What A Wonderful World

The worship service took place in the shade, facing the lazy river and the multi-colored rock cliff behind it. The light breeze made the Texas evening heat bearable. So did the beautiful surroundings, both geographical and human.

We sat on the third of four rows. People we are very fond of but see only once a year filled the other seats. A group of them had just stood before us and delivered an energetic and moving reading of a portion of Genesis. They ranged from young children to the middle-aged to those long retired. We mix seamlessly here. It’s always magical.

To conclude the time together, the worship leader played a song to emphasize her message. As soon as the song began, the teens behind us began stirring.

“That’s from Shrek!” one said excitedly.

“No, it’s from Toy Story.”

“Madagascar.”

“No, I’m telling you – it’s Shrek.”

“Remember? It was playing while they floated in the boxes in the ocean.”

Their voices tumbled over each other, everyone talking at once but still hearing each other too. Jane and I looked at each other and smiled as the song continued on.

My husband turned his head to the side and stage whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “It’s from Louie Armstrong!” The kids all laughed and then settled down to listen. I closed my eyes to take it all in.

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The teens behind me were giggling. Just ever so softly. Not irreverently or disrespectfully, but they were obviously enjoying something. I opened my eyes to see what they were seeing. I didn’t see it right away but when the view collided with the words of the song, it didn’t matter. The images around me were so much better than those in my head.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you

And that’s when I saw him. One of the youngest members of the conference – a boy not quite school aged. A boy we had watched grow a little bigger over the last several years. He was running in giant, lazy, looping circles in the grassy space between us and the river. As he looped closer to the front row where his parents sat, he’d lift his arms out to his sides and dip toward them like a plane banking on a turn.

And then he’d be off again. Not in a hurry, not making a scene, just moving to the music. And it was beautiful.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

As the last notes faded away and the boy fell into his dad’s open arms, my husband summed up what had just happened.

“That was the most beautiful liturgical dance I’ve ever seen.”

And so it was.

The readers had practiced their lines several times and they did an outstanding job. But it was the carefree expression of the music delivered by a child that carried the day. Truly, you just need to leave room for the wonderful to happen and it will. The question is, will your eyes be open to see it?

Trusting and Creating

As I said yesterday,we are back for our third year at a family art conference.  We  attend our art class for three hours each morning with optional mini courses in the afternoon, worship each evening, and  enjoy a beautiful location that allows for hiking, swimming, resting, and enjoying God’s great creation.

One of the hardest lessons for people to learn is to silence their inner critic.  We each have a tendency to compliment others’ work while dismissing our own.  Why can we see the beauty in other people’s creations so much easier than we can our own?

This year, the worship leader spoke about how our God is a creating God and since we are created in His image, we are creators too.  All of us.  We are all artists.  We all have that capacity within us.  She pointed out that it doesn’t matter how good your work is, how well received it is, how perfect or flawed: you are an artist, regardless.

We call people who have children parents, she pointed out, regardless of whether they are any good at it.  So, too, you are an artist, regardless of your skill level.

The idea here was to get people to relax and create.  And love their creations.

It’s easier for the kids.  They love what they create.  It takes years of effort on the part of our society to drive all that hope and creation and self-love out of them.  And if we can’t stop society’s effect, it will take years of attending events like this one to add it back in.

I chose to take stained glass this year.  It was recommended that I bring a pattern or picture that I’d be interested in doing.  My first thought was of Van Gogh’s exploding Tardis:

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I was not surprised when I was told it was too much.  I had some back up pictures.  One was of the backside of a sunflower.  It was interesting but not nearly as difficult. That’s all relative, of course.  It might be easier than an exploding Tardis… but it was still an ambitious project.

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I put in a lot of hours outside of class.  Two or three afternoons and a couple of evenings.  There were 60 pieces, many of them tiny.  They had to be cut, trimmed, ground, fitted with copper foil around the edges, placed together and held in place by horseshoe nails.  (As a quick aside… do you have any idea how terrifying it is to hammer a nail right. next. to. your glass creation?!)  Then I had to solder all the seams – front and back, attach the lead border, solder it to the seams, and clean it all up.

I finished though and it looks gorgeous.

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A lot of people stopped by to check out our work.  A number of people insisted that this couldn’t be the first time I had done stained glass.  They didn’t believe me when I said I had never done it before.  This kind of reaction was, in my mind, both complimentary to me and healthy for them.

