Everything Thrums

As I prepare this post, Teen has the TV on while watching videos on his phone and Tween stares into the computer game abyss. The competing sounds drown out the natural world: birdsong, chattering squirrels, leaves rustling in the (too) slight summer breeze. My friend Bruce encourages us to listen, to tap into the flow, to tune our ears to the thrum of God’s creativity. But first, to deal with the noise…

re:create recess #14: Bruce Lawrie

When we were little our play was filled with creativity. Children can conjure up whole worlds before sitting down for a bowl of cereal only to dismantle their creation in favor of three or four more elaborate universes they assemble before lunchtime. I used to spend hours with my Revolutionary War army men that I ordered from the back cover of one of my Spiderman comic books after saving for months, hundreds of tiny molded plastic figures, red for British and blue for American. Great sagas unfolded out back in the sandbox behind the old farmhouse where we lived in Indiana. Regiments of infantrymen and drummer boys, backed by rows of cannons, fought epic battles in the shifting sands, deluged by flash floods emitted from the garden hose, bombarded by bricks and cinderblocks from above, set aflame, in one of the more gruesome and memorable battles, by my dad’s lighter I had snuck from his desk.

One of my daughter’s favorite forms of recreation when she was young was creating endless shows: plays, book readings, operatic arias, puppet shows, tumbling exhibitions, karate demonstrations, ballet, rock-n-roll shows, modern dance, the Macarena. The only encouragement she needed was a momentary lull in the adults’ conversation.

Maybe it’s because kids are so fresh from the Creator that their recreation revolves around creation. Imagine the fun God and Jesus must have had as they sung the cosmos into existence, reveled in the creation of the DNA helix, grinned at each other as the two trillion galaxies unfolded. How they must have marveled together at the first beloved child they breathed into being. Everything thrums with God’s infinite creativity. The mountains proclaim it; the Pacific shines with it; the Milky Way aches with it. Our kids are filled to the brim with it and when they play they are swimming in it.

As we age our creativity is dulled by worry and planning and all the other grown-up thoughts that fill up our heads. When adults make art they set aside the constant murmuring of these internal voices long enough to allow the Creator’s love to flow through them again. To create is to connect with the Life we sense pulsing just beneath our day-to-day reality, just out of sight. We catch glimpses of it, hear faint echoes of it, but can’t quite hold onto it. To pick up a pen, a paint brush, or a lump of clay and take the first step in search of what lies below is to reach out for the unknowable. We hope to capture a bit of the Light, something real that others can feel and connect with. To create art is to connect. These mirrors we build—a poem, a sketch, a line in a play—manage to reflect truth in a way our words and thoughts cannot.

It is as if these truths pre-exist us and it is the artist who discovers them, hacking through the thicket in search of something she herself can’t fully describe. The writer sits at her desk and aims in the general direction of where she caught a glimmer of Light. She writes and rewrites, not yet clear herself on where the piece is headed, cutting, editing, and editing some more. And then slowly she begins to see where she is going, perhaps she is on to something here. She reads her work aloud again and again until she discovers she may have found it, or a bit of it, the truth just beyond the veil. Built from words, her poem is a vessel that holds more than the words themselves can convey.

In 1964 Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias first heard the distant echoes of the Big Bang, an “inexplicable hum” they picked up on their radio telescope in New Jersey. Apparently, when the Word and God got together to kick things off, they started by humming a tune. To sing and to dance is to align yourself with the Flow, to experience the harmony of Father and Son. How easily our kids pick up on the joy singing through the world, ready at a moment’s notice to boogie with all they’ve got, to run and leap in the fading evening light, to curl so thoroughly into a story being read aloud to them before bedtime that their bedroom, their daddy, their teddy dissolve into the unwinding tale. Perhaps we can learn from them, turning our senses like a finely tuned radio telescope to the music of creation. Perhaps we’ll discover the song that moves us to play with our Creator.

Bruce and his creative daughter

 

Bruce Lawrie lives in Moraga, California. His work has appeared in Portland, Notre Dame, The Best Spiritual Writing, and elsewhere. Links to published stories: Who am I Lord, My Turn, and The Ride of a Lifetime

Art Therapy

Dr. Seuss writes, “Oh, the places you will go!” which I echo, “Oh, the places our children will lead us…” Before Teen was born, I could never have imagined that he would lead me hunting for and racing snails, and later, in search of snakes in the jungles of Costa Rica. LaRae Seifert was Frank-ly surprised that she ended up in art class alongside her creative daughter, and we’re both grateful for the life adventures on which these kids have taken us and the lessons we’ve learned along the way.

re:create recess #7: LaRae Seifert

You know those people who can take empty plastic bottles and transform them eighteen different ways into useable, clever gadgets? Or, alternatively, they can take miscellaneous household objects, some fruit, and a glue gun, and in under ten minutes create a beautiful centerpiece … or wreath for the door … or costume for the youngest child’s school production. You know someone like this. Maybe you are someone like this.

I am not this person. I do not even live in the same space as this person.

I am the person who can solve a logic puzzle in my head, or calculate everyone’s cost and tip when splitting a check before any of my friends can dig out a phone and pull up a calculator. Taking one of those silly Facebook quizzes that determine if one is left or right brained, I scored 80% left-brained, and my response was to think, “Only 80%?”

I have never thought of myself as creative. I am a problem solver. I do some things that appear creative, like playing the piano, and knitting and embroidering, and sewing. These things for me, however, do not depend on creativity as much as the precision and order that flow naturally from my mathematical nature.

