Look carefully at the photos that follow:
What do you kinda see in the first one? Then with a new perspective? Finally, its far-reaching strands? Can we grasp the power of seeing one’s almost completed blueprint in action, one strand connected to another into its ultimate design?
I could have missed this tenacious spider’s artwork had I not been on a morning’s prayer walk, looking for something and discovering the almost invisible symbol so true to our nature.
Much like us, many times we don’t realize our design when we’re within its transformation, all the while we’re innately forming life patterns with intended—and sometimes unintended—objectives.
Recently I was inspired in our travels
by people and monuments of those who had no reason to hope past simply getting through the day.
In September Bill and I spent a week with a group in Prague at an American Urological Association conference with the NY-section. We had joined their group in Barcelona in 2013. Bill had attended some outstanding lectures there, so he was interested in this meeting held in 2016.
A little prelude about Prague’s neighbor: Budapest
We had a little history traveling through Prague years before when we also toured through Hungary and Austria.
What we experienced is Budapest’s stunning cityscape and landscape. Yet, the area has suffered devastating loss, beginning with being destroyed by the Mongols in 1241 through to invasions and nearly being obliterated in 1944-45 by Allied bombings and retreating Germans. The turmoil continued up through the years with advancing Soviets. Fodor’s Paul Olchvary describes that in spite of these ravages Budapest “has always arisen from the ashes.”
The phrase is from Isaiah 61, as we too in some small way or devastatingly have lived through the experience of “beauty from ashes.”
What Bill and I discovered in Budapest was a city anew. Actually two cities united, Budapest rests within panoramic rolling hills, the meandering Danube, now not so blue, and memories of its past finely dispersed within what’s been newly built. Quietly magnificent, Budapest’s structures are sound in quality with no grandiose facades. Its unassuming natural beauty merges reality with dreams of peace.
In turn, Prague’s elegant and exotic architecture has been spared through the wars and invasions even as its city suffered under the neglect of Russian rule. All over Prague, Its history was ever before us.
Ever before us the monuments taught us life and death lessons.
In the Jewish Quarter Bill and I visited the Old Jewish Cemetery. In a space no bigger than someone’s suburban backyard is where all Jews living in the Jewish Ghetto from the 1400s to 1787 were buried. In a hodge podge of tilting and fallen headstones, twelve thousand headstones are piled upon another.
It was a most humbling and sobering visit.
Soon after we quietly stood in the Pinkas Synagogue, our eyes scrolling through the 80,000 names of Bohemian and Moravian Jews murdered by the Nazis. In a long room with glassed-in cases, children’s drawings depicted the horror of life through their eyes while living in Nazi concentration camps. Profound sadness possessed us as a heart of gratitude goes out to all of the generations of veterans who protected us from more loss of lives and the freedom we live in today.
For this September meeting
Prague was selected for 2016 because it’s where the AUA-NY section’s president was born and reared. When Ivan was fourteen, he and his family were vacationing in another country when the Russians invaded in what is now the Czech Republic. With nothing more than the belongings they had with them, they didn’t return home. Ivan and his family prove to be a success story of the power of tenacity and those who choose to build forward.
I had to wonder what a fourteen-year-old teenager must have felt and what he and his family had to overcome to reach America and begin again. Glowing with pride for his now freed and sparkling Prague, Ivan proudly shared his birthplace to all of us with its rich history in its revitalized self.
Another couple of great people
Another couple we got to know that week endeared me particularly because Kate could have been a double for my grandmother—the woman who molded my life, a profound part of my history. Kate is a beautiful petite woman, crowned with gray hair and infused with a strong spunky will, so like my Momalee. Her Scottish accent endeared me even more.
Kate didn’t consider it a compliment though when I shared how she reminded me of my grandmother. But it was the greatest of compliments and a surreal experience for me to “hang-out” with my grandmother as though we were friends, close in age. That reminder of my rich heritage–this treasured grandmother and the jewels she left me–guide me through my own faith walk.
Another man who overcame tragedy
Kate’s husband, Moneer, is Egyptian and had grown up in Cairo. His father was also a physician who donated his time one day each week to the underserved. As a Christian, his father was targeted by the regime and assassinated when Moneer was only eleven.
What Bill and I didn’t realize since Bill isn’t in pediatric urology is that Moneer is a world renown pediatric urologist. He shares his brilliance and vast wisdom through his lectures and medical writings.
But Moneer understands his gift is to be shared.
