Art for Art's Sake

Part of my fall "bucket list" is to make even more "art for the sake of art".

So yesterday, after many days of tending to quite literally crisis after crisis...

(see this link to donate to hurricane disaster relief for the nation of Haiti.  The Preacher, also known as my pastor-husband, is the president of Bethanie Missions of Haiti, and we can personally guarantee that every dollar goes directly to water filters, food, and the rebuilding homes for the people there.  He will be heading down in a few weeks, as a matter of fact.  If you know other ministries personally, please donate there.  But if you do not personally know a "boots on the ground" ministry in Haiti, we are, at Harvest Church, boots on the ground.)

...The Preacher and I escaped to our favorite spot.  We needed to talk, laugh, sketch, dream, and I needed to shoot around with my new toy...

(Overlook my hair.  I am growing out my gray - which is almost completely sterling silver.  But that is another blog post for another day.  The process is grueling on my self esteem.)

He needed to talk through some ministry burdens with me as his sounding board.  I am just now, at almost 50 years old, learning what it means to "hold the space" for someone.  I am leaning into the concept of being a witness to one person's pain or joy or deep thought, without feeling the need to be an answer to a question or a solution to a problem.

I needed to sketch...

And shoot around some more...

...and we both needed a nap.  Which we took.

And then this happened:

We were wide awake after that.

One of the disciplines in my life that has added to the quality of my life the very most in the last 5 years has been the making of art for art's sake.  I never leave the house without carrying something portable with me - something that gives me an ability to create.  That may be a sketchbook and pencil.  That may be an iPad with the Procreate app on it.  That may be a bag like the one I took with me yesterday (pictured above).  That may be my iPhone with my favorite art-making apps all loaded and ready to go.

It wasn't until I was okay with making silly, bad, worthless, inconsequential, unnecessary art, that I found the spaciousness of my own creative place.

You have a room inside your heart.  It is full of creative ideas that want to come tumbling out.  Sing your songs, write your lyrics, paint, a little of what lights you up every day.

You never know what (or who!) might show up, just for you.

A Short Excerpt From My New Book {"The Women of Advent"}

Of all the women in the genealogy of Jesus, Bathsheba was the woman who gave me a run for my money.  I ended up seeking the Lord long and hard over her.  She began as my least favorite of the 5 women mentioned in Matthew chapter 1 (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary), and she ended up as my most favorite.

Above is a very short excerpt from my new 113 page book entitled Women of Advent || A Gathering of Scattered Hearts Past and Present.  

If you, like me, are feeling a little scattered at this point in your life, this is the book you might want to take with you into the Advent season.

Our God is a good...great...gathering God.

{Pre-order prices expire this Monday, October 17th.  Thank you for your gracious enthusiasm - your response has been overwhelming to me!}

The Women of Advent - My New Book! {...join my launch team?}

I've written my first book.

 It will launch just before Thanksgiving.   I've been hard at work here...

and here...

on this...

It is a book entitled _The Women of Advent || A Gathering of Scattered Hearts, Past and Present_

This is a devotional art art instruction Advent journal...with four weeks of soul-stirring devotional content, meant to inspire you in every way.  I've let a few women whose opinions I value see excerpts and sketches, and they have told me, without fail, that this book engages their heart and their senses and their love for beauty and truth.

And if there ever were two things that should move the human heart, it's truth and beauty.  This book is, I'm told, full of both.

I'm offering a discount and a free gift-with-purchase {a digital print for you to download!} to every person who joins my launch team by pre-ordering this book!  And who knows...I typically come up with little additional surprises for early-adopters.  But the pre-order window will close in a few if you will do me the honor and giddy joy of hurrying here, I will get you fixed up.

Thank you in advance for grace.  I'm self publishing, so I don't have a launch team...or any team. Please allow a week or so for me to get your print to your inbox.  Then, allow a couple of weeks for the physical copies of my book ( makes me so giddy to say it...) to arrive, and I will sign each one, and mail it to you. all who are feeling scattered, as the year 2016 winds to its close, you've come to the right place.  We serve a God who gathers.  He gathers all that has been scattered, turning our fragments into 12 baskets of blessing.  He will do it.

