Tag Archives: Jesus

Brown Paper Bag Time.

Confession: I suffer from depression and anxiety. I suffer from it right now. I noticed a change in my breathing and my mindset on Wednesday. I could feel it coming on and I just couldn’t shake it. I don’t think my heart rate has slowed to a normal pace in the past 72 hours. I feel like someone is driving nails into my skull and there is something sharp scratching all over my brain. I can’t get a good deep breath and I can’t sleep. Being around large crowds of people makes my skin crawl. Being around small crowds of people makes my skin crawl. The thought of talking to anybody outside my immediate inner circle makes me feel all barfy and dizzy.

Other confession: it’s worse than it sounds.

I’m trying. I’m really, really trying. I talked it over with Caleb, who–after 12 years of dealing with me and my drama–was like: “how much coffee have you been drinking? Have you been exercising at all? Are you going to kill anyone, breathe deeply, drink ice water, and I’ll be home shortly.”

He’s so great, y’all.

I have prayed so hard about this. I try to joke about it. Somedays I can laugh at myself and other days I just want to rip my own head off and shove it onto something pointy like a stick.

Also some days I have absurdly violent thoughts.

Between driving–on the interstate–to downtown Oklahoma City to a house where I don’t know people in a neighborhood that’s scary, to listening to news stories about child trafficking and phony door-to-door salesmen, and people with guns, and home invasions, and race riots, and fighting and wars and global warming and also having an abnormally large amount of bugs in my house this summer, plus temporarily housing and caring for a friend’s pets (guinea pigs–Mia wants one for her birthday but I’d rather set myself on fire), my nerves are shot. Completely and utterly shot.

Like, raw. I feel raw. I cry so easily. I want the calming effect of alcohol–except I can’t drink just one drink, because one turns into 13 and before I know it, I’m throwing a chair through the wall. So no alcohol.

I just want to be in my house, with my family, doors locked and bolted, with guns at the ready. And I don’t have a gun, but it would be at the ready if I did.

Is it just me or is the world such a dangerous place? Aren’t people so effing scary lately? Kidnappings at ballparks and grocery store parking lots? How am I supposed to let my children outside at all ever?

I have an apocalypse theory, only instead of zombies, it involves mean people of the meanest kind. They will infect everyone and eventually take over the whole world, roaming in evil hordes across the country, banging on the walls of my house…

Aaaaaaand now I can’t breathe again.

I got to thinking, though: Wouldn’t the devil just love for me to curl up in the fetal position, especially at a time like now when there’s just so many people to help and there’s so much art to be done?

My anxiety attacks began on Wednesday–the very same day of the first art party downtown. Coincidence?

Jesus said a lot of cool things, including this encouraging gem in Matthew chapter 5:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

What the devil tempts me to do is easy–in this case give into my fears and my worries and my dizzy spells and my headaches, and just stop in my tracks. But God is all the time asking me to do the hard things, like breathe and take tylenol and suck up and just keep moving. No pity party over herrrrre, baby. My husband seems to have picked up on God’s attitude and for that I am thankful.

Please continue to pray for this project and that God will show us other places and people that we can help…and that I can remain calm enough to follow through with His marching orders.

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Fear: Can I Be Honest?

Today was our big art day downtown. It was cool.

If by “cool”, you mean being so worried about getting lost in downtown Oklahoma City that the second you drive north of the Hwy 37 exit, you get a killer migraine. Cool, as in your anxiety disorder kicks back in with a vengeance, and suddenly your car is closing in on you, and giant 18-wheelers are for sure trying to run you off the road and you feel like you’re going to vomit.

And when you actually get where you’re going, you really do worry that that’s exactly what will happen: you have to breathe in slowly through your nose in order to keep from literally barfing, because here you are: out of your element and waaaaay out of your comfort zone, with folks you don’t know, in a place that–you’ve been told by dozens of people–is unsafe.

Did I mention my previous dealings with anxiety? It gets to me sometimes.

I’m ashamed of this. I am ashamed of my fear, however rational it may be.

It’s not like I’ve never been in neighborhoods like this before. Having kids, though, has changed my perspective on, well…everything.

The place looked pretty happy and wonderful, to be honest. Sunny little house on a quaint little street on a bright and beautiful morning. Painting with the world’s most adorable children in a shady and spacious backyard. Peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches all around.

It’s no different from my everyday.

