Light and Dark

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Years ago. Mike was fascinated with the Dutch painter, Vermeer’s use of light in his pictures. I liked the pictures, but unlike him, I wasn’t trying to analyze why I liked them.

Now, fast forward to a year ago. My teacher challenged me to only use graphite pencils. These are shades of gray from silvery to deep black. No colors and white is only achieved by leaving the paper clean to show through.

My first graphite sketches were only outlines. I filled in some of the outlines, but they were mostly an even gray tone.

She challenged me to really LOOK. “Is that all exactly the same shade? Try shining a light from one side. Now, is it all exactly the same shade?” she taught me to look for the shadows. Without the shadows, even round balls look only like circles on paper. My fascination with light and shadows was awakened. It grows by the day.

I learned not to be afraid of deep black. Without lines of black, objects on tables seemed to hover weightlessly. A thin black line and a bit of dark gray under a flowerpot settles it comfortably on the table. A few strokes of black in the center of a flower suddenly gives the flower dimension and life. A dark line makes the highlights stand out by contrast.

The play of light and dark gives shape to our world.

My husband and I are getting known for stopping suddenly wherever we are to snap photos. I want the photos to use as reference for future sketches. Mike enjoys photography. It is his form of art.

If the light is too bright, the photos are not good. White flowers lose their form. Beautiful clusters of green leaves are so dotted with white highlights that they don’t even look like leaves any more. If the light only comes from above, again, the form is lost because no shadows can be seen.

Studying images, thinking about what I am seeing, and not letting my mind dictate what I should be seeing is becoming almost second nature now. What joy I get from discovering the beauty in form through light and shadow.

Take a moment to consider light and dark:

God made our world with light and dark, with daytime and night. He meant for us to see light and shadows.

We all think we would love life without any dark times. Wouldn’t it be nicer with no sadness or grief or pain? That is not life in this world.

Just like a dark edge makes the highlights stand out on paper, the dark times in our lives make the good times even brighter.

Times of darkness draw us closer to God our Comforter. In the darkness we often listen much better than in the light where we are distracted by what we see.

As I’ve learned to appreciate shade and deep tones, I want to appreciate how the valleys and shadows have shaped my life.

Light and dark. God’s gifts to help us see what His hands are forming in our lives.

Distinction or Extinction?

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I wrote this post in 2017 for Peter’s Wife. It is as true today as it was then.

Do you ever feel like a dinosaur? People who buy the lies of the current moral confusion, with all its relativism, call themselves Progressives. That makes people like us- people who hold onto proven, established principles of truth- dinosaurs. Our day is over. Now it’s their day. Or, so they say.

We pursue many different avenues of service here in our adopted country. We love our work, this place, and especially the people. But recently, we’ve heard some of the most heart-rending stories. We’ve tried to help the innocent victims, and we’ve tried to help those who caused terrible pain to others. Sometimes, by the grace of God, we succeed. But, in truth, many times we don’t, and those situations grieve us.

In all this grief, I’ve seen a common thread. If people just stayed inside the boundaries God has set, they would never have to deal with these horrible consequences. But the spirit of this age, combined with their own distorted desires, constantly battles that idea.

The Psalmist wrote about his experience with boundaries. “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Psalm 16: 5-6

Here’s an example. Like most of my readers, we teach abstinence before marriage. We teach fidelity in marriage. We teach thoughtfulness and appreciation for our spouse. We teach honor and respect. We teach financial accountability. These are not such extraordinary boundaries, are they? In our world, it seems they are.

I am not describing people outside the Christian community. These are people who have said they believe. Yet there was a disconnect between what they said they believe and what they did. That has always been a problem. But the idea that biblical teaching is outdated makes destructive behavior even more alluring.

So, when we say, “Read your Bible, pray, allow your life to be changed by what you have heard;” some make excuses. “I’m too busy.” “I don’t understand what I read.” “I don’t see how this applies to my life.”

Even if they do know what the Bible says, they make excuses for why they don’t do it. They use their culture as an excuse for behavior outside God’s boundaries. They use their human nature as an excuse. They say, “Everyone else does it, why won’t God let me have a little fun?” And when the bad consequences of their bad choices appear, they say, “I didn’t think it would happen to me.”

They don’t seem to realize that if you live God’s way, the ancient, proven way, He watches out for your good. He fills your life with peace and security. He makes even the bad things that happen help us grow and become better. As Tim Keller says, life always works best when you follow the Maker’s instruction manual.

