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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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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.

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

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

butterflies

For a while now, I have felt restless in my role as “stay-at-home mom.”    Good or bad, having fought the infertility battle years ago in order to create our family, I probably took-on my mom role with more intensity than some .  And, when autism was added to the mix, being a mom became real “serious business.”

Our family took a pretty big hit during those early years of parenthood.  Most of our time and energy was focused on getting our boy the therapies that he needed, fulfilling basic needs and grasping for spaces of time here and there to breathe.  That said, almost 10 years later, I finally feel like all the pieces might be coming together.  With both my girl and boy in school for the past several years, I have spent a good deal of time finding myself again, pursuing my passion for creating art, allowing myself to grieve, and celebrating my boy and girl as they become more independent.

While my soul has emerged in so many ways, I feel like I have remained partially stuck inside the cocoon.  Half of me mired in the serious business of being a good mom and wife and half of me trying to figure-out how to take flight in a new form.  So, when my husband and I sat across from a family counselor a while back, it suddenly became clear to me that I had never fully shared this readiness to take flight.  I mean, I thought I had, but somehow, the message became watered-down in the process.

With this new awareness, my husband and I are discovering the healing power of learning to be assertive with our own needs, not just the kids’, and to take the time to encourage and celebrate each others’ efforts as we grow together.  Instead of simply “surviving,” as a family, we are on our way to thriving.  And it. feels. good.

As we take flight as a family, I also look forward to taking flight in my art business.  Over the summer, I devoured artist Kelly Rae Robert’s e-book:  Flying Lessons.  One piece of advice that spoke to me as I read through Kelly Rae’s book is that I need to commit to my art and my business.  Up until recently, I felt safer staying half-stuck in my cocoon, in my official “stay-at-home-mom” status, while simply treating my art as a hobby. If I really want to take flight, though, I need to allow my wings to fully develop.  I need to shed that last layer holding me back from completely emerging.

So, here I sit.  Warm mug in hand and a year full of possibilities before me.  I can’t wait to see how it feels to fly!

My boy quietly slips into bed next to me one morning and snuggles-up close by my side.  With tears in his eyes, he whispers in my ear, “I need to tell you about a dream that I had, Mommy…”  As this sweet boy describes the scene in his dream, I can’t help but hold back my own tears. It is so beautiful!

That morning, I tucked my boy’s dream inside my heart and have carried it with me ever since, as it so aptly captures the autism journey that we have traveled together.  Having faced the hard work of  healing my own heart over the past year, I decided it is now time to make Ben’s dream come alive on the canvas. So, here begins the journey…

canvas1Facing a white canvas, with Ben’s vision in my head, I so badly want to get straight to the fun part where everything comes together;  BUT, my soul really needs to wander.  As I am learning so well, listening to my soul is always the best place to start.

canvas6I have one precious hour to work before picking-up my boy and girl from summer school.  Just enough time to allow my soul to meander around the canvas with those simple painted words and brush strokes.

canvas4During the next session, I apply the working process learned from Kelly Rae Roberts’ online “Hello Soul!” mixed-media course.  The rhythm of alternating between paint and collage is both relaxing and therapeutic for me.  Just following my urges without worrying about an end product.  Pure bliss!

canvas3When it is time to stop, I feel anxious about having to leave a particularly muddy area in it’s “ugly” state.  Suddenly, I realize that my painting is right where it needs to be.  Healing takes time!  “It is okay to sit with your bruised heart.  Give it time to heal.”  I write those words right on my canvas with a black Sharpie and walk away for the day.

canvas5A few days later, I return to the canvas with more clarity.  All those awkward, ugly marks?  They are a part of my journey.  In order to move forward, I must acknowledge the hard and the messy before I can turn them into something beautiful.  Those colors. That texture.  Those bits and pieces of collage.  They are all learning to dance together now.  In time, they will serve as the background for a lovely vision:  Ben’s Dream.

Summer arrived here in a rather loud fashion last month, bringing the raw energy that comes with the end-of-the school year, daily trips to the pool for swim practice, and the usual first few weeks of anxious adjustment to new rhythms.  After years of pushing through the difficult transitions that accompany my boy and his autism, you’d think I would be used to this reality, but I still find myself feeling blind-sided each year. That said, we all survived those first few weeks of discord and even managed to create a few fond memories along the way!

Emmainsprinkler

My girl  would live in the water all summer long if she could.  And it seemed like we ALL lived at the pool for the first 6-weeks during swim team season!  I often call Emma “My Little Mermaid.”  When I ask her what she likes  best about swimming, she declares that she “loves the way it feels to glide through the water!”  I have to say, Emma really does look beautiful gliding through that water and I admire the perseverance that she demonstrates in trying to become a better swimmer.

Emmaonblock
On any given Monday night, my husband or I could be found poolside, fulfilling our volunteer duties with a timer in our hands.

Stutiming
And, Ben did his best to  be patient  and entertain himself with lots of snacks and good fact books.  He was an especially good sport when rain drenched his bag of books at the end of the very last swim meet.  Especially the notebook of President facts that he compiled over the past several months…

Benatswimmeet
I usually try to plan a few craft projects for us to work-on together throughout each summer. The clay was actually Emma’s idea.  My block of clay had become dry after sitting for too long, unused, so after wrapping it in a moist towel for a day or so, I was happy to see Ben and Emma enjoy making a few things with it, even if their projects ended-up cracking and landed in the trash later.

Clay
I plucked this stick-weaving idea off of Pinterest earlier this summer.  Ben and Emma were really into collecting “v-shaped” sticks on our nature walk the morning I told them about this project.  I had planned on the project taking place over a few days, but they could not wait to get started…

Emmaweaving
I love Ben’s focus here!

Benweavin g
Ben and Emma insisted on carrying this humongous branch back with us that morning…Now, over a month later, it looks like I am the only one interested in finishing the weaving.  A new piece of art for their tree fort!

Bigweaving
Amidst the swimming and crafting, Ben participated in a Friendship Skills group.  His final homework assignment was to arrange and carry-out a play date (with a little help on my end).  By the huge grin on his face, I think you can tell it was a success!  My heart fills with joy when I see Ben enjoying the company of his peers…For so long, he only felt safe talking and playing with teenagers and adults.

Ben&Peyton
Lina and Emma have remained best friends since their first days of preschool.  This summer marked the first-time that Lina spent the night at our house.  These girls are quite the entrepreneurs!  They love to make stands to sell just about anything.  Tap water.  Junk from Emma’s drawers.  And this time around, lemonade.

emmandlinalemonade
Thanks to our good-spirited neighbors and few passersby, the girls made-out pretty well!

emmaandlinalemonade2
Not one to sit idle, Emma also delights in entertaining us with her many shows.  Awkward gymnastics routines.  Silly-nonsense plays with Ben.    Here, she is holding a puppet show featuring an “Emma” puppet and theater (decorated as a swimming pool, of course) that she made in summer art camp.

Emma'spuppetshow
And, Ben entertained us with his “Worm Circus!”

Benworm
For obvious reasons, my art production slows-down quite a bit during the summer.  I did  make it downtown recently, though, to see a few of my earlier creations displayed at the Suntrust gallery in Richmond.

bathtubsuntrust
handsuntrust
This week, I started on a new piece called “Ben’s Dream.”  I am loving using the collage and paint combination to create the background!  You can expect to see the beginning of this process in a future post, after my family and I return from our annual pilgrimage to the Outer Banks next week.  May we all continue to notice and savor the special memories unique to our summers.

 

 

peace

Peace I leave with you.
-John 14:27

stars

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens;  Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name.

-Isaiah 40:  26

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