But what about the kids? Is it their everyday? Who paints with them? Who jump-ropes with them? Who sings and plays and makes lunch with a complete serving of vegetables, everyday, for them? Surely their parents, or a kind grandma, or babysitter?

Right?

And what about their moms and dads? Who invites them over for chit-chat and coffee, and who brings them casseroles when everyone in the family has the flu? Who comes over to their house and prays in their driveway after they’ve had a miscarriage? Who can they trust to watch their children in emergencies and who do they turn to in times of tragedy?

I don’t know.

I do know that the people who put on this week-long day-camp for the kids in this area did it for a reason. A block away from where we played, women walk the streets, selling their bodies. You can see them at any given time of day. There’s trash, and bars, and hypodermic needles, gangs and violence and abuse.

There are predators. There are people who would seek to “groom” some of the beautiful 10-year-old girls that were painting smiley owls with me today.

And it makes me sick to my stomach. It brings tears to my eyes. I can paint and play and eat lunch and leave it all behind. I will go back to my “lily-white world” 30 minutes away. But what about the people who live in the other houses on that same street? What about the children? What happens to them, when the sun goes down? Where is their retreat? How do they live in fear?

I have to wonder this: They are either 1. miserable, or 2. not afraid.

And if they are not afraid, I wonder if 1. they are distributors of fear, or 2. they have taken every precaution necessary against those that would hurt them, or 3. They are at peace with God and they believe that they are right where they need to be. Or two of those. Or all of them.

I prayed hard on the drive in. I wanted to be calm, cool, and collected. I wanted to be. But I was scared, I really was. I’m about as maniacal as a box of kittens. My street cred is so low that a hardened thug would probably bless my heart and give me a sticker. (I’m counting on that, in fact.)

I didn’t want to drive down a street where mean, haughty eyes stared me down. I didn’t want my hands to shake. I didn’t want to feel like I was an outsider, or worse–an intruder, an easy target. I tried to call to mind a verse that I love, and was surprised when I actually remembered it–and even more surprised when it actually comforted me:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

If God told me to paint with these kids, then He was in my car with me today, warding off evil semis and vanquishing my highway enemies. His hand was on my shoulder as I navigated those city streets and He opened the door to the house just as I was about to faint on the front steps.

And if He called these other people to minister to the men, women, and children of this neighborhood every other day of the year, then He is with them when they put on their tennis shoes and hit the streets. He passes out nail polish and encouraging Bible verses and He hugs the prostitutes. And He has the strength to do it all again the next day.

If you couldn’t already tell, today was the first real day I stepped outside of my comfort zone for Jesus. (I should mention that my comfort zone consists of…my house, and maybe the church as long as I’m surrounded by people who I’m used to, and maybe Target–but only the new one, in Norman.)

But I pray that it won’t be the last. I hope they’ll have me back despite my awkwardness and my utter lack of leadership during the painting session.

I also pray it won’t be the hardest place I go. My sister had this to say in response to my idea of one day doing an art camp in Africa or South America with my friends: “What about those people on ‘Locked Up Abroad’ ? You know, you just can’t go to a place that’s not safe.”

(Honestly, I was more concerned with the zombie apocalypse breaking out on the plane ride over the ocean.)

I get it, I do. But I can–I can go. I might be meant to do just that. And when are we truly safe? We could be killed anytime, any place. No one knows what tomorrow brings.

It won’t matter to God in Heaven that we were super smart and graduated from really good colleges. It won’t matter that we stayed away from gluten and drove cars with high safety ratings. It won’t matter what the balance was in our savings account, and God won’t care about our chevron-patterned throw pillows. God will say: “I made you strong–did you help people who were weak? I gave you the ability to speak and write–did you tell people about Me? I put a sadness in your heart for orphans–did you adopt? I made you creative–did you share that gift with others?”

I so often waste my gifts and blessings and strengths. But today, I was right where I needed to be. We sang songs. We played games. We ate lunch and painted pictures, and we hunted eggs. Mia and Merrick popped confetti all over themselves and me and the other kids. People were smiling, laughing. It was a good day.

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We'll be picking confetti out of our scalps for years to come.

We’ll be picking confetti out of our scalps for years to come.

Today I finally met the kids that I have been thinking about and praying for since March. Only now I will be praying for them by name, with their beautiful faces in mind.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this painting party possible by participating in art lessons this month. We earned enough to buy supplies for today and for Friday, with some canvasses and paints left over for the community center to keep on hand. Art for you=art for them. Great job!


bravery

Here:

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgement. 2 Timothy 1:7

Love it, right? It’s been encouraging and empowering all week to hear this, but today I got the in-depth scoop and I just have to share it with you fine people. I’m so about to straight plagiarise from my pastor’s sermon.