Imagine my surprise then, and ultimately my appreciation for God’s sense of humor, when I gave birth to a daughter who is all creativity. She is constantly expressing her ideas through art and crafting. I never dreamed I would purchase so much paper, and yarn, and glue, and paint, and beads, and feathers, and wood, and … You get the idea. Eventually, my husband and I realized this was no passing fancy, but rather the core of her being, and we prayerfully sought out an art mentor for her.

We were lead to a local woman who is a talented watercolorist. When I approached her and asked if she would be willing to teach my daughter, she said, “Absolutely.” When we arrived at her house for the first lesson, the table was set for two students, not one. She said to me, “I thought you might like to join us.”

Internally, I rolled my eyes. I mean, really. I’m the least artistic person on the planet. This was going to be pure torture, but in wanting to be a good mom, I sat down, and … it wasn’t what I expected. What happened over the next several months surprised me. I found a part of myself I didn’t know existed. A year-and-a-half into this journey, I can see that digging deep and learning to create has changed me.

I can remember my surprise when we sketched an elephant from a photograph, and my result actually looked like an elephant. My daughter was so proud of me she named him Frank. I felt pleasure in mixing colors, and watching pictures take form as I painted. As I exercised my creative muscle, the realization dawned that I create every day of my life, whether it is memories, or family time, or meals, or one-on-one moments with my children or husband; every moment of the day is a moment of creation. It brings to mind that, “In the beginning, God created…” and as His image-bearers, we too are born to create.

I am not an amazing artist, nor will I ever be; but my experience with art has been a pleasant one. Most pleasing of all has been watching God take an analytical mom out of her comfort zone, and tap into her previously unknown creative well by placing her at the art table next to her child.

 

My name is LaRae, and I am a native of Colorado. I have been married 23 years to my partner in crime, and I have two beautiful daughters ages 12 and 19. Although I have a Juris Doctorate, I long ago set aside my law practice to focus on my hearth and home. I have homeschooled for 11 years, and I’m pretty sure I’ve learned as much as my children. As I say to them – the world is your classroom, and life is your teacher. As long as you’re living, you’re learning.

 

2016 Create Challenge & (Re)Discovering My POV

Just about a year ago, my brother-in-law and I discussed creativity as we washed Christmas china. We hatched a plan to invite people to post on my blog about creativity. As a result, this year 39 people have guest-posted, one friend 2x, and I have been moved, inspired, blessed.

Throughout this year, I have heard two phrases repeatedly: “I didn’t /don’t think of myself as creative…” and “Thank you! Committing to guest post helped me in such-and-such a way…”

To which I say two things. First: STOP it, friends! As human beings, we are created to create, and thus we are all creative. Own it, already, figure it out, create!

Secondly… You’re welcome! I am so grateful that the opportunity to post on this little blog has proven significant in some way.

Your posts have been significant in my life. Of that I am certain.

Each week, February through November, I had the opportunity to reflect on a friend near or far. Few of those who have guest-posted reside in our immediate community. Some I have known since childhood. Some I haven’t seen since high school graduation—mine, perhaps theirs. Some I have only rubbed elbows with, “elbows” perhaps meaning “social media accounts.” The age range has been considerable, a 40+ year gap. The creativity also has been vast, from “traditional” arts—writing, painting, singing, composing—to those necessary for daily life—parenting, friendship, encouragement, forgiveness. As I have prepared to post, I have belly-laughed and I have wept tears of grief and gratitude. Your posts have grounded me, uplifted me, and leveled me.

I feel honored to have created this platform, this community, for people to share their stories. I feel honored to have such a wide web of connections among honest, vulnerable, creative friends.

I have learned a few things:
I love to encourage—oh, how I have looked forward to my weekly guest post intros.
I love to share stories—to encourage others through posting stories that resonate with me and with you.
Creativity begets creativity—I created a platform, you created posts, which further inspired you, and me, and others…

On the day I posted 2016’s last guest post, I also indulged another creative project: I attached prints of recent photos I’ve taken to cards. For sale. Just a little thing for a little moms’ Christmas boutique. Not a money-maker, just enough to pay for supplies really.16photocards

Still, it’s something I haven’t done for a while. I picked up the prints and, as I laid them out, I remarked out loud: “Huh. I have a style…?!” Of course I knew what drew my eye, what had me reaching for my camera, but here it was, the recent best of, and it surprised me.

My pictures tend to be flowers, close up. They are quiet moments, some with riotous color. Most so close you don’t see the whole flower/bouquet. I don’t do landscapes, wide-scapes, the Big Picture. I stop, bend down, notice the details, the small, too-often overlooked beauty.

You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but each image tells me a story: of the rose bushes Guy gave me one Valentine’s Day; of the bulbs we planted in our yard; of the end-of-summer Farmer’s Market we visited; of Nephew’s 18th birthday celebration in Guy’s hometown; of a friend’s wedding.

Much like those who have posted on my blog, I will say: “I don’t think of myself as observant…” I guess it depends on what draws one’s attention. My guys see things as we hike—lizards, snakes, berries in trees. They are more naturally observant than I am. They have better distance eyesight.

I see flowers here, there, and everywhere. They stop me, make me notice them, help me see what makes each special.

During Thanksgiving week Tween and I walked the dogs through my childhood neighborhood. An African daisy caught my eye, orange-yellow-black, petals as intricate as butterfly wings. We stooped to look closely, to barely touch so as not to disturb. Neither of us had phone or camera, so we couldn’t snap for later. The next day I took my phone running with me. The flower was shut tight, the sun not in the right position for it to open. It reminded me to appreciate beauty while it may be found.

