Sunday, October 29, 2017

Enough - Lessons from the Palette

"Don't be afraid to keep putting paint on your brush," she said.  The instruction concerned a canvas, a paintbrush, a soon-to-be seascape, and a palette of several colors. Yes, her words were about a painting, but also about me and how I live.

I carried my finished masterpiece from the Laguna Beach art gallery to my car, pretty pleased with how it turned out and delighted with the time shared with my friend Sheryl, who invited and treated me to the class. I transported the finished piece home and displayed it on my bedroom wall.

The seascape is not all I brought home with me that October afternoon. Slogging through traffic with much time to think, my mind landed not on the painting in the back of my car but more on the words of the artist -- words to be mounted on the wall of my heart, pondered, and absorbed -- "Don't be afraid." She'd said it a few different ways during our two hours together.

"Don't be afraid to keep dipping into the paint."

"Keep putting paint on your brush."

"Don't be hesitant to dip into the paint."

Once she said, "If you're stroking without paint on the brush, you're not painting, rather you're lifting paint from the canvas."

Her words helped me to paint without fear the paint would run out, without fear I hadn't used all the paint on the brush with perfect efficiency before again refilling the brush tip. I started believing I wouldn't run out of paint, thus painted freely. I dipped and painted, painted and dipped, dipped and painted. One color on the palette did get close to extinction, when the teacher grabbed a big bottle of paint and squeezed a fresh blob onto the diminishing supply.

Keep dipping in.

Don't be afraid.

Unveiled through this experience is a part of my heart that believes there is not enough -- not enough good in the world for me to receive God's goodness without subtracting goodness from someone else, not enough good in my life to believe that, if today held good gifts, tomorrow will also, not enough grace to cover my shortcomings, not enough time or tools to become all God has in mind for me to be and do.

That day, learning to paint while overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean, I gained a view of God's generosity. Yes, I have explored the goodness of my provider through the truth of Scripture, prayer, through the counsel of others. But in these hours, God painted on the canvas of my heart a picture of his provision, allowing me to see and believe it more fully, letting truth permeate deeper into me. He painted a picture of himself as the filler (and refiller) of my palette, my guide and instructor, the one who reminds me, "Keep coming to me. Keep dipping into my mercies! Each day I delight to refill your palette. My goodness never, ever runs dry."

"Fear not," the Instructor says. "It's my delight to give you the kingdom." With less fear and more joy than before, I dip my brush into the paint, again, and yet again, my hand on the brush, my ear leaned toward the voice of the Teacher, and my eyes on what is being painted -- on the canvas of today.

Diane Mann, 2017

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

That Summer Day


My workout was finished. Home was ten miles one direction, the beach forty miles the other direction. It was a for-sure-I-need-a-shower day, but the ocean beckoned. So I rushed into Kohl's and bought a floppy hat on clearance to cover my dirty hair and shade my face then drove to Santa Monica.
Traffic was a bit nasty as I inched my way toward the coast, but I paid it no mind. I observed cars, clouds, buildings, and mountains along the way. I played through my car stereo whatever was on my iPhone (unsure of how most of it got there). John Denver accompanied me on the journey, as well as the dad from Fiddler on the Roof, Taylor Swift, and some island-tune-singing person.
I parked in a structure on Second Street and walked to the pier—the packed-with-people-from-everywhere pier. My white woven hat provided protection from the sun but also a sense of anonymity (lest paparazzi were to recognize me!). From the shade of the hat, I peered at the inhabitants of the pier, but didn't give much attention to anyone I saw.  As I walked and noticed what was around me, my attention remained uncaptured by anything in particular. The two different vendors offering to write my name on rice, the seller of VW van magnets, the man offering to tell a joke if you gave him money, whose tattered sign read, “Come on, people! Give me a tip. It's my birthday,” the singing young woman, whose songs I neither liked nor disliked—none occupied much of my mind as the tide of people ushered me toward the pier's end.
Ah, at the end of the pier I stood. The breeze, so cool and strong enough to blow lingering thoughts away, refreshed me. The color of the water—that deep green—ministered to me in ways I didn't understand but in ways I knew I needed. The singer's voice faded to the background, as did the playful laughs of children, the families chatting in various languages. I heard the faint sound of a little girl's voice telling her mommy she saw a seal. I glanced around the teal water below, and there I saw it too. A sweet seal playing in, floating upon, and resting within the love of God—I mean, the ocean. My heart rose with each swell that carried the seal up then down. I sensed his playful, restful, trusting spirit and knew this is why I steered toward the beach that day.
I made my way back to my car, paid a dollar twenty-five for parking, then drove for over two and a half hours to get home. This time country music entertained me while again I noticed cars, buildings, clouds, and mountains. I arrived home and tossed the white hat onto a chair, where it remains. I'm not sure whether I will wear it again. But it served me well, to cover my hair and shade my face so I could go to the beach to see what Love wanted to show me, that summer day.

