Canvas

Have I ever mentioned that my father is a painter? 
He is, and he is incredibly talented. He is also a phenomenal writer, and I could go on and on about awards and things, but the bottom line is that he is just a man who has been gifted in many areas. I did not inherit the art gene (as evidenced by Abby’s recent comment after she requested I draw her a bird, and then earnestly asked why I had drawn a dinosaur instead), but my sister definitely did. She is so creative, and it just spills out of her effortlessly. In fact, she has her own business where she hand-stretches canvases, and then primes them and all kinds of other things I don’t understand because I specialize in Dino-birds.
About two or three years ago, my father pulled out an old easel and decided that after a long respite, he was going to start painting again. He bought all of the paints, the canvases, the whole bit.  He read for hours about theories on color and different approaches to painting, and all the while the canvas sat blank on the easel. I teased him about it, asking when he was actually going to do something instead of reading about how to do it
A few nights ago, the Lord laid the word canvas on my heart, and He beckoned me to be still while He spoke. I knew He was up to something, and of course I had to take others along for the ride, so I called my dad at about 9:00 pm and I asked him if I could come over and take some pictures.  My dad knows that I am weird, so he wasn’t surprised, and luckily we are separated by about 20 houses, so my weirdness only comes with a 2 minute drive. 
We talked a little and I told him that I was going to write a post and I wasn’t really sure what it was going to be about but that I would like to take some shots of his easel and some other things. He helped me move them around while we talked about life and I ended up staying a few hours, just talking to him and my mom about what I was going through anticipating Audrey’s birthday.  

One of the most common questions people ask me is how I got where I am with the Lord- how it is that I have this relationship with Him, and how they can do the same. I always hesitate to respond, not only because I don’t see myself as the ideal Christian (do any of us?), but also because I needed for the words to be God-breathed. 
I have asked the Lord for about a year and a half how to address this question on my blog and He hasn’t given me the words. He is urging my fingers to move, and so my prayer is that these words will speak to you wherever you are tonight…
Several years ago I decided that I wanted to get serious about my walk with the Lord. I wanted depth and conviction. I wanted real and tangible… I think, in essence, I wanted a surefire plan on how to do this thing called Christianity.

Sound familiar?
I decided I would start reading books that would teach me how to fall in love with God, and began with a beautiful book by Jeanne Guyon called Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ. I have comical memories of beginning this book, because the entire point of it is getting to a place where you can really have communion with the Lord, and a lot of that has to do with training your mind to be still, which I quickly realized is, umm, not my strong point. 
I was reading the book in the bathtub with the TV on in the bedroom while I painted my nails. Todd walked in and asked me what I was reading and I started giggling because it was kind of absurd to be multitasking while reading a book on being still. I came to love the book, and it’s one of my all time favorites. After I finished, I dug into about 4 dozen more. It became insatiable-this search for how to love Him, how to trust Him, how to live my life for Him. I would ask people how they did it, and I would go to concerts and feel moved, but still not “get it.” I did everything I could think of to “trigger” the relationship.
When so many people started asking me the same question, I didn’t know how to answer. It isn’t my nature to give giant, complicated Biblical spiels or to make myself seem higher in understanding than others (quite simply, because that is not the way I see it at all).  What I did want, desperately, was a way to communicate to you all how I got here, because I love Who He is to me. But I wanted something concrete because that’s the way my brain works (yeah- broken pitcher, scarlet cord, clay, papyrus, hem, scarf, threshing floor….I think I may have picked up a theme in my devotional-style writings :) ). 
I like tangible things that I can wrap my arms and my head around, and unfortunately, knowing Him and believing in Him don’t really fall into these categories, so how exactly do you tell others to “Just dig in and trust?”
In the days that have passed since I went to my dad’s house, I have been meditating on what the Lord is revealing to me about how I first sought Him. I read every book (minus the Bible, mind you) on “knowing God.”
I was extremely well-versed in theory, but completely lacking in practice.

And to be honest, there was actually great appeal in leaving the canvas blank.  I could stare at it and imagine the masterpiece, without the opportunity to do it all wrong, or worse yet, find that the whole thing wasn’t even real.

