31 December 2007

January's Glimpses

Some of you have noticed the sign-up to your right (or is it left--I still haven't figured out my right from my left) for my new ezine, Glimpses. A monthly publication delivered right to your email (see? I can do salesman! or woman, rather), this ezine shares glimpses of Christ in His people's stories, in art, and in the Church.

This month, I interviewed Jen Kliewer, who with her husband and little girl lives in Philadelphia, sharing in the poverty of their neighborhood and sharing Christ's love with the people around them. I also have a painting by artist Christina Kieffer that portrays the fight between the spirit and the flesh, and a short devotional on what it means to be the Body of Christ, one of my favorite metaphors for the Church.

The ezine is free, and when you sign-up you'll receive a copy of "Reel Studies: A Study Tool for Bible Stories," a resource designed to guide you in your study of Bible stories. It includes a look at structure, characters, setting, and imagery.

Beginning in February, there'll be a free giveaway every month, and I have some great gifts lined up for you!

In the meantime, I have some things on my heart I've been praying through. Today I have to clean house for our shindig tonight, but tomorrow I hope to share what's going on.

29 December 2007

Movies and Theology - Sweeney Todd

It's disturbing. It's evil.
It's meant to be.
You like horror? Thrillers? Try your hand at this one.
Of course, the music in the movie lacks the talent of a stage version.
To read my review of the movie (no spoilers), go here.
To join in the discussion that looks at theological themes (some spoilers), go here.

28 December 2007

The Last Day of Christmas

I admit it. I'm a clinger. Change doesn't bother me. I like new things. But letting go of old ones, that's a different story.
So I cling to Christmas.
I mourn it's passing. Yesterday I watched half a dozen Christmas movies with my family. Today I'll bake a few more cookies (for my New Year's Eve Party--if you're in the Dallas area, stop on by!) and watch one more Christmas movie.
It doesn't feel like Christmas anymore. How can that be? A month of carols and decorations and stories and snap! It's over with the stroke of midnight.
Christmas to me isn't about the day. It's the season. The season of lights and joy and peace. The season that we now use to remember the birth of the greatest King. The season we find holly and jolly.
Today the last of my family leaves. We had a house full o' people. It was great. Air mattresses were brought out. Sofas slept on. Every room filled. We played games and drank wassail and ate more cookies and pie than any human should eat. I discovered that the heavy roasting pan I received as a wedding present and hadn't had an opportunity to use until now is too big for my oven. Dishes broke. Stains remain. But that's okay. I can remember each time I see the stain.
Tomorrow life goes back to normal. Not that normal is bad. I like life (life likes me, life and I fairly fully agree...).
But normal isn't Christmas.
So farewell thee well, Ghost of Christmas past. We lift a cup in your honor.

20 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

The wrapping began two days ago. The cookie baking began yesterday. The cleaning begins today. I'm gearing up for days of holly jolly joy! (Have you guessed by now that I'm in love with the Christmas season? After all, it's the most wonderful time of the year.)
Today will probably be my last day with you until after Christmas. But cheer up, friends! Grab a cup of eggnog, dream by the fire, and let it snow. Santa Claus is coming to town!
I'll see you next week. In the meantime, I leave you with a few more Christmas facts:

  • Gift-giving can also be traced back to Roman times. Romans exchanged gifts, giving coins for prosperity, pastries for happiness, and lamps to light the journey through life. They also made gifts of small dolls for children and candles for adults. Macy’s began staying open until midnight on Christmas Eve in 1867 to accommodate the custom and in 1874 began their Christmas window displays.
  • We have Sir Cole to thank for the Christmas card frenzy. In 1843, too busy to wish individual greetings to his friends, he commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley for the illustration. The card was inscribed with, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year To You.” Three years later, Christmas cards became a phenomenon in the States.
  • European countries in the Middle Ages viewed Christmas as a time for superstition and auguries. On Christmas Eve, animals had the ability to talk—an annual function usually associated with overcoming their oppression—and water became wine. In France, chanting the genealogy of Christ during Midnight Mass revealed treasure. In Norway, the Norse gods made war on Christmas, coming in lightening and thunder and dragging away unlucky citizens. If a southern Slav girl wanted to know what kind of husband she would have, she would cover her table on Christmas Eve with a loaf of bread, a plate, a knife, a spoon, and a fork before going to bed. At midnight, the spirit of her future husband would appear and throw the knife at her. If it did not injure her, she would get a good husband and a happy life. If it hurt her, she would die early. Similarly, a young man would go to the church naked on Christmas Eve and sift ashes. His future bride would appear and pull him three times by the nose (could this be where Santa got his red nose?). These days, we merely tell horror stories of coal left in stockings and set out milk, cookies, and carrots to ensure a favorable visit. Do they leave out fortune cookies for Santa in China?

