see it might have been prudent because it left me feeling rather raw by the time it was done. I did enjoy the lead actor's performance and the special effects were pretty amazing.
  Our local theatre lets you bring your own popcorn bowl. They'll fill it for a buck a scoop. In existence since 1938, it's one of the last independent movie houses still surviving. In this case, it's thriving. Entrance fees are reasonable, about half what it costs at one of the big theatres. So are snack prices.
  They are also environmentally conscientious. Drinks (unless you bring your own mug) and snacks are all in recyclable containers. The staff is at the exit to take any garbage, making sure as much as possible is recycled. Apparently, they only have one green bag of actual trash in a week. That's impressive. The marquee lights have all been replaced with LED bulbs.
  It's had a lot of updates over the last several years since the owner passed away and his wife took over the business. The original seats were reupholstered, cup holders were installed as well as a new sound system. When we first moved into the area, twenty odd years ago, the popcorn came pre-made in boxes instead of being freshly popped. The movies playing were already out on video. Now, the movies are current.
  Despite all the upgrades, it hasn't lost its old fashioned flavour which is why the seats were re-done as opposed to being replaced with more modern ones. Walking through the entrance of round windowed doors is a step back through time.
  I think the next time H and I go to see one of the upcoming features, we'll toss in dinner beforehand so we've more of a chance to visit. A few minutes' car ride isn't enough time to get caught up!
  "But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one." 2 Thes 3:3

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Taken Care Of by Susan L.

  Once again, the Lord has met me where I am at. Unfortunately, someone had to get the flu for Home Church to be cancelled last night. It meant a quiet evening for me. Exactly what I needed although there was a bit of a flurry trying to get the family Christmas get together arranged. That took a fair bit of back and forth texts before a date was finalized.
  I managed to get one more illustration done for church yesterday and started writing the final piece on Love. It's hard to wrap my head around "Love According to God" because it's so far removed from any earthly love I've experienced. It makes me kind of sad yet glad at the same time because in true God fashion, He is redeeming the good parts and helping me toss away the not so good parts. 
  It's sad too, how love is corrupted. Mind you, broken people can only love brokenly. That includes me. I was only able to love according to how I learned to love. Praise God, that this is changing!
  It feels like I've come full circle. When I first began my walk as a Christian, the wonderful people who led me to the Lord suggested doing a Bible Study on the word "love", to read each scripture over and over until I "got it". Embarking on this quest, I admit it felt more like a punishment, it quickly revealed I only knew what love wasn't. Still extremely raw and vulnerable after the breakup of my marriage I stopped because I wasn't in a place, nor did I have the supports, to handle the grief stirred up by this study.
  Love cannot exist outside of relationship. Yes, reading the Manual helps. It seeds the heart and mind with God's way of loving. He is patiently chipping away at the obstacles that stop me from being able to live in and through His kind of love.
  I'm not there yet. There is still fear. There is still mistrust. Hmmm, maybe it's discernment. Not everyone is trust worthy.
  To say writing about love has been challenging is an understatement. Lord, help me not colour Your truth with my own understandings. Let Your true and purest of loves shine through and reach the hearts of those who will hear what You have to say. Help them embrace Your love. Thank You for giving me this opportunity to grow and learn and learn to lean on You.
  "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." 1 Tim 6:12

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Busy by Susan L.

  I'm going to have to pass on my church's Christmas dinner this Saturday which is okay. Sunday there's a lunch after church followed by a meeting. I have to pick and chose what I do and be okay with not saying "yes" to everything.
  I've a chance to get together with H on Wednesday. We haven't been together for a while so plan on taking in a movie at the local theatre. This is very important to me, to do this.
  This and other commitments mean I am out five nights in a row this week. To be busy all weekend as well is asking for trouble. Even more so when the busy is accompanied by large groups of people. Noisy crowds, even though I know most of the people at church, are a challenge for me and often exhausting. The meeting is important. I will go to that.
  Down time is so important. Especially when I need time to think about the healing the Lord has brought my way through art therapy. I've put the emotions in a bottle simply to get done what needs to get done. It's not good to do that, to suffocate healing. Also, there's only one session left this time around. The art therapist won't be back until sometime in the spring.
  Making choices. Not having to justify or excuse them. Setting priorities about what is important to me. Saying, "No". Saying, "Yes".
  Saying "No" when I feel doing something is simply more than I can ask of myself is absolutely okay. When time is already committed to other obligations like the drawings and writing for church, it's okay to say "No" to adding more. No guilt. No shame.
  Wonder Woman doesn't live here any more.
  This is part of the healing, isn't it? Boundaries instead of people pleasing. This is a good thing. A healthy thing to do. It's reasonable. It's wise.
  The reactions of other people are not mine to own. This isn't to say I won't be considerate or toss compassion to the wind. This is about believing in myself and trusting that same self to do what is right. It's knowing that when I get stretched thin, it's God who sustains me even if it's my own fault I'm stretched. Old habits are sometimes hard to break.
  But then, anxiety serves as a built in barometer. Like a horse's reins, it lets me know I need to stop doing and simply start being. It means I need to snuggle into my Lord and be refreshed. It means I am not listening to His direction for my life.
  Thank You, Lord for the anxiety. Help me develop more kindness towards this vulnerable part of my identity. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Visit by Susan L.

  Watching my granddaughter and grandson play hockey was the highlight of the weekend. Cold but wonderful. I have no idea why I hadn't packed my winter coat knowing a few hours were going to be spent at the arena! It was fun taking my grandson shopping for his birthday, too. And doing some artsy-craftsy stuff with my granddaughter. I got to spend some "just us" time with my son while the kids were out with their mom at a friend's. Every moment was a highlight and extra special!
  I drove home last night. With both parents teaching full time and trying to get the kids ready for school, it made sense to leave rather than add to Monday morning chaos. It was the first really nasty day of the season with blowing snow that made the road icy in patches. The first part of the journey is all wide open fields. The wind was ferocious, rocking the car back and forth. It was a two handed drive. I passed one car in the ditch with a tow truck on site so proceeded all the more cautiously. So glad I have snow tires!
  Once clear of the fields, the road gets hillier and there are more trees sheltering it which got rid of the snow streaming across the road. There was a section of dry roads before I entered into the snow belt. Even so, the tire paths were open and the road clearly visible so it wasn't that bad except for getting stuck behind a snow plow. But then, being stuck behind a snow plow is the safest place to be. I was less than an hour from home before it got completely dark which helped.
  There was flock after flock of snow buntings that swooped and settled at the road's edge. A couple of them had near death experiences before they flew clear of the car. They are a lovely white and buff bird who nest in the far north but migrate down during the winter. I don't normally see them at home because they prefer open fields so this was a treat. This was a far different sight than the moths and bugs which ran into my windshield on the way down, something that doesn't normally happen in November. It was unseasonably mild. Hmmm, maybe that's why I didn't pack my winter coat...
  It's still windy out there. The ground is covered with a blanket of snow. The car will need cleaning off before I head anywhere. I guess it's safe to say winter has arrived.
  "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." 1 Pet 5:6-7

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Holiday by Susan L.