Just for you.

I'm so grateful for your pre-order...I've already opened preorders on Facebook and Instagram, and I've been overwhelmed by the response.  You all are beyond sweet to me.  It makes a difference in mine and the Preacher's every day lives.

And I couldn't have worked harder to bless you, than I have by offering you this.  Thank you for your kindness in believing that it will be worth the wait.

Common Ground

You and I have something in common. Something important.

Whether you are religious, secular, agnostic, sanguine or choleric.  Whether you are an INFJ like me, or an EPBandJ like my daughter Sarah (inside joke).  Whether you drink Jack Daniel's or Diet Coke, you and me have a long history of the same thing.

Whether I know you very well, or I don't know you at all. Maybe I thought I knew you, once upon a time.  Whether we love each other or we tolerate each other, whether you like me or you don't, whether you respect me, or think I am an unsophisticated Southern fanatic - or an idiot. No matter. We share a vital connection that binds us together.

You and me? We are hell-bent on our own way.

We have all, without exception, gone off the path of righteousness, like confused sheep. We have, each one of us, insisted on our own way. That is the only sin there is, really. But what that sin looks like might surprise you.

Because, when that first man fell and failed in the Garden, it was about perceived good as much as it was about evil. Mostly, the fall was about first Adam's own way.

My "own way" looked religious and socially acceptable for many years, but it was still my own way.  It was still my own interpretation, my own understanding, my own opinion. It took a long time for me to figure out that His ways in actually...are not my ways.

Your own way might look sophisticated or Southern Redneck. Your own way might be educated...or not. Your own way might be generous or parsimonious, fastidious or scandalous.

But you and me, we are bent on our own thing. Whether you are a Pharisee like me, or a prodigal whose Father yearns after her, you and me have much more in common than we realize:  the iniquity of our own way.

The Hebrew root word for "iniquity" means to be "bent", and we are certainly that. We are bent towards having our needs met by means of two sins:  1)  our own efforts towards being as good as God (keeping the law), or 2)  our own efforts towards all that is less than God, and therefore less than good (breaking the law).

I am here to tell you that all your works of righteousness, all your self generated virtue, all your effort to keep the law, has been already forgiven!  "What?!" you might say.  Yes...I said your efforts to keep the law have been forgiven.

{Only Christ is righteous. Without His righteousness, and only His, being imputed to you entirely, you are wicked. And when the wicked so much as plows, it is a sin. (Proverbs 21:4) No righteousness other than Christ's is accepted - if you even try, the effort is a sin. Anything not of faith is sin.}

Now for the easy part - this is the no-brainer: I am also here to tell you that all your moral failings have also been already forgiven! It is far easier to sense, and we instinctively understand, that our moral failings need atoning and forgiveness.  That forgiveness is found in Christ alone.  Your confession of need, and belief in His supply is the essence of salvation.  He paid the penalty for all your sin, past, present, and future.

Either way, Pharisee or Prodigal, you and I are forgiven our born-attachment to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we so choose, we can be severed from it, and grafted into the tree that is root-holy - and wholly other - than anything humanly generated, good or bad.

Once you are grafted into the Tree of Life, your choices become not so much an issue of Good vs. Evil. Your choices become an issue of...fruit. Your life becomes more and more a fruit-bearing manifestation of God who simply is All-Righteous, and less and less a manifestation of self imposed behavior modification.

The Christian life is far more than receiving Christ as Lord and Savior, followed by a lifetime of law-consciousness.  Life is so much more than doing the best we can to follow Him, and then trying even harder to ensure that our children follow Him. If this has been your understanding, you are likely bored and lonely, over or under achieving, a bit depressed, and a lot critical.

But oh, if you could just hear me!  If you could just hear, if you have the ears to hear. Life is less about our own way, i.e. our own performance of good or evil. Life is less about whether our children take of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge that we've only ever offered them!

