Hello, again, hello!

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So I have been away for awhile, exploring and dreaming, but for all the world’s wonder, my first love pulls me back, and I must play with words again.

One of the things I have discovered about myself in this interim of quiet has been a deeply embedded fear of the power of my own words. I have worried about the potential for misunderstanding until my thoughts shriveled and my words dried up. Writing has always carried a burden of responsibility for me and fostered a need to choose words carefully and wisely. And so it should.

What I have learned in this period of silence, however, is that it is possible to take on a responsibility that is not mine. I must choose my words with intent, and I must consider the potential for misunderstanding, but I cannot bear responsibility for everything my readers bring with them to the encounter. I turn again to words I repeat to myself daily: “Perfectionism is the enemy of Grace.” And so, falling back into Grace, I pick up my words again. I pick them up with care and compassion, with intentionality, and yes, with imperfection. But I trust in Grace to carry them home safely to the hearts I long to touch. Amen.

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Fear not, for thou art ENOUGH!

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The festivities of Advent have pulled me away from my blog temporarily, but not out of love with counting graces.

Thank you, dear Lord, for:

Surprise 50th Birthday Parties for the “baby” of our 57-member graduating class of Denton Senior High (even though Queen Tut had to be wheeled in due to a recent surgery!)

The sweet friends of old that we saw there.

Precious time with my special treasures, Sarah and Adam, creating art, making jewelry, singing Christmas carols, and finding “my fav’it” everything.

Nine bottles of wine, Dirty Santa Gifts, and a really fun group of friends (You know the tune, but without any partridges in pear trees!)

Family Christmas gatherings with aunts, uncles, and cousins… and their littles… and my mom exclaiming as we gathered (tightly) in my aunt and uncle’s great room for the gift exchange, “Wow! Our family is getting huge!”

Christmas Carols (Harry Connick, Jr., Michael Buble, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban. Sarah McLaughlin, The Piano Guys, and Pentatonix.)

 

So, those of you who have been reading, you know about my passionate desire to honor and inspire creativity wherever I see it… to fearlessly claim and follow my heart’s desires as a “maker of lovelies”… to encourage others to see themselves as image-bearers of a Creator who delights in beauty and imperfection and glory and grace… and tonight a long-ago friend from my little high school left a “bloggish post” on Facebook that Simply. Lit. Me. Up. And I asked and she gave permission… so here it is. Carolyn Hill Hutton’s very beautiful words of advice for musical image-bearers, which are equally appropriate to the rest of us. Please enjoy.

 

Every once in a while I think I want to write a musical blog–I have a daydream of taking a trip across the United States one day, playing every night at an open mike in a different town and recording some of the musicians there. A cool way to see America, right?  Anyway, last year, a month after Mac died, I promised myself that I would commit to going to an open mike once a week. I was scared about this–I love to sing and play, but I am not at all confident about being a solo performer–I don’t think I have ENOUGH by myself.  Anyway, I began. As it turned out, I played alone just a little, but one thing led to another, as it always does, and I ended up playing with my dear friend Erin for a good bit of the year, and my dear friend Paul. But I learned some things this year, and if YOU are thinking about doing this sort of thing, maybe the following advice will encourage you a little–so here is my bloggish post:
1. Give yourself permission to not be good. Give yourself permission to enjoy something, no matter what. It is scary. And you will possibly feel intimidated. Someone will likely be better than you—have a better voice, play better, be more beautiful, more engaging to the audience, more, more, more. Let that happen. Tell yourself that’s okay. I remember my first open mike back in January at the Exeter Inn. I was nervous and had no idea what to expect. But when I went around the side door to the inn, I was transfixed. A small courtyard was quiet and snow covered and a lighted tree cast sparkles in the middle. It was snowing softly and the yellow light from inside the old inn beckoned. I stood there a minute, old guitar in hand, Mary-Poppins-like, I guess, and I remember thinking that no matter what the evening offered, this was a beautiful moment in a beautiful place. So I opened the door and went inside. The people were welcoming and friendly. I wasn’t great at all. I was nervous and sang everything in the wrong keys. But it didn’t matter. What did matter was a couple of things. One, I was early, so I met the man who set things up, and ended up singing some songs with him just for sound check. So I felt I made a friend, and when it came time to do my songs, he was friendly and accompanied me. Second, I stayed the whole time—and listened to everybody. And in this way I saw a lot of styles—a lot of good work and some okay work, but LOTS of courage. And I learned. I saw how when people look at the audience and smile it makes a difference. How when they don’t always look down at a songbook it makes a difference. And when I listened, I tried to think about what I liked about all the musicians. And I stayed ’til the end—so that I was able to talk with some of them and tell them specifically what I liked. Musicians really appreciate being genuinely listened to. Someone gave me a cd and took mine. I felt very welcomed and was urged to come back.
 