Those words were written by Paul to his preacher-buddy Timothy, encouraging him to keep on keepin’ on. My first impression of this verse was “don’t be afraid at all ever”. But apparently the word Paul actually used for “fearfulness” is translated into something more like “cowardice”.

While I’ve never been completely under the impression that life would be totally easy when you follow Christ, there have been times where I have felt a little short-changed. (cough cough MISCARRIAGE cough cough ANXIETY, ALCOHOLISM, (literally) CRAZY FAMILY MEMBERS, FIGHTS WITH MY HUSBAND, cough cough.) But I guess that’s all just life here in an imperfect world.

I’ve heard it said that fear is a lack of faith, but I wonder if that’s completely true. Is it possible to experience bravery and fear at the same time? Here’s my confession: I’m a human and I get scared. I don’t smile through all my disappointments. I cry when I’m hurt. I’m not a huge fan of “the unknown”.

But I love God and I know that He sees these things coming, and like any good father, He’s there, with His hand held out so that I can hold onto Him no matter what I go through.

I think it’s important to know (which I did not, before today) that Paul was on death row in a prison cell in Rome when he wrote this letter, and Timothy was dealing with a church that had gone straight crazy with all kinds of bad behavior. The very word “cowardice” means a lack of courage in facing danger, pain, or difficulty. 2 Timothy 1:7 clearly says we will still encounter hard things–and we will be able to move forward through said hard things with love, power, and sound judgement.

Because if we put our trust and our faith in God, He instills His spirit in us, and this spirit enables us to face fears, accept challenges, and fight battles–all the while being kind, loving, giving, gracious, and humble. Sweet.

The end.


Time-outing myself.

My name is Toni and here’s what I like: new tubes of paint, blank canvasses, coffee, air condition, giggling kids, New Mexico, northwest Florida beaches, House Hunters International, zombie movies, coffee, talking to my mom on the phone, hiking in the woods, doodling on my hand with a permanent marker, gabbing with my friends over a pot of coffee, fresh blackberries, and coffee.

Here’s what I don’t like: …

…um…

Oh! Sweeping up dog hair 15 times a day, a six-month long softball season, and not being able to drink coffee.

And here’s what I believe in right down to the core of my very soul: Jesus.

What does that involve? Responsibility. Accountability. Love. And almost every other good thing you can think of.

And sometimes–sometimes–it involves sticking to truths that not everyone in this day and age agrees with. Sometimes it means that, no matter how lovingly I state a belief, people will be angry with me.

It means knowing that God made me and everyone else in the world. It means knowing that God rejoices over us with shouts of joy and singing. He delights in us. He loves each one of us. And it pains Him when we turn away.

Loving Jesus means knowing that life is so much bigger than me. God is so much stronger than all my problems. And heaven is so much better than anything I can imagine.

But just for kicks and grins, let’s imagine that heaven is New Mexico on the beach while drinking coffee with my mom at an air-conditioned painting party for my friends to the background noise of giggling kids. Plus I get to have all my babies with me. I’m so totally glad we’re not made for this world.


How I Love New Mexico

Friends, I just love it. I’d move to Taos in a heartbeat. In a fraction of a heartbeat, actually. I’m sorry. And in the summers to come? I’m plotting all kinds of artsy desert adventures in little towns like Abiquiu and Roswell. (Alien Festival in July, anyone?)

This leaves precious little time for Pensacola, so I’m going to have to convince my Florida family to meet me out west. I’ll pack canvasses and paints for everyone. We’ll hike. We’ll eat spicy food. It will be outrageous heaven.

Taos is just as gorgeous in June as it is in the fall. Mia and Merrick loved every glorious, fun-filled minute of our mini-vacation:

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And so there you have it. We are a family of hiking fools. Mainly because we can’t afford to do much else–but quite honestly no amount of money can buy the kind of beauty, challenges and experiences that nature offers free of charge. It was a quick, loosely-planned weekend trip, but I will treasure these memories forever…and will eagerly await the day I can move to the mountains permanently while I make my living selling paintings on the side of a highway.

Also: I turned 33. Gobbling green-chile whatnots in New Mexico was probably the best way I could have spent my birthday.

