June 28, 2013

a spring-themed thank you.

I was commissioned to draw this little fella for the lovely donors who contributed to a high school fundraiser -- a.k.a. the Spring Rummage Sale! You can see the fall version here

Certain events have transpired which have made it impossible to open Photoshop on my laptop. This means that the image you're seeing is completely unedited, untouched by filters and cursors of every kind. I tried using some sketchy online copycat version but by the time I was halfway done the internet ate all my work and I had a wee little temper tantrum then gave up and decided that the fates would have their way and I'd have to expose myself as an artist who often colours outside of the lines. 

I remember reading somewhere that Beatrix Potter often had to redraw her illustrations because she'd mess up so often. I can't tell you how much relief this gives me, though it does make me feel a little bit like a cheater. Photoshop makes life so much easier -- I'm sorry you missed out, Beatrix. 

June 27, 2013

lifestyle evangelism.

I want evangelism to be a lot easier. I want to go all "preach the gospel and when necessary use words" style and forget about bringing Jesus into the conversation and just hope that Jesus-love will emanate from my face when I'm helping out at a soup kitchen. I think probably many Christians want that. Lauren Winner does. She writes,

"I take comfort in the church's current affection for what is politely called 'lifestyle evangelism'. Being a lifestyle evangelist doesn't require handing out tracts; it just requires living a good, God-fearing, Gospel-exuding life. I like to assume that most people know I am a Christian and when they see that I am sometimes joyful and sometimes peaceful when they are not, they will want to know my secret."
            - Girl Meets God, Pg. 120

But then what? What if on a rare occasion someone does notice your joy and peace and says, "Hey, why are you so happy all the time? Can you fill me in on your secret?" Then what do you say?

Well, in my case, you give an awkward mysterious smile and shrug and then kick yourself for years afterward because you had this perfect, gleaming pearl of opportunity in your hands and then you dropped it and sadly watched it roll away and didn't even try to chase it down.

Therein lies the issue with "lifestyle evangelism". Let us be perfectly honest and admit that people aren't going to ask why us Christians are so happy all the time. First of all, it's a weird question to ask. Second, we're not happy all the time. Christians are sinners and we still have some really bad days where people will be thinking, I wonder why she's so miserable all the time, what a Debbie Downer.

And then, that one time where someone catches you on a good day and asks what your secret is -- well -- it's your shining moment. And guess what? You have absolutely no idea what to say. Why would you? You haven't had any practice with this evangelism thing. All you know how to do is collect canned goods and volunteer with troubled youth and the Holy Spirit was going to do the rest, right?

Well -- technically -- yes. The Holy Spirit is the only One who's going to be doing any converting around here. As Christians, our job is to offer ourselves as tools that can be used to spread the Gospel. We move the Gospel. The Spirit moves hearts. But where does that leave us? Do we just assume that we can parade around with Luke 12:12 slung over our shoulder, trusting that we'll be given the words to say when the time comes?

I guess you could. And I don't doubt that the Holy Spirit could do marvellous things in any situation. But I would also say that it's important to remember that Jesus spent much of his ministry teaching and training his disciples to prepare them for their work after his departure; that in Acts Paul is described several times as spending time in the synagogue, reasoning and persuading his listeners about the Kingdom of God (e.g. Acts 28:23). The importance of being able to talk about what you believe in is further stressed in 1 Peter 3:15 --

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

...And in Colossians 4:5-6 --

"Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."

Yes, we must trust that the Spirit will give us words of wisdom when required. Yes, God is ultimately in control of every outcome of every conversation. Yes, our attempts at spreading the Gospel are futile aside from the life-changing power of God. These facts, however, do not negate the call of the Great Commission. These facts do not allow us to clutch desperately onto the excuse that is always (but wrongly) attributed to St. Francis of Assisi -- to only use words when necessary, thus saving ourselves from the humiliation of possible rejection. We must use words, otherwise,

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" (Romans 10:14)

This is really hard. I don't like doing things that make me uncomfortable. I don't like doing things that I don't feel very good at. I don't like doing things that make me feel stupid and chip away at my pride. It's much easier to hand out sandwiches to the homeless than confront someone with their sin and show them the way to salvation.

