Monday, March 23, 2015

Finding creativity when your house is full and your mind is blank

Next month I will take part in a presentation on creativity. This is ironic because the most creative thing I’ve done in weeks is switch out one of my usually plain outfits with a combination I thought was more modern—a choice my daughter tactfully suggested I reconsider.

Creativity, according to one author, thrives in messy and unusual environments, unlike logical, analytical thought that prefers order. But I beg to differ.

During the months after my father-in law died and our nest was empty again, I fell into the pleasant routines of walking the dog, writing, and working at leisure. While luxuriating in so much free time, I signed on to teach several workshops, all of which are happening this spring.

But empty bedrooms beg occupants as zealously as nature fills a vacuum. Needing a place to stay while they were selling their house, my daughter, her husband, and their two dogs moved in. And although we are all getting on notably well (except for our dog who’s clearly not happy to share her pack) my ability to hold a thought longer than one sentence long has fled.

It’s an art, I think—that ability to focus in the throes of interruptions. For example, as I sit here trying to grapple with a thought or two, my husband comes in, sits down to put his shoes on, and asks if I think he’d make a good king. I don’t even want to follow up that conversation, so I roll my eyes and get out another sentence before the guest German shepherd starts whining to go out, and my daughter comes down and wants to chat.

My first inclination is to blame my inattentiveness on getting older—a suspicion that was fostered during a recent trip up North. Since we were arriving at midnight, I booked a room in a hotel that was supposed to be about a mile from the airport. While we waited for the cab, most of the other passengers disappeared into the dark, wintery New Hampshire night.

Finally, a tiny yellow car pulled up. The driver hopped out. Although the wind chill must have been hovering in the teens and snow banks lined the road, he wore a baseball cap (on backwards), a bulky Bobby Orr hockey jacket, and shorts. He popped the trunk and directed us to put our luggage on top of the spare tire and jack occupying the dirty, narrow space.

Another man emerged from the shadows, slid into the front seat, and we were off. Our driver chatted about this and that—said he “couldn’t complain about anything because no one would listen anyway.” The man in the front seat said nothing. We drove out of the airport straight into rural blackness. No street lights, hotels, diners, or other establishments typically near airports. Five minutes . . . ten minutes . . .. Not a creature was stirring, not a speck of light.

Now I begin to wonder. I wonder if I’ve called the right hotel. I wonder about the silent man in the front seat and the odd driver wearing shorts on a freezing night. Movies with places like the Bates Motel surface in my mind. “I thought the hotel was a mile from the airport,” I say.

The backward baseball cap in front of me bobs. “Well, I guess you could say that—as the crow flies, (ha ha). But there’s no way to get there directly from here.”

I glanced at Bob and squeezed his hand. Several minutes and miles later we arrived at the hotel. Relieved it was just a quirky cab ride, and I hadn’t misread the hotel information in some senile booking moment, but had, indeed, gotten us a king room at a great price, we took our keys and approached the door, right off the lobby.

The tub-less shower and low hanging closet bars were the first clues.
I had reserved the elderly-friendly, handicap-accessible room.

As far as I’m concerned, the jury’s still out whether creativity thrives in disorder, but this I know: by the grace of God my body doesn’t need wheel-in showers and low-lying appliances, but my mind needs order. Hats off to those who can write and think and create while tending children and fending off distractions. 

I love my company and their canines, but I know my limits. So I've walked the dog, kissed the husband, and fled to library where I hope to create and concentrate in peace and quiet—or, at least, say hello to those of you stopping by.

Blessings abundant,

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Where was their high tower?

Where was the place the righteous run to and are safe, according to Proverbs 18:12? We pray for safety, for help on icy roads, for health and healing and hope that so many of the verses of Scripture seem to promise, as well we should. But what happens when senseless tragedy strikes anyway? Doesn’t God’s word work?

Do martyrs see what Stephen saw—“the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” Does the Holy Spirit fill them so they can say, “Lord, do not hold this against them”?

Friday, February 13, 2015

When silence isn't golden

Jefferson's Bible
Cut and paste. Long before Microsoft, man was fashioning his own version of morals without the miracles, good without God. When Thomas Jefferson didn’t agree with biblical “interpreters,” (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them) he simply cut their words out and then painstakingly pasted together the parts he agreed with. VoilĂ ! A Bible he could believe in.

