Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I've been STUNG!

Hello, lovies!

It seems like I haven't talked to you in a really long time. I'd gotten back into the habit of blogging and making art, and then darn, I had to be a novelist again. But you'll be happy to know I've done my edits for The Exorsistah 2: X Returns, and there was a lot of demon butt kicking and girlfriends, and a hottie who loves Jesus! I think you'll like it. Comes out in September, but you can get a head start by reading The Exorsistah! Pocket books, 2008. No link, it's late, and I'm tired.

Now that I've shamelessly plugged my books, indulge me while I shamelessly plug B Sting Studios. B is for Burney, as in my last name. And Sting is all about the needle at the edge of my husband Ken's tattoo gun. I've been stung several times in the last four months, and tonight B Sting struck again I now am the proud wearer of an Immaculate Heart of Mary. I just love her. I didn't always, but she totally RAWKS, and if she's Jesus' mom, what's not to love. And now for the tat.

BOO yow!


Okay, how fabulous is that? Seriously? You can't see the details, but the heart has itty, bitty roses wrapped around it, and fire coming out of the top like my Sacred Heart of Jesus tat. And the fire has a lily in the middle. And of course, there's the sword that goes with Simeon's prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart. I LOOOOOOOOVE it!

How fabulous is Ken?

That wasn't rhetorical, lovies. Ken is way fabulous, and it'd be great if you visited him. He just started a blog for his design company. Just in case the link goes wonky, the URL is http://bstingstudios.blogspot.com. I'm sure he'd love to hear from you. So will ya go say hi to my papi for me. I'd be much obliged.

I'm off to Lexington tomorrow for a visit with my bff! I'll talk to ya'll upon my return. Pray traveling mercies for me.

I'll be thinking and praying for you.

love,
mair-francis

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

To Write Love on My Arms

Many people have rallied around the ministry To Write Love On Her Arms. The ministry offers grace and healing to people who suffer from depression, addiction, self-injury, and are at risk for suicide. Lord, have mercy, I've known some of those affictions. I wish I had their help back in the day.

On a very bad day, sixteen years ago, I etched my pain into my wrist. I was young, a battered woman, and so depressed I prayed for God to give me cancer so I can die without the scandal of committing suicide. God, my merciful Father, did not give me what I asked for, praise His holy name. But that day, I didn't wait for cancer. I carved one jagged unsure line in one wrist with a stolen razor blade. I watched my blood bead on the surface, and I still wanted to die. Then I carved another into the other wrists, this time a firm resolved line. But God was good to me. Something still alive inside raged against the dying of the light. I called an ambulance lovies, and became my own hero. There was no TWLOHA to offer me assistance, or if it were, I didn't know it.

That was a long time ago, and even now as I recount this I'm in tears, grieving for the lost beloved child I God I was.

My act marked me, of course. I used to want to cover my scars with bracelets, but I don't like too many bracelets, and it's hard to find one that fits just right. Later, after I'd gotten my first tattoo, I thought one day I might put a tat there. I could never quite think of what would be right. My bff, Lisa told me a pretty famous writer we know has a dogwood flower she got in her seventies, lovies! She thought dogwood flowers were perfect for my scars, and for a while, so did I. I also thought about roses. If you've read Wounded, you'd know the significance they have for me. If you haven't read Wounded, read it lovies. I'd like to stay in the writing business, and can't if nobody buys my books. LOL. Once I got the dogwood flowers on my shoulder I wondered if that really was the symbol to go there, as much as I loved the symbolism. Then one day, on an artist I love's blog, I saw a tattoo that stunned me. I knew that was the one. I only told my family and one friend, and she cried when I told her. My family didn't love the idea, but the fact is, love really does cover a multitude of sins. If anything should cover my scars it should be love. Simply that.

I am honored to have such a talented husband, who creates such beauty and shares it with me. Tonight, he joined Jesus in writing love on my arms, or rather, my wounded wrists.

Isn't it magnificent? I don't know if you can sense this too, but it seems like this is the beginning of a lot of healing for me. I'm so happy I can hardly stand it.

love,
mair-francis

Monday, January 19, 2009

Over My Head I See Freedom In the Air


On Monday, the Archdiocese of Detroit's Office of Black Catholic Ministries celebrated a Mass in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. I was invited by John Thorne, Coordinator of Black Catholic Ministries to do the first reading. It was an honor to be a part of such a numinous event, where we gave thanks for the blessings of our shared history, allowed our hearts to be filled for the future, and honored local servants for their social justice ministry.