Diane Mann, 2017

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Christmas Chalice

Her name is Jenny.  She calls herself the midnight potter, assisting in her husband's business during by day, tending to all life asks of her then late in the evening, on those nights when she has enough energy, wandering into her studio to create pottery.  These times alone -- her hands, her ideas, her clay -- bring her deep joy.

I've never seen her.

It was a wedding gift from my oldest sister and her husband.  I cherished it at first, displaying it in places of prominence on the highest shelves in whatever home we lived -- a decoration,  I don't know when it happened, but over the years it became a common object, stored at arm's-reach level near our telephone.  Home to letter openers, pens, paper clips, nails, coins, the plate beneath it catching the overflow of miscellaneous objects, it served as a receptacle.  It was made to hold bread and wine (okay, grape juice), to remember the body broken, the blood poured -- a clay communion set, the word "Love" etched into the chalice, the words "This is my Body, This is my Blood" on the plate.

I hadn't used it for its intended purpose.

 One day I dumped the contents and scrubbed away the grime lining the chalice.  People were gathering for a Christmas Eve celebration in my home that night.  I desired to share communion with them.  We read scripture then passed the cup and plate, each person dipping the bread into the juice then passing it to the next person while saying, "Remember Christ's body was broken and His blood was shed, for you."  Again at Easter we used the chalice and the plate.  Then I incorporated times of communion into my small group.  Sometimes a friend and I would partake and together remember.

It became precious to me.

In May of 2011 my daughter Karis was married, and she used the chalice and plate in her wedding ceremony.  After the reception, I unpacked boxes of wedding supplies we had brought home and found the plate but no chalice.  Phone calls were made.  The wedding coordinator had not seen it during cleanup, she reported.  Neither had the church found a clay chalice left behind.  I phoned the church months later, asking they please look again, but the chalice could not be located.

The chalice was lost, and I wanted it back!

I tried to tell myself it was only an object and shouldn't matter that much to me, but at random times I found myself Googling "clay chalice," "clay chalice with 'Love' etched," and various combinations of words with the hope that a picture of my cup would appear on the computer screen.  I could find nothing resembling my communion set.  A couple of years passed, and my hope of finding a chalice like the one I had disappeared, until one day my friend Mary invited me to lunch.  The small restaurant 10 miles from my home had a shelf displaying clay coffee mugs which caught my eyes' attention upon my first step inside.  They were made in the style of my set -- shades of brown, part flat, part glossy, with words engraved in them.  With excitement I went to the counter to inquire about the pottery on the shelf.  "These were made by Jenny, a friend of the owner," the cashier said.  "Here.  You can have her business card."

I phoned Jenny and explained how I had lost my chalice and how very similar to the chalice her mugs looked.  She requested I send her a photo of what I was describing.  She emailed me back, telling me she had worked for a small business in the late 1970s that made clay chalices identical to mine and sold them to Christian bookstores.  She had been an apprentice of the owner of the pottery business, Wally, and he had became a mentor to her, even welcoming her to his family's gatherings.  But she had lost track of him over the years and had searched and been unable to locate his whereabouts.  I researched online and found an article about her mentor.  Sadly the article was written upon his death, but it mentioned how to contact his family.  Jenny had thought she would never see them again and was grateful to become re-acquainted with this family she held dear.  We both sensed something very special going on.

I offered to pay her to re-create the clay chalice.  She said she was swamped with work and wasn't sure she could remember the process by which her creation was made but would play with some clay and try.  Several months passed.  I contacted her once during those months but was told she hadn't had much time in the studio and so far had not been successful during her attempts to make the chalice.  When I thought of Jenny late in the night molding pottery, I prayed that as she re-created the pottery piece, God would meet her in new ways, that she would explore the mystery of Christ and be drawn deeper into the love of Jesus poured out for her.

