"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 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.

 

 

Breath of God for Image Bearers

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I am blessed with:

1. an unexpected “girl’s lunch out” with my mother and sister

2. the blue richness that only comes in an autumn sky

3. friends who share common interests with enthusiasm

4. time for quiet reflection

5. the written words of those who have gone before (Thank you, C.S. Lewis!)

6. the serendipity of discovering others who are spinning the same tops that I am

Creativity to me is one of those God-given guarantees. We are created in His image and He is the ultimate Creator. Ergo, we are all creative.

Now, it is true, that only God can breathe something out of nothing. He spoke into the void and made the miracle of the universe and every miraculous diversity contained within it. No human can do this. At best, we co-create with the Father, using the things He has already made to gild beauty with wonder. This need to create is part of His image, breathed into us at our own creation, a compulsion to participate in making with Him and through Him. If you live, if you breathe, you are creative in some way.

The trouble is, so many people put incredible limitations on the definition of “creative.” For instance, a person who makes “art” is creative, but a person who makes dinner is not.

Recently, a friend of mine posted a photo on Facebook of the cutest wooden Christmas tree that she and her husband had built and stenciled. In the comments, another woman remarked that she herself couldn’t make anything, “Except breast milk.” Of course, I immediately responded that creativity takes many forms, breast milk included.

That little social networking convo has stayed with me… another spinning top, whirling its way toward resolution.

Her words perfectly illustrate the idea that so many people have about their own creativity, and give rise (again!) to the vehement argument I find myself making, every single time another person tells me they are not creative. You are! You ARE! YOU ARE!

Now I can push watercolors around with a brush. I can carry a tune. I can letter, draw and doodle. I can shape wire and stone into artistic designs that hang from earlobes and barn doors. I can even wrangle with words until they go where I tell them (mostly). But, to my sorrow, I have never given birth to a child. My creative response to this has always been in loving other people’s children (which I do well).

Here is a woman involved in the most profound act of co-creation imaginable, that of birthing and nourishing new life, and she does not recognize the God-breathed creativity within herself. Can there be more creative work than motherhood?

And so I argue that creativity is within you…

when you stir the pot that holds your family’s dinner.

when you teach the one and thirty in your classroom.

when you arrange the blankets on your daughter’s bed.

when you stoop to listen to a child.

when you offer to shop for an elderly shut-in.

when you leave all that is familiar and move your family to the mission field.

when you polish the window that frames the sunrise.

when you lean closer to the weeping friend to share his sorrow.

when you thrust the spade into the hard earth to plant a flower.

when you cast your line into sunlight-dappled waters.

when you invite your small group over for Games Night.

when you take the time to look the one who serves you in the eye and say “Thank you.”

when you brew the coffee before the church doors open.

when you speak light into darkness.

when you extend hospitality to your neighbors.

And yes, when you draw your baby near to nurse and nourish.

There is an art to everything, small or large, under heaven, and there is as much creativity in the person who stands before great art admiring as there is in the person who makes great art and hangs it to be admired. In these ways, and a million others, you reflect the creativity of your Maker.

So, please. Do not tell me you are not, and never have been, creative.

You’re breathing, aren’t you?