And some fun Christmas facts about me:

  • Favorite Christmas movies I've seen this season: White Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Frosty
  • Christmas movies I've seen for the first time this season: Holiday in Handcuffs (didn't expect to like this one, but I did!), Fred Claus, Jingle All the Way, Deck the Halls, and a slew of cheesy ones made for TV
  • Favorite Christmas movies I have yet to see: White Christmas (my absolute favorite, so I watch it a handful of times), Miracle on 34th Street (only the old version for me), The Santa Claus, Home Alone, The Year without a Santa Claus (I'm Mr. White Christmas, I'm Mr. Snow, I'm Mister Icicle, I'm Mister Ten Below), and if I must, It's a Wonderful Life
  • Christmas movies you couldn't pay me to watch again: A Christmas Story (I don't the brew-ha-ha over this one), and a couple of the made-for-TV ones I saw this year
  • Activities I plan on enjoying before I see you next: making cut-out snowflakes, pasting together Frosty on construction paper (hey, I live in Texas--we don't have snow), going to see Sweeney Todd in the theater, eating way too much, opening presents, playing in the pile of discarded wrapping paper with my niece and my parents' dog

Merry Christmas!

18 December 2007

Cooties

If you can watch this without laughing, than like the Burgermeister Meisterburger, you have broken your funny bone.
Got this from the Escape Adulthood blog.

Deck the Halls

On those boughs of holly--

Mistletoe is a symbol of peace and joy and signifies friendship and goodwill. Mistletoe was considered sacred by the Norse Scandinavians, the Druids, and the Native North Americans.
In Norse theology, when Balder, the sun god, was killed by the evil spirit Loki with an arrow shaped from a mistletoe, Balder’s mother, Frigga, wept tears of white berries, which brought him back to life. Frigga blessed the plant and bestowed a kiss on all that passed beneath it.
Druids used mistletoe as protection against ghosts, witches, and goblins, placing them over doorways, in a child’s cradle, and by the first cow calving after the New Year to protect the entire herd. Whenever enemies met under mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their weapons for a day. Every year, the priests cut the mistletoe from the oak tree with a golden sickle. The people would wear sprigs of holly in their hair when they went to watch.
During the Saturnalia festival, Romans used holly to honor Saturn. They gave holly wreaths decorated with images of Saturn. To avoid persecution, the early Christians decked their halls with boughs of holly. Eventually, this custom transformed from a pagan tradition to a Christian symbol of Christmas. The thorns of the mistletoe came to represent Christ’s crown.
In the 18th century, kissing under the mistletoe came to mean a promise of marriage. If a young woman stood under the mistletoe, she couldn’t be refused a kiss, although that kiss could represent anything from romance to friendship. If a girl remained unkissed, it was believed that she would not marry the coming year.

17 December 2007

Christmas Cinquain

Ode to Hans

Evergreen
Verdant, Jolly
Living, Dancing Delight
Celebrating, Joy, Peace, Life
Timeless

Mid-month Every Month at PENSIEVE
Want this button?

14 December 2007

Another Hero

Christmas facts about me:

White Christmas is my favorite Christmas movie.
I didn't know Silent Night was a Christmas carol until I was eight or nine, maybe older. My mom sang it to me every night, every night, even in June. I still get sleepy when I hear it.
Rudolph is my Christmas hero. I think you know why.
But my second hero, maybe you don't know that one: video

I put together that clip for a Christmas brunch I'm speaking at tomorrow.