As I have let these thoughts rattle around in my brain, I realized that for a long, long time, I liked the idea of Him much more than the real Him. Madame Guyon and many, many others told me how they loved Him, and for awhile that was as good, if not better, as me doing it myself. No risk. I could read about missionaries and see this amazing Savior, but not really have to invest in relationship with Him. 
I just couldn’t take the chance. 
I loved Him from afar, through others. What beautiful potential….I would think….
So as the books piled up, the canvas remained blank.
I realized that the way I had teased my dad was exactly what God was trying to teach me about myself…I was far more comfortable reading than I was “painting.”
I’m not sure of the day or even what led to it, but one day I laid down all the beautiful words that people had given me and I let Him speak. 
And I heard Him. 
The Bible can be an intimidating, big, tissue-ish paged book to many, but when I opened it, I asked for Him to help it come alive for me and it didn’t take long. I realized as I read through Genesis that what I had thought would be boring and dry was actually fascinating, and filled my mind with the kind of images that no other book could. 
And so in a sense, I began to sketch.
Slowly, carefully, and with many eraser marks, the form of my love for the Lord began to take shape, and as I grew in confidence, I pulled out dusty oil paints that allowed me to brighten it, and I started taking the time to fill in details here and there. On occasion, I have taken a step back from the easel and I have seen things I never knew I could paint. He has given me great courage in the darkest of nights, and intense joy in the least likely of places. 
So how do I answer all of those emails, piled in an inbox, asking me how to get here. I guess He just told me…and I want to tell you.
Disregard the manuals and pick up the brush.
As we walked out of his office, the Lord spoke through my dad. 
Neither he (nor I) knew that what He was about to say would speak truth straight to my heart.
“You know what I’m thinking of doing, Angela? I’m thinking of just putting up a blank canvas and just kind of going crazy, you know? Not have a plan for how it’s going to turn out, but just get my brushes out and just do it.” 
He looked hesitant for a moment, because it’s out of character for him to approach life that way, just as it is for me. I want a good idea of where it’s all going. I waited as he thought for another second.
“I really think I’m going to do that.”
I smiled.
“I think you should, dad. I really do. It would be great for you.” I love this precious man because of exactly who he is and has always been. Loving, steady, dependable, trustworthy, and honest to goodness, one of the smartest people I know. I watched him walk down the hallway, his feet turning out the way they always have, and I wanted to cry because I have a father who loves me in a way that makes it easier to believe the way that God loves me. Thank you, dad. You have inspired me since I was a child to do what I am doing right this second, believing I could when I wouldn’t dream of it.
I am sitting in front of a computer screen that I have spent most of my life leaving blank, because I didn’t think that I was really good enough to be a writer. I think about all of the canvases in my days that I have left untouched for fear of failure. Do you have any of those? The ones that you leave in “potential-land” because you can’t bear to have them go wrong?
I think about the greatest masterpiece of all- the God I almost missed because I was so worried about the details. And all He wanted was a daughter who loved Him and wanted to bring Him glory.
So back to the question…how do you get there? 
You won’t find Him in a 17th century book, nor will He ever be truly found on this (or any other) blog. He isn’t found in a great sermon, or even a haunting worship song.  Not even in a Beth Moore study (although she can lead you right up to His throne, it is only you who can choose to bow down to Him).
It pains me to say that even (gulp) the music of David Crowder in and of itself cannot give you the peace that comes from one, solitary moment, when you hand your life over to Him. 
These things can be amazing conduits that allow us to experience Him, and can help us to grow in our faith-but they cannot ever replace the one True God.
You will find Him if you seek Him-He promises us that. 
Tonight, as my eyes tempt me to rest, my heart is beating quickly and with great purpose, because I know Who He could be to you, and I am filled with passion for guiding you to Him.  
Talk to Him, even if it feels crazy. 
Open the Bible and read. Ask Him to reveal Himself in the pages (maybe not Leviticus right away. That one can wait for a little while….)
Listen for His voice.
Watch for the things He is trying to show you.
Dedicate yourself to seeking, and you will soon be swept off your feet by the greatest pursuer of all time.
Even if your hands tremble, pick up the brush and see what He has for you… 
Have I mentioned that my Father is a great painter?
Well, He is.
I am praying that He speaks truth to your heart; the truth that no human mouth can convey, and no hands can quite capture in writing. I am praying that He makes Himself known to you, and that you fall deeply in love with Him. Head over heels, turn over your life and trust Him love. The kind that urges you to live with holy abandon.
One simple suggestion, though.
Don’t bother doing your nails.
They’ll just get messy with paint anyway.
Blessings and love,
Angie
P.S. In anticipation of you asking, yes, those color paintings were done by my dad several years ago. The sketch of a baby’s face was going to be Sarah Kate, and sat like this for months. When we received Audrey’s diagnosis, it was too hard for him to continue, and so it hasn’t changed. There is something beautiful about it just the way it is, because it reminds us that there are stages to this process…we will get there. 
We will get there. 

