To Paint a Life

I was trying to take pictures of the light & shadow line, in the carpet of sweet little white flowers behind our house, when she plopped down in the grass next to me. I sighed, and was about to gently ask that she move out of mommy’s way… when I glanced at my frame, and realized humbly that her sweet little toes made the picture so much better.

There is a lot of creative, distracted work going on in our home…. especially lately. I’ve been writing constantly, in between the countless needs of three small children, and my husband has been writing music again. We used to just relax and “be home” on evenings and weekends, but now that God seems to have unleashed our naturally artistic hearts, we just can’t stop creating. This is all very exciting, and the kids are always swirling around with us in the fun of it all…. but I needed those sweet little toddler feet to remind me of something very important.

My home, my family, is itself a work of art.

My children are living, breathing canvases.

And how we chose to fill our space and our time with them? The brushes and palates and colors.

This wasn’t a new thought. I knew this, keenly… and until recently, used to throw myself into “homemaking” with everything I had. The problem was, I lost myself in it, and eventually realized I would be cheating my children if I gave them a flat, one-dimensional mother, who couldn’t exist outside of them. I wanted not just to care for them, but give them an example of vibrant life to follow, while they explored and searched for their own paths. And so I started running back to God, crawling in His lap, and asking Him who am I? And He reminded me of who I was before children.

I am still a wife and mother. But I am also a writer… an artist… a day-dreamy, barefoot, spontaneous lover of windy days, Celtic music, cameras, edgy questions, and big ideas. I love to challenge the status quo, read thick books, learn new things, draw maps, and explore new places.

And that’s the kind of mother I want to give my kids.

So, all this was a wonderful journey… game-changing, for sure. My kids definitely have a more cheerful, well-rounded mom, and that’s a great thing. But I got just a little too wrapped up in writing about my family this weekend, instead of creating life with them.

My pen is not the only thing I create with, and this is what I needed to remember.

It’s all in the little things. Those millions of daily moments stretching out over the years… as seemingly insignificant but startlingly defining as DNA… form lives, relationships, minds & hearts.

When I pull a chair up to the counter, and invite them to turn my cooking lunch into a joyful mess. When I let them get marvelously filthy playing in the dirt. When I take the time to pull him or her into my lap and gently explain that we all make mistakes and bad choices, but we keep praying and trying harder to make better ones every day. When I put my phone down and curl up on the couch to read them story after story after story….

These are all the colors and brush strokes, as I gradually create on their living work of art.

It’s a hefty thing, being asked to begin another person’s artwork. These children aren’t static surfaces, and they aren’t mine. One day they will hold the brushes and chose the colors, not me. But they don’t start with a white canvas. That was my privilege. And that’s a weighty thing.

Because all those lovely moments? Aren’t the only colors I’ve painted with. Every time I lose my temper, ignore their pleas for snuggle time, or nag them not to make a mess, be too loud, or touch that thing… those all get crafted into the canvas too, whether I like it or not. And there’s no mom guilt here… I’ve been down that road, and have learned that I need to give myself the grace that God does. Being a mother is the hardest thing I’ve ever done…. probably the most challenging, most stressful career I could possibly choose… so I’m going to make a million mistakes. It’s a good thing grace is a color as well. I’m just saying we need to be aware of what we are painting, in that long string of countless everyday moments.

And when I got a little lost in the excitement of writing books, I needed two sweet little bare feet to remind me of the deep, enduring value, of my living art.

Each of us is an artist, in some capacity. We create living works of art out of own lives, and heavily influence those of our children… and we get to chose the colors. Will your paintings be soft? harsh? vibrant? dull? stark? daring? traditional? classical? abstract? It’s all up to you.

Often, life feels very oppressive. We forget that we have choices, and blame something or someone else for the dreariness and pain on the canvas in front of us.

But as you stand before the canvas of another day, remember….

You hold the brushes.

And all those colors…. are within your reach.

The Tapestry Maker

Families fascinate me.

Made up of 2 people or 12, every family is an incredible blend of complex personalities and life stories. Being together changes them all, and creates a unique tapestry of vibrant strengths and fragile weaknesses, and one grand story they are all destined to tell – together.

