I’ve never been good at writing thank you notes. I blame it on my mom, because she didn’t make me write them (love you, momma!). And my kids will blame it on me, because I don’t make them either.
In theory, though, I like the idea of thank you notes. My kids receive thoughtful presents or the gift of time from a relative, enjoy it and then, moving at the speed of life, they forget and move onto the next thing. In truth, I’m just like them with the daily gifts of life. I am guilty of living moment to moment, worry to worry, just keeping my head above the water until the next wave of worry comes along. I easily miss the amazing gifts that arrive with each new day.
I’m not good at thank you notes, even if I write them I usually fail to send them. Seriously, I still have sealed thank you notes from our wedding a decade and half ago. Even keeping a thankful list usually falls by the wayside after three days. Lately though, art has become a way to linger in thankfulness a little longer.
These past few weeks I’ve been grabbing my sketchbook to capture moments and then I revisit those sketches later with fresh paper and paint. It’s been a way to slow down, to mark the mundane that is really not mundane at all. The moments are really endless, but my hand can only catch about one a day or every two days.
These moments include:
My oldest child in her cat-eye green sunglasses and favorite owl shirt, beautiful in her spirit, poised between childhood and becoming adult.
My nine-year-old son as he exclaims every day, “You’re the best mommy in the whole world”. (How amazing that someone truly thinks of me that way.)
All four children working together on a Lego movie.
The five of us reading Edward Eager’s books out loud together.
Every day of the fifteenth year of my marriage.
My five-year-old marveling at every bit of life.
Marveling at life, that’s what I’m doing when I take the the time to sketch a moment of our life. I’m looking at life with the heart of a five-year-old, awe-struck and thankful.
I’m looking for answers. I want clear, specific answers.
My eyes scan the book titles and I wait for a title to reach out with promises. Rather than start in the more obvious Self-Help section, I head to a smaller section with a taped label, “Theatre” (on second thought, it’s probably spelled with the American “er”). The section makes for short perusal because this is my neighborhood thrift store. There are thirty-two copies of Julius Caesar, twenty-seven versions of Romeo and Juliet, six slim paperbacks of Our Town, and a bland-looking book entitled Creative Drama that tries to lull me into a sympathy purchase every time I visit.
I call out to the books as I take my time amongst the dusty tomes.
“I need to make some decisions about my life. Who can tell me what activities my children should be involved with next fall?”
Silence pervades, but it’s not unfriendly silence.
I pause in the “Old Book” section.
“How can I get my kids to stop fighting?”
I’m pretty sure the muted black and tan book with the jazzy 1960s title: The Man’s Guide to Manly Cooking, just shifted its spine a couple of centimeters in my direction, but I call its bluff and move on.
I walk to the Spiritual section and ask with a little more urgency, “How do I lose a few pounds?”
Even the food-related title, Chocolate for a Christian Woman’s Soul, doesn’t pretend to hold the wisdom I’m longing for tonight, although it does make me think about cookie dough and my stomach rumbles its own response.
I stalk to the Education section, then Cooking and Children’s and eventually land where I should have headed all along: Fiction Softcover.
The reason I didn’t start here is because this isn’t the section I go to for answers. This is the place I go to forget the questions altogether. This final destination is a clear sign that I’m surrendering my hope for answers in exchange for the novels in my hand that offer the promise of escape.
It’s more than the other sections have offered thus far.
As I make my way out of the maze of shelves, my arms full, I conjure one final surge of hope and stop in the Parenting section. Remarkably I find a hardback of the exact book I’d been looking at on Amazon earlier this afternoon. I add it to my stack. The bottom of my stack.
For six dollars and thirty-seven cents, I leave with all I need.
Later, I open up the first novel and my questions pipe down quickly, almost as if they’ve disappeared.
But really, the trick is on me. Inevitably, a dive into the world of fiction, brings me back to the surface of reality with a new perspective on my life and the questions of my heart which, most likely, are different questions than the ones I thought so pressing in the thrift store earlier tonight.
