Category: Life

Standing closer apart

Salvaged wood, wire and hand-stamped sculpture with Philippians 1:3

Crazy quotes for crazy times

Other than Yogi Berra (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” and “It ain’t over till it’s over”, among others), few people are as famous for uttering as many malapropisms as Hollywood movie producer, Samuel Goldwyn, who was the “G” in MGM. There’s debate over some of the quotes attributed to him, but he’s reported to have said, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” and “I had a monumental idea this morning, but I didn’t like it.”

But the Goldwyn quote that I’m reminded of these days is his direction to two actors on the set of one of his films: “Tell them to stand closer apart.” Say what?

It’s a sign of these crazy times that a nonsensical quote like that pretty much sums up our mission at the moment. We must stand apart, yet we must be closer than ever.

By now the term “social distancing” is commonplace. Someone has even reserved the dotcom site for socialdistancing, though there’s nothing on it as of this writing. But we’re all impacted and countless people are doing their best to flatten the infection rate curve and bring this pandemic to as rapid an end as possible. So we’re standing apart.

But we’re also trying to stand closer. In times of trouble, people tend to move closer, in spirit at least, to each other and to faith. In the midst of bad news and more bad news, people become desperate for hope. One small Bible sales business in California saw a sales jump of 143 percent compared to this time last year. People want to be close to things that bring hope.

A simple way to encourage

One way we can “stand closer apart” is to remember each other. Many folks are doing this and doing it well. Remember those in your sphere who need a call, a card, a prayer lifted on their behalf. We can do this for each other. We can make a real difference by picking up the phone or sending that email or text just to say, “Hey, I remember you, and I’m thankful to God for you. You’re a blessing to me. How are you?

We want to help give you something to share with others. So we’ve created a free downloadable version of the image in this post that you can attach to any email or text to share some art with them and let them know that you’re remembering them and you’re thankful for them. Just click the black button below to download it. Then right-click or option-click on the image and select “save image as” to save the image to your computer. Or just copy and paste into your email. It’s yours to share.

After you read this, don’t wait. Reach out to someone who needs to be reached and stand a little closer apart.

Stuck in the belly… or safe in the belly?

Further thoughts on Jonah and the finished sculpture

In last week’s post, I shared a new Jonah sculpture in progress on the workbench. This week, I’m happy to share the finished piece. It’s now waiting in the shop, ready for a good home.

As I was putting the finishing touches on this, a new perspective on the account of Jonah occurred to me. I titled last week’s post “Stuck in the belly.” Of course, that’s how we usually see Jonah—stuck in the belly of the whale. But there’s another way to see it. Without the whale, Jonah would likely have drowned. It’s probably what he anticipated when he had his shipmates toss him overboard in the storm. But God still had plans and a job for Jonah to do. So He kept him safe—not stuck—in the belly of the whale.

A fresh perspective

Why am I returning to the account of Jonah again for the second week in a row (other than to share the finished sculpture)? Because in following the Coronavirus news like everyone else, I came across a refreshing perspective. Someone wrote that instead of seeing this as being stuck at home, we should see it as being safe at home. That’s a big difference. How many times have we been out somewhere in some sort of distress and wishing we were home—safe at home?

Now, with the entire world in distress, many of us are, indeed, safe at home. We can be grateful for that and pray for those who are truly stuck somewhere they don’t want to be or those that can’t stay home—like our medical teams, grocery store workers, and delivery folks—because they’re out every day taking care of the rest of us.

This week, when I start to dwell on what I’m missing, where I can’t go, and who I can’t see, I’m going to try to remind myself that in spite of all of that, I’m blessed to be safe at home. And it’s a lot more comfortable—and better smelling—than a whale’s belly!


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Still waters

There’s something special about still water. A quiet pond or lake, a lazily moving stream—they seem to radiate peace and at the same time almost absorb any stress or anxiety that comes near their shores.

King David knew the power of God, who created the still waters that brought comfort and calm. David appreciated the waters, and he praised the Creator of those waters in the well-known 23rd Psalm:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (ESV)

Patti Jones’ newest work is gorgeously peaceful. We call it Still Waters and it’s ready to lend its serenity to any room in your home. Gaze at its shimmering blues and greens and you might even imagine the reflection of a young shepherd boy lingering nearby.