Sorry about the quality. Blogger wouldn't upload it (after an hour of waiting, I gave up), so I downsized it to get it up there. But you get the idea.

My Favorite Christmas Memory

The details are fuzzy as any old memory goes. The story comes like a pop-up book for a toddler: pictures emerge here and there but the lines and paragraphs don't make sense.
I was four, maybe five, and that year I learned that giving is more fun than receiving.
Her name was Deidre. She had been in the hospital for a long time for something chronic like heart problems, not a quick fix like appendicitis. Maybe we knew her through church or one of my parents' workplaces.
"We're going to take Deidre some presents," Mom said. "Why don't you pick something out for her?"
I hadn't met Deidre before. What would she like? A doll? A stuffed Snoopy? Could she play with a shopping cart in the hospital?
A book! Who doesn't like books?
I chose one of my favorites, 'Twas the Night before Christmas. My dad read it every Christmas Eve after Luke 2, right before we set out the cookies, milk, and carrot. My dad's a great reader: he does expressions. Not even a mouse!
Okay, and I had two copies of it.
It was a Golden Book edition with that gold binding and a red cover (they've since changed the cover). Mom and I wrapped it in red Christmas paper with Santa Claus laughing with that bowlful of jelly in replica. He had his finger to his nose.
At the hospital, I sat on a hard chair with my legs swinging in a long hallway. Maybe it wasn't long, but it seemed so at the time. The walls were made of cinderblocks painted cream. I breathed in the dry, isopropryll air and waited.
The waiting was the best part, I think. Holding the gift, knowing God was using me to bring joy in a little girl's Christmas. She was my age, and she would read one of my favorite books.
I don't remember what she looked like, but I was shy. What if she didn't like my gift? What should I say to her?
And then it was over, and we returned to our lives. As always, my dad read Luke 2 and 'Twas the Night before Christmas. I didn't hear about Deidre again, or if I did, I don't remember. I don't know what happened to her. I don't know if she liked my gift.
But I never forgot her. Every Christmas, I wonder if Deidre likes that story.

13 December 2007

Translating Translations

I'm going out on a limb today, but I have to say it, though I know of several people who won't agree with me and won't like that I'm saying it. All I can say is "even among misfits you're a misfit" (misfit not meaning the critique group but a broader definition).
Here goes.
I just don't get all the to-do over the ESV Bible translation. I'm not saying it's a bad translation, but what's all the hype about?
It's tauted as a brand new version! solves all translation problems! but it's an update on the RSV. It's only about 5% different from the RSV, and most of that is thees and thous. Oh, yes, everyone points to the passage in Isaiah that changes "young woman" into "virgin," but even that isn't a big deal. After all, the Hebrew term means both and in the immediate context, it did mean young woman even if Matthew used the nuance "virgin."
Also, from what I've read, it seems that the translators take a verbal inspiration view of the Bible. Verbal inspiration means God inspired every word of the Bible. I take a dynamic inspiration view of the text, which means that God inspired the message, the ideas, the story, and the human authors put it in their own words.
Sometimes, when you try to stick too closely to "word by word" translation, you not only have a wooden translation, you lose some of the message because idioms aren't understood.
Now, I do like the literary study esv bible, but that doesn't have anything to do with the translation itself, just how it's packaged.
After all, I did my thesis on story structure in the Bible. That's what draws me to these rich Old Testament stories. That's what makes me look at each gospel on its own merit, its own structure and plot, it's own message, rather than try and synchronize the events.
The other amusing thing: some of the translators that ate the TNIV for lunch for using gender inclusive language then used gender inclusive language for the ESV.
Don't get me wrong--I think gender inclusive is good. It's the original intention, kind of like how we saw "man" sometimes to mean humanity. (Now, there are times that the masculine should be kept, like "son of man" in Daniel and Ezekiel instead of "son of mortal" or something because Jesus later picked up the term for Himself and it was loaded with meaning. Well, I guess son of mankind would work for both, but you get my point--I like when it's translated "brothers and sisters" when Jesus addresses a mixed audience kind of thing.)
Let me reiterate that I don't think the ESV is a bad translation. I just wonder if the big deal is more because of the names tauting it. Celebraty-ism now intruding in translations?
Well, I so-and-so said I should use this Bible, or I use the same Bible that this person uses.
Of course, we can only have these discussions because of the plethora of translations in English. Guess you can't have these discussions with Swahili bibles.

