Tuesday, August 5

Creativity, Art, and Beauty in Auschwitz

Alma Rose, Jewish Violinist and Conductor
of the Women's Orchestra at Auschwitz
"We found ourselves hushed by delicate floating butterflies and cheery watercolor flowers that had no place within the camp's barbed wire walls.  We were moved by the coexistence of evil and sheer beauty, seemingly both allowed to flourish in the same place."

~Kristy Cambron, The Butterfly and the Violin

If you're like I was, you don't realize that after World War II ended, hundreds upon hundreds of Jewish prisoner artwork was found hidden throughout Auschwitz.  There were more than 200 artists of all nationalities as prisoners in Auschwitz, as well as in other concentration camps. 

If you're like I was, you also don't realize there was a women's prisoner orchestra.  Alma Rosé was a beautiful Jewish violinist who was forced to conduct the women's orchestra in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  This women's orchestra played upbeat music as women left to work throughout the camps each day.  Later, they were forced to play as new arrivals, women and children, walked unsuspecting to their deaths.  How could they do that?  How could they play their beautiful music as their fellow Jewish sisters walked to their deaths?  The story of The Butterfly and the Violin grapples that question.  This is a book that touched my heart, and taught me history I had no inkling of before.  I love books that do that!  And this one couldn't be released during a more perfect time!  If you follow the news at all, you know that anti-Semitism isn't dead. It's heartbreakingly alive and real.  It's what made the horrors of WWII possible.  And it's not something we should be ignoring.  God is certainly not ignoring it, and God's people should not take it lightly.

More than anything, this book, fiction though it may be, magnified  the steadfastness of the human spirit and the truth that God will make beauty from ashes.  Even in ashes.  When Jews found themselves in Auschwitz, they actually saw the horror of ashes floating on the breeze.  They endured things no human being should ever have to endure.  And yet, they found and even created beauty there.  My favorite Jewish prisoner artwork is by Mieczyslaw Koscielniak, painted in 1944 and 1945 during his imprisonment at Auschwitz:


To view more Jewish art of the Holocaust, visit Last Expressions.  To read the fictional account of the women's prisoner orchestra, read The Butterfly and the Violin.  Have a blessed day, and pray for Israel!  And if you live near me and want to borrow this book, please let me know!

Wednesday, June 18

I Am So Vain... Ramblings of a Girl With Just the Right Amount of Insomnia

I've never thought of myself as a vain person and Facebook status updates don't usually float around in my mind longer than the seven seconds it takes to read them, but one I read yesterday did. I didn't even click “like” b/c I didn't exactly like it at the time—I didn't admit it to myself then, but it hit a bit too close to home. It was about vanity and selfishness and when I read it I thought, “So true... glad I'm not like that.”  I filed it away in the back of my mind where it stayed until I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't fall back to sleep.

I lay in bed and kept thinking about that status update (those of you who use Facebook, do you think your status updates aren't important? They're probably not, but they might be once in awhile!) I kept thinking about how Facebook can be very narcissistic, making people vain or revealing how vain they already were.  After all, how many of my own  status updates were written simply because I had something I thought was so clever, or because I wanted people to like me or notice me?

A very long time ago, the most inspiring man ever (who also happened to be God) said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, & take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the world and loses himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)

So while I couldn't sleep tonite, I realized why certain people who inspire me do. They inspire me because they gave infinitely more of their lives for other people. They “lost” their own lives, their own wills, and their own simple little pleasures that seemed so important until they realized deep down in their hearts that life did not revolve around them.

Florence Nightingale was beautiful. I portrayed her in a play for our Children's Church last year and read so much about her that I felt I truly knew her. She was witty, charming, and wealthy.  She had numerous suitors.  She went to balls in England's high society and lived a life of pleasure and seeming-contentment. But she was not content. She kept thinking of so many people who were hurting; she didn't even know them, but she was not content to continue living her life for herself when she knew she could do something about it. As for me, I find out a little bit about one person's sadness whom I know and my heart feels like it breaks in half for them.  But Florence Nightingale wanted to give up her life for people she didn't even know!

I realize God gives everyone their own place in the world where they can “lay down their life.” As a wife and homeschooling mother, I can't travel the world and relieve the pain of thousands of people as the lovely Florence Nightingale did, but I can at least look past my own vanity.  After all, the world doesn't revolve around me no matter how much I sometimes, if I'm honest with myself, wish it did.