Last Leaves

Magnificent palette

The leaves may have mostly fallen and we’re well into winter, but Patti’s latest work, Last Leaves with it’s warm, comforting colors and gentle, quiet presence, ushers us into the days of autumn. Her wood burned and hand-painted gourd imagines the last oak leaves clinging to their stems.

They’ve worked all spring and summer to provide so much for so many.
Designed to convert sunlight into food, they’ve spent their entire lives harvesting light and feeding their tree. They’ve offered shelter and camouflage to countless insects and animals. Some of the leaves have met an early end as they’ve become food for a few of those hungry creatures.
Without reservation, the leaves spread out, creating welcome shade for anyone or anything that happens to rest beneath them. And when the summer breeze blows, they fill the yards and woods with their soothing, whooshing chorus.

Giving their all

Then, as the days shorten and the nights grow longer—and cooler, and the sun rises ever lower on the autumn horizon, the leaves prepare to bid farewell. But not before giving one last beautiful gift — their greatest display of all—their autumn colors. For a few stunning days we marvel at the deep reds, bright oranges, and vibrant yellows. And then brown. As far as the eye can see. They’re tired now. They’ve given everything. They’re ready to go. So one by one, they slip away, drifting to the ground.

Beautiful, melancholy autumn

Autumn can be a melancholy season, in a year and in life. But Last Leaves reminds us that there’s hope for the future as well as an appreciation for what’s about to pass. Tucked away between the leaves, Patti has drawn small acorns. As one leaf completes its life and work, as one tree marks another year, new life springs from old and the cycle continues just as intended.

In Genesis 8, God speaks to Noah after the flood, assuring him that He’ll never again flood the earth or curse the ground because of man. He says in verse 22, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” Last Leaves is a beautiful reminder of the seasons of life, and of the magnificent, loving Creator who gives every good gift to His creation.

A little backstory

The name of this piece is inspired by a classic short story by the nineteenth-century American writer, William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen name, O. Henry. You can read The Last Leaf, a story about giving your all, here.

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More takeaways from nature…

I’m always inspired by God’s creation. You can read another lesson I’ve learned from leaves here.

Fire in the jungle

This week, Patti is introducing a new piece in the Inspiring Handmade shop called Fire in the Jungle. It’s a work full of energy, conflict, passion, and respite—a little bit like life. The name of the piece reflects the tension inherent in its bold colors fighting for your attention.

A fire in a jungle evokes imagery of devastation amongst lush green vegetation—death and destruction encroaching on areas teeming with life, but kept at bay, maybe, by a river or a stream, or a drenching afternoon rain. Such a scene would be a confusing mashup of hope and hopelessness.

Our lives are full of these elements, aren’t they? Pain, refreshment, loss, restoration, difficulty, rest. Taken on their own, they might not make much sense. But in the hands of the Master, they can be blended together to create a work of art—a life—that speaks encouragement and beauty into the world around it.

1 Peter 1:7 tells us that “we have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

What’s your whale?

In the familiar account of Jonah in The Bible, we read that God assigned Jonah the unenviable task of traveling to Ninevah (modern-day Mosul in Iraq), to tell the Assyrians that they were about to be judged and obliterated by God unless they repented and turned from their wicked ways. Instead of obeying God and delivering the unpopular message to a vicious nation that many historians say was among the first superpowers of the ancient world, Jonah likely saw his assignment as a suicide mission. So he ran.

That decision wound him up in the belly of the “great fish” and then Jonah himself had to repent and realign himself with God.

Fast Foward

We all make bad decisions like Jonah at some point. A good friend of mine says “good judgment comes from experience … which usually comes from bad judgment.” But experience alone isn’t the ultimate teacher. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
Our bad decisions probably won’t land us in the belly of an actual whale like Jonah, but they can entrap us just the same.

So, what’s your whale?

Do you feel trapped today—stuck in the belly of something? What’s your whale? Maybe it’s grief. Or self. It could be some form of addiction, or anger, or pride. It doesn’t really matter what it is. What matters is whether we want to get out and how we escape.

