I am not.

I am not an artist. No, don’t argue with me. I’m not. I enjoy drawing, creating, putting feelings into form, providing a new view for others, and, as the occasion presents itself, sharing my art in exchange for cash.

But I’m not an artist.

As an idealist, I can’t handle labels. They put too much pressure on me. More correctly, I create labels and then put the pressure on myself. In this example, the label “artist” bears so much weight in my mind, so much to live up to. I call myself an artist, and then I quit because I can’t DO all those artist things that artists are supposed to do. (Or what I think they’re supposed to do.)

In my mind, an artist creates art ALL the time. An artist promotes her work, at art festivals, art galleries, and, apparently, other places that successful artists know about. An artist blogs about her work, very consistently, of course. An artist has a certain persona, makes fashion statements, speaks in a poetic rhythm with words that both heal and haunt her listener. An artist demands, rightfully so, high prices for her pieces, and her audience eagerly pays such prices because of the incredible value of her work.

See, I can’t live up to this. My idealist brain has made the “artist” label a nearly magical one, and it’s a set of expectations that isn’t appropriate for who I am—or, rather, what I enjoy.

I tend to label things—a kind of filing system for myself, I suppose—and then I try to force a bunch of criteria onto whatever person or experience I’ve placed in that file folder. To put it plainly, I measure myself and every experience against *magical* standards.

So, as an idealist, I’m rarely pleased with anything. There is so much disappointment. I have a specific set of expectations, and they are impossible to meet. Truly impossible. It’s incredibly frustrating, even downright depressing. And it’s no one’s fault but mine, because I’m the one who has created them.

If I think I’m an artist, then I am supposed to do all the artist things I've assigned to that label. If I’m not doing them, I’m a failure. I’m not a “real” artist. (Or a “real” mother, wife, Christian, musician, poet, cook, gardener...you name it.)

So, I need to stop labeling myself with terms that carry such exacting expectations (of my own making) and identify instead with what I ENJOY.

I like to draw.

See? That’s easy to live up to. I like to draw. That’s something I like to do. That description doesn’t drag me into some non-reality that isn’t me.

But losing the label also inspires me. When I hear myself say, “I like to draw,” it sets me free into the pleasure of my work. It actually makes me want to sit down and begin drawing. It’s strange, really.

Anyway, I’m hoping to work my way through some of these labels and gain clarity on this life I’ve been given. I want to live fully in the pleasure of each moment, whether I’m sitting down with a pencil and my sketchbook or walking down the school hallway with my three rowdy kids.

What kind of labels are you living under? Are you an idealist, who, like me, is easily frustrated and disappointed? What areas of your life do you wish you could enjoy more? Tell us in the Comments section!

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apologies and regretSometimes we do stupid things. Sometimes we say mean things. Sometimes we really blow it and hurt someone we love.

Sometimes the person who loves you is the one who does the thing that really hurts you.

Not to sound harsh, but that’s just kind of part of being human. You screw up. You get screwed over. You act in your own self-interest. You get taken advantage of. You break someone’s heart. You get your heart broken. We experience these heartaches every day, on some level, as long as we live in this fragile world.

To a romantic idealist like me, this seems really hopeless. Makes me wanna run and hide. Or just give up altogether. But that’s not really an option. Not if I want to have any kind of real relationship while I’m alive. So, what do we do?

One thing I’m learning through marriage is...apologies go a long way. But man, sometimes it’s hard to swallow your pride and say you’re sorry. And it’s also hard to hear an “I’m sorry” when you’re still reeling from a painful blow.

But apologies and forgiveness are the only path we have to reconnecting after relational injury.

If you’ve wounded someone, your apology can be a soothing salve to that wound, sutures to a gaping hole that your words or actions created. Apologizing can be humbling, but it’s also critical to begin healing and restoring the connection between people.

But what happens when there is injury but no apology? Similar to our physical bodies, an untreated wound might heal on its own. But even minor wounds take time to heal and still might leave a scar. Major wounds usually need medical intervention—unless you enjoy permanent damage. If you love someone, tell them you know you screwed up. Tell them you’re sorry, that you regret what you did because of how it hurt them. Ask for their forgiveness.