  I am taking a much needed break to spend time with my son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren starting tomorrow. It'll give the last couple of week's Triple T healing the opportunity to settle in. It's like breaking in a new pair of shoes.
  After posting yesterday, I read the previous blogs leading up to this one. I rarely remember what was written the day before especially in the challenging times. It pays to look back and reflect on what is going on. Reflecting back and seeing even a tiny bit of progress makes the tough stuff easier to work with. It always amazes me, touches me, warms my heart to see the tangible evidence of answered prayers.
  Angst becomes awe as I'm left wide eyed and open mouthed, as a whispered, "wow" is muttered with each realization of how God is working in my life. "Wow" is an expression of deepest gratitude for the changes He is making in how I view myself and the world.
  Trauma has a way of fracturing personality. It's a side effect of the protective, disassociation coping mechanism. In extreme cases, these personalities can inhabit the same body with no common memory thread. It was once called multiple personality disorder but that's been changed because the different "personalities" are really various aspects of the same person.
  Disconnecting emotionally from the memories disconnects identity, the person you were at that particular moment in time. Toss in a generous helping of shame, blame, and fear, it's easy to hate the person you were when the event took place. It's much easier to forgive our trespassers than to forgive ourselves.
  I love the line from a pastor called Peter Jackson. "If we can't love ourselves, God help our neighbour."
  So, thank You, Lord, for opening my heart to compassion for the child I brutally locked away and silenced for so many years. Thank You for freeing me of the shame and the guilt. Thank You for freeing me of taking on the responsibilities of other's choices to harm and destroy innocence.
  It's not my fault after all.
  Forgive me, Lord, for the harm I've done to my own children because of the hatred and contempt I held for my own inner child.
  "Whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea." Mk 9:42

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Knitting it Together by Susan L.

  I've been knitting a sweater for myself. It's done in one piece starting at the top. By the time the collar and shoulders are knit, there's a massive amount of stitches on my round needles. It takes about seven minutes a row towards the end. It's basic knit one row (adding stitches) then purl the other for a smooth finish which leaves lots of time for quiet contemplation.
  I've been contemplating a lot. Allowing my mind to meander back and forth to my earliest recollections of when I was not quite four years old right through to the present hasn't been easy. But, in this process, the truth of my identity in Christ is emerging and a greater understanding about why I behave the way I do, how key events shaped my world belief system and put fear mechanisms in place. Those, based on memory, are things I do instinctually to feel safe not necessarily understanding why they are done. (One day I may be able to put doors on my closet. If I can't? That's okay too.)
  I've been thinking about memory, how subjective it is. Asking three people about a party they attended means three different perspectives will emerge. It doesn't mean two of the three are wrong in their recollections. It's simply how they experienced the event.
  During my mental meanderings I've taken the opportunity to validate my memories. Like the cashier validates a twenty dollar bill by passing it under the light I've been lifting up certain events to the Lord for clarification and understanding. I've been working on trusting myself regarding how I experienced past events because it is my truth that has been seared into my memory banks.
  I read about memory suppression last night to gain some understanding about how the mind works when it comes to trauma. I read about how hard it is for trauma survivors to provide a clear and consistent, organized narrative about what happened to them. When the lizard brain kicks in(fight/flight/freeze/fawn), cognitive awareness can shut down.
  Fawn is a new addition to the list. The best way to describe it is when a coyote grabs a sheep or goat by the throat, they enter into a trancelike state. I think it is God's way of protecting the prey animals from unnecessary suffering. If the predator is chased off, the goat will lay their stunned. It takes a few moments for the prey to realize it's okay.
  Sometimes, even if there isn't an actual tangible memory, it's the body that remembers.
  Trauma doesn't just impact the mind. It damages it. A body trigger causes the mind to take the pre-wired shortcuts put there for survival. Repeated trauma only reinforces these short cuts. It doesn't matter if the environment is perfectly safe. Something as innocuous as aftershave can ignite traumatic survival mechanisms intertwined with past experiences, known or unknown.
  Validation. Acceptance. Grace. Compassion. Understanding. Yes, there's been tears but it's all good. Peeling layers off an onion is often accompanied by tears. Most of my worst memories have already undergone the healing balm of forgiveness. Most of my worst memories have been explored to find where the Lord was in that particular moment.
  These last few weeks have been about reconciliation, about not bearing the responsibilities for choices others have made. It's about letting go of blaming myself for what happened.
  It's a process.
  Discovery is not a straight line journey.
  "My son, eat honey because it is good, and the honeycomb which is sweet to your taste; So shall the knowledge of wisdom be to your soul; If you have found it, there is a prospect, and your hope will not be cut off." Prov 24:13-14

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Filling in the Blanks by Susan L.

  The letter "Y" fell off my keyboard. In its place is a white plastic, springy, thingamajig and a rubber core that thankfully works when I type the letter. I have no idea how it happened but noticed it when I sat down to do some journaling last night.
  I've been talking about finding a councillor, a therapist or the like when I have the greatest Councillor I could ever ask for. Last night's triple T (Thinking Things Through) evolved like a conversation. Tough questions were asked. Tough answers were given. In the end, I gained a whole whack of understanding about how I've been wired. I gained a whole whack of understanding about why I behaved like I did, why I made the choices I did.
  Grace has wrapped itself around my past. Compassion, instead of shame, wraps itself around my heart.
  Since last Thursday, I've been running, hiding, filling my time with anything but sitting down and thinking about what was going on because it meant re-visiting some not so great memories. It's been easy, blaming the fact that I didn't have a "professional" to talk to. It's been busy as well...okay, not that busy. There's been a lot of make-work, head in the sand hiding.
  I figured out that "why", too. It's because feeling intense emotions scares the pants off me. I've ended up institutionalized twice because of overwhelming emotions that drove me to madness.
  Emotions betray me. (That statement needs some further examination. Lord I lift it to You.)
  I know in my head that incompatible meds played a huge role in both hospitalizations. Even though I know this, it has felt like a cop-out, a blame game when the "only one to blame is myself, my weakness, my inability to move forward". Ouch. That's being terribly hard on myself isn't it?
  Think, live and breathe compassion, Sue. The same compassion I feel for others who have suffered terrible wrongs has a place regarding the terrible wrongs I've suffered that warped and twisted my understanding of worth.
  This has been foundation shifting stuff. There is still much to think about, to pray about; much to let go of and much to let in.
  All in good time. I'm not so afraid any more. My Councillor is with me.
  "For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to the light." Lk 8:17

Monday, 14 November 2016

The Next Step by Susan L.