Jefe, what is a plethora?
Why, El Guapo?
Well, you told me I have a plethora. And I just would like to know if you know what a plethora is. I would not like to think that a person would tell someone he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has *no idea* what it means to have a plethora.
Forgive me, El Guapo. I know that I, Jefe, do not have your superior intellect and education. But could it be that once again, you are angry at something else, and are looking to take it out on me?

12 December 2007

Sometimes Misfits Belong

In September 2006, I introduced the concept about being a misfit. I told you that Rudolph was one of my favorite Christmas shows because I could relate.
I'm a misfit.
A dentist elf, a toy bird who swims instead of flies, a prospector searching for a peppermint mine, a reindeer with a shiny, red nose.
Why don't I fit it in?
This past Sunday night, we watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer again. The old sympathies arose for Rudolph and Hermey, who, "even among misfits you're a misfit!" (another truism for me!)
But I caught something else. In the end, after the Abomidable has been conquered and Rudolph's family saved, after Santa asks, "Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?" there's another line I'd missed before.
"Sometimes even misfits belong."
Because I belong now.
I like what's said in that statement: you may still be a misfit, a dentist elf, a reindeer with a shiny nose, a Charlie-in-the-Box, but you can belong too.
Back in April, Chris and I started visiting this church. It's an Anglican church. Chris and I both came from years of Bible church communities, so why an Anglican church?
We visited because good friends of ours go there.
We kept visiting because we liked what we saw.
We liked the evangelical theology and the liturgy with the weekly emphasis on the Eucharist and the focus on serving both the community and the world.
In September, we became members. I cried. I cried because for the first time in a long time I could say, "I love my church." I cried because I belonged.
I have friends here. I'm involved here--I started a book club and I'll be teaching a Bible study in the spring and I'll be serving a local community orphanage with my church. On Sunday mornings, I want to get up and go to church. I can't wait to worship God, to see friends.
I'm sharing this because it's come full circle. This blog is not just about my struggles. It's about my joys.
And sometimes even misfits belong.

11 December 2007

Feed the World Through a Game


I found this through Robin today. You play a word game and for every word you get right, they donate 20 grains of rice through the United Nations. They partner with poverty.com.
Now 20 grains may not be very much, but if a lot of people start playing, that could add up to a lot of rice.
Need a five minute break from work? You know what to do.

10 December 2007

O Tannenbaum

The tree came to the United States with German immigrants. The Puritans, however, deemed it pagan mockery of the sacred event of Christmas. In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts outlawed any observance of Christmas outside of church services, including Christmas trees, carols, and gifts. Schools in Boston remained open on Christmas day through 1870, sometimes expelling students who stayed home on December 25th. In 1871, a Cleveland minister almost lost his job for allowing a tree in his church.
German and Irish immigrants overcame the disapproval of the pilgrims. A farmer dragged two ox sleds of evergreens into New York City in 1851 and sold them all, creating the first tree market. Ralph E. Morris invented the electric Christmas lights in 1895, making the world a safer place. By 1900, one in five families in North America had Christmas trees, and by 1920, the Christmas tree was nationally recognized as a symbol of Christmas. F.W. Woolworth brought the glass ornament tradition to the U.S. from Germany in 1890, completing the transformation. As early as 1874, Macy’s began their window displays with Christmas themes, and since 1923, the White House has had a Christmas tree on the front lawn every year.