Once Jonah realized where he was, his response was to pray to God. He went straight to the source of wisdom and God heard him and answered him. As a result, he was released from his whale and was given a second chance to do what God wanted him to.

Available in the shop

I’ve explored the idea of Jonah through a sculpture that’s now available in the shop. Called simply Jonah, the salvaged wood sculpture is painted in acrylics and hand stamped with the text of Jonah 2:1-2. It reminds me that no matter how dire my situation, I can always turn to God, call out for help and He will hear me.

And as long as we’re on the subject of whales…

“No, you two go on and have fun. I’d just be a third whale.”

Walking on water in 2020?

Wood and wire sculpture

What do you want to do or become in 2020? For those who like to set goals, the new year inevitably brings with it the talk of resolutions. Some folks aim to lose weight, eat better, or get in shape. Others will strive to read more, or start—or finish—that book they want to write.

You’re reading Inspiring Handmade (thank you!), so perhaps you have a creative project in mind. Will 2020 be the year you try a new type of art? Or take what you’ve learned in the past to the next level? What could that look like? What will you create this year? What stories will you tell?

Chances are, if you play it safe, doing the very same things in the very same ways, you won’t meet your goals, create the art or stories you envision, or become what you want to be.

How can you stretch yourself this year? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself. I want this next year to be a productive one, especially in the area of creativity. I want to create new art, in new ways. I have new stories I want to tell through a variety of media. Maybe you can relate. This blog is all about being inspired through and for creativity—inspired to dwell on things that are good, excellent, and praiseworthy (see Philippians 4:8), inspired to create works that communicate those attributes, and inspired to surround ourselves and feed our minds and spirits with work that helps us focus on those things.

What we’re all pursuing is fulfillment, isn’t it? That’s what all the resolutions, goals, plans, and creative works are about if we boil it down.

The secret to fulfillment

And here’s the secret that’s become more clear to me over the years: We’re the most fulfilled when we’re fulfilling our created purpose. I believe that purpose is to glorify God and enjoy a relationship with Him forever.

With that big idea in place, a lot of other things start to make sense. We’re all created in the image of God, the master Creator. Is it any wonder that we also find joy in creating? My art is simply an extension of—and an avenue to fulfill—my purpose. Yours can be, too.

For me, then, it’s vital that I remain connected to my Creator. I can see a direct correlation between the time I spend in prayer and reading God’s Word and the volume and quality of my creative ideas and output. Quite simply, when I’m reading and meditating on the types of things described in Philippians 4:8, the ideas sometimes come in such a flood that I can’t capture them all.

But being in the presence of my Creator is risky. He loves me, but He’s also intent on changing me. I’ve shared about that in more detail in a previous post. It’s challenging and often uncomfortable. Part of me doesn’t like change. But that’s where the creativity comes from. The more closely I relate to my Creator, the more like Him I become and that certainly includes increased capacity for creativity.

A strange incident on a rough sea

The pastor and author, John Ortberg, entitled one of his books, “If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.” The title is a reference to a passage found in the gospel of Matthew. Chapter 14:22-33 is a fascinating account of a strange event that occurs right after Jesus fed thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. After the crowd had eaten their fill, Jesus’ disciples collected 12 basketfuls of leftovers. Matthew continues his account this way, describing Jesus sending His disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee:

“Immediately He [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. And after He had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'”

Dwelling on this passage inspired the last piece of art I’ve created in 2019, a work that casts an eye toward the new year. Pictured above, it’s called Water Walker, a sculpture in salvaged oak barn wood, hand-painted in acrylics, with wire, white pickling stain, and distressed, hand-transferred lettering.

Making it personal

There have been many lessons drawn from the account of Jesus helping Peter walk on the water. Personally, it challenges me to realize that if I really want to grow in any area of my life, I have to step out of my safe, comfortable place and old habits, and, most importantly, stay connected with and focused on my Creator.

When I do that, I find the creativity, the passion, the energy, and the fulfillment I’m looking for. I find myself walking on the water. How about you? Do you hear the invitation to step out of your boat in faith, trust, and expectation? What do you want to do in 2020 that might require stepping out of your boat?