So Much

***update***

First on the list, there was a misunderstanding about the comment that was left, and the scarf lady may still be with us!!!!! It was written by a sweet lady who had lost a “scarf lady” of her own, but not specifically the one I was speaking of…..I am praying God will allow me, somehow, to find out where this sweet woman is, and I have a plan. I will keep you all posted when I find out anything about Ellie’s scarf lady, so we can be in prayer about her, wherever she is. I pray she is still out there somewhere, and I would love to connect with her…

ALSO. Last night was bad. Todd was tormented all night and neither of us slept at all. We both feel so oppressed and we are praying our way through life minute by minute. I could hear his hushed voice all through the night, whispering scripture, praying over our house, our children…

When I woke up this morning I was overwhelmed at the number of comments I had, and the number of people who had been praying for me. That was enough to bring me to tears, but when I opened my email, I literally collapsed onto my keyboard. I had about 100 emails from people who were trying to help me find the Bible. ME? WHO AM I that I should deserve this love???? I am humbled beyond words, and in that moment, the Lord brought a visual to me of the way we are to surround each other, pray for one another, and hold each others arms up when we are too weak to do so.

The bottom line is that THE BIBLE HAS BEEN FOUND. After a sweet reader called several Barnes and Noble stores in SEVERAL states, she tracked down ONE. And it is on its way to me:)

I am more than humbled. I pray that all of you all of you who took the time to try and help me will be blessed a thousand times in return….thank you.

(original post follows)

There is so much on my heart tonight, and I was praying I would have the strength to share some of it with you. My body and mind are exhausted, and the Lord is beckoning me to just be still and sit in His presence instead.