As I begin the first strokes, it’s as if my senses are underwater and the world around me becomes muffled and distant: I’m tuned only to my heartbeat, this paper, and the tools in my hand. I layer color and line and I’m in the Beautiful In Between– past the initial burst of doubt and fear, but not yet to the moment when my hand stops for the last time and the incarnation is revealed to match my vision, or not.
I’m tempted to stop now, and the hesitation invites the voices back. “Tomorrow,” the first voice soothes. “You could leave it right here, in this state of possibility and come back tomorrow.” But the latter voice tells me that tomorrow I will say the same thing, “I’ll leave it as it is, for just one more day.” If making the first mark on the blank page seemed like the hardest part, I know in this moment that continuing is by far the more daunting choice.
The moment in a story when everything goes wrong is sometimes called the Dark Night of the Soul. I see a similar moment approaching in my work and I know that’s why I’ve paused brush and breath. Soon the original sketch will be hidden completely and my vision all but lost. It is tempting to stay in the before, where possibility reigns.
To go forward means for a little while it’s going to be chaos and I wonder if there’s a way to skip this part. Can I sidestep the Dark Night of the Soul? In writing, this is when the words have been shifted and plucked until they begin to slide out of focus, losing their shape and meaning. In theatre, it’s when the individual scenes have been rehearsed and now it’s time to put them together and add in lights, sound and costumes. For the next three days it’s all going to look worse than it did before the work began. For every artist, all that is visible is a cacophony of unpolished layers. This is the moment when the artist asks, “Will it work?”
The truth is, sometimes it doesn’t. Not every piece emerges from the darkness.
Sometimes, though, it does work. My hand goes back to the brush and from layers of paint, the original vision emerges. It’s altered, of course, because process changes things. Neither is it perfect, because I’m not perfect. But there is beauty in the trying. And what has surfaced is better and truer than the original spark of an idea.
Either way, what do I do after?
I begin all over again. Hope has been born in the darkness, when the vision was momentarily lost but I continued anyway. Gathering the courage of a superhero and the foolishness of a lover, I face the white chasm, again.
As our family finished creating a mission statement over the break, one of the principles that made it on the list is “We don’t give up,” or as it’s remained in my mind, “We do hard things, we persevere.”
This week of starting back to school has been an essay on doing hard things. On the first day, it was hard to get up at a decent hour and accept that the day was not our playground. That morning I pushed all five of us through the motions anyway. As we sat down to sketch together in the afternoon, I thought we were on the other side of hard for the day. And then I heard, “I just can’t draw, I can’t do it, I won’t do it!”
I looked over at my eight-year-old, earnest in his fears and self-doubt, his face scrunched in a ball of misery just like the paper crumpled in his hand. He didn’t have to sketch with us, it was the first day back to school after all, I could have let it go. It would have made my own sketching time much easier if I’d released him from trying.
“Buddy, we’ve been talking as a family about how we do hard things and we don’t give up. Don’t give up, keep trying.”
And then I added other words about how his drawing didn’t have to look just like the cup of hot chocolate he was trying to sketch (that’s right, I’d even sweetened this sketch time with hot cocoa and homemade cookies). And his older sister helped by declaring her drawing wasn’t going as planned so she was going to free herself from being realistic by doing a one-line sketch instead.
With enough cajoling, he eventually finished a sketch and I knew there was a small notch on his belt of belief that he could finish what he started, a notch that would help with the next challenge that was sure to come. I put his finished sketch in a frame and that night I was a very tired Mama who was glad we were a family who did hard things.
