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As my boy and girl race to the finish line of another school year, the fact that I have not visited my blog since they started back to school last September keeps coming to my attention.  I guess I’ve been too busy stirring to string together words.  Following a pretty harrowing summer last year, I spent a delicious couple of weeks just gulping in the silence around me.  Finding relief in this stillness, I gave thanks that my boy and girl appeared to be successfully transitioning to the new school year and then proceeded to tackle the next set of goals on my to-do list.

From secretly devouring every last page of mixed-media art journals at B&N to signing-up for just about any art class that I could find and then going-on to create and sell my own art, I’ve done a LOT of learning and stretching over the past 5-6 years.  So grateful for the life that was breathed back into my soul through this process, I felt a deep yearning to give back to other women who might be in need of restoration, too.  That said, this Spring, I found myself on an airplane, flying across the country to Brave River Ranch in Idaho in order to become certified to teach a course called Soul Restoration.  A course that combines art and soul work into one beautiful, life-changing curriculum.

It seems, in my journey to become whole again, that I’ve needed to gather a good measure of necessary ingredients:  intense parenting lessons, self-awareness, forgiveness, art-making skills, courage, and acceptance, just to name a few.  While I’ve spent a good amount of time gathering and honing these things individually, it is now time to begin stirring it all together.  In her best-selling book, The Best Yes, Lisa Terkeurst describes the idea of plopping all the ingredients of an amazing cake recipe into a bowl and refusing to stir it:

There would be shiny yellow yolks on top of crisp white flour with a dab or two of brown from the vanilla. Little mounds of sugar would sit off to the side of the bowl along with the baking soda.  The milk splashed on top would sink into the flour bottom.  I would have a bowl full of potential that will never be if I don’t stir before baking.  I’m not exactly sure what might happen if I just dumped this all into a pan and popped it into the oven, unstirred, but I know it wouldn’t come out right. (p.227)

This stirring process? This is where I am right now in my life.  I could choose to dump all my wisdom into a pan and pop it into the oven, as is;  however, I’m more likely to end-up with a whole, edible cake if I take the time to stir the experiences and the lessons that I’ve been learning together before moving-on to the next step.  Stirring takes patience and effort.  I think I’m done only to find a patch of flour unearthed at the bottom of the mixing-bowl.  I alternate slow, laborious strokes with quick anticipation, sprinkling-in a handful of chocolate chips for extra-goodness. How is my cake going to turn-out?  Will it fall in the middle?  I am offered no guarantees that this cake will come-out looking or tasting good at all.  What I have learned, though, is that I have to trust the process.  And even if this particular cake doesn’t turn-out as I expect, I’ll likely gain whatever wisdom that I need to learn from the process and apply it to my next baking session.  This baking thing is not for the faint of heart. It is a lifelong process.

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birdback

With both hands, I cup the body of Mama Bird with her cracked, broken wings, and apply gentle pressure.  Kneading and smoothing.  Adding and taking away.  These wings, each lovingly shaped and adorned with small flowers, sat for a few weeks too long, wrapped in wet rags and sitting in a black garbage bag.   When I finally get around to attaching them to  Mama Bird’s body, the wings have started to dry and crack into pieces as I lift them from their solitary perches.  Wings left unused become frail and brittle.

Sensing the panic welling up inside me, my art teacher declares,  “You need to pop those suckers on soon and work from there!  There’s no way to do it gently.”  It is the end of class, so I pack-up the pieces and parts of my bird, once again, in wet rags and lug them home with me so that I can do some emergency repair work.   When I unwrap the clay that next morning, I feel a sense of reverence.  I aim to make this bird whole again.  I can’t help but think, as I hold these broken wings in my hands, that this must be how God feels when He cradles our broken spirits.

The molding process?  It can hurt and it might last longer than we would like.  In the case of Mama Bird, with some work, I am able to put her back together, all in one piece, but her transformation is still not over.  We have glazing issues, where for some odd reason, the “feather white” glaze that I have so carefully chosen, chips-off in tiny pieces when we remove her from the kiln.  Even with repeated glazing and firing at higher temperatures, Mama Bird’s glaze continues to flake-off in places.  For some reason, though, I am okay with it.  Her “shabby chic” exterior speaks to me.  The bare clay peeking through is evidence of Mama Bird’s journey.  Scars of a warrior.