  Last night was a lonely night. They don't happen very often but every once in a while, I miss having someone to wrap their arms around me. Love with skin on it. So, rather than get swept up or sad about it, I played the piano.
  I've been working on a piece for a couple of weeks now. I feel a sense of accomplishment if I can write a couple of new sections whenever I sit down in front of the keys. By forcing it, by trying to write too much, the theme, the choices get muddied and overwhelmed by other possibilities outside the theme. So, bit by bit, it takes shape.
  Some of the melodic rabbit trails have lead to the birthplace of other pieces so sometimes I simply allow myself to get swept up in the music, to take a much needed break from trying to write down what I just played. These can be precious moments of getting lost, of getting outside my head.
  This is in stark contrast to how I usually work. I've shared before how, when a project gets started, it takes over for a while.
 Some of the research I've done about music composition suggests that whatever you are working on should have a title that grounds the idea being portrayed by melody. This rather mournful piece, stormy in places, doesn't have one yet. In correlation to the chaotic state of my mind, it's all over the map. Melody has taken the place of tears and anger. There are sections in stark contrast that bespeak of incredible joy, the release from the haunting sorrows of the heart.
  Hmmm. It reminds me of a windy, overcast day where the sun peeks out between gaps in the clouds...This brings up a couple of possibilities for the name: "November Skies" or, "November Soul". I like the second one better.
  It's been challenging lately. The emotional rollercoaster, writing Advent pieces for church and doing the artwork that is so far removed from what is going on inside, (thank You, Lord, for Your inspiration), art therapy, flashbacks, nightmares as well as the season create a turbulent swirl of feelings. I can be thankful for them, though. Even if I don't necessarily want to feel the feelings, being in touch with what's going on inside is way better than shutting down, disassociating or numbing. That's not healthy or beneficial. Never mind utterly exhausting.
  I have been thinking about therapy options. My psychiatrist suggested I get in touch with an organization I'd dealt with before. This was not a good experience. Even though they've revamped their programs and even changed their name, everything about me rebels at putting myself back there. Sitting in a group, listening to someone else's horrific experiences...I know it's more than I can handle right now. I already know, sadly, that I am not alone in all that has happened to me, that there are far too many other women (and men) who have experienced abuse.
  Lord, I lift this up to You. Guide me where You would have me be. In Jesus' name I pray.  
  Meanwhile, thank You so very much for the music.
  "Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented." And Jesus said to him, "I will come and heal him."" Mat 8:5-7

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Coming Together by Susan L.

  There was a baby shower yesterday for my son, his wife and Bump or Grub as he calls the bulge in her belly. Several friends and family members came together to celebrate their much anticipated first.
  Our co-host, a good friend of theirs, was the activity co-ordinator. She brought plain white jumpers, a couple of big white T-shirts and a baby blanket. Fabric paint was provided for the guests to decorate the baby's clothes as well as a shirt for each parent. The blanket was for everyone who came to sign.
  The resulting creations were pretty amazing. Most of them had met in the arts program at Sheridan College so the amount of talent around the table was impressive. Even those who hadn't attended the school produced some wonderful images as well. I thought it was an awesome idea! One that I will keep in mind for future celebrations.
  It was held at my mom's condo that is near where I used to live in the city. Every time I head down there, I am more thankful I don't live there any more. It's crazy busy. One traffic light took three exchanges before being able to clear an intersection. It was Friday rush hour. But last night, even though it wasn't rush hour, one traffic light took a double cycle for me to get through. Give me my country road over that any day!
  Thank You, Lord, that despite the terrible situation I once lived in, it was how You got me out of that incredibly stressful, busy, noisy environment.
  "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light." Mat 6:22

Friday, 11 November 2016

Better by Susan L.

  After working through some difficult and emotionally charged memories at last night's art therapy, I found some peace. I found understanding. I found the beginning of a healing journey. It's not going to be easy. There may be times I need to push the boat over the rocks just like in the dream or better yet, I'll stay in the boat and let the Lord push me over the rocks while I stay high and dry.
  It may mean there's tears. It may mean I get angry. It may mean I get confused but once the Lord breathes His life into whatever troubles me, there is joy. Not the bouncy, squealy kind of joy but a lifting of the heart and a raising of the spirits.
  Peace is a wonderful thing.
  Truth is a wonderful thing.
  It appears I am having some computer issues so I'll cut this short. All I can say is I am looking forward to what lay ahead.
  "My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him." Ps 62:5

Thursday, 10 November 2016

One of Those Nights by Susan L.

  I know dreams are an expression of thoughts and feelings hidden below the conscious mind.  Often my dreams come with a sensible story line, in full colour and ignited senses right down to touch and smell. Last night was one of these movies. Even when I emerged into semi-wakefulness, struggling to break free of what was unfolding, I fell back into the dream.
  I was travelling with a much older couple in a large camper van. I was young, in my teens or thereabout. My reason for being there was to help them out and have a bit of a vacation. It was fun in the beginning with ample opportunities to do camping stuff.
  Part of the dream had me paddling a rather flimsy canoe. It was tricky finding my way amongst the rocks. The bottom of the boat frequently scraped the rocky shores of the shallow lake I was on. I kept having to get out to push the canoe over a particularly shallow area and had a difficult time getting back in. It began filling with water. The paddle had a habit of floating away or getting broken which meant going into stores along the shore to purchase a new one.
  These struggles were in stark contrast to the pristine waters, the sun and the sky. The fresh scent of pines drifted past on the breeze.
  When I returned the canoe to the rental place, even though it had been a rather unpleasant experience, I laughed it off and tossed the comment over my shoulder as I walked away, "I gotta get an inflatable kayak!"
  I remember looking at maps as the next destination was planned. It was different than when I had originally signed up for the trip. I was being forced to go to some obscure town in the states when the plan had been to head to the north. (This was the trip I had been given permission to take.) I panicked because I hadn't brought my passport and mentioned going home to get it first.
  That wasn't allowed so the trip headed into some off-the-beaten-track location in the far,far north well away from any sort of civilization. Well away from what I'd signed up for.
  That's when I started getting scared.
  That's when things started to get really ugly.
  The dream ended because the phone rang, startling me awake and I had to get up. I am so incredibly thankful because there was only one reason for being kidnapped.
  I can still smell the musty odor of the old stores. They were dark and shadowy with creaky, wooden floors and racks of camping stuff covered with dust. I felt embarrassed that I couldn't hang on to the paddle but it was so much work simply manoeuvering the canoe, it was easy to drop it. I remember wondering why paddles didn't come with a loop to put over the wrist.
  I never saw the faces of the people in the van but while looking at the map, the fresh aroma of coffee filled the air. The map was covered with coffee rings, the creases worn in places. I could see and feel the flannel shirt of the man as he pointed out possible destinations, uncomfortably close to me. His aftershave was overpowering. The woman was chattering in the background all ersatz nicey nice. It felt phoney.
  So. I feel incredibly vulnerable this morning. It was all so real.
  I can understand where some of the dream came from. It fits with my mental health challenges and my frustration about being so powerless when flashbacks rear their ugly heads. I can understand, too, being forced to take a route not wanted and again, being powerless to change it. The rest I could have done without.
  Lord, I lift this to You. Please, wash it away so it doesn't haunt me. In Jesus' name I pray
  "For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living." Ps 116:8-9

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Symphony by Susan L.

