The Art of Living? A Reflection and Resolution

“The art of living, isn’t that a funny expression?”  ~ Anne Frank

                New Years is upon us.  The dying of one year and the birth of a new one.  2015 has ended, there will never be another.  That chapter of our lives has closed; the next one is about to begin.  So on this, the last day of a dying year, I share my reflections on life (at least the short one I have lived).

‘The art of living’ as Anne observed does seem a strange expression.  After all what is there to life?  We all have one don’t we?  Is it not what some 7 Billion people spend all their time doing?  Where is the ‘art’ in that?  Can life itself really be an art?

My answer to that would be yes, life is an art.  For what is art?  Art is a work of skill and creativity.  An image or creation.  Created to be appreciated for the beauty of the work and the skill of the artist.  A message to the world from its Creator.

By that definition are we not ourselves a work of art?   Beautiful and intricate works of God the Master artist. Masterpieces, and His messages to the world. Just as scribbles, lines, and dabs of paint make up a piece of art.  So also the everyday events of our lives are used by the Master Artist to make and shape us.

New Years is not only a time of reflection but also of resolve.  Every year thousands of people resolve to lose weight, read more, and worry less.  Each year we resolve anew to weed out ‘faults’ and become at last that perfect ideal we all create for ourselves.  I have done this myself many times.  Every year I resolve to lose those extra pounds, to take more risks, and to finally become that trim, attractive, and oh so successful person I have created in mind. And while there is nothing wrong with setting goals and forming good habits that is not what I resolve this year.  This year I resolve to live artfully.

I resolve to read, laugh, and sing. To stop and smell the flowers, look up at the sky, and thank the Lord for His bounty, His blessings. To notice and remember the little things.  For often when we look back we find that they were the big things. I resolve to find joy in each thing He puts in each day; each person, each problem, each pleasure. To smile more.  We must never underestimate the power in a smile, a kind word, or thoughtful action.  They may mean more than we will ever know.  To borrow a line from The Hobbit, “It is the everyday actions of ordinary people. Small acts of kindness and love that keep the darkness at bay.”

I resolve to learn to live as His Masterpiece. To live artfully is to live with intent.  It is to live with a goal in mind. It is to live in a way that reflects the beauty and purpose of our Creator, the Master Artist. There is such joy and fulfillment in just being what he intended us to be.  In just doing what we were meant to do; glorify our Creator and enjoy the good gifts He has given us. The good things and the bad. Easy and hard.

This year I ask that God help us all to remember what we are.  His workmanship, created for good works.  That we would all remember who we are; masterpieces of the Creator.  Beautiful, living, works of art.  Sent to enjoy the world we live in and bring glory to God who made it.  This year let’s forget about all the self-improvement. Instead let’s remember the Masterpieces we are and live like it.

After A Fashion: A Reflection on Beauty

Big. Big heart. Big girl.  Big dreams. Big as in fill the whole space. Big as in large.  Big as in strong. I am and always will be a big girl.  But does big not mean beautiful?  All my life I have wondered that. I looked around, and noticed. Noticed that I was big. Big as in fat?  Big as in slow? Big as in ugly?  Sometimes I used to think so. Sometimes I feel big, awkward, and ugly. But can’t big also be beautiful? Let me tell you a story.

A while ago my sisters and I were invited to be in a vintage fashion show at our church.  My sisters were very excited.  After all a vintage fashion show, what fun!  And it is.  A great deal of fun. But at that time.  I was cringing.  Why?  Because I knew.  I have always known.  I’m fat, much too fat to be a model.   I didn’t voice any of this of course.  I knew what would happen if I did.  They would simply assure me, “Oh, no! You’re not fat!”  I had heard it all before; plenty of times, but I had never believed it.

Well, against my better judgement I went along with it, I agreed to model for the show.  We went and tried things on and it was fun! Fun to play dress up with the pretty hats, gloves, and other fancy things.  I went home happy but that night I cried myself to sleep.  Cried because I still knew.  I was too ‘fat’ to model.  I still remember trying to squeeze into my sisters dress.  Pressing myself in, holding my breath, willing the fat away.  But it was of no use.  It would never fit.  Not in a million years.

When the day of the fashion show finally did arrive, I dusted off an old vintage hat from my closet and placed it on my head.  I was determined to enjoy some of the gala too. Even if I was ‘fat’.  I remember when the fashion show began.  I joined the long line of models, all lined out in their pretty vintage frocks.  I tucked my arms behind my back and stared down at the floor.  I felt ugly and ridiculous. I wanted to slip away, and pretend that just today at least I was not ‘too big’.  One by one the models stepped out.  One by one the line diminished until it got to me.  I leaned against the wall, and bit my lip.  I did not go out.  I just wanted to disappear.