Early on, I had decided to keep the hole open in Mama Bird’s chest where I hollowed her for firing.

birdfront (2)
I imagine a huge spray of colorful flowers flowing from that hollow, spilling forth with beauty.  The tiny little flowers that I fashioned from vintage fabric and wire sit patiently in a block of green foam while Mama Bird undergoes her many transformations.  Now it is time to fill that hollow space.  After playing with flower arrangements and securing the wires with a final dose of resin, I step back from Mama Bird and take a look.  There is still something missing. This mama bird is a warrior.  She needs a crown.

WarriorMamaBird1

To all my fellow warrior mamas out there, I want you to know that it is never too late to repair your wings.  We make mistakes.  We suffer losses and heartaches.  We may even feel so broken that we cannot fly again.  But God, the Master Artist?  He specializes in crafting beauty from our brokenness.

 

 

 

AngelofCourage1

Just in case you didn’t know, I am a quiet person.  This fact was first brought to my attention when I entered first grade.  David Petry backed me into a corner of the classroom where he towered over me with his puffy blonde hair, pointed his finger in my face and asked, “Don’t you ever talk?!”  Up until then, I had not defined myself as “quiet.”  My earliest years spent climbing trees, hiking through fields, and gathering clay from the riverbanks of Nelson County, I felt perfectly at home with myself.  That is, until we moved to suburbia during the summer before first grade.

First grade was a real eye-opener for me.  Not having attended kindergarten prior to starting school, I had a lot to learn.  How to read, how to write (other than my first name), and how to make new friends.  Fortunately, an outgoing little blonde girl named Susan asked if I wanted to be her friend at recess on the first day of school and we stayed pretty tight all through elementary school. Riding our bikes to each other’s house, playing in the woods, and creating haunted houses in the upstairs’ bonus room over her parents’ garage.  At school, I remained fairly quiet and learned that teachers tend to like quiet kids, even earning the endearing nickname, “Lamby-Pie,” from my second grade teacher, Ms. Stout.  Unintentionally, I was well on the road to becoming a people pleaser.  It felt safe and comfortable at the time.

I continued-on into middle school and high school where I developed a nice group of girlfriends, all pretty quiet-natured, like me.  I loved my girlfriends and the fun we had together.  At the same time, I carried around this nagging voice in my head that told me I was too quiet and shy.  Everyone around me seemed to be more confident.  More fun.  In my eyes, quiet equaled boring.  It took a LOT of energy for me to put myself out there.  And while I was known for being a kind, friendly person, I mainly focused on the quiet part.  The part of me that I did not want to own.

As a young adult and into adulthood, I began to feel stuck inside a box.  A box that I named “QUIET.”  My spirit longed to bust out of that box and make itself authentically known.  I wasn’t even sure what it would  look like if I busted-out.  Would it be loud and crazy?  Cursing and saying whatever it felt like?  I hated the incongruency between what others saw from the outside (calm and peaceful) and what I actually felt on the inside (anxious and irritable).  I wanted this peace but without the cost of smothering my soul.

When my boy and girl started back to school one fall, I wandered into a free creative parenting class thinking that I would pick-up a few fun tips and wound-up embarking on a five-year journey during which, one by one, I ripped-down the walls that were squeezing the life out of me.  And you know what?  I didn’t go crazy or run naked through the streets!  After doing the hard work of  acknowledging my old stories and negative ways of seeing myself, I learned to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and then gently (and sometimes not so gently) release them through my art.  It is a beautiful thing, really.

For me, the final leg of this journey has meant embracing my quiet self.  After all those years of rejecting a huge chunk of my being, I am wrapping my arms around my gentle spirit and curling-up in its softness and warmth. And, that free-spirited 5-year old little girl who loved to commune with nature?  She is still inside me and always has been.  She might be quiet, but she is also joyful.  She is strong and compassionate.  She provides a sanctuary for other anxious hearts.  And she knows that the quiet nourishes her soul and serves God in the exact way that she is created.

dreamcatcher

“God gives us dreams a size too big so that we can grow in them. “

(Dream catcher made with vintage linens)

mojoinprocess

I started this painting back in November as a part of an online course called Paint Mojo taught by artist Tracy Verdugo.  It sat on the art room easel in its crazy, unfinished state until last month. April.  You might say that I lost my mojo for a little while there, but in reality, I just couldn’t finish everything on my plate at the same time.  During those months in between November and April, I found myself preparing for an Open House right before Christmas and then jumped headfirst into finishing my “Ben’s Dream” piece just in time for an Autism Awareness exhibit in April.  All the while, this big canvas brimming with bright colors and symbols winked at me in the corner of my art room.  A reminder that I am always a work in progress.