 I was invited to attend a performance by the Oakville Symphony Sunday afternoon. It's been a long time since I've seen music performed live. It fed my soul and I was sad when it ended.
  Watching the conductor, whose fluid movements were like a dance, sent my mind wandering. I imagined the great Conductor at the dawn of creation bringing everything into being. Even the notes of the orchestra created visions of swirling, churning life so new it shone. Rainbow hues of colour: earthy browns, speckled granites, clear water blues of sky and sea, the fire of stars and sun spun in organized chaos before my eyes.
  The guest musician was a cellist who played during the second half of the performance. I watched as he became the music, as everything else disappeared but the Notes. Despite being tied to earthly needs like the chair he sat upon, despite knocking over the lead violinist's music stand in a flourish of bow, (a smile and a nod for apology) he ceased to exist as a man.
  Watching him set me free. The last chains of formal classical training where toe tapping, body swaying, in fact any external expression of the music is banned except to play what is written, have fallen away. I don't need to contain what comes most naturally any more. Although, in the listening, I was utterly still and focused on the interweaving of the various voices of the strings, woodwinds, brass.
  I can understand how the cellist felt. I can understand how the music becomes the soul's expression. I can understand the joy of getting lost in a melody that drowns out the world for a little while. It's something I do every time I sit down to the piano and play my heart's song for an audience of One.
  I think what touched me most of all was how incredibly vulnerable and brave he was. He bared his soul to the audience.
  Lord, thank You for the music. Thank You that I will be able to be just as free with the worship team.
  "And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." Eph 5:18-20


Monday, 7 November 2016

My Cross by Susan L.

  In church I had one of those shoulder-tapping-ear-whispering, "This is for you", moments. It caused a flare of anger to wash over me when a couple of the scriptures for the day referred to us taking up our cross and following Jesus.
  I am pretty sure I have misunderstood the meaning behind those words (hence the shoulder tap).
  I always thought that living with PTSD was "taking up my cross", that bearing the weight and aftereffects of sin, was my duty. I thought it meant that even though I know Jesus, even though I follow Him, I have to carry this by myself as part of being a Christian.
  This is where the anger comes in.
  As long as I behaved myself, as long as I didn't let it drag me down or turn me away from Jesus, this "cross" was going to be part of my life until I die.
  It's a common theme when troubles come our way. I've heard many people saying in difficult times or situations, most often with a heavy sigh, "It's my cross to bear" or "he's my cross to bear."
  Why would a loving God expect His children to carry such weight?
  I don't think we are supposed to.
  What does taking up our cross mean?
  Help me Lord, see Your truth in this.
  Oh, my goodness...taking up my cross is the path to redemption. Taking up my cross means embarking on a journey of healing, of letting go. Taking up my cross means crucifying the old (wo)man....not on a cross of my own understanding, but through the love of Jesus.
  Taking up my cross means there will be many "Simons" in my life to help me. Imagine! I take up this cross so I can let others into my life to pray for me, to help, to encourage, or simply give a hug. My cross encourages me to do likewise for others. Not out of duty, but through love, compassion and caring. 
  Letting in is just as important as letting go. Although, I confess this is still a scary thing for me to do. But that's okay. Being a tortoise is just as effective as being a hare. Sometimes this race is run by standing still.

  Taking up my cross is not punishment or a chore to earn more grace! Far from it! Just thinking about it that way only stirs resentment and anger.
  The cross is the pinnacle of love. If I take up my cross, I embrace that love. I make a choice to love in an often loveless world. I opt to march to the beat of a different Drummer. It frees me to grow into who I am in Christ because of the final work done on His Cross.
  Oh, amazing Grace. Now I understand when You said,
  "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Mat 11:29-30


Saturday, 5 November 2016

Emotional Rollercoaster by Susan L.

  It's why I couldn't blog yesterday.
  It's more than anger. It's unadulterated fury, frustration, sadness, feeling helpless, hopeless...exhausted.

 This is really hard for me to deal with. I don't know how to express it. I don't know how to control it. (I am, though, or I'd have gone berserk and taken a sledgehammer to a couple of walls or something stupid like that.)
 Control doesn't mean squashing it down, holding it in. I can't do that anymore. The price is too high and it only ignites self-harming ideology which makes me even angrier that these thoughts would even exist!
  I understand where they come from and I won't act on them. I understand why the thoughts are there.
  "I may as well punish myself before someone else does."
  "Bad girl! You are angry and that's not allowed."
  I can't use the ole trick of numbing. That price is too high as well: physically, mentally and emotionally. To create, I must feel.
  I feel so guilty for being angry. I'm angry because I am angry. Like somehow it's my fault; that there's something wrong with me. Like I am the broken one who should be able to brush the anger away la-di-da. Or suck it up when someone gets angry at me because it, too, is my fault that they are angry. In both cases, I've been taught to apologize. One: for being angry. Two: for making them angry.
  Oh, Lord, the life lessons I've learned have crippled me...
  I am not angry because of my mental health issues, I am angry because it's how I feel!
  It's so confusing. Help me make sense of it, Lord. Help me cast aside what isn't righteous.
  I need to be brutally honest about this. I know the Lord will guide me into truth. To find the truth, the lies I believe need to be put down on paper.
  This is a Triple T to the nth degree. Maybe, by writing about it, the anger will be released in a safe way so there's no collateral damage done to anyone, myself included. Maybe by writing about it, I will find clarity about what is really going on.

  There's the not so good anger rooted in expectations and failures (my own and of others). There's the anger of grief. There's the little girl having a temper tantrum. There's anger because of having to live with mental health challenges. There's anger that the past keeps jumping up and biting me, reminding me every day about the past. There's anger because the past won't go away once and for all and simply leave me in peace so I can live a "normal" life.
  Oh, Lord, I want so much for it to simply go away...

