Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saying My Good-byes

Yesterday, someone dear to me died. Laurie Strand took her last breath on this earth at around 10:30 am, surrounded by the people who mattered most to her, her beautiful husband and kids. The truth is, everyone mattered to Laurie. She never met a stranger. She never overlooked anyone. Laurie, as I described her in my book, Picturing the Face of Jesus, exuded the face of welcome. If you've read my book, or ever do, the Laurie at the end of the first chapter is this Laurie, one of the most unique, funny, spiritually sensitive and gracious people I have ever known.

My daughter and I were talking about being at their son, Jon's, wedding. Britt followed Laurie in the banquet line. All the people before them moved through, piling high their plates, never even noticing the servers. Not Laurie. She stopped, engaged each one and asked, "How's your day going?" and made sure to thank them.

The story I tell of her in my book is about how she met a bunch of homeless kids on the bridge in Broad Ripple. It was her birthday, so she invited them to come over the next night to celebrate--not just her birthday, but all the birthdays they had missed. Laurie served them on her china, had candles and fresh flowers on the table, and a back pack on each chair filled with toiletries.

One of the most memorable times David and I had with Laurie and Greg was a dinner in their home. Toward the end of the meal, after lovely food and rich conversation, Greg, very naturally and without fanfare, took some bread and wine and offered us communion. In turn, we returned the gesture. I had never had such an intimate experience of the Lord's table. I will never forget it.

This last October, Laurie and her daughter Liz came over after my back surgery and cleaned my entire house--top to bottom! She lay on my bed and talked to me about how much she loved my girls and prayed for them. She even had a unique vision about our youngest daughter--one I look forward to sharing with Brooke some day.

When she found out in February that the cancer had returned, I went to see her. She told me then of an experience she had a few months previously. She was at home in her office working on the computer when she suddenly felt as though someone walked into the room. She looked around expecting to see Greg. No one was there. Then she sensed the Lord say, "It's me. I've come to take you home." At the time, she had no idea what it meant, but had a vision of a spiral staircase with all these believers climbing up toward heaven. As each came to the top, they stepped off into heaven. (You just have to understand--that's how Laurie saw things--she often had visions.)

A few weeks ago, Laurie and Greg and Liz and JD were able to come over for lunch. Our two oldest kids were with us, as well. Laurie wasn't feeling well, was very sick to her stomach and in pain. Yet, God gave so much grace to us and we had the most tender time together. She spoke frankly of the cancer and her death. We cried together--at least all the girls did. We hugged and, in a way, said our goodbyes.

Today, I remain on the verge of tears, my heart so very heavy. I can't wrap my mind around how someone so vibrant, with such a beautiful spirit--someone the world so desperately needs--could be gone from here. It just doesn't seem right or possible. How do I say my goodbyes? I really don't know.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why Men Need Art in their Lives

It seems all too often that I hear of yet another man who succumbs to the fatal attraction of adultery. Not that women don’t have a part in it or are sometimes the instigators. Yet, it’s apparent and statistically supported that men more often are the ones who slide down this slippery slope that leads to the destruction of their lives and marriages. Why?

I asked that question of someone recently whose marriage of many years ended because of her husband’s infidelity. She shared her best guess. In his case as in many, it seems that men feel a unique pressure to perform their way through life. With all the titles of breadwinner and head of home, as well as vocational titles like CEO, CFO, or pastor, men often crumble under the weight of responsibility. And in their dissolution, something happens called the “great divide.”

In order to survive the pressure and succeed, men split: split from their hearts and begin to live out of their egos. In order to be all they need to be, in order to accomplish all they need to accomplish, men separate from their hearts, the center of their true selves, and become performers, fabricating a self that has more potential to succeed at all they feel pressured to do and be. (Women do this, too, by the way.)

It would be ridiculous to suggest that I have the remedy for this tragic dilemma. However, I have greater confidence than ever that one of the ways men and women recover their hearts is through exposure to beautiful art. Art has a way of awakening the heart because it speaks through colorful, provocative, metaphoric images—something the heart “gets”. Art can help a person rediscover their heart, listen to it and notice what it feels. When we rediscover our heart, we can begin to nourish it in loving, healthy, wholesome ways instead of desperate and damaging ways.

Why do men need art in their lives? Because they need to feel their hearts. They need help reconnecting with their hearts so that they can become more whole and live out of the fullness of who they were created to be, instead of a false, fabricated, performer.