I will tell you that I have a lot of things on my mind and I so desire your prayers for wisdom in my own life as I deal with some very challenging situations that are so, so close to home.
We aren’t always prepared for the hailstorms, are we? Neither the drizzle, I suppose, but the past few weeks have been, well, torrential.
I really am okay, so please don’t be alarmed or worried. I love that I have a body of readers that start to write me emails when I haven’t posted in awhile to make sure I am alright. There are people around me who have needed me in ways I cannot go into here, and that has been my priority for the past few weeks. It is not over, friends, and we all need your prayers.
With that said, I feel (and I have said this before, and NEVER say it lightly) that I am under serious spiritual attack from the enemy. I will not give him the power he desires to have in my life, and yet there are days I feel sapped from the battle.
One of the things that frustrates me (and you may think this is silly) is that I lost my favorite Bible. I mentioned it before but I really thought I would find it. Well, I haven’t, and there are reasons that God gave me that exact Bible when He did, and they are related to some of the issues I am up against now. I know this sounds like a jumbled mess, but here is what I am getting to. This Bible appears to no longer be available. Here is the link to Amazon which shows the Bible, as well as the ISBN number, which is 031093978X. It comes in hardback and faux-leather, and I am looking for the leather…
I have tried to order it from several sites that say they have it, and then a few days later I get an email saying that they are sorry but they do not have it in stock and don’t know when they will. It was published by Zondervan and was limited edition, so I don’t know that anyone will be getting copies again.
In the event that you read this blog and you spot one of these, or you are the owner of a bookstore that has one, PLEASE leave me your information and I will order it right away. I am heartbroken, and I hate to say that because I know I could just buy another one, but as you well know by now about me…..there is a story behind this particular one and I would be so excited to have another. AND if I get a bunch of people who write me to tell me they have them, I will list them here so that others can buy it as well :)
And then if I could just get the David Crowder Band to re-record “All I Can Say,” I’ll be in decent shape. And I will have about 30 less emails to answer every day :) We need to start a campaign, I think. Based on the number of emails I have gotten about that song, the CD would be double platinum by now. David, if you are reading, please, do us all a favor. We need the song.
On some heavier notes, if you read through the comments on my last post (as I’m sure you all do, right?….), you would have seen a message from a sweet woman mentioning that the “scarf lady” has gone to be with the Lord. I believe she passed away in October, and when I read those words I cried as if I had known her all my life. I don’t know why, but I guess she was just someone the Lord allowed to fill a pocket of my heart, and secretly, I had been praying I would see a comment from her. It occurred to me shortly after that that she is now one of the only people I know who has met all four of my daughters…what a humbling and heart-shattering thought.
Finally, please be in prayer for the Sponberg’s.
If you that have read my blog for awhile, you may have noticed that today would have been my nephew Luke’s first birthday.
We went to the cemetery with Greg, Nicol, Summer, and Greg’s parents (visiting from Maine) and talked about who Luke was. We prayed over him and cried, and we had moments of just plain “no words for this” silence.
I am disappointed that there is a little boy who should be toddling around and learning to talk, and the best we can do is sit by his grave and talk about what could have been.
Todd said to me later this evening that I seemed angry, and maybe I am, but more than that, I am disappointed. I don’t have the whole God thing figured out (although I plan to spend a lot of time with Melissa in India, so I should have most of it covered by the flight home).
I know Whom I serve, and I know He knows my heart. Tonight, I am broken over the loss of a candle that didn’t get to be blown out and a song he will never hear us sing to him. I know he is in a better place, and I believe it, but it hurts so deeply I don’t even know how to articulate it.
I guess on many fronts in my life, I just feel weighed down with disappointment.
I just want to be honest with you all, because it doesn’t always get tied up with a neat little bow when you follow the Messiah. I wish it did, but it isn’t part of the deal.
What we can do is to pray, and to beseech the Lord to come to be with those who are in need and those who are hurting tonight.
If you would like to comment directly to Greg and Nicol, or have any encouraging verses or prayers for them, feel free to visit their blog and leave your thoughts. I know how much we treasure the fact that people take the time to share in our suffering.
Peace be with you all tonight, and I will be back soon….in the meantime, thank you for being such a sweet family to us as we face the next several months. There are milestones that we have dreaded facing, and yet somehow, He has brought us here, and no doubt, will bring us through.
With love and deepest appreciation,
Angie

