Friday, October 30, 2009

Painting Scripture

This week we celebrated my friend Steve's 34th birthday—complete with party harts and hilarious party favors. I often have a difficult time coming up with gift ideas for guys. I suppose that's because most of the guys in my life are not sentimental, and I tend to give sentimental gifts. Thankfully, Steve is a writer, photographer, and artist extraordinaire, and that makes gift giving a whole lot easier.

A few weeks ago I decided I wanted to attempt a painting for Steve. I've really only dabbled in painting, most of it done in my Art 101 class in college and a few things over the ensuing years. Last Christmas, as a gift for my brother, I did my first canvas painting and used acrylic paint with a thickening medium mixed in. It turned out fairly well considering I have no drawing ability and the fact that I was making it for my somewhat un-sentimental brother:
Sadly, the picture doesn't show the colors very well, especially the variations in the water. But you can get the general idea, I think. I'm not convinced my brother liked it and I'm quite certain it is tucked away in a box or closet somewhere. Ah well. Such is the constant struggle of gifting to people who are so very different than me. I am still on the fence about whether to attempt another creative gift for my brother this year or to go with something more practical and thus more likely to be used and appreciated.

For Steve's painting I decided to go back to what I love most about painting: Color, color, and more color. I also wanted it to reflect Steve's great passion for spiritual growth and his efforts to pioneer an amazing small group model known as Christlikeness Groups. The main purpose in these groups is to encourage, support, and challenge one another to pursue the character of Christ in our daily lives. The first verse that came to mind for me as a representation of this was Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

In essence, the character of Christ is the fruit of the Spirit. We cannot become more like Christ apart from the Spirit, both in the long-term development of our character and in the moment-by-moment empowering to act according to the spiritual nature. Thus, I decided I wanted this painting to serve as an abstract representation of the fruit of the Spirit, assigning each attribute a color and somehow incorporating them all into a harmonious whole.

As I began to flesh out the logistics of this idea, however, I had a little revelation about the fruit of the Spirit. This passage from 1 Corinthians came to mind:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

It seems clear from these verses that love is not just another characteristic of Christ or another dimension of the fruit of the Spirit. Love, in fact, is composed of all the other attributes combined. Love is not just one color; love is all colors and then some. And that idea led me to create this painting:
Again, the photo doesn't quite capture the depth of color and shading, but it's pretty close. Overall, I am very pleased with how it turned out. If you haven't gathered this already, I love color. I used about 25 colors for the outer circle and then combined all of them for the center space. I had the hardest time with the words, not just in the painting of them but in the choosing of where they should go.

When I initially came up with this idea, I wanted to choose a color that represented each attribute to me. For instance, the first color that comes to mind when I think of peace is blue. But as I went through the eight characteristics, I realized most of them I associated with the cooler colors of purple, blue, and green. In fact, the only ones I immediately pictured as warm or loud colors were joy and self-control. I spent a long time pondering this and trying out different combinations before settling on the final arrangement. Moving "faithfulness" to the warm side of the circle was a pretty easy transition for me because faith is so multi-faceted. Yes, it can be the quiet strength that holds us together but it can also be the active straining, fighting, and persisting as we seek to follow God's will and become more like Christ. Although I was initially resistant to placing "patience" on the color yellow, I realized that patience is best displayed in situations that are anything BUT calm, quiet, and peaceful. So even though these weren't necessarily the colors I would have chosen on first instinct, the end result seems just right.

When I gave the painting to Steve, he pointed out something I had missed entirely. I had not intended the center to be in any particular shape, mostly just wanting the borders to be fluid and unpredictable. Turns out, though, that it is actually in the shape of a bird:
Can you see it? The beak and head are at the top left, the tail feathers at the bottom right, and the two wings in between. Ever since Steve pointed that out, I can't stop seeing it when I look at the painting. It reminds me of this verse from Jesus' baptism:

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. (Matthew 3:16)

I love how God shows up in the smallest places. Not because He has to or because we ask Him to or because we might notice it. He just shows up because He wants to, because He's God, because He loves us. Isn't He great?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Giving Love

I love giving gifts. I've never read any of those love-language books, so I can't tell you whether there is anything spiritual, genetic, or otherwise important about the fact that I love giving gifts. I can tell you, though, that it is one of the main reasons I relish the celebration of Christmas. I know. It seems almost sacrilegious to admit that I rejoice in something besides the birth of Christ during this time of year. But before you ex-communicate me or say any prayers for this "heathen," allow me to explain.