There was an Urban Youth Choir, liturgical dance team (the Dearing Detroit Dance Company), and John himself sang a stunning solo, as did several others, all part of a special MLK Choir. Lovies, this Mass had everything I love about Church, the Eucharist, soul-shattering/soothing music, a procession complete with incense, a cathedral of touching beauty, and a homilist whose simple message stayed with me, massaging my heart with soft, gentle hands, changing me with each stroke.

Rev. Theodore Parker was the Celebrant, and every remembrance of his homily causes something strong and solid within me to stand up and sing. Fr. Parker asked us to imagine what it would be like to sit at the feet of Jesus along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Oh my! The image was like an arrow, piercing my heart. I could see it as an icon, Dr. King kneeling before the Lord, Jesus reaching out to him with His hand outstretched in blessing and tenderness in His eyes. Dr. King looks up at Jesus and begins to sing, "Over my head, I see freedom in the air." What faith this martyr had!

Then Fr. Parker did something extraordinary, right in the middle of his talk. He began to sing those words that belong to an old Negro spiritual, which were transformed, like many others spirituals, into a freedom songs. Fr. Parker's reverberating bass repeated the words and familiar refrain, "Over my head, I see freedom in the air."

Can you see it, lovies? Can you get a glimpse of freedom?

The youth choir sat behind him, teenagers, and they too began to sing softly. We in the congregation joined in, our voices as soft as a baby's love and fine as a the first day of summer. The singing was also full of sorrowful joy, boosted by the history of people with skin like mine, beaten, jailed, hosed, attacked by dogs as fear mongers took desperate measures to ensure their right to hate remained preserved. And non-violent revolutionaries, black and white, continued to sing, though persecuted, for the freedom I enjoy today.

Many singing that day would not make it to the promised land that is now, as watch in wonder the first President of color sworn into office. Those freedom fighters in those days, sadly, not very long ago, saw freedom over their heads. But it was in the air. Not only could they see it, they could hear, taste, smell, feel it, just as I did at Mass.

Bernice Johnson, founder of the mega-amazing singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock, is instrumental in that song being part and parcel of my worship today. This is what she said about the first time she sang that song during and after a march:

We circled the jail twice and went back to Union Baptist Church, and Charlie Jones said, “Bernice, sing a song.” I started “Over My Head” and the spiritual goes, “Over my head/I see trouble in the air.” So I flipped “trouble” into “freedom.” It was the first time I had ever done that, especially with a sacred song, a spiritual that came from slavery. I realized that there was something about the march that had moved me to a position where I could use the songs I had been taught.

The singing in jail went on endlessly. Hours and hours. There were times we talked, but we sang more than we did anything else. And so the way in which we created community was through singing. That was when we felt the union. When we talked, then we could feel the diversity and the complexity of the union. And then sometimes when we would talk, the talk would go on for awhile and just because of the intensity of the diversity, we’d have to start singing again.”

Later, after she'd been released she wrote:

"The changing of my voice came after jail. In the first mass meeting, they asked me to sing, I sang the same song, Over My Head/I hear Freedom in the Air, but my voice was totally different. It was bigger than I’d ever heard it before. It had this ringing in it. It filled all the space of the church."

I know this ringing. I experienced it yesterday. It soared in the voices of children and old people, in the voices of all present in the cathedral. I was so happy those children knew the song. One of my Godfathers said if we don't preserve our stories, in a generation they'll be gone. I pray we never lose our precious stories, but even if we did, those children will remember our freedom songs, and perhaps, our singing will go on and on, like it did in that jail, when dozens of college students sang it.

I could hardly wait to create this collage. The photo is a copy of one of Dr. King's jail mugshots. I covered his identification number with a stamp that says, "Dream with Faith," to honor his life and work. The background is red, black, and green, the color of the African American flag, though I give no less honor to our American flag. God bless America. His nimbus is made from sheet music on tracing paper. Glitter gives it a little shine, and I framed the piece in glossy, black paint. My heart is touched every time I look at this collage. It just keeps speaking to me.

Today I will watch history unfold with my children, and I will remember this most amazing day, being tearful and reflective, in the sweet comfort of my home and the reverie of memories, my own, and those of my ancestors. I will be surrounded by my beautiful black family. Together on this incredible day, we will create a story to tell to our generations. As one, we will sing our freedom song, the eyes of our hearts toward heaven, seeing freedom in the air.

We shall overcome.