The Sea and the Scarf

This photograph was taken on a “glass-bottom” excursion trip that was part of our cruise with Kathy Triccoli last year.  As a reminder, at this point I was still pregnant with Audrey, and we knew her diagnosis. I was terrified to go on the cruise because I can become overwhelmed when I feel like everyone is looking at me and talking about me. I am in a bathing suit, obviously pregnant, and there is no way around the fact that I am carrying a baby that will soon go to be with the Lord.  It was actually a much nicer time than I had gotten myself all worried about, and people were very kind to me.  Women would just sit by me at the pool and ask about the book I was reading, and then eventually transition into a story about loss in their own lives.
It has been about a year since that trip, and the other day I was reminded of one of my father-in-law’s favorite stories to tell about my kids.  This particular story involves my sweet Ellie (pictured on the little boat a few minutes before this story took place). She was mesmerized by the way you could see the “fish” swimming below us (let me clarify that “seaweed” and “fish” are seen as equally exciting to a preschooler who didn’t just get robbed by the concierge). It was a rusty, nasty, fishing boat and the “director” decided it would be more productive to flirt with the captain, so we were left to explore the wonders of rip-off-ville by ourselves. 
I would have been even more mad if my daughter hadn’t said something that I carry with me every day of my life.  
I may have mentioned in earlier post (probably about this time last year) that there was a woman aboard the ship who was battling cancer.  She usually wore some kind of hat or scarf, and for formal events she donned a beautiful wig, but the girls were concerned when they saw her at the pool one day and asked me what was wrong.
I told them that she had something called “cancer,” and that we needed to pray for her because it makes her very sick, and the medicine she was taking made all of her hair fall out.  They stared at me in confusion, and I wanted to tell them that everything was going to be fine, but that would have been a lie.  I didn’t know enough of her story to say what was going to happen, only that we should pray for the woman with the scarves. And every night, in earnest, we sat on our little cruise ship bed and talked about our prayers, and the “special scarf lady” made her way into their requests. I can’t tell you that they fully understood what might happen to her, but they were lifting her up as if they did.
I should preface this next part of the story by saying that Abby and Ellie don’t let people into their world very easily. They have each other and they have us, and that’s about all they need. We had to take them out of ballet because they were sleepless over all of the “people watching them through the glass.”  They love to dance, and if you came to the concert this weekend, you got to witness that firsthand…they love music and feel so free to do it, but meeting people face to face, one on one? Different story. 
If you meet them, they will most likely hide behind me and stare at the ground while Kate butts in front of me, introduces herself and proceeds to ask you to pick her up and carry her around like you’re a horsey, yelling “GIDDY UP!!!!” until you have reached sufficient canter. 
Todd and I have an interesting combination of genes.
Anywhoo.
All that to say, Abby and Ellie aren’t fond of strangers.
So when we boarded the little excursion boat and saw the scarf lady, I knew they were going to be nervous. 
So guess where Ellie sidles up? You guessed it.
Right in between her grandfather (Tata-Todd’s dad) and the “scarf lady.”
I almost passed out.
But then again, there was the whole gasoline explosion smell thing, so there were other contributing factors to my delirium.
The boat was so loud, and I was in so much agony over the choppy waves and the smell that I laid down for most of it, but I did manage to take a few photos.  I couldn’t hear the conversation over the loud motor (which we were pretty much sitting on..seriously), but at one point I saw Ellie talking to the woman and I was mesmerized by the look in her eyes. It reminded me of myself, and it was a side I had never seen in her before.
She wasn’t intimidated.
She wanted to connect with her. 
And in that little 5 year old face, I didn’t see panic or even sadness, but just a simple empathy that belied her age. I watched them pointing at things and talking about what they were seeing, but I couldn’t make out their words. At one point, Ellie pointed at her scarf, and I found out later that she told her she knew why she wore it, and that we had been praying for her.  I can’t say for sure, but I have a feeling that if we could be this bold as adults, the world would be a different place. 
In Beth Moore’s study, Esther, she talks about the way we want to separate ourselves from those who are in pain, because we fear it may overtake us as well. It is human nature to want to fix things, and I know it because I am the worst of all. I hate seeing people suffer, and will do anything to make it go away. 
The problem is that sometimes you can’t. And I know, because  I have singlehandedly eaten three boxes of Tagalongs in the past week preparing to sign paperwork to dig up my daughters grave. And everywhere I go, those dang Girl Scouts pop up. I think they’re following me. I might need to put a call into someone about that….
(derailed, back to the point…)
Many, many well meaning people made comments to me about how much I had to be grateful for, despite the fact that I had a dying baby in my stomach.  
It was a nice way of saying, “I like your scarf, but I don’t really want to know what’s under it.”
As the ride continued, Ellie and the scarf lady kept talking. I still didn’t know what all they were talking about, but at one point I saw Ellie get very serious and start pointing at all of the things around. She would point, and then look at the lady as if making sure she understood. Then, she would do the same, this time with her eyes on the sky or the coastline. The woman was nodding and looking at her with love.
Ellie paused for a long while, silently staring out at the seemingly endless waters, and then turned to face her sweet friend. I couldn’t hear what she said, but the woman and my father in law both threw their heads back in laughter. I was really curious about what had transpired because it was so out of character, but I was even more concerned that I was going to vomit on the woman next to me, so I buried my head for the rest of the trip.
When we got off the boat on this little island, I asked my father in law what Ellie had been saying. This is as close to verbatim as I can remember from what he said.
Ellie started by telling the woman that she liked her with her hair or without it, and that she thought her scarves were pretty. She proceeded to ask her if she knew that God was a big God who could do big things.  The woman nodded sweetly.
Ellie then started pointing at the waves and she said, “See? God’s hands made those waves.”
Then, she looked up at the sky and told the woman, “God made the blue sky; the huge blue sky and all of the birds and clouds.”
She proceeded to inform her that God’s hands made all of the sand on the shore, and all of the fish (that we were supposed to see, but did not….bitter, party of 1, please.) Hypothetically, though, there were fish, and He did, indeed make them.
This continued for some time, and then there was the pause.
I asked my father in law what she had said that had made them laugh so hard, and he said that she had turned to the woman and said, “I think He did make all of these things, but I don’t think He can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
I laughed and kissed her wet, sandy head and we headed off for the beach. I told her that I was proud of her for making a new friend, and she smiled as she responded, “Yeah, she thought I was funny.”
As I sat and watched them play in the water, I thought more and more about what she said, and to be honest, it has become a very profound part of my journey with God in the last year.
Because I have no doubt that His hands, His HUGE hands make the sky and the earth and the planets and the stars and so on and so on. 
But is it possible that those same hands can wrap themselves around something as small as a knife? Something so small as my day to day needs? My hurts? My fears and doubts? The situations that seem like nothing to those around me but keep me awake at night?
He can make the waters part. No problem. That makes sense to me. BIG hands. Got it.
He can resurrect His dead Son from a cross. That sounds about right- He is God after all. Logical.
But can He wrap those same hands around the “little things?” 
The divorce papers that I have seen filed to a friend in the past few weeks? The fact that I have close friends who don’t know how they are going to pay their bills? The emails I get everyday asking me to pray about sick family members, dying babies, husbands at war…
I don’t know that she had any idea what she was saying, but in essence, I believe that the Holy Spirit allowed her to minister to a stranger from someplace that we, as Christians, are afraid to enter into.
It is the place where it’s easier to talk about the sand than the cancer
It’s easier to talk about the glory of His great hands than the face that you have no hair and no guarantees in this life.
Are there places in your life where you think, “God wouldn’t care about this. He’s got too much on His plate to try and figure out how to help me through this day.”

