Simply Me.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of going to a fabulous new retreat center, which will be opening this spring in Sherwood, Oregon called Living Wholehearted. This beautiful space completely lives up to its name. I’d like to share a few words I wrote during my stay there.

“Today, on this eve, I am snuggled with my journal and a cup of sleepy time tea, reflecting. Today was a good day, a blessing. I am at Living Wholehearted Lodge and Retreats with Dan for a weekend away. Just on the outskirts of Sherwood, nestled among farms, the woods and wine country, this gorgeous space is certainly a place of peace and healing.

Today, I am reminded of celebrating simply me. Not the driven businesswoman, or the first-born achiever. Not the artist that I am, or any other label I have placed on my soul to be loved and accepted by society.

I am reminded that God loves me regardless of how many paintings I paint, or the number of clients that I teach in a week. I am successful because I am me. I am valued because I am me. I am loved because I am simply me.

I love moments like this where I can sit and cherish the simple snapshots of the day, like walking through the crisp January woods with mittened hands to challenge the bitter cold. Moments like this, where I can sip my tea, and know that I have a chance to make this world a better place. Each choice, simple or hard as they might be, changes the world a small bit, and through this I am encouraged, in this moment of solace. Tomorrow comes, bringing a whole new day of challenges, which I will turn into possibilities. I have the honor of charting their course.”

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“Sanctuary”

a Peaceful painting now living at the Living Wholehearted Lodge and Retreat Center

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I’m not a good artist.

“I’m not a good artist.”

“My drawing looks terrible.”

“I can’t even draw a straight line to save my life.”

“His drawing is so much better than mine.”

“Teacher Jen, you make it look so easy, but I’m just no good.”Image

Sound familiar? These are insecurities in art that I hear every few days or so in my lessons. What happens to an individual from that confident kindergartner who walks around with their favorite color crayon, giving mom the latest masterpiece to plaster to the fridge, to when they become a shy teenager hiding beautifully rendered drawings in amongst math problems and history essays?

Between stick figures drawn joyfully by the young child, and hidden doodles of teens and adult office workers scrambling for a second of artistic release, somewhere along the road, we get broken.

Society provides a mold in which we are expected to fit into, and people are categorized on what their abilities seem to be.

Comparisons are drawn, and before you know it, that sweet budding artist’s confidence sails away like a balloon escaping, climbing high into the sky with the child watching helplessly below.  There is a sense of loss for one who enjoyed the art process, when they come to the “false realization” that they are in fact, “not artist material.”

How do I know this if I am an artist, you ask? Because it happened to me.

Her name was Elizabeth. My! Was she an artist! Only in fourth grade, her proportions were already perfected; her animals had life in their eyes; and shading? Well, she had it down! Her choice of colors was perfectly added to her pieces as if it were the easiest thing in the world for her.

All the kids in our class had officially decided that Elizabeth was THE artist. I absolutely loved art, but hadn’t had the opportunity to take private classes like Elizabeth. I remember a couple kids told me, “Jenny, Elizabeth is the artist. Now, she CAN draw.” One took it a step further and jeered, “Why do you even try?”

And that was it. I stopped drawing at school. I took up flute and joined the band. Band was at the same time as our weekly art class, so even though I looked forward to my art time each week, I stopped going, and threw myself into learning the flute because after all, Elizabeth was THE artist, and I “just” liked to draw. My talent for flute increased, and my grade for art class slipped from an A to a D, as I had so many incomplete art assignments that I did not have the motivation to finish.

I remember the project about five months later that changed me forever. It was a math lesson on symmetry but with an art twist to it! Our teacher had us cut out an animal from a National Geographic. The instructions were to cut down the middle of its face and glue on half of the face to drawing paper. Then we were to draw and match the other side to the best likeness we could create. I loved tigers, so I picked a beautiful one with amber eyes.