Which is really and truly The Whole Point of this blog: Miracles in the Mudane! My life may be small, but it contains glorious, beautiful details pointing to the Divine. Your life may be small, but you contain stories that speak to so much more.

One of my favorite things is to help people share their stories, and this year the blog, the Create Challenge, has done just that. Because most of us live small lives, but all of us have something important to share. And I am so grateful!

Creating Trust

As we head into the holiday season, many of us anticipate time with family and extended family… Cue the emotions! While today’s post isn’t about holidays, it is about trusting God with our families in life’s everyday moments and the brutal no-one-wants-that-news time-suspending experiences. It serves as a good reminder to never take life–and the people who grace or sustain our lives–for granted. (BTW, Sarah does make darling Christmas decorations and I am proud to own an original!)

Create Challenge #39: Sarah Johnson

When I was asked to contribute to this blog and the topic was “creating” my mind immediately went to the physical sense of the word. I asked myself, what do I create? Well, I like to think I create a comfortable home that my husband and children enjoy and feel safe in. Then I thought, well, I’m creative! I like to make Christmas decorations, and was even able to sell some (for actual money)!

But God was not ready for me to “create” this story yet.in-god-we-trust-header

Then one evening in February He gave me a real story worth sharing. It was not an easy story to take in as my reality, but He gave it to me anyway.

You see, my mom had a subarachnoid brain hemorrhage. She was all the way in Dallas, Texas, while I was all the way in Northern California. The call came with this devastating news well into the evening, too late to get a flight home to be with her.

Here is where Trust comes in. I had no choice but to Trust that the Lord had my mom in His hands. And I had to Trust that He already knew the outcome to this devastating news that was my very fresh and raw reality. As I lay on the couch waiting for my 3:00am alarm to sound, so that I could fly to Dallas, I had to Trust.

I arrived into Dallas and made it to the hospital before my mom was even out of her 5 hour craniotomy. Again Trust. But I was starting to feel something totally unexpected. I was feeling the comfort of the Lord surrounding me and my family during this extremely difficult time, a time that I would have thought I would be sitting there feeling completely helpless. I felt almost empowered by the Grace of God, and I just “knew” my mom was going to be OK.

So all of a sudden I found myself in this role that I had not expected to be in, a role only the Lord would see fit for the youngest daughter of three. A role of a rock, a rock that my father was able to lean on, a rock that my sister was able to lean on, and a rock that my BIG brother was able to lean on. You see, I would have guessed that my big brother would have taken that role or even my sister; they are older and wiser, right? But God had another plan. I trusted Him in this, and ran with it.

I was able through Trust to see the Lord’s hand working in all of us. I could already see Him working through my brother, stirring emotions in him that had not been stirred in a while. I could feel His presence during different conversations I had with many different family members and close family friends. I was able to stay strong and, hopefully through this strength, show others God’s Grace. I could see and feel the Lord very clearly, and I just knew my mom was going to be okay.

We are on the other side of this horrific event, an event I would not wish on my worst enemy. But we are all stronger because of it. My mom is doing great and, to be honest, better than she was before.

God works in mysterious ways; He will go to great lengths to make things happen, and to answer our prayers. You see, my mom was not a bad person, not evil or malicious. She just was not always happy. A bit cynical at times, like you never knew what kind of mood she was going to be in. So for years my sister had been praying that the Lord would soften her heart. Well, guess what? He did! Since she had the brain injury she has laughed more than ever. She is always positive, and reminding all of us to look at life with the glass half full instead of empty.

Trust, my friend, is what the dear Lord created in me that evening in February.

sjohnson

 

 

My name is Sarah Johnson. I’m a native Texan who has been living in the beautiful state of California for the past 21 years! I met my husband 20 years ago, and we have been married for 17 years and counting. We have two beautiful daughters, a 12 year old and a 14 year old. I do miss all my family and friends in Texas (desperately!), but I do love the life I have built out here as well.

Remember, Forget, Imagine, Hope

As we approach the end of the year and the end of this guest post series, I feel reflective and overwhelmed at the talented people who surround my life. Sarah is one of those people (as you’re about to see if you don’t already know her). We are co-workers and friends; she leads me in worship regularly, and she inspires me in so many ways. Today’s post is vulnerable and lovely and reminds me to create wherever, whenever, and from whatever situation lies before me.

Create Challenge #38: Sarah D. Williams

Sometimes I create to remember. Sometimes I create to forget. Sometimes I create to imagine what could be—creating from a place of hope, as if offering a prayer to the Creator through my written words or painted canvas, potted plant or redesigned room, chord progressions or dance steps.

In 2013, high atop Machu Picchu, gazing out over the valley of wondrous Incan ruins, I created to imagine what could be. What could be just a little bit better. More. Not that there was anything saliently wrong. But that’s the beauty of creating: Sometimes we don’t even know what we long for until it is unearthed through the creative process. And sometimes it takes a breath-catching backdrop to poke deeply enough, to prod our souls, to till and dig and do the unearthing.

I broke my foot 3 days before I was scheduled to fly to Peru and lead a team of 13 adults and students heading high up in the Andes Mountains to spend a week working at a children’s home in Andahuaylas.

