Friday, September 26, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Did you look up today, at the crystal clear azure sky? Did you see the squirrels playing tag up and down the oaks? Did you feel the warm sun moderated by the autumn breeze? Did you feel truly happy?

I have dubbed this day of the week "Thankful Thursday." It is fitting because somehow I always seem to have a tough time on Thursdays. So combatting the temptation to grumpiness with gratitude is fitting. Also, being near the end of week, it is a good time for me to reflect on all that went right over the last several days. Friday brings it's own joy of weekend anticipation, but Thursday needs a little something. A little dash of gratitude.

A little goes a long way. Just like opening a door a crack can let in a mighty ray of light, all we need to do is open up a little bit to the good. The result is nothing short of miraculous. Noticing one little good thing, can lead to noticing another amazing thing, and another awe inspiring thing, and then some absolutely mind-blowing, miraculous, epic things. I believe that we don't have to go searching for excitement, fun or happiness. We just have to find them already existing in our midst, closer than we realized. This process could be called many things: a change of heart, softening a hardened heart, an eye opening moment, a conversion, stopping to smell the roses... In any case, we are all in desperate need to experience this refocusing action. Constantly. Constant and deepening conversion of heart. That is what life is about, this "Way of Trust and Love." In his so named book, subtitled "A Retreat Guided by St. Therese of Lisieux", author Jacques Philippe summarizes this very point, that lies at the heart of St. Therese's revolutionary spirituality:
"What is the little conversion, the door that opens to let in the Holy Spirit? For if we make it, God's grace will visit us and touch us in the depths of our being.
"I am convinced that many of us will receive new strength from God. The door through which this strength enters us is the "yes" we say to our Lord to something he asks of us - something perhaps very small..."
I know God has blessed me abundantly, because he loves me unconditionally, whether I realize it or not. Today I was blessed to take in the natural splendour as I walked home, I was inspired to bake delicious "paleo" carrot muffins, I persevered at work and stayed on task, I found a lovely coloured sweater on sale that actually had long enough sleeves. This week a client brought me a card and wine out of gratitude; I saw a breath-taking sunrise from my high-rise office on one of my early morning starts; I finally made a nearly perfect batch of all natural, home-made lip balm; I became involved in an exciting program called "Alpha" that is all about fun, friends and faith-finding. Right now I am listening to epic movie sound tracks, enjoying my freshly baked muffins, and I am excited to be inspired to write and I realize I am always surrounded by beautiful things that have the power to become incredibly inspiring, if i just say "yes."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Creativity's Workshop


Life is so full of contradictions, dichotomies, ups and downs, isn't it? One day we are convinced of something, another day we are full of doubt. One day we are bouncing off the walls with excitement, another we are dragging our feet to the rhythm of our tear-drops.

I realize that although my life has often been a roller coaster of  such highs and lows,  reality is wonderfully unchanging. My feelings may be all over the place, but that doesn't mean the earth under my feet is crumbling under the weight of my frustration, or flooding when I cry. The battle inside my head does not automatically rage outside of it. But even so, my moods affect the world around me, because they affect my decisions, how I treat others, where I go and how well I do my job. Feelings are not facts but they can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. How often have I told myself "I can't", "it's impossible", or "it's too late." These are often self imposed lies, fears that have have been mistaken for truth.  In other words: "It's a trap!" However, the ultimate truth remains: when we are positive, good things can and will happen. (Or at least we will notice the good things that happen regardless of how we feel!)Today was a day of negative thoughts, about how certain things are not the way I want them to be, about what I don't have, about everything I am missing.  But upon looking at a diary entry from a few days ago, I found that a few days ago I wrote down how excited I was about so many things: my job, my boyfriend, even how grateful I was for the bathroom!  Reading about this past joy started to bring back the joy I had felt then.