May I be honest? Sometimes I do.
As much as I trust in Him, believe He is Who He says He is, and welcome the opportunity to praise Him, there are moments (like this week when I lost my favorite Bible), that I think might just have fallen off His radar because He was trying to, you know, save the world and all.
I feel like a tiny, tiny sandwich, and it is hard to picture His hands on the little, tiny knife.
I know, I know.
It isn’t Biblical, and it isn’t true. I have dozens of scriptures that tell me that. 
Can I just say this, though? As someone who loves and trusts Him more that she could ever articulate?
It doesn’t always feel that way.

So instead of giving you the pretty Christian answer tonight (the one I know is backed by the Word of God), I am going to give you the human, Angie, the “I just signed papers to move my deceased daughter’s body today” answer.
It doesn’t always feel that way.

Where are you tonight, friends? What is it in your life that you can’t find Him in? I want you to know that there is nothing too small for Him to care about, and I am praying (for you and for me) that we open our eyes to the truth, and the next time we are faced with such an opportunity, I pray that we don’t shy away from entering in and asking what is under the scarf.
There is unspeakable beauty in the work of the Master’s hands, and I don’t want to miss a moment of it. I am praying the same for you-for His ever-present love to surround you, regardless of where you find yourself in the wee hours of this night. 
This is a weighty post, and I hope there is some part of it that resonated with you and, if nothing else, showed you that you are not alone.
Or, if you just came here for a good laugh (and to see that I am completely not exaggerating about my children), just see the photos that follow from the same trip I have been writing about…
God bless you all…and may the peace of God settle deep within you. Even in the little things.
Ang