Sometimes, I wake up with the dawn and I know Jesus wants me to pray. I think, “Yeah, I can pray in my bed where it's nice and cozy. There's nothing  wrong with that.” And then I fall back to sleep in less than a minute. Celena, you are a selfish, vain, lazy bum—people need you to pray for them! Maybe you don't agree, but prayer is more than words. It's a “sweet smelling incense” to God, it's more tangible than so many things you can do, it's a way to touch someone's life who you can't otherwise do anything for.  Crying out to God with passion is something we all need to do, but it is not something that happens when you simply go about your day and give God short tidbits of near-thoughtless prayers, or when you lay in bed half asleep.

So yesterday, after day upon day of a conviction I ignored, I got out of bed & actually got on my knees and prayed for real for the people on my heart. And after that, God made my day & blessed me in lotsa different little ways, & spoke to my heart. I lost my own will, my own “life” for just about 10 minutes & for that small, tiny (I know it was a very small, almost unmentionable sacrifice) He blessed me abundantly and gave me back whatever of my own “comfort” I might have lost.

If I feel that way because of something so simple, what will my life be, what kind of fulfillment will I have, if I truly follow Florence Nightingale's example and live always (or even half of always) for people who aren't me?

"The most important [commandment]," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."  Mark 12:29-31

Thursday, May 15

Angels in the Entryway

Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?  Hebrews 1:14

I was laying on the living room couch, facing the wall, hoping to take a nap when I heard two soft, excited voices.

My twin babies were born 6 weeks early and had just come home from the hospital.  At the time, they were about 2 weeks old.  Elisabeth and Milena were so tiny (3 lb 11 oz and 4 lb 3 oz).  They were laying on their backs in their musical swings.  The music had stopped playing and now they were sleeping soundly.  I could hear their soft breathing as I prayed they would sleep long enough for me to get some rest.  It seemed like they ate constantly and never slept at the same time.  I was very overwhelmed, a brand new mother with twins who had never even held a baby before my own little ones were born.

And then I heard those voices.  At first I thought they were friends coming to visit.  I felt them standing in the entryway near the front door but I didn't want to turn around.  Maybe they would think I was asleep so I could finally get some peace and rest.  I didn't want visitors at a time like then.  I had not even gotten dressed that day. I prayed they would go away.

But the visitors continued talking about the babies.  It's been 6 years since that day but I still remember their voices so clearly--one a male and one a female--talking about how the baby girls were so sweet and perfect.  They talked about how peaceful they looked while they were sleeping.  They went on and on and then I began to get a strange feeling.  How did these visitors get into my house?  The doorbell didn't ring, no one knocked at the door, and I didn't hear my husband let them in.  Suddenly, I felt they were angels.  I was frozen with awe.  If I turned around, what would I see?  I couldn't bring myself to peak so I lay there silently looking at the back of the couch until I no longer heard them talking.  I closed my eyes then and took a much longed-for nap.

When I woke up, I asked my husband who came over earlier and why he let them in when I was trying to get some sleep and still had my pjs on.

He said, "No one came over all day."

I asked, "Didn't Sandra and Bradley come by?  I thought I heard Sandra's voice."  Sandra has a very nice, clear voice.  The female voice I heard sounded a little like her's.

"No," my hubby said.  "Sandra and Brad didn't come over, or anyone else."

I told him about the people I heard talking and what they said.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I knew I hadn't imagined them.

When Mike convinced me that no one had come over, I knew I had heard angels.  I didn't tell anyone except my husband at the time because people get funny about "angels" sometimes.  Much later, I read the bible verse above and thought, "This is biblical.  Angels are real, they are sent by God to protect and watch over us, and if any of my fair readers don't believe what I know is true, that's okay. I'm going to write it anyway." 

Hearing angels talking about Beth and Milena gave me a sense of peace then and still does now.  I think to myself, if these certain angels were appointed to watch over Beth and Milena, they must be watching over Sammy and Lulu, too.  As a young mother, I felt so overwhelmed and battled depression for a very long time.  But there was a God in Heaven who was watching over me and holding me in His hand.  I didn't often have anyone to help baby-sit or keep me company but, just as God's word says, He had appointed angels to help me watch over my babies when no one else could and He had used them to pull me out of the darkest time in my life.

Because you have made the Lord… your dwelling place... He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.  Psalm 91: 9, 11

Lord, help us to make You our dwelling place, that we'll rest in You and find comfort in You when we can't find it in anyone else.  Help us to never doubt any part of Your word, but to embrace it with everything we are.  In Jesus wonderful name, Amen.

Thursday, May 1

God WILL Give You More Than You Can Handle!