But...what happens when there is apology but no forgiveness? To extend the metaphor: An untended wound festers, gets infected, sometimes turning into something so awful that amputation is required. Or, you know, the limb just falls off on its own. Good times.

When someone hurts you and you hang onto it—whether they’ve apologized or not—your unforgiveness toward that person turns into a festering sore, and at some point, that part of your heart is going to get inflamed with anger or maybe go numb in apathy or maybe fall off after long-held bitterness. The heart cannot heal without forgiveness. A relationship cannot heal without forgiveness. If there is no apology, forgiveness with some distance is sometimes the right path. Either way, forgiving the other person frees YOU to experience internal healing and emotional peace.

What is forgiveness? Well, it’s not trying to just forget the bad thing happened. That’s probably repression (and isn’t especially helpful). The best definition I’ve heard for forgiveness is that, essentially, it’s deciding that you aren’t going to make the person PAY for their wrongs. When you forgive, you make the choice that you won’t try to get them back for what they did, won’t demand payment from them, won’t keep them at arm’s length, won’t make them grovel at your feet.

And whenever I think about this idea, I can’t help but be reminded of God’s forgiveness of me. He is my Creator and loving Father, and I am His daughter. I’ve done selfish things that have wounded our relationship. Does He hold it against me? Does He make me pay? Short answer: Payment is required..but it’s already been paid.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:8-12)

The wrongs I’ve done demand justice. That need for justice has been met in Jesus’ death on the cross. Because He is the sinless Son of God, His death paid the price of ALL the selfish things all of us have ever done or will ever do. Only my death would have paid for my sins; Jesus took that penalty instead so that I could have life—and have it to the fullest. What an incredible gift.

Friends, does this make sense to you? If it doesn’t, leave me a comment. I’ll get back to you. :)

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Years ago, throughout my simple desk jobs, I sat in a standard slate gray cubicle with drab, slightly fuzzy walls. Cornered against my desktop PC, I would stare at the screen and type up instructions or edit proposals or organize spreadsheet data. In a few lucky jobs, I might have been assigned a cubicle with a window nearby, granting me moments of respite from the dreary surroundings of Cubeland.

At the best, I shared a large, four-desk megacube with three fun teammates, one of whom purchased a hideous and terrifying rubber tarantula, which would show up without warning in my desk drawer or coat sleeve. Though our team often had terribly long days/nights trying to finish projects, we also enjoyed each other’s company and shared plenty of laughs. At the worst, I was three floors below ground level, which I didn’t even know was possible, and in that sub-sub-basement, we hadn’t even the slightest hope of glimpsing the rays of sunshine that shone gleefully down the aisleways of the upstairs tenants.

No matter the office, I dreaded these walls. Devoid of color, music, soul, these walls offered me zero inspiration. But in my last job, before I left office life to raise children, I finally had a revelation.

Instead of decorating those stark walls with a handful of personally meaningful photos or a Cutest Puppies of the Year calendar, I could create a visual paradise around me!

I had been gifted a box of calendar pages featuring tropical getaways paired with lovely quotations about life and love. From this stack of 365 gorgeous views, I chose dozens of the very best ones and pinned them across the gray fuzz that had quite nearly sucked my soul dry.

What a beautiful view I had now! I could arrive at my cube and be greeted joyfully by the best of the best – Fiji, Jamaica, Tahiti, St. Lucia, Aruba… Clear turquoise waters, dangling palm leaves, shimmering shorelines, radiant sunsets.

Of course, what I hadn’t figured, now being surrounded by all this paradise, was how it might impact my work ethic. I would stare at an image, instantly lost in a dream of relaxation and bliss…

I close my eyes, and I’m lying in a hammock in the shade of a palm tree, the soft boom and quick rush of ocean waves crashing against the sand, mere yards away. My arm dangles leisurely over the side of the netting, some delicious tropical drink prepared to perfectly quench my thirst and tantalize my tastebuds. I hear seagulls crying out, echoing their excitement back and forth and back again. The air is warm, and an occasional breeze blows stray hairs across my face and sends the smell of sand and saltwater into the happiest part of my brain.