Life is more about scandalous, all-surpassing grace that scoops us up, both we and our children, and seats us in heavenly places. Life in the Kingdom is all about a righteousness not our own, and peace and joy heaped on top of that. It is grace upon grace.

We are all guilty of being bent towards our own way - that is the default mode of every human being, whether our default is towards doing good (keeping the law) or doing evil (breaking the law). The Lord has laid on Christ the iniquity of you and me.

We have such common ground. Pharisee...prodigal...or in between.  It would greatly glorify the Lord if the church could lay aside the petty differences and walk it together.

"For God made Christ to be sin for us, though He knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."

An Art Exercise Video For You {...Words Are Their Own Art Form}

This is a simple but enlightening grown-up art activity I put together last week, based on an old coaching exercise of mine.  I adapted it to artists, and like all my coaching material, I did it myself first.  It was powerful for me.

This is an exercise to help you in identifying and affirming your own artistic style.

For about the past two years, my art techniques and approaches have been undergoing a slow but very perceptible change.

 I am finding the courage to be radically simple in my subject matter and palette. And make no mistake, in this mixed media world I know and love so well, it takes courage to, in the words of country singer Luke Bryan, "Strip It Down".

 (Which happens to be my current favorite country song...but I digress...)

My processes in reaching a finished piece are still at times complex and varied, but the finished piece tends far more towards a still simplicity than it did, say, three years ago.

In life as in art.  Or is it in art as in life?  I don't know and I don't care.  All I know is nothing but bare, stripped down simplicity inspires me these days.

"Strip it down...down...down..."

( know you want to click that link, up there.  I dare you to listen only once.)

This was an exercise in writing down all the words that define who I am as an artist - words that describe the sort of work I want to put out into the world...and then painting those words.

Here's how to do it:

First, choose a few words that define your artistic bent. {Example: bright.  light.  complex.  layered.  Or....simple.  spare.}

Then, look up synonyms for your word or words. Don't forget the names of the colors in your palette...I promise, that's fun too.  Break out your old Thesaurus with the yellow pages.  Seriously.  Don't use your computer, because that goes against the whole spirit of this exercise.  We're tossing technology, and stripping it down...down...down...

Sorry.  {I'm embarrassed to tell you I'm chair dancing, even as I type.}

Then, find synonyms for THOSE words.  Then THOSE words.  Let the word geek in you come out.  Keep going down the rabbit hole of discovery. List all the words that most deeply resonate with who you are as an artist.

 Then, write every. single. one. of. them.  Scrawl them as large as you dare, with willow stick on paper. Keep writing, smudging, and layering. Then paint over all of it.

Lastly, I don't care what you think of the finished thing.  I want you to display it somewhere.  Honor your own effort - you applaud everyone else's.  Give the work of your own hands a special spot.

 This is an exercise I've always used in my coaching.  I've sat and watched women tear up...I've watched their tears a woman's own descriptive words take hold of her own tender heart.  Let's never forget that words really are that powerful.

{Since someone always asks: this sketch and paint took exactly 12 minutes in real time. Simple.}

Thank You, Jeanne Oliver { trip to Colorado...}

Mostly, you don't know how someplace has changed you until you leave that place.

 You can't understand the way an experience has transformed the way you are in the world until you've had time to synthesize and transmute that exposure to something translate what you saw, into an awareness of just how it has changed you.  It takes time for the adventure to catalyze itself into the venture.

Three weeks ago, I flew to Colorado and stayed in the home of my sweet friend Jeanne Oliver.  She had invited me months before to be her special guest for the very first art workshop in her brand new studio, on the grounds of her brand new home in Castle Rock.

It has taken me this long to write about it, because I've been processing all of it deeply.  More deeply than I ever expected, to be honest.

I knew how that being in the physical presence of an artist whose work you admire, even taking one lesson from that artist, live and in person, can change your own art forever - but it takes time to see the incremental changes.

What I didn't realize - or to be more accurate, what I had forgotten - is how being in the presence of a friend who simply bears witness to who you really are, can change who you are forever.