As my husband and I are building the foundations of our young family, I’ve been pondering these things lately. The family in which I was raised has a distinct character, seasoned by years, and defined by the crazy combination of 7 strong, unique personalities. Of course, like every family, we have our flaws and our scars – life on a fallen earth is a war-time thing, and we can’t forget this. But the character of my family has become very dear to my heart. We are fighters, scrappy Irish/Scotch. We are constant celebrators of life, questioners of the status quo. We are classy, but not afraid to be geeky. We love Celtic music, long walks in quiet places, wind from the north, hard work, green things, kitchen sock hops and game nights, movie quotes, raw and authentic faith, and everything piping hot. And no matter what happens (and a lot happens!), we are a family, and we have each other’s backs. There is a deep, raw legacy of ferocious loyalty, ugly pain, unspeakable joy, and scandalous forgiveness running through our veins. It is a fierce and powerful thing, the family that has endured the battles, and I cherish us… flaws and all.

While I bring that spirit with me, the family I build with my husband is a different work of art altogether!! We are all, right down to the 1 year old, startlingly sensitive artistic types here. I write books and sketch, my husband writes music, and the little ones swirl around in the excitement of it all. The air is constantly thrumming with creativity, and we are always climbing outside the cultural box, asking why. We love wholesome food, bad food, deep friendships, marvel movies, farmers markets, running, daydreaming, a bizarre variety of music, going to every zoo we know, and all things wooden, cast iron, wicker and olive oil. We are very gentle with each other, but this house is also sometimes a rather emotional, brooding place, as we each navigate our deep, complex inner worlds.

Both families form their own unique tapestry, as each one is a different creature – with a different purpose to accomplish and a different story to tell.

But at the core of who I was raised to be, and at the center of the family we are building now? Is one, critical thing – a deep, raw, highly personal faith in Jesus Christ.

I don’t say this as a cliche, a holy obligation, or religious agenda. I have no great religious pedigree to boast of – my history of mess ups is LONG, people! You’ve no idea. But I’ll tell you what – I am nothing, without Him. Nothing.

These two families are nothing, without Him. This life is war, and we’d all be strewn in a million grotesque pieces on the muddy battlefield, if it weren’t for who He is.

Every time life breaks our hearts…. He is there.

Every time fear looms, He is there.

When we are about to kill each other, He stands in the middle.

When we run away, He meets us where we are, heals our deep places, and guides us back home.

He is the one and only reason we survive – the inspiration behind our creativity, the strength behind our daring questioning, the cause for our constant celebration. He holds our hanging threads together, because He’s the one weaving our tapestry.

If you want a family that lasts, in my experience, you need to meet HIM.

Families fascinate me, because they sing the story of all creation and human history. The individuality of each mixture of personalities boasts the fantastic creativity of God. The deep flaws and intense conflict inherent in ANY mixture of personalities, reminds me of our deeply broken nature, and that life on earth is not heaven. But the family that endures? That still stands, laughing and celebrating and thriving, after decades of pain and onslaught and conflict? Speaks of the awesome, breathtaking, living power of Jesus Christ.

Our God lives, people. And He weaves together beautiful families.

Pebble in Your Shoe

One of the hardest weeks of my life just ended. Nothing major… just one of those bizarre onslaughts of ridiculous heaviness, testing, and pain.

Someone said “it isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out… it’s the pebble in your shoe.” Exactly. Well, my shoe was full of pebbles this week. Lol.

We all have stretches of time like that. It makes no sense!! But then I noticed outside this morning, that my seeds had sprouted. 🙂

The significance of that to me personally is a long story, but it also reminded me that life has a lot of “labors” in it, in which our pain can give birth to something beautiful. Those seeds had to be buried in darkness before they could grow.

It doesn’t make sense during the labor. You question EVERYTHING during labor – it does something to your head. But when you hear that baby cry? Ohhhhh…. sweetness. It all makes perfect sense.

Trusting that my heart is growing like my little sprouts…. even this week.

