The Great UP-cycler


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So there’s a notion that’s been bouncing around evangelical Christianity for a while that God is into recycling. I’m not talking cardboard here, I’m talking pasts. The idea is that God is able to redeem and use our pasts for His purposes when we put our trust in Him. While that is spot on, the idea of the “recycling” metaphor has always bothered me.  You see, when something is recycled, it’s generally destroyed. Paper is pulped. Plastics and metals are melted down. Though it’s always remade into something, the original item is lost. For example, I have a t-shirt that was made from plastic bottles. It looks like a regular cotton t-shirt, nary a bottle in sight. 🙂 It’s a nice shirt, but what constitutes the shirt is completely lost. And, in this case, that’s okay. (Can’t imagine walking around sporting a 6-pack of Dasani.) But the point is that at the end of the day, when something is recycled, it ceases to exist on its own in its original form.

In my experience, the same cannot be said for my past. God hasn’t pulped it. He has pulped the sinful part, if you will–the part that created the chasm between He and I that only Christ could bridge. Absolutely. And it won’t be recycled or reconstituted. It’s gone. But the rest of the experience is still there. The lessons learned. The memories. All there. Not pulped. Not reconstituted. In short, NOT recycled. However, they have been UP-cycled.

Up-cycling is taking something and making it better. Sometimes it is used for a different purpose, sometimes it is used for the original purpose but is more beautiful or more efficient. For example, a recycled jar will be crushed, melted down and made into some other glass object. An UP-cycled jar will become a candle holder you hang from a tree in your back yard to offer light on a cool summer evening. (Especially if you happen to be Martha Stewart.) A broken plate becomes jewelry, a cardboard box becomes a desk organizer or even a mini scrapbook album.  Yet, whatever the items become, they are never completely destroyed. Instead, what they were becomes integral to what they become.

When I think back over my life, there are many parts that make me wince a bit. Foolish choices. Dumb decisions. Words I can’t take back. Comments I can’t “un-hear.” There are parts, too, that I’d like to call back and celebrate a little more. It’s all there. And it’s all me. Every experience, good or bad, has shaped me and made me who I am. Now, who I am is not who I am becoming. But I don’t think God has any intention of recycling my past, because He has no intention of losing the “me” that’s been created and shaped through all those experiences. What He has done, and what He continues to do, is upcyle me. He’s making me into something better and more beautiful than I am. He’s taking those experiences and reframing them–it’s not about the sin anymore, that’s gone; it’s about the lesson learned. He’s allowing me to become both a student and a teacher. There are lessons I’m still learning and lessons I can now teach because I have learned them. He adds His fingerprints, His Spirit, His righteousness and takes me from being a jar containing garbage to a jar-turned-candle-holder giving off His light. The “me” at the core is still very much there, integral to the “me” I’m becoming. It’s upcycling. And He’s the greatest Upcycler in history. Just ask Joseph from the Old Testament or Paul from the New Testament. Ask Augustine of Hippo, or Martin Luther. Ask John Newton or GK Chesterton. Or hey, just ask me. I’m not as brilliant as those fellows, but I’m alive….and I’m being upcycled by the Great Upcycler.

Just a little something to ponder….




Life Lessons from My Dog


So let me start by stating outright that I have an extremely quirky dog. She fits in very well around here and we wouldn’t trade her for anything. But, there are times when she makes me shake my head and wonder about her (and my) sanity. Today, however, as I was shaking my head, a little voice whispered, “you know, there’s a lesson in this….”

Let me explain.

Toni (that’s her call name) loves to follow me around. She wants to be in any room I happen to be in.  Her favorite room, by far, is the craft room. (Clearly, she’s my dog….) She loves to follow me in there because she knows that she’ll get several hours of uninterrupted sleep in safety and security. That’s why she follows me around. I’m her pack leader and protector. (Basenjis live in matriarchal packs. My poor husband is merely the guy that takes her for a walk.) 😉 So this is the way it goes, she’s my shadow…until I go Downstairs.

The first floor of our house is a light-filled, airy environment. I spend quite a bit of time down there photographing projects, eating meals, chatting with friends,  playing games with the family, and just living life in general. It’s the hub of our home. It is also the scariest place in the world for Toni.  Downstairs is full of unusual sounds like dishwashers and refrigerators and garage doors. It’s home to the scary smells of strangers and dogs who used to live here and foods that aren’t so tasty in the Basenji’s book. So, Toni will follow me anywhere as long as it doesn’t involve going Downstairs.