And, stay tuned: I’ve got an idea on deck that could choke a donkey. I’ve met with and talked to several people about starting a movement that I think will do so much on so many levels for so many different people. This idea involves art, communities, children, the poor, and the lost. Praying people, be praying: I have a feeling this thing might actually come together and work, which is both exciting…and scary.


Fun with Salvation.

Day…11?…without Cheyenne. She’s not at a sleepover. She’s not at a band function and I’m not going to pick her up in a couple hours. She’s actually gone. And I miss her. I miss having my buddy. I miss our jokes. Not everyone gets my jokes–especially not Caleb or the under-9 crowd that lives in my house. Things are weird around here. July 27th is an unfathomably long way off.

On a happy note, Mia got saved. My Catholic peeps might boo-hiss at that word, but all it means is that what Jesus did for us finally sunk in; she’s at an age where it’s all starting to make sense, and for the first time, it hit her right smack in the guts. She wants to give her heart to God. I have no doubt that He speaks to people of all ages, and it’s a wonderful thing being able to slow down long enough to listen–and grasp what’s being heard–at 8 years old.

(*Please know that in the following paragraphs, I am mainly addressing the concept of salvation alone–I know there’s a difference between becoming  a Christian and being a Christian, but I feel the need to write mostly about this particular part for right now.*)

When I was 14 I met some friends that asked me if I was saved. I had no freaking clue what “saved” meant, so they explained:

Them: “Do you believe that everyone is a sinner including you?”

Me: “Uh, yeah.”

Them: “Do you believe that Jesus is the son of God and that He died for your sins?”

Me: “Duh.”

Them: “Will you pray a prayer with me right now and ask Jesus to come into your heart and change your life (right before we go smoke pot behind the gym)?”

Me: “I find that highly unneccessary. I’ve only been praying to Jesus and thanking him for all kinds of crap, for 14 years–that’s like, my whole life.”

Them: “Then have you followed the Lord in Believer’s baptism?”

Me: “WTF does that even mean? I’ve been baptized–twice. I know you think I’m a clueless Catholic, but I think I got this, thankyouverymuch.”

It almost seemed to me that everyone who claimed to be Christians were some of the meanest, snidest, greediest, sinningest people I’d ever met.

inigo montoya inigomontoya

We’re sinners and Jesus died for us because God loves us. Isn’t that what we’re all taught in church before we’re old enough to walk? Wasn’t that the general message of any church? I knew the facts; I read them in the bible, I heard them in Sunday school, and I could tell strangers if they asked me. I had it all down pat on an intellectual level. I’d get sentimental about Jesus on the occasional Sunday during mass, and once for several months after a church retreat to Assissi, Italy, where I became fascinated with the life and times of St. Francis.

I thought about the concept of salvation more and more as the years went on. I tried to listen harder during mass to see if I was missing anything. I participated in the Sacrament of Confirmation–which is basically the Catholic Church equivalent of saying “Alright you’ve been learning this stuff for years–are you in or out?” Of course I was in. I didn’t want to be out. My parents would kill me.

I continued to pray. I had conversations with all kinds of people. It seemed like my head just stayed filled with thoughts of Jesus and sin and forgiveness and love.

And then one night, it all went from my head to my heart. I was overcome with guilt and sorrow over my sins. And I wanted more than anything to truly belong to the kingdom of God, and to make Jesus the single more important thing in my life–or as Mia puts it, “the boss of my life”.

If you’re interested in the cut-and-dry Protestant version of salvation according to the Holy Bible, here it is:

  1. Every human is a sinner. Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and are not good enough to share God’s divine greatness.”
  2. God’s penalty for sin is death. Romans 6:23: “When people sin, they earn what sin pays—death. But God gives his people a free gift—eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  3. In His great love, God has made provision for the salvation of sinners. Romans 5:8: “But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.”
  4. Each person must put his trust in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-13 says “If you openly say, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from death, you will be saved. Yes, we believe in Jesus deep in our hearts, and so we are made right with God. And we openly say that we believe in him, and so we are saved. Yes, the Scriptures say, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.” It says this because there is no difference between those who are Jews and those who are not. The same Lord is the Lord of all people. And he richly blesses everyone who looks to him for help. Yes, “everyone who trusts in the Lord will be saved.”

It’s more complicated than that, but it isn’t. We’re all guilty. We all sin. No one is exempt from this. Our sin demands payment–we deserve death. I got stuck on this the most: “Eternity in hell? Surely I’m not that bad, am I?” Truth is that yes I am. There’s good in everyone, yes. But there’s also bad: we are greedy, quick-tempered, spiteful, judgemental. The list goes on. I fight these things on a daily basis and I always will because I’m human and I’m just not holy by nature.