Although I had shut off art for five months, something in me clicked and for 30 minutes I didn’t care about my insecurities of not being an artist anymore. I worked hard. The whole classroom faded away and it was just my masterpiece and me. The fourth grade recess bell rang and all the kids except me ran out the door. I asked my teacher if I could stay to finish my tiger. I remember seeing my teacher smile as she saw my tiger. “Jenny the Artist” was back – for good. I fought the “false realization” of not being an artist. When class came in that day, I remember the kids gathered around my desk, murmuring, “Hey Jenny’s tiger is almost as good as Elizabeth’s drawing!” That was good enough for me. I could deal with “almost as good.”

Fast forward to today, where I stand now in the teacher’s spot. A few weeks ago, I was teaching one of my favorite classes to teach, “Collage Kids Club.” It was like clockwork. 1,2, then 3 students in a row blurted out their lies of insecurity. “I’m no good.”

“Wow! So and so’s art is so much better than mine.”

And lastly, “I’m a bad drawer.”

“Pencils down!” I commanded. “Here at Blue Plume Studio, we are all good artists. We ALL have a gift. We are all talented.”

“Yeah, but Teacher Jen, I keep messing up,” one student argued.

I responded,  “ In art, it’s all about the process of creating something great, something meaningful to express yourself. The mess-ups are sometimes the best part because that is where the learning happens. If we don’t mess up sometimes, then how do we learn? I don’t call them mess-ups either. I like to call it editing my art. If there is something I need to change, I edit it, until it is how I like it to stay.”

At this point, I glanced at my hand-painted sign with one of my favorite Picasso quotes on it. “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

“How many of you have heard of Picasso?” I inquired. Several students raised their hands. I gave a quick overview of the great artist, Picasso, and then asked, “How many of you think I am a good artist?”

With that, all the kids raised their hands.

“What if I told you Picasso was better, much better? After all, he was one of the founders of modern cubism, and wow! You should see his bronze sculptures!

In fact, he was so good I might as well quit now, because I’m never going to be as good as him. What do you guys think, should I quit art?” I asked my class.

“No Teacher Jen! You can’t quit! We NEED you! You teach us how to do art!” the students cried.

“But Picasso was better, doesn’t that make me ‘no good’?”  I inquired.

“No Teacher Jen! You are good too! You are one of the bestest artists we know!” they argued back.

“Right there!” I stated. “No one is better or worse. Art is a process, a journey that we are on similar to life. If one person appears farther along, we don’t give up, but instead press on, keep going on our journey. Art is expression, it is a way we communicate.” I held up one of the pieces that one of the students had deemed “no good.”

“What is this?” I questioned.

“A polar bear!’ the class replied.

“A very creative polar bear, because we know exactly what he is drawing! Isn’t it amazing we don’t have to write words below or tell anything about the picture? The art speaks for itself and this is the amazing thing about each of us being an artist! We are able to have a whole new language to communicate what we feel, what we want to express and we take the viewer on a journey through our art. Amazing isn’t it?”

The class all sat for a moment taking it all in. One student turned to another and said, “you are a good artist and I am too!”

I felt joy. I had done my job well today, and helped six sweet little artists believe that once again, they were indeed artists and worth sharing their art with the world.

 “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

-Pablo Picasso

The piece below was created by Dan, my husband, who has declared before, he in fact, is not an artist. Beautiful inspirations like this can happen when you allow yourself to relax, and let go of those insecurities of “not being an artist.” This is what happens when you allow yourself to “JUST BE!”

I am so proud of him for creating this piece this weekend! Love you Dan!

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All I Have is a Prayer. And a Breath.

I am going to be honest… This was a difficult holiday season for many.

I do love the season of winter, don’t get me wrong. An evening of ice skating at the rink, a lazy Sunday picking the perfect tree, or perhaps if we are lucky enough here in Sherwood, Oregon, we will be graced with waking up to a blanket of snow ready for building a snowman friend.