  There's fear. If I share my emotions, I will be abandoned.
  There's fear. If I allow emotions out, I will be ignored. Or worse, mocked and belittled. (Even now circumstances are driving that lesson home by accident or by intention.)
  There's fear. If I express myself, I will be punished or corrected.
  So there it is. Ugly but honest lessons of the past.
  No, it's not ugly. Honesty is beautiful. Truth is beautiful even if my "truth" is twisted and corrupted by worldly understandings. I freely admit it is. Being candid is the way to Christ's Truth about all of this. Being candid is opening my heart to Him because He holds the key to growth and healing.
  Lord, I need help. I need You to help me be free of these lies. I need you to help me walk free of fear. But most of all, I ask for discernment in how to express myself and who to trust.
  My burden has lightened. My anger has dwindled although I think this is only the beginning of another healing journey. It is new territory. Help me, Lord, not take the anger of a lifetime out on those I love. In Jesus' name I pray.
  "He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him." Ps 103:10-11



Thursday, 3 November 2016

Pudding by Susan L.

   That's how my brain feels this morning. Emotions. Thoughts. Memories. Ideas. All swirling around like a pudding in a blender.
  I am almost afraid to put one idea down on paper because it seems that when I do that, it fades into the mist. So, Lord, I lift it up to You, that you will keep me inspired. That You will help me see how to go about what could easily overwhelm me into doing nothing.
  Here it is. I've been thinking about writing a book. It isn't the first time I've been inspired to tackle a big project but this time it feels different. Maybe because I am passionate about it. Maybe because it's something I've experienced that has set me free on so many levels.
  "The Art of Prayer".
  I want to open the door for others to explore art as a way of praying. I want to share how art helps a person be still and in the moment. I want to offer an opportunity to learn how to hear that Still, Small Voice. I want to break the chains of shame many people feel regarding creativity. I want to help people explore the full body, full mind expression of self laid down visually before the great Creator. 
  It won't be a "how to draw" book. That isn't the point. Stick people can speak volumes. They are on signs everywhere. Their messages are instantly recognizable. (I'll have to remember that the next time someone tells me they can only draw stick people!)
  The Inktober challenge did a lot for me. It built confidence. It built up my faith. Most of all, it made me realize just how incredibly powerful faith based imagery can be. This isn't a new idea. Churches were the original sponsors of artists. In an illiterate world, images were used to tell stories, to help people connect to Jesus.
  This book won't be an art history course either.
  If I can find a couple of hours a day to do a drawing challenge for a month, help me, Lord, discipline myself to spend those same hours in this challenge.
  Hmmm. That's an interesting way to look at it as opposed to being a "goal". I am a fighter. Challenges get my passion going.
  Your will be done, my Lord.
  "For in this the saying is true: One sows and another reaps." Jn 4:37

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

What Does It Look Like? by Susan L.

  I wrote something the other day in a post. "I cannot hate."
  The amazing series at church called, "Love, Lust and Loyalty" with Bruxy Cavey is revealing the misconceptions and misunderstandings I've learned regarding relationships and gender roles.
  The big question, even though I cannot hate, is: can I love?
  The next big question is: can I break through the fear so love is possible?
  Maybe this is looking at it the wrong way. By myself, I can't love to the degree Jesus calls us to. In Him and through Him I can.
  1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is all about this greatest gift. I stumble over the first line. "Love suffers long." What exactly does that mean? If I substitute the word love for Jesus (He is Love), it then reads "Jesus suffers long." In the name of love, He bore rejection, abandonment, hatred, denial, and the weight of the cross for us. Is that what it means to love in a broken world? I can say from personal experience, yes! Even the cross I bear, the PTSD, is a result of having loved.
  Forgive me, Lord, for my fear of opening my heart, of being vulnerable. Hmmm, that isn't a hundred percent true because it is something I do often. This is about trusting the Holy Spirit who leads me into that place of vulnerability and trust when it comes to relationships with my fellow human beings. He helps me understand the how another person needs to be loved.
  Loving another isn't the same as allowing myself to be abused or subjugated. This is the life long lesson that is so hard for me to set aside in my quest for understanding love. The two have been inseparable.
  Distrust isn't hate. Discerning whether or not a person is to be trusted isn't the same as withholding love. I am not sure of the scripture but at one point Jesus sent His disciples out to various towns. When they were rejected, He told them to move on. Did they pray for those souls who weren't ready for the Good News?
  Jesus bore the lashes, the crown of thorns in the name of love so I don't have to...ever again.
  Sometimes saying, "No" is love in action. Learning to say "No" as an act of love instead of self-preservation will take some practice.

  Now that's a huge breakthrough in understanding.

  I can also admit that Jesus was not the head of the household in my marriage. Christian principles however were taken out of context to enforce a position of power and eradicate accountability. My own misunderstandings of Christian principles also made me open to being subjugated. This takes me back to the top of the page and the incredibly insightful, thought provoking teaching which has changed my thinking so much. It is available online via The Meetinghouse's website.
  "And now abide in faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." 1 Cor 13:13


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Daylight by Susan L.

  There's something special about looking out a window in the daylight especially after a rough night. The trees in the yard still have most of their leaves. They are a shimmering green-gold. I am in a much better place now the sun is up albeit hiding behind clouds.
  It took me a while to fall asleep last night or should I say, this morning. The few hours before the alarm went off were restless and full of dreams. I couldn't get warmed up.
  It doesn't surprise me. Fresh understandings take time to settle in. New understandings that challenge and change core beliefs are usually met with resistance by you-know-who. The resistance merely affirms what I've learned is good and right and true. New understandings obliterate the overwhelming emotional power of the flashbacks. The memories are still there but they've lost their sting.
  There is much to be thankful for. Not so long ago, flashbacks would have put me in a tailspin for weeks, even months, before I could find my way clear of them. I am wiser. Quicker to take it to the Lord. Quicker to open my heart and mind to the Lord's take on things. I've also discovered that there's usually an unGodly core belief that runs as a common thread within the seemingly unrelated flashbacks. It's simply a matter of finding it or should I say, letting Him show it to me then turning it over to Him. It's like doing laundry with love as a detergent.
  Like last night's fresh understanding that I hadn't forgiven myself for the choices I'd made. To add to that, I didn't think I had made choices but merely lived reacting to outside forces. That's part of it, too, feeling trapped with no way out. Then there's finding grace for the woman who lived in constant fear. Grace for the woman who shouldered so much responsibility to prove her worthiness. Grace for the woman who believed she had no choice but to live according to the volatile whims of another.
  Not always. And this is something I've not really thought about before. The buffalo were only one example. I made the right choices and stood by them despite pressure to do otherwise on many other occasions. I know that was the Lord strengthening me even if I didn't know He was there. He saved me from myself.
  There was some amazing brain re-wiring taking place in the chilly hours after midnight.
  Yes, I am tired, but more thankful than you could possibly imagine.
  Freedom is a wonderful thing.
  "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." Jn 15:1-2

In the Wee Hours by Susan L.