I broke my foot while packing and organizing the 50-lb donation bags we would carry 2-per from SFO to LIM, LIM to ANS. My doctor put me on her own no-fly list, but (thankfully, and with much begging) she greenlighted me to fly 8 days later. So my husband and I set off to join our team, me booted up and him carrying all 200 pounds of our donations plus our carry-ons. (He made a lovely Sherpa.) We arrived just in time to head to Machu Picchu, all while creating our own version of Plains, Trains, and Automobiles.swilliams-mp

If the cobblestones of the streets of Cusco don’t kill you, the steep drop-to-your-death cliffs of Machu Picchu, sans guardrails, will. Therefore, after deciding perhaps touring MP was a bit too dangerous to do in a boot-as-cast that left me balance-challenged, the group headed into the park without me.

At the top of MP—after taking the van and train and bus it takes to get there from Cusco—you find one snack bar. There, at this overpriced and un-vegan-friendly (as one would expect) eatery, as I sipped hot tea (served in an extra-large, wax-coated soda cup that melted as quickly as it brewed), I opened my journal. And I began to create.swilliams-journal

My husband and I have taken the road less traveled in our marriage. After being friends for 9 years, we transitioned to dating and then married quickly (6 months later). And 4 very challenging years in, we separated (again for 6 months). He moved back to Kansas (We are both native Jayhawks), and I stayed in our little home in Pleasant Hill. We had no plans to reconcile once the move was made; we were divorcing and getting our legal and financial ducks in a row (as they say in Indiana—our home before moving to the Bay Area, one year into marriage).

I won’t delve into the details here, though I am happy to do so over tea or wine. The point is, marriage for us has been a challenge. And that may be putting it mildly. Our current union, and past reconciliation, is a story of grace and redemption, forgiveness and re-creating. I often say that the old relationship had to first die (a painful death) before we could try again, start rebuilding, from the ground up. An example of creating in hope—a reimagining of what it could be.

We have always been good at outward-facing intimacy: intimacy built when facing away from one another, focused together on a common goal or project. We have not been so good at inward-facing intimacy: when it’s just the 2 of us, looking at each other, focused only on one another. We lead worship together, and we have since high school; this intimate act we can do easily, even when married life is hard and messy. This is outward-facing intimacy. We song write together, and we have in fits and spurts since high school as well; this intimate act we do with much kicking and screaming (mostly screaming), especially when married life is hard and messy. We have actually spent time in couple’s therapy (which we both highly recommend) working on our co-writing process, as it mirrors our intimacy struggles in other areas as well.

But let’s head back to Machu Picchu, shall we? To me, with journal open, drinking waxy tea, reflecting and praying and creating. My jumping off point for the song below was (a slight derivation of) the last line of a Pablo Neruda poem (Every Day You Play), though I was not cognizant of that at the moment. (At some point, it seems, that line had deeply embedded itself in my soul).

From here, I created to imagine what could be: what could be for us in our most intimate expression of inward-facing intimacy. How we could be free and playful while embracing the messy and the unknown. How we could dare to explore the dance of sexual intimacy with effort and energy that we may feel drawn to spend elsewhere. How we could, with authenticity and respect, communicate needs and desires and then seek to meet those needs and desires in ways that perhaps challenged each of us to be more vulnerable, more present, more…creative.

I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry tree
Gently sway and blanket you in life and blossom wild
I want the juice to run down my chin get on my hands
I want, I want you

I want to do with you what frost does to the windowpane
Close enough to etch myself right into your skin
I want to trace the lines left by my love for you
I want, I want you

I want to do with you what bunnies do, what bunnies do
Without a care, a cost, a thought—let nature have its way
I want the fur to fly, then rest up on the bed we made
I want, I want you
I want, I want you

We create to remember. We create to forget. We create—in hope, and with trembling sometimes—to imagine what could be.

Most importantly, we create.

swilliamsSarah lives in the East Bay with her partner Michael and 2 dogs, Bristow and Jed Bartlet (and formerly Bob Dylan, RIP). Creating is her jam, both for work and for leisure–from music and stories and scripts to succulent arrangements and visual art and interior design (and blog posts). She spends most of her time outside (Yea for California weather!) and can usually be found in her adorable (read: tiny) backyard with her dogs and a laptop, blogging, doing prep work for an upcoming Bad Rap event event, designing vocal parts for Sunday services at MVPC, or emailing a sales lead for Retzlaff Vineyards & Winery. She imperfectly strives to live an authentic, Christ-centered life and desires for all people to be given a voice and treated with dignity and respect…and love, because ALWAYS love wins. One day she hopes to try her hand at stand-up comedy: Have you heard the one about the vegan who used to live in Kansas?

What I Didn’t Pack

Today’s guest post comes from a dear friend. Guy and I were in a church Community Group with Brad and his wife Shawn; for many years we and another few couples met regularly to discuss God’s Word and pray together. We also shared a lot of life, good food and drink, service and outreach, and knit ourselves together as family. Brad is a deep thinker who works out his faith on his feet. I love that this challenge to create nudged him deeper in faith, and I hope it will do the same for you.

Create Challenge #35: Brad White

bwhite-hiMy wife and I just returned from our annual anniversary vacation. We celebrated our first incredible nine years together and are looking forward to many more nine’s. Hawaii is a beautiful place to celebrate and a great place to reflect. It is here where my blog contribution finally came to me.

Getting ready for vacation can be stressful. Right? What to pack? What not to pack? How will this look with this? Are we carrying on or are we checking? “Are you going to golf this year?” “Are you bringing long pants?” All of these questions must be answered. I am pleased to say that I packed light, did not pack a pair of long pants, and wore shorts to dinner every night.