Christmas was nearing, and the closer it became, the stronger my desire became to have the chalice.  In fact it is all I wanted for Christmas, and my husband was willing to buy it for me.  I am not a person who foregoes receiving gifts and asks others to give to charity in place of giving me a gift, but that year I truly wanted no thing, no object (with the exception of my restored-to-me chalice) but instead wanted to donate money to a ministry in which my church participates wherein dresses are sewn for little girls for an organization overseas.  When young girls wear these dresses, which have a tag attached bearing the organization's name, sex traffickers are alerted that the children are accounted for and will steer clear of taking them.

It's all broken, this world.

But I desired to play a part in helping put it back together.  My sibling who "drew my name" that year for a Christmas gift exchange gave to our church's ministry, as did my mom, my husband and our children.  I couldn't have asked for more.  It was all I desired, to be a restoring piece in a place of unspeakable loss and brokenness.  Fabric would be purchased, cut then stitched into clothing that would provide protection for children.  Packages of new underwear were placed into the pockets of each garment.  Thank God for these people who are stepping up to shield precious children from unspeakable harm.

As I focused on the cup poured out to me, my desire to pour out to others grew.

I stepped out of my Sunday School class the last Sunday before Christmas, looked at my phone to find I had received an email from Jenny.  She said the chalice was done and to please not pay her because it was an honor to be able to make it.  She expressed her gratitude at her being able to reconnect with Wally's family and had planned a trip to visit them.  "Just tell the cashier up front," she wrote,  "that I have your piece on the top shelf." I rushed to the restaurant, looked at the shelf to find not one but two more-beautiful-than-I-could-have-imagined chalices, both intended for me.

My chalice was restored.

And two years later, I don't understand the goodness God showed me that Christmas.  I try, and I can't.  But the word settling within me as I recall the story of the chalice is "hope."

Hope that the lost will be found, that the broken will be put back together.  The newness of that brand-new-sent-to-earth baby clearly screams hope, while the darkness of the cross screams despair, all is lost.  But there's a cup and a man who filled it with his blood, a plate with pieces of bread representing his body crushed.  He also is a midnight potter, working as we sleep, putting back together the pieces of us, lost and broken.

His name is Jesus, and I've never seen Him.

And there are shelves of my life, shelves holding cherished objects for display, out of reach; shelves holding items of insignificance; and a shelf holding a cup and a plate, something indescribably precious yet crying out to be used.  "For you.  Eat.  Drink.  Remember," it says, "Until I come again."

And something in me believes He will.

 Diane Mann, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Unto You and Me

Text messages flew from Texas to California and back that Monday in December.  Dozens of messages full of happy-tear emojis and exclamation points.  And a picture, a picture of my daughter and son-in-law, faces bright with anticipation.  Accompanying the photo, a message from Karis, "I think I have never been happier in my life!"

And a photo of a darling toddler boy in his car seat, a cowboy hat in his lap, stuffed animal in his arms. He was being driven by his caseworker from his previous home to Andrew and Karis's apartment building.

"He's two and a half hours away," "an hour away," then finally, "We're going dark. Going downstairs to wait."

From a distance we cheered them on then waited while they received this little boy who would become their very own child. Waiting was difficult and seemed to last too long. My daughter Megan joked that we should have brought a deck of playing cards, as, even though we were just texting, we felt like we were in a hospital waiting room not able to see a new baby until the family had its bonding time. But it was necessary that they shut out the rest of us as their boy arrived.

In this season of Advent (season of Arrival), we remember how Christ arrived to earth, a time for which many were longing and waiting, and we look for his now-arrival: how is Jesus showing himself to us today? We wish one another merriness, hope, and love. We cheer each other on toward Jesus, reminding each other of the richness of the Gift.  But no one can receive the Gift for us. Jesus is a present and is present not only for all of us but also for each of us.

I've heard Advent described as a time of  "sweet longing." Those words stay with me as I recall the events of that Monday in December. I think almost nothing is sweeter than to see hope fulfilled.

I find that I, too, want to shut myself off from other messages, run to the lobby, look out the window and wait for the Gift, given unto me.

Diane Mann
2016