  It's just before two thirty AM. I don't know if I forgot to take my meds, a rare event, or if it is simply more of the sleep issues that have become part of my life again over the last few weeks. Rather than turn off the light and hope for sleep, I decided to do something I haven't done for a long, long time. Over a cup of lemon verbena tea which will hopefully take the edge of the wide eyed wariness that has become part of every night lately, I'm going to have a chat with my Lord.
  I don't feel safe. It's not that there's anyone around. A country road at this time of night has an abandoned feel about it. The doors and windows are locked tight. It's my mind that keeps betraying me.
  I close my eyes, on the verge of sleep then, "Pow!" From some gray and wrinkled corner of memory, unwanted, unbidden, awful events replay themselves in full, glorious Technicolor. There's no need to go hunting for them. There's no need to think back trying to remember details. They pounce and I open my eyes, afraid to shut them again.
  Lord, You know the last couple of weeks at church have been hard for me. Learning about relationships between men and women, learning about marriages, has stirred up much I would just as soon forget.
  The boots. My ex found it highly amusing to wear his barn boots into the kitchen where, especially in the winter, the muck would run onto the floor. He would lift them long enough for me to put a piece of newspaper under his feet, laughing like it was an amazingly funny joke no matter how frustrated I got or how often I asked him to take them off at the door.
  This one, often repeated, act has come to symbolize that relationship.
  I don't think I am bitter about it. Sad, yes. Sad for the woman who was so brow-beaten that this blatant disrespect and display of power and control could even happen. It took twenty years of careful training on his part. My training. I learned my lessons well.
  I know I am not her any more but she is me. She will always be part of me. Her life is my memories. Yet, even then, when depression wrapped it's cold, dark waters around my heart and mind, in another gray and wrinkled corner of my mind, a fragment held the vain hope that there was something better, something More to life.
  I have found that Better. The One who loves me regardless of the newspaper, regardless of what has happened in the past. Regardless of how I sold myself off piece by piece for the illusion of being loved.
  Can I forgive those who took this most basic human need for love and corrupted it? Who mocked it? Who used it for their own gain? Who shaped the memories that haunt me?
  I try. I continue trying.
  I cannot and will not hate.
  Can I forgive myself?  Can I forgive myself for so desperately needing to be loved that I would do anything asked of me?

  (A startled laugh bursts through the tears I've been fighting back for a long while now.)
  Except have buffalo on the farm.
  Thank You, Lord, for reminding me about that. I told my ex I would leave if he brought them to the farm as yet another animal for me to look after. They are extremely dangerous wild animals. He didn't buy them but I paid a price in silence.
  In that, Lord, I know You gave me strength to go against his will. Because of that small, terribly brave, moment of rebellion, You kept me safe so that umpteen years later, we could have this chat.
  And I think I can finally go to sleep.
  "Blessed is the (wo)man You choose, and cause to approach You, that (s)he may dwell in Your courts." Ps 65:4

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Request by Susan L.

 The worship team leader approached me earlier this week to do something special for Advent. She asked if I'd like to do a drawing as well as writing something appropriate to each Sunday's yet-to-be-revealed theme. My first reaction was panic. It's a big commitment.
  Then I laughed.
  I'd asked the Lord to help me find a way to keep the art going once Inktober was over because I've truly enjoyed everything about it. I've enjoyed stretching my artistic skills. I've enjoyed taking the moments of quiet time to sit and draw. Most of all I've enjoyed having the Lord plant His vision for each of the prompts into my mind. He's been faithful, even for today's yet to be drawn image.
  "Surprise" is the prompt. There's been several ideas float past but those were me trying to force an idea. It happens all the time. Just as I sat down at the laptop, having given up trying to make it on my own, I imagined Moses parting the Red Sea. Wasn't that a surprise to all involved?! When I'm done here, I'll go and fulfill the request.
  The team leader and I discussed options for Advent after last night's rehearsal. It started to get complicated as possibilities were tossed back and forth. Too many choices are not a good thing. I asked her to talk with our pastor and give me a single idea for each of the four Sundays. I know the Lord will be there for me.
  He would have been there if there were choices to be made as well. I didn't want to get buzzing brain panicky about it because it's terribly hard to hear His voice when that happens. So this will be an exercise of absolute trust that there will be pictures as well as some form of writing be it a poem, a small play...something unique each week's theme. I firmly place this call to create in His hands. He is, after all, the Great Creator.
  "The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." Gen 1:2

Friday, 28 October 2016

The Forge by Susan L.

  I created something similar to this Inktober drawing when I first became a Christian. It's an idea which has brought me comfort time and again through all the trials I had yet to face when it was originally set down on paper. This drawing is much better. My art skills have grown over the years through much practice. It would seem they, too, have been refined and forged by a walk of faith.
  I've learned a lot about how blacksmiths use the science of heat and water. It's amazing what a master of the forge can make. Everything from pick axes, to weapons, to cooking tools, to fine, ornamental filigree can be created through fire and water.
  Even though a hammer is the main tool used to mold the heated metal, it cannot be forced but has to be carefully shaped. A hard blow at the wrong time, at the wrong temperature could shatter hours or even days of work.
  There's ways of tempering the metal to make it extra hard and durable. If I remember correctly, it needs to be heated to a glowing yellow red before being plunged into cool water.  A blacksmith knows when to douse it simply by the intensity and colour of the glowing metal. It does kick up a fuss in the water as it hisses and steams and boils the water around it.
 The best part is the end result because tempered metal has a shimmering gold colour to it.
  Maybe that's why I like the idea of Jesus being at the forge, shaping our spirits, our souls, through fiery trials and the cooling bath of living water. I like the idea because even before coming to the forge, we are purified like metal is extracted and refined from hunks of ore bearing, worldly stone. That too, is a process of fire.
  And acceptance, and worthiness.
  As the picture says,
  "We went through fire and water, but You brought us out to rich fulfillment." Ps 66:12

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Prayer of Art by Susan L.