When I give gifts, it's not about the money or the stuff. It's about love. When I was growing up, each member of the family would make a "Christmas List" with all their heart's desires so that we could buy gifts that wouldn't be returned or, worse yet, stashed away in the back of a closet, never to be seen again. It was a very practical plan. And mostly it worked well. But as I got into my mid teens, I began to have this deep desire to buy things NOT on the prescribed gift lists. I wanted my gift to be a surprise. I wanted to take the time to listen and observe, pick up clues to what each person needed or would enjoy. Because what I really wanted to give was not any particular item. I wanted to give love. I wanted them to know that I knew them and understood what was important to them, even without them spelling it out.

I wanted them to know that I loved them.

And isn't that what the birth of our Savior is all about? For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. God wanted us to know that He knew us and understood our greatest desires and our deepest needs, even when we were mostly unaware of them ourselves.

He wanted us to know that He loved us.

It seems only fitting, then, that Christmas—the celebration of Christ's birth—should be about love. Love for our God. Love for our family. Love for our friends. Love for our enemies. Love for a world in great need of a Savior. And for me, giving a gift is the way I best say, "I love you. You matter to me. Thank you for being in my life."

So why all this Christmas talk in the middle of October? Because the gift-making process is well underway in my little corner of the world. About 90% of my gifts are handcrafted in some fashion or another, and it takes a lot of time to create that much love! I always have great aspirations about completing my gifts before Thanksgiving, but I have yet to pull that one off. Maybe next year. Or the year after. Or maybe never.

As I was going through my art supplies in preparation for making gifts, I came across an unfinished crochet project I started more than a year ago. Okay, unfinished is not the right word. Barely started is more accurate. Out of eight pattern repeats, I had only finished one and started on the second. It was intended to be a blanket—the first blanket I wasn't making as a gift. And that was part of the problem. I have a hard time making things for myself, unless they are small or very practical. I didn't need the blanket. And it was taking forever to make. But it was beautiful and I kept holding onto the hope that someday I would find the motivation to work on it again. As I pulled it out of the bin a couple weeks ago, I finally came to terms with the fact that, at least for this season of life, I am never going to finish that blanket.

And that's okay. Because I've found something fun to do with the part I've already stitched. I'm going to give it away.

It turns out that a single pattern repeat makes a perfect scarf. All I had to do was rip out a few rows of stitches from the second pattern repeat, add a finishing row, tie on some tassels, and voila---it's a scarf!

And it can be your scarf. That's right. I'm doing my first giveaway here on Growing Is Beautiful! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and let me know you want to be included. The deadline to enter is midnight on October 31, 2009, and I will randomly draw a name shortly thereafter and announce the winner. By "shortly thereafter," I mean sometime in the day or two following the end of the contest—not shortly after midnight. Just in case you were wondering about that. I'll be posting the link to this on Facebook as well, so if you feel more comfortable leaving a comment there, that would be just as good.

Here are the specs on this lovely handmade scarf:
6.5 inches wide by 55 inches long
3-inch tassels on each end
Made with 100% acrylic yarn

Here are a few more pictures, close-ups of the tassels and the pattern:

So what are you waiting for? The odds of winning are pretty good since I have less than a dozen regular readers. C'mon, join the fun!

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Forgive You

Two steps forward,one step back
Sometimes no steps forward, all steps back

I forgive you

I say the words over and over
Hoping, praying, believing
They will someday reach my heart
Someday be true

I forgive you

The wounds are deep and sometimes I am angry
But I still love you and that's the hardest part

I forgive you

I don't know if we will ever be "we" again
But I am praying for reconciliation
Praying for you, praying for me
Praying for us

I forgive you

Slowly I am healing
Slowly I am making peace
But it isn't once for all
It's the everyday choice
To let it go, to forgive

I forgive you

Today I choose forgiveness
Maybe I haven't forgiven you yet
But I am forgiving you
And I will keep on doing it
Until there is no need to tell you
Because you will already know

I forgive you

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall

On the last official day of summer, I was able to get over to the Washington Park Arboretum again for pictures. Whenever the leaves start changing in the fall—on any tree anywhere in the city—I immediately get antsy, afraid that I am going to miss out on the spectacular colors of the season if I don't hurry over to the Arboretum as soon as possible. Of course, I always find out that I am way ahead of the game and there are only a small portion of trees that have taken on their fall color. But it puts my mind at ease for a few weeks and I also have the privilege of capturing the last blooms of summer and the first signs of fall. Really it's a win-win situation.

