Thursday, May 26, 2011

Only Artists Allowed


Kim and I have tried to encourage our children to express themselves artistically ever since they were able to express themselves at all.  To help cultivate their artistic gift we designated a section of the house as a sort of studio or art foundry where their creative impulses could be melted down, poured out, and given their final shape in the form of an art project:  painting, drawing, pasting, fastening, molding, coloring, etc.  Our ultimate goal was to get them to see themselves as artists – people who create.  And every time they poured themselves into a project and proudly presented it to us, we would heap praises upon them.  “You are a fabulous artist!”  “Your imagination is wonderful!”  “This might be your best masterpiece yet!”  Then the finished piece would go up on the wall for all the world to admire, attracting the playful wonder of anyone who would take the time to enter its unique perspective on the world.
            One day when Solomon was 4 years old I returned home from work to find a new piece of artwork in the house.  However, this piece wasn’t on the wall with the other masterpieces.  Instead it was taped to Solomon’s door.  It had a hand-drawn picture of a T-Rex dinosaur with razor-sharp teeth, along with the startling words, “ONLY ARTISTS ALLOWED.”  I was glad to see that our efforts at getting Solomon to see himself as an artist were paying dividends.  The sign on his door made it obvious – HE was an artist!  But when I opened the door to enter his room I quickly found out that he was rather exclusive when it came to recognizing the gift of art in others.  Solomon’s little sister and I were no longer allowed in his room because our art projects weren’t “as good” in his estimation (somehow Kim met his high standards – to no one’s greater surprise than her own!). 
            I think there is an important lesson for the church in this story.  We are all artists.  I realize that some of you may have never considered that fact.  But it is true.  We belong to the God who created all that is seen and unseen.  You were made in the image of the Creator-God.  And as a creature of God you have been gifted – hardwired, so to speak – with the passion and ability to mirror the creative juices of God.  We do this by taking the resources God has provided (the art supplies) and creating something beautiful.  Through the Holy Spirit God has given us crayons, Play-doh, glue sticks, and paint brushes.  God has set us before a vast canvas called the world and said, “Go therefore…make something beautiful!”  Whether you manage an office, sweep a floor, change diapers, or drive tractor, you are an artist.
            And just like my family had a space in our house where inspiration struck, there is a place where God’s children gather to receive a vision from God – the worship space.  That is where we lay ourselves on the anvil so we can be shaped into God’s workmanship, ready to be used by God to paint the world as God sees it.  I like to think of worship as “art in motion.”  We are first painted by the Artist, and then we are given a paintbrush and told to go paint the world in a similar way.  Everyone who truly worships becomes an artist.
            What would happen if you began to see worship as art?  Maybe it would help widen your imagination of who God is?  Maybe it would stoke the latent passion in your heart and inspire you to take more risks in expressing your love for God.  And what if you began to recognize yourself as an artist, working in a community of other artists (the congregation)?  Maybe it would help you embrace your calling to use your gifts and talents in the service of the King.  And maybe it would help you appreciate and affirm the contributions and giftedness of others in this community of artists.  Perhaps we should hang Solomon’s picture “Only Artists Allowed” on the door of the church, but instead of using it to keep people out, we would use it to encourage everyone who enters to pick up their paintbrush or crayon.  Maybe we would see more clearly that through worship God is creating a new world, and wants to use each of us to help!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

