Thursday, December 28, 2006


What is it about a blank canvas that puts me in such a mood?

We ventured out today. That makes us sound timid, doesn't it--like we're a family of field mice living under the floor boards, watching the giants we co-habit with through mice-sized eyeholes and wondering if we can scurry out fast enough to collect their dropped morsels without being spied and scooped. It's just that we've been hunkered down in this house all week, enjoying the after-Christmas stillness and moving only enough to refill our coffee cups or fetch our slippers or throw a bit more wood on the fat fire. Today, though, we traded robes for coats and slippers for real shoes, and we ventured out.

Our destination was the mall. That's a place I'm not fond of even during the slow shopping months, let alone the first few days after Christmas. We needed to do an exchange at REI and another at a sheepskin kiosk. Before we braved the mall mob, though, Dave had to drop off some paperwork at our insurance place out at Smokey Point. While he was handling that task, I took a stroll down the strip mall sidewalk until I found an art supply store. I love such places. If they didn't kick you out for doing so, I'd open every tube of paint and stick my fingers in all that color; crack open the linseed oil bottles and turpentine and take impolite whiffs; slit the plastic covering off every canvas and run my hands over all that pristine possibility.

Since I'd like to be free to return to that particular store from time to time, I resisted my artistic urges and tried to keep a safe distance from that side of the store. For a long time, I contented myself with thumbing through the art books (as my thumb is still not back up to par, and I'm still wearing this annoying brace, maybe I should say I contented myself with fingering through the art books) and reading all the technique tips. But I kept peeking toward the back of the store, where one entire corner boasted a ten-foot tall, two-decker display of plastic-wrapped canvases. It wasn't long before my feet dragged the rest of me back to ogle the bounty.

I hadn't been there five seconds and I knew I'd be leaving the store with a new canvas. I've been feeling a strong urge lately to start a painting. The nudge pokes me at odd times, like when I'm just dropping off to sleep, and the memory of oils tickles my nose and runs across my fingertips again. Or when I'm driving past a wide-open pasture and the cows within arrange themselves in 3-dimensional letters that read "paint me."

It took awhile to select just the right size. I almost went with the 14 x 18, but there was something so majestic and intense about the 20 x 24. I had to have it. And when I pulled it down from the top shelf (did I tell you I'm 10-feet tall?) and held its slickery self in my happy hands, a familiar, lovely feeling of hope washed right over me, just like it does every time I hold a frame stretched tight with touch-me, shape-me, tell-me-who-I-am potential.

It could be anything, you know. It could be a still life of plump limes resting in my burgandy wooden bowl, with rare Pacific Northwest sunlight dancing speckles across the green orbs while winter-bare branches fill the windows beyond the kitchen. It could be a pair of barefoot girls sitting on the front stoop of a cottage, whispering giggly secrets while a family of June bugs skitter toward the edge of the painting. It could be anything at all. That's the power of untouched canvas.

A few weeks ago, Zac handed me his headphones and twirled the pad on his iPod. Switchfoot's "This is Your Life" filled my ears. Nice song. But long after the song had ended, one line continued to play in my head: This is your life. Are you who you want to be?

I couldn't shake the question. Am I who I want to be? If not, what would I change? What will I regret if it's not added to my life at some point? Before I knew what I was doing, I'd begun a list. I'd like to be kinder. Less impulsive. More self-controlled. More disciplined. Less of a procrastinator. A better communicator. It's a big list ... but I'm ready.

In a few days, another year begins. Indulge me here: God is placing a brand new, still-wrapped canvas before me, before you. Anything at all can happen this year. We can change that moodiness, finish that goal, mend that relationship. We can fill our lives with good things so there's no room for the bad. We can put our energy where it matters. The truth is, we can become who we want to be--but only if we surrender. No painting ever painted itself. The only way to bring lasting beauty into our lives is to take the palette, the oils, and the brushes, and lay them at the feet of the Master Artist--then unfurl the list and hand it over.

Here are the lyrics to an old favorite written by brothers John Michael and Terry Talbot:

The Empty Canvas

An empty canvas waits before the Painter
It waits to be the painting it must be
Unto this end it has rightfully been created
To reflect the rightful beauty the Painter sees

A beauty that will surely find its life within its dying
So another might be born again
And in this constant death a constant beauty is created
Within a constant love that never ends

Jesus is the Master Painter
And the Holy Spirit is the Master’s Brush
To be dipped within the colors
That portray a Father’s love
That the Master’s painting might be born of us
To portray the beauty of the Master’s Brush
That the canvas of our life might know the Master’s touch

An empty canvas waits before the Painter
An empty canvas destined to be hung
Within the gallery once it has been created
Will the canvas bear the beauty of God’s Son?

Here's praying that God adds color and beauty to your life this year, and that you bear His image wherever you go.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I feel guilty typing these words: nothing happened to us. The lights flickered dramatically, but the power stayed on. The trees scrubbed the sky and touched their toes and creaked like an old man's bones, but we didn't lose a one. The guilt comes because others weren't as blessed. Fourteen people succumbed to crashing trees, downed power lines, carbon monoxide poisoning, and a flooded basement, all while we sat inside listening to the wind and sipping cocoa. One and a half million people lost their power; several thousand are still in the dark nearly a week later.

Thank you for your prayers. Please pray for those still struggling.

My only trauma this week is a mysteriously sprained right thumb. It makes typing miserable (the thumb brace eats all my "n's" so I have to keep typing with all the wrong fingers), but how do you complain about something so tiny in the wake of so many real losses?

I won't. I'll just say that I'm taking a little break this week and I'll be back as soon as typing becomes a joy again.