Love,
mair-francis

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bird by Bird

Did you read Anne Lamott's phenomenal writing book, Bird by Bird by any chance? It was the first Lamott book I read, and it led me running to get her spiritual writing. Talk about someone giving you permission to make bad art! Her classic line about writing "shitty first drafts" changed my life, and I'd dare say gave me the courage to take on something as big as writing a novel. I didn't have to write a perfect draft. I just had to write a draft. I thought of it yesterday, when a friend and fellow novelist was having a good old fashion freak-out about the task of wading through extensive edits on her novel. I've been there. In fact, I've been losing my balance, suddenly making all this art (which is very time consuming) and avoiding diving into to my own very crappy rough draft, that needs a complete re-write.

I did about 85 pages, and then went all spacey and visual artsy again. Writing and editing a novel doesn't feel like I'm making art today, and nobody is around to say, "Beautiful. I love it," to urge me on. It just feels like work.

Anyway, I got inspired, aka, found another way to avoid my own edits, and told Ali I would make her an inspirational, somewhat butt kickin' piece (motivating) piece of art to help her remember to do a task at at time. A total rewrite sounds like a nightmare, but she can manage a scene. A novel is a series of scenes. If she can take it scene by scene, she'll look up and it'll be done.

This is the story from Lamott's book:

"Thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird."

I ran out of canvas board, so I made this on the back cover of a hymnal. Love the ragged edges. The birds are pretty scrapbook paper, with number stickers. The flowers are paper and I painted the back ground. The line to the right of the birds says, "Look honey, we are just going to take this bird bird." I need that advice as much as Alison. It's a direct quote from the book, but isn't that a cool way to speak to a friend, or even yourself, when you need a gentle nudge?

Okay, now I really do have to edit a book. If you don't hear from me for a few days (weeks!), that's why.

I'll miss y'all. Pray for me!

Love,
mair-francis

Lead, kindly Light: The Lisacon

I had no idea the icon collage I made for myself on the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord would turn into a series. I've shared mine and Gina's with you, and now I'll share Lisa's.

She's one of my best friends in the whole world. I met her in the dark. I found her blog late one depressed night. Many of you know I'm bipolar, so let me tell ya, my depression is epic. She is not bipolar, but she's battled the beast of darkness. When I read her blog it was like hearing her say, "Me, too." We became friends, and it was she who put a lot in motion to get me published. It was she I traveled to Africa with. It is she who seems to understand my deepest dreams. She masterfully edited two of my books, one of which was named in The Library Journal's Best of 2008 list. Even better? One of her books, a favorite of mine, made the same list. :D.

I started the lisacon with this pink, fun paper, thinking I'd have such fun. She's such a whimsical personality, but as I worked, I hit the touching blue note that seems to define our friendship. You know the blue note in jazz, right? It makes you feel happy, and sad, and hopeful, all at once.

Here's the lisacon:

Here, as part of the background, I chose the hymn by John Henry Newman, "Lead kindly, Light." On the blue side panel the lyrics pronounces the soul cry of many: "The night is dark, and I am far from home." She is a lover of justice and the poor. I added that element to her nimbus (I was hungry and you fed me, from Matt. 25). I also added and the tools she uses to right many wrongs to her hands. The peacock has special meaning for her. It was a profound, soul altering experience creating this.

I keep thinking about how much we need Jesus in this dark world. I've had many dark nights that I longed to be done with this world and all it's pain and suffering, and, dear Lord! I've never seen a more kindly Light than Christ's. Newman's lovely hymn continues to resonate with me, long after I've finished this collage. I'm posting the lyrics so it might bless you, too.

Lead, Kindly Light

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I
Have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path, Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Savior, lead me home in childlike faith, home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

love,
mair-francis
p.s. I have zero technique. I'm discouraged by my lack of good skill, permission to make bad art, and all. Can any of you mixed media artist tell me any particular resources or books that have been helpful to you. I especially need to figure out the best glues, papers, and such to use that won't buckle. Or something to finish with besides gel medium! And how the heck will I ever learn to draw???

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Marvelous Mystele Day, and Tagged

Hello, lovies!

Okay, so I've already told you about my new blogger/artist crush Mystele. I also told you about my bff Gina, and the icon piccha I painted for her. She loved it, btw. I was so happy to do something that gave her such joy. Anyway, Gina also had a gift for me. Turns out that months ago, for my birthday she purchased this lovely original folk art painting by an artist she loved that I hadn't yet discovered:


Gorgeous, isn't it? Turns out it's by Mystele. Ha! Isn't that just like Jesus? He knows us so well. He knows what we want before we know what we want. I wanted to begin to collect her art, and while my longing for beauty grew, the Lord and Gina had a wonderful surprise for me. The Lord is good. Seriously.