It is not because I am old that I believe in following God’s rules. I’m not some aging joy thief, trying to take away other folks’ fun. I plead with them to do what He wants them to do, not because it is old (though it is), but because it is the best. I have practiced this and know my life is infinitely better than it would have been if I had gone my own way. Millions would say the same.

But we live in the days of progressive ideology. Established morals and boundaries are regressive and oppressive, they seem to say. Any of us, whether we are 17 or 70, who hold to the old truths, are on the brink of extinction. But those old truths, the established ways of the Eternal God, are just as powerful today as they ever were.

God has very good reasons for wanting us to do things His way. But saying these things in the present moral climate opens us to the dreaded judgement that we are old and irrelevant. Like dinosaurs. What sounds like a voice from heaven to us may sound like the incoherent moans of an ancient beast to them.

Even so, it is hard to convince modern believers of the importance of the lessons we learn in God’s Word. If they think of His teachings as old-fashioned and out-of-date, they miss the point. He gives us these simple boundaries to keep us safe. He doesn’t give them to us to punish us or to make us miserable! Inside the boundaries is where life works best.

Distinction, not Extinction

We, my readers, must not live in fear of extinction. For we have the God-given distinction of offering Eternal truth, from the Eternal God, to wandering, confused people.

We must stay strong and focused as we share our faith and His Word. We must speak His truth and pray their hearts will be open and obedient to His calling. We must not lose heart that He will have his people in the next generation to pass along what we know will keep them safe and full of joy.

If you don’t remember the article I published a while ago, We Groan We Glory, you might like to read it now. It describes, among other things, the tensions that we experience when presenting Truth in an age of doubt.

“This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. . .” –  Jeremiah 6:16, NIV

Art and Me

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Though I came from a creative family of artists, I never believed I could sketch. I was not an artist.

I knew I was creative, like with crochet. My Christmas crocheted snowflakes are mostly my own designs. I enjoyed the form of these snowflakes. But this wasn’t art, was it?

I couldn’t see colors as well as my husband. Without color, wouldn’t anything I drew be just lines on a page?

I was full of excuses to not even try.

Then in the fall of 2017, I got the itch to try to sketch and color the fall leaves near my American home. I decided it was worth trying. My results weren’t too bad, but they all looked flat. I couldn’t capture their curly shape as they dried.

At Christmas that year, we had a party with some friends and neighbors. Mike started showing off my tiny sketchbook. I was embarrassed! What would they think? One of my friends asked me to bring my sketchbook and visit at her home the following week.

It turns out she was a design artist before her girls were born. Then she began teaching others to sketch and paint. She offered to help me learn. She agreed that the leaves looked very flat and said she could help me, but only if I would put away my colored pencils and practice with graphite.

I was sad to put my colors away, but I really wanted to learn what she could teach me. We met about once or twice a month. Each time she showed me some new skill to practice until the next time.

Putting my colors away and working only in graphite showed me that even without color, my sketches could pop off the page. At the beginning of the year the little bird salt and pepper shakers look like they were cut out of cardstock. After a year of practice, the owls look like they could be used for the salt and pepper they were made to hold.

My husband added a pen with permanent black ink to my tools. I love the pen and want to learn even more about how to make real art with it. It helped me get over my fear of making mistakes. Since I could not change where the ink had touched the paper, I began to trust my strokes and embrace irregularities.

After nearly a year, my friend told me to start exploring with my colored pencils. She keeps reminding me of lessons I practiced with graphite.  Each time she gives me another step I can begin to practice.

The most important part of this process of learning, though, has been in the discipline of practice. Taking time most days to choose a subject and putting pencil or pen to paper. Sometimes the result it good. Sometimes it needs little adjustments. Sometimes it needs to be redone over and over to get it right.

Mike is a great help and companion in this new endeavor. On evenings at home, while we listen to great music or watch a good movie, I get out my lap desk and sketch. After I’m part way done, I show it to him. He tells me how it appears to him. He makes suggestions. He encourages me. He often doesn’t know how to improve the drawing, but he explains so well any problems he sees. I would not have improved so fast without his help.

The journey has just begun. I wish I had started sooner. But I have to be content to accept where I am and enjoy the process, not just the product.

Take a moment to consider:

Is there something you’d like to be able to do? Just begin. Try. Even if the result is not all you’d like it to be, would you like to learn more about it? There are thousands of helps available on the internet. Just type in what you need help learning to do and there will be many ‘free’ ways to learn. They may be free, but they are valuable if you use them.

This post is about beginning my art journey. I’ll write more about what this practice has done for me in future posts.