I open my eyes to catch a glimpse of the blue water and… Rats. I’m staring at a computer screen.

It’s the end of January. In Ohio. (Could you tell?)

And maybe it is because I’m living in landlocked Ohio, but the daydreams that whisk me away are nearly always set in a blissful tropical paradise. Where do your daydreams take you?

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This drawing was, many years ago now, the first of my four Christmas drawings, sent to friends and family as my "official Christmas card." (If you still have my old "Nativity" card, you'll notice I made a couple of changes - Mary has hair, and only Jesus has a halo. I think they're happy with my revisions.)

If you don't know the story, Joseph was a good Jewish man who was pledged to be married to Mary, a young Jewish virgin. In the book of Matthew, the first chapter, we read of his dilemma, followed by God's reassurance to him: "...but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'"

This was some big news. Joseph had probably lived a pretty ordinary life up to that point, and now he is told that his soon-to-be wife is pregnant with a baby, given by the Spirit of God, who will grow up to save the Jewish people from their sins. While his confusion likely remained, he was reassured that God was behind it and had a special plan for the child Joseph would raise.

Taking part in a Roman-issued census, Joseph and his betrothed, now nine months pregnant, traveled to his family's hometown, Bethlehem, near Jerusalem. Many other visitors were also in Bethlehem so that when they arrived, there was nowhere "nice" for them to stay. They ended up in a stranger's home, and Mary gave birth there. There were no cribs or cushiony beds for the little one, so the new parents laid their baby in a manger, a sort of feeding trough normally used for the animals.

christmas nativity

Here, Joseph and Mary pause to stare in wonder at their tiny baby, Jesus, prophesied to be the rescuer of their people. How did they feel? Excited? Amazed? Terrified? Did they just sort of laugh and stare at him, then back at each other, like we might, wondering what just happened and what they would do next? In my drawing, I tried to capture their reverence, as they raise their hands in a quiet prayer of thankfulness and supplication to Yahweh, their people's God, who had given them such a unique gift and weighty responsibility.

Little did they know that a special star shone above them, which would lead some Magi (the star experts of their time), carrying gifts for the young Jesus, to this humble birthplace. And next week, I'll share my Christmas drawing of a small group of lowly and unassuming shepherds, not too far away, who would see and hear an incredible announcement of this baby's birth.

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Christmas is coming. It's actually December! (Where did the year go?) While our thoughts during this season are often weighted down by making travel plans, purchasing all the perfect gifts, trying not to eat too many cookies, or worrying about how we'll get through the month without falling apart, the very first Christmas was, in fact, laden with quite a bit of emotional weight on a young woman named Mary.

In the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus Christ (for whom Christmas is named), a young couple, engaged but not yet married, learns some strange news about their family: They would be parents to an incredibly important man—the future king of their people.

Before Mary became pregnant, she was visited by a heavenly messenger, an angel, who told her what was to come:

From Luke 1:26-33 "...God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.'"

Mary and Joseph were not yet married, but she would become pregnant. But the baby would not be Joseph's. Instead, he would be "the Son of the Most High"—placed in her womb by God. (Joseph also got a special angelic message—in a dream—to reassure him that his fiancee's pregnancy was not shameful but had come from God. Read more in Matthew 1:18-25.)

christmas the angel and maryAs part of a Christmas series that I completed years ago and plan to share with you throughout December, I tried to draw this encounter Mary that had with the angel Gabriel. I don't really know what angels look like, though some are described in the Bible, but I know, from those same descriptions, that whenever someone gets a message from an angel, he or she is amazed, even terrified. This young woman, Mary, maybe only 13 or 14 years old, is visited by an angel with an incredible message: She will conceive a child and bear a son who will be…a king. A king? That's what the message seemed to say. She's stunned, perplexed, curious.

