And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Monday, May 28, 2012

About Skin

Lyrics | Frank Sinatra lyrics - I've Got You Under My Skin lyrics

There's more than one way to skin a cat, and we just get by...sometimes, the skin of our teeth. Beauty is only skin deep, but when you're in love with someone (a beauty or not) you might agree with ole' blue eyes and sing the Cole Porter hit above, I've Got You Under My Skin.

Our skin is the largest organ of our bodies, protecting the rest of us tirelessly -- when does the skin complain? It doesn't ache when we've overworked it. Oh, it flares up if we stay in the sun too long or walk in shoes that don't fit, but for the most part, the skin just does its job, no doubt hoping we will remember to soak in a hot tub once in awhile and rub it down with moisturizer. The skin loves moisture.

Unless we make a living with it -- actors, newscasters, porn stars -- we can easily adopt such a cavalier attitude toward our skin, which by the way makes us look like us, that we place it at risk. I bleached the bathroom today without wearing rubber gloves. When I mow, I don't give a thought to gasoline spillage. I pluck hairs ruthlessly from my face, forget to wear a hat. When I've had the rare facial, cosmetologists have commented on the lack of sun or other damage -- I attribute this to the fact that I am too cheap or lazy to do much besides washing with water and applying lotion in the morning under make-up and at night before I go to bed.

The skin loses upwards of 10 thousand-million skin cells a day which accumulate in our sheets and clothes and are lost in a strong breeze. While we sleep, replacement cells grow back. And we don't even notice.

I'll tell you when you do notice skin. When you overheat a bowl of potato broccoli soup and when you open the door of the microwave, you get splattered with liquid roughly the same temperature as lava. When it burns for an hour or so, it has your complete attention. And the next today, for have not one or two but three ugly blisters on your chest, you really wish your skin could have warned you. "Hey! That boiling noise you hear doesn't just mean it's ready, it means it's dangerous. To me! By extension, to you! Warning! Warning!

Like the time I walked inside a fence with a clearly posted sign warning me of a guard dog's presence, I thought only AFTER the fact that it would have been such a simple matter to avoid the ensuing problems. Just don't go inside the gate. Just don't put the dadgum soup in for so long.

But the deed is done, and now I must live with the consequences, as we always do when we do a deed whether positive or negative. Sometimes we get good results from bad deeds. Sometimes we get bad results from good ones. Sometimes we don't know what the consequences are for years.

Recently, a psychologist told me that he sees all kinds of families in his practice. He sees parents who did everything right and have troubled kids. He sees parents who did everything wrong, and their kids are remarkably well-adjusted. He sees every kind of mixture in between. There are so many variables, when you start talking about people and relationships, that there just is no way of predicting what will work and what won't, or how something will work out.

King Solomon was the wisest man on earth, and he blew it royally. Literally, I might add. Adam and Eve walked with God face-to-face, in the only perfect place that's ever existed on the planet, and they blew it. Why are we so surprised when folks around us behave no better? Why do we beat ourselves up when we can't live up our own ideas about perfection, much less the biblical standards?

The blisters on my chest are not just unsightly, they are God's perfect plan at work. Sterile fluid cushions the top layer of skin and the layers below, allowing time for the new cells to grow, for new skin to be created. Grace is like that. We are all damaged, and grace -- God's unconditional love for us, warts and all -- surrounds us as we heal. Other people can be instruments of grace too, and not just inside of church walls. Indeed, sometimes we find less grace there than anywhere. Wherever we find comfort, acceptance, joy...these are avenues of grace and comfort that can, if allowed to, bring healing to the damaged goods we have become. 

Sometimes we are damaged through no fault of our own. Not often, true enough, but sometimes. Our parents make mistakes. People abuse, take advantage of. We are bullied, talked about, despised by those we want only to embrace as friends, even family. Most of the time, however, we are damaged because of our poor choices, our sense of entitlement where all we are entitled to is to live as best we can, and then go the way of all flesh.

And yet, I have a sense that we are entitled to much more, in a way, than many of us dare to dream or hope.   Our skin was created for more than healing blisters. It was created to be cherished and loved and embraced. Hands were made not just for work, but for holding other hands. Lips were made not just to form words and assist in eating, but for kissing softly and kissing passionately. Our fingers were made to touch and feel, and the rest of the skin made to respond to the touch of someone we love.Someone who is truly under our skin, deep in the heart of us. 