 
I look forward to the next installment of Carolyn’s advice, but I think this first one is just So Very Important for creative spirits everywhere. Whatever your gifts, however your creativity presents itself, give yourself permission to err. Get in there and make a mess. Relish mistakes. So much learning and growing happens when we “go out on a limb” and challenge ourselves to do the things that simultaneously intrigue and terrify us.
 
 
Carolyn, I know you miss your musical mentor. But I also know that Mac is tapping his foot and smiling every time you step up to that open mike. Let me know when you’re ready to take that road trip… I’ll come with! Play on, sweet friend!

What’s your passion?

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We need to put signs like this up everywhere!

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What's your passion? Daily inspiration

Daily Inspiration

What’s Your Passion – Daily Inspiration

What could you do all day without being bored?

What can you NOT live without doing?

What makes you come alive?

Think about it…

Write it down…

Read it everyday…

LIVE IT!

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Daily Inspiration and Motivational Message for “The Determining Factor”

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"Not all who wander are lost…"

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Thank you, Abba, for:

church steeples pointing to the sky (look up)

beloved prodigals who remind us of, and connect us to, You (look up!)

cycles of change, leading (ultimately) to renewal (fall into winter, winter into spring, life into death, death into life)

hot chocolate on cold, rainy days (extra marshmallows, please!)

books (the kind that grow you up)

poiema (tattoo this on my heart: that you and I are God’s masterpiece, His workmanship, His poem…)

the musical cadence of rain on the roof (and rhythms of heartbeats and breathing)

naps (to process reading)

cricket songs, slowed down to human lifespans, that sound like unearthly choirs (the whole earth is full of His glory, and there is a speed of life where even the rocks sing audible praise to their Maker)

beautiful, intelligent, mature conversations with 5-year-old Sarah about art (she gets it… unsullied by fear, wide open to wonder)

ink-stained fingers (making art)

things that sparkle (and more art)

people who shine grace into darkness (near as my heart, far as the Rising Sun)

 

So, my goal to write a blog post for every day of November is not going to happen, but I am okay with that. Really. I refuse to beat myself up over something that already is and cannot be fixed. I’m going to live out the Serenity Prayer instead, and accept the things that I cannot change. Like the past. It is behind me and unreachable. I’m leaning forward now, into hope.

My temporary blog-silence fell out of several seemingly disconnected and unrelated things. First, a painful disagreement with someone I love, which erupted into angry words, tears, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and just plain not hearing. The conflict circled round and round without resolution. Now we walk around one another stiffly, unsure how to proceed. Lean forward, Rebecca, into hope.

The incident prompted me to do a whole lot of thinking on the monastic practice of Voluntary Silence. Yes, I do catch the irony. It certainly seems inconsistent for a person who spends time making art out of words to take a vow of wordlessness. But honestly, in situations where words become weapons, silence looks golden.

And I’m not talking about the Silent Treatment, where not speaking becomes, itself, a weapon. More like what my grandma used to say: “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.” But larger than that, even, because when every attempt to fix something with your words seems to lead to more hurt, just shut your mouth, eh? So, yeah. For now. Horizontal silence. Vertical conversation. Listen. Listen. Listen.

Leaning forward into hope really does mean praying for the right words to bring about resolution and restoration and healing. It means watching carefully and hoping faithfully for the right time to speak those words. It means having the courage to speak, in spite of the pain… speaking the words through the pain and into the heart of the pain and letting them heal it. We are broken. Hard graces expose our brokenness, lay us bare to heartache, but they remain graces, nevertheless.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having some long and hard vertical conversations with the only One who really knows my heart. He understands how and why I’ve become so unwilling to settle, yet again, for “sorry” without change, for regret without repentance. Not on my part. Not on my friend’s part. Jesus understands the frustration at its source. Not only my frustration, but also my friend’s. He sees the whole picture. He knows the back story. And He loves both of us. So I feel confident to trust Him here, to bind up our wounds and restore us.