            As the end of the school year is now in sight I have been thinking especially of those who are graduating from high school, college, and graduate school.  On high school and college campuses everywhere, students expecting (or hoping, rather, in some cases) to graduate  are busily preparing for final exams.  Some are saying good bye to roommates.  Some are planning open house parties.  Graduation is an exciting time, a noble accomplishment, and an occasion to celebrate!  But in these days and times with the job market as it is, graduating can also carry with it a tremendous burden and anxiety as these young people prepare to transition into what will come next.  College?  (Which one?)  Career?  (Who will hire me?)  Relocate?  (Can I afford to live there?).  What will they decide.  And how will they make their decision? 
            Life is full of decisions.  But some are bigger than others.  What you decide to eat for breakfast today isn’t as big of a decision as what college you decide to attend, or what career path you take.  However, if you decide to eat three Sausage Biscuits with Egg and Cheese, plus hashbrowns on the side from McDonald’s every morning of your life, then what seemed to have been a small decision at the time will become a big decision in the future as your arteries slowly harden and your blood flow decreases.  You get the picture.  As someone once said, “Our lives are a sum total of the decisions we have made and the decisions we haven’t made.”  As I reflect on some of the decisions I’ve made in my relatively short lifetime, I notice that some have been wise and turned out well, while others have been rash, foolish, and brought back poor results.  I think everyone can relate to that.  We all regret doing and saying certain things, while there are other times when asked if we would do it the same exact way, we’d say yes.
            I remember during my college-age years I worked at Camp Geneva on the shores of Lake Michigan in Holland, Michigan for three summers.  Camp Geneva is a Christian youth camp owned and operated by the Reformed Church in America – similar to what we have near us here in up-state New York at Camp Fowler in Speculator.  Working there was one wise decision that I’d make again.  In those days I was known as Uncle Josh (the staff went by “uncle” or “aunt so-and-so” in order to create a family type of atmosphere).  I have lots of fond memories of those summers at Geneva.  Most of those memories have faces tied to them.  I can still see the faces of many of the campers who were in my cabin, other staff members who became life-long friends, and of course one face that I continue to see every day – that of the cute, curly brown-haired camp nurse, Kim, who later became my wife!  Marrying her was another wise decision I’d gladly make again!
            Another face I remember best is that of Rev. Jon Mark Schoon.  He was the program director.  Everyone called him Grandpa.  He was the man in charge and everyone knew it.  Speaking of wisdom, scripture tells us that fear is the beginning of wisdom.  And you were wise to have a healthy fear of Grandpa.  He would patrol the camp grounds in his golf cart at night looking for home-sick campers who decided to make a break for it and run away back home.  Or he’d be looking for love-struck counselors who were trying to sneak down to the beach past midnight for some private moments.  I’m not going to tell you if I was ever mixed up in any of that.  But knowing the camp nurse (Kim) as I do, she probably tried to lure me down there a time or two (or maybe it was the other way around?)!  Sneaking out past curfew would’ve been a foolish decision – but I’m not sure if I’d regret it!  It’s funny that whenever a couple got caught, the excuse was always that they were “praying together.”  But this kind of praying gave new meaning to Saint Paul’s phrase “greet each other with a holy kiss.”  Grandpa didn’t fall for it though, and many a counselor was threatened with the prospect of -- in Grandpa’s words -- “earning a one-way ticket home.”  And we knew he meant it. 
            Even though Grandpa Jon Mark was a rather intimidating force, he also had a certain quality that made people want to be near him.  He had the uncanny ability to draw the very best out of people.  There was always something you could learn from him, so people gravitated toward him.  He taught me about integrity, servant-leadership, giftedness, affirmation, and loving the Body of Christ.  He also taught me about tough love.  In fact, it was his words of encouragement, affirmation, and warm hugs that made his reprimands that much harder to bear.  I quickly grew to love and respect that man of God.  Unfortunately, I don’t think he ever knew how much he meant to me.  He went to be with the Lord eight years ago this May after a tragic car accident.  He is still missed and remembered by so many people.
            Perhaps one of the things for which I am most indebted to Grandpa Jon Mark is the advice he gave to the Camp Geneva staff in the summer of 2000.  The fact that I remember it 11 years later bears witness to its profundity.  It had to do with how to make big decisions in life.  “God speaks to us in three ways,” he said.  “Through scripture.  Through prayer.  And through the wise counsel of those we trust.  And when the voice of all three of those are telling you the same thing – when it’s consistent and aligned – then you can make your decision with faith and confidence that you are deciding wisely.”  But that’s not all.  And here is the part of Grandpa’s advice that I found particularly unique and helpful:  “When you feel that God has led you to your decision, make it.  And then live into your decision for two weeks in order to test the spirits.  If during those two weeks God gives you a sense of peace about your decision, you will know that it was of God.  But if you experience anxiety, restlessness, and a lack of peace about your decision, then that might be God telling you to go back and listen again for his voice in scripture, prayer, and the wise counsel of those you trust.” 
            We all face big decisions in life:  decisions regarding family, friends, finances, careers, colleges, etc.  Grandpa Jon Mark’s words of wisdom have helped to make big decisions for the past 11 years now.  In fact, his advice helped guide Kim and I into making our most recent big decision – to move our little family to Fonda, New York.  This process has served me well, and I pass it on to you, trusting it will help you to decide wisely!    

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Although the temperature outside is still hanging in the 30's, I am feeling like spring. Perhaps it's the sunshine, perhaps it's the fact that this week will usher in April, perhaps it's the fact that we, the church, are in the Lenten season. Whatever the reason, my mood has been lifted and I feel happier. One task that, for me, always indicates that spring has sprung, is window-washing. And that is a task that is much needed here in my house. When the sun can freely shine through the windows and I can clearly see out, then I will be able to fully enjoy life!
Spring cleaning, in other forms, has begun for our family. Last week when we had a nice 50 degree day we spent the afternoon moving toys and games from what will be the baby's room to the front porch. It is a 3-season porch that has been transformed into the playroom for the warm weather months. The kids have been bundling up and playing out there ever since we made the switch. And today we borrowed a carpet/upholstery cleaner from a friend and cleaned our rugs, couches and dining room chairs. And my body is exhausted.  This baby is wondering why I worked so hard and is glad that I am now resting comfortably on the clean couch!
During this season of Lent our family is cleaning house in a different sort of way as well. We have taken on the practice of "de-accumulating". Every few days we all come up with something that we don't need or use that is still in good condition, put it in a bag of other "de-accumulated" items. After Easter we will take our items and donate them to someone who can use them. Giving up these items that we don't need anymore and that have been taking up space in our house and lives is freeing. And it has been a good lesson for me about decluttering my life and opening up more space for the presence of Christ.
As we move into spring we are also quickly approaching the birth of our 3rd baby! Each day brings a bigger belly and more Braxton Hicks contractions. Here are some pics of the big belly as many of my MI friends have requested. I am now 34 weeks!

