Steadfast

North Ridge entered 2012 by partnering with Port City Church in an initiative called My One Word. My One Word is a program where an individual methodically selects a single word, an attribute to which the aspire, to focus on becoming throughout the year. This single word replaces the cumbersome list of New Year’s resolutions that are all broken by Valentine’s Day. My word for 2012 began as ‘bold’ and honed down to ‘speak’ before the year’s end. You may remember seeing drawings from the sermon series (check out the My One Word link in my past series cloud if you are new to Plasso).  Several of us who found success in emulating our words last year chose to re-up on My One Word in 2013. My word for this year – steadfast.

Steadfast – fixed in direction, firm in purpose, unwavering, firmly fixed in place or position.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12

Our family of five will be embarking on an adventure this year that we will be a ride that lasts the next four. We are letting go of a safe, consistent income so my wife can return to school full-time. She has been teaching biology in public high school since the fall of 2001. The increasing government regulations and bureaucratic meddling is effectively driving all the quality teachers out of the public sector, Julie is adding her name to their casualty list at the end of this semester. This time of spring in 2017, she will graduate as a licensed pharmacist.

To be quite honest, I chose this word focus on for all four years of the PharmD program! Letting go of the teaching position is the least of my concerns, I’m actually relieved to be free from the toll that career path takes on the teacher’s family. I encourage any young person who asks my opinion on their projected career path to avoid teaching if they also see family in their future. The nation’s public school system is in a sad state, driven by statistical algorithms instead of actual effectiveness. The mountains of paperwork and loathsome hours wasted keeping up with the requirements of this bureaucratic mess have changed the landscape of public teaching.  No longer is it a honorable career path that opens the door to significantly impacting children’s lives. It is now a contractual marriage to a thankless job that demands higher priority than any other aspect of the teacher’s life. 12 years of experience as a teacher’s spouse (2/3 of one year testing out the job personally) created my opinion and nearly every person I speak to who are also (or were formerly) married to a teacher corroborate this position. I am at least as equally excited as Julie that her professional divorce from teaching will be finalized in thirty days.

Our objective now is maintaining the household while she becomes a commuter student  and fulfills a dream to enter the medical field which was alive when we met 16 years ago. Remaining steadfast.

Those of you who follow this blog know how my mind works, or at least are familiar with its results. Steadfast is more than just my word until 2017, it is also an image that is burned into my mind and hangs on the wall above the desk where I type.

Steadfast
Steadfast

Steadfast is composed of three 12″ x 16″ canvases. I used four 8-penny nails to hold each panel in place. Once the shape was created, I began painting. The primary emotion I wanted to convey was agitation. The first layer of the painting was a very dark, midnight black with just a touch of blue. To experiment with media (and a bit out of necessity when I realized I was out of blue acrylic at the time), the under-painting of this piece is tempra.

I made sure to purchase all the black and blue I could need for the outer layer of this piece. Using long, fast, borderline violent strokes horizontal strokes, I imagined myself inside a tornado seeing the wind and debris swirling around my head. Various shades of blues and blacks concealed the dull under-painting. Stepping back to look, I was quite pleased (and a little out of breath) when this sitting was complete.

The final piece of this painting was to take a Jackson Pollock sort of spin like I used in ‘Torn‘ and literally throw some highlights of orange, yellow and white onto the dark canvas. Hosting a party to break the mundane-ness of January changed my direction. Once complete, ‘Steadfast’ had a hole to fill over the computer desk in our living room. It is not a direct focal point in our party-gathering space, but leaving the space empty would stick out like a sore thumb. Though incomplete, I hung ‘Steadfast’ for the party. This proved to be a defining choice for the piece and my understanding of my word.

We have can lights in the ceiling in our living room and the wall above our computer desk is an ideal location for artwork without glass because the piece is perfectly illuminated. ‘Steadfast’ was no different. The piece looks amazing in this location; the lighting makes the subtle light blues pop against the darker hues. The light also added another unexpected dimension. Reflecting against a sheen I only guess was created by painting acrylic over tempra, a streak of almost white yellow slithers its way down the paint and gives the image the same likeness as a calm, moon-lit lake.

Steadfast (no flash)
Steadfast (no flash)

A good friend who is a creating in his own right as a writer (check out his work here) admired the piece and we discussed the background, the creative process, and the future plans for the piece. Jason made a profound suggestion; leave the image as is for 2013, but revisit it each year and modify the image as your understanding of remaining steadfast evolves. Pure creative genius. I am doing as he suggested and practicing steadfastness by leaving the image alone until next January.