This contribution is not at all about what I did pack but what I did not pack and missed. You see, my friends, I claim to be a man of faith and try to live the right way and practice what Jesus teaches. Yet, when it comes to taking God on vacation, did I pack Him? In my heart yes, but in my practice I did not. Did I need a vacation from Him? No Way! I just didn’t make Him important.

When I start my day in the Word—either in my devotional or other readings—I seem to get grounded and off to a great start. So why did I not pack my devotional and Bible? It was right there on the nightstand. Was it a conscious decision? No. It was not like I said, “You are staying here this week.” It was more like getting my head wrapped around all the other stuff that really doesn’t matter.

My friend Patrick Bradley and I talked about this while we were in Hawaii. Patrick and his lovely wife Lisa are good friends of ours. We met them three years ago on vacation and have vacationed together twice since. Patrick and Lisa are Christians and Patrick is deeply into the Word.

Coming home I was determined to get into my devotional to see what I missed and how I could have used it.

Thursday, October 20 “Confident in the Father” Perhaps if I had read this the flight would not have been so stressful knowing that one of our stores had just discovered asbestos in the flooring and it was going to delay an opening. Did I pray? Did I turn the stress over to God? Did I read this and know that He had me and this situation?

Friday, October 21 “Our Choice to Love” The One who had chosen to love created one who could love in return. Now it’s our choice. Did I show love and compassion to a stranger today?

Saturday, October 22 “Do Something” Did I do something to demonstrate my devotion? Did I pray, teach, go, write a letter? No, I held a table at the bar for three hours so we could have a great view of the TV to watch the Cubs beat the Dodgers. Some will say God is a Cub’s fan…!

Sunday, October 23 “A Crisp View of God” It sure is easy to see God when things are good, but much harder to look for Him and see Him when things get rough. Reading this when I got home made me feel even worse. It made me feel that I see God when it is crisp and convenient and yet I didn’t think enough to bring His Word and guidance with me.

Monday, October 24 “In a Word” Did I have the presence of God with me this day? Well, the day started with three hours of work. I did manage to pack that and knew that opening four stores while on vacation would prove difficult. I was right. This devotion spoke specifically to having the love of God on everything we do. Did I have God’s love when one of my team members told me via email that we were not going to make an opening because we failed to convert utilities? Did I have the love of Jesus in my heart when I made that call? Would I have approached it differently if I had read the Word in the morning? I believe I would have shown more grace. Instead, I needed to ask for forgiveness.

Tuesday, October 25 “What Heaven Holds” Pure Joy! Arguments will cease, for jealousy won’t exist. Every sin is gone. Every insecurity is forgotten. Every fear is past. There is pure hope, pure love, and no fear. What a great way to start your day. Right? I wouldn’t know, since I left it at home. Instead, I started my day with three hours of work and two conference calls.

Wednesday, October 26 “No Secrets from God” That’s kind of scary, don’t you think? I’ve been there. Thinking I can fix things on my own if I work harder, push harder with little to no regard for how it makes people feel along the way. Three more hours of work and calls all day. But hey, we opened four stores today. However, He knows I am going to do that. He knows who I am and He is patiently waiting for me to ask for forgiveness. I believe God is asking, “Brad, how many times do you need to do this before you figure it out?” The good news is He loves me anyway. Even when I don’t deserve it.

Thursday, October 27 “A Gentle Lamb” Thank goodness we have this gentle lamb we can call Father. What an incredible gift. We serve a God who says that even when we’re under pressure and feel like nothing is going to go right, He is waiting to embrace us whether we succeed or fail. What a beautiful message to start your day. This was a beautiful day indeed. We went snorkeling and saw some of the amazing creatures our God has created. Fish of every color, schools of fish being chased by a barracuda, and a huge sea turtle. I came out of this day in this peaceful place totally amazed by our Creator’s power. I sure wish I had started my day that way.

Friday, October 28 “A Heart Like His” Happy Anniversary to us. God certainly knew what he was doing when he brought Shawn into my life. She is my everything. Should I have read this before my anniversary day started? Oh, heck yes! Let me tell you what I missed. This devotion spoke about the ledger we keep when measuring success and accomplishments. The ledger I keep is full of so many unnecessary columns. I think about this as I look at the best earthly being who has ever been part of my life. Why do we keep ledgers? Why do we measure? Why do I find it difficult to display pure love? These matters are irrelevant to God and should be to me as well.

Saturday, October 29. We are Home! I can read what I have been missing. I can pray and ask for forgiveness, and I can get back into my routine. Sounds easy, right? It’s not.

So what did I learn during my vacation? A few things…

  1. Pack your routine with you.
  2. Enjoy the beauty of the Creator
  3. Look at the stars
  4. Breathe
  5. Don’t pack long pants when you go to Hawaii
  6. Love freely
  7. Open your heart to the love of the Creator
  8. No more ledgers
  9. Don’t try to open stores during vacation!

The peace I find in writing this is simple… While I might have forgotten to pack God when preparing for my vacation, He NEVER forgets to pack us. He has us right there in His never failing grip of love.

That’s a good thing.

bwhite
Brad White serves as Senior Manager of Construction, Expansion, and Facilities for Oportun Inc, responsible for the organization’s rapid expansion in California, Texas, Illinois, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. He has been married to Shawn Casey White for 9 years and a member of MVPC for 9 years. Brad is the blessed son of Bill and Ethel White of Maryville, Tennessee, and proud father of William White, 30, of Sarasota, Florida.