I've been admiring one of Mystele's newest paintings, this blast of incredibleness:

Turns out I (and you, too!) have an opportunity to win a print! To enter to win all you have to do is participate in a Six Random Things About Yourself Meme. The rules:

Link to the person who tagged you, in my case Mystele.
Post the rules on your blog.
Write six random things about yourself.
Tag six other people, and let the know they're tagged.

Like Mystele, I'm a rule-breaker. Consider yourself tagged if you're reading this. :) Now, here are my six random things.

1. I can scarcely tolerate drinking cola unless it has lemon juice in it. When I was an asthmatic child of the seventies, a doctor told my mother that lemon juice in cola could stave off an asthma attack. I acquire the taste way back then. My whole family drinks cola this way now.

2. I had a battery of test done years ago to determine if I have ADD. I had every symptom of the disorder, but the doctor refused to give me the diagnosis because I'd have to prove I had it since childhood. He asked if I could bring in a report card from second grade. I told him I couldn't find my shoes most days. Therefore, officially, I do not have ADD.

I'm sorry. What was I just talking about?

3. I am conflicted about natural vs. chemically altered hair. When I relax my hair I feel like some kind of sell out. It's one of the last vestiges of my former life as a militant Black nationalist. But every year, when my hair gets a certain length, I process it. About four months later I CUT OFF all but about a quarter of an inch of that hair, saying, "I missed the natural texture of my hair." I then proceed to grow it all back (because I miss having longer hair) and do the same thing again. This drives Ken insane. My hair is one of our off limits discussion topics for this reason.

4. I wore my hair in dreadlocks four times. I always cut them off when they got too unruly and looked, "unprofessional." I mean, duh? They're dreads! What was I thinking? Then I grieved the loss of them. I'm thinking of dreading again. Sigh.

5. Sometimes my fibromyalgia hurts so much that I can't stand clothes--or anything else--touching my skin. I know I should only buy natural fiber clothes, but I still buy crappy fabric that doesn't feel good, especially if it's on clearance. When will I ever learn?

6. As a good, Christian gal, I did not drink wine until I went to Emergent '05 and buckled under peer pressure. I had a teensy few drops that made me feel horribly guilty. That was then. Now I drink wine whenever I want to because those awful, drunken Emergent Christians MADE me. LOL. I'm especially fond of champagne, which I found out was created by monks who upon discovering it proclaimed, "We've bottled the stars!" Yum.

Okay, that was six things. Tell me about you, and let Mystele know if you want to be considered for her giveaway.

Love ya!
mair-francis

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ohmigoodness, I Missed the Mentalist!


It was that kind of Tuesday, and trust me, not since the first episode have I forgotten to watch my favorite television show. Bummer.

My challenging day started short after I woke up and found my left leg no longer worked. Well, my leg works fine. My thigh however, seems to be on strike. I know, I sound pretty non-chalant about it, but believe me, it's alarming. So, I pulled out my trust cane, which I bought shortly after the Calvin Festival where my knees decided to switch to part time employment. Oh, the joys of fibromyalgia! You never know from day to do what you'll get.

So, I spent much of the day in bed. One happy benefit was that I got 50 pages of the Exorsistah 2 completed. Yay! I worked off and on till after nine (which is probably why I forgot to watch The Mentalist). Then and only then could I allow myself to paint.

Oh man. I suck at painting. I want to be an elegant and beautiful artist, but I end up making a huge mess. It was all over the bed. I had to diligently guard the pink patchwork quilt of fabulousness. I was supposed to work on my weight loss journal, but instead I chose to celebrate the journey of a dear friend who has also embarked upon a remarkable journey. I met Gina perhaps 3 years ago. The moment I saw her Jesus told me she was His bride. I told her so, and it was the beginning of a mystical friendship, though she's far more mystical than I. I dedicated The Exorsistah to Gina. She's been one of my art muses since I saw her first, fragile paintings, and now she gets to watch my life as a visual artist be born, as if she were my doula, guiding me through painful contractions during my transition. She urges me to go on and let God's will be done.

She really liked my "maircon" icon, and since she has mirrored grace to me so often, being a true icon of Christ, I decided to make one for her. I'm afraid my pain and the late hour means it's not the finest piece ever, but I'll be seeing her tomorrow, so I wanted it to be ready.