I can't imagine that she has the slightest idea of what that truly means, and perhaps even in her lifetime she never fully understood how her son was to reign over her people (Jacob's descendants, the Israelites). What a bizarre moment for her! But as "greatly troubled" as she was, she doesn't argue with the angel over his message. Instead, she answers, "Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word." As I drew her, I tried to communicate her awe, her innocence, her humility, and her willingness to step into this monumental responsibility, a more daunting life ahead of her than can be imagined.

It's hard to draw something of this nature without feeling like I have soooo much to explain. So, I'll close with these thoughts. As you begin your Christmas season, stop and slow down. What emotional pressures have you placed on yourself? What are you doing with the season? Who are you loving and how? My husband and I, challenged by the new traditions of other families we know, want to make our Christmases more about loving others by our actions rather than filling spaces with material things. For us, Christmas will (hopefully) be about celebrating the birth of Jesus by doing the things He came to do—serving and loving sacrificially and for His Father's glory.

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There is something about autumn. Something...I don't like.

Don't get me wrong; autumn is beautiful in its own right – the changing colors on the trees, the pleasantly cooler air, the comfy long-sleeved shirts I forgot about….

But it's also a time of winding down. An inaudible clock ticks toward certain death. All the green that I love will soon be gone, and I resent that about autumn.

I hear the wind blowing loudly through the leaves, crisper, drier than they were a mere week ago. I see flowers in my garden, limp and sad, their colors no longer beaming bravely under the summer sun. Patches of grass betray their still-green neighbors, fading and shrinking back from the chill in the air.

And even while I grieve these aesthetic losses, I lounge comfortably on my couch in the evening with the patio door open, a refreshing breeze drifting through the screen. The sun that only recently pounded down and broiled my dark hair shines, in this season, a bit more gently as I sit outside and watch my daughters play in the front yard. I don my favorite jeans again, welcoming the opportunity to skip shaving my legs without scaring anyone.sigh for yesterday

Yet as I count these autumnal blessings, I still feel a sense of dread. Because I know what's coming. I know the frigid fist of winter that will punch us all in the face in only a couple of short months. Open the coat closet and take inventory. The snow monster is coming.

Thus autumn is tainted for me. I want to like it – there are some truly lovely reasons to do so – but I don't. What lies ahead fills my soul with such antagonism, such displeasure, that this otherwise delightful season is all but rotten for me. I wish it were still spring. Flowers budding, new life all around me.

"Sigh for Yesterday" holds a bit of this feeling in it. "Yesterday" is springtime, summer, freedom. It is something I had, ever so briefly, and forgot to enjoy as much as I meant to.

It actually reminds me of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy. This bridge, which crossed over one of the many waterways in the city, was among the last few steps a prisoner would take as he was escorted to life imprisonment. The bridge's windows gave the prisoner a final opportunity to look outside – a final glimpse at the freedom he forfeited, the life he could no longer live.

This piece is fraught with that longing, nostalgia, sorrow, regret, bitterness.... It bears the weight of a loss, a goodbye, a finality, no going back. Winter is coming, and I can't do a thing about it. Can I enjoy the joys of this season this time around? I don't know. I'll try.

What draws a sigh from your lips whenever it comes to mind? What is your yesterday?

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"When the storm is raging all around me, You are the peace that calms my troubled sea." A favorite band of mine, Leeland, sang these words, words that echo in my mind this week as I feel anxious for some unknown reason.

In the fifth chapter of Galatians, we read that peace, true peace, is a fruit of God's Spirit. So, as I was pondering my anxiety this week, I was also feeling thankful that the peace I have isn't a feeling that comes and goes with my shifting mood.

Peace is often thought of as a pleasant feeling of contentment in the midst of a worry-free life. However, the real meaning of peace goes deeper – a running theme in my series on the Fruits of the Spirit! Peace is, I think, really about TWO things. First, it's the soul-deep knowledge that God sees everything that happens and can use every situation for good (Romans 8:28). He's not oblivious to our troubles; rather, He cares when we face daily struggles and walks beside us, through those hard times, if we invite Him.peace

Second, peace is the elimination of a conflict. Specifically, our conflict with God – our dark hearts versus His perfection – is eliminated whenever we decide to follow the path He has laid out for us instead of following whatever path satisfies what we want out of life. Despite the selfishness that resides in each of us, which put a gaping chasm between us and God, we can have that relationship restored by believing that Jesus, the Son of God, paid the price for all the wrong things we've done. Romans 5:1 gives us this promise of peace: "Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us."