  I am feeling so incredibly blessed. Each day of doing the Inktober challenge has brought me closer to God. Each day He has proven so faithful in granting me an image to draw. Each day He has whispered in my ear the message behind each picture. It is my message, not anyone else's and has enabled me to grow as a Christian.
  That's the joy of art. It speaks to everyone in their own special way.
  Art and faith have been companions for a long time. Art and faith have been inseparable since I became a Christian. It's where my walk started: at the drafting table where He taught me how to listen. He showed me how to put my heart on paper.
  God knew there would come a point where I was unable to articulate the pain in my life. God knew I'd need pictures to breach the swirling horror of the Black River.
  It's wonderful to come into a place where I am able to share this month's journey with others. It has been a journey. The discomfort felt at "tooting my own horn" has mostly faded away although I can occasionally feel it nipping at my heels. In it's place is the growing joy of knowing that God has used the pictures for His glory. And that's all what it's about anyways.
  Thank You, Lord, a gazillion times over for setting me free of my own box. Thank You for showing me I never have to get back into it ever again.
  There's only five days left. Already I am sad it's going to be over.
  I've been musing about starting a group to encourage other artists to explore faith through image creation. It would be more like an art jam as opposed to me teaching others how to draw. It's only been whispers up to now so perhaps, sometime soon, the opportunity will arise. Your will be done, my Lord. I will need a bigger space than my own tiny kitchen!
  Hmmm, that was a prayer. Guide me, Lord, through the steps that need to be taken to make this happen. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
  "Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day." Ps 25:4-5

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Light Challenges by Susan L.

  I have an art question. How do you make something look like it's glowing when drawn in pen and ink? This is a serious question. While I like the effect of the gold ink that was carefully painted to outline the angel, only the original glimmers and shines. It doesn't photograph well.
 The angel's only adornment is the shimmering gold. I didn't want to clothe a being that is made of light. At least, that's how I imagine them to be and what I attempted to do with worldly tools.
  I know there are warrior angels, comforting angels, and those who protect us. Does an eternal being even need armor?
  All I know is I have been thankful for their presence on more than one occasion.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Round and Round by Susan L.

  And round again. Our church is following the Meeting House series called "Love, Lust and Loyalty". It's about relationships between men and women in Christ. It challenges the traditional religious take on a patriarchal society. I want to go, to learn, to have my own false understandings changed...I don't know if I can continue going. 
  Sometimes I wish I could get off the memory merry-go-round. Sometimes I wish I could just "get over it".
  And I get angry. At myself. At the way I have to live simply to get by.
  It's been over a decade since my marriage thankfully ended. But then, I live with PTSD and chronic anxiety mostly because of that often horrible relationship. I am reminded every day how bad it was even though there were good times, even though there's much to be thankful for. I am reminded every day even if there is no particular memory that comes to mind. The problem is that ugly has a way of leaping out of the memory banks and tromping all over everything that is good and right with muddy boots.
  Even writing about it and I have to write about it because trying to contain it is the path to despair. I've been there. I don't want to end up in that terrible and dark place. I have to write about it because the writing is lifting it all up to the Lord in prayer. 
  Writing about it, thinking about it rewires the brain. It's like switching on the safety of a loaded gun.
  And God whispers His truth into my mind and heart.
   I've had a few people lately who, in their own brokenness, have subtly and not so subtly tried to get me to supress fundamental aspects of my identity. It makes them uncomfortable because of their own life experiences. I've had others who feel it is their place to "push" me into doing something I don't want to at this point in my life. Both of these situations are centred around my creativity, the artistic expression that is as much a part of my life as breathing. (Thank You, Lord, for the creative spirit You so generously blessed me with!)
  I don't want to be in someone else's box. I don't belong there. It isn't who I am.
  And there is the trigger that fed into and ignited yesterday's avalanche of memories. There is the twisted lesson so often drilled home. "You are not allowed to be who you are. You have to be and act according to how I say.. If you do not, then you will be punished or abandoned."
  Ha, I ended up "abandoned" anyways when my ex stepped out of the marriage. Praise God! That selfish act set me free and opened my heart to Christ.
  Okay. I am much better now. The memories stirred up yesterday have lost their sting.
  Lord, I need Your help in standing secure in the knowledge of my identity in You and the path You have laid out for my life. Grant me the words of love for others when they try and convince me that it isn't who or where I should be. In Jesus' name I pray.
  "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." Eph 6:10-11

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Debriefing by Susan L.

  I couldn't bear the TV that normally fills the place with noise. My ticking watch seemed excessively loud. Anxiety pricked at my skin like pins and needles. It had been a couple of demanding days at work. I'd been triggered badly so ghosts of the past were nipping at my heels. A warm bath, a fleece hoodie, flannel jammies, snuggling up with my own teddy bear usually help me deescalate but seasoned with the uncontainable thoughts and emotions shared last night...I needed to hear another person.
  Some days living alone can be lonely.
  I called a friend who listened while I began to pick apart the ghosts. There's something wonderful about speaking the lies that swirl around inside. It diffuses their power. It chases them out of their hidey holes in the darkness and exposes them to the Light. Lies can't handle the Light. They disintegrate like mist.
  Still, it's left me feeling raw and vulnerable. Wounds re-opened take time to close up again even if Jesus has wrapped them in healing balm.
  There's a meeting today at the local Catholic church regarding human trafficking in our area. I won't be going. Knowing this goes on only adds to the sorrow for the little ones shared last night. Knowing that a young girl was nearly kidnapped off the side of the road earlier this week adds more.
  I am feeling less than a miniscule fraction of the pain Jesus must feel for us. To feel more would break my mind. How it must grieve His heart to see the callous disregard we have for each other.  
  Forgive me, Lord, for my own callous indifference. Help me forgive those who have treated me likewise. Help me, Lord, forgive those who have twisted Your Word, Your message of love, into a cruel weapon of abuse and power. Help me, Lord, forgive myself for the mistakes I've made as a parent, as a person. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
  "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord." Eph 6:4

Friday, 21 October 2016

InkTober challenge: Little

  Warning: The contents of this post may be disturbing to some readers.

  There will be no picture for this prompt. 

  I'd thought to do a lovely drawing of a little child with a teddy bear. In a few moments before work, I searched online for suitable inspiration. "Toddlers with teddy bears". How cute!! There were lots to choose from: delightful poses of children with their beloved, fuzzy companions. As I scrolled down, a pair of pictures of a little, middle-Eastern boy came up.

  A flag of ISIS hung on wall the behind him. He was dressed as a soldier and held a huge knife in the air with a delighted smile on his face.

  This was not a Halloween costume.

  The second image of this little boy was him taking the knife and beheading his big, fluffy, white teddy bear.

  These images showed up multiple times having been shown in British newspapers and various other media platforms. It was the first time I had seen them. I had to ask, "What had this child seen or been taught that he would know to do this?"

  Many years ago, I watched a movie about the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. In this movie was a clip from a parade. It doesn't matter if the parade was Catholic or Protestant. What matters was the image of a little, cute-as-a-button, black haired girl, standing on the sidelines. I have never forgotten her because her face was a mask of fury as she screamed hate-filled words at those who were walking past.

  What do I do in a world that teaches its children to hate?
  What do I do with the sorrow seeing these images and remembering the movie brings to my heart?

  What do I do with the knowledge that there's a staggering number of grownups who have lived a childhood of sexual, emotional and physical abuse? What do I do with the knowledge that abusers, 99.9% of the time, had been victims themselves? They are rarely strangers. They are people we love, and trust.