The “I can’t do it!” theme has been persistent this week. Wednesday it was multiplication, Thursday it was another drawing assignment and another math assignment. There’s been shouting, thrown objects, and general mayhem that’s made giving up quite appealing to all of us. Along side my son’s energetic rant, I’ve carried on my own inner monologue a few steps away:
“He needs to learn how to do hard things. He needs to gain some drawing skills so he can gain confidence. He’s got to learn how to deal with frustrating problems” (notice the subtle turn here) “I just can’t do this. I don’t want to do this. I can’t teach all of my kids these skills, I can’t face these problems everyday, there’s got to be someone else who can do this instead of me. I just want to stop.”
After my own rant ended, another voice began:
“But Aimee, you’re trying to quit, just like your son, you need to learn how to persevere, how to overcome hard things, just like your son. ”
Now I didn’t like how the tables were turning on me at all. I didn’t like the suggestion that I had as much to learn as my children about overcoming obstacles and pushing through problems. I wanted to think of the beautiful release of quitting without equating it to my eight-year-old balling up his drawing and throwing it in the garbage. I wanted my internal fit to look a little less childish than my son’s, but it sounded mockingly the same.
I realized that I was in a hard place and it wasn’t that easy to push through the moment, which turned me toward empathy and grace for my son. If I couldn’t instantly conjure the strength to get to the other side of my challenge, then I couldn’t expect such a quick turnaround in his countenance either. I had to do more than get frustrated and impatient, I needed to come along beside him, be intimate with his struggle, and call with him to the Lord for help.
This week my son and I have pushed through some hard things. He’s gotten out new paper and tried again. I’ve sat beside him. He’s wisely taken a break from a project, with plans to return to it when he’s ready. I’ve allowed him the space to struggle. He’s gotten my help to finish a math assignment. And I’ve stayed, minute by minute, hour by hour. There was some chocolate involved in the day, some frustrated words, as I’m sure there will be tomorrow.
My son and I both have assignments in front of us daily. I’m handing out his assignments and God’s handing out mine (of course, God is actually teaching us both). Today I got a little notch on my belt to remind me next time I don’t have to give up, that I can push through hard things.No comments
As our family gets more intentional with our time this year, my own goals have floated to the surface. My goals stem from a desire to grow in artistic skills and also to make room for things that I delight in doing, that refresh me in a brief time of respite. And underlying those goals is a hope that God will shine His light through whatever I’m creating with my hands or my words.
As I wrote “Aimee’s Writing Time” on the Saturday morning slots on the family calender, a little shiver circled around my heart. ”Can I really do this, give myself this time?” I wondered, feeling both spoiled and worried at actually using the time. To put the time on the calender frees me to say no to other things that come up, decisions that sound odd when I say them out loud to friends.
Me: No, I’m not going on the retreat, I have writing goals this Spring and if I set a weekend aside, it will be to write.
Quiet. Awkward moment.
Friend: But you have to go!
Quiet. Awkward moment.
Me: I’m really not going to go.
In addition to setting aside time to write (specifically to adapt a children’s chapter book into a play), I’m taking a year long art class with my favorite art teacher, Carla Sonheim. It’s called The Year of the Fairy Tale. I’ve written before about the luxury of being a student and about recovering from a perfectionism that petrified me from making art. Now I get to continue on this journey, mixing my favorite art teacher with stories, and the kids get to come along as well!
Carla also has an exciting schedule of shorter classes lined up for the start of the year. Coming soon are Faces 101 and GelliPlate and I recommend both. Don’t let the the online aspect bother you or scare you away. Taking one of her online classes is like having her come and sit at the table beside me, show me her work, share her process (successes and mistakes) and encourage me to jump into the art supplies and make something. She’s also great at never leaving me with a blank page. There is a blob of paint, a series of words, almost always something rather than nothing, a place to begin.
If it’s art that makes you breathe easier and loosen your shoulders (or if you feel in your bones that art could be that way for you if you could fear less and art more), then put some art dates on your calender and sign up for a class. If it’s not art, then find out what it is, write it down, and say no to something else!