This resurrection of happiness made me realize how important it is to surround myself with positive things, books, people, images. Of course we are responsible for how we act upon our grumpy feelings, but we are also responsible if we purposefully participated in things that we knew would
make us grumpy, depressed, lustful etc (I.e. Occasions of Sin). Keeping busy, productive, positive and creative is actually a duty of sorts. After all, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop." I realized we are either living a fruitful, loving life of growth or we are slipping backwards into hazy gloom.There is no in between. We are always on a path to somewhere; we are always crafting something in our workshop.

Even standing still is moving backwards. I know this from my experience of depression. A depressed person is not just sad and frozen. They are regressing, being sucked further and further into a black hole. First you panic, then you cry, then once you can't cry anymore, and are incapable of feeling emotion, you stare at the wall and ponder your doom, then you convince yourself that your doom is inevitable. Finally, you come to the conclusion that you might as well die. That depression was not something that appeared out of nowhere, all of a sudden. It was a slow backwards decay that had a beginning. In the words of Yoda: "Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."

So be careful what whispers you listen to. The workshop in your mind just might get working on whatever influences you let in. The cogs and the levers will be working away, so be sure to reflect on what exactly they are working on. That is why it is never to late, you can turn around and go back to the good path anytime. Re-reading my past joys was a refreshing breeze. I remembered I have so much to rejoice over and look forward to. There are so many wonderful, joyful possibilities. And just
think! What wonderful things will await and open up before us if we believe the voice of hope.

A New Hope

So getting back into the excited frame of mind, I will now get to what I really want to write about in this post....After talking to the graphic designer at the office, I had a realization that I'm really excited
to investigate graphic design/screen printing/illustration programs again. I had been accepted into a graphic design program back in 2010, but chose Costume Studies instead. More recently I had been really focused on all the health/psychology programs I could take...and that idea was actually kind of stressful. I just thought about how much time and money re-educating myself would take. I figured I have to do something helpful, that I believe in, with my life. And that is true. But is beauty not helpful, not worth believing in? Does it not sooth and heal souls and even minds? Is that not of an equal, if not even greater value than healing minds with psychology or bodies with medicine and nutrition?

Certainly a really sick mind may need to be helped before appreciating beauty. But for most minds beauty touches us somehow. We are designed that way. For myself, I find that beauty can draw me out of dryness and sadness and boredom in an instant. The expression of beauty through art can A) be therapeutic, B) be inspiring and life changing, even to those who are in states of malaise, discouragement or mundane ruts, C) tell stories, give perspective, visually explain difficult truths and lessons. After all a picture is worth a thousand words. That is the equivalent of a few therapy sessions at least! Artistic creations can  reach a deep part of us that words just bounce off of. Paintings, photographs and music can soften that hard, otherwise impenetrable hard shell. Beauty, I believe, ultimately leads us to the wonderful constant reality, that hope and goodness outshine the doom and gloom.

I want to make art that inspires! I want to make art that witnesses to the beauty of God's undying love! Because ultimately He is why we are here and what we should live for. I believe it is vitally important to produce art that draws people into this freeing, joyful reality.

The Beginning

I have drawn many pictures and scribbled many sketches in my life, but one recent painting has
inspired me to pursue this passion. Earlier this year I painted a quick watercolour for my loving boyfriend. I called the painting "Life Line," inspired by his strong spiritual leadership, gentle encouragement and our mutual consecration to Jesus through Mary. I was happy that he liked it and framed it, but I was so surprised by the countless other positive feedback that It received. I realized the power of art in witnessing to truth, beauty and goodness. Even a painting that took a few hours had such an impact on many people. I am so grateful and so inspired to continue even in the little things. Just a little time, a little love, a little work along the right path goes a long way!

"Life Line" by Emily Claire, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Though I Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death...

God isn't just beautiful; he is Beauty.  God isn't just good; He is Goodness. God isn't just true; He is Truth. And he put these qualities into His creation. To experience beauty, goodness and truth in the world is to taste a glimmer of who God is.

I've probably written all of the above on this blog before, but it hit me in a profound way recently. I think God uses these to speak to us, each quality highlighted at different times for different people. But they all point to God. Whether it is a lawyer fighting for the truth, a mother sacrificing sleep for the good of her sick child or the artist capturing beauty of the ocean on his canvas. All very different, yet all a piece of the same reality. This blows my mind and touches my heart.