But sandwiches, pleasant smiles and volunteer hours won't count for anything after someone's heart stops beating. Together we must encourage and help each other in evangelism, celebrate victories and milestones through the goodness of Christ, pray through our defeats, and trust that God will be glorified despite our weaknesses!

{This entry is a continuation of thought stemming from this earlier post.}

June 16, 2013

kid lit and dads who listen.

"She... thought of how when her sister had played her flute, whatever her father was doing, however busy he was, he would listen, gently opening all the doors between the place where he was working, and wherever Clem was practising."
          - Binny for Short by Hilary McKay, pg. 14

I'm a part of that strange family of people that prefers children's literature over adult literature. It's not that I don't like solid adult fiction or a good biography -- it's just that I find the humour and kindness and gentleness and unique perspective of children's literature to often be more enjoyable than the sometimes exhaustive emotional roller coaster plots of adult fiction. Whether this is an indicator of my maturity level... well, we won't go there today.

Anyway, I've been busy reading some kid lit over the last week and the quote up at the top is from a book I just finished. The 12-year-old protagonist is calling to mind memories of her father who died a few years before -- and when I read this my breath caught in my throat a little bit because I had this moment where a fictional phrase is so real and mirrors a past moment so acutely that you have to read it again just to make sure you're not imagining things.

It's just a sentence, just a subtle phrase that most readers skim over to get to the next paragraph. But in my own life, for my family -- this exact thing happened countless times. One of us would close the doors to the living room after pulling a violin out of its case or snapping the piano light on, not wanting to disturb the peace of the rest of the house with messy scales and unsuccessful attempts at sight-reading. And sure enough, a few minutes later, one door would swing open, then another, and sometimes he would come through one of them and stand with his ear to the music and his hand on the bannister and just look out the window, and other times there would be nobody there, just silently opened doors and a dad sitting back down at the kitchen table, preferring the full-volume effect of jolty quasi-musical phrases and cries of artistic frustration to accompany his paperwork.

For a little while after he was gone, playing music felt lonely. The doors remained shut. I'd look up, half-expecting to see him standing at the bannister, even though I knew he wouldn't be there. And then I'd feel a little bit annoyed, because he should be there and it's weird that he's not because he was just there, just a few weeks ago, and he was just laughing, and he was just eating dinner across the table from me and it seemed so terribly stupid that someone who was so completely alive is -- just -- not.

I came across 1 Corinthians 15:21 last week. It read, "For as by man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

Some people find the resurrection of the dead simply unbelievable, too far-fetched, too sci-fi. For me, the reality of the resurrection is inescapable. Experiencing the death of a loved one is strange and bizarre. But I can recall looking at the shell lying in the casket and thinking that there was something missing, something so glaringly huge. And I thought, his soul is not here. If someone who was so alive, so full of laughter, just recently mashing up shepherd's pie on his dinner plate could be so quickly lying here in this shiny casket, how swiftly can his soul be filled with life, real eternal life.

I am not an exegetical genius, but I do know that we are quick to think that by man came death, evil, sin; I know that we are quick to limit the power of the Almighty God and think that that is the end. But that is not the end. That is never the end. In Christ shall all be made alive, and no, not in these lousy bodies that get the flu and get sunburned and get choked up with cancer and darkness. Our souls, our new bodies, these will be made alive in Christ. We were created in His image, and as Christ lives and will live and reign eternally, as co-heirs and sons and daughters of the Lord, so shall we.

 Thank God for fathers, here and already there.

June 06, 2013

the wedding pt. 8: flowers.

Flowers at weddings are odd things. When else in your life do you ever hold a bunch of flowers in an awkward-yet-queenly sort of way for an entire day? At any other time in your life this would be considered abnormal behaviour. But no -- today, on this momentous day of days, you are allowed to hold a bunch of flowers for hours on end. All your friends get to hold them, too. And the boys! The boys get to wear them! Not at any other time (at least in this century) will they consent to pin pink gerberas to their shirts, but today -- oh yes. Today this sort of accessorizing is the pinnacle of masculinity. 

I wasn't very good at the whole flower thing. I was not nearly as prepared as I should have been. Smart girls have Pinterest boards packed with bouquet ideas from the age of 13. The go to flower shows. They do serious research. I googled "pretty wedding flowers for July", pasted some images into a document, and never referred to them again. This is rather too bad, especially in the wake of how my wedding flowers actually turned out. There was nothing wrong with them -- they looked beautiful and smelled nice. They just didn't really... match. 