Be inspired throughout 2020 and beyond

If you’d like more inspiration or would like to inspire someone special, Water Walker is waiting for you in the Inspiring Handmade shop. Give yourself—or someone else—the gift of original art to inspire new things in the new year.

Hand-painted wood and wire sculpture

Perfect love at Christmas

Christmas card cartoon

We’ve come to the final week of the Advent season. If you’ve missed the previous posts, you can check them out now. I’ve written about hope, peace, and joy in the past three weeks.

This last week focuses on love. I’m sharing one more cartoon from my Christmas card archives. The one shown above pokes a little fun at all the trouble we go to in the name of love for our friends and family. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things just don’t work out as planned. And doesn’t that seem to be the case especially at Christmastime?

The best of intentions

We have the best of intentions of showing our loved ones how much we care. We’re going to get our cards out early. We’re going to find and buy that perfect gift and cook the perfect Christmas dinner. But sometimes—maybe it feels like most of the time— things happen to make it less than what we dreamed it would be.

But love isn’t about performing, buying, decorating, or any of those things—as good as they might be. Love is found simply in the offering.

The best of gifts

In the gospel of Luke, we read that the angels announced the good news of a Savior to shepherds out in the fields. It was God’s announcement of His gift—His offering of love to all mankind.

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10-11).

It was the announcement that the world had been waiting for—the gift of life and love from the Creator and sustainer of life had arrived. Everything wasn’t perfect. Far from it. The first Christmas must have been a difficult, inconvenient experience for nearly everyone involved. But the tiny gift that was delivered that night changed the world for all time.

Today, when we allow true love to enter our lives, it changes everything. My hope for everyone reading this is that you will experience the true love of your Creator this season.

Thank you for reading these Advent posts and for visiting with us here at Inspiring Handmade. Merry Christmas!

sketch
Sketch to final art

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What would you give for true joy?

cartoon of a traveling snowman

This week is the third in the season of Advent. My last two posts have looked at the hope and peace of Advent. This week, the theme is joy and I’m sharing another Christmas card from my archives. I did this one in 2006, before there was TSA Precheck. If you travel by air at all, it’s a safe bet you don’t associate airport security with joy. But at least you don’t have to remove your eyes and nose. Yet.

When we think of that original Christmas journey made by Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, we might think more about the hardships they faced—a young, pregnant woman making the 70-to-80-mile journey with her husband, a journey that could have taken four or five days.

Someone once suggested that the account of Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem just goes to show that traveling during the holidays has always been difficult! I think they might be onto something.

What does true joy cost?

But as I’ve been thinking about joy this week, it struck me that as difficult as their journey may have been, and as many comforts as they may have left behind, Mary and Joseph suffered all of it for the joy of not only becoming parents, but becoming parents of the promised Messiah.
It seems to me, that in every case in Scripture, when people decided to pursue true joy, that is, the joy of knowing Jesus Christ, they had to leave something behind.

A pattern emerges

We see the same truth revealed in the life of the disciples, don’t we? The disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John exchanged a lifelong career of fishing for food for the joy of fishing for men on behalf of Christ. The apostle and gospel writer, Matthew, exchanged the lucrative job of collecting tax money for the joy of collecting souls for Christ.
And the pattern repeats throughout Scripture, but there’s no better example of this than Jesus Himself.

As a member of the Trinity, God the Son was and is always in perfect union with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. They’re always in perfect harmony and to be with them must be a deliriously wonderful place to be. Yet God the Son left it all. Why? For joy. Hebrews 12:1-2 says: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. There was joy in doing for His children what we could not do for ourselves.

Leaving heaven

Philippians 2:4-8 says it another way, “…Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Imagine leaving heaven, where you were constantly worshipped, to go to a place where you were constantly attacked, misunderstood, maligned, complained to, complained about, and ultimately tortured and executed in the most gruesome manner imaginable—all to rescue the very people who did all that to you.

And yet, that’s what our Savior did for us. He gave up all the majesty, glory, and comfort of heaven for the joy that was set before Him—the joy of rescuing us, His children from our slavery to sin and giving us a new, regenerated life in Himself.

What about us?