Other comments, which were also complimentary to me, seemed perhaps unhealthy for them.  At least, if you are looking to believe that we are all artists.  They would say stuff like “your whole family is so talented” – as if somehow being married to a potter made me more of an artist.  I know they were just telling me that they liked my work and felt I was talented.  But I couldn’t help but hear a tone of “well, we’d expect such work out of you… but me…”.

The thing is, I don’t think of myself as an artist most of the time.  I’m an engineer and a mother and a wife.  My life is full of non-art stuff.  I told my husband the other day, “I’m an artist one week out of the year.”  It’s this week.  At this conference.  When I can devote almost my entire self to creating something.

And that’s where the talent lies, I think.  In taking the opportunity and making the most out of it.  Removing the distractions and the self-criticism and just doing it.

am an artist… as it was described in our opening worship service.  I am not an artist in the way that most of us think about it.  I’m not more talented than the person across the table.  I don’t have some innate skill, some gift.  I’m you.  I go into every project thinking I can’t pull it off.  And every year I do.  And you can too.  You just have to believe in yourself.

So, please, do yourself a favor.  Go out there and create something.  Think and dream and design and build.  You won’t regret it.  The sense of accomplishment is worth all the frustrations and failures along the way.  Trust me.  Better yet, trust yourself.

Magical Camp

We are once again at the family art conference that we’ve gone to for three years now. And it continues to be a magical experience for us all. Most of the people here have been coming for years and we’ve finally been here enough that I’m starting to feel like I know people and am known by others.

This year Hal got to join the Young Artists group instead of the nursery.  Technically you are supposed to have completed Kindergarten but that’s a loose rule and “they” felt he was ready.  He’s having a blast.  According to his big brother, he’s quite the disruption.  Big brother seemed surprised when I told him I had received the same report about him by big sister the first year we were here.

Jane is taking Landscape Painting with acrylics.  She now loves to paint and is doing remarkably well.  My husband is trying his hand  at Digital Photography and, while he claimed earlier in the day yesterday to dislike it as an art form, is now enjoying himself immensely.  I’m doing Stained Glass and once again managed to pick an overly ambitious project.  And once again, with a wonderful and supportive teacher, I’m pulling it off fairly well.  Although I’m having to put in some extra hours outside of class to get it done!

The big story of the week so far though has been Daryl.  Daryl has fallen in love with a charming three year old girl named Mia.  He is smitten.  And I mean that in the healthy, he’s-going-to-make-an-awesome-daddy-one-day kind of way not the man-that’s-kind-of-creepy way.  He plays with her and takes care of her like he’s never done for his own little brother.

When Mia loses her sword (again) after slaying the mighty dragon, he tells her to climb to safety in the covered wagon (where monsters, including dragons, apparently can’t go) and then, after making sure she is safe, goes and retrieves another imaginary sword to slay yet another mighty dragon.

When she falls down, he’s right there, making sure she’s ok and picking her up again.

When she decides to take off her shoes on the wood chip covered playground, he carries her on his back so her nice little white socks don’t get dirty.

When she wanders over to said playground during the outdoor worship service, he follows her to keep an eye on her, carefully watching her when a group of teenagers from a different camp invade the space.

And during musical chairs, when she falls down as everyone scrambles for a chair, he puts his hand on a chair and calls to her to come take it, thereby being out himself but preserving her participation in the game.

He’s been simply charming.  And now everyone thinks he’s an amazingly sweet kid.  Which I suppose he is… just not all the time.  And not typically with his own siblings.

My three earlier posts this week were scheduled before we left.  I’ve had very limited time here, my days filled with many wonderful things.  This one is just a light brushstroke but I hope to find some time later today to blog about the deeper things that come from being here and being fully an artist for one brief week that I can share in the morning.

Until then, I encourage you to break out of your box  today.  Try something radically new!  It does wonders for your psyche.

Being An Artist

We are at an inter-generational art conference this week. Last year was our first year here and we had a blast. The conference strives to enforce the notion that we are all children of a creating God and each of us has incredible creative potential inside, waiting for us to recognize it and grow with it.