Initially I wanted to make her "ginacon" like my "maircon". I knew she loved it, and why tamper with success? But as I worked and prayed for her, I believe her heart emerged. She really is Christ's bride, so I used as a background a page from the hymnal. The song? Jesus Lover of My Soul. Some of the Lyrics are, "Jesus, Lover of my Soul, let me fly to thy bosom." I put the words let me fly to Thy bosom in the red heart. I stamped the word "trust" over and over, and also added on one of the hymn pages, "Gina loved of God, Spouse of Christ, Beloved Bride. I know my friend has suffered much, so I gave her the sacred stigmata. Her hands are wounded, yet she carries a paintbrush and palette. The wounds are heart shaped, and I also put one on her forehead to indicate her awareness of sharing in Christ's suffering.

I won't bother to explain much more. I just try to trust my instincts, and make a descent composition. It's a little frustrating, as the worker, like my writing, never lives up to my hopes for it. But isn't that how it goes. You toil and strive, you reach, and only when you touch God in heaven will you have arrived. It's a process, one that's teaching me a lot.

I hope Gina likes this.

Love and peace,
mair-francis

Monday, January 12, 2009

Psst. Hey you...

Yeah, you! Wanna talk about all that Jazz???
Come join me here for chat about Death, Deceit, and Some Smooth Jazz, the second Amanda Bell Brown mystery. All you have to do is click on the blue "forum" link, and it'll take you there. Hope to see ya on another spot in cyberspace!

Mwah!
mair-francis

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Baptism, Renewal, and Your One Wild and Precious Life

Hello lovies,

Today is the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. I knew I was in for a treat when I walked into Mass (late, Lord, have mercy!) and Fr. Gary was sprinkling everyone with holy water. Before the Eucharist we all renewed our baptismal vows, and were sprinkled with the holy water and washed clean again. I mean, you totally got a lot of chances to get it right today! Lovely. So nice to be freshened up!

Fr. Gary's homily was about Jesus' humility in submitting to baptism even though He was sinless. It made me reflect on my own life. I think it takes a certain degree of humility to do anything beautiful for God. We have to submit not only to a washing away of our sins, but also the death of our ego and desire to do things mywaymywaymyway! After His baptism Jesus began His public ministry, and once again, I pondered my own ministry. What do you want me to do, Jesus?

I ask myself this question so often. Right now some of the big picture is clear. I know I want to relieve the suffering of the poor Christ as I find Him in others. I want to open an artful house of hospitality. I know I was given a gift of words and I should write. These are my big desires. In a way, they feel like the common sense things I'm supposed to do considering the gifts and loves I've been possess. I want to use these hungers and abilities for God's glory, but the question, what do you want me to do, Lord? keeps churning in my soul, parts still unanswered, as if there are possibilities I've never dreamed of and today they are out of reach. I want to be open. Even what I believe I'm supposed to do deep down in my soul can be--should be!-- humbled, and washed clean. I want to keep saying an unmistakable YES, even when confronted with mystery.

The feast of the Baptism of Our Lord is the end of the Church year for Catholics. We've waited through Advent, celebrated the Christ Child by offering Him our gifts for Epiphany, and now, we take our gifts and submit them to Him and His Spirit. We've died with Christ in baptism, and we rise again, our Father pleased with us. Amen!

Tomorrow is the beginning of ordinary time. I wanted to end this church year meditatively, affirming my heart's desire and highest hopes for the days to come. I made a 5x7 collage. I got ambitious y'all, and tried to fashion it as an icon, a whimsical icon, I admit.
Yikes, it's hard to do an icon when you really can't draw! It took me hours to make this! But I tried (I got a little help from tracing an icon by Fr. William McNichols). So, the icon is on tracing paper with watercolor pencils, paint markers, and gel pens. The nimbus is made of patterned scrapbooking paper. I used a big ol' purple circle that was part of the paper's design. Around the nimbus I wrote the words that represent what I believe I should do: writing, art, loving, healing, giving, creating. Just behind me is page of a hymnal with the lyrics to, "God Will Take Care of You." I believe this journey must be taken with faith in God's provision. Next I wrote the words in a paint marker, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." I added hearts that remind me of tear drops with a paint marker, and to the side of that a stamp of a rose. This is to represent awareness of the passion (suffering) involved in sharing in the life of Christ. It also represents the budding of my truest true self. I also added another blossom at the bottom, and a colorful bird that appears to have risen from my hands. This, of course, is the precious Holy Spirit. I used a colorful bird instead of a white one because color is bursting in my soul. The painting has my favorite colors, in thick messy strokes. I don't mind being a little messy. That too, takes bravery.