  What do I do for these broken, little boys and little girls in an adult's body?

  What can I do to create compassion for the victim-abuser? While I don't condone the choices they've made, I cannot condemn them either. It's fine to say they should know better but did anyone ever think that maybe they don't? Did anyone ever think that maybe, just maybe, there wasn't a grownup in their lives who cherished them, encouraged them, loved them? Chances are, there wasn't someone who taught them what "better" could be.

  Maybe they were hoping to get caught because maybe then someone would save them from the nightmares of childhood. Instead, they are hated even more.

  What do I do for the victims? What do I do for the victimizers? What do I do to help heal terrible wounds? What can I do to give them the gift of hope?
  Oh, Lord, I am so sad.

  We are taught to hate. We are not born with hate in us.

  I once was a mom with little ones. A lifetime ago it seems now. Those little ones now have little ones of their own.

  Thank You, Abba, for telling me what I can do. Help me be the best grandmother I can to all the little ones, big bodied and small, You bring into my life. In Jesus' name I pray, as tears finally spill over my cheek.


Another Perspective by Susan L.

  There's a joke that made the rounds a while ago.
  The police knocked at a man's door, advising him to evacuate because of potential floods. He refused, saying, "God will take care of me."
  Several hours later, the waters had forced him onto the second floor of his home. A rescue worker in a boat offered to take him to safety. He refused, saying, "God will take care of me."
  Eventually, he was stranded on the roof. A helicopter offered to lift him to higher ground. He refused, saying, "God will take care of me."
  He drowned.
  Arriving in heaven, he asked God, "Why didn't You take care of me?"
  God answered, "I sent the police, a boat, and a helicopter. What more would you have me do?"
  I think of my own struggles in finally admitting the inability to work because of damaged mental health and how hard it was to apply for disability assistance. At the time, the paperwork was overwhelming but there was help breaking it down into manageable pieces. It took several months. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done.
  Most of all, I needed help to change my prejudices about "those kinds of people" who lived on social assistance and recognize that, if accepted, this was the Lord taking care of me. This was my lifeboat when I was drowning.
  The Lord wasn't going to toss a lottery win my way since I don't buy tickets. There wasn't some connection to an obscure prince in a tiny European country that would miraculously make me a princess and therefore rich. I wasn't going to rob a bank.
  Thankful for God's provision and knowing there was enough to live on if I was careful, I was able to take steps towards recovering from PTSD and depression. Call it physiotherapy for the mind. I am now able to return to work in a rewarding job albeit with limited hours.
  Saying "can't" goes against the grain. It goes against worldly philosophies, "Never say can't. Only losers use that kind of language."" It's a culturally driven drive for accomplishments regardless of the financial or emotional cost.
  The moment I said, "I can't", God moved into my life and assured me, "But I can."
  "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." Acts 20:32

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Beautiful by Susan L.

  The little Goldfinch is picking away at what's left of the sunflowers. They must be rather bare by now. Between inspections, it looks like he is sipping the heavy dew that's gathered on the wilting leaves. A few moments are spent sitting, enjoying the unusually warm morning, having a scratch and a preen. What a blessing to have a National Geographic Special Presentation right outside my window!
  Coming home from church small group (aka Bible study) last night afforded me an amazing view of the moon. It was massive! I was sorry I hadn't taken my phone with me to snap a picture but then, sometimes, sights are simply meant to be enjoyed and remembered.
  It's also wonderful that I am feeling much better this morning. Hip, hip, hooray!!
  My artistic abilities received an affirmation this morning as well although the subject for today's InkTober challenge should have been "flight", not "escape". I've shared about my challenges drawing women and while my first attempt in a while hasn't created the prettiest of ladies, when I uploaded it, the tag option on Facebook zeroed in on the drawn face. I smiled because at least it was recognized as a face!
  Hmmm, there's some Triple T's in there. (Thinking Things Through.)
  Why does she have to even be beautiful? By what standards? Why do I feel an "ugly" woman shouldn't be displayed?
   If Michelangelo can put unattractive, rather muscle-bound women on the Cistine Chapel ceiling, I am in good company! His paintings of women were rarely slender, fragile beauties. He liked his women to be strong looking. (Rumour has it he only painted men then anatomically corrected them which is why they are usually rather buff and there's something not quite right about them.) But then, women of substance were once considered the epitome of beauty. Imagine! Beauty was once about curves that are curvy!
  Not that I am any where near a Michelangelo! (I am having a huge laugh at my own audacity this morning!) Maybe I am challenged by drawing the female figure like I am challenged by drawing birds. Bird muscles are covered by feathers. The lack of visible musculature makes it hard for me to define their form.
  Maybe I should practice drawing ballet dancers to get away from the body building buff that is the normal foundation of my people drawings. Or maybe I could look in the mirror if I want to study how softness (read: fat) folds and falls.
  Nope. I don't think so. That's too much truth for me. (And an even bigger laugh erupts.)
  Lord, thank You for a sense of humour. Thank You for starting this day with so much joy. Thank You for beauty in all its shapes and sizes!
  "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Gal 6:14

Monday, 17 October 2016

Inktober Challenge: Battle by Susan L.

  Of the drawings done so far, this one is my favorite. I am humbled by what emerged from the end of my pen. I am humbled by the One who provided the inspiration for this picture while at the same time smiling a bit because it's American football season. It's the only sport I watch.
  A few times during yesterday's games, the camera looked down on the offensive team's pre-play huddle. This God's eye view of what the human figure looks like from above came in handy. It also explains why my male figures tend to be rather buff. And my drawings of women, too, which is why I don't often draw them. Somehow they end up rather masculine.
  I did pray for help in getting it right because it was challenging putting what was in my mind down on paper. A pencil drawing is created first before using ink. The evidence is erased once the ink has set. For this one, I used a compass to lay out the circle the figures were in.
  It's been a joy for me taking part in InkTober. It's pushed the envelope of ability. It's pushed the envelope of trust. It's been an envelope pushing exercise of living a life in faith that can extend to all aspects of my day. It's put me at ease by reminding me I don't have to have all the answers. Most of all, it's shown me that it's okay to share these images with others because they are meant to be shared.
  At the base of all these drawings is an exercise in grace. It takes the help of different tools to create a finished image. It takes gentle and careful erasing of the pencil lines that aren't quite right. It takes a good foundation drawing to make a good pen and ink drawing. It takes even more grace to ignore the imperfections that this artist's eye sees so clearly.
  Grace...Thank You. Lord, for allowing me to understand Your heart even more.
  Help me make the gift of grace a fundamental part of my life.
  "And I (Jesus) will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever--the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you." Jn 14:16-17