That weekend, I got both.  I was in the presence of both friend and artist.

That entire weekend, my friend Jeanne was crazy-busy.  I can't imagine putting the finishing touches on an entire 1,100+ square foot teaching studio a mere day before a major workshop, then hosting an entire workshop while hosting a visiting friend.  But that's what she did...

...and so, what I'm saying is that she didn't have much time to consciously "bear witness" of me, or be profound with me or try to change me.  What I'm saying is that who she is, is so authentic, that it simply is.  And you impart who  you are, not what you think you want to teach others.

I caught such an impartation to dream and to believe yet more in a good, good God.  I was reminded that who I have been, in secret, for many years, is of infinite value - because to live life beautifully and soulfully is never - ever - a wasted effort.  In fact, it is the only way any of us can give away inspiration.  You can never just up and decide you are going to inspire someone.  No.  You have to live in an inspired way, alongside your spouse or your whole family, on a thousand Monday mornings, when the dailyness of the daily can become monotony - when no one is around to see the peaches you put in your oatmeal, when there is no one there but you and your loves to smell your scented candles.

After years of this, you can then impart powerfully.  (So start today!)

While I was there, in that beautiful studio, I enjoyed the company of other women, and participated in the art exercises.  But I didn't, at that moment, see one single change in my art.  (I didn't expect to - and neither should you.  These things take time.)

I've had three weeks to process, and suddenly, this week, art has come pouring out of me:

Art that isn't Jeanne.  It is art that is me, with elements of things I saw in her workshop - things that I consciously remember, and some that I'm sure are unconscious.

It's those unconscious influences that are the juju...

...they are the weighty, compelling imprint that changes you.

I don't want this post to seem, in any way, like a "you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours" advertisement for my friend, telling you to take a Jeanne Oliver workshop.

Not even Jeanne would want that.

What she would say, and what I would say, is that you must hold who you are - or if you are an artist, you must hold your art and yourself in high esteem - such high esteem that you trust the process of investment.  

Invest in you.

Remembering that the results take time.

But the rewards are permanent.

A Different Perspective on the Existence of Evil

There is an enemy to human existence.  There is an enemy unleashed in the earth, who is hostile to the image of God - malignant towards the image of God that walks about upon the face of it. 

Sometimes, this enemy co-opts for its own evil designs the very human beings created to bear their Maker's image.  And that is the sad, sad part.  That is the ultimate degradation of imago Dei and the ultimate insult to the Creator.  

Though evil sometimes wears a human face, though it has often worn a human face for thousands of years or more, our battle is not with flesh and blood.  

Evil can seem to lurk large, even dwarfing the delight we feel in God.

But without this delight, without an unshakeable, unbendable, stubborn willing of our inmost being to be happy in all God is, all He gives, all He does - without inner delight dwarfing outside evil - joy dissipates.

Where joy is in absentia - (known to exist, but not present within) - strength is also absent.

It is time to put evil in perspective.  I tremble to write these words, because we all hope against what feel to be overwhelming odds.  But I will write it:

Evil has its limits.

Though the pain of evil scrapes out the interior of our hearts, leaving us feeling wounded and thin and without strong walls of defense, the weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

At the end of the day, at the close of your day-to-day fight to delight in God, you have a promise:  evil is only sufficient for a day.

"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof."  Matthew 6:34

I've heard it said that God operates out of abundance, the enemy operates out of a budget.   I know this is an unexpected perspective on Matthew 6:34, but I believe it is Biblical.

The enemy is the one on a budget.  You are limitlessly resourced.  Joy comes in the morning, no matter what this day brings.  Your God is all-sufficient, and your sufficiency is of Him.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God

Evil has a short shelf life.  On this we can depend.  On this we can hope.  

On this we can act:  we can live and love and dream big dreams and look far beyond today with a hopeful heart.  We can plant trees, literally and metaphorically.  We can build houses and inhabit them and plant gardens and eat the fruit of them, even when all around us we see nothing but death and captivity.

Our sufficiency is from God.

(another great explanation of Imago Dei is found here