Seems the “cut” part is still a popular method of promoting a philosophy or worldview today. A school district in Florida is under scrutiny for having students recite Islamic prayers and use textbooks that cover Islam in depth but that have “mistakenly” left out the pages on Christianity and Judaism. This district is not alone. All over the country Islam is being introduced in public schools as if it were the latest fashionable thing for the enlightened to learn.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The little things. They're a big deal

After driving for over seven hours, we are stopped in a mile-long jam, a half-hour short of home. I am thankful we’d made a bathroom stop not long before. And I am especially thankful that the sirens squeezing by on the shoulder of these three lanes of trucks and cars are not coming for me. I send up a prayer for whoever is the object of this commotion and settle in for the wait.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

God's Fingerprint| Part 12

 Numbers have always escaped me. I was the one who could learn Latin faster than algebra, who spent college afternoons trying to grasp a math problem when everyone else was at a football game, the one who rounds her checkbook off so she doesn't have to deal with pesky odd numbers. But I recognize Majesty when I see it! This is lovely, and yes, awesome because it reflects an awesome God.

So for today...enjoy, worship and be blessed


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Words I wished I had written, but glad I've read

Marcia Moston

I stare at the new journal, pages blanker than a Vermont meadow after a snowfall, on the table next me. Every January 1st morning, this is my dilemma: what word, what wisdom, what prayer, petition or thanksgiving will be the first I commit to these pages.

Oh, that life would be so tough, you say!

I know, it’s a writer thing, and I am thankful that’s the extent of my dilemmas this morning, but here’s why it means so much to me.

I can easily be an info addict, a glutton for useless information, enamored by the sound of an idea, lured into learning about all kinds of things (did you know Japanese first-graders work at solving puzzles 40% longer than American ones?) rather than doing anything.

So before I start listing any intentions and resolutions for this next 584 million miles about the sun,

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It's hard to love a pimp

Marcia Moston

I was blistering with bad thoughts as I drove to my interview with Switch 42:16, a ministry here in Greenville that works with prostituted women. The more I learned about sex trafficking, the more I became angry with the pimps and people who fuel the demand.

I had compassion for the women trapped in this insidious industry, but I had none. Zero. Not a speck of love, compassion or room for prayer for the traffickers. In fact, I was delighting in some of the imagery the psalmists used in praying against the enemies of God: “Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime.”—Psalm 57— or like “chaff before the wind.”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christmas Trees and Memory:There's power in the smell

I stare at the corner of the living room and consider whether or not to put up a Christmas tree this year. The kids are grown and gone, my husband doesn’t care one way or the other, and I will be the one untangling lights and complaining about how they never work from year to year, even with all those guarantees that if “one-goes-out-all-stay-lit.”

I think about the times I’ve walked into a room and thought how silly it looked to see a tree all bedazzled there inside a house. But all it took was one whiff of that balsamy scent to transform that quirky conifer into a memory trove of times past:

There was the Christmas we forgot to cut the bottom off the tree before decorating it, so when our friends came over, we held it up—baubles and all— while Bob crawled under and sawed away.

And the Christmas in Guatemala when we stuck some branches in a jar and gathered round with our little Mayan friends.

Or the time my brother came home from the service and we lay under the tree and giggled and poked at packages like we had when we were kids.

Most of all, I remember my mom’s trees all draped with so much tinsel you could hardly see our plaster of Paris handprint ornaments. She wouldn’t let us throw the tinsel on the tree, but made us hang it piece by piece. We all walked around with glittery socks and sweaters for weeks. I can still feel that agony of anticipation, waiting to see what would be under that tree Christmas morning. I can still see my parents’ expressions of pleasure at our delight.

 “Let’s go get a tree,” I say to Bob.

We go to a nearby stand and I bury my head in the branches. “They don’t smell,” I say. “The trees at Whole Foods smell.” Bob has no comment. Whatever I want to do. Buy or wait.  Whole Foods is on the other side of town. I’m impatient. Maybe it will smell when we get home. We buy the tree. The attendant cuts the bottom for us, removing that sealed off portion that has allowed the tree to stop leaking and retain moisture in its needles.

After our yearly, brief discussion about fat colored lights (Bob) or a gazillion clear ones (me) Bob goes off on an errand. I string lights (clear) and deck out the tree. Sure enough. Fancy as it is in all its finery, even with a fresh cut bottom, my supposed-to-be-fragrant Fraser doesn’t smell. No aroma of forests and earth and Christmases past wafts around the room.

Too late, I realize something I’ve known intellectually. The emotional memories are in the scent. In fact, the association of smells with people, places and events is such a powerful way to release memories that caregivers are encouraged to stimulate people with dementia by having them smell memory- evoking scents. Conjure up for a moment—campfires, Coppertone, cookies in the oven and yes,

Christmas trees.