This is all my fault. My florists were brilliant. They did exactly what I asked them to do -- and that's why it's my fault. I can even recall them asking if that was exactly what I wanted, and offering other brief suggestions, but I declined and popped out of there as soon as I could because we were late for a family wedding (where the flowers matched beautifully, I might add). Also, it had been pouring rain outside and being doused in mid-June showers resulted in all my creative sense washing away. No, this has not been scientifically proven. Yes, I'm still going to use it as an excuse. 

You may recall that our girls were dressed in various shades of blue, and the boys in black and white. To stay safe (and inexpensive) I decided to go for crisp and clean with a white and green bouquet. This was to be my theme throughout -- for the guys, girls, moms, etc. Keep it simple and pretty. Princess Kate's bouquet from earlier in the year may or may not have played a role in helping me make this decision. 

The day of the wedding -- surprise! My bouquet was a pinky cream with purple here and there. Not white. Not green. My mouth got a little dry when I had a flashback to that day in the back room at the flower shop -- yes -- I distinctly remember saying cream would look nice. And purple, too. What?! Why?!?!  I still have no idea what possessed me to think that this would look all matched and proper. I wish I could say that the purple was for some sort of sentimental reason... that it had some sort of secret meaning. Alas, all it means is that Suzanne doesn't always pay very good attention to things. 

Not that it really matters. We rocked our bouquets, and those flowers have now gone back to where they came from... composted and rotted back into the earth, helping other plants grow! Makes one consider their mortality and all that serious stuff. Matrimony. Mismatched flowers. Mortality. I don't think I have blog categories for all of these important things. 

June 01, 2013

a boring-ish update.

Annnnnd.... she's back!

Not that I was ever gone. I'd log into this website thinger and sadly look at the last date posted and hope that some magic blog fairy would have posted something witty and charming to appease the blog-reading mobs. I suppose I should just get on with it and stop imagining earth-shattering entries into existence. I'd be content with something that was at least a touch comprehensible. 

Congrats to all you long-suffering readers out there, though... my blogging dashboard tells me that people are still regularly checking this insignificant page with hope in their hearts. Well -- I can't confirm the hope in hearts, I just imagine that. 

Life update, since you all care so very much: May was nice. Daffodils bloomed, then the nasty bunnies ate all my poor little tulips before they had a chance to burst open -- made me rather vindictive towards bunnies for awhile. We have very friendly neighbours whose little children can now spend time outside in the pleasant weather... they come and press their faces up against our sliding door, providing much entertainment and leaving some oddly shaped slobber marks on the glass. Work-wise, I surpassed even my own expectations in defeating the insurance billing monster conundrum. Our office lost its insurance biller. Guess who took on the job? Yes. Turns out people actually go to school for this for a reason. BUT -- as I said -- it was defeated (through much trial and error, but we don't need to talk about that). 

My ever-present friend of almost six years took a turn for the worse and had to be admitted to a rehab centre -- fare thee well, 2007 macbook. Her light went out and using a flashlight to see the screen isn't the most effective way to check one's email. Being without a functioning computer may have also aided in my absence from the blogosphere -- I used Wayne's old and limping laptop for awhile but trying to blog on a computer whose functionality depends solely on its mood isn't the best for creativity's flow. Oh, you'd like to turn off now? Alright. Go ahead and do that. We'll try again tomorrow. Fortunately I  know some people with connections. Thank you, people, for letting me know you and lending me a tool that will aid in my trades. Have you tried digitally editing illustrations without photoshop OR a computer? It's quite impossible. 

The Grand Rapids weather has been ever-constant -- and by this I mean completely all over the place. Cold and rainy and miserable to steamy and unbearably humid all within a few hours. I didn't think any weather could be more moody and unpredictable than southern Ontario, but west Michigan takes the cake, I think. Merci beaucoup, Lake Michigan and surrounding bodies of water. 

Before I bore you all with more lengthy weather descriptions, I think I'll put a stop to this entry. Now. I'll be back with more substance later. Also, the below photo is amazing.