Hurry, But Don’t Speed

My family has dozens of terms and phrases in our quirky tribal lexicon, words like “whomperjawed,” “gaddrief,” and “joobers.” If someone is attractive, he or she is “plum purdy.” If the opposite is the case, the person is “ugly as a mud fence.”  A negative situation causes us to say, “I don’t like this, not none,” and tasty food “slaps our spot.” There are also endless inside jokes and movie quotes without number. Yes, we have an entire love language built from scraps of memories and chatter. It’s a beautiful, mismatched quilt of words we can wrap ourselves up in, something that makes us feel cozy and safe. One of my favorites is the paradox we utter whenever people are coming home for a visit. We tell them, “Hurry, but don’t speed.” In other words, we want to see them as soon as possible—but not if it means risking life and limb (or getting a speeding ticket) to get there a little earlier than expected. We’re impatient to be reunited with the people who understand us better than anyone. But can the same be said of God?

I know He is perfectly patient. Why shouldn’t He be? For Him,  past, present, and future are all wrapped up together; it’s not strung out like a thread the way it is for us. But there are moments in the Bible that make me wonder, and I can’t help but feel that God is eager to reveal Himself to us. Think about Moses’ request: “Please, show me Your glory” in Exodus 33:12-23. Moses is asking to know God, to experience Him so he can better understand Him. God could have easily told His servant, “No.” He had no reason to reveal Himself to a created thing, but that’s exactly what He did. He hides a man whose heart and soul cannot fathom His radiance in the cleft of a rock and covers him until He passes by. What must that have been like? What awe must Moses felt knowing that God’s hand was quite literally on him, protecting him from everything, including his Maker? God stooped to humanity’s level in that moment and showed a favored servant as much of His glory as He knew could be withstood. That is an action taken by a God who wants to be known, One who is just as excited to be fully comprehended by His children as we are by Him.

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The same can be said of Jesus sitting at the well in Samaria in John 4:1-42. It was a place the Bible tells us He “needed” to go through for one woman, a lost and hurting soul whose life would be forever changed by encountering Him. I’m sure Christ sat there calmly, sanguine despite the heat, and watched His beautiful world go by. Maybe He swung one sandaled foot or hummed as He waited. Though Jesus knew exactly when the Samaritan woman would come to the place alone to draw her water, I imagine Him being giddy, looking forward to the moment and eager to interact with her. Did Jesus smile when He saw her coming as she walked with her head down, silently praying that no one would mock her for once? Did He rub His wonderful, soon-to-be-nail-scarred hands together in anticipation of the joy that was soon to come? I think so. He was a Savior who wanted to be found and made sure others could experience Him with their eyes and ears as well as their hearts.

Though the Lord’s timing is impeccable and His plan flawless, I believe He’s like we are in the moments before loved ones come home to find the surprises we have in store for them—a meal lovingly prepared, a gift purchased, and everything made ready for their comfort. He understands the anticipation we feel standing at the windows, our breath fogging the panes, because He feels it, too. Yes, He’s as eager for all of us to get there as we are. “Hurry home,” He whispers to our hearts, “but don’t speed.”

Watching the Watchman

Okay, y’all….a bona fide miracle has occurred.

After many months, I have managed to create a poem….or something that might pass for one after several rounds of intense editing and good bit of tooth gnashing. I went to the High Museum here in Atlanta on the last day of the member preview of the new exhibit—Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis. It’s awesome to be able to enjoy the special exhibit with fewer people around. It was busy, but it wasn’t the bone-crushing crowd one usually finds there on a Saturday. I believe an individual membership is $65 or so. Totally worth it.

As always, the High has done a great job with this touring exhibit, and the big draw–Vermeer’s enigmatic masterpiece–has a room of her own. (It might not be exactly what Virginia Woolf had in mind, but I think she’d be pleased nonetheless.)  Yes, an entire chamber of the special exhibit area is reserved for a painting no longer than my left arm. To me, it felt like she wasn’t so much on display as she was holding court, receiving a steady stream of visitors who wish to request an audience. The only other painting I’ve ever seen receive that kind of treatment is the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Fitting, since Vermeer’s lady has earned the nickname “The Dutch Mona Lisa” for her enigmatic gaze and mysterious backstory.

However, there are thirty-five other paintings to enjoy–everything from landscapes to portraits and tronies. I took my time perusing them, wanting to savor the quiet time in the museum and to examine each painting myself before listening to the audio clips on the virtual tour. I found myself looping back around to examine several paintings, none more so than the two works by Pieter Claesz, both Memento Mori pieces. I was particularly fascinated by the accuracy of the items in Vanitas (see below). I kept staring at the overturned glass thinking, “How in the heck do you paint GLASS? How do you use pigments to create something transparent?” Stunning stuff.