I am convinced that God called me to start creating art several years ago, the year my girl started kindergarten, as a means of helping me practice the real art of surrendering my life to Him on a daily basis.  To loosen my grip on the steering wheel and trust the process.  My whole art journey has been a series of surrender.  Surrendering my old insecurities and ways of thinking.  Surrendering to the grief I never allowed myself to feel at the beginning of our boy’s autism journey.  And surrendering to the idea that I can be an artist even though my college degrees are in education.

Art has become my metaphor for living life.  With each painting, I start with a vague idea or vision and very often do not know how I am going to get there.  I just have to start.  I paint a big swoosh across the canvas.  Or pick-up a piece of collage paper that calls to me and glue it down.  Nothing monumental.  I just have to do something.  Before I know it, that big swoosh is followed by few more swooshes in different colors.  I fall into a rhythm.  Swoosh.  Tear.  Glue. Swirl.  Ahh.  This is how God wants me to start living.  Take a step. And another step.  You don’t need to know all the answers right now.

flyfreeprocess2

Before I know it, a certain energy takes over and LOTS of movement is happening.  Almost always, though, I arrive at a certain point in my work, stand back, and think, “But where am I going?  What IS my next step?”  My heart pounds a little harder and I question my ability to make something out of all the chaos staring back at me.  This.  This is when I pray.  God move through my hands.  Guide them in the direction they need to go.  Awkwardly, I might sketch-out an image in my mind.  Many times, I fumble, frustrated over lines on the paper that do not match my vision.  I will myself not to give-up.  Something beautiful is waiting to come to fruition.  Art is about capturing a feeling, not perfection.  And so is life.

Sometimes, I just need to take a break.  I sit on the deck with a good book.  I scroll through Facebook.  (Because creating can feel isolating at times!) I roam around a boutique that inspires me.  Or just work on a project that is more structured.  I need to refuel in order to persevere through the more trying stages of creating.  And when I return to the canvas, I am able to bring a fresh perspective along with me.

When I do return, the vision that needs to be brought to life starts to reveal itself as the images connect on the canvas.  A crazy line or paint dot becomes a bird’s beak.  The splotch of blue ink that I thought was a mistake peeks through the background adding just the right effect.  Nothing is wasted.  I fly free in the knowledge that I can trust the process, both in my art and in life.

flyfreefinal3

bens_dream_small “I need to tell you a dream, Mommy.  I dreamed that you and I were holding hands and we were flying. Not up to Heaven, just flying together. It was so beautiful, I didn’t want it to end!”

For those of you who are not familiar with my “Ben’s Dream” project, the inspiration for this piece of art came to me three years ago, when my boy slipped into bed beside me one morning and whispered of a dream where the two of us were holding hands, flying together. The image of flying with my boy over his signature houses touched my heart so deeply that I asked him to draw a picture of what it looked like and then set it aside for the right time.  After several years of finding my own voice through art and allowing myself the space to grieve this autism journey that we have traveled together so far, I decided it was time, last summer, to make “Ben’s Dream” come alive on the canvas.

And so, began the “Ben’s Dream” project.  The project that I have been documenting in a number posts over the past nine months and recently had the privilege of celebrating at the Children’s Museum of Richmond as a kick-off for Autism Awareness Month!

I have to say, I experienced a myriad of emotions throughout the creation of this piece.  Grief.  Fear. Hope.  Frustration. Boredom. Acceptance. Excitement.  Parts of it, near the end, really felt like a labor of love.  Especially the days spent cutting-out layers of foam core in order to create the relief effect for the houses.  At the same time, I sensed God urging me to carry-on.  Bring this cycle to completion, my child.  It will be worth it in the end! To witness the pride and joy on my boy’s face on Friday evening?  It was oh, so worth it!