Hands Tell a Story

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I was touched by a FaceBook post from a young woman who cares for the elderly. She was going to paint a woman’s fingernails and asked what color she wanted them to be. The woman said, “Just clear, my hands are ugly and I don’t want to call attention to them.” This sweet young woman answered, “Your hands tell the story of your life. They tell the story of love, of care and adventure. These hands have touched and held things that most people can only wish to one day.” She painted her nails a pretty pink.

Here’s where my mind wandered:

  • I especially remember the hands that have touched me when I was hurting or ill. The cool hand on a fevered brow or strong grip that helped me up when I felt too weak to stand.
  • I remember hands gripping mine or laid on my shoulder or back in prayer when the load just seemed too heavy to bear.
  • I remember the hands holding out lovingly baked bread or pie or dinner when there was little in the pantry.
  • I remember the handshake that slipped a sorely needed bill into my hand.

My mind then wandered to people I’ve touched that few others could.

  • A baby born at just 7 months that was 1 ½ pounds. That baby lived!
  • A few believers in China
  • Some special needs children and their parents
  • An MS patient in a nursing home during her last few years
  • Some women I may never meet face to face, but have email counseled and encouraged.

Then I was thinking about things I’ve touched that my grandchildren may never even know about:

  • Rotary telephone
  • Pay phones
  • Hand beater
  • Knitting machine
  • Tape recorder
  • Mimeograph copier
  • Manual typewriter
  • Roller skates with keys
  • A player piano

Sometimes I get to sit with an older woman and listen to her stories. Some of stories are so tragic, they break your heart. Others are funny. Others so inspiring.

Hands show the effects of what we have done and where we have been. Only when we take the time to listen will our hearts be touched by the stories those hands have to tell. I want to learn to be a better listener. Too many times I let people ask me questions and don’t get to hear their stories. I am going to make an effort to change that in 2019!

To Be Like Mary

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I have been thinking a lot about Mary and her decision to accept God’s invitation to become the mother of The Messiah. She didn’t make that kind of choice in a moment, it had to be as the result of preparation throughout her short life.

What an awesome choice with consequences she could never have imagined at that moment. She not only accepted the invitation, she lived out the joy and the grief that followed. How did Mary get there?

When I read Julie Breuninger’s post on Velvet Ashes, it resonated for me. She does a wonderful job of giving expression to how ‘dwelling’ in the Word happens.

You may read Julie’s entire post on Velvet Ashes. Here are excerpts.

“As I have been thinking about Mary this Christmas, my question has been, how on earth was she able to respond as she did?

“I would like to propose that Mary’s response to the angel came from a heart which had treasured God and pondered his ways as a regular practice in her life.

“Scripture reminds us that our hearts and our responses reflect the things we treasure most (Matthew 6:21; 12:34).

“I wonder about my responses? Would I respond with “Lord, I am your servant, you may do with me as you wish?” I want to be like that.

“But quite honestly, that is usually not my first response. My responses are more often consumed with my understanding of the situation, my comfort and my security; all of which are loud proclamations of what I treasure.

“How does one cultivate a heart attitude like Mary? Mary’s heart attitude required an intentional desire to know and follow God. She could look back at how God was faithful to her people and looked ahead, believing the promise of the coming Messiah.

Treasuring and Pondering the Word

“We are blessed today to have the living, active, complete Word of God through which we can know God, his ways, and how to live in this world as we wait for his promised return.

“Nancy Leigh DeMoss describes how we are to read and ponder God’s Word in her book, A Place of Quiet Rest

As you read, pause frequently to meditate on the meaning of what you are reading. Absorb the Word into your system by dwelling on it, pondering it, going over it again and again in your mind, considering it from many different angles, until it becomes part of you.

“I want to be intentional in pondering God. To pause frequently, to absorb and understand the Word. To dwell on it. To consider it from many different angles. To have it become a part of me. To have my eyes opened to see how God is at work in me and in the lives of those around me.

Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them,” (Psalm 111:2).

Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord,” (Psalm 107:43).

“I want to have a heart that treasures and ponders God, His Word, and His deeds. I want my response to events in my life, to be more like Mary’s, reflecting a heart that truly treasures God and gives Him glory.” – Julie Breuninger

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I would like to make two more suggestions about how to ponder and dwell in the Word.

  • Try reading the passage in different translations. Sometimes the shades of meaning become clear as we read different words for the same passage.
  • Also, listen to the passage being read. If you don’t have a favorite audio Bible, try listening to the NIVUK version. You may listen for free using the YouBible app on your phone or tablet.

Let’s take up Julie’s challenge to “dwell” in the Bible this year. Let’s ponder and treasure God’s Word – Diane Constantine