Art teaches me so much, about the creative process, about courage, and about letting go of outcomes I cannot control. It teaches me to love the newbie inside who is making art like a child, without skill, but with great joy and attention. It gives me hope.

What about you? Have you thought about your own public ministry? In the words of Mary Oliver I ask you, "Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Love ya!
mair-francis
P.S. Next...My weight loss art journal. Sounds like fun, eh?<--sarcasm goes here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

My Big Honkin' Retail Adventure

Hello there, lovies!

Okay, yesterday was my baby girl Nia Grace's birthday.

She's 12! I know, right? I can't believe it either. If you know Nia Grace you know how tiny she is. She totally takes after Ken. Same face, only girl version. Same Masai build. Same cocoa brown skin. Same big amazing eyes. I mean, she doesn't look 12 AT ALL! But she is. Happy Birthday, Punky!

Nia Grace is a crafty chica. She knew the finances were pretty much non-existent, but we asked what she wanted just the same. You know what she requested? A chocolate cheese cake, materials to make a plushy, and some Sculpey.

Is she easy, or what? And we so could handle the cheese cake.

I was on my way to Kroger when I got a little wily. Someone gave me two small checks that honestly, I tried to cash at three different banks before Christmas, to no avail. I gave up, and was going to mail them back to the person who gave them to me when I decided to use outrageous hope and try one more time. Of course sweet Jesus was with me! I cashed those checks and had enough to shoot over to Michael's for my baby's stuff!

I get there and the store is going out of business! I just got into art, and now a major source of supplies and inspiration is leaving me! But I had no time to grieve, because everything was 50-90% off! Ken and I, with the little we had, lost our minds.

We got what gracie wanted. We got stuff for Ken, who doesn't just do amazing tattoos, and when we were done we got stuff for mama. I won't get into how much we spent, because y'all will be mad Jesus showed me so much favor, but I'll show you what I ended up with, and rest assured, what I paid for it was rather ridiculous.

I have plenty on hand to start art journaling, painting, stamping, whatever! Of course I had to get started. I've been oogling the work of people like my new best friend Mystele. In fact, it's at her request that I'm sharing what I got from Michaels. I've been building up the courage to try my hand at doing some of the folk art-type work so popular now. Believe me, I have nooooooo experience, but the desire was burning in me. I had to make an effort.

Do you ever wonder about that scripture that says that if we delight in the Lord He'll give us the desires of our heart? I used to think it means He'll give us what we want. Now I think it may have layers of meaning. Perhaps He'll put desires and wants inside of us. How can you ignore a love jones God built into you? I think my art love comes from the Creator Himself. This compels me to work as unto the Lord. Even if I suck.

So, here's my first shot at folk art. It's awful. Lord, have mercy, I'm embarrassed to show you. I used torn paper I had on hand, punched out shapes (only fifty cents for the punches!) watercolor pencils, markers, and paint markers. My personal word for 2009 is "bloom". So, here ya go:
Yeah. We're going to file this with "Bad art I've given myself permission to make," which is a blog entry in and of itself. Maybe tomorrow. But I must tell you. It made me so happy to do this. I can't even explain it.

Okay, for now, I'm back to editing the Exorsistah 2: X Returns, but, sigh, you know where my heart is today.

Much love,
mair-francis

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

An Utterlaaaay Fabu Act of Artfullness and Amazing Grace

I knew near the end of last year I wanted to live more artfully, and for me that meant embracing beauty and whimsy everywhere. It also meant creating such wherever I found it lacking. I also wanted to wrap my arms around the symbols that speak to me, especially when it comes to my life with Christ. I enlisted my husband in my quest for the lovely.

See, In 1999 I got a tattoo of a lotus flower over my breast. It was a tiny, very stylized Egyptian design in black. The lotus was a good symbol for me. It's speaks to me of a flower so resilient it can bloom in anything; dirt, garbage, dung. It just keeps growing no matter what awfulness it finds itself in.

I was always knee deep in dung, lovies. Truly, it was a rockin' symbol for me, but I made one mistake. The design I gave the artist wasn't very beautiful. I chose it in a rush, when I was frankly very deep into a bipolar hypomanic episode. What's worse, it had a connection to my former abuser. Now, I don't regret getting a tattoo. What I regretted was getting an ugly one that reminded me so much of him.