The other cause for my delay in posting has been this book I’m reading. Yes, that sounds so lame. But haven’t you ever read a book that just blew your boat out of the water and left you feeling a little wobbly on your sandy land-legs? It’s a bit like coming out of the roller-skating rink after six hours on wheels and having to remember how to walk in plain shoes again. (Do people still roller-skate? Hmmm. I wonder.)

Anyway, this book by Emily P. Freeman, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, came recommended to me from several different corners. It kept popping up on the “you might also like” thingies that tease you to shop a little more. The title definitely intrigued. It spoke of ideas that have been germinating in my spirit for a while now. So I downloaded it onto my Nooky Monster. And after The Conflict, I finally got around to reading it. Four times. Uninterrupted by anything else but art and sleep. (In that order.)

Now I’m blaming Ann Voskamp for this! Not just because it was on her blog A Holy Experience that I first saw the title. You see, I responded similarly to Ann’s beautiful book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. A birthday gift, I opened it curiously and began to read. When I had finished, I just flipped the book over and started reading it again. It was like eating a very rich, very chocolate, very decadent cake. The kind that comes on rare and special occasions. Chew slowly. Savor the words, prose-poetry for the heart, visual as her photographs. Reflect, reflect, reflect on every nuance of flavor and texture. And, ultimately, rise to the challenge. A friend and I together, undertake Ann’s dare, her challenge, to begin counting graces, to begin living right here and right now in the moment at hand, and to begin offering gratitude for those moments in our broken, paying-attention ways. Eyes wide to wonder.

God used — is still using —  Ann’s book to up-end my world, exponentially. The process of change hasn’t always been comfortable, but it has been beautiful and good. It has been expansive, in the most alarming ways. It has taken me deeper into real, abiding relationship with the Lover of my soul. It has colored every corner and crevice of my spirit. Aurora borealis colored. Bright, shining, double-rainbow glitter-glued. This is free, unfettered, glory art… the nothing-is-impossible kind of art that wise five-year-olds make. A promise from the only One who ever really keeps His promises anyway.

Fast-forward to A Million Little Ways. I’m not sure what it would have looked like if I had read the book a year ago, or even two months ago. But because I have been having this renewed love affair with my Savior, and because He has used this time to show me new things about His love for me, His acceptance of me, His plans for me, and because the title and teasers for this book spoke to some of the same things I’ve already been wrestling with and writing about on my blog, I have been beautifully blown away again, wobbling about on shoes without wheels, and looking for ways to say:

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

To Ann.

To Emily.

To God.

So this post may have started off rambling, in a wandering-around-aimless-and-lost kind of way. But I do think it found its way safely home… to the heart of grace that dwells in gratitude.

“At the most basic level of our identity, your job and my job is to be a poem, the image bearers of God, made to reflect his glory. The art you and I were born to make is released out of the core of who we truly are, where our spirit is joined in union with the Spirit of God. Any movement coming from that place reflects the glory of God. This is our highest purpose and, ultimately, our greatest joy.” Emily P. Freeman (emphasis mine)

 

Praying by Design

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I am blessed by:

1. A warm house on a blustery, shivery, wet night

2. New opportunities to learn

3. Yesterday’s book jaunt with mom

For about a year now, I’ve been piddling around with this art form called “Zentangle,” which uses simple line patterns on paper tiles to create designs. There are lots of books available and information all over the internet, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to play with the patterns on my own.

One of the things that most attracts me to this activity is its calming effect. It is very meditative. When I feel myself surrendering to the absurdity of panic, or I simply cannot quiet my mind at bedtime, I pull out my little portable Zentangle kit and start a new tile. Before I know it, I am relaxing into the flow of ink onto the tile.

It is also a very forgiving art form. You don’t have to be a trained or famous artist to create something quite lovely. In fact, one of the premises of Zentangle is to accept even those pen strokes that seem like mistakes, because within the whole of the art piece, they may turn out to be a new pattern or a focal point. There is a “wabi-sabi” grace to the process that just makes me feel joyful.

When I first started tangling, I began using the finished products to make cards and small gifts for friends. Because tangling involves repetitive movements, it lends itself well to prayer… much like knitting or crocheting. As I make each mark on the tile, I consciously think about the person for whom I am creating the Zentangle, lifting them up and praying for them as I go. It helps keep my focus on the recipient, as well as the One to Whom I am praying. (And when you’re a tad A.D.D. like I am, anything that helps keep you focused is a real blessing!)