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Eventually, I made my way around the corner and saw Vermeer’s only work in the collection, and it was positioned for full dramatic effect. Before it, viewers are educated in the art of Dutch portrait painting and the use of a Camera Obscura, and both Vermeer and his subject have brief bios posted for all to read.

But it all leads to the final room–a muted green sanctuary that houses just one painting. I must have spent twenty minutes examining it, and when my back and feet reminded me it was time to sit down, I plunked down happily on a padded bench at the back of the room. It was then that I noticed the lone guard. There were four or five more positioned throughout the exhibit, but he was the only one near the Vermeer painting. And I found myself fascinated by him. I wondered, “What’s it like to be the guard tasked with keeping a masterwork safe and unmolested by the world? He’s someone no one notices because they’re too busy looking at the thing he’s protecting.”

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Well, that musing led to the poem I mentioned several paragraphs prior. Again, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve penned verse, so don’t expect too much. There’s still a lot of rust to shake off, but it felt good to be using that part of my brain again.

WordPress isn’t the best place to post poetry, so I’ve found that screen shots work. If this is hard to read, click on it. You should get a slightly larger version to peruse. Let me know your thoughts. And if you’ve already seen the exhibit, tell me what you thought!


From Heavenly Harmony

A friend of mine called me into his office (where the really cool speakers are) to show me this video. Take a gander at it and just try to keep your jaw from dropping.

I love music, but my math skills are sub-par at best. And while I understand the basics of harmony, chord structure, and pitch, I don’t think I will ever fully understand the science behind harmonics. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Because I can’t see all of the scientific principles at work and don’t know the terminology, I am free to enjoy it freely from a more spiritual perspective. I don’t know about you, but when I look at those perfect patterns emerge from nothing more than tones, I see the handiwork of God. The One who drew order out of chaos and created beauty from the void is such a craftsman that even the things we cannot see are perfectly formed and balanced. I like the idea of all these beautiful patterns, like the mandalas prized by practitioners of Hinduism and Buddhism, floating around us every day, knitting our world together in a way we could never comprehend.

But unlike those beautiful works created through hours of painstaking labor, the designs made with salt happen almost instantaneously. And rather than decay or descend into chaos as the dial is turned higher, the patterns become more ornate and stunning. I’ve watched the video at least ten times, and I still gasp at some of the patterns that emerge.

John Dryden wrote one of my favorite poems called “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day” in which he praises music, the force God used to call the world into being. The opening stanza reads:

From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began.
When Nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head,
The tuneful voice was heard from high:
“Arise, ye more than dead!”
Then cold and hot and moist and dry
In order to their stations leap,
And Music’s power obey.
From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began;
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.

Music—harmony, sound, tones, pitches—is how order emerged from “the heap of jarring atoms.” Dryden imagines it is what God used to build the “universal frame” of our world, and he might not be too far off base. Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” He called forth light, water, earth, sky, stars, birds, beasts, and man. I can’t help but imagine them coming together like the patterns in the video—order out of nothingness, called into being by the very voice of God.

The Almighty is present in everything. We just have to be ready and willing to see Him, even in the places we least expect. This was one of those places for me, and now that I’ve witnessed it, I know my God a little better. In some small way, I see Him, and I’m left clapping my hands like a child, overwhelmed by the revelation.

What do you think of this video? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. Oh, and if you’d like to hear it with just the tones and vibrations rather than the lovely soundtrack, you can watch the video below. Beware, it’s super loud toward the end!

Music to My Ears

Last week, my writing group discussed how long we’d been working at the craft, what got us started, and what keeps us going. The stories ranged from silly to serious, but there were a few things we all shared. For example, we all love reading and do so voraciously. We also started penning stories, poems, and essays at a very young age. Each one of fell in love with words, and there were moments and people who helped us discover just how winsome they truly are.

I think the same is true of other creative efforts like dance, art, music, cooking, and design. We each have a certain amount of natural talent in one or more of these areas, and it can always be developed through disciplined practice and the help of experts.

I wish my first grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, had thought about this fact. One week, she gave our class an assignment: draw a character and write a story featuring him/her. I’m sad to say I don’t have the original drawing, so I tried to re-create it using the crude art supplies in my office. Ladies and gents, I give you Miranda…


First off, I apologize for the uber creepy Jack Nicholson Joker lips, but it did the best I could. I remember her story was a simple one. She was ten years old (the age I so desperately wanted to be at the time because it had two numbers in it instead of one). She had curly brown hair and green eyes. She was a singer who loved animals and the color purple. I believe she rescued a fluffy gray and white kitten and gave it to a lonely old lady named Mrs. Kimberly who lived down the street. Yeah, she was pretty boss.