 Exercising is getting more and more difficult these days too. So I am really excited to get outside running after this baby is born. And P90X will be in the mail to me soon to whip this body back into shape too.
Thus ends the rambling of thoughts on this Sunday evening. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Off to 1st Grade

Solomon is officially a 1st grader! On Monday he will join one of the first grade classes to finish out the school year. And he is very excited about the prospect of having friends in two hallways at the elementary school, the kindergarteners with whom he has spent the last 3 months, and the first graders with whom he will spend the next 5 months. He got to go yesterday to his new classroom for a visit, spent some time sitting in his new desk, and met some of his new classmates. As we were getting ready for bed last night he told me that his new teacher is really funny and that "everyone in first grade laughs a lot!" He will inaugurate his first day of gym class as a first grader on Monday...and as a first grader the gym classes get to go swimming! When I told him this news he laughed and clapped his hands while doing some version of his happy dance. I think that means he's excited to dive in!

I should give a little history as to how this decision was made. Solomon spent a year and a half in preschool in Grand Rapids, then spent a year in Young 5's (for those who aren't familiar, this is essentially kindergarten for kids with fall b-day's). This past fall he started kindergarten as planned in MI and when we moved to NY he picked up where he left off in kindergarten here. As the year progressed we were noticing that the work he was doing in class and his homework were duplicating what he already learned in young 5's. We brought this up with his teacher and through much discussion with her and the new principal in Fonda and some evaluation and testing of Solomon, it was decided that the best option for Solomon was to be placed into a first grade classroom for the remainder of the year. So, sooner than expected, we have a first grader in our midst!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Welcome Shep!

We are finally dog owners! Meet Shep. Over the weekend we rescued him from the Ayres Memorial Animal Shelter. He was abandoned by his previous owner and tied to the front porch of the shelter.

Isn't he cute?! And he's such a nice dog too. He does have lots of energy, but is also snuggly, affectionate and likes to have his belly rubbed.

Josh and I are not naturally dog-lovers, but we are quickly learning to love Shep. He LOVES to go for long walks/runs and he and the kids have already had some really fun times playing in the snow. He has made Solomon and Lydia very happy!

Welcome to the Baron Family Shep!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tis the Season

I love this time of year! I love how the holiday season commences with Thanksgiving, a time to reflect on God, and show gratitude to our provider and giver of all life. Immediately after Thanksgiving, we Barons begin preparations for Christmas. This blog post is being specifically written for our family and friends in MI. I wanted to include you all in our holiday festivities and introduce you to the events that have made our holiday season joyful thus far.

Some of the events that have taken place this Advent season are traditions for our family that we return to each year, and some of the things we've done this year are new to us. Josh and I wanted to be sure our first major holiday here in Fonda, NY would be celebrated with joy, rather than seeing us Barons moping around the house on Thanksgiving missing our families in MI. In order to avert this disaster, we came up with a fool proof spend Thanksgiving at an indoor water park! Who could be sad and mopey while splashing in a lazy river or being whisked down a twisty, tunnel slide in the dark on an inner tube? So, after a small scale Thanksgiving lunch here at home we hopped in the car and drove for an hour on the country roads, through upstate NY, to reach Six Flags Great Escape. Here are some pictures of our Thanksgiving celebration.

 On our way home from Six Flags we scoped out a new Christmas tree farm to which we could return the next morning to cut down our own tree. We were excited as our house here in Fonda has 9 ft ceilings, so we could hunt for a much larger tree than ever before. And we were thrilled to find Avery's Tree Farm, where they have beautiful Christmas trees as far as the eye can see (or so it seemed).

As soon as we got home we turned up the Christmas tunes and started decorating. We have a certain way that we always trim our tree...that involves Josh unwrapping all the ornaments and setting them out on the table (boring job). The kids and I get the job of actually hanging the ornaments on the branches. And then I get to go around and move all the ornaments in order to put my favorites in front. Thus, you will see that most of the pictures of trimming the tree include the kids and I. Sorry Josh! However, the most important job, topping the tree with the star, was saved for the man of the house. The final result may just be the best looking Christmas tree to ever grace our living room.

Throughout the month of December we've been invited to some really fun holiday parties and performances at Solomon and Lydia's schools. Here are some pictures captured at those events.

(It appears that only Lydia has been invited to Christmas parties, but Solomon's school party is this week coming up. And for the Christmas party at the library, Solomon was at home with the same stomach bug that the rest of the country has suffered)

Since we moved here at the beginning of November the kids have worked really hard practicing for the Christmas musical at church, "It's a Wonder-Full Life". The performance was last night, 12.18.2010. It was spectacular! All the children did so great and had tons of fun. I wish our camera would have been able to capture a little better quality pictures during the performance. But hopefully you all can see the joy on the kids' faces despite the poor photography skills.

We miss you all! Hope you enjoyed sharing our holiday season thus far. May the peace of Christ be with each one of you during this Advent season.  MERRY CHRISTMAS!