Last night my husband and I spent an hour getting ready for our time with the kids of brainstorming a family mission statement. We used this helpful free tool to poke and prod our thoughts about what makes our family tick and what we’d like to change for the new year. As I read through some bits of inspiration, I found this piece by Erma Bombeck. Even though I’m only thirteen years into motherhood, I can still identify with her regrets and the values she wished she’d chosen to govern her day to day choices. I face these same choices every day.
“If I had my life to live over,” written by Erma Bombeck near the end of her life, details the values Bombeck wished had guided her daily decisions.
If I had my life to live over, I would have talked less and listened more.
I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.
I would have eaten the popcorn in the ‘good’ living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.
I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.
I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.
I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.
I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television – and more while watching life.
I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.
I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for the day.
I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.
When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.”
There would have been more “I love you’s”.. More “I’m sorrys” …
But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute… look at it and really see it … live it…and never give it back.
(Trying on Pirates of the Caribbean hats in DisneyWorld, 2013)
I confess that our family is usually sliding into the new year, exhausted from the harried month of December, a little frail from managing chores and sibling bickering, and not too excited about the three months of shut-in still left of winter. We’re usually in survival mode and stumble right past a time to reflect at the close of the year.
We have some good friends that have led us (by example) to a different path this year. Each year their family (of 7) head off to a cabin over New Years Eve and Day for some intentional family time. They look back over their year and scrapbook their highlights together, answer questions about the past year, write notes to people who have blessed them, and look at their goals for the New Year.
We didn’t have plans to head out of town over the holidays, but we are trying to adapt some of these traditions into our holiday stay-cation. Over the last two days we’ve looked at a slideshow of pictures from the past year and answered some questions over hot chocolate and dinner. In the next two days we’re hoping to bless others with some written words of thanks and talk about our family vision, goals, and calender for the New Year.
As I sifted through pictures for our slideshow, I was surprised by all that had happened since January. Before answering the questions and looking at the photos, my view of the last year easily gravitated toward the challenges, but after our family time I realized that in the midst of the challenges also came many blessings.
Here our my top 10 family moments of 2013:
#1 Art Show
In January our family took an intense and wonderful art class with Carla Sonheim and to celebrate our hard work we had an art show at our house. Aside from reading stories out loud together, art time is my favorite time at our house. And it was a treat to share it with others. (Highlighted here at Carla Sonheim’s blog!)
#2 The last semester of our Homeschool Co-op
For two years we were blessed with a sweet, sweet homeschool community. About six families who shared a similar love of all things creative met once a week. We had book club, art classes, PE, and in the final year a drama class and a writing class. For the brief two years we shared a creative place, laughter, children inspiring other children, and an absence of many of the rules that govern boys and girls in traditional environments. In the photo below, our friend Jennifer (author and writing teacher) is celebrating our 11-year-old as a writer by giving her a new name. (check our Jennifer’s online writing classes)
#3 The Boy Finally Loves to Read
Even though our son has had the ability to read for a few years, this March he finally got it. He finally found the treasure hidden between those pages of little black words. For days I found him with a book at the table, on the couch, in his bed, and left him in the car in the driveway as he lived in the World of Story. A life-changing moment for an 8-year-old.
#4 Making Movies
This was the year of IMovie and Fireborn Studios. The kids have made about ten movie trailers this year, starting with the first, The Adventures of Spy Dog. My 13-year-old can do things with computers I could never even dream of doing. We put all of their work on DVDs and gave them out as presents this year. In our house, everyone gets to be a star, even the four-year-old acted in her own documentary trailer about the life of a ballerina.
#5 A Summer Worth Savoring
The end of the summer found me wishing for more. Instead of anxiously needing to go back to routine and structure, I wanted more time at the pool and the absence of managing school. It was a summer of the swimming and…well, whatever surprises the day might hold. I also had the luxury of time spent writing and getting some constructive criticism from a friend.