The conference opens with a worship service Sunday evening. Tonight, the worship leader asked us to close our eyes and think of a creative person we know. Hold an image of that person in our minds. She then described possible images we were holding: a woman in a paint splattered apron in front of an easel, a shaggy-haired man bending over his guitar, a writer scribbling away in the corner of a coffee shop.

The first image that came to my mind was one of myself, sitting in front of my computer, writing this blog. I immediately began to analyze whether this counts. I’m not a novelist, creating a story out of my imagination. I’m more of a journalist blessed with amusing children. At best, I’m a storyteller. So my mind searched out further and I gazed at my husband in his clay-stained apron leaning over his pottery wheel. There’s a good image. I’ll hold on to that one.

When she told us to open our eyes, she asked, “Did any of you imagine yourself?”

Silence filled the room as one small hand was raised in the chair next to mine. In a room of over 50 people, mostly adults, Daryl was the only person to think of himself. The speaker’s eyes lit up. “Daryl did. Daryl knows that he is a creative person. He is an artist. Children know these things. They are born with the ability to play. And creating art is about playing. Being able to try something different and not worrying about failing.”

I thought about how I had pushed my image of myself out of the way as inadequate or not quite fitting the profile. It was still haunting me when the other worship leader asked us to stand and set some intentions for the week. We confirmed that we would help create a loving, safe, and supportive environment. We confirmed that we would strive to grow and try something new.

And then she asked us to commit to silencing that inner critic, the one that told us we weren’t good enough. Not creative enough. What we created wasn’t beautiful, wasn’t worthy. Convicted, I choked up as I tried to say “I will”. And even as I forced the words out and wondered how surreptitiously I could wipe the welling tears from my eyes, I wondered if I really could. Then, as the chorus of “I will” completed, I heard a husky male voice add “with God’s help.”

Of course. She wouldn’t have mentioned the problem if I were the only one with it. Nearly everyone in that room has an inner critic. Perhaps not all as vocal or harsh as mine, but they all have one. Even Daryl. So as she invited us to come to the front and draw something on the cloth that would serve as our communion tablecloth at the end of the week, I resolved to not be scared of that simple invitation.

I stood back as Hal and, well, most of the people, traced their hands and colored them in. I din’t want to trace my hand. That had been her suggestion, a jumping off point. A place to stay for the very young or the scared or the rushed. I wanted to go further. I saw someone draw a beautiful tree with gorgeous leaves and thought, “Oh! I want to do that!” But to do that would be to copy. Just wait. Think. Wait.

Finally, I reached over Hal and drew a simple shape. I divided it up with lines and used the colors available to fill in each section. I was pleased with my creation. It was simple but colorful. And unique. And mine.

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I showed Jane and she responded, “You drew that? Really?!” Hah! I told my inner critic. Who needs you? I’ve got a daughter! And then I realized that she wasn’t surprised because she thought I wasn’t an artist, although that was probably, realistically part of it. She was surprised because she’s not used to seeing me create anything and doesn’t see the things I do create as art.

I headed off to my beginning jewelry making class feeling hopeful. That hope carried me through the panic that rose as the teacher told us to begin sketching out designs for our pendant. I stared at my stone. I turned it over and over. I backed off and thought of what was important to me and how it might look with the stone. An idea began to form.

“Can we use wire to make a shape in front of the stone?” I asked. It took her a minute to understand what I meant but then confirmed that I could. But what to do with the back? When an answer didn’t come, I let my mind wander. In a rare moment of peace for me, I allowed the emptiness to be comforting. I just waited and tossed images and words around in my mind. There’s a tree in front of that stone and I like how it looks. What if the backing was a leaf? I drew it out on the paper and saw that it was good. And so was I. Not perfect. Not the best. But good enough.

Ella is Hot

Once upon a time there was a little boy who loved a little girl. He wanted to tell her that he loved her so one day during art time in Pre-K, he wrote her a card. He used pink construction paper, covered it in hearts, and bared his true feelings.

Here is a photocopy of that expression of puppy love:

It was very important to Daryl that Ella know:

1) He loved her
2) He thought she was “hot”
3) He considered her his girlfriend

This was all news to Ella. The teacher read it to her after thoughtfully copying it for me. Ella’s response was, “Well, I think Daryl might have a crush on me.”

I showed it to Daryl yesterday, three and a half years later. He doesn’t remember it. He doesn’t even remember Ella. Ahh, young love is so fickle.