That badness in our hearts separates us from God. But God, being our loving creator and father, gives us an undeserved gift: He sent His perfect son Jesus, who never sinned, to pay for our sins–He lay down his life willingly–to die in our place on the cross. We cannot earn this gift and we can never repay it. No catch–this salvation is free stuff.

And here’s the actual dirt: There’s nothing textbook about salvation.

“Getting saved” is not so much an ultimate moment in time that caps off a several-year period of learning. “Getting saved” is hopefully not the greatest spiritual experience you will ever have. “Getting saved” is only the beginning of a looonnnng, and probably bumpy, journey–with God as your guide.

Being “saved” is personal. Being “saved” doesn’t make you better than everybody. It doesn’t make you perfect and it doesn’t automatically make you even “good”. But following Jesus Christ, and knowing that your soul belongs to God forever, should fill you with a peace and a love that just cannot be known outside of Him.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We don’t stop at salvation. We can begin to develop a deep relationship with God which involves so much more than reading a couple key verses out of Romans. This relationship is knowledge. It’s a feeling. It’s action. It’s unconditional love. It’s time spent. It’s physical and mental energy. It’s our purpose and our focus.

We live in human bodies that get tired and cranky and hungry and scared; we live on earth, a place that is often times hard and mean and unfair. The road is rough. There’s so much work to do and we can’t just sit at home and fluff our pillows and send our kids to college so that they, too, can afford to sit at home and fluff their pillows.

Our paths are all unique, and we can’t compare ourselves to others–but what we can compare ourselves to is the person God wants us to be, and God? Is unconcerned with wealth and success and wordly wisdom. Christians are called not only to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; we are called to be lights in this dark, broken world–to be the hands and feet of Jesus, who was loving, and compassionate, and giving, and merciful; who came to serve and not to be served.

My hope for my children, and my friends, and my whole family, (and for anyone reading this!) is for each person to come to know and love Jesus; to reconcile themselves with God and to make Him the center of their lives; and to reach their full potential as one of His children. Mia’s simple prayer last night was one of the sweetest things I’ll ever hear. That prayer was the start of something crazy awesome and I just know she will do amazing things for God.


Making Friends.

I woke up at 5:58 this morning to the unquestionable sound of the “White Fang” theme song blaring in the living room. This rad tv series from the early 90’s has been a favorite of Merrick’s ever since Caleb bought it home on DVD like a prized fish. It’s since then popped up on Netflix and now there’s no stopping my kids from watching it every. single. morning.

It’s not meant to be a comedy but Cheyenne and I have tried to find the humor in it, snickering from the kitchen as we resort to bad lip-reading  and ad-libbing and whatnot. I can’t even watch this show without laughing hysterically anymore on account of our private jokes.

Stupid ripped-jean teen Matthew Scott in stupid Montana or some junk–always getting into mountain shenanigans and needing to be rescued. His pet wolf is forever having to save him. The little kids think this show is totally bad-A, but Cheyenne and I know better. I think what annoys us the most about it is that Matthew and his family predictably manage to become friends with even the most formidable foes by the end of each episode. The town drunk; the trigger-happy mountain man; the scruffy dude who sets up dog fights; the bungee-jumping bully; the leather-jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding surly bad boy…and his maniacal little brother.

But of course whether he knows it or not, Matt’s doing exactly what God wants us to do. Get out there and make friends. Love others. Don’t be a doormat, but have patience. Don’t judge them, but help them.

Go and make disciples…

How do you make someone a disciple without making them a friend?

I had a freaky dream last night that I was at Target for booster shots, and I got locked inside with the manager for hours. He told me his life story and I told him mine and he gave me an awesome red shirt. At the end of our conversation he asked me to come to the Celestial Moon Church of Satan over on the corner of 24th and Main. I told him about Jesus and he said “Sounds great! I’d much rather do that, but I volunteer in the toddler class at my church, so…”

I dream-walked into the parking lot and a dream-thought/God-command occurred to me: Find out people’s names. Make friends wherever you go. Tell about Jesus wherever you go. Plant the seeds. And lose the red polo shirt.

You guys pray for me to get braver and more loving, okay?

And way to go, White Fang–you go, White Fang.

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7)

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:41)

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:18-19)


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