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Painting with my father

Dad and I in his studio. One of my paintings is visible on the table.

Dad and I in his studio. One of my paintings is visible on the table.

I recently had the opportunity to visit my dad in Vermont. He’s 82. He has been painting all of my life. I grew up with the smell of linseed oil and turpentine. He wasn’t the only artist I knew. I had two aunts who also painted. When I was little, I thought that being an artist was a real job you could have, even though my dad’s “real job” was as a physics professor. Sadly, when I announced that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, I was told it wasn’t practical.  Considering that all the artists I knew grew up during the depression, I’m not at all surprised at this response.

During this visit, my dad told me that he still has my very first painting, framed. I think it was called “kitty cats” and was a masterpiece in watercolors: several very washy lines on the back of a piece of some business paper. But then, I was probably 3 years old at the time. What I hadn’t realized until recently was that he has always secretly been very proud of my drawing and painting and art.

Place an oldest perfectionist child with an oldest perfectionist parent and there are some challenges with understanding. I know now that when my dad looked at my paintings as a teen and gave advice, he wasn’t criticizing. He was trying to help. But I couldn’t hear it that way. I stopped painting before I hit college, too afraid to make mistakes. It has been a slow journey back.

When I was in my early 20’s I lived with several art students. I didn’t dare show them my work, because I knew it was inferior to anything they could do. That is until the day a roommate saw a sketch I had done of another roommate’s dog. Her comment, “That’s a great start,” was revealing. In my mind, the sketch was finished, not very good. Her comment gave me permission to keep working on it. So I did. I worked on it until I was satisfied that it really did look like Teddy, under-bite and all.

Over the years I would dabble in various art forms with my kids, but I never did “serious painting” in oils or acrylics. There are lots of practical excuses for that.  The reality is that I was afraid.  A couple of years ago, my dad started encouraging me to start painting again. I hemmed and hawed. Eventually, with the encouragement of another art school grad, I tried a landscape. I worked on it for several sessions. I was happy with what I was able to do. But that was it.  For some reason, I didn’t do another. I was still afraid of imperfection.

So what changed? It’s taken a long time, but I’m beginning to be able to live with imperfection.  So when I had the opportunity to paint with my dad, how could I pass it up?  It’s only taken us forty years to get to this place.

I can’t post this without bragging a bit about my dad.  He spend his career in the academic world.  As such, he was told that his art was a distraction.  So he has painted under his Nom d’Artiste, Mutin for as long as I can remember. Finally at 82 he has his own studio and has been showing his art publicly for the first time. You can see his work here:


A Sabbatical Year

writs jack

the contraption I had to wear for 6+ weeks to stabilize my wrist

This has been an interesting year; in some ways an answered prayer. I haven’t worked at a regular job since last December.  I’ve had a sabbatical year: a much needed rest, a time for reflection and redirection. However, it wasn’t planned that way.

I took a couple of months off in January and February to rest and recover from the last few years, which have been challenging. When I did start to look for work, the interviews just weren’t forthcoming. As with many who are job hunting or changing fields, I put out dozens of resumes. Nothing. Finally in July, a good opportunity. I had a great initial interview and was scheduled for the second with the company owner three days later. The day before the interview, I shattered my wrist in a bicycle accident. I mean shattered: 22 pieces where there should have been two bones. The technical description was an “Open, comminuted fracture of the distal radius and ulna” The doctor’s slightly more practical description: like taking a hammer to an eggshell. No second interview for me, in fact, no possibility of working for months.

I was finally to the point of being able to return to job hunting in October. Again, I had a great possibility lined up. First interview, excellent, a second in the works. And then, send you through the roof pain shooting through my arm at random times, with the slightest movement. The pins that had been holding the bones together while they healed had shifted and one of them was grazing a nerve. Another surgery, another few weeks of not being able to work and another lost job opportunity.

It seemed like I was being told: NOT YET.

So, here’s the interesting thing: I wasn’t really excited about either of these jobs. They were just going to be jobs. What I wanted to be doing and what I have been doing, is working on a church plant*. The accident this summer slowed this process down, too. I’m not sorry about that. Church plants take time and energy. I’ve been given a year to just BE; a year to rest and relax and rebuild. (And yes, play endless, mindless games on the iPad…)

I am excited to be in the process of planting. I’m excited to see what God is doing with the group of people that has gathered to begin this journey with me. I’m grateful for the time that has been given to me before we launch our plant.  I still need to find a job and work at least part-time.  Not just to earn money, but because I want to be out and about and meeting people.  But I’m so grateful for my sabbatical year.  I needed it more than I knew.