So today, I attended my first actual Zentangle Workshop with a Certified Zentangle Instructor. There were four of us at the workshop, including the instructor, who was simply lovely. I’ve been e-mailing this lady for a couple of months, and I already sensed from her e-mails that she was going to be someone I would enjoy being around. And I was right! (I just love it when that happens!) =)

I’m pretty excited to have found this wonderful instructor who has agreed to meet with us each month for more Zentangle lessons and artistic fellowship. In her calm manner, with her warm smile, friendly voice, and clear demonstration, she taught us several patterns and enhancing techniques. Then she had each of us create a tile using the patterns we had learned.

The four of us were all using the same line patterns for our designs, the same pens and (eraser-less) pencils, the same paper tiles, but our creations were each entirely unique and reflective of the individuals who drew them. This diversity of products from the same materials is one of the truly exciting things about creating in a group. I’ve seen it happen time and time again in all sorts of art classes. Even working with the same materials, each person will come up with something original.

 

Like our fingerprints,

our creativity identifies us in particular ways.

 

That seems like a pretty special thing, that the Creator who made each of us one of a kind, Who breathed His creativity into us, makes our efforts at co-creating with Him unique, too.

 Look around you at the people you love. Pay attention to how each of those people participates in the act of creation in their own special way. Offer thanks for the many ways they decorate your life. Then tell them about it. You’ll both be glad you did. =)

 

The Challenging Grace of Change

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A few of the moment’s hard graces:

1. The (ongoing) process of surrendering dear friends to the mission field in Japan so that others can grow in grace with them, as I was blessed to do for more than a decade

2. The privilege of caring for an aging parent. (“She is a delight to me. I don’t have to take care of her, I get to take care of her.”)

3. Friends who love me enough to confront my sinfulness

4. The cultivation of patience in my own quest for wellness and wholeness

I never grow tired of Robertson McQuilkin’s story, “Living By Vows.” When his wife Muriel was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, McQuilkin resigned his position as the president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary to care for her. He has said, “If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.”

I remember weeping as McQuilkin told of his wife literally walking her feet bloody to be near him:

During those two years it became increasingly difficult to keep Muriel home. As soon as I left, she would take out after  me. With me, she was content; without me, she was distressed, sometimes terror stricken. The walk to school is a mile round trip. She would make that trip as many as ten times a day. Sometimes at night, when I helped her undress, I found bloody feet. When I told our family doctor, he choked up. “Such love,” he said simply. Then, after a moment, “I have a theory that the characteristics developed across the years come out at times like these.” I wish I loved God like that–desperate to be near him at all times. Thus she teaches me, day by day.

It’s been more than fifteen years since Pastor Erick Allen first shared “Living by Vows” with our congregation during a sermon at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Boone. During that time, I’ve come to realize that living by vows takes a million forms.

Such a lifestyle involves remembering to pray for my beloved friends in Japan, even when I miss them to the point of pain. (Maybe especially then.)

It requires faithfulness in friendship, even when friends are knocking off my rough edges and sandpapering my soul to a high gloss. They do the hard work of grace in me, daily transforming me into the person that Christ calls me to be.

It demands care and thoughtfulness in maintaining my mom’s dignity as age robs her of independence, agility, and endurance. Though mom does not suffer from Alzheimer’s or dementia, she does have bouts of forgetfulness that sometimes take me by surprise. I am learning to take these in stride.

Occasionally, mom gets impatient with my efforts to love her well, especially when she needs medical attention. A good friend once told me I would have to grow a tougher skin. And I am. Sort of. It helps to remember that, most of the time, mom is not so much impatient with me as with the fact that her life is changing, and change can be. So. Very. Hard.

McQuilken says of Muriel, “She is such a delight to me. I don’t have to care for her, I get to. One blessing is the way she is teaching me so much—about love, for example, God’s love. She picks flowers outside—anyone’s—and fills the house with them.” These words once made me long for the kind of commitment that allowed a man to honor his wedding vows so fully. Literally, “in sickness and in health.” This godly faithfulness was absent in my own marriage.