Truth, Beauty and Goodness all serve to point me back at my creator, chiefly beauty has been the source of the most raw and poignant moments for me. This has especially been so for me recently.

Today I saw one of the most enchantingly unreal  sunsets I can ever remember seeing. It was like a painting, or something from a fantasy world. The huge orange glowing sun kissed the horizon, radiating soft rings of peach and mauve, blending into and complimenting the soft grey cloud cover. The perfect contrast of the silhouetted trees made the whole scene pop. This majestic vista was before  me while listening to fitting lyrics: "And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you. Would you tell me how it could be better than this."
('Everything' by Jesus Culture)

There is no doubt in my mind that this beautiful sight was a gift from God. And if the joy it gave me is only a fraction of the happiness of knowing God Himself, well, then, my mind is blown!

But there is also marks the two year anniversary of an incredible example of  God filling my life with his Goodness. April 15, 2012 was my last day of an exactly one month stay in the hospital. It was my last day because my health had changed 180 degrees for the better. I was well, I was happy, I had recovered from severe depression. I had come out of what I think I can accurately describe as hell on Earth, out of what seemed a  hopeless gloom, out of what the last resort had been to involuntarily admit me to a mental hospital for 30 whole days.

When I think back to those days, it seems so surreal. I almost laugh at the thought that  it all really happened, that I lived under a seemingly unbreakable shadow. But more than that, it is more amazing that  the shadow was overcome, pierced by a stronger light.

Depression is the result of an ill mind, one that cannot see clearly, one that is not living in reality, not seeing the truth. God had blessed me with many profound experiences of beauty (such as the view of the glistening spring ocean from the hospital grounds) and goodness (such as the tireless work and kindness of  the psychiatric nurses). But the gift of truth is just as incredible. At the end of my psych ward stay, I woke up feeling happy, knowing that I have been blessed with the tools and guides and graces needed to take in the sun beams of truth from now on, to persevere on the journey.

This world is separated from God, so there are pockets void of the truth, the beauty and the goodness that should have been there. We suffer because of that lack, and we have short memories and we forget  that God is bigger than any of those tears and rips in the grand tapestry. But every time I experience one of those heart swelling moments I remember and I know.

Knowing Christ met us in that rift, and suffered through the darkest of darkest deaths to mend that divide gives us the ultimate hope that can fill any dark hole. Of all the true, beautiful and good things that point us to the God's love, Christ's death and resurrection is THE zenith.  Of course it not only points us to His love, it IS God come into the world! Mind blowing! 

What beauty that I can celebrate this anniversary of recovery in Holy Week, as Christians prepare to celebrate the greatest recovery in history. It is the perfect time to offer up the dark times and celebrate the light that floods the darkness away.

God bless you all this Holy Week and Easter! I pray that our hearts may be open to all the good and beauteous truths that God has in store for us.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Eternal Sunshine

Yesterday I finally made it to confession. My goal for lent was to go every 2 weeks or so. But that stretched out to 3 weeks, and then after almost a month I faced the facts that I'm sinking in some of my habitual sins and God's grace is the life preserver I need to get out of that mucky pool.

In the confessional, after I finished listing all of my failings, the priest said something that really struck me. He told me: "Life is so short but after death will be an eternity, which is beyond what we can imagine! The struggles we face now pale in comparison. Keep your mind fixed on eternity, offer up any struggles that may come up and just keep persevering." I think those are some of the most encouraging words I have heard in a long time! When I think how this life is a mere droplet compared to the vast ocean of eternity, I suddenly feel the strength and motivation to continue in the midst of any hardship or temptation that might strike.

A song I was listening to recently also moved me with a similar theme. All Sons & DaughtersCalled Me Higher is about how we could get all comfy in our little lives, we could hide away, be safe, never do anything different or challenging. But God has called us to more! So much more! We can't even imagine.