I truly ache to help men and women live from a deeper place of being—from their truest self in Christ. On October 3, Brent Bill and I will be facilitating a workshop called The Art of Faith. Not surprising, we have a number of people already registered and the vast majority is women. If you are reading this post and know a man who needs art in his life, encourage him to attend this workshop. I think it could be a step in a new direction for those who want to live with more heart—or shall we say “hart”. To register

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Guide to Re-pairing Your Head and Heart

Last Sunday, I led a time of centering prayer during the worship service at our church. The purpose was to help people become quiet and still so that they could hear from the Holy Spirit. During the time, I urged everyone to “stay in their hearts” as they prayed, rather than their heads. Afterwards, a young man made the comment that it was really scary to do that. He said, “It feels more comfortable to stay in your head, where you’re in control.”

Isn't that the truth. Most of us spend our days rushing around, coping with the demands of life by incessantly thinking about them. We split from our heart because it's not so manageable. It makes us feel and feelings aren't easy to control. In fact, sometimes the heart seems to have a "mind" of its own!

However, the heart is absolutely critical in order to live to our fullest capacity. It's the central place where we connect with God, our true selves and others. From our heart flows the energy and passion for life. (Proverbs 4:21) To "re-pair" suggests bringing back together two parts that have become separated. We desperately need to repair our heads and hearts. But how?

Try these three movements to help you live a more centered life from the heart:

Slow down
You don’t have to stop completely or sit still for long periods. But you can’t repair your head and heart if you are hurrying. Slow down, become aware of your body and your heart beat.

Once you have calmed and quieted yourself, answer this question: I feel ________________. Use the most specific, exact words to describe your present emotional condition and express your feeling(s) to God. (Why focus on your feelings? Because feelings are the language through which your heart speaks. They tell you what is going on inside you.)

Listen and Receive
After you have named your feelings, ask if there is anything God wants to say to you. Listen from your heart. You may sense words, an image, or impression or just God's Presence. (If you hear something condemning or accusing, know that this is not God speaking. Refuse it and then turn back to God.) Receive in your heart whatever God gives you. Seal this gift through your prayer of response.

Monday, August 3, 2009

When you are at a loss of words—try pictures! A basic approach to Visual Journaling

Journaling, for many people, is a mainstay of their spiritual lives—a practice that keeps them in touch with God, their own hearts, and the contrasting landscapes of their life journey. However, others have a visceral reaction to the word and practice. Writing down thoughts and feelings that capture the neurotic and psychotic episodes of one’s soul has absolutely no appeal!

Yet the fact remains—within our hearts are deep waters and we often need help processing the undercurrents of emotion that swirl within them. So, may I make a suggestion? Try “visual journaling.”

This was a new concept for me, though I occasionally draw pictures in my journal. A few weeks ago, I was at the library and came across a book called “Visual Journaling: Going Deeper than Words” by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox. As art therapists, these authors have led hundreds of reticent journalers in a process of finding their voice through visual journaling. AND—you don’t have to be an artist for this experience to be meaningful.

I have adapted the following steps from this book and experimented with the practice myself. Here are some basic directions that might help you discover a new love for journaling—without using words!

To get started, find some drawing paper that is at least 8 X 10 in size and choose your favorite art medium—crayons, markers, pastels, colored pencils--or whatever you have on hand. Read the following steps and then give it try!

  1. Sit for a few minutes and decompress. Breathe deeply, relax and intentionally become aware of your body, especially your heart.
  2. Now, try to form a question about a feeling you are having, like “I want to understand why I am feeling anxious today.” Or, “I want to recognize how I really feel about _________.”
  3. Once you state what you are seeking to understand, write it down in a corner of your paper. Now, express your desire in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern the deep waters of your own heart. (Proverbs 4:21)
  4. As you pray, open your heart to God and let him see inside. Ask God to give you a picture or image that captures what you are feeling. Try, with your mind’s eye, to see the image.
  5. Begin to draw it, sketching it from your mental picture, or creating the image as you go, intuitively drawing what you feel.
  6. Once you are finished, set the image in front of you and look at it. Ask God to speak through it and give you insight and wisdom about yourself.

Just a few days ago, while feeling many dissonant emotions, I worked through this process. The image that came to mind was a large blue eye looking at a storm cloud. Almost immediately, as I began to draw the image, I knew how God was speaking through it. I sensed that the way I was "looking" at a situation was affecting how I “saw” it. The process of journaling helped clarify what I needed to do.

I realize that for many, visual journaling may sound more daunting than journaling with words. What you may discover, if you are courageous enough to try, is how powerful images are in expressing our complex feelings--something words simply cannot convey.

Happy journaling!