Wishing you all a peaceful, refreshing weekend of rest!! And if your shoes are full of pebbles too…. my heart goes out to you. Relief will come… stay strong! Labor never lasts forever. ❤

The Road we all Take

My daughter insists on walking on the grass, instead of the paved, “perscribed” walking path. This is endearing to me; it reminds me of myself when I was young. Only, I insisted on walking in the middle of the road. 🤔🙄😂

It got me thinking though, about the paths we take in life. I seem to come from a heritage of particularly “non-traditional” path-walkers! But maybe this goes for all of us… we seldom end up traveling on the same path we started, do we? Life holds a million curveballs, and we make countless mistakes. We pause, process, grieve, and adjust our course… but always, we keep walking.

After a number of twists and turns, we look back with raised eyebrows at the maze behind us…. maybe with a laugh, or maybe a wince. After miles of this bizarre pattern, looking ahead may not be as fun or exciting as it used to be.

This is where I find relief and sense in a sovereign God, and a God of deep grace. It is a little easier to trust Him when I remember He knew all these weird twists and all my mistakes before they even happened…. and it’s a little easier to accept myself, when I remember that God’s grace does – completely.

I’m thinking about my path today…. where I’m going, where I’ve been. I encourage you to think about yours, too, as you go about your day.

I’m also learning to look at the unknown road ahead with more excitement again, and to look at the maze behind me like I look at my daughter… with endearment, laughter, and graceful acceptance. And this I wish for each of you as well. ❤

What is Love?

We all “love” our kids, of course… but acting that love out, when it’s hardest, is what counts.

Motherhood showed me how shockingly selfish I really am… how self-centered we all are.

(I’m not talking about selfcare… it’s actually selfless to make sure your own needs are met whenever possible. I’m talking about speaking and acting with love, when it’s hardest.)

It’s almost impossible to be patient, gentle and kind, when I just want sleep and quiet, a million things are stressing me, and quite frankly they are just being so unreasonable! Lol. They are always the most needy when you most need space, arent they? But real love stretches far beyond our own limitations. That’s what it’s all about.

I Corinthians 13 has taken on a whole new level of awe for me. “Love is patient… kind… does not demand it’s own way… is not irritable, jealous, proud, or rude… is not arrogant… is not provoked… endures all things”?

Um. Yeah. Inhuman.

I used to think aww, that sounds so beautiful. Now, I realize how bizarre it is. Nothing like trying to love like that, to show me how I fail, horribly, every single day!

But I guess that’s the point of the gospel, right? Christianity really has nothing to do with worship bands, youth groups, fundraisers or nice buildings. It all comes down to: I cant even begin to be a good mom, a good ANYTHING, without this person called Jesus. I just can’t.

And that whole journey of getting to know him, listening to him, and surrendering to what he asks of you, is so strange and deep and hard… but so life changing and peaceful.

And when we’re talking about parenting, its absolutely imperative. The stakes, for our kids, are frighteningly high. We MUST learn how to love…. like God. Or they’ll spend a lifetime chasing the wind.

When does a mom find time?

When does a mom find time to read, or write?

In between pouring cereal bowls… managing toddler arguments… wiping up spill #7 of the day… changing diapers… texting support to hubby… starting the bath water… checking for fevers… giving medicine… puking from morning sickness… tying shoes… letting her do it herself… comforting his bumped knee… keeping the baby away from his things… praying for patience and strength.

One word at a time.

Do what you love!

Do what you were created to do!!!!

No matter how impossible it feels, or how your current circumstances seem to play against you.

One word at a time goes a long way. ❤❤ you got this!!!

Heritage of Grace

I love art. I especially love family art, and my kids are blessed to have quite a bit of artistic bent on both sides of the family! (Of course, that also means very sensitive kids, and lots of intense mood swings in our house, lol, but I’ll take it. 😂)

I’m very grateful for the family art we’ve been given. The lovely painting above is by my husband’s Aunt, and thanks to his mom, it has graced our living room wall practically since we were married.