Creating & Making

I met today’s guest post author when my friend (her mother-in-law) hosted a gathering for people to learn about her family’s exciting new oversees adventure in Indonesia. Over the few times we’ve shared together since–at church, over meals, at St. Mary’s College basketball games–I have been impressed with how openly she shares her heart, her faith, her laughter, her tears. I can only imagine the creativity that comes into play daily as one lives, parents, and works in a foreign country. God is our Creator, yet we are all makers, and I am grateful Fawn shared her creativity with us.

Create Challenge #34: Fawn Stephens

Many times I’ve labeled myself as “not creative.” I don’t possess the talents usually associated with this adjective; my paintings really do look like something from 3rd grade art. I played music in the high school band, but fell into the ‘average’ category and never pursued it after. And relative to those friends of mine who can craft, sew, scrapbook, and decorate with ease, I’m left admiring their work.

In Genesis, the very first thing God said created everything. This is the first picture He wants us to have of Him, a (the) Creator. This Hebrew word for “create” is bara. This is the only way in which this word is used, when God makes something new of out of nothing. Contrary to popular belief, we are not creative just because we are made in God’s image. Well, respective of the bara kind of creating.

Only God can make stuff out of absolutely nothing.fstephens-baby

The kind of “creating” we humans do is actually more like “making” and is found in the Hebrew word asah. This is like when we buy paint and a canvas and make something beautiful out of it. Or when my mom plants flower starts in her garden and they grow in a perfectly staggered rainbow of heights and colors. When a realtor, lawyer, doctor, or teacher gets “creative” in making a contract, diagnosis, or lesson happen effectively, this is taking what he or she has and working with it. This is the kind of creating we make happen.

Something out of something.fstephens-lady

That doesn’t mean, however, that because we can’t bara, it doesn’t happen in our lives. It’s just not of our own doing. God works through His created children all the time to create new and beautiful things out of nothing. Friendships, love, trust, repentance, and wisdom are all things God builds in us, when none of those things are there to begin with. In fact, the spiritual gifts we are told by Paul to be eager for are some of God’s favorite works. Patience, discernment, and generosity are evidence of God doing His thing in our lives.

I’ve come to realize in the last year that I am actually very (asah) creative. Living and working as a cross-cultural missionary wife and mom in a remote, tribal, mountain town in a developing country requires nothing less. I now make my own yogurt, bake bread (without a bread machine!), come up with home-remedy-type pesticides for my garden, carry area rugs on a motorcycle, and figure out countless other ways in which to get things done for my family each day—all with no box stores for thousands of miles in every direction.fstephens-bug

At the same time, God is proving to be very (bara) creative in my life. One of the most spiritually-growing things I’ve ever faced, relationships with my missionary co-workers, prove to be both impossible and rewarding. There is no way that any of us, not having chosen each other to live beside, worship next to, and work closely with every day, could come together in love to do God’s work here without His creative hand involved.

This is because, by its very nature, creation is unnatural. Without God working around and in us, things wouldn’t even exist. And if they did, they would constantly be falling into a state of disarray.fstephens-butterfly fstephens-leaf

Where there is nothing, because we have no history together before coming from different corners of the world, God makes something in my teammates and me. He builds trust and common vision in the space between us, where there was literally nothing.

Can I make something out of nothing? No. Can I make something out of what God gives me to work with, trusting Him to make new things where there is nothing? You bet.

So, I guess I am a creative (and wonderfully created) person after all.fstephens

Fawn Stephens, along with her husband Michael and children Kalem and Adria, is a missionary serving in Papua Indonesia. Fawn and Michael are both helicopter pilots with Helimission; helicopter travel allows them to access remote or otherwise inaccessible areas to bring medical relief and humanitarian aid. They also assist in mass emergency situations. Routine treks include supporting jungle missionaries, who need aid to live among remote tribes in the mountains and spread the gospel. They also bring medical aid to the people they minister to, regardless of religious affiliation. Find out more and follow her blog: holyrotors.com.

To Unite Creativity to Communion with God

Today’s guest post comes from a precious friend of many years with whom I have spent far too little time face-to-face. In fact, had I not opened an email from a stranger, we might not be friends at all. Some years after Guy and I graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary, Danielle and Matt followed in our footsteps. As married seminary-educated ministry teams are all too rare, friends and mentors told them we needed to meet and passed on our contact info. We exchanged emails until we all moved from SoCal to NorCal and finally met in person. We are so grateful others thought to introduce us! Three Humphreys babies and a couple of churches later, they are in Oregon while we remain in NorCal and we remain grateful for social media that keeps us connected and praying for this sweet family.

Create Challenge #32: Danielle Humphreys

When I was a kid, I loved to doodle, cut-and-paste paper creations, and would go to school sick so I wouldn’t miss that week’s art project. In third or fourth grade, my teacher looked at a paper mask I made and told me I outdid myself. I glowed in the affirmation of what I loved doing. From FIMO creations to beaded necklaces to decorating homecoming floats in tissue paper, being creative just seems to be in my DNA.

In college and beyond, I grew as a visual artist, squeezing in a few art studio classes with whatever free electives I had as a science major. Sculpture and interactive art that invited engagement, like the swings I hung in the university plaza and the “GO” signs I made and installed along bike paths, or even the paintings dealing with my own biracial identity played on themes of whimsy and the potential for deep commentary and conversation. I would have switched my major to art studio, but let’s just say my parents were already disappointed that I got off the pre-med track.

