My landscape.. 

…in the distance…

I have always had a love of landscape paintings. Even as a child, I would stare at their beauty… Search their depths for color and stories. Each one told a story of a journey to me… a journey that would end in the clouds in the distance.. Those clouds representing Heaven to me. The weightlessness of the clouds.. representing all our cares being lifted from us when we die.

As I have matured, I have started to see these landscapes differently. I still see those clouds as representing Heaven.. Standing firmly in my Horizon.. often with the light of God shining through them.. But I now see the background.. the mountains or distance fields.. not as where I am heading.. but where I have been. Each color representing a different event in my life. Darker colors for the harder trials or disappointments. Brighter colors for the joys that God has blessed me with.

Leaving the Valley in the focus of the portrait.. the valley being what we are living now. And that is how it should be.. focusing on the here and now.. not on the past or the future.. but focusing on what God has set before us.

But sometimes it is good to see where we have come from.

I have a lot of dark shades in my landscape. Disappointment in choices I made when I was younger. Mistakes I have made. Events in my past.. events I had no control over. Events that I had to struggle through.. such as the first few years with my son’s diagnosis of Bipolar. Those years of medicines that didn’t work.. years of trying strategy after strategy. The days I broke down from exhaustion. All of these add darker shades and shadows.

I wouldn’t give up any of those dark colors.. those blacks.. grays.. dark blues… the shadows.. Those shadows? Those shadows made the bright colors.. the deep hues stand out all the more. Because I had known great disappointments.. great sorrow…?  Because of those events, I could appreciate good people.. good memories.. my accomplishments.. my son’s & daughter’s accomplishments.. and the joy my children bring THAT much more.

Having good people in my life definitely makes my landscape prettier. And as I have said before.. it takes a whole village to raise a child… That whole village becomes that child’s landscape. I have a very extensive landscape. So many people have been Blessings in my life. I have been very Blessed indeed.

This week I am looking off into my landscape. At one particular bright spot.. or maybe a few.

I have an Uncle that married into my family. A very jolly man. He always had a smile and a greeting for everyone.. I remember staying at their house and having it always full of people and activity. His enthusiasm for everything.. when we took our annual bike trip. Listening to his strong voice praying in front of groups.. not caring who could hear him.  I listened to stories he told of Mission trips that he went on with my Aunt.. sometimes with a little envy.. (for I know that my Mission field is here in my back yard.. and not around the world.)..  and he always had stories filled with pride for his loving family.

Not that my Uncle couldn’t be serious or firm.. I know I saw those sides of him also… They just don’t stand out like the joy that shone from his face when he caught sight of you.

My Uncle passed away suddenly this last week. He wasn’t sick.. he didn’t suffer.. but God called him home.

You may think that a dark patch of paint has appeared in my landscape because of this… but other than the slight shadow of sadness behind his bright shape? I can’t find any new dark patches.

Now don’t get me wrong.. I will probably tear up when he doesn’t come out to greet us when I go to visit my Aunt the next time. It doesn’t mean I won’t think of my cousins when I hug my own sweet Dad the next time. And it definitely doesn’t mean I am not looking forward to seeing him when I am called Home myself.

But it does mean that sometimes we don’t notice how brightly someone shines in our lives.. until that small shadow of sadness appears behind them.. making their colors.. their strengths.. the Blessings they had to offer… Those shadows make their colors shine all the more brightly.  Especially when the light of God is shining down through the clouds of Heaven onto them.

My poor cup..

My cup runneth over…

I always tell people that you can’t write about life .. if you aren’t out there living it. So I am out there.. living life. But life isn’t just exploring, meeting new people, learning, having a good time, and laughing. Sometimes it is fixing things, moving households, comforting loved ones and saying good-bye. But I wouldn’t give up the “good” living to avoid the “sad”.