What are your special scent related memories? I’d love to hear them. Thanks for stopping by. I’m off to buy some tree oil or candles. Just hope they don’t smell like a pine cleaner that I associate with bus terminal bathrooms!

Blessings because you belong to a Living Hope!


Monday, November 24, 2014

What's your family's narrative? There's more than tradition to the turkey

It’s 4:32 a.m. and I am lying in bed thinking about bread. I want to get up and have a piece of my mother’s nut bread, the one she made only at Thanksgiving, but I would have to rattle around in the kitchen for the scrap of recipe and ingredients. The dog, sleeping at our feet (yes, we’re one of the millions who let them on the bed) would want to get up and go out and bark at the neighbor’s cat, which would wake the husband . . . so I stare at the ceiling and try to remember other favorite foods of Thanksgivings past.

Bread again. This time it’s Bunny bread stuffing. I can’t even remember the last time I ate a piece of soft, white, gluey bread. My mom would rip up several loaves into little pieces and let them dry out overnight. I don’t know what else she did to it, but that stuffing was arguably the best part of the meal, next to the cranberries.

Shadowy light comes in slits through the blinds. I give up and slip out of bed. The dog gets up too.

“Can’t sleep?” my husband murmurs.

 “My head’s full of thoughts,” I say.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Psalms in the news

Marcia Moston

I hear lots of people say they don’t watch the news. It’s all so negative—ax-wielding terrorists and flesh-eating disease, lying, scheming politicians and rioting mobs—who can take it?  I suspect the heaviness of the times is one of the reasons people are stringing up lights and dressing up trees much earlier than they usually do.

I’m all about cheer too. And I would happily light up my half acre of the world all year round if I didn’t worry about my husband with the hedge cutters. But I still watch the news. Maybe that’s why I’ve been seeing the Psalms through a different lens this time through.

Some of the verses could be torn off the front page of the paper. Psalm 59:6—
Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city. There they are bellowing with the mouths and swords in their lips, for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”  Kabul Afghanistan? Mosul Iraq?

Or this two-three thousand-year-old verse from Psalm 83: They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”  Haven’t I heard that proclaimed more than once recently?

With verses like those as a backdrop, one theme, in particular, threading through many of these Psalms has impressed itself on me. It’s the cry of the captive.

Instead of reading those verses as a cry of despair from a long-ago person, or even of myself on a bad day, I’m receiving them as a gift from God. He’s given me my prayer niche: to pray over the forgotten captive. My journal title is Prayer for the Forgotten Man (Woman).

Some mornings I have a specific captive in mind, but most of the time I have no idea whom I’m praying for. I imagine someone sharing a cell with rats and bugs but no blanket. No sufficient food or light. Some person who can be raped continuously because she’s an infidel and it’s okay to rape infidels. Some person who is barely clinging to life and hope. Maybe they know the Lord. Maybe they don’t.

I pray for them straight out of Psalms. It goes something like this.

Psalm 31 (The captive): I have been forgotten like one who is dead, I have become a broken vessel for I hear the whispering of many—terror on every side—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.

  (The Psalm prayer): Let the groans of the prisoner come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die.—Ps. 79

(Or maybe if I feel they can’t muster up a moment of praise, I’ll praise for them): There is none like you among the gods, O lord. Show me a sign of your favor that those who hate me may see and be put to shame.—Ps. 86

And: God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered . . . Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts . . .  Father of the fatherless and protector of widow—Ps. 68

Nor am I averse to praying against the enemy. Ps. 57 says it well: Let them be like the water that runs away . . . Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime. (Gotta love God’s metaphors.)

Should we pray for captives/abused/oppressed if they are not Christian? A comment on a her.meneutics  article posed this question. “Saved from what? the commenter asked, referring to the futility of a saved body in an unsaved soul.

The question gave me pause for a minute, but not long. I thank God for people who prayed me out of dangerous situations long before I knew the Lord.

Saving souls is God’s business. Praying is mine. I’m going with the words of King Lemuel’s mom: Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.—Prov. 31

All of this is to say (a poor thing if a writer has to clarify her point!) the news makes me aware of people I might not have given thought to otherwise. And from the comfort of my home, with sunlight, warmth and plenty of food, I can hold up someone else’s weary soul and weak arms, and maybe they will see the glory of God.

Along with my captives, I pray for you today that you be blessed and see the Lord’s hand in all you put your to. Thanks for stopping by.