Well, when it came to drawing her, I was a little perplexed. I was the kid who liked to paint a picture with words rather than shapes and colors. But the assignment required both parts, so I–ever the diligent student–set out to complete the second part.

When we’d finished our work, we sat around Mrs. Davis in a circle, and she held our drawings up for everyone to see. She asked us questions about them, especially what we saw and liked. Finally, it was my turn, and she held up my drawing of Miranda. I held by breath, wondering what everyone would say about my magnum opus. But all she said was, “What’s wrong with this picture, class?”

Wrong? What’s wrong?  I asked myself. What could possibly be wrong with it?

My classmates threw in suggestions until Mrs. Davis finally gave up and answered her own question, “It’s wrong because she doesn’t have any ears.” Everyone snickered, and she moved on to the next victim.

I wanted to defend my artistic choice, to scream, “Of course she has ears, you ninny! They’re under her hair!” But I didn’t because I was mortified.

When I saw the assignment the next day, I saw a huge red “B” etched in one corner and the same assessment scribbled in another. For an entire week, the drawing was pinned to the bulletin board at the front of our classroom—mocking me. And I think that was the moment I gave up any and all thoughts of trying my hand at art.

Granted, I never would have been naturally gifted at it. You can tell that I have no eye for proportion or form. Unlike my friend Jeff Gregory, whose doodles are works of brillance, I could never labor over something made of acrylic, pencil, or charcoal and make it beautiful. But I always wonder if Mrs. Davis’ appraisal of my drawing forever altered some part of me that was willing to take a risk with something new, something that I wasn’t necessarily skilled at but could have gotten better with over time. Horses were only things I ever practiced drawing from that point on because, like all girls, I was obsessed with them. I doodled in notebooks, but I showed what I’d drawn to no one. And no matter how much I tried, they never got better than this…


My writing, however, fared far better. Granted, I’m still far from perfect (and famous…and rich…and critically acclaimed), but I enjoy scribbling words on paper as much now as I did at the tender age of seven. More so, in fact. And while I know this mostly due to my own desire, I can’t help but think Mrs. Davis played a role in it as well.

She caught me staring at that scarlet B one day in class. She said nothing at the time, but before I left for home that afternoon, she pulled me aside and admitted, “Your story was very well done, Jamie. I liked Miranda.”

It was the first compliment for my writing I’d received from someone who was not related to me. I suddenly discovered something very interesting on one of my shoes and mumbled, “Thank you” in reply. I was embarrassed, but it wasn’t just because of the praise. All I could think was that I wished she had given it sooner.

Why? Well, that’s the what Paul Harvey would call “the rest of the story.”

The day my drawing met with criticism and laughter, I did something I’d regretted ever since. I went back to the art corner to sharpen my pencil using the silver hand crank unit we all remember so well. When I went to wedge my good old number two in the slot, I realized I’d also carried a blue crayon back there with me. Camouflaged by a half wall stacks of paper, and jars of tempura paint, I had a “wonderful, awful idea.”

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In a moment of impish inspiration, I decided I would show her the extent of my ire by sharpening it too. Yeah, I went there.

I gummed up the works of that machine with my aqua-tinted rage and felt somewhat justified for having done so. But when we left for music class, I saw her carrying the sharpener to the bathroom and felt triumphant for another 2.7 seconds until I realized she’d spend most of her planning period cleaning up the mess. Then I felt putrid about it. And the compliment she gave me only made it worse.

I learned several valuable lessons from the entire experience, the most important of which is this: Words matter. Kind ones are worth the time it takes to say them. Unkind ones wound. They can change someone’s opinion about an issue or a moment in time or even make a person love or hate herself. They can inspire people to greatness or leave them defeated before they begin. Words are powerful in a way few things will ever be, and they’re ours for the using. So that means we should always use them well.

How about you all? Is there a talent you always wanted to explore but didn’t? A person you’d like to thank for encouraging you to pursue one? What do you think about words, both kind and cruel? Give me your thoughts in the comments section below.

Leaving on a Jet Plane….Sort Of

I just received my first update from charity:water since the fundraising phase of my  project began. The $1,000 we collected has now been sent to Ethiopia along with that collected by other projects, and the work will soon begin on the well.

I’m pretty sure all the wonderful, amazing, benevolent, swanky, hip, funky-fresh-for-the-nineties folks who donated will be getting these updates, but I also want to share them here so everyone can see that this charity works in a tangible way. In a year or so, we’ll actually have the GPS coordinates where the well can be found as well as pictures of it and the people it has blessed. I don’t know about you, but I’m stoked!

**FYI, if you click on the images, they are easier to read.**

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