In my drawing of "Peace," rain falls all around him, and whether the drops falling are a welcome spring rain or a frightening thunderstorm, he has peace because his peace is not a feeling but a status – a fact of God's forgiveness and removal of the conflict that was once there.

Galatians 5:22-23 – "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

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In honor of all those who have loved a child or loved a mother... May your Mother's Day be beautiful.

This piece is actually a slight revision of one I drew a full decade before I had children. In fact, I hadn't even met my husband yet! Part of my Christmas series, the mother in the original drawing is Mary, and in her arms she holds the infant Jesus. I realized later that by erasing the heavenly halo, this drawing seemed as accurate a portrayal of any mother with her newborn child.

Of course, as a mother now and having just borne our third child a mere week ago, I feel like I can interpret this one with so much more clarity. Oh, the awe, the reverence, the wonder. She is utterly captivated by this tiny, precious being she cradles in her arms. "How is it possible that this was inside my own body? Look how small, how helpless she is! What kind of mother will I be? What kind of child will she become? Wow, she's so much quieter when she's asleep!"

mother and childMaybe the mother also feels protective, recognizing the often-scary world into which her child has been born. Maybe she's terribly fearful, feeling like she has no clue what she's doing or that she might not have the support she needs to be a parent.

Becoming a mother has changed me in so many ways. In my love for my children, I'm challenged daily (even hourly) to give up what I wanted my day to be like and, instead, to give and give and give to my girls so that they can be strong and well nourished – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This self-sacrifice is immeasurably difficult, and many days I fail at it, but it has grown me and continues to grow me in ways I could never have achieved on my own.

That said, considering how many days I get the opportunity to practice sacrificial love, you'd think I'd be better at it by now. Unfortunately, that's not the case. I'm still selfish, irritable, and easily frustrated more days than not. But I do find inspiration and encouragement toward this sort of maternal and sacrificial love from a few passages in the Bible.

One passage in particular is from the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, often called "the Love Chapter." Verse 7 says, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." A parent who loves a child knows this kind of love. I've witnessed both mothers and fathers demonstrate a love beyond any logic or reason, particularly when a situation with a child seemed terribly hopeless and utterly un-endurable. Love fills that parent with strength to persevere. It's astounding.

The mother of the tiny baby will likely see many of these sorts of challenges. Her love will be tested, and in this way it will be cultivated. Her love will grow in its capacity, in its ability, in its depth. A great challenge indeed.

But...is this perhaps why we become parents? Without these challenges, we might remain in a static posture, with a rather limited view toward life. Yes, parenthood is one of those strange gifts, where you couldn't see what the gift was until many years later.

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Much like love, joy has a pretty shallow definition within our culture. In essence, "joy" is just a really happy feeling. You feel joy when you open a great birthday or Christmas present, or when you test-drive a really fast car, or when you win a big cash prize in the lottery.

But what does the Bible teach us about joy? Since this series is biblically based, we want to know the biblical meaning of this word.

It's not that joy can't ever be a happy feeling. In the New Testament, written after Jesus walked the earth, many of the letters written to the small churches of that time describe the "joy" they felt from seeing and being loved by each other. Other joy described in the Bible arises from trusting and believing God or from watching a person choose to follow Jesus. Joy might be part of a person's expression of worship – how they feel when they witness God's greatness and splendor – spoken of often in the Psalms, a book filled with descriptions of relating to God.

But the Bible also shows us that we can have this deep sense of joy even when things aren't going well. A feeling of "happiness" is based on our (rather shifty) circumstances being positive, but Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus "for the joy set before him endured the cross.…" He experienced a terrible and extreme pain, but He endured it because He knew there was immeasurable good to come of it – the reconciliation of humanity to their Creator. The same is true in James 1, where believers are told to "consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." Knowing that spiritual rewards follow challenging times can fill you with joy now, even in the midst of those hard times.

joyThe point seems to be that joy is based on something bigger, something deeper, something lasting – joy is solidified in the object of our faith. Jesus told His followers that He came to make their joy complete (through His reconciling work on the cross), which implies that He is the only one who can bring true, lasting joy. John 16:22 confirms that "no one will take away your joy." If it doesn't settle deep into your soul (and stay there), it's probably better labeled as happiness.