The painting below is by my husband’s other Aunt, and since our oldest son loves dogs, it’s usually hanging up either in his room, or the playroom, where he can see it the most.

And this last one is by my great-grandfather. My memories of him are few, but precious…. I remember having snuck into his art room once, as a very little girl- a place I was not supposed to be. I was scared to death when he found me there, but instead of reprimanding me, he smiled and showed me around. I was fascinated by all his brushes and stacks of canvases… especially the one propped up and still drying. He passed away when I was seven. My mom is sending me another one of his paintings soon, and I am more excited than a kid at Christmas. 😍

Why do I love family art so much? Because its personal. I have other beautiful paintings in my home, but these are my favorites, because they are by my people… our people. Tangible expressions of the family heritage we are passing down to our kids. Whether or not any of our children become painters, is irrelevant… it’s just a beautiful thing to know and appreciate your heritage. (I might even argue that every one of us is an artist in some capacity… but that would be a whole different post. Lol.)

I haven’t always paid much attention to this sort of thing. Heritage is not something we are encouraged to think about much, in our progressive American culture. If we think about the past at all, more often than not our focus lies in identifying what characteristics we don’t want to continue for our children. (Which isn’t altogether a bad thing – I totally hope my own kids improve on my many mistakes!) Of course every family has its deep flaws and skeleton-filled closets…. nobody’s perfect…. but that’s ok. God accepts us all with astounding grace, and is able to create such beautiful things with our mess!

What kind of unique heritage have you been given? Are you mindful about passing it down?

I am thankful for the artistic heritage that fills my home… and for the grace heritage that writes our story. ❤

The House Walk

I love moving.

Of course, there’s always overwhelming moments – a few temper flares, some stress eating, total brain malfunctions, and the unfailing pause of shock and awe over the ridiculous amount of STUFF you have.

But moving to a new home, is super fun. I love the excitement, the change of scene. I love packing and reorganizing, taking advantage of the opportunity to throw away things I don’t like much. Sometimes I even get to add a few small trinkets to the new setup, pulling it just a few notches closer to our dream home. I really like where we live right now, but after only 1 year in, I can already feel the itch to move on. What I really think I’m feeling though, is the urge to try new arrangements, and press more toward that dream home.

I follow a lovely writer on Instagram, who with her husband and little one, is restoring a grand old farmhouse in Ohio. They seem to be starting very much from square one… her pictures show very bare rooms, with few choice pieces of furniture, child’s toys, etc. But Oh! Those few pieces! This woman has the style of my dreams. Seeing her pictures makes me want to clear out my entire house, and start again all minimalist, with only the items I really love – wooden toys, dark, weathered furniture, pottery and cast iron. Drool.

I look around, at all the mismatched furniture we’ve slowly accumulated. I look at all the clutter and mess that comes from homeschooling and caring for 3 small children, while struggling through a difficult pregnancy. I look at the standard, characterless, apartment-white walls, the annoying window shades my kids keep breaking, and my heart squirms in discontent.

All this happens in an instant; but then I catch myself. I remember the hard working man who has provided each mismatched piece of furniture, each grocery bill, each pile of clutter. And my heart melts with love and gratitude. I remember the sweet, bubbly little souls who require so much providing for, and are the very reason my particular tastes must be satisfied ever so slowly. But without them, I would have no one to build a lovely home for. These people are worth more to me than anything.

And once I remember all that, I take myself on a house walk.

It’s an occasional habit I began last year sometime. I had been growing annoyed by how swiftly my familiarity in a given situation can so cruelly steal its novelty away – weeks can go by when I’m too busy to notice the paintings I love so much, hanging on my own walls! I realize “things” are not everything -indeed they chalk to very little, in the perspective of eternity- but it’s extra discouraging when my busyness and familiarity keep me from enjoying the beauty I do have around me.

So. I’d had enough of that, and started taking a quiet, occasional stroll around my home whenever I was alone, to just acknowledge and enjoy for a moment those little things I love.