When I head down the stairs, Toni follows me to the top of the stairs and then sits down and observes. She peeks around the bannister to see if I’m eating, or what I’m doing.  Sometimes she’ll even come down the stairs about halfway on her own. But if I want her to come down all the way (say to eat breakfast or dinner), I have to start in with the coaxing and calling. My son suggested that we put her food and water bowls at the bottom of the stairs, so that she can eat and run if you will. My response: “No son, she has to learn to trust me.” (Do you see where this is going?)

It’s a pretty obvious lesson really, but how often do I relate to God like Toni relates to me? I’m willing to follow Him as long as He goes to places that I want to go. I’ll follow Him into those places that bring feelings of security. I’m happy to just sit and bask in His presence as long as I feel safe. BUT, when He starts going to those scary places–places full of hard lessons, strange sights, scary sounds–well, then I would rather just sit and wait until He comes back to where I am.

When Toni comes down the stairs, she gets fed. She gets to lay in the sunshine (one of her all time favorite activities). She gets treats. Coming Downstairs is a good thing. When I follow God into the places that are scary and stretching, He gives me good things, too. I learn to trust Him. He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. I get to find Him, to lean on Him, to grow in Him. He protects me and keeps me safe. And yet, while I know all of these things, I would too often rather sit at the top of the stairs and observe. But, you know what? He’s not going to bring my food bowls to me. I have to learn to trust Him. Unlike me, God is infinitely patient. Where I eventually get frustrated with all the calling and coaxing to get Toni to come and eat, God patiently calls me. He knows that when I get hungry enough, I’ll come down. He knows that my deepest desire is to be where He is. Sometimes He picks me up and carries me, and other times He just keeps calling until I finally come down on my own.

But it all comes down to this: either I trust Him or I don’t. Today, I’ve decided to go Downstairs. (I’m hoping that Toni will decide that, too. But if she doesn’t, there’s always tomorrow!)

Back in the High Life


So it’s going to be a light week on crafts for The Feast this week because I’m in Manhattan. I realized on the way up that, though I’ve been to NYC more times than I can count, I’ve never stayed for a whole week!

I love The City. There’s an energy about it that I’ve never found anywhere else in the world. Not even London. I have realized as I have aged that I can’t really sustain New York levels on a permanent basis. Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite destinations for recharging.

This week my hubby and I get the privilege of staying in the Waldorf=Astoria. It’s an Art Deco dream! As this is a work trip for both of us, I haven’t done much wandering, but hopefully I’ll be able to get some lovely pictures up tomorrow.

I’m surrounded by so much inspiration, I really miss my studio. But would you believe that I walked out of the house without my sketch book?!? ARGH! Well, I guess this calls for a trip to Dick Blick. Oh the sacrifices we make for the craft. 😉

In the meantime, it’s back to writing survey questions and project proposals.

Something to think about

Last night I was doing a little personal research on modern slavery and ran across the Slavery Footprint website. The site calculates the amount of slave labor that goes into the things you have, do and eat. After taking the survey and trying to be a detailed as possible, my score was 71. That is, 71 slaves are somehow involved in my day-to-day living. Now, it’s not perfectly accurate–eg. I buy local produce, which mitigates some of the numbers, and it wouldn’t let me add all the rooms to my house or (for some reason) our cars. So I’ll work with the 71 number assuming the glitches are more or less a wash.

Today, 71 people are not free so that I can write this blog on this computer, while having a cup of coffee and listening to my music on my iPhone.

Economics, as I tell my kids, are fundamentally about supply and demand. When the demand isn’t there, the market will stop the supply. The market for human beings works the same way as for any other commodity. The biggest problem as I see it, though, is getting one human being (let’s start with me) to value the life of another more than she values her own convenience. It’s a pain to try to follow the source chain for everything that I buy or eat, no doubt. But if it makes one person free or keeps one person from being enslaved at all, is there really a question of what I should do?

My next area to look into is the craft industry. It’s obviously a huge part of my life. I’ll let you know what I find out.

So, how many slave do you have working for you? (Take the survey. It’s an eye-opener.)

News Flash: We Live in a Heliocentric Universe!