Today, He offers us that true joy of knowing Him and drawing true, everlasting life from Him. To accept that offer from Him, we’ll have to leave something behind. However, we don’t have to accept the offer. We can continue to cling to what we have, what we can do for ourselves—our own will and our own agenda. We can choose those things instead of joy if we want.

C.S. Lewis writes that there is always something some people insist on keeping, even at the price of misery. There is always something they prefer to joy.

So we can cling to whatever we would rather have instead of joy. Or we can relax our grip, and follow Jesus’ example and experience the true joy of belonging to Christ.

Back to that snowman…

The poor snowman in my illustration had to part, if only briefly, with some rather personal and important things. But he did it for the joy of getting to wherever snowmen fly during the holidays.

Have you ever thought about letting go of whatever you’ve been clinging to and reaching out to grasp true joy—the waiting hand of Christ, who loves you more than anyone else ever could? There’s no better season to do it than this one.

Feel free to get in touch using the box below if you want to talk about it. It would be my joy!

sketch for snowman card
Snowman traveler sketch

Art that connects with The Creator

Kristi Nash Harrison says she’s an attention deficit artist. “I jump from one thing to the next,” she told me when I caught up with her this week as she was preparing for what’s become known as “the most anticipated little craft show in Mechanicsville.” That would be The Three Whine Oh’s and Friends Holiday Open House at my Inspiring Handmade partner in art, Patti Jones’ home and studio: 8352 Devil’s Den Lane, Mechanicsville, VA 23111, in Battlefield Green. This year (the show’s 17th) the fun begins Friday, Nov. 22, at 3 p.m.-8 p.m., and continues Saturday, Nov. 23, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

For years, Kristi and Patti have joined their friends and fellow makers to create and show original art and crafts. And while her interests may be many, Kristi, a long-time local artist, and art teacher, says clay and paint are her mainstays. “Over the years, my art has evolved,” she said and explained that it always reflects various facets of her life. The crabs and water themes, for instance, are inspired by her mother’s love of life on the water.

glazed pottery cup with a crab
A sculpted crab crawls among sand and grass on a glazed cup. All glazes are lead-free and safe for everyday use with food and drinks.
Wonderfully illustrated crabs congregate on glazed plates. Pile them high with Christmas cookies and even when the baked goods are gone, these plates look amazing.
Whimsical dragonflies dance along the top of a glazed tumbler. Who wouldn’t be inspired by taking a sip or using a pen kept in this work of art?
A dragonfly prepares to light on a flowered lilypad on this glazed bowl. Want to make someone feel special? Serve them their favorite ice cream in what will surely become known as “the dragonfly bowl!”

This year Kristi’s also showing one-of-a-kind glazed bowls illustrated with majestic night skies.
“When I take my dogs out, Kristi explains, I love to look at the heavens and the stars. The heavens declare the glory of God,” she says, quoting Psalm 19. As an artist, she’s drawn to the sky and thinks of the northern lights and the array of colors you see in a sunset.
“I’ve also been inspired by the works of artists Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse,” she says.

Glazed bowls illustrated with a gorgeous night sky.
A crescent moon rises through a wondrous night sky draped in the Aurora Borealis on this glazed bowl.

As important as the art is to this creator who holds a master’s in art from Virginia Commonwealth University, Kristi’s work is about more than the image.
“I love sharing Scripture that’s a part of my life to help bring peace and inspiration to others,” she said. That’s one reason why her work has been so popular all these years. She said one woman who purchased a piece of her pottery told her she keeps her keys in it so that she’s inspired by it every time she leaves the house. “People have told me that they keep my work where they can see it every day and be reminded of God and their blessings. It helps them stay positive.”

You can see (and purchase) Kristi’s gorgeous pottery (all safe to use with food) and other work at this year’s The Three Whine Oh’s and Friends Holiday Open House starting this Friday, Nov. 22, 3 p.m.-8 p.m., and finishing Saturday, Nov. 23, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at 8352 Devil’s Den Lane, Mechanicsville, VA 23111, in Battlefield Green. Long-time fans of the show will tell you to get there as soon as possible Friday to get your choice of the art, crafts, and delicious baked goods.


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