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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.

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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.

Ben&meflying(Another little peek of Ben’s Dream.)

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV)

With my boy and girl settling back into the fall school routine, I was all ready to dive-into creating art and taking steps to helping my business grow.  And then, life being what it is, the whole family came-down with a cold, the toilet overflowed, and a mysterious blistering rash showed-up on my girl’s elbow, then her face, and later my boy’s butt cheek…Yeah. I know. Gross.  Along with several previously scheduled autism-related doctor’s appointments, we threw in a couple of extra trips to the pediatrician to figure-out the rash, and before you know it, two weeks passed and not much art had been made on my end.

Sensing the discouragement, the little “Brain Bully” in my head seized the moment and started whispering things like,  “This is why you’ll never reach your dreams!  Your family life is just too demanding!  Do you really want to put all that energy into something that might not even work out?”   To drive the point home, I started an online art class, and immediately felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work being shared by my fellow classmates on the group Facebook page…Really, do these people have families?

So, yes, I felt a little anxious, if not a bit cynical.  Still, I  picked-up my paint brush for a few hours here and there throughout the following week. I crocheted some beads one afternoon while my boy and girl played contentedly outside. I pushed-through a class project that felt foreign to me.  Gradually,  the momentum  that I feared losing started to return.  Evidence of things not seen.

I am realizing that creating art and living life are continuous acts of faith.  While I carry these visions and dreams that God has placed in my heart, with gentle hands, I must surrender the final outcome and how it will look to God.  I find such beauty and relief in knowing that it is not up to me to figure-out how long it will take or exactly how I will get there.  All God is asking me to do is to listen to his whispers and keep picking-up that paintbrush.  I think I can do that.

No one could have prepared me for the journey my heart would travel upon becoming a mom over 9 years ago.  A journey bursting with love for my long-awaited child, a little boy entering the world in hushed awe with wide open eyes – windows to an old soul. And, at the same time, a journey fraught with  uneasiness over the feeling that my beautiful boy did not seem comfortable outside the womb.

To continue reading this post, please visit http://zoemmccarthyblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/how-to-use-art-to-free-your-anxious-heart/, where I am honored to be a guest blogger today.

IMG_3721Several weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to spend a weekend away at a mountain cabin with four very special girlfriends.  There were late nights spent chatting around a great stone hearth, mugs of hot tea, glasses of wine, delicious meals, whispers from God, and hours of art making.  And when I think back to that weekend, I keep returning to the way it all unfolded so naturally.  The way a collective sigh following one person voicing the need to get away from the busyness of life quickly turned into a mountain retreat just over a month later.

This circle of friends started out as a small group of two several years ago.  IMG_3737Cheryl and me.  Both of us, exhausted from the impact of raising small children with challenges, were searching for a place to share our journeys and to spiritually recharge with no further expectations.  Cheryl, being the grassroots girl that she is, offered the stools around her kitchen counter as a meeting place, a cup of coffee and the promise of being heard and that’s how it all started.  During that first year, we spent a good portion of our time together airing our challenges and tossing around different ways to approach the parenting of our spirited children.   This was the year of learning to be present and showing grace both to ourselves and our families.

The following year, our dyad grew into a cozy group of four, as Megan and Michelle joined us on our Tuesday mornings.  Megan shares her  beauty and life challenges with us, as well as her precious little girl, Anna Grace, who is an angel in our  midst.  And Michelle, brings a liveliness to our gatherings with a love of  Southern Living, Diet Coke (from McDonald’s in a large styrofoam cup) and accounts of her own spirited little ones.  It was  Michelle, who offered-up her family’s mountain cabin for our weekend get-away.

This fall, God expanded  our Tuesday morning family with the presence of Kim and Sonya.  Each week, Kim shares her nurturing spirit with us.  And being a few years ahead on the parenting spectrum, she provides a loving model for us to follow.IMG_3730  During our weekend getaway, Kim nourished our bodies with her carefully planned and lovingly made meals:  fresh fruit, egg casserole, chick-pea and onion soup, fresh spinach and pea salad, and lemon pound cake that melts in your mouth.  Seriously.  Sonya, our resident “God Whisperer,”   dresses like a fashionista and prays over people with fervor.  On this particular weekend, Sonya prepared a morning devotional entitled, “Who Am I?” which called us to worship by living-out God’s purpose for our lives on a daily basis.IMG_3753