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: “news flash?! What news flash!? Of course we live in a heliocentric universe! Everyone knows that!’ And yes, I know that, too. (Even without a PhD.) I’ve read my Copernicus and Galileo. I know our planetary place in the universe, in theory. But here’s the problem: I live from moment to moment, day to day as though this were an anthropocentric universe. And if you’re honest, I’m willing to bet you do as well. My universe, to be specific, is a Kimberly-Renee-Montgomery-Hill-centric universe. It’s a very small universe, with few inhabitants, and none of them particularly happy about it. But there it is nonetheless. We are all selfish. Many of us struggle with perfectionism and control issues. We want to be right, to be heard, to be obeyed, to be in control, to have the ultimate authority in our little universe. We want to be gods (though we may not own up to it). And it is to us and for us that Susanna Foth Aughtmon wrote her latest book, I Blame Eve: Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes. (Right now you’re thinking: “I do NOT listen to talking snakes!” But hang with me a minute, you might find that you do.)

There was a time, Susanna writes, when everything was perfect. Life was good and pure and cellulite-free. And then came Eve and her apple. From that moment we have lived in a world that is distinctly not the way it was supposed to be. We live with brokeness and pain, with poverty and injustice, and with all those little irritants throughout the day that rob us of joy and peace and hope. In short, we live in a world beset by sin. (Yes, I know it’s unfashionable to use that little three-letter word, but euphemisms take up too much space. Let’s just call it like it is.) Like Sister Eve, we desire to make that world over into the way we want it to be. We organize our time, manipulate those around us to make them increasingly into the image we have of them, we demand perfection from everyone we meet, and most of all from ourselves. And yet, this is not how the world is supposed to be either.

With openness, honesty, and a large dose of humor, Susanna shares her own struggles with the legacy of Eve, all the while gently holding up a mirror into which we must also gaze, and from which we see Eve and her apple staring back at us and just over her shoulder there’s a snake whispering in her (or is that our?) ear. You can have it all, he says. You can be the perfect wife, mother, student (okay, that’s what he whispers to me) if you just dot your i’s and cross your t’s. And like Eve, we listen to and believe his lies. And like Eve, we walk away from the gift of grace from the One who loves us best and into the arms of chaos and fear. Susanna writes, “The snake is keen on us going it alone. He wants us isolated from the One who knows us inside and out. He wants us to fail miserably. If he can get us to go it alone, if he can urge us to try to heal our own hurts and bind up our own wounds using less than stellar methods, he will triumph.” He is the enemy of our souls. The destroyer. He is doing his best (or worst) to convince us that we are the masters of our fates and captains of our souls, but we are not. In fact, we are far from it.

All of us who live or have lived under the tyranny of perfectionism, selfishness, and pride, long to be free. We long for joy and peace. And yet we cannot seem to leave the tyrants behind. With refreshing and straightforward simplicity, Susanna reminds us, “There is only one person who knows how to right the wrongs in our world…..He does not want us bound up in methods and rituals,  trying to make sense of the life he gave us. He would like to make sense of them for us.”

At the heart of this book, lay the beautiful and much-needed message of hope. Eve screwed up (and, lest we forget, Adam was right there with her). We screw up. But the same God that we betrayed, that we walked away from, that we try to supplant (though we would rarely admit it), that God provided us with hope and grace through Jesus. Susanna puts it this way (this might be my favorite quote): “We can keep striving and struggling, trying to find that perfect place in life where everything looks and feels like it is going our way. We can keep grasping for a life that we can never have, or we can let go–let go of the mounting pressure that presses in as we fail ourselves over and over, let go of the thoughts that drive us to keep trying to control others, let go of the fallacy that we can reach heaven here on earth–and with both hands grab the One who can set us free. He sets us free from the desires that keep us trapped, from the gnawing hunger that is in us to be perfect in every way, from the drive that keeps us focusing on ourselves. He sets us free to follow the destiny the Creator has for us. Whom the Son has set free is free indeed. There’s just one question for you. Are you ready to be free?”

To all of us out there who are tired of trying to control a world that is so clearly out of control, of trying to make perfect that which is so patently imperfect, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Susanna knows whereof she writes. She pulls no punches. You will laugh. You will cringe. You will, on occasion, be thankful that you live your life, and not her’s. But in the end, you will see that there really is hope. That life can be seasoned with grace. And that joy can be found in this journey. You will see that though Eve made a huge mistake and left a powerful legacy, there is One who has come to break the power of that legacy, quiet the sibilant whisperings of that snake, and reintroduce us to life as it was supposed to be.

Aughtmon, Susanna Foth. 2012. I Blame Eve: Freedom from Perfectionism, Control Issues & the Tendency to Listen to Talking Snakes. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group.)