In fact… If my life was a cup? It would overflow frequently with all sorts of emotions.. all sorts of activities.. all forms of life…

For the last couple months, my cup has indeed been very full. My “living” consisted of hard work and a busy schedule as we prepared to perform Seussical the Musical at our High School.. During this time, my daughter found that Dr. Seuss must have agreed with our family’s philosophy.. because she found this among his many famous quotes…

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”  Dr. Seuss

But sometimes I cram too much living into a small amount of time.. Or Life comes crashing into my schedule and overwhelms it. This month? My cup was definitely running over with Life. As much as I tried to stay organized.. YES you guessed it.. IF you came to my house during the Seussical shows, you would have found piles.. Sewing piles.. laundry piles.. paperwork piles… Chaos! All organized chaos.. but chaos just the same.

As Christians, we constantly tell ourselves and remind others that God only gives us what we can handle. Sometimes we wear it like a badge.. sometimes I use it as a cattle prod.. (to get myself out of good book… Or out of bed… or to leave that glorious sunshine.. to get back to work)… but sometimes I think we get stuck on “accepting” God’s Will for us.. Kind of like a “stop your whining” reminder.. I find myself forgetting that God sent a model for us when our Life Cup floweth over.

God sent us Jesus to model for us what He expects… When Jesus was not looking forward to the hard work that His Father had set before Him? Jesus was overwhelmed!! Jesus knelt in prayer and cried out to His Heavenly Father…

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42 NIV

This was not Jesus whining about hard work.. or whining because He knew He was about to die for our sins. No. This was Jesus being overwhelmed with the task before Him. What does this mean? This means that God says He will understand if we need to tell Him we are overwhelmed. God is giving us PERMISSION to ASK if a task can be taken away. We can ASK if He will heal a loved one.. we can ASK if He can change the Path before us.. The answer might be “No”… but it is okay to ask..

Then God shows us that He expects us to accept his Will.. accept his decision in all things. “Your will, not mine.”

God ALSO shows us through His Son that He doesn’t expect us to be strong all the time.. He expects us to fall apart when our cup runneth over with Life.. Then we have to rise.. brush off our knees.. and get back to Living.. 

 How? You ask. How do we know for sure?

“Jesus wept.” John 11:35

Jesus wept when He found that He was too late and His friend had died.. Jesus was so overwhelmed.. His cup of emotions ran right over the top… And He gave into His tears. 

This week should have been a relaxing week for me.. Our production was over.. the set cleared away… the stage clean.. Yet my calendar filled to the absolute brim.. My Life Cup filled with Activities.. Good activities… fun activities.. but definitely too many.

And then my mom called.

It seems that God called one of His children home to Him this week. While my uncle was in India.. visiting his grandson.. he had a heart attack and passed away. Now.. I imagine my uncle was one of God’s favorite children… Because he is an amazing man.. and I can imagine God couldn’t possibly wait any longer to call him home…

but still…

..still… My Uncle will be greatly missed until we see him again in Heaven.. I can see my uncle standing at the pearly gates.. inviting me in with that Great Smile of his… inviting me to stay at his mansion until mine is ready to go.. and especially offering to help me explore those streets of gold.. 

 But today? 

Today I think God will understand if my cup runneth over.. and I think God will understand if I ask that my aunt and my cousins have their cup of sadness taken from their lips… I think He’ll understand if I ask Him to pour some of those emotions into my cup.. as full as it is.. so that I might share this heavy task with them.

..but as always.. it is His will.. and not mine..

Where is Cinderella now?

100_0706The story of Cinderella was originally written as a scary story to tell children.. to make them behave. Then Disney came along and took all the scary parts outs. They shaped that same scary story into a beautiful fairy tale that little girls fantasize about.

The Disney version of Cinderella is such a great story of Faith. A fine example of how Hope can come from the least expected places. Because one would definitely think that a close neighbor would have noticed Cinderella’s suffering before the Prince would have. And I could see where Cinderella, herself, would doubt help was coming at all.. if her neighbors didn’t try to help when they noticed she had gone from cherished daughter to the unpaid help.

But the story of Cinderella, this Disney one, has started to take on a different meaning for me recently. A different tone.. if you will…

What changed?