That was a long time ago. I've forgiven him. In fact, we spoke recently. Once again, he asked my pardon. I forgave him a long time, but I told him he was free, and please, to move on with his life. I don't think about those bad times anymore. I have a new life filled with love, and it's been that way for along time. All really is forgiven. All is well with my soul. There was no need for him to torment himself.

It's true. All really is well, and I wanted to integrate new symbols of faith more deeply into my life that reflect some of that, while acknowledging what I've been through, still. It wouldn't hurt to cover that ugly tattoo, either. So, after giving it a lot of thought, I asked my budding tattoo artist husband to place the Sacred Heart of Jesus over the lotus flower. Jesus is so much bigger than that unfortunate time in my life, and His heart has stayed connected to mine, even when I didn't realize it.

Ken made a sketch, which of course he veered away from, but that's okay. One of the things he did was add dogwood flowers that crept up my shoulder. Did you ever hear the legend of the dogwood tree lovies? Here it is. Of course I got this off the net. :D

There Is A Legend
At the time of Crucifixion the dogwood had been the size of the oak and other forest trees. So firm and strong was the tree that it was chosen as the timber for the cross. To be used thus for such a cruel purpose greatly distressed the tree, and Jesus nailed upon it, sensed this.
In His gentle pity for all sorrow and suffering Jesus said to the tree:
" Because of your regret and pity for My suffering, never again shall the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. Henceforth it shall be slender and bent and twisted and its blossoms shall be in the form of a cross--two long and two short petals. And in the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see it will remember."


I love it. This makes me cry. I've suffered so much. The blossoms remind me that although I've suffered, including some redemptive suffering with Christ (Col. 1:24), the worst is over. I've shared with Christ, and He's given me grace and His blessing. To be honest, the dogwood reminds me of so much that my breath catches just to think of all of it. One of my favorite writers has a dogwood blossom tat. She showed it to me last year at a festival. She was all of seventy when she got it, which just goes to show you, it's never too late to do something ridiculously redemptive. And artful.

So, without further ado, here is my tattoo:
Ain't it dreamy?

Here's another view:

The color ink Ken has (it came with his kit) didn't work so well, so we'll finish the coloring when we buy better quality ink, but this tattoo is so freakin' amazing to me. See the crown of thorns around the heart? The cross shaped flowers? The FIRE!? I've had part of this tat done for weeks, but tonight I got my fire (rhymes with mair), and I feel it with everything in me. I'm warmed by it, and aflame with it. I feel unstoppable tonight!

Jesus' heart is over mine, and ever shall be. He is protecting the lotus that lies beneath.

I'm so happy I can hardly stand it.

love,
mair-francis

Monday, January 05, 2009

A God Surprise of Ridiculously Lavish Love and Grace


Sometimes I think God just shows out He loves me so well.

Okay, so a few years ago I wrote this book. It had what I'll call "a limited release." Laugh if you know what really happened. Anyway, Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man was my first novel, and I filled it with people I love (I copied some of the real ones in my life), and things that make my heart soar. I named the main character (who is so me) after my very own, real life great-grandmother.

Now, Ma Brown died when I was a wee one of 10, but I remember her so well. She was a deeply spiritual woman, and I believe her prayers are part and parcel of the grace-drenched life I live today. Growing up we had quilts she made lying around the house. I'm sad to say they're all gone now. I miss them, not as much as I miss her, but there's been a quilt shaped hole in my life. Not just any old quilt I could pick up at Bed, Bath, and Beyond could fill it. I needed something made with ridiculously lavish love. In my novel the protagonist, Bell, has a quilt her great-grandma made her. She wraps it around herself in times of trouble, and it feels like a comforting hug.

Sometime after the book came out I got a message on my now defunct MySpace page from a bee-you-tiful reader. She wanted to know, like a lot of people, when the second book in the series would release. Because there had been a big brouhaha (okay, I loved using that word waaay more than I should have), my second book didn't come out. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to talk about it in public. Sooooooo, this lovie writes to me and since I had no info about my book, I sent her a box of books by several of my friends.

Mikosha and I became fast friends after that. Later I became her mentor, and last year I upgraded her. She's my Godbaby now. On Saturday I got a ginormous box from her. I greedily tore the package open to find THE PINK PATCHWORK QUILT OF FABULOUSNESS!!! in there. Can you believe it? I know, right? Amazing.

It has itty-bitty butterflies and flowers on the print. I love butterflies. Jesus always sends them right before I'm about to take to the skies in magnificent, magical flight. I'm about to fly again, lovies, in many creative directions, and I'm so excited. Kosha's gift fortifies me for the journey, and makes me giddy with joy. It also affirms something I am certain of. God hears, He loves us, and He'll take care of us.