I spent a lot of my time "looking up" on this trip to the Arboretum, so much so that I actually got a crick in my neck. But it was well worth the effort for pictures like these:


 (Don't miss the enormous spider web in the upper right corner of this last picture—clicking on the picture will make it larger. I didn't see it when I took the picture but noticed it when I was editing.)

I also found a few flowers to photograph, including the rare and elusive Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha). Okay, it's not really elusive. I simply couldn't find it last year when I traipsed all over the Arboretum last year looking for it. This time I found it by accident, of course. What's special about this plant is the fact that it blooms in the late summer/early fall and the later blooms are framed by orange, red, and purple leaves as the fall color sets in. Right now the leaves haven't started to change colors yet, but the beautiful white blooms are beginning to open:

Berries were in abundant supply this year and came in a variety of colors, from white to pink to red to yellow. I like this particular photo because it came out looking more like a painting than a photograph:

I was also fortunate enough to get this shot of a bee:
He looks rather scary to me but it's still amazing to see him in this much detail.

After some deliberation, I've decided on this picture as my favorite shot from the set:

I had a lot of favorites, but this one stood out the most and I kept coming back to it. The angle draws me in and pulls me up. The flower seems confident, strong, and determined but still with softness and femininity. It inspires me in my journey toward becoming not only a strong person of God but also a strong woman of God. And you thought it was just a silly little flower!

You can see my best shots from this set by clicking on the slideshow below or you can use the "see it larger" link at the bottom, which will take you directly to my photography site where you can view them in full screen.  Enjoy!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

For the Love of Tea

By now, most of you are probably aware of my love for tea. Oddly enough, I arrived at this relationship with tea by default. Having no tolerance for chocolate or coffee, I was left with only a few hot beverage choices: Apple cider, steamers (steamed milk with flavoring added), and tea. When I went on my first serious diet at age 18 (and lost 20 pounds, I might add!), I realized that tea had no calories and, thus, tea became my drink of choice. How glorious to find something that had flavor without calories! A few years later, my doctor told me I could drink herbal and decaf tea instead of water. Hallelujah! I have since grown to appreciate water in its own right, but I am still quite thrilled to get half of my daily water intake via something that actually tastes good.

Over the years, my love of tea has grown immensely. In my last house, there was a built-in floor-to-ceiling shelf in the kitchen that was perfect for holding my tea collection. A friend off-handedly referred to my shelf as the Altar of Tea and the name stuck. Here's a picture of the Altar of Tea before I moved:

My current tea shelf is a bit cramped and not nearly so perfect as the last, but we (as in, the tea and I) are making do just fine:

Earlier this year, I began to dabble in the wide world of loose leaf teas for the first time and realized just how little I knew about tea. I am still learning and experimenting with different types of teas and the various methods of steeping, but I am enjoying this new venture immensely.

This past Saturday I took the day off and my mom and I attended the Northwest Tea Festival at the Seattle Center. It was splendid! We had a bit of a rocky start due to some parking issues—which were horribly aggravating at the time but eventually became quite humorous once they were resolved. After that, everything was wonderful.

Along with a free goody bag of tea and coupons, we received these adorable little china cups for making a $5 per person donation:

The cups allowed us to sample teas from all the vendors at the festival as well as participate in the tea-tasting sessions being offered.