If that doesn't happen before Monday, I pray you have a blessed, Christ-centered Christmas.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

the coming storm

Any moment now, our lights will flicker one final time and darkness will rush to fill the corners of this house. It's not a matter of "if" tonight, but "when." The forecasters are calling the coming squall "The Storm of Storms." They're likening it to the Inaugural Day storm of 1993, when trees crashed through roofs and wind-whipped objects shattered windows, and six people lost their lives.

I can hear the edges of the storm as it reaches and fills Puget Sound. The air rushing under my front door sounds ghostly and frightful. The trees outside my window have begun a frenzied dance. I'm not distressed by the noises or the flickering lights. I will admit that I raised my eyebrows a bit when I heard the prediction of hurricane-force winds, and raised them a bit highter when I learned today that anyone with large trees to the south of their bedrooms should not plan to sleep in those bedrooms tonight, and that people with two-story houses should vacate the second floor once the storm hits. All three of our bedrooms face south ... and a grove of massive evergreens tower to the south of our home ... and I'm currently upstairs in my second-story office, typing quickly while the noises outside my window rise in intensity.

The lights are dimming in earnest now. It's just a matter of time. But we're prepared. There's enough food in this place that if it takes Dave a week to cut a path out (and we've had to cut a path out many, many times), we'll survive. We've plenty of fire wood. I've filled a half dozen water containers, finished the dishes and all the laundry, and made a rum cake to boot. A stack of Christmas knitting waits for me in a basket near the couch, a bulging file of paperwork awaits my editing. The double deck of cards are on the kitchen table, and I can see in Tera's eyes that she'll drop whatever she's doing the second I say, "Want to play a quick game?" That quick game, history tells me, will turn into an hour or three of Spite and Malice, Nertz, and Cribbage.

It's all over now but the waiting. We've been warned, and we responded. Somewhere in the midst of that preparation today, I thought about another coming storm, and the warnings I've read in Matthew 24 and Mark 13. And I wonder if I'm doing enough to prepare for that storm--the real storm, the true Storm of Storms.

Lord, make me ready. Whatever it takes--make me ready. Sweep through my heart and have Your way. Take whatever You will ... and then fill my emptiness with Your Spirit. Prepare me, Lord, that I might stand.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

2:00 a.m.

I'm one of those people who can't go back to sleep once I've awaken. And so tonight, just 45 minutes after first nodding off, I'm up in my office answering emails and perusing knitting patterns.

What woke me? Zac got home and did three things: he dished up a big bowl of our friend Cindy's fought-over fettucine, he popped in a DVD, and he let Larry out. Just as the microwave dinged, Larry took to howling right outside our bedroom window. Where else would he go to make noise?

I awoke hopeful. I'm optimistic that way. Deep down, though, I knew the truth. I knew my sheets and pillowcase would be long gone cold before I hit them again. But the Pollyanna on the surface said, "You'll just shoot out there, ask Zac nicely to turn down his movie and let the dog back in, and hop right back in bed."

I did all that. And as usual, Pollyanna was wrong. Though I tried, I couldn't shut out the sounds of the night. The clink of Zac's fork against his plate didn't bother me--not even when that clink turned into scraping as he endeavored to collect every last atom of Cindy's sauce. And the murmuring of his movie could have been ignored. What kept my eyes scanning the dark outlines of my bedroom were the sounds of maniacal howling down on the trail below our house.

Those coyotes are running again tonight.

We've been spotting them all week. One ran across the driveway as I was heading out a few nights ago. My headlights bounced off his scrawny torso as he leapt into the bushes. Another watched me with open nonchalance from the neighbor's pasture as I drove back home. When Tera, Dave and I went out for a long walk yesterday, we spotted another skirting the edge of the woods on the trail. And now tonight, the gang has regrouped for a night of mayhem. Their cries are the sounds of a gathering storm.

My opinion of those critters hasn't changed, nor has my reaction to their middle-of-the-night partying. They still make me shiver. But I discovered that the sound of my laptop's fan and the mindlessness of Spider Solitaire helps to drown out the memory of those raucusy cries. I think I'll stay up here just a bit longer ... long enough for the woods to absorb those 2:00 a.m. echoes.

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Monday, December 04, 2006



I take the two-cup measuring container, now full of water, and set it in the microwave.


Green, plastic measuring spoon in hand (the lone survivor from a once intact set of five), I reach into my bin of decaf coffee and retrieve a heaping mound, which I transfer to my IKEA French press. Taking my favorite mug from the cupboard, I cover the bottom with a half inch of creamer--Peppermint Mocha, the first container of the season.


I go back into the bedroom to find my slippers, then return to the kitchen and lean against the counter while I watch the diminishing seconds on the microwave timer. I'm convinced it boils my water faster if I stand guard.


I turn to stare at the faucet. Stop dripping, I think with irritation.


I grab the handle, twist it upwards, to the left, then slowly back down, stopping just shy of where I believe the bottom to be. Sometimes that works.

Drip ... dripdripdrip ... drip

It didn't work.

I maneuver to the right this time, hoping that something shifted inside the faucet guts (a place I can envision but have no real proof of). Maybe there's a little life left on that right side of the washer.


I'm annoyed. I press my lips in a firm line and wiggle the faucet this way, that way, slightly to the left, northeast, way down south, and every destination in between.

And still it drips.

For crying out loud! my thoughts bellow. How much of my life have I wasted standing at this stupid sink fighting with this dripping faucet?

And then I hear God's whisper. All over the world today, women will walk miles to get their water from distant wells.

The microwave dings. My water is ready.