With no further ado, allow me to share a few scenes from our Night at the Museum.

Ben'sDreamTable

An hour before the opening, my girl and I set-up a table filled with prints and magnets of “Ben’s Dream” along with several trays of “Hope” necklaces which I made using recycled puzzle pieces coated with resin, hearts punched from the scraps of Ben’s Dream, and crocheted glass beads. (A portion of the proceeds is now on its way to The Autism Society of Virginia!)

BenonCarousel With the table all ready and time to spare, we made our way into the museum to find both my boy and husband playing in the Water Works area…My boy’s tie half dragging through the water and pants all splotched wet, I willed myself not to make a big deal out of it.  There was a time, in my boy’s earlier days, when just the thought of splashing in water and riding a carousel would have sent him over the edge.  Look at him now!

Ben&Houses Before our friends arrived, I managed to take a few photos of my boy with the exhibit of his signature houses.  Each of these houses was used, in the form of a print, within our collaborative piece, “Ben’s Dream.”

Ben&Raughs Among our very first visitors were these sweet friends (including my girl) from school. In the two hours to follow, the number of smiling faces walking through the doors to show their support left me both humbled and overjoyed!  Grandparents.  Aunts.  Uncles.  Old friends.  New friends.  Church friends. Babysitters.  Teachers. Therapists.  Each sharing their hearts with our family along our journey.  Many asked for Ben’s signature on their prints, to which he happily obliged by neatly printing his name with a heart sweetly drawn beside it.

Ben&Esther A wonderful surprise visitor arrived in the last hour.  Miss Esther!  The occupational therapist who taught our boy to hold a crayon and draw his very first house during his preschool years!  We came full-circle that evening.

Ben'sDreamFamilyPhoto

Our night at the museum was much more than an art exhibit.  It was a celebration of how far we have traveled on this autism journey with our boy.  A celebration of all those beautiful souls who have made a difference in our lives. May every family of these special children experience the joy of flying with them in their dreams!

ExhibitAnnouncement

artroomevening

With October and November passing all too quickly, I feel like I am coming home after a long trip as I write here.  My head and hands have been working steadily, preparing for my very first Dandelion Studio Open House which took place in my home last Friday.  Having had December 5th planted in the back of my mind for weeks, I am enjoying just being in the present now that my deadline has come and gone.

I worried bit last week.  I worried that I did not have enough variety to sell.  And, as several friends called to express their regrets over not being able to attend, I worried that the turn-out would be small.  That all my preparations would be done in vain.  I worried about not being a “success.”

I have learned a lot in my 40+ years of living, though, and one of the biggest and hardest lessons learned is that worry is nothing but an energy vampire.  That said, I willed myself to focus on what I could control and began the process of surrendering “success” to God.  I sat down with my “to do” list and plugged everything that needed to be done before Friday into my planner.  Items priced.  Bathrooms cleaned.  Floors vacuumed.  Food prepared.  Displays arranged.  And when my head hit the pillow each night, I prayed.  I prayed that God’s presence might be felt in my home and that each person who walked through our door that Friday evening would feel loved and welcome.  Because  love always wins.  Every. Single. Time.

The turn-out did end-up being smaller than I had hoped; however, it was okay.  A steady stream of friends arrived with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts.  And, as our friend, John, began to strum his guitar fireside in the background, I knew that God showed-up, too.  With tears in her eyes, one friend gently held a handmade ornament in her hand, saying that it touched her heart when she read the tag, “Love Wins.”  In a necklace pendant, another found a talisman of hope to offer a hurting friend.  One person felt drawn to a piece of my art only to find-out that it was inspired by her favorite place to stop and meditate in the woods, which happens to be mine, too.  Family connections were discovered between my girlfriend’s father and my dad.

As I witnessed these connections being made throughout the evening, I realized that God knew exactly what I needed to take away from this open house.  Not big numbers of people or huge amounts of sales, but a true understanding of success.  A heart open to God.

Dreamcatcher

The dream was always running ahead of me.
To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it,
that was the miracle.
-Anais Nin

Shechasesbutterflies

You can chase a butterfly all over the field and never catch it.
But if you sit quietly in the grass it will come and sit on your shoulder.
– Henry Thoreau

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