Now, here is something else so enchanting. See, waaaay before Kosha wrote to me she read my book and thought, "I should have a quilt made for her." Kosha is one blessed young woman. She has someone she describes as "a fly old lady" who keeps her stocked with yummy patchwork hugs. When she realized I didn't have a quilt-hug like my protagonist, she asked the woman to make me one. When I found out that Ma'dear (you gotta love that, right?) the fly old lady herself, was Kosha's own grandmother, I lost it. I got a surrogate grandma, if only for quilting purposes. Cried like a baby, and I'm not ashamed of it. I told my sister Carly what Kosha did, and she cried. Every time I thought about getting a love infused quilt from a loaner grandma I cried. It's just so freakin' beautiful. It's perfect, personal, and that, lovies, is how Jesus is. Real, loving, and personal in how He relates to us.

One thing I've learned in these lean times is what is truly important. Love is always the most important thing, and I see God's love most through His people. I'm astounded at the generosity of others. I, who feel like I give so little; I get sooo much. Kosha's gift is truly one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever done for me.

I'm grateful. I had to share it with you.

LOVE <3,
mair-francis
p.s. I did my cool pink, butterfly and blossom blog redesign right before the quilt arrived. Sounds like another Jesus kiss to me. :)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Soul


Okay, check out a sistah's new blog look. I was tired of all that black. Ha! This will be funny to people who know me and see me rock black clothing ALL THE TIME, but I'm sentimental. I make New Year's resolutions and every January 1st fills me with outrageous hope. Though I loved my last blogger template, with the hot pink butterflies. In my soul I'm feeling much more pink than black. And now I've got flowers! Wheeeeeeeeee!

This transformation may have began in November, when I was given the amazing gift of being able to read an advance copy of Brennan Manning's new book The Furious Longing of God. Oh my, lovies. Its stunning. Magnificent! I didn't think I'd love any of his books more than The Ragamuffin Gospel, but I do. That's BIG!

One of the best things about the book was his liberal use of bridal theology. Brennan really knows what a passionate love affair with God is all about. He quoted several times from The Song of Songs.

I've had lots of pain in the past few weeks (which is why you didn't get to see the rest of the Jesse Tree ornaments and read my reflections). But I'm learning to be kind to myself, and do what I can do. I've also been trying to listen to the sweet whispers of Jesus, even on the days when I can't do much more than that. I felt like the Shulamite many days, "I sleep, but my heart is awake. I hear my Love, Jesus, knocking, saying, "Open to me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one...'" The Song of Songs 5:2.

:::sigh::: Got a little tearful there. Jesus just called me His perfect one. Again. What a romantic He is. And I'm trying to wrap my mind (and heart) around it being so loved He sees me as perfect. Talk about good news!

Have you ever read that passage? Here's a spoiler if you haven't. She ends of missing Him altogether, basically because she was naked and her feet were dirty. Now if that doesn't sound like the spirit of me, I don't know what does. I've missed my Beloved so many times, feeling so raw and vulnerable, so unclean. I head His voice, and trembled to the core of my being (5:4 Gotta read it in The Jerusalem Bible. Yum). Yet, I didn't open right away. So many times He thrust His hand through the door of my heart to reach me, and I just stood there feeling all unworthy.

I mean, I tried. Like the Shulamite I've risen to open to my Love (5:5), with an offering of sweetness dripping from my hands. I've been sick with God-love, and missed Him just the same.

Oh, Lord. How I've gone through the streets. I've been beaten and wounded. I've called and couldn't find my Love. Ended up stripped and ashamed. Thank God those days are far behind me now. Today, I am certain:

"I belong to my Love, and my Love to me." (6:3)

The worst is over. My sights are set on the mountains where He is coming toward me. My ears have attended to the sound of his footfalls.

"I hear my Love. See how He comes leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills. My Love is like a gazelle, like a young stag.

See where He stands behind our wall. He looks in the window, He peers through the opening.

My Love lifts up His voice, He says to me, 'Come then, my beloved, my lovely one, come. For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.

Flowers are appearing on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land.

The fig tree is forming it's first figs, and the blossoming vines gie out their fragrance.

'Come the, my beloved. My lovely one, come.'"

I'm answering YES to the call. My heart has thawed and Spring arrived early. I can almost taste the succor of figs on my tongue. I am not just considering the lilies; I am blooming myself. My soul is brand new.

Happy New Year,
mair-francis