In my drawing, the girl has her arms raised, her hands lifted up. She sees that her joy has come to her from outside and above herself. There is a lightness and an exuberance. Though we don't know what's given her this joy, we know that it has filled her thoroughly!

Finally, I hope you're encouraged by Romans 15:13 – "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him…."

Galatians 5:22-23 – "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

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The world we live in presents to us so many ways to define the word "love." Most of them, unfortunately, are pretty self-serving. Whether it be the euphoric feeling experienced whenever the other person is nearby or the soft and reassuring feeling of safety and contentment, the expectation is that "love" feels good…pretty much all the time. And when that sweet and satisfying feeling fades – or when the other person no longer deserves your love – you can, quite justifiably, walk away.

In the Bible, however (which is the foundation for my "Fruits of the Spirit" series), love isn't centered around feeling good. Instead, real love is sacrifice, servanthood, and selflessness.

John 15:13 tells us that great love sacrifices its own desires for the benefit of another person – and that that act of sacrificial love will cost you something. 1 Corinthians 13:8 tells us that, among other things, "love never fails." That means real love keeps serving and giving to others even when it's exhausted. 1 Peter 4:8 reminds us that "love covers a multitude of sins." True love makes the hard choice to forgive even when it has been wronged.

loveThe figures in my drawing of "Love" are, first of all, on their knees. This is a posture of humility, of putting away one's ego, of choosing to shift the focus away from self. Second, they have their hands extended toward one another. They are giving, helping, and serving the other, rather than taking or demanding. 

In my life now, as a wife and a mother, I'm finding there have never before been greater challenges to my definition, understanding, and practice of love. I have to give up "rights" that I was certain were mine in order to love them more sacrificially. I am physically and emotionally spent, yet love persuades me to keep giving of myself in order to love them for a few more hours of the day. They push my buttons, annoy or irritate me, or don't do what they promised to do, and love compels me to forgive, to let go of the offense and think of them before myself.

Or…I push their buttons, I snap irritably when I'm tired, I create unreasonable expectations, I break my promises, or I wound them in a deeper way than I can even hope to repair. And instead of walking away, they choose to forgive me in a beautiful example of true love.  

My hope is that the next time you hear the word "love," the figures in this drawing will come to mind – and that as you hunger for a deeper love in your own life, you'll begin looking for ways to give it to someone else instead of just receiving it for yourself.

Galatians 5:22-23 – "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

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Many, many people live under the entangling oppression of some kind of addiction. For some, it is quite tangible - a food, a drink, a drug. For others, it is still visible but, not being so physical, it is perhaps harder to withhold – the riveting high of a tougher workout, the heart-wrenching drama of an unhealthy relationship, the excitement of a possible win in gambling or shopping, the exhilarating sting of another tattoo, the power or fame of a high position in some industry, the satisfaction of defeating a new video game, the intrigue and connection of a random sexual encounter, the soul-numbing noise that drowns out unwelcome thoughts, and the list goes on...eternally. As many things as there are in the world to enjoy on a healthy level, human beings can instead become entangled in them to some level of extreme.

But most of us know this already. If I had to guess, I'd bet nearly everyone is addicted to something. Think you're immune? Just give it a minute. What is that thing you can't live without? The thing that gets you really revved? Excites you at the mere thought of it? Enthralls you mentally, physically, or emotionally? Absorbs your days and even your nights?

If nothing comes to mind, you are quite a healthy individual, and maybe you won't relate to this post at all. Sorry about that, but I'm glad you don't have to face the fight so many others do.

I, on the other hand, was trapped. For a long time. Unless you know me well, you probably wouldn't know of my addiction. And to keep this post as broadly readable as I can, I'll save you the detailed explanation.

