Mountain waves (visual poem)

mountain waves 031116

I spend part of May in the Blue Ridge mountains celebrating my wedding anniversary. The view from Grandfather Mountain (in Western North Carolina) is like this – when is it a mountain, and when is it a wave in the ocean? It is overwhelming, especially at sunset

This is composed of cut up cardstock tests of Distress Ink – the edges of the main test. Reassembled like this, it looks like I’m trying to take pictures of the mountains, and putting captions underneath.

Card stock
Distress Ink
gold paint with glazing medium
Tim Holtz Idea-ology quotes.


(Click on the image to see it larger)


When something bad happens, people like to know where it happened. They want to know how close it hit to them. They want to know if it’s going to affect them.

If your house is robbed and you’re part of the neighborhood watch, they will ask what street you are on. They want to know how close the danger is to them. They want to know if it is going to hit them next.

If someone dies unexpectedly, people will ask “How did she die?” or “How old was she?”or they will wonder out loud if she caused her own early death due to not taking care of herself. They want to know if there’s a possibility that it will happen to them. They want to know if they are at risk for the same thing.

In both cases, they want to know if they should move away from the danger.

No matter what you do, you will get sick, and you might get robbed. Asking how close it is to you only insults the other person and says “You are not like me. I’m special.” It implies that you think that you are above the other person – more blessed.

The phrase “There but for the grace of God go I” is especially insulting. If there is a tornado that goes through your neighborhood and your house is intact and half your neighbor’s houses are flattened, it doesn’t mean that God loves you more. It doesn’t mean that God gives more grace to you and withdraws it from them. It doesn’t mean that they did something bad to deserve it.

Bad things happen to people, period. Not just bad people. What matters afterwards is how we deal with it.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
– John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, “Meditation XVII”

Poem – Space inside

As if God
can be reduced
to things.

God is the
space between

God is the
space between

The atoms,
the neurons,
the quarks,

it is the energy
they have
that makes them work.

It is the stuff
inside the room
that defines it,
not the walls.

Likewise it is the energy,
the Spirit Within
that defines
makes us
who we are.

Our bodies are shells,
our skin is just
a container
for the Spirit inside.

Skin color,

– none of this matters.

Carbon copy

Sometimes it feels that all we are doing is copying each other. We copy style, ideas, and ways to think. We copy so much that we’ve copied our whole lives.

We have copied for our entire lives.
We have copied our lives, entirely.

Nothing is original about our lives when we copy.

After a while we have copied each other so much that we stop being anything at all. Have you ever seen a Xerox copy of a copy of a copy? After a while it stops looking like anything at all. It starts looking like a big mess. There are dots everywhere that weren’t there before.

White people in Western culture have started to think that they need to be Native American or Indian or Chinese or Tibetan. They don’t like their own culture and so they try and emulate another culture. They do this with clothing, with art, with music, with food. Perhaps they think they are showing respect to the other culture by adopting it.

I know, I’ve done this.

Meanwhile the other cultures are trying to emulate Western culture. They dress like us, watch our TV shows and movies, and have even started to try to look like us. Asian girls are getting plastic surgery on their eyes to look more Western and less Asian. There are products in India and Thailand to bleach the skin so they are more white.

We are trying to be them, and they are trying to be us. At what point are we going to meet in the middle? Then we won’t be anything at all.

Perhaps it is best if each person finds her own path. Stop trying to create it from someone else. Stop even trying to make it from your own culture.

Perhaps we need to stop faking it
so we can make it.

We need to start making it so that we are actually ourselves for a change.

Look at plastic surgery in general. What does “normal” look like anymore? Too tall? Too short? Too fat? Too skinny? Boobs too big/small? Butt too big/small? Eyes are too blue/brown/green?

You can “fix” that. But it isn’t a fix. It is a fake. You aren’t broken.

Eventually we will all have homogenized ourselves into one big mess of nothing.

Be yourself. Don’t copy anybody.

Paint the background first.

I’m not very good at painting yet. I’ve just read a tip that sounds really interesting. Paint the background first. Somehow this seems like it is backwards.

In life, you focus on the main part. You’ll see the building, or the dog, or the person first, and then maybe you’ll see the background. Maybe you’ll see the trees, or the clouds. But you never look at those first and happen to look at what is smack dab in the middle of everything, virtually yelling at you to look at it.

Paint the background first. If you don’t paint the background, you don’t have a way to paint the focal point. If you don’t give it a place to be, there is no place for it. If you paint the main thing first and the background last, you may smear the sky or the trees over it. You may end up leaving a weird edge around it.

This sounds a lot like life.

We have to set up for the big things. We have to make space for them. We don’t just graduate from college. We have to go to high school, and before that, middle school, and before that, elementary school. Maybe even there is kindergarten or pre-K in there too.