Recognize the Blessing

When it comes to technology, I’m often an early adopter. Apple tends to be my kool-aid of choice, but honestly I love all gadgets. That is, until something goes wrong. I spent most of the day yesterday cleaning some malware off the only PC product I use. I have to admit that my thoughts and language were less than pure. [You know people who come up with viruses and malware are no better than your average street vandal. It’s the ultimate end of envy: the destruction of someone else’s property precisely because it is not yours. Envy, unlike covetousness or jealousy, is not wanting what someone else has or wanting to be like them, it is actively wanting the other person not to have it or to be who they are. In the end, envy drives people to destroy what they cannot have. But I digress.]

If you would have asked me yesterday if I was thankful for my computers and other gadgets, I’m not sure how I would have answered. But this morning, I used that PC (that I finally did get free of the malware) to have a face to face conversation with my husband who is 5,000 miles away. What’s more, the kids got to chat with their dad before school like they do most mornings, and when he’s gone routine becomes even more important to them. Am I thankful for my gadgets? Absolutely! Am I thankful for the people who are so much smarter than me who create things like Skype and MS Messenger? You bet I am!

We live in a fairly incredible age really, yet how often do I simply take it for granted. The kids were teasing their dad about sending him some scones via email. Well, we couldn’t do that, but we did take a picture and email it to him. He had it before the scones had time to cool. 🙂 Seriously! A trip like this 100 years ago would have been unthinkable. In the time it would have taken him to just arrive at his destination, he will have been there, conducted his business and returned home. Rather than waiting on letters that may or may not arrive (okay, snail mail hasn’t changed much), he will get messages from us throughout the day and see us face to face periodically as time permits. THAT’S SO COOL!

You know it’s not that the blessings aren’t there. It’s that all too often I fail to recognize them. I get so caught up in the annoyances (like cleaning malware off the computer) that I completely miss the blessing of having a computer that lets me make photos look better than my talent can take them, or checks my spelling, or keeps track of papers I wrote 10 years ago, or lets me have a face to face conversation about nothing in particular with my husband half a world away. I wish technology was the only thing I take for granted, but it’s not. I have a disturbingly similar pattern with more important blessings like my family and friends, and Christ. I suppose gratitude really is just recognizing the blessings.

Huh. Seems like it’s always the simplest things that are the most confounding.

Went out for a turtle….looked at a lizard….came home with a fish….

So we took Christian to the pet store today to get a reptile. In the process, we found out that pet shops in Northern Virginia cannot, by law, sell turtles. Who knew? (I haven’t had time to look up the origin of that but I suspect there’s a story there.) So we looked at the next best thing: lizards. As we perused the lizards, Brian and I began to realize that we were definitely in the process of biting off more than we could chew. The lizards that can survive the care of curious children happen to be some of the most expensive and largest lizards around. I don’t really have a problem with a 3-feet-long iguana or 2-feet-long bearded dragon roaming about. In fact, I think they’re pretty cool. I do, however, have a problem with the cost (and size) of the tank required to house one of these prehistoric throwbacks. And, of course,  there’s the housing of its food: live crickets. My house, frankly, is a place where crickets come to die. Immediately. But these guys require multiple live crickets daily. And, to my further dismay, I can’t just let the lizards roam freely and munch on all the creepy crawlies they can find around the house. (So much for my eco-friendly extermination ideas.) 😉

So we left Northern Virginia without a reptile, and the family dropped me off for tea with a friend of mine. (She’s a consultant for Thirty-One Gifts, but that’s a post for a later time.) My tea took a lot longer than I thought it would (we hadn’t seen each other for a while), so the family went to a pet store in DC without me. Brian tells me that prior to going, he and Christian had a chat about the reality of caring for a lizard given his room size and the fact that it would have to move to college with him (they live 15 or more years!), and so Christian said he would be willing to look into other pet possibilities. The pet shop in DC had no turtle prohibitions, so those were the first things he looked at. He saw a tortoise that he liked, but it was $100 so no dice on that one. (It was probably for the best since those things could out-live him and what if his great-grandchildren don’t like tortoises…) None of the other turtles could be housed in anything smaller than a 40 gallon tank, so it was on to the fish. After much deliberation, he settled on a red and white Beta. It’s really quite beautiful. He named it Speedo-Skiddo. (Don’t ask. I have no idea!) So Speedo lives in the room next door to Pebbles, but, as they would kill each other, they haven’t met. Yet. (I fully expect the temptation to see them fight will be overwhelming at some point, but here’s hoping that no one gives in.)

He’s not a dog, but he’s company and Christian is very happy to have a pet all his own. Mission accomplished.

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