What began as an agitated, chaotic whirl-wind with three canvases holding on for dear life became the most peace-filled, calming image I can recall ever creating. Through the process of creating this piece, God showed me that remaining steadfast is not just exemplified in a soldier on the front lines of battle who yells to his comrades to stand their ground. There is a peaceful, calm side of steadfastness as well. Keeping your cool under stress, refusing the urge to worry when anxiety comes knocking, declining the part-time, third shift job I was offered to supplement the income and remaining faithful that ends will meet without sacrificing my presence with Julie and the boys. This is me remaining steadfast.

Steadfastness for you could manifest in a thousand different ways. Steadfastness is maintaining your integrity and standing your ground. While at times it will be a fight against adversity, there is a peacefulness to be found. Peace as a result and peace within.

Peace runs deep, deep in Him.  – ‘Train Song’ Josh Garrels

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I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I mention work? Do you think of sweat and strenuous exercise? Pride may be the inspired emotion in some, pride in their position and their productivity. Others react the opposite, feeling abhorrent toward their place of employment; discouraged by the thought of another business day. God did not intend work  to be something we dread, much less avoid. As we saw last week, God created work when he created man. God placed Adam and Eve in Eden and told them to cultivate the rest of the earth by the garden’s example; he created work as an avenue to worship. The fall changed our perception of working from being a voluntary way to worship God to an inescapable form of punishment.

Men, in particular, walk a fine line between being defined by their work and defining themselves through their work. If you compare the average hours a man spends at work versus quality time spent at home with his family (taking into account time to sleep) in a single work day, his priorities seem vastly disproportionate. For most, however, quitting to devote all your time to being at home with the family is not an option. Even if you left the day job, own your home out-right, and grow or hunt your own food, there’s still work required to survive. Having to work is not where men get in trouble, the problem is being defined by your work. Our identity, as men and women, is not defined by our position, but rather in a person. Once we begin to define ourselves by what we do or how well we produce, we hand over the reigns of our emotional well-being to the one we’re producing for. This only brings disappointment and frustration when the boss who is impressed by your productivity responds by raising the bar a little higher. Happiness at one’s job is determined by a combination of the work environment and apparent value in the job. When intrinsic value is extrinsically dependent, happiness is a volatile subject because it depends on the day. Belonging to Jesus frees the supervisor from self-importance and the supervised from self-pity. Finding intrinsic value by realizing the One who made you is pleased even when your best efforts fall short attains the freedom to work hard and work well without the yoke of insurmountable expectations. When our work becomes part of our worship, our job becomes a joy. We tend to divide things that are secular from things that are sacred. We forget we are created beings working to please our Creator; everything is sacred!

Ephesians 6:5-9 teaches us the attitude we should adopt to find joy, but keep our priorities straight, in our jobs. The first word in verse 5 is most accurately translated as ‘bondservants’. In the first century, a bondservant was a person who worked for another and was compensated as a result. Sound familiar? Paul goes on to encourage bondservants to work not to be seen or as people-pleasers, but as if their work was directly for Christ. He then changes his  focus to the masters, imploring them to lead fairly, knowing their employees are working for Christ, not for them.

In my life since college, I had to learn a lesson about work that specifically relates to what Christians label their “calling”. God calls people to do certain things and have certain attitudes. Many young Christians believe determining their specific calling in life is a prerequisite to selecting a career, as I was. Believing this way leads to a lot frustration, a constant search for greener pastures, and extended college careers. So much effort goes toward finding our elusive “calling”, we procrastinate ourselves into what we fear most, insignificance. Paul encourages us in Colossians 3:23 to do what we do well, as if it is for God, no matter what it is we’re doing. Our “calling” is to a life of excellence, consistently serving our God through loving people, our way of making a living is of less significance to Him than our efforts toward doing the job well. Calling does not equate to career.

Today’s drawing has several levels. The background is a black and white swirl. The description of the relationship between master and bondservant inspired this swirl, the colors never mixing but pushing each other in the circular motion instead. I initially thought of drawing a long, flat road that disappeared into the center of the swirling background. I was not happy with this imagery because most roads carry traffic in both directions. The sign along the road reads, ‘The Way – Keep Following’, encouraging travellers to stay the course despite the road getting rough. That’s when a song from my childhood came to mind, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. Eureka! I left the road sign, but changed the asphalt road to a railway; unquestionably a one-way path and much more demanding on the workers who construct it! The railroad track disappears into a shining light that blends the master and bondservant together, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Work well, fearing God more than man.