In the Fall, my in-laws treated our entire family to a trip to DisneyWorld. They paid for accommodations, park tickets, and meals for a three-day trip. I thought this would be a stressful trip. It was, instead, our best vacation. We haven’t really had many true vacations in our thirteen years of family life. It was an incredible gift to cast off any worries about our mundane chores and meal preparations. Instead we woke up each day with one precious goal: go have a great adventure. We rode scary roller-coasters and watched the magic of the kingdom work its way through each member of the family. Our four-year-old has started a fund to go back.
#7 Dance Class
In the Fall, we joined a new co-op after our beloved one I mentioned earlier in this post, finally disbanded. Life instantly became busy and stressful. My favorite time of the week became our four-year-old’s dance class. She’s the baby of our family but in this class she was the oldest, the leader. I don’t know what’s more delightful than watching a dozen 2 to 4-year olds skip, march, and curtsey their way through classic musical songs.
#8 Our Eldest Daughter Participates in Her First Large Scale Theatre Production
If joining our large homeschool co-op came with great challenges, it also came with blessings, usually tied up together as I mentioned above. She auditioned and got a part in the Fall drama in Shaw’s Pygmalion. It was a twice a week rehearsal commitment and I also helped with costumes. Many times throughout the process I regretted that we’d gotten involved with the play, which made us the busiest we’ve every been with outside commitments. But as often happens, Play Week arrived and it felt worth it. She is certainly in her element when she’s performing.
#9 My Favorite Fall Day
While we juggled a new kind of school, dance classes, rehearsals, choir, and Boy Scouts, we had one of my favorite kind of days. It arrived at the end of the fall trees. This october was a struggle for me because it was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death and he died when the trees were at full glory. Usually the Autumn trees are my favorite seasonal decoration, but they brought flashbacks of pain this year. It was on this day, one of the last days of our yellow tree in the backyard, that my soul finally found some peace with the beautiful, burning trees. It was the kind of day I’ve always loved in our years of homeschooling. All of us outside, art supplies spread out, creating new worlds on paper or in our imaginations.
When the Rabbit Room took reservations for this conference back in March, my husband and I both got on computers and phones and tried to get tickets, but we both failed as the conference sold out in less than three minutes. As the October date of the conference approached, I went through all the stages of grief that we wouldn’t get to go. About two weeks before the date, I found out a ticket had become available and I threw grief aside. This is a community that feeds all the often denied places of my creative spirit. A weekend of excellent music, authors, visual artists, and theater. A place to say yes to the way God sculpted my art-loving heart. And then it’s so much more. It’s a place set apart where the light of God blocks out the darkness that we muck through in our daily lives.
A final note on the challenges of this year. My kids are entering out into a bigger world, their faith and foundation are being tested. It’s certainly arrived with a cost on our time and our way of doing school, and I can’t say what our plans are for this next year yet. But it has also grown their character through the testing. And it’s grown mine as well.No comments
This December I’m on a hunt for truth and beauty. Not the bendable truths and digitalized beauty of the world today, but truth seen through the filter of God’s word and beauty that reveals a hint of God’s everlasting glory. A friend recently said, “I want to learn to see. In art and in life, I want to look for God moving through the background.”
I’ve lived on a particular kind of beauty and truth these last many years, often wrapped in a cloak of painful situations. Certainly God’s love has been revealed throughout that time and in that revelation there has been beauty, but my soul desperately needs to notice some other aspects. These have more to do with sunsets dipped in apricots hues and the pure, ringing laughter of a four-year old, both reflections of God’s truth and beauty.
Not only do I want to seek them out, I want to share them as well; with my children, with you, and many people I know who sit in an all too familiar darkness. The darkness we see is not darkness to God and He calls us to be be windows of His light, so others can see a glimpse of His glory.
Here’s a beautiful poem crafted with the truth that our Savior left his throne and came down to a smelly, sweaty stable for you and for me.
by Luci Shaw
Blue Homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen into my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’s voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes,
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now
he is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended,
I must see him torn.