The point is, I was stuck, and I knew it. And I couldn't get free. Counseling, journaling, vows and resolutions, song writing, poetry writing, buckets of tears, and apologetic prayers...none even came close to setting me free.

Along this heart-wrenching journey, I drew this piece – "Enslaved." She is a prisoner, chained painfully and, having experienced yet another personal failure, she aches deeply for freedom. She reaches for it, grasps at it, but it is always so far out of reach. Perhaps a light filters through a distant window, a subtly torturous reminder that freedom is out there...but only others get to live in it. For her, there seems to be no hope. She is a slave. A captive.

And her own choices led her there.

And this was the most painful part. No one else made me an addict. I had traveled a steady path layered with fine threads that I barely saw. But over time these threads wound around my body, mind, and heart, and I didn't know how to free myself. Guilt suffocated me like a heavy blanket, and shame hid me away from those who might otherwise help guide me.

But then something happened. It wasn't instant, but I was met by a Savior. One night in the darkness of my room, I cried out to God, and, to my true surprise, I heard Him answer. Fearful and certain of His utter rejection of me as His failed creation, He told me instead, "I wanted to redeem you. I have something better for you."

came to my rescueIn that moment, I heard the voice of love. Of mercy. Of forgiveness. Of sacrifice. His sacrifice. I could never redeem myself, but He could, and He did. He set me free from the eternal consequences of my selfish and broken actions, which I had done against Him. Why did He forgive me? Because He loves me, and He wanted to. He simply wanted to give me something better. He needed no other reasons.

God gave me this second piece, "Came to My Rescue," as a reminder that I didn't set myself free but was rescued by a love stronger than my chains.

The road to freedom would not be a quick one, but it was paved with His acceptance of me even as I stumbled along the way.

Are you in chains? Bound by your past or even your present mistakes and addictions? Do you need to be set free? There is a love that can set you free even as it did me. You can't do it yourself. But if you're willing to swallow your pride and be humble enough to acknowledge your inability to produce your own freedom, He will free you.

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." – John 8:36

"Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses." – Acts 13:38-39

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Hollow

My first two blog posts – "Expectations" and "Filled with Wonder" – were of a generally joyous, grateful nature, indicative of many of the positive feelings I've had lately about my growing family. But I know, and you know, life isn't always like that.

There are times when life is hard, dark even. Times when we look back and wonder why we are on the path we are. Times we look around us and see that choices we've made have put us in a bad place. It has been in the midst of many of these bleak times that my heavy emotions longed for a creative outlet – and found one in song, poetry, or art.

"Hollow" was my second line drawing, fifteen years ago, in the autumn of 1999. As I look back at that handwritten date in my sketchbook, I can remember a bit of where I was...and why I was feeling "hollow." My emotional pursuits at the time hadn't fulfilled me the way I had hoped. Friendships were few and not especially meaningful. My relationship with God was barely existent, a faint shadow in my peripheral view. I felt empty, my soul vacant and void.

You can see this in the posture of the figure. She sits on the ground, shoulders hunched, lacking the energy or motivation to dance or run or even stand with the rest of the happy world. Her gaze is pulled downward as she reflects on her circumstances, her heart filled only with a melancholy emotion – perhaps sadness, or guilt, or shame, or despair. Alone, she hugs her arms around her knees as though her own embrace might suffice in comforting her.

Traces of these feelings still haunt me from time to time, as my circumstances change to match decisions I've made or a path I've taken. And I think I should expect that. Our emotions are really a gift, an extremely useful indicator of what is happening to us, around us, or within us. While I may (and usually do) regret actions that result in emotions like those depicted in this piece, I don't resent the emotions themselves. The emotions help to show me that something is amiss. Which I usually already know....

Despite the shift in the mood of my blog, I do hope you've enjoyed reading my thoughts surrounding this piece. There are so many layers to human beings. I know you are multi-layered as well, and I wonder if you have, in one of those layers, related personally to what I've shared here. What are your thoughts on the breadth and depth of our emotional capacity? Is it a gift? A burden? A bit of both?

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