Furthermore, today's readings spoke of depth that goes beyond ourselves and our worries. In the first reading Queen Esther cries out in a desperate prayer: "O my Lord, you only are our king; help me, who am alone and have no helper but you...O Lord, [who] took our ancestors...for an everlasting inheritance, and you did for them all that you promised." The psalm continues: "For You have exalted your name and your word above everything. On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul....The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever." Finally, in the Gospel Christ affirms this omnipotence and faithfulness of the Lord, "for everyone that asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." God is infinite and in our short life on earth seeking Him will be the most fulfilling thing we could do. We will always be able to know Him better. 

A life focused on God and eternity with Him does not mean a floaty, mystical, out-of-touch existence. On the contrary, it makes us live out the nitty gritty daily details with more purpose and love. And that is just the thing. Sometimes I try to fight the reality that life is nitty, gritty, tedious and repetitive. But that just leads to anxiety, fear and avoidance...and sin. Accepting these facts of life, with the realizations that it is a tiny portion of our whole existence and doing even the smallest tasks with our God-centered mindsets is the most freeing thing!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March Forth!

The gloom of winter goes on, with a few days of sunshine foreshadowing spring here and there. Sometimes the stress of work, the prevailing cold weather, the ho-hum of the mundane routine, and the heart-ache of being in a long distance relationship, makes me quite tempted to give up at life. Sometimes it seems like too much for my little self to carry.

But then, I step back. Wait a second. In the words of admiral Akbar, " It's a trap!" I've walked into a trap again; one that seemed so true, but really it was a wolf in sheep's clothing, a lie disguised as warm fuzzies. Giving-up and self-pity and complaining appeared to be the easy way out, or at least the only way to cope. But behind the appearances is a rotten sham, seeming to comfort in the short term, but corrupting and sapping all goodness in the long run!

So what is the alternative? When I step back and look at the big picture, I imagine a camera zooming away from me, up to the sky and further and further up into space. I fade from a dot to a speck to nothing in the scheme of the world, or the solar system, or the cosmos!


 [koz-muhs, -mohs] 
noun, plural cos·mos, cos·mos·es for 2, 4.
the world or universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious system.
a complete, orderly, harmonious system.
order; harmony.

I realize that while I get caught up in my own miseries, self provoked or otherwise, there is a masterful, miraculous harmonious system going on around me. Every atom, every molecule, every
cell, every organism, every ecosystem, every galaxy, is moving to a rhythm, like a choreographed
dance. It's organized. Deliberate. Beautiful. Mind-blowing! But before I get off on a tangent about  "cosmic dancing," that starts to sound a little new age, let me get to the point. The best part of all this is that all this motion comes from the one who made it move in the first place. There is a all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God that knows the ins and outs of every piece of this huge puzzle. In other words, He's got it under control! This whole mental exercise of viewing myself from outer space helps me to remember that God is the boss. I don't see the full, unbiased picture of reality. But He does! Remembering that reminds me I need to surrender my childish pride, my over-complicated mind games, and to just simplify: all I need to do is put Him first and trust Him. Just as everything in the universe is designed to act in a certain way, we were designed be loved by God and to love and trust Him back. Period. Accepting our humble place is so freeing and fulfilling!

"To be near God is my happiness, to place my hope in God the Lord." - Ps 72 

All this reflection is what has stood out to in my prayer time, bi-weekly adoration and discussions with friends over the last few months. All we really need to worry about is placing God first, being open to Him and being willing. It is a constant battle to seek Him first, but through that everything else begins to fall in place and it is what gives us the persevere and patience to keep going our daily lives.

This March 4th, which happens to be Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the day before lent, I am inspired to keep marching forth! (Pun completely intended!)  I can't believe lent is already here. But the timing couldn't be more right. After weeks of slipping into bad habits, including: eating way too much junk food, staying up way to late, getting grumpy over work, slacking off with prayer; it is time to refocus.   Today's readings provided a nice little formula for getting back on track this lent:

"Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace the Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed." - 1 Peter 1