Now I see how beautifully the words also fit my role as a caregiver to my mom. We take care of one another, really. She gives me so much more than I give her. The flowers of her stories of childhood in Connecticut. The blossoms of her wisdom and sound advice. The rich soil of her profoundly unconditional love, which encourages me every day. Mom is my biggest fan, my boldest cheerleader, my staunchest encourager, and I am so thankful for the time we share together.

And, in some ways, the life of commitment to vows means remembering to be gentle with myself. Personal growth in all of its dimensions requires time and patience. I don’t get it right every day. But I love the idea of “a long obedience in the same direction,” which Eugene Patterson uses in reference to discipleship, defying the “quick fix” mentality of our instant gratification society.

I suspect Robertson McQuilken would say the concept applies equally well to living by vows.

The Art of Making Messes

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I am blessed with:

1. Family. Beautiful, loving, nurturing, faithful family (and a couple of us even share genes and time zones)…

2. Ready evidence that what some intend for evil, God intends for good (and He trumps all)…

3. Hope. Because even when times are hard, we can work together to make them better…

4. A little boy named John in West Africa, who is bound to me by the unfailing cables of the Holy Spirit, through a heart sister and her family in North Carolina. May he grow up strong in grace and know without doubt that he is chosen and loved

5. Beautiful, daily reminders that I am not an orphan, but chosen and adopted by grace, created for a purpose, called to do good works…

When I was in grad school, one of my education professors used to exclaim, “Learning is messy!” It was a mantra of encouragement to all of us not to get caught up in the need to “control” every event in our classrooms. A mantra that promoted a certain flexibility for us, as educators, to embrace the serendipity that is often involved in the process of learning new things. Serendipity cannot be formulated or programmed or calculated or even guaranteed. The best we can do is cultivate an environment that welcomes it, pay attention when it shows up, and offer gratitude for the gifts it offers.

Fast forward fifteen years (or so), and I’m only just scraping the surface of how true that mantra is, both in the classroom and in “real” life. Certainly my years in the classroom, both as a student and as an educator, reinforced its reality innumerable times. Learning is messy, and none of us does it in the same fashion, or even in the same time frame. I suspect this is the biggest flaw in today’s “educational reform.” In their efforts to “tidy up the system,” lawmakers are focused on rigid pacing and uniformity. It is a focus that works great for marching bands and street parades. For education? Not so much. And yet, the powers that be are shocked again and again when, three or four years into every new initiative, their reforms don’t exactly bear the fruit they were expecting. But that is a soapbox for another day, and I don’t doubt I’ll climb up on it. Many. Many. Times.

Today I am really thinking about how the idea that learning is messy applies outside of academia, in the great school of life. It has been over two years since I “retired” from public education. During this time, I have been recovering some lost parts of myself. Namely, the artistic, creative side of myself in applications beyond lesson plans and school improvement committees. Instead of being an editor for unwilling seventh graders, my vision has returned to my own writing. I am learning to create art in many forms, from mixed-media collage and painting, to jewelry making, to a meditative form of pattern doodling called Zentangle.

Sometimes, in the middle of a project, my work table looks like an explosion happened. Mostly because it did. An explosion of love for the work before me. An explosion of curiosity for what will happen if I do this… or this… or (oh, wow!) this…. An explosion of satisfaction when the work and the curiosity marry into a finished piece that looks and feels like art to me. And I don’t even know what to call that explosion when someone wants to purchase something I’ve created, allowing me to live by my art. It transcends words.

Ever notice how some people reach a point where they just stop learning new things? For some it starts early… that first time in public school when they experience “failure” and shut it all down. For others, it comes later, after decades of expertise make them feel they don’t need anything more. I always feel sorry for people who lose interest in learning. The color goes out of their lives. They become gray and one-dimensional. The most interesting people I know, regardless of their age, are those who never stop exploring new things. Even if all they can do is “google it,” those who cultivate an interest in learning something new have a multi-faceted and sparkling demeanor that pulls me in and makes me want to bask warm in their presence.

Maybe one of the reasons people lose interest in learning is because of the mess. Maybe they think they’re doing it wrong. Maybe they don’t understand that learning is supposed to be messy. And that’s a good thing.

So. If it’s been a while since you made an explosion:

in your garden,

at your desk,

on your computer,

in the kitchen,

in your workshop,

in your journal,

or in the bedroom…

then maybe it’s time to get your art on.

Go ahead. Make a mess. You’ll be richer for it.