Forum Discussion

New forum question on Incarnating Christ:

I've talked before about sweatshop labor--not shopping at stores that employ sweatshop labor (you can look up your favorite store at Responsible Shopper), being involved in organizations such as International Justice Mission which actively fight sweatshops and slavery, that kind of thing.I hate sweatshop labor. I hate places that force overtime (especially unpaid), that take advantage of people (especially women and children), that sexually and/or physically abuse.
But let's look at the question and implications.
Some organizations make attempts to keep their factories clean. For example, Gap has surprise inspections. However, I read an article that said that factories in India (where Gap makes their clothing) have hiding places to stash kids when that inspector walks in the door. The article said, if you're using a factory in India, there's gonna be corruption.Which brings me to my question.
But if we stop using India and places like that, doesn't that do more damage by pulling away a source of economy from a hurting country?
I'm not saying let's turn a blind eye, but is the answer to stop all production?
Maybe it is. As a statement. Get your act together.

Go here to put your two cents in.

We Have No Bananas Today

I'm shifting things a bit.
In January, I'm going to be launching a new ezine. Stay tuned for more on that because the first 100 people to sign-up will receive a little something extra for free (the ezine will be free as well, by the way). I'm telling you this now because I've decided to reclaim my blog for more fun stuff and put what I've been posting as "Mentor Monday" into the montly ezine instead.
Here's a sneakpeek: every month, there will be glimpses into people's stories (interviews and tidbits of cool people in the world who are incarnating Christ's love to the hurting), glimpses into beauty (where you'll find paintings, sculptures, poetry, and flash fiction), and glimpses into the Church (a section that looks at the metaphors, purpose, and life of the Church). And every so often, there'll be some fun free give-aways!
Is it ezeen? or ezin (with a long i)?

07 December 2007

Cool Announcement #2


Visit Intersection

It's like I'm addicted.
But seriously, these social networks or online communities or whatever you want to call them are awesome!
So I've created one for art and theology called Intersection (http://intersection.ning.com).
Here's what I dream: people will upload their photography, poetry, pictures of their paintings (and I know some of you are photographers, poets, and painters). We'll discuss issues like how to get involved in the film world or writing techniques or brushstrokes or how to we handle this Golden Compass movie or what we think should or shouldn't be acceptable in Christian publishing or what should standards be? or how do we strive for greatness? or talk about different genres, like speculative Christian fiction and horror movies and folk music. We'll post film and book and music reviews. We'll upload a favorite song to discuss or just to share. We'll create interest groups, like book clubs or punk music fans or Duchamp lovers.
This is better than Mastercard.

06 December 2007

On Words and Writing

I admit it. Everyday in my email comes Merriam-Webster's word of the day.* Not that I actually learn and use these words. But it's fun to get them.
Today's word: locofoco.
Okay--who cares what this actually means? Just saying the word brings a smile to my face.
Locofoco.
Hee-hee.
For those of you who care: "a member of the Democratic party in the United States."
Locofoco.
Can you use that in a sentence, please?

Remember how I talked about one of the greatest things about writing was getting away with stealing? I get to be a pirate!
Here's another great thing: when you're a writer, it's okay to hear voices in your head. In fact, it's encouraged.
I love being a writer.

*The story behind Merriam-Webster. There once was a librarian Merriam (little known fact: the song Marian from Music Man was pilfered from Merriam and Webster). Always her nose in a book. One day, she looked up to see the basketball great Webster hiding in a corner. Figuring he must be up to no good because anytime a jock hid in her library it was no good, she approached him.
But no! He was reading! Actually reading!
"Don't tell no one," he whispered, "But I love words."
They met in that corner everyday for seven months.
Until Webster's parents discovered them.
"For shame!" the parents said (together, because they talked in chorus often). "A librarian!" The parents grabbed the book away from Webster (again together, because the acted in chorus often), and shipped him on a bus to Indiana, because that's where all basketball players go.
"You will be one of the greats!" they said.
Poor Merriam. Her kindred spirit gone. Picking up the book discarded by Webster's parents, she hugged it to her.
Epiphany! The lightbulb flashed! They wouldn't be separated. They would find a way!
Though those were the days preceding email, she employed something called a pen and paper (you can look these items up in the dictionary or an encyclopedia). Back and forth, Merriam and Webster wrote letters collecting words.
One day, Webster met a guy named Britannica.
"Britannica, old boy," Webster said. "Will you marry my love and I?"
"And me," Britannica said.
"No, just the two of us."
Over the phone, Britannica pronounced them husband and wife.
They never saw each other again, Merriam and Webster, but they are forever bound (hee-hee, get it? bound?).