Well.. I have a daughter.. (a teenaged daughter)… One that could spring into dating at any moment.. without any warning. THAT in itself would be a little terrifying.. IF I didn’t have Faith in my daughter.. as well as Faith in God to guide her…

But the story of Cinderella has unseen dangers..

You see? Cinderella meets her Prince Charming.. when she isn’t dressed as herself.. but when she is dolled up and wearing beautiful clothes… THEN they meet at a magically fancy dance and fall in love at first sight… AND THEN he rescues her and they marry immediately.

You don’t see any danger??

If you look at it from a little girl’s point of view? This says “I need to be beautiful AND dress beautifully in order to meet my Prince Charming.” BUT here? HERE I will pause… Even though I have a ton to say on this.. it isn’t the story I want to tell today…

Today I would like to point out the real danger. That danger shows itself at the end of the tale..

With the words, “Happily EVER After.” If the narrator had said, “And they rode through all of Life’s obstacles together,” or “And THEN they helped each other deal with their issues for the next 50 years,” ? THEN this story wouldn’t be scary at all.  I would love it.

Let them enjoy the fairy tale you say? Ok I did.. I read this story to my daughter for years… I quoted this Happily Ever After for years….

But now the Honey moon is over… Cinderella and Prince Charming have unpacked their baggage and are trying to fit it into their castle…

“Cinderella didn’t have any baggage, she was too poor,” you are saying? I am referring to the baggage we all carry around with us.. the issues we have.. the weaknesses .. the temptations… Telling girls that there aren’t any issues.. that you will just be happy forever after you meet the right prince? That is dangerous…

What issues could a nice girl like Cinderella have?

A young girl who doesn’t remember her Mother because she died too young? A girl who’s father married a manipulative woman… and then promptly abandoned her to that woman’s care (through his untimely death)? A childhood of hard work? A life with verbal abuse? Not to mention she talks to animals…

Yes.. Cinderella has baggage.

Ok.. ok.. so you agree that Cinderella may need some TLC.. but the Prince.. he grew up in a castle right? How could he possibly have issues?

Everyone has issues.. they are all different but everyone has issues..

I guarantee you within a few years of that fairy tale wedding..  that other glass slipper will most likely hit the wall and shatter.. Whether it is because Cinderella is sick of Charming always telling her what to do… or whether it’s Charming getting angry that Cinderella is constantly cleaning the castle instead of paying attention to him… or because Charming is always on the road and Cinderella feels abandoned… OR.. Charming no longer thinks that it’s adorable that his young wife plays with mice? I MEAN.. what WILL the neighbors think?

Alright .. BUT IF THEY LOVE EACH OTHER… then none of that should matter…

Right?!?

I agree.. it shouldn’t matter!!! If Charming and Cinderella love each other? Then they should get married ..baggage and all!!! They should even help each other carry those heavy bags..

But often that isn’t the case … Often I hear of “love at first sight” turning into… “Well I didn’t know he did that..”… or “I thought he would grow out of that,” or “she stopped taking care of herself,” OR… “I thought she wouldn’t need those mice anymore once she had me.”

So I started telling my daughter about the real life of Cinderella.. the story of AFTER she became Mrs. Charming. I don’t tell her that they would have been better off if they had not met at a Ball.. I don’t tell her that there is no such thing as love at first sight… and I don’t tell her they should not have ever married…

What I do tell her?

I tell her that if Cinderella goes into that fairy tale marriage knowing that there will be issues? If she spends time talking to her prince instead of just dancing the nights away.. if she expects him to not be perfect? Then she can still expect a happy ending…

… and maybe… JUST maybe they won’t still have that baggage to pass along to Charmella and Prince Cinder.

So when I am reading Cinderella to my future grandkids? Should I change the words from “Happily Ever After” to “And then they walked hand in hand through life battling, whatEVER life threw at them, together”…? Ha.. maybe not… it doesn’t exactly have the same poetic effect…

…but I do think I will continue to tell them Cinderella’s sequel…