Call me a romantic, and I guess I am. I started out to write about an ugly blister and have managed to fall in love all over again. Hilarious.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Living Beyond a Lifetime

Substitute teaching for an 8th grade Language Arts class today, several students raised their hands when they came to a particular question in the day's assignment. Previously, they had read about Anne Frank (portions of her diary and a play based on the diary) and watched a movie about her life. Anne had written that she hoped she would live on after her death. The students were asked to give their opinions: Did Anne get her wish? 

It was the wording of the question that threw them. When an explanation was given, they had no trouble with the concept. In 2012, a classroom filled with American teenagers was reading about a young girl from another era. Her memory does indeed live on, just as loved ones in their own lives are still living on in their hearts and minds.

Chances are, no one in a future era outside of a family genealogist will be discussing me or you. But it could happen. Anne Frank certainly had no idea that her journal would find its way to us, to classrooms and theaters around the world. Her world was so small, literally hidden away from view. Now it is so big, she would be amazed. I hope that she is amazed. 

Another person of humble beginnings who has gone on to "live" in the minds and hearts of many is not a Frank, but a Francis. We know him as St. Francis of Assisi.

Recently, I had a long, peaceful span of time in which to think about him and appreciate his legacy. Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida includes a special garden named for him. It's not his highest achievement, by any means, but the one most recent in my own admiration. Still it is striking, when seen against the Anne Frank question. Almost a thousand years after St. Francis walked the earth, a humble but beautiful tribute to him stands in countless gardens, etched on countless plaques.

The son of a wealthy merchant, Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone lived a normal, rowdy life. He was a soldier. He enjoyed sports, buying things, having fun with his friends. He was a lover of all things French, so much so that he was given the nickname Francis. It stuck. Francis was known for having a tender heart toward the poor from an early age, but had he not had a vision, he would be forgotten, no doubt, by history. 

It was only one point on the timeline of his spiritual awakening and growth, but a life-changing point. He saw Christ in a vision telling him to build his church. The building he was in at the time was in ruins; he sold some of his father's goods to give the priest money to make repairs. For this, he got the appreciation of the church. Also beatings by dear old dad, who apparently did not share his son's altruistic views.

It's one thing to give away money that belongs to others (although politicians are especially gifted at this!) but another to sacrifice your own belongings, talents, time. In his 20s, Francis heard a sermon that changed his life even more profoundly than the vision of Christ.

Think about that. A simple sermon on a simple text from the gospel of Matthew:
10 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spiritsand to heal every disease and sickness.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[a] drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts  10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.
Apparently Francis was so convicted by the words that he took them literally and began to preach a simple message of repentance in his bare feet, not even a walking staff in his hand. Eventually, other men were drawn to him, hearing that oft-misunderstood but powerful call to "come and suffer." 

You can read more about St. Francis' life and the ministry that continues today. While you're at it, check out the life and message of a contemporary who was moved by Francis's life in much the same way that Francis was himself moved by a sermon. John Michael Talbot was a gifted secular musician who became disillusioned with what the carnal world had to offer, embraced Catholicism, and became a Franciscan monk. His music and ministry have blessed me personally.

Many years ago, my husband and I accompanied a youth group to a Jesus Festival in central Florida. I don't remember which of our four children was a nursing infant at the time, but I had gone to our car during a concert to discreetly feed him or her. John Michael Talbot was announced over the loudspeakers nearby. His clear, soothing voice rang out as he accompanied himself on acoustic guitar. Such peace filled the car! I sat there and revelled in it, wallowed in contentment and spiritual grace.

A blessing came through John Michael Talbot. Which came because of St. Francis. Which came as the result of a simple sermon. Which was inspired by the life of Jesus. Which was given by the breath of God.

James 1:17 says that "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." We can trace so many blessings...all our blessings, as a matter of fact...back to him. 

But thank God also for those along the timeline who gave voice to their visions. Who walked out their faith. Who left us a legacy. Who give us joy.

And think about the legacy we will ourselves leave behind.

(c) 2012  Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.