In order to write a book, you have to know how to write. In order to know how to write, you have to know words. In order to know words, you have to know letters.

Nothing is in a vacuum. Nothing exists on its own. Everything is connected.

Paint the background first.

The cyclical effect of pain – stress/pain/tension/pain

Our bodies feel pain in ways other than pain. Pain is the last part. Pain means that the problem has popped the fuse and we are now desperate.

When a baby is hungry he will make signs. He’ll smack his lips or suck his fist. Crying is the last thing he’ll do. If his mother doesn’t notice the signs in time he will get frustrated. His needs aren’t being met.

Pain is the same way. It has subtle signs at first. Our body wants to protect us from pain. Our adrenal system races to the rescue when we hurt so that we don’t feel it. This is backwards, because then we don’t know that there is a problem. We find out later when the adrenal system gives up and we are just like that baby, crying and miserable.

Pain has a cascade effect. It affects everything. It is kind of like dominoes. One thing leads to another. If we are in pain, our stomach will get in knots, our teeth will clench, and then we will get headaches. Our breathing will get shallow. We will become irritable. Then the tension from all of that will only make things worse.

Tension causes pain, and pain causes tension. Anger can cause tension which causes pain. Pain can cause irritability which leads to anger. It isn’t just a domino effect, it is circular.

You can feel pain in other areas than where the actual pain is. Acupuncture teaches us this. If you’ve ever gotten a tattoo you know this. If you get a tattoo on your ankle it can hurt on your lower back. If you get a tattoo on your upper arm it can hurt on your face. So be mindful that just because you feel pain in one area doesn’t mean that is the source of the pain.

You can head things off at the pass. You can learn to recognize the signs of pain before they are off the charts. You can stop the cycle.

Do a body scan every now and then, several times a day. Just pause for a moment and see how you are feeling. This is useful to do at least once an hour. You won’t remember to do it that often to start with – that is normal. Just do what you can.

How is your breathing? Deep or shallow? Fast or slow? You can change a lot by changing your breathing. Intentionally breathe in slowly through your nose, on a count of ten. Exhale slowly through your mouth on a count of ten. Do this for a minute at least. See how you feel. Do it again if necessary.

How do you feel? Do you have tension in your back or shoulders or face? Are you clenching anywhere? Intentionally release it. We tend to hold tension in our bodies. Tension raises our blood pressure.

Check your tongue. Are you pressing it up against the roof of your mouth? This is a sign to your body that you are under pressure. It will raise your blood pressure the same way that breathing shallowly or clenching your muscles will. Do your best to relax your tongue from the roof of your mouth as often as possible.

Remember that whenever you are checking your breathing or tension, you are making a positive change for yourself. Don’t get mad at yourself for having shallow breathing or clenching your muscles. This is totally normal. To get mad at yourself only causes more tension. Instead, focus on the fact that you are doing something good about it. Every little step towards health is something to celebrate.

Find activities that you enjoy to reduce stress. Do something creative. Draw, paint, bead, write, garden, cook – the list is endless. Pick one, and if it doesn’t work for you, try something else. Get regular exercise, and don’t make it “exercise”. Children don’t “exercise”, they play. They are better off for it. If you find some way to move your body that you enjoy, you are more likely to do it.

Look at the things that cause you stress. What can you do about it? Can you make a change? Can you ask for assistance? Can you tell someone that what they are doing is harmful to you? People can’t read minds – you have to ask for what you need. Sometimes just thinking about this can make you feel more stress! Pick a book in my “survival” books list and read it. They are lifesavers.

I wish you well on your journey. We will never be stress-free. Life is all about challenge and growth, and stress gives us opportunities for that. Stress and pain are just signs that we need to slow down and reassess things. In this way, they are blessings. Otherwise, we’d not grow, we’d not ask for help, and we’d forget to be thankful for all the many gifts that we have.

Coming out as Christian in public.

This may sound strange, but I’ve noticed that I get emotional when I feel free to talk about God with people. And I mean with, not at. I mean I get a little weepy when I’m around people who are on the same page with me when it comes to how awesome God is.

I wonder if this is the same as coming out. I feel more like myself when I’m around other people who “get” God. I feel like I’ve had to hide who I am for a long time.

Now, this may sound strange because I live not only in America, but in the South. Christians are in the majority here. The South is sometimes jokingly referred to as “the buckle of the Bible Belt.” Yet there is a stigma. So many Christians don’t want to be associated with “those” people who say they are Christian but they act anything but. You know who I mean. Those people who hold up “God hates…” signs and burn the Koran. Those people who take pride in their cultural ignorance and in telling people who aren’t exactly like them that they are going to hell.

Out of self defense a lot of actual Christians are really subtle about their faith.