“Wow,” someone said to me as I dropped my twin babies off at the church nursery, “You have twins. God didn't give me twins because He knew I couldn't handle them. God will never give you more than you can handle.”

I didn't say anything. Those days, tears were always stuck in my throat, threatening to spill over as depression constantly clouded my mind. What does “handle” mean, anyway? I thought bitterly.

So many people told me the same thing but I knew it wasn't true. Unless I was “handling it” when I threw vases and broke them against the wall, thanking God I didn't hurt my babies during my fits of rage. Unless “handling it” was screaming (yes, cursing, even) at my husband or babies who cried all night. Unless “handling it” was running outside and slamming the door and wishing I had my own car so I could run away. Unless “handling it” was crying into my pillow every night and wishing I could die.

When I first became a Christian, 5 years before depression set in and challenged everything I thought was true about God, I argued with a college professor that “God will never give you more than you can handle.” He said, “Well, Celena, there is a verse that says 'God won't tempt you beyond what you're able to endure' but 'enduring' is much different from 'handling.'”

To handle something means you've got it under control. While the world assumed I was handling being a new mother of twins, I was actually flying off the handle just about every other day. Webster's dictionary described me well: “flying off the handle: going into a state of sudden & violent anger.” That was me alright.

For about a year and a half, I struggled with post partum depression. I think it's important to talk about because when I was going through it, I was very ashamed and thought no other Christian ever struggled with it. I didn't tell my doctor because she knew I was a Christian and I wanted to have “a good testimony.” I'd heard countless preachers say Christians shouldn't need medication for depression. Please don't think I'm saying whether I believe that or not: I will never tell someone what to do in that situation. I made it through without killing myself but that was about as close as I came to “handling it.” But that's me, and it's not you... or someone you love who's fighting with all they've got just to make it to the next day.

When I was fighting depression, the only book in the bible that could begin to console me was the book of Job because he questioned God the same way I did. Job said things like,

“I was at ease, but He shattered me.”
“Why do You hide Your face and consider me Your enemy?”
“Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him.”

I would lock myself in the bathroom, the only place I could be alone & cry out to God with a heart like Job's:

“God, why won't you deliver me?”
“Do you hate me? Why do you hate me? What did I do wrong?”

And He spoke to my heart the words He spoke to Peter, “You don't want to go away, also, do you?”

And I cried out, even though everything within me was certain He had something against me for some reason... that He hated me even!, “Lord, where else can I go?! I know that You have the words of eternal life. I believe and know that you're God. There's nowhere else to go!”

So... I endured. I endured. I didn't handle anything. I couldn't handle it on my own. I couldn't even “handle it” as I prayed and sought God. But I realized how much I needed Him more than I ever realized it before. When I first prayed at the altar 5 years before all my real problems began, I was a very happy sinner. Yep, sinners can be happy! I knew something was missing, and when I prayed to ask Jesus to come into my heart, that was just the icing on the cake. I knew He died for my sins but it was so superficial. Jesus was my buddy, my real life genie in a bottle. But when He finally “gave me more than I could handle” and I realized how much I really, truly needed Him, He became my Father and my Savior, the One I could never run away from... no matter how bad it got.

So is God not God because He gave me more than I could handle?

I believe He gave me more than I could handle so I would understand that I'm still a sinner who needs His grace. Before I fought depression and anger, I didn't realize I had that potential for such anger inside me. My faith was superficial. For 5 years, I had a life of ease, just like Job did before calamity struck. I loved God because He was good to me, because He blessed me. I didn't realize that even if He never did anything else for me, dying for me was enough.

I am so thankful that my children will never remember that I used to scream at them, cuss at them, throw things, and slam doors. I'm so thankful that I never hurt them. I'm so thankful that I can smile a sincere smile and can laugh so hard my face hurts. For almost 2 years, I wondered if I would ever laugh a real laugh again! My friends tease me when I laugh so hard I snort, but I love when that happens because every single time I do God reminds me there was a time I thought I'd never be happy enough to laugh that hard again.

I am so glad I'm not there now, but I wouldn't go back and change it for anything. And I think it's worth mentioning that God truly did deliver me from anger and post partum depression. If you've struggled with it one time, you don't have to struggle with it again. When I had Sammy, depression didn't even try to sneak back in. I was truly delivered from it and God blessed me so much by giving me such great joy with my final baby whose name means, “heard by God.” God did hear my prayer, and He didn't answer it the way I thought He would and deliver me right when I asked... but He did a more glorious work in me than I ever would've thought to ask for by making me “endure.”

And so I praise His name and I thank Him so, so much for being a God who sees the end from the beginning and will give someone more than she can handle!