First we went to the Tea 101 presentation by Ken Rudee, Owner and Director of Tea for Barnes and Watson Fine Teas. He has traveled all over the world in pursuit of tea and it was amazing to see his photographs of the tea-making process in various countries and discover how the tea plant becomes the tea in my cup. It was a great introduction to the different types of teas (white, green, oolong, black, pu-erh) and tisanes (rooiboss, honeybush, and other herbals) and I took a bunch of notes to help me remember some of the information. Of course, there is much I still don't understand about all of it, but it was a good place to start. After the class, we went through a couple of tea tastings and then slowly made our way through all the vendor booths, checking out their wares, hearing about their teas, and tasting their samples. All together we spent about five hours at the festival and enjoyed every minute. My mom sampled tea like a champion and enjoyed many things I didn't think she would. In the end, we came away with all these teas to try, some of them purchased and many of them free:

The best discovery for me was the vendor Remedy Teas, a local organic tea company with a café in a nearby Seattle neighborhood. They had two iced teas and two hot teas brewed up for sampling and each one was unique and equally delicious. I purchased two of them on the spot and will definitely be buying more of their tea in the future. What's even more exciting is that the Remedy Tea Café offers vegan alternatives for both their drinks (such as their tea lattes and smoothies) and their foods. I'm not actually a vegan but I'm currently unable to eat eggs and dairy products, so vegan options are a lifesaver when eating out. I absolutely can't wait to visit the Café!

We had a blast at the NW Tea Festival and I'm very glad we went. I would highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys tea, whether casually or more obsessively like me. I'm already counting down the months until next year's festival!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

In Celebration of Autumn

Most years I find myself dreading the transition from summer into autumn. I suppose it seems more like a precursor to the bitter winter than a season unto its own. Here in the Northwest, October through March are marked by rain, rain, and more rain. Oh, and clouds. Gray, dreary, light-inhibiting clouds. Being a person who loves the sunshine and feels cold at anything less than 78 degrees, it's not hard to understand why I do not enjoy the departing of summer.

But this year is different. This year I am actually appreciating the coming of autumn. Perhaps that's because it has been a hard summer, preceded by an equally hard spring, winter, and autumn. Perhaps I am just ready in every way to move forward, to start again, to begin a new chapter in this crazy journey called life. Perhaps I am finally coming to understand that just as autumn is a precursor to winter, so winter is a precursor to spring. Without the death of winter, there can be no rebirth in spring. And oh the glorious picture of hope spring provides! I find that I am no longer willing to forfeit the wonder of new life for the sake of bypassing the hardness of winter.

So this year as I watch the leaves fall and the clouds roll in, I am celebrating. The earth is both preparing for winter and waiting for spring. I, too, am preparing for winter and waiting for spring. But in the meantime, I am celebrating autumn. Will you join me?

Here are some of the many reasons I am excited about this new season:

*Sweaters—cozy and comforting.

*Tea, tea, and more tea—yes, I drink tea all year around, but I think it tastes just a little bit richer and sweeter when I drink it for warmth as well as flavor.

*Crispness in the air.

*Brilliant colors as the leaves change—I love color, I love creation, I love watching God as the artist.

*No guilt for staying indoors, curled up with a good book (or a blog!) and a cup of tea.

*Soup in the crockpot!

*Not having to water all my outdoor plants by hand. Seriously, it's such a big job and not very fun. I'm thankful God takes care of it for most of the year.

*Simplification of beverage choices at the weekly Starbucks visits. In the summer, you can get a cold drink or a hot one and you can sit inside or outside depending on your mood, the temperature, and whether or not you brought a sweater to combat the indoor air conditioning. In non-summer months, you only get hot drinks, you only sit inside, and you always bring a sweater and possibly a blanket just in case. Some might see this as choice restricting, but most of the time I prefer less options, not more. I'm just a little strange like that.

*Pumpkins!!! And by that I mean pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, Pumpkin Spice Crème from Starbucks, Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin lotion from Bath and Body Works, any number of pumpkin scents from Yankee Candle, and well, you get the point.

*Beginning of the Christmas preparations—okay, sometimes this can be very stressful, but I really do love the holiday season. The lights, the music, the scents, the anticipation, the baking (and the eating!), the movies, the trees, the window shopping, the candlelight, the Christmas story. As I begin the gift-making process in autumn, I start getting excited about everything that is just around the corner. Hooray for Christmas!

*Return to routine—this is a perfect season for getting back into good routines with sleeping, eating, fellowshipping, Bible studying, etc. I am absolutely loving my new routine. It has done wonders for me and I even have time for reading books. Yes, I know. It's shocking to me, too. But it's wonderful.

So tell me, Friends, why do you love autumn?