Category Archives: Writing

Contemplation on my Commute

Trees line both sides of the old highway that meanders between the town of Cumming and the small city of Gainesville. Lake Lanier’s many fingers reach out to fill the space in between the two communities and the road is named for the largest of the three bridges that make the drive possible. The glimpses of the lake itself vary depending on the season and the zeal of the crew tasked with keeping the shoulder clear. Throughout the winter when I start my drive in darkness I am sometimes rewarded by the site of the sun rising on the other side of the lake, the colors of the sky reflected across the water, sometimes still, sometimes rippling in swatches of rose, peach and coral. After the second bridge the road cuts quite close to the lake and there is a break long enough in the trees for more than a just a glance of the water. A small cove opens up into the larger body of the lake and a small island of trees sits there. On foggy days the mist seems to rise up off the lake and swirl around this little island and seem to offer the possibility of Celtic mystery or magic.

Even on the most breathtakingly beautiful mornings and afternoons not all the views I see on my commute are classically picturesque. I pass many squat structures marooned in dark empty fields of asphalt that spark no curiosity. I have no desire to stop at the brightly lit squares full of convenience or even to visit the stately lake homes with their promise of comfort and repose. However on this stretch of road there are many abandoned structures, old homes and businesses that have already resigned themselves to the passage of time. These places call to me, tempt me to pull over and spend time gazing into their dark windows, craning for just a hint of what secrets might be hidden within.

I tell myself that one day I will make the drive leisurely, leave the house or office with time to spare. I think of how nice it would be to pull over and really absorb the scenes I just steal glances at every day. A few of the views even seem to warrant bringing a camera or sketchbook along to try and capture the unique pull of these places I pass so often. I have been driving this road twice a day, five days a week for six months now and I have yet to feel bored by it. I like my commute. I appreciate my listening options as much as the views. The books I don’t have time to read, sermons, lectures and other programs are available to listen to as I drive. When the words become especially compelling the landscape returns to its role as background, but sometimes the scene I am moving through is louder than what comes through my earbuds.

The most memorable example of this was a Friday when I was driving home listening to a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls and watching the clouds. It was towards the end of February, a warm day that stood out, sandwiched between so many frigid ones. The clouds were especially dramatic that day. Dark masses of thick clouds roiled about the sky on both sides, but to the left the sun was streaming down from behind them in distinct rays that seemed to belong in a fresco or alter board. As I crossed the second bridge I thought to myself that it is no wonder that since ancient times we have looked up at the sky and seen heaven there; that of course most people’s traditions tell of battles in the sky. The struggle between light and darkness is immense and shown to us everyday, writ large across the sky.
It was not quite sunset but the light was changing and a breeze seemed to have come up. Bright hues of blue stood out in patches around the masses of cloud, the dark ones gathering stronger on one side while the light continued to pour through others causing them to glow. As my car left the bridge and started down the hill the scene before my eyes did not change, but my perception of it did. Everything became more vivid. I got a sense of vertigo as the saturation of everything intensified and the sky seemed to grow larger. What had seemed like casual observations of the sky seemed full of deep and important meaning. Though I could not have been staring at the sky for more than a second, I startled myself with the realization that I was driving a car and needed to focus on staying in my lane. When I looked back at the road it seemed to warp away from me at a strange angle, the curves and hills more pronounced, deeper. In that moment it seemed possible that my car and I could fall off the road and into the sky. I felt breathless and a bit nauseous as I gripped the steering wheel more tightly and continued on my way. I did not want to keep looking at the sky but I did not want to stop looking either. The thought occurred to me that I should pull over. I do not know if it was fear or the responsibilities waiting for me at the end of my drive that kept me in the car, mainly looking at the road, only stealing quick glances back at the sky the rest of the way home.
The vertigo went away and my breathing returned to normal before I got to my daughter’s school. But even while preparing and eating dinner I was a bit queasy. Though my surroundings and actions were all the same as they are every evening, nothing felt routine. The air was prickly, the colors too rich, sounds too loud,even ominous. After dinner I went out on the front porch and sat and felt the night. My skin tingled. The neighbor’s windchimes, a dog’s bark, the leaves rustling in the yard, all raised goosebumps along my arms. Anticipation engulfed me. It is an inelegant comparison but the sensation was almost identical to watching and waiting for hallucinations to begin after ingesting a drug to provoke them. There is certainty that something is about happen with no assurance of what form it will take. I do not think any dramatic news would have surprised me that night.

It has been several weeks since that experience. I continue to drive back and forth across the old highway and its bridges twice a day, five days a week. I am still not bored with the views.The moments of breath taking beauty in the sky still make me smile and whisper prayers of appreciation. The buildings in decay still awaken my curiosity. I even still think about which of them I would most like to try and draw or paint, but it all seems dimmed somehow by the moments of vividness. The clouds and roads and trees I saw that afternoon are the same ones I see everyday, yet I feel like I was given a chance to see through a window to something different. When I look up at the sky now there is an added combination of fear and hopeful expectation. I do not know if I am more scared that it will happen again or that it won’t.

Writing

While the visual arts are my first love I am also very fond of the written word. The expression of feelings and ideas through images is sometimes all that is needed, however there are other times when words really are needed to communicate. As I try to develop my skill with the pen in this different direction I hope to get more confident about sharing my words in the same place as I share my images.

I have tried having a separate blog but it didn’t really work for me. I have decided to import the few posts I had there into this site and see if I like that better.