And yet, the holiday season may not be all a winter wonderland for everyone. Whether facing a job loss through the economy, or struggling as a family to combat a difficult illness, or even a recent loss of a loved one can make one feel hollow and drained when it seems as though the rest of the world is singing joyful carols and rushing to the mall for sales. I realize that the holidays at times brought hardships for many in our community and nation.

I have noticed this trend with our society, and I do it too much of the time… we graze over the difficult, and we want to strive for what is happy, good, and positive. There are many movements currently about the power of positive thinking which is so good and needed. Yet, we cannot devalue pain and the hard things in life, because pain does happen and there is a time and place for it all in our lives. 

Ecclesiastes 3

There is a time for everything,
 and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
 a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
 a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
 a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
 a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
 a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
 a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yetno one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

15 Whatever is has already been,
 and what will be has been before;
 and God will call the past to account.

16 And I saw something else under the sun:

In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
 in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

17 I said to myself,

“God will bring into judgment
 both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
 a time to judge every deed.”

 

The following is a journal entry I wrote earlier in December:Image

December 13, 2012

“Today is a peculiar day. A day where all my lessons were cancelled, leaving me with time to breathe, time to think. Flooded with various emotions that have not had time to surface, that have been welling up in my soul. Today, my hear aches for the hard things in life. The struggles, the trials. The tragedies and pain.

My heart aches for Dan’s family, as his uncle Doug passed this week from a heart attack. My heart cries for Tim, our brother in law, who was in a severe motorcycle accident and currently is on breathing assistance with two broken vertebrae and at this moment seems paralyzed. Life is hard. There is no easy way to say it. Entering this life was not a promise of all things bright shiny and beautiful. My heart is flooding with our family’s struggles.  Today in Newberg, Critter Cabana burned down, leaving the fate of several animals at the mercy of the smoke and flames. A few days ago there was a mall shooting in our Portland area.”

(And just a day after this entry, the awful shooting in Connecticut occurred, leaving countless families without their children, and a whole nation with a hurting hole in its heart.  It has taken me a few weeks to write about this again, as this season left me exhausted and saddened.)

Entry continued…

“I am reminded today that sometimes all I have is a prayer. And a breath. I went to a voice and guitar lesson yesterday. My instructor, Amanda Christine Stanaway, shared with me that our breath is sacred. We have no control over when we first begin to breathe and when our final breath is taken. It is a God-given gift, a sacred pouring in of God himself, and when we return our breath, it is an acceptance of this life we are given. With every breath, we enter another moment here in this life, on this earth.

And through this very thought I pray. Prayers for meaning in this life. Prayers of purpose. That my time is not done here. That for yet another moment God breathes life into me and that I need to make life something of value, for I know not when that breath may stop. My heart is heavy with tragedy today. I also know that my time here is not complete. It would be a failure to collapse into a heap and give up. I have so much more to give, talents that await discovery, friends yet to be made, classes yet to be taught, people yet to inspire and moments yet to be lived. Thank you God for Breath today. When the world seems dark, and light seems to dim, I can thank Him for his purpose, another moment, another Breath.”

 

Breathing into A Year of Transformation:

This leads me to this year’s theme for my life: Last year my theme was Be Brave, challenging myself to face life head on with courage. I still want to live each day like this, not afraid of what might be or what is to come. I want to continue to face those fears head on, and add in another theme for this year: Transformation: A marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better.

“It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for living.” Simone De Beauvoir

I have worked so hard these last year, teaching people how to be brave themselves, to face their hindrances and embrace the journey as they embark on creating an artistic life. And now it is time for me to do the same. I am excited to start this journey of transformation for myself, excited to learn what that might mean, and you my friends, are invited to be a part of this journey!

The first step in transformation is to honor the God-given breath within. Start simple, start small. Breathe deeply, let God fill your soul, and return your breath with gratitude. Be ready for a worthy life ready to be lived deeply.

“It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard.” May Sarton