There was a slight intermission in the show.  The models all come back stage and I tried to put a smile on. Tried to act happy and careless.  But inside I ached.  The dear sweet lady who had arranged the show called me over and handed me a gray suit on a hanger.

“Why don’t you model this for us?”  She said.  Every inch of my body cringed.  I couldn’t. I was ‘too big’.  I finally managed to murmur. “I don’t think it will fit.”  “Why don’t you try it and see.”

I went into the bathroom and slipped the suit off the hanger.  It was gray wool with rabbit fur lining on the sleeves. I began to put it on.  Praying that it would fit.  My sister pulled up the zipper and sure enough! It fit! I come back out in the gray suit.  The lady placed a matching little hat on my head and handed me some gloves.  I felt so glamorous! I joined the line of models and this time went strutting out and twirled, a smile beaming on my face.

That may have seemed like a very long story to you.  And maybe it was.  But then you don’t know the courage it took to write it. I have modeled several times since then.  Each time, I still cringe a little.  Each time, I think to myself ‘Why are you doing this?  You’re fat remember.’  But when I slip into those beautiful vintage clothes I don’t feel fat anymore.

I’m still not a size 2.  I’m still not a gorgeous blond with a dazzling smile. I’m still big. I guess to some I’m still ‘fat’. But that is not what matters.  That’s not what beauty really is.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; these things are beautiful.  As St. Peter puts it “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” The hidden person of the heart.  The heart within the shell. That is where beauty comes from.

There’s a word in Russian ‘Krasivaya’. It means beautiful, but strong. Unique. I believe that it is the unique qualities, their strength of character, which makes a person beautiful.

My favorite thing to draw is people.  I love to study people’s unique qualities.  Their individual beauty.  I love to find it and bring it out. I love to discover their Krasivaya. For there is beauty everywhere. In the big things and the little. The tiny flower, or the strong tree.  Everything has a unique beauty; if you only learn to find it.

So yes, I’m big!  Big as in ample.  Big as in considerable.  Big as in beautiful.

Don’t Look Away: Remembering the Holocaust

“To the past, the way has been barred, And what do I need the past for now?  What is there? Bloodied flagstone-Or a bricked up door or an echo that still cannot die away……However much I beg.”

~ Nonna L. Bannister The Secret Holocaust Dairies 

National Remembrance Day.  The day set aside to remember the past, and specifically the Holocaust.  It is the day for sad stories, sad images, and the tragic theme from Schindler’s list.  But is it?  Is that all it is? A day to remember a bunch of people who died long ago?  No, there is so much more to it than that!

The Holocaust killed an estimated 11 million people in the span 12 years.  But it took so much more than just their lives.  They were stripped of their humanity, their dignity, torn from their families, forced to labor as beasts, despised and abused. Men, women, and children, old and young, methodically and systemically slaughtered and de-humanized.  The Holocaust was a horrible, horrible, thing. But it must not be forgotten.

Why is it important that we remember these things? As Nonna asks ‘what do I need the past for now?’ It is important because it happened, and if we forget, it could happen again.  In the Holocaust we remember the enormous amount of evil that man is capable of.  We remember the terrible consequences that resulted from man’s desire to play God.  When men decided who was valuable, who should live and who should die.  In the Holocaust we view the tragic consequences of fear and apathy.

I have always loved to hear the stories of people who experienced the Holocaust.  Not for the horror, but for the hope.  Hope?  Yes, the hope in the people who survived but also those who did not.  The hope and courage of those that were willing to give everything to save the life of a fellow human being.  The hope that comes from the people who suffered in the most unimaginable ways possible and yet they refused to give up, they refused to lose hope. These stories inspire and encourage me.  They encourage me that no matter what, there is always hope. They inspire me to have the same courage.  There is so much we can learn from these people.

But is it not just the heroes of the Holocaust we must remember. We must remember those that thought they were God.  Those that thought they were justified in killing thousands of innocents.  Not just Hitler, Himmler, or the other leaders, but also their followers. The people who unquestioningly followed the orders that resulted in these horrible deeds. We also should never forget those who kept silent.  In a way these people shared in the guilt.  They did nothing, said nothing; they saw the suffering and looked away.

I believe that another reason we must remember the Holocaust is that it helps us to remember all of the innocent and helpless who suffer and die today. There are echoes of the Holocaust in the innocent baby that is dehumanized and murdered in his own mother’s womb.  The precious handicapped who are done away with for being ‘imperfect’.  Or the old and sick who choose to die because they can no longer sustain ‘a quality’ life.  Every life is precious.  The thing that gives every life ‘quality’ is that it comes from God.  No one is a mistake, every life is a divine gift. No mutation, no disease, nothing can change the value of a human life.

So please, don’t look away!  Don’t be silent.  Don’t be someone who does nothing!  Remember the helpless and defend them, this day and every day!