Coda: By the way, this is what's known as ternary.

05 December 2007

On Genres

If Jane Austen were writing today, would she be considered chick lit?

04 December 2007

Cool Announcement #1


Visit Incarnating Christ

Okay, I was going to hold this off a little longer, but I can't help myself. I'm too excited.
I've created a new online social group called "Incarnating Christ" for those who are passionate about incarnating Christ's love to the hurting. To become a member is free. Simply go to http://incarnatingchrist.ning.com/ and follow the steps.
Wondering what it is? Here are some possibilities:

  1. Discuss on the forums theological and practical questions for ministry, including questions like how can I get involved when I live in suburbia? or how should I get my children involved in inner city ministry when it's not "safe"? or what does it mean when Christ told the rich young ruler to give away all he had?
  2. Connect with missionaries overseas. Heather Jamison has uploaded a great video with some of the people in her life in Africa. I have to admit. The beauty of it made me cry.
  3. Share (upload) songs and videos that inspire you.
  4. Create local/church groups to keep each other up-to-date with what's going on in the area.
  5. Share ideas for getting involved locally and globally.
  6. Encourage each other when frustrated.
  7. Write blog posts on a particular event.
  8. Pray for each other.

The possibilities are endless! It's different than Blogger or MySpace because there are so many more options. Go check it out!

I'll have cool announcement #2 up in the next day or two.


Christmas Traditions--The Makings of a Tree

’Tis the season…to buy the gifts, to send out Christmas cards, to decorate the tree, to bake cookies with red and green sugar, to hang mistletoe and holly. How did we get into this mess?
Decorating the tree comes from a long line of winter solstice practices. The Egyptians, Romans, Druids, and Scandinavians each used evergreens in their celebrations as a symbol of triumph over life and to ward off evil spirits. During the Roman festival of Saturnalia, mistletoe, holly, and evergreens were twisted into wreaths, hung on doorways, and wrapped throughout the house. To prevent persecution, Christians decked their own halls. Eventually, the pagan meaning faded away. The thorns in mistletoe instead represented Christ’s crown and the evergreen Christ’s life.
Rumor has it that Luther brought the tree inside and, inspired during an evening stroll by the moonlight shimmering on the snow-dusted tree boughs, donned the tree with candles for his children. The first documented decorated Christmas tree as we know it, however, wasn’t until 1605, after Luther’s time. Before then, Central Europeans hung the fir tree upside down.
Stay tuned to find out how it fared in the U.S.!

03 December 2007

Published Articles

Three new articles coming out, for those of you interested:

  • A creative nonfiction piece, "My Scarlet Letter" in Three One Six: A Journal of Christian Thinking. Also in this issue are articles by blogging buddies Mike Duran, Erin Teske, and Sandra Glahn.
  • "Spiritual Disciplines: Practicing Daily Scales," which looks at practical ways to intertwine spiritual disciplines in your life. This article will be in the Spring '08 issue of Just Between Us, a magazine for women in professional or lay leadership.
  • "'Tis the Season": a look at the origin of some of our Christmas traditions in fwd Magazine, a quarterly magazine put out by my church.

Tomorrow, I'll give you a sneak peek into some of those fun Christmas origins.