(I’m thankful to the friend that brought me to Luci Shaw’s poetry this summer. This poem came from a book called “Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation”, a great read for this month.)No comments
(spoiler alert: major plot points of Jane Eyre are revealed in this post)
I re-read books.
I love to re-read books.
There are some books that have been such intimate friends over the years that I can pull one off of the shelf, open it to any page, and be transported to the world of my favorite character, the colors and details as vivid as a movie playing on a screen.
Sometimes I read selfishly, savoring the first half of the book, the build, the love story when the love is still new and unblemished, when the characters are still true to themselves and each other, and then I stop.
I stop before time travel moves from excitement to terrifying for Henry and Clare in the Time Traveler’s Wife. I click off my book light before Jane Eyre leaves Mr. Rochester and spends months in pain instead of newfound joy.
And then I flip to the end. I have the right to do it, I’ve already read the book a dozen times, suffered with her, I’ve earned the right to skip if I want to.
But the end is never as exhilarating if I skip the hard parts.
The first time I walked with Jane toward Mr. Rochester when they finally meet again-well, there weren’t any words for that moment. Together we’d chosen starvation over sin and then faced the temptation to forsake our hearts altogether for a life and marriage without love. I might smile and nod happily when I skip those parts and turn to the last chapter, but take away the hard parts and where’s the story that stole my heart to begin with?
I’ve begun to see my own story in the same way. What is my story without this middle part?
I spend a lot of time running away from pain, either present pain, or past pain, anxious to get to “the good part”. But when I look back at my story of 34 years, which parts do I skip? The past that I once wished to leave closed, present chapters included, are all intricately connected. Events, moments of impact that once (and sometimes still) cause me to cry out, “Why?”, don’t make any sense as individual stories.
When I look back now those collection of moments resemble the Extreme Dot to Dot that my 11-year-old finished last week. 636 dizzying dots that eventually revealed a complete picture. I don’t know the number of days of my life so I don’t know how many dots are left to connect, but enough to know that God’s plan has been purposeful, not one extraneous dot in this book. Each moment has brought me a little more faith, trust, love, and hope, sometimes while the pain is fresh, sometimes later.
“You cannot amuptate your history from your destiny..my past is something Jesus takes hold of and makes into a destiny. That’s called redemption.”
While reading someone else’s painful story this week, I felt challenged to be a steward of my story, instead of running from it. As I read Mary Beth Chapman’s book about the accidental death of her 5-year-old daughter, she spoke of God making her and her whole family a steward of their story. What an amazing response to the pain allowed into their life (deeper pain than I’ve ever experienced). And they have done just that, through their lives, through their books, through their music, through their ministry. They didn’t hide, they opened their story to the world, their whole story.
Stories, both real and fictional, don’t make sense without the hard parts.
What story has God made you a steward of?
Last friday night we sat in the booth at Panera, just me, my husband and our four-year old, while the big kids were busy at parties and youth events. The soup bowl lay empty, the dishes shoved aside, while we tried out a drawing game I’d recently seen in one of my new favorite art books for kids.
How to play:
The first person draws a head and neck (animal, human, fantastical) while the other players look away. The player folds down the paper until only the tip of the necklines are showing and passes the paper to the next player.
The next player keeps the top section folded and draws the middle body section down to the waist while the others look away. The player folds the paper to cover the section, leaving only a tiny bit of the waist lines showing and passes the paper to the last player.
Keeping the paper folded, the last player draws in the legs and feet and then turns the paper and then unfolds all of the sections for the big reveal.
This was a game full of fun surprises and our four-year old had no trouble keeping up!
If we had more than one pencil, we could have kept three papers rotating at one time, but we didn’t, so we finished one drawing before creating the next one.
This is an easy game to play while waiting in the car, around the table at a restaurant, or part of a family fun night. If you have more than three players, you can start two or more teams.
Happy Art-ing,Aimee No comments