When Sonya shared  the idea that worship sometimes leads us to step-out of our comfort zones, she offered the perfect segue into my contribution to the weekend.  Art.  While I find great peace and joy in creating art on my own, I still feel a bit uneasy leading others in this realm.  As God does so often when we allow Him, though, he knit Sonya’s devotion and my art activity together  beautifully…Unknowingly, I named the art project “I am…”  During a period of four peaceful afternoon hours, I facillitated my friends through the process of collaging  a visual of the unique person God created them to be.IMG_3766

This beautiful circle of women and the retreat we shared?  It did not happen on the merit of just one individual’s gifts.  Community happens when we recognize and celebrate the unique gifts that we each have to offer and we combine our efforts to create a whole. For “as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended.”  (1Corinthians 12:18)   It is my prayer that we all seek to know and celebrate who we are, allowing ourselves  to experience the  joy and fulfillment of working together as the body of Christ.

gaslogs

My boy and girl are snug in their beds and I have a front row seat on the couch in front of the fireplace.  After a frenzy of a month and 3 weeks of  non-working gas logs, this evening is pure heaven!  As of yesterday, I completed a month-long online Creative Cleanse led by my fearless creative coach Amy.  All in all, participating in this workshop has been a joyful experience for me, but I have to say, I felt a bit depleted and overwhelmed at times creating art almost every day while keeping-up with the daily household demands, trying to be flexible with the kids being home due to snow days off from school and  celebrating  my baby girl’s seventh birthday towards the middle of the month.  I did it, but I did not always do it well or even in the time frame that I would have liked.  Laundry often waited until the last-minute on Sundays, bathrooms went uncleaned for just one more week, an explosion of mail and school papers littered the kitchen counter, and the floors begged to be vacuumed.

That said, knowing that this temporary blitz of art would not last forever, I turned my head as often as my organizing genes would allow me, and dove head-first into my intention to “fan and share my inner light, creating a life of joy and abundance.”  While my hope was to make room for creative inspiration, I did not expect this workshop to touch me so deeply spiritually, especially being an online course.  For me, sitting-down to make art each morning was essentially communing with God for a whole 2 hours every day.  With my daily prompt in front of me and paintbrush in hand, I felt God’s presence gently nudging me to just start Open your journal.  Squirt out your paints.  Load your paintbrush and start.  I am with you.  I created with the quiet assurance that my heart was leading my hand and mistakes could always be made into something beautiful.  On a few “off” days, when my confidence waned in the face of fear, I struggled to paint the vision in my head and  wound-up brushing white gesso over the entire finished-product, as if trying to hide my ineptness.  Later, I would remind myself that God will pick-up where my skills are lacking. I kept-on painting, tearing, and glueing, believing that something good and true will come as a result of singing the song that He has placed in my heart.  Isn’t that belief crucial to our ability to persevere in so many other facets of our lives?

Over the next few days (maybe even weeks!), I plan to slow-down a bit.  To rest in the knowledge, that yes, God created me to create.  To replenish my energy.  To give some attention to areas of my household in need of extra care. And to prepare myself for the next leg of this artful journey.

Handsandheart

Yesterday, I joined twenty other women online for a thirty-day “Creative Cleanse.”   To be honest, I am not exactly sure what is involved in a creative cleanse.  It sounds a bit “woo-woo,” doesn’t it?  I had never heard of such a concept until meeting-up with my creative coach who is the brains and energy behind this workshop.  She describes a creative cleanse as a process of using art to “clear your mind and open creative channels”.  In essence, I am making room for inspiration.

My first assignment was to write my intentions for this Cleanse.  After pondering  my heart’s song over a non-fat latte at Starbucks, I set to work with my pen and some oil pastels and this is what I came-up with:  “I am courageously fanning and sharing my light, creating a life of joy and abundance.”  Courage seems to be a recurrent theme for me these days.  Sharing my passions even before they are fully developed takes courage.  Courage to be vulnerable.

So, I will be vulnerable here with you.  For the past year or so, I have felt the calling to be an artist and yet I still cannot claim the title as my own without feeling like a little girl declaring what she wants to be when she grows-up.  I do not have a degree in art. I have never sold a piece of my art.  Nor, have I even produced enough art to fill a wall.  And yet, when I am creating, I feel a sense of peace and joy unlike anything I experienced in my previous careers.

That said,  I figure I’ll keep fanning my flame and just see how brightly it can burn.  And along this artful journey, it is my prayer that my light, God’s light, will touch a few other lives along the way.

What about you?  What flame is God encouraging you to fan in the New Year?  I’d love to hear about the light that He has placed in your heart.