*We are planting a church affiliated with  I can be reached on Facebook and Twitter if you would like to know more!

Hello, I’m Sue and I’m a recovering Evangelical

T and P on trail

I was never a very good Evangelical.  I wasn’t good at the evangelism part of it.  As a shy introvert, evangelism terrified me.  I was raised as the RESPONSIBLE CHILD.  As the oldest child, if somebody (usually my little brothers) did something wrong or didn’t do something they should have, it was MY RESPONSIBILITY.  Sometimes I didn’t even have to be present for it to be my fault.

Plant this RESPONSIBLE CHILD into the Jesus movement days. Everyone knew that “Jesus was coming back any day now and we must save as many people as we can!”  It felt like any conversation that didn’t include the gospel was deemed a failure.  So many methods emphasized the one call close:  meet someone, give them the gospel, get them to “pray the prayer”.  I had a hard enough time opening conversations with strangers as it was, let alone with this kind of agenda and responsibility.

I grew up, I learned how to talk to strangers, and I stopped fearing that each new person I met was supposed to be an evangelism project. If Jesus came up in the conversation fine, we would talk about Him.  But always in the back of my mind, there was that niggling thought, that somehow, it’s MY RESPONSIBILITY.

A few days ago I was reading the calling of the disciples, the “Come follow me and you shall be fishers of people”passage and all that angst from my evangelical past reared its uncomfortable head.  I was taken aback.  I hadn’t felt this for many years.  I’ve learned to pay attention to these reactions and spent some time sitting with it. Do I still fear that somehow, it is UP TO ME to bring people into the kingdom? That it is still MY RESPONSIBILITY?  In the midst of it, Jesus reminded me of John 12:32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”(NIV)

All I have to do is lift up Jesus, to point to him. He does all the drawing.  I can do that.  I can point to Jesus. And I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE for the way anyone responds to Jesus.  He is.

What’s new with Sue?

Ocean Feb 15

“The difference between bounded-set spiritual growth and centered-set spiritual growth is that the first requires constant new information to keep us (marginally) interested and the other requires all the promise and insecurity of a living relationship that’s on the move and might take us to surprising places. ” Dave Schmeltzer

As I was reading through the latest thought piece from Blue Ocean faith on Childlike Faith, I was struck by the quote above.  You see, for many years I’ve been in the camp that equated greater knowledge with greater maturity.   Yet as I thought about it, I realized that all the learning and theology never brought me to any greater degree of maturity, either personal or spiritual, unless there was an experiential, life engaging aspect to the learning.   

I’ve been in a process of moving away from bounded set thinking for a number of years.  The less bounded set I have become in my own thinking, the harder it has been to live and work within a bounded set context.  Ultimately, that led to my leaving a job I loved (for the most part) in order to pursue Jesus, without knowing at all where that might take me.  I’m beginning to have an idea of the next steps.  

In a couple of weeks I will be attending the final cohort meeting of my training in spiritual direction.  It has been a wild two years.  Where I thought I was going when I began and the direction I am pursuing now could not be more divergent.  I started down this road to learn more about spiritual formation (the “new information”) and to learn how to be a spiritual director.  What I found instead was the “promise and insecurity” of a far deeper relationship with Jesus.  (I am frequently reminded of the cry of the children in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle: “Higher up and further in”).  Yes, I’m learning to be a spiritual director, the learning of which is a life long process.   But so much more has happened.  

I’ll be letting you know more of where Jesus is leading me soon!! 

I’m numb, and yet…

I’m numb.  Another shooting.  Another young white male with a gun. Immediately everyone wants to co-opt it for their particular pet cause: gun control, the broken mental health system (this with no indication AT ALL that mental illness is part of this particular incident), you name it, it is being said somewhere. Fingers pointing every which way.

Yes.  This is about race and racism.  Yes, this is about white male privilege.   Yes, this is about guns.  Yes, this is about a broken fallen world.    Yes, this is about many things.  But please, above all, this is about people:  People whose lives were cut short by another person.  All of them image bearers of the Living God.  Yes, even the shooter is an image bearer.  A broken, fallen, damaged and seemingly very corrupted image bearer, but still made in the image of God.

It breaks my heart when we, as image bearers of the Living God, hurt other image bearers.  To devastating effect: 9 lives ended because, ultimately, the shooter didn’t see them as fellow image bearers. Perhaps he didn’t see himself as an image bearer, let alone anyone else.  I don’t think this will even be a question that is asked.  But I’m asking it: Do we see those around us, those we love, but more so, those we dislike, those we fear, those we disdain, as image bearers of the Living God?