I walk through my whole house, pausing long in each room to look around. I reach up and touch my great-grandfather’s painting of sheep on a hill in Switzerland. I read the verses in my walls, and let them sink in. I run my fingers along the quilt I made for my husband, the baskets I obsessively fill my house with after every goodwill trip, the few lovely wooden toys we have collected or been given. The family pictures all over our walls, of all the best times we’ve had together. And my heart breathes, and smiles, at the realization that I have been building, after all… that something lovely is taking shape here. Piece by tiny piece.

Accepting and loving my reality, while still being filled anew with inspiration and enthusiasm to build something more, often come hand in hand for me, even though they seem to be opposite feelings. I suppose this is because healthy dreams have to come from a place of peace.

You can run a sprint on frustrated discontent; but it takes love and acceptance with where you are in the moments, to find the endurance that lasts a marathon.

So this, is more my “survival mode” reality, lol:

But these, are the glimmers around me, of the beauty I’ve set out to build:

Wishing you all the peaceful moments to see, and enjoy, the beauty of what you have and what you have built so far, to refresh your heart for the building and creating ahead! ❤

– Melissa

To Stay for an Answer

I’ve been thinking lately about Truth.

I first started mulling this peculiar word a few months ago. On a sudden whim one afternoon, I pulled an old, beloved birthday present from my parents off the study room bookshelf, and curled up for a nostalgic read.

Yes. My parents know their nerdy daughter very well: it was a gorgeous 1625 collection of Francis Bacon essays. For this tired mom-of-4-babies, it was simply delicious to stretch my mind around such old English! It made me feel so intelligent again. 😂 However, my nostalgic jaunt was about to take me further and more thoughtful than I had anticipated.

The very first essay was titled “Of Truth,” and began with these intriguing words:

‘What is Truth?’ said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief.

In other words, Bacon is suggesting that Pilate isn’t the only one shying away from the “bondage” of accepting a definition of truth. He goes on to claim that the cultural trend of avoiding fixed truth, while disconcerting, is mostly passed (at the time of his writing, in 1625), but I would argue we must have come full circle again today. “Truth” as a concept has almost become taboo, offensive… unless it’s part of the question, “what is truth to you?”

Modern Truth – Subjective. Flexible. Fluid. Diverse. Tolerant.

Certainly anywhere from “fixed.”

Don’t lynch me… just making an observation.

If you are a professing follower of Christ, however, you will accept two things as fixed “Truths:” 1) God’s written word, the Bible, and 2) the person of Jesus Christ; for He said himself, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

But even for today’s Christian, though he may profess such a belief by way of his doctrine, this still presents some major problems in real life application. Oswald Chambers refers to spiritual principles in reality as “spiritual torpedoes,” tearing through our cultural fabric, and the same can be said for the person of Christ himself. The closer you get to Jesus, the more startling and uncomfortably life-changing some of His truths will become in your actual life. Blessed are the persecuted, the poor in spirit, the mourning? Forgive unconditionally? Jesus is the only way to heaven? These concepts don’t jibe well at all with our “what is Truth to you” world, because they involve a hefty dose of trust, and a confession that Jesus is smarter than we are… that He is, the The Truth.

Accepting fixed Truth means surrendering to it. We don’t like surrender, and in an “as you like it” culture, we don’t do what we don’t like!

Hmmm.

But there is this curious trait in the Christians who do accept the fixed Truth of Jesus. You see it in Mother Teresa, when she says things like, “Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.”

Do it anyway.

Do it scared.

Do it even when you don’t like it.

Jesus makes me uncomfortable, sure. But I have come face to face with the Truth of Him, and I love him with all my messy, broken heart. He scares me, but I love him and He is Good, so I follow him anyway.

The 1890 oil painting above is by Russian painter Nikolai Nikolaevich, and it’s called, “What is Truth? Christ and Pilate.”

I included this painting here, because remembering the real, living people involved helps to pull us out of a distant, philosophical debate. Pilate was a real man. So was Jesus. Jesus claimed to be Truth; and in a way, uncomfortable Pilate is asking, “What are YOU?”

And if we today are struggling as well with that “bondage to fix a belief,” perhaps it would help us to ask the same thing.

And be brave enough to stay for an answer.

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