Up and dressed much earlier than usual, my boy and girl perch themselves on the front steps 45-minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. It is the first day of a new school year and they are ready to get on with the transition.  Taking advantage of the extra-time on this particular morning, I get a little creative with my first-day back photo (hence, the chalkboards)  and then sit-down next to their squirmy little bodies and try to make the wait easier by reading aloud a Berenstein Bears book.  After hearing the stop and start of middle-school buses making their way through the neighborhood and anxiously watching neighbors drive away in route to daycare and work, we finally see our little yellow bus  round the corner.  I walk my boy and girl out to the mailbox and watch them climb onto the bus together for the very first-time.  While my boy is not so sure about this new transition, my girl is over-the-moon about attending the same school as her big brother this year.  Tears brimming, I wave good-bye and remind myself that my new work is waiting for me to show-up.

Last Spring, I began to uncover this need to create art, both in writing and mixed-media work.  In the process of peeling away the layers of self-doubt and opening myself to this calling, I discovered a calmer, more full-filled me. It seemed that just as I unearthed this “new” me, summer arrived, which meant writing and art would need to be put on the back burner while I returned to my role as full-time mom for the summer months.  I tried my best to weave writing and art into the daily rhythms of  my family throughout the summer, writing a blog post here and there in the evenings and planning art projects to do with my boy and girl.  These activities did add a new dimension to the summer days built around swimming lessons, summer school/camp, tutoring, recorder lessons and trips to the library.  And, while I believe that shaping the souls of our children is an art in itself,  I found myself eagerly awaiting the arrival of that little yellow bus, just as my boy and girl did on this first day of school.  All summer, I had been squelching my craving for longer periods of uninterrupted time in which I can show-up at the computer and/or the art table, for the sole purpose of creating whatever it is that God whispers to my heart.

In her book, The Creative Call, Janice Elsheimer, states that “in order to practice our art – to breathe out what God wants to express through the talents he has given us – we must become servants to the work. Servants do; servants act.”  In essence, when we set-aside the time, show-up and do whatever it is we are called to do, even on the days when we feel uninspired, God will be there to take it to the next level.  This seems to be true for the creation of any work of art, whether it be raising our children, taking care of our homes, cooking meals, writing and yes, creating “real” art, don’t you think?  I thank God for the gift of this time to create.  And as I commit myself to showing-up to my work in the coming months, I pray that God will use my words and my art to breath out what he wants to express through me.

The artist must be obedient to the work…Each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says ‘Here I am.  Enflesh me.  Give birth to me.’

-Madeleine L’Engle

“Nail that sucker open if you have to!”  She is speaking of the door to my heart.  Not only literally, but figuratively.  My assignment is to create a box to express what is means to open my heart, allowing my true light to shine.  I look at the boxes on the table in front of me:  a striped Stride Rite shoe box,  an old wooden cigar box, and two or three worn heart-shaped boxes, once bearing Valentine chocolates.  Nothing really grabs me, but I bring home the cigar box along with the supplies for several other projects on my list.  I figure the inspiration will come eventually.  And, if it doesn’t, I’ll have to dive-in, regardless.

Often, some of my best ideas come to me in the middle of the night, when I am trying to sleep.  And fortunately, I wake-up at my usual 2:30 in the morning with the words to an old Micheal W. Smith song, “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” running through my head.  Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.  Open the eyes of my heart.  I want to see you.  I want to see you.  That’s it!  I need to open the eyes of my heart in order to truly see you, God!  If I want to see my true self, I need to see You more clearly.

I e-mail my art teacher the next morning.  “Can you set that heart-box aside for me?  I need to cut a door in it.”

The outside of my box comes easily, as this is the part of my heart that I am comfortable sharing with the outside world.  A few images from an old book.  Some tissue paper.  One or two embellishments.  Simple grace with just a bit of reserve.  But the inside of my box?  If only you knew how many layers!  Turquoise paint. Scrapbook paper. More paint. Gel Medium. Fabric. Gesso. Wax. Oil pastels.  An old quilt piece.  My grandmother’s vintage jewelry.  A sprinkling of glitter.  This project is long and messy.  Sometimes, it even feels a bit scary.  What if I try something and it is a big mistake?  A mistake that’s hard to fix?

Just like my heart-box, the transformation of our hearts is not a simple process.  Layers have to be sifted-through and deciphered.  Expectations.  Fears.  Wounds.  Some layers we choose to keep.  These layers feel right.  And some we choose to alter into something more beautiful, better able to reflect God’s spirit.   As a result of this sifting, deciphering, and altering, though, we end-up with a whole heart.  A soft heart.  A heart full of grace, compassion, and movement.  A heart radiating  God’s beauty.  Our beauty.

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