I can’t prevent the next shooting.  But I can be aware that each and every human being I encounter, no matter what their character, what choices they have made in life, what their beliefs, bears the image of the Living God.  And with this in mind, I can treat them with respect and dignity, because I too, bear God’s image.

Walking the Labyrinth


As I begin, a few turns and the tantalizing closeness of the center is there; the temptation to believe that I have arrived: A conversation remembered from many years ago with B and G and J; accusing me of self-righteousness, do I think that I have “arrived”? I deny the truth, that I do think I have arrived.

Turnings and twistings, but only one path: freedom that all the twists and turns are part of my journey, there are no mistakes. I am beloved in each turning. A step off the path to let me pass: the kindness and care of community. I step off the path: a pause in the journey, but brief.

From above all the turnings are seen. The center is reached but the journey is not done. Being present in the moment in each step, each turn. Turns that are surprising and take me in unexpected directions, far from the center.

The leaving behind of rigid thinking; still more to come in the way of challenges. A moment of grief remembered from the night watches: grief that a gay couple with kids would be made to feel unwelcome.

Ah, the end is in sight…but no, once again I am turned away to follow the path where it leads. There is no arrival, only the path.

Can Home schooling and God’s outrageous, extravagent Grace co-exist? I hope so.

Yesterday I posted links to two widely disparate articles that I had read in the last several days.  One is an interview with Tullian Tchividjian, pastor, author, seminary prof and grandson of Billy Graham, about the topic of his latest book: One Way Love: Inexhaustible grace for an exhausted world.  The other is an article about students (and parents) leaving behind their fundamentalist homeschooling roots. In some cases, literally needing to escape from their families and communities.

I was a home-schooler for eight years.  I wasn’t a very good one.  I didn’t have ten kids of my own, who were all Rhodes scholars in the making.  I wasn’t cooking a month’s worth of food all in one day to keep in the freezer so that I could devote all of my time to said kids.  My kids weren’t going to kiss dating goodbye,  etc.  I went to the home schooling conferences (where I felt distinctly out-of-place with my jeans and short hair.)  I read Mary Pride and all the other big names.  I had friends who were more like the cover families from the home schooling magazines, and thankfully, some who were, like me, not!

Perhaps another time I’ll blog about the whole paternalistic, misogynistic side of some parts of the home-schooling movement.  It was one of the big issues I ran into with home schooling, but isn’t really what struck me about these two articles together.

One of the things that always struck me in the home schooling community was how much was done to protect the kids from the world.  I admit, my own reasons for home schooling had much more to do with keeping them out of a really broken school system in our city than any personal philosophy that home schooling was somehow better.   But what was being done to actually prepare kids for living in this world?    Much of what was/is emphasized in the literature is about making children think and behave a certain way.  The Bible was always the rule book for behavior and thinking.   Yet, did this really prepare them for successful living in the real world?  It fostered an US versus THEM mentality, where they, “the world,” is a threat; so that what is acceptable, good, “normal” is very narrow.   It fostered a mindset that breeds hatred and intolerance.

The Bible, when used as a rule book becomes the law.  It has the same effect today that it did when Paul wrote about the Law in the book of Romans.  The Law actually stimulates us to sin!   So then we can either recognize God’s immense and wonderful grace and respond by repentance or we can beat the bad behavior out of the child.  Unfortunately, much of what I had read in the homeschooling literature chose the latter.   The literature always seemed to be about behavior modification rather than about teaching the grace of God.

This is where the interview comes in.  Tullian Tchividjian talks about how we are so afraid of really teaching grace.  The very argument that Paul addresses in Romans 6.  Essentially, “If we teach grace then people will sin more.”   Why are we so afraid of sin?  Tullian says  “Eugene Peterson has wisely said that ‘discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own.’ ”  If only I had known this twenty years ago!  If I could say that there is a place where I failed in home schooling, it would be in that I paid more attention to developing well behaved kids than kids who understood grace.

So what’s my point.  It’s not specifically about home schooling.  That was just the catalyst article.  My point is that in all our discipleship, with our little ones (I have a five year old granddaughter now) and our older ones (my job involves adult discipleship) we need to not be afraid to teach grace in all its scary messy wonderfulness.  Total forgiveness, total acceptance.  The idea that we cannot make God not love us.  God is love – he cannot do other than love, because his nature is love.  ALL wrath was already poured out on Jesus (Thanks be to God!!)  There is no wrath left.

I love my friends who are home schoolers.  I respect you!  But please, please, please, remember the Bible is about Jesus wonderful sacrifice and Grace, not a handbook for raising well behaved children!

A bit of a ramble, I know.  I’m out of practice.  Grace and peace!

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