In college and beyond, I grew in my relationship with Jesus and found that the intersection of faith and art just made sense to me. I was invited to use creativity in worship services and retreats through response stations and by designing the environment. My own participation in creative response stations and taking in the visual environment are ways that help me have a heart connection with God while reflecting on how to live out my faith in everyday life. In an increasingly visual world where so much is communicated and felt through design, image and color, I am almost equally if not more impacted by the visual “message” of a worship service (yes, even the fonts matter!) as I am by the sermon itself. I imagine I am not alone in this reality.

Sometimes, my creativity feels like it has shifted to satisfy more utilitarian needs like cooking, making Halloween costumes for my kids, throwing themed birthday parties, and designing print communications for our church. And while I can lose track of time pouring myself into these things (I once spent an hour carving a watermelon to look like the Death Star), it doesn’t satisfy the desire to go deep; to unite creativity to communion with God, truth, wonder, and wrestling. Where the process itself is like entering another dimension where time slows down, I can hear the whisper of God and sometimes see life more clearly. The most recent experience I had where the process of creating art drew me closer to God was a couple of weeks ago when I helped paint and redesign the high school room at church.dhumphries-1dhumphries-2

 

As a long-time youth pastor/leader, I strongly value involving students in the creative process and invite their ideas and input. Would it be easier to just design and execute the ideas I have in my head by myself? Absolutely. But I have found that the benefit of working on a collaborative art piece far outweighs the messiness of involving others and the balance and simmering down of many ideas. Students especially need the affirmation that their creativity and faith are valuable and beautiful. And so I may gently guide and nudge ideas I’ve been collecting for months on my Pinterest board, but I try to be an adult that says, “YES! That’s a great idea, let’s do it!” because I want to help students not only have a hospitable place that inspires their faith, but I want their creativity to feel at home in the church and see how this might be a way God wired them to connect with their Creator. Working with students on art projects is not only a way to create a mosaic or stage design or mural, but an opportunity for discipleship, encouraging reflection on one’s spiritual journey.dhumphries-3

I love our mural of the Sisters Mountains with its taped off edges and facets, the night sky and sunset. The concept for this wall went through much evolution from my initial offering of building trees out of reclaimed fence boards or using something more temporary like canvas banners. But it’s awesome. And it’s not perfect. Parts could be touched up, and the door still needs to be painted, but many hands and minds came together to create this majestic offering. And while I thoroughly enjoyed working on this mural with others, I didn’t mind when the school year started and our students weren’t able to help as much. I happily added the finishing touches from writing the verse to individually gluing tiny Swarovski crystals into constellations on the night sky, smiling at the idea of someone with eyes to see noticing the unexpected twinkling reflection of light. In my alone times, I cranked up my favorite worship songs and blended colors into a sunset while God blended love through music and paint into me. I thought about the real Sisters Mountains I’d seen earlier this summer; the expanse of the night sky with its starry host declaring the grandeur of God, the same God who created all of it, and who created me, too. I hope that those who use this space, created with a heart of worship, will encounter God’s loving Spirit and hospitality.

dhumphries

 

Danielle is a native Bay Area gal, adjusting to life in Oregon, married to Matt and mom to 3 pint-sized humans. She has a B.A. in Aquatic Biology, an M.A. in Theology (Fuller), and enjoys conversations about church, community, Jesus, and gardening. She is also a lover of good food, music, creativity, and outer space. Her neglected blog is daniellehumphreys.wordpress.com.

On Creativity & Sabbatical

When I proposed the Create Challenge I intentionally did not offer an estimated word count, recognizing that, depending on the type of creativity, some contributors would need more or less space. And let’s be honest, some days creativity comes in a concise burst or single image while other days words pour forth like a flooded midwinter river roaring through a storm. Today’s contributor, my friend and co-worker, offered me the editorial hatchet; I picked up only tweezers to tame a few loose hairs. He has a beautiful story to share of living a creative life, through ups and downs, when creative work demands compete for time and space with personal creativity. It’s a story with subtle lessons worthy of steeping into our souls.

Create Challenge #31: Mike Loretto

I.

I stepped out of the van that had shuttled me from the Albuquerque airport to the campus of St. John’s College in Santa Fe. It was raining. Hard. In the desert. (“Monsoon season,” the shuttle driver explained). I prayed that my guitar case was waterproof enough to protect its contents. It was late – after midnight. I was late – I had already missed the opening evening of the workshop. I was tired. I was wet.

I checked in and was directed toward my dorm room – across campus. Still raining.  Harder.

I ducked out of the rain and into the lobby of Jones Hall and did my best impression of our beloved pit bull mix, Bristow, with a full body, moisture-flinging shake. Then I realized that several other conference attendees were gathered in the lobby and the stairwell of the dorm, getting to know each other, laughing, and now looking with pity on my dripping, bedraggled self.

“Once you get your stuff in your room, come back and join us if you want!” one of them offered. I mumbled a “Thanks,” flashed as much of a smile as I could muster, and found my room.

I dropped my stuff, toweled off, and considered collapsing into bed. But no, I was here – might as well get started on being open to whatever was in store for the week.

When I reappeared, someone made room on the stairs. Someone else offered me a plastic cup of good whiskey. And a poet, a food critic, a pastor, a filmmaker, and a writer of fiction immediately started getting to know me and letting me get to know them. I was soaked, in the desert, and exactly where I needed to be.

Koi pond at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, NM

Koi pond at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, NM

II.

I was in the 8th week of a 9-week sabbatical from my job as the “Minister of Music & Worship” (or “music guy”) at a Presbyterian church. And I was a little bit desperate.