Mentor Monday--Art for the Poor

I met Brenda Gribbin at a women's retreat. She led a breakout session on using art in prayer. It was an amazing class, but even more amazing was this woman standing in front of me. I realized that this was the woman behind so much of the art I had seen at our church. Brenda uses her art to work through her prayers, reflect her relationship with Christ, and raise money for the needy. Often, she sells pieces and donates the money to Real Options (a ministry for pregnant women) or Buckner (a ministry for orphans both in the States and around the world). She's also been known to donate her art to churches.
It's an interesting perspective on how to intertwine our art and our passion for the oppressed.
If you're in a rush, scroll through to the last question about using your art, and read Brenda's final comment!

Brenda, what is your inspiration for your art?
When I started formal art training (in my 40's) my goal was to find a way to glorify God without painting Calvary or praying hands all the time. I learned that the best way to do that is to develop the gift He has given me. To work at my art as though EVERY painting were for Him...paint for an Audience of One. My inspiration ultimately returns to my purpose...to worship God. Sometimes inspiration comes from words that burn an image in my brain...it's so clear, I can't believe others can't see it on my forehead. (Right now, I have Isaiah 6 screaming to get on canvas.) Often, I'm working out a technical "what if" and a series of abstract paintings comes running out. Once the urgency takes over, I work fast. I consider myself a "drawer" rather than a "painter" because my art is born quickly, like sketches...even if the image has been incubating for months. It's as if I have a message to deliver and nothing will do, but that it is explained quickly and with a lot of strong language (color, line, etc.) I believe God has a purpose for this gift, and it is my responsibility to use it to usher others into His presence. I am absolutely intrigued by the powerful beauty of tiny things in nature. I could do an entire wall of azalea petals and not get bored...but they would have to be magenta pink!

What drew you to Real Options and Buckner ministries?
It's that responsibility thing again, but there's a LOT of joy behind it. So many children and young people deserve better than what their struggling and misdirected parents can provide. No one should make life decisions when they feel painted into a corner. Everyone, every child of God, should have the opportunity to know Him and experience the abundant life He designed for them. I think these organizations are well positioned to be effective ministers of God's love, and I want to be a part of that.

How are you involved in these ministries?
I went to Russia with Buckner in 2002 to deliver shoes to orphanages in St. Petersburg, and absolutely fell in love with those kids. I've been involved with shoe drives, taking volunteers to the warehouse to sort shoes and humanitarian supplies and other efforts for Buckner over the years, but nothing compares with meeting the kids. I leave December 8th for Peru, part of a 25-person team delivering Christmas gift boxes to kids in Lima and Arequipa. I am so blessed to be able to go where many others cannot...to love the children some others will not. Real Options is a new involvement for me, but something that has tugged on my heart for several years. God blessed a recent fund raising project I did for Real Options, and I'm anxious to see what He has in store for me with this ministry.

What made you realize that you could use your art to support the ministries?
Five months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I went to New Orleans with a "muck out" team. Before the trip, I felt a strong call to do a painting for the church we were working with. Since I had never met them or seen their worship space, I spent a lot of time in prayer over this project. At one point, I literally got on my face before God, asking Him to speak through me. The result was a painting that will probably not receive wide recognition or even be long-lived...but it was significant to the members of that church, and spoke to their own struggle and promise for the future. I saw what God could do with the gift He had given me...use it to encourage others in their walk. I knew then that I could take my prayer life and offer it to others as image...a visual encouragement.

If others want to use their art/creativity/craft in ministry, what are some things that you suggest?
I believe God has given us the "creative" tool to speak to Him...to help us sort out what He is leading us toward. Be genuine. Don't look for specific results, but anticipate miracles. It must be for His glory, and not ours. If you find a way to clear the clutter out of your mind enough to understand how much God loves you and wants to bring light into your darkness, share it with others! Sing out!

Anything you want to add, Brenda?
I am uncomfortable in my current walk...challenged to speak out and step up to things I never would have dreamed of in the past. I give all the credit to the Lord, because I KNOW what a mess I made of things when I tried to do it my way. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to share the Gospel in fresh ways...ways that catch the doubtful unaware. I pray God continues to push me into new territory for His sake.

Thanks for taking this time with us. How true that God often calls us to something uncomfortable! But that's how we best grow and shine His glory.