In a way it is like a Mason finding another Mason. The signs are there if you know what to look for. When they do find each other they connect and communicate on a different level.

I never want to make other people uncomfortable, especially when talking about God. This is why the blog helps. Don’t like it, don’t read it. It isn’t pushy like an in-person encounter would be. I’m comforted by the number of friends who are atheists or agnostic or pagan who read my blog. I’m unabashedly Christian, but they still like to read what I have to say.

In public it is different. I often wear a cross, because I want to let people know it is safe to talk about God with me. It is like speaking another language. Somehow we shift how we talk when we realize that each other is on the same wavelength.

I’ve learned other languages and about other cultures. I try to figure out where other people are coming from so I know how to communicate with them. When I was working at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the most common non-English language was German. I could talk in German for quite a while. This is true about other cultures as well. Wherever you are from – culturally, religiously, socially, I’ve probably read something about your story. I think it is part of being a good neighbor and a global citizen.

It is something I like to be able to do – I want to make other people feel comfortable. I like being able to adjust how I talk so that we can communicate. I get to where they are, rather than expecting them to get where I am. But it takes a lot of work. After a while it is very tiring. It is far easier and more relaxing when I don’t have to do this.

It is kind of like how I feel when I go to a science fiction convention. I feel I’m finally around people who are like me. We can talk about the things we love and not feel like we are weirdos because of it.

I’m still angry that I didn’t find that kind of feeling and camaraderie at my old church. I’m still angry that my priest actually told me to stop talking about God talking to me. I’m starting to feel that she did me a favor because otherwise my spiritual growth would have remained stunted. I was starting to resemble a bonsai, with tiny roots and a stunted, artificial shape. God wants us to have deep roots, so we are strong. God wants us to grow to our full potential so that God is glorified. Some ministers feel threatened by their congregants getting strong and growing in their faith, but that is just a sign of their own shaky ground.

I’ve currently been piecing together my own version of a faith community. I have a friend who hosts a circle gathering quarterly where about a dozen people share their hearts. We listen together. Many people in this gathering are former members of an alternative church. They went there because they’d been ostracized from “normal” church. Even that wasn’t what they needed. I understand this feeling. I also go to a spiritual director monthly. I’ve learned more about how to drive this “bus of faith” from her than I ever have from any minister. I have another friend who is a spiritual director and she hosted the retreat I recently went on.

All of these experiences are healing to me. It is so refreshing to be around other people who are comfortable talking about how much they love God and what God is saying to them.

But then these are expected circumstances. I expect to find people who are comfortable talking about God at a circle gathering or a retreat. It is when I find like-minded souls out in “the real world” that I get emotional.

I needed to find a chiropractor recently. My coworker had recommended hers months ago but I’d forgotten his name. Rather than call her, I pulled up the doctor directory for my insurance and prayed. I asked God to show me who to pick. One name shone out. I called. They were taking new patients. I could see him in an hour. His office was nearby, and in fact close to another doctor I go to. I felt a lot better that I didn’t have to find a new place. That eased my anxiety. This is a new thing for me to pray before something as mundane as picking out a doctor. So these positive signs helped confirm that I’d heard correctly.

Then there was a sign on his office building with a quote from Paul – “All things work together for good…” – this helped. It was something I needed to see. I’m having a hard time trusting this whole experience as being part of God’s plan because it hurts and it is expensive. So that helped. He had numerous signs that I could “read” as being Christian, but they weren’t obnoxiously so. Hopefully you know what I mean.

I felt comforted, and affirmed. I felt like I’d heard God’s call correctly. I felt at home, which is a good thing to feel when you are in pain and in an unfamiliar environment. And I felt like I could relax and be myself. That alone was healing.

It is exhausting having to hide who I am. I’m grateful to be able to blog about what being a Jesus-follower means to me. I’m grateful to find people who are fellow pilgrims on this journey – it is like finding an oasis. I look forward to finding a new faith community, so I can drink of this living water more often.

Thankfulness for an apple.

I had an apple for a snack at work today, and I thought of all the different things to be thankful for, just with this apple.

It is really pretty.
That I had the money to buy it.
I have teeth to eat it with.
That I can digest it.
I had a car to go to the store.
I have the desire to eat healthy food.
I have the desire to buy organic.
The farmers who grew it.
The workers who picked it.
The truckers who transported it.
The bees who pollinated it.
There was good weather to grow it.
It was tasty.
I have a job where I have the luxury of being able to take a break.

This is all from appreciating an apple. Now, to try to be this level of thankful about everything. It is good to be not only thankful for my food, but having a house to store it in, and a refrigerator, and electricity to run the fridge… and on and on. There is so much we take for granted, that when it is gone we miss it. I pray for new eyes and a new heart, that I can see and appreciate all that I have, right now.