What blessed me most is twice a year, Moneer returns to Egypt for a week to donate his gift, serving 80 or more children with the surgeries they need. The thick strands in his design reach far places.
Once Bill and I returned home, I thought about how small my world is, and, yet, how large it is and can be. It’s all in how I look at it.
With almost 900 passages in the Bible relaying our path of life, our journey, our way,
we venture into our days, mapping out our lives. We also get to go back in time and discover what formed those negative patterns within us and how we can redesign them. It’s in tracing back many times that leads us forward.
Only when I step outside my world do I learn what constructs others, their experiences and individual histories. Like in Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia, the cumulative years within a land and its people are meant to set examples of possibilities, templates with lessons if we’re looking. Their cityscapes and landscapes portray the souls of their land and how what God created has been and/or can be transformed.
How can we ever fully fathom what has formed others’ true design?
Developing prayerful compassion and genuine empathy is a start.
Recently at a luncheon, I was talking with two women, one who had lost a young child years earlier. After she shared a few stories I realized how ill-equipped I was in expressing my sympathy, my empathy, especially in a public place that might make her feel uncomfortable. I changed the subject in trying to rescue her, only later wondering if I came across calloused.
And yet, with my experiences, my history, I feel more comfortable talking with others who have gone through similar experiences to mine. At least I can assume, even if not always on target, by sharing what helped me.
I am open to learn what comforts you in your situation and gladly sharing what helps me, too.
But we learn to listen so others can tell their stories.
I’m not surprised how in much of my reading about how to deal with traumatic events, life and death situations, I see similar suggestions. One positive response is for us to write out our story. Writing can be a healing process if we let it. Sharing that story with someone who cares can be cleansing.
Think about what you have had to overcome. How has it changed you, broken you and created you into the who you are today?
I have watched others navigate deep waters that might have drowned most. The loss of a child, a father or mother, a spouse.
Yet, I’ve witnessed its power to draw us
into the much more of life and its brevity.
And death, proven eternal,
whether in hell or the high waters of heaven.
But isn’t that the hope we live beyond our history?
One thing that helped me
Fifteen years ago I combined my art and English background with a need to understand my life. I was drawn to draw, to create a path of my life. With a long sheet of paper and markers, I tracked my life and the events that changed me for the good and the bad.
For example when I was twelve, my parents divorced. Seeing the pain in my mother’s life, I vowed to never divorce. That was good but I also responded to being fatherless, for all those years in my life. While visiting with a friend years later who counsels with Spark of Life, (and if you don’t know about this healing ministry, please check it out) I discovered as a group they do this. I suppose our retracing reveals patterns, some that strengthen us, those that don’t.
And in the midst of all the turmoil, if we choose the right path, forgiveness for others and ourselves, healing comes. When we decide to build character instead of bitterness, we cultivate beauty and as a result unexpected gorgeousness grows.
Like in our backyard
The sunflower seeds that fall haphazardly from the circle of bird feeders above . . .
blessings result as they reach towards the sun (for me, the Son).
The rich soil the seeds fall upon, the right rain, cultivate an atmosphere that transforms those seeds into sunflowers. I leave some to enjoy from our kitchen window.
I pick others to share life up close in our kitchen windowsill.
What about your history? What has shaped you, molded you, into the art form you are today? Draw out your life’s path as you know it. Write and draw-out your future, hopes and dreams. Then please share.
I’ll end with a cute story:
A week before our trip, Bill and I were on our way to church in LR with three of our grandchildren.
Fourteen-year-old W.C. said, “Someday I’d like to go to Prague.”
Four-year-old Grace blurts out, “I want to go to Frog, too!”
W.C. says, “It’s Prague, Grace, not frog.”
“Well, I still want to go to Frog,” Grace mutters to herself.
We bought a ceramic frog in Prague and placed it on a quote-block our now-reading-kindergarten-age granddaughter Lillian found at The Boutique for her Pop (Bill). It’s also in our windowsill, visible strands to brighten our days.
In the current Only In Arkansas website, I share “The Drama in Us All.” If you haven’t seen this website hosted by First Security Bank, please click here. It’s rich in content about people and places in our grand state.
Art on Clothes
Vida is a design company that contacted me about using some of my artwork on their clothes. Check out the website http://www.shopvida.com/collections/voices/ann-elizabeth-robertson and tell me what you think. Some of my butterfly designs and travel photographs are now on shirts, t-shirts and scarves. I also love that part of the proceeds are used for an international literacy program.