On starting the KitchenGringa blog

In September of 2011 my husband and I unexpectedly had the opportunity to be the owner/operators of a Mexican restaurant in a small town in North Georgia. Within a few weeks he had resigned from his job and we had placed our house for rent and moved ourselves and our children to a brand new place for a new adventure. And what an adventure it was, for 14 months we put everything we had, and then some, into turning the restaurant around and getting the numbers to turn black. We weren’t able to do it. The restaurant is now closed with sad brown paper covering the windows, but neither of us regret the experience. It was an amazing journey that taught us so much, not just about food and hospitality, but about ourselves, our neighbors, and human nature. But I do regret that I didn’t write about it all as it was happening. Even the events that seem to be unforgettable as they occur fade with time as life continues to throw us new trials and triumphs. As we start yet another completely different chapter of our life I would like to do a better job of recording it. And I hope that as I do so I will also find that I am able to further process and sort out the experiences that brought us this point and share them as well.

There is a place near the end of the book of Luke that I keep coming back to. After the Lord’s Supper and before the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus predicted Peter’s denial. He said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 NIV) Peter’s failure that night is completely different from my own failures and I have no delusiones of changing the world by blogging about what its like to be an American woman working in restaurant kitchens dominated by Mexican men. But I do feel like I know what it feels like to be sifted and realize that you are nothing but a pile of dust, and as I try to turn back I would love to be able to have the chance to even in the smallest way strengthen my brothers and sisters.

Drawing as ministry

The main focus of our team’s week in Mexico was the Health and Beauty Clinic we held near the Escuela de Nogal in the Lázaro Cárdenas neighborhood of Nava. Hands and Feet Ministries has built relationships with many families in this neighborhood through the school. Several times a year they reach out to the community through various events. A small kindergarten building and playground near the school that has recently been donated to Hands and Feet was the perfect place to hold the clinic.

beautyclinicMonday we divided into groups and walked around the neighborhood giving out fliers and inviting everyone to come for free manicures, pedicures and haircuts on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We did some basic set up on Monday and discussed who would be filling what role in the clinic. Since my Spanish is pretty good I was asked if I wanted to be the one to share the Gospel with the ladies who were waiting their turn for beauty treatments. I said I would. I tend to be more outgoing in Spanish than I do in English. I find it easier to start a conversation with a stranger in Spanish in a foreign country than in English with the people who live in my own neighborhood. (I think it has to do with having the excuse of not being a native speaker and being expected to make mistakes that somehow takes the pressure off.) But when Ramiro suggested I make a circle of 7 or 8 chairs to sit and have my “platicas” with the ladies I got pretty nervous. He also reccomended that I have a page with applicable Bible verses to hand out. I liked that idea and when we got back to the hotel Deanna and I spent some time looking up verses on beauty and God’s love for us that might offer encouragement to the ladies attending the clinic. We decided on 1 Peter 3:3-4, which seemed the perfect choice to remind the women that though it is nice to feel pretty on the outside God sees and values the beauty we have on the inside.

PN_drawing2The message I wanted to most communicate to each person that came to the clinic was that God made them and God loves them, and I wanted to do so in a personal way. By washing their feet, painting their nails and cutting their hair we were helping to take care of their outside appearance, but I did not want anyone to think it was because we found them lacking. Instead I wanted to be sure that they left feeling loved and accepted by us and by God. To help make the personal connection, and also to help with my nervousness, I decided to combine my love of drawing faces with God’s message of love and acceptance. I used my trusty Sharpies to draw a picture of a hand holding a small mirror surrounded by my signature swirls. Leaving enough space to write a name at the top I wrote “eres hija de Dios, una creación admirable,” which translates to, “you are a child of God, a wonderful creation,” and then smaller added 1 Peter 3:3-4 at the bottom. We made plenty of copies that I took with me, ready to be personalized.

Over the next 3 days I drew portraits of over 40 women, children and even a few young men. As they waited their turn for the other stations they sat still in front of me as I drew their face in the mirror and then wrote their name across the top of the paper. Drawing someone’s portrait is a very intimate experience. You have to look closely at them, really see who they are. For some of the women looking me in the eyes was almost impossible, and one of the young men absolutely would not meet my gaze, but the children loved it. They unflinchingly looked right into my eyes and smiled at me, realizing that I was really looking at them, seeing them, and that I appreciated what I saw. When I finished each portrait and made sure I had their name spelled correctly I read to them what it said and told them it was true. The experience of carefully studying each of their faces, looking into their eyes and then being able to tell them with certainty that they indeed are the children of God, beautiful and wonderfully made was amazing. I would even go so far as to say it felt holy. I felt like I was making a connection, that they believed me, and that most of them would keep the paper with their portrait and the reminder that not only did I see them, but God continues to see them, accept them and love them.

pn_drawing

Our week in Coahuila has given me so much to think about. I am still trying to process it all, but I think the power of eye contact and the human desire to be seen have been what I have pondered the most. I think all of us want to be seen, to be noticed, to be appreciated. We think that this desire can be met by other people. As the drawing went well and I got positive feedback from the people of Nava as well as the people I was serving with I was pleased, but also wary. I was reminded of Galatians 1:10 and that while being seen and appreciated by other people is nice, it is to our Lord God in Heaven that we should be looking for approval. It is from Him that we should seek and find acceptance reassurance, and love. It is Him that really sees us as we are, fearfully and wonderfully made.