Now, understand: I’m hesitant to even say this because, well, who wants to hear anyone complain about their sabbatical?!  (“Oh, your summer of being paid not to work didn’t go exactly like you hoped? I’M SO SORRY!”)

Nevertheless – I went into it with a certain set of hopes and plans and expectations. And up to that point, most of those had been dashed. The place we were going to stay for free all summer didn’t work out. Unexpected expenses arose one after another. (Car repairs! A speeding ticket! Vet bills! More car repairs!)

Rather than being able to focus on reflection, contemplation, creativity, exercise, and nurturing my marriage to Sarah, I was spending too much time and energy figuring out where we were going to stay next, how much that would cost, and…I was frustrated. There had certainly been some highlights, but both Sarah and I were feeling at least as drained as refreshed. Brief moments of renewed relational connection and intimacy were in danger of being superseded by stress and frustration.

And here in week 8, sabbatical was almost done. It felt like sand slipping through my fingers.

My Instagram photo showed what sabbatical was supposed to be like

My Instagram photo showed what sabbatical was supposed to be like

III.

Selflessly, even though she couldn’t go, Sarah had suggested I register at the very last minute for the Glen Workshop. An ecumenical gathering of those interested in the intersection of “art, faith, and mystery,” the Glen had been a transformative experience for both Sarah and me three years ago when we took the songwriting workshop led by our favorite musical duo, Over the Rhine.

That previous experience had reminded me that I have a deep-seated NEED to create. It’s a central part of how I’m wired, and if I’m not being intentional about creating, I’m not being who I’m meant to be.

My main mode of creation is songwriting. (Sarah and I both write, record, and occasionally perform and share songs under the name Truesdell.) I’ve dabbled in some poetry, some blogging, some other forms of writing. But a well-crafted song, to me, feels like the intersection of heaven and earth.

And isn’t that what creation is: heaven touching, forming, and re-forming the physical? The Divine incarnating itself?

Back to the Glen Workshop: as the songwriting workshop was full, I signed up for the “retreat option.” I had mornings free to read, write, pray. In the afternoons and evenings I heard readings from poets, essayists, and novelists. I saw a documentary film presented by the director. I heard photographers and painters and sculptors talk about their work. So much amazing creation I couldn’t possibly take it all in. I just had to assume a receptive posture, letting it wash over me, and pay attention to how the Spirit was creating new life in me through the creativity of these artists.

IV.

In my church role, a big chunk of the creating I do (along with our pastors) is the content and flow of the weekly worship service. I’m primarily responsible for the music part, but also for helping craft a movement to the whole thing.

Hopefully each week there’s an arc to a service that helps us celebrate who we understand God to be, confess honestly our need for redemption, give thanks for the healing we find, come into conversation with the ancient stories and truths of Scripture, and respond to what we’re hearing. It’s an incredibly fulfilling (and, I believe, important) creative endeavor, and I feel privileged to get to be a creator in my professional life in a way that seems valuable to me, to my community, and to the world.

One of the gifts of my sabbatical, however, was the time away from that privilege.

Let me explain. Often, only certain forms of creative expression (usually music, preaching, some forms of visual art, maybe poetry, and rarely dance, drama, or film) find their way into worship services. And generally only certain themes can be explored within those modes and still be useful or appropriate in the context of a church worship service.

I enjoy writing and arranging church music. But if everything I’m creating is for the purpose of being used in services, then I’m rarely or never creating just for the sake of being creative, just to celebrate that I’m a creator made in the image of a creative God. And if I’m always writing about the themes that are most useful in a worship service – songs meant for congregational singing, that explicitly mention God or Jesus – then I’m ignoring entire rich fields of (also inherently spiritual) subject matter.

Sometimes those non-churchy things are the depths I need to mine creatively in order to be a healthier person and, perhaps ironically, more spiritually attuned. And if my role at church has scratched just enough of my creative itch that I don’t write songs about marriage or politics or nature or sex or what-have-you – and if God is leading me to explore those areas – then I’m not living out my calling as a creator.

I believe all good art is inherently redemptive, even if it’s not explicitly talking about how – theologically – redemption comes about. Sometimes the redemption comes through writing about ugly, painful things, not tying up loose ends in a nice bow, just painting the mess as honestly as possible – then sharing it and having someone say, “Yeah… me, too.”

Sabbatical gave me a chance to focus more on finding God and redemption and beauty in the minutiae and mess of my daily life – and to write about it.

V.

On Thursday night at the Glen Workshop, a guy named Jeff issued an open invitation to gather in an apartment on campus and share our work with one another. That evening turned into the highlight of the week – of my summer, really.

I sat on the floor and sipped wine and listened to 8-10 minutes of work from probably 25 other creators. I heard the voice of God speaking through conservative evangelical memoirists, Catholic poets, agnostic novelists, and progressive Christian essayists. It was amazing to hear the breadth of ways that diverse people can communicate beauty and truth. And then I got to add my voice to the chorus.

I played two of my songs – one that I’d written at the Glen Workshop three years ago, and one that I’d started earlier in the summer and finished that week. Both dealt with the struggle of sharing your life with another person. (I’m sure your marriage/relationship is easy, but Sarah and I have found that it’s also a constant exercise in dying to yourself, which isn’t always fun!)

Neither were songs I would play in church. But it was an incredibly worshipful experience to share them with this group. These creators, who had been feeding my soul with their work, were nodding, smiling, (even crying?) – RESONATING with what I was expressing, and in that moment I knew on a deep level that I wasn’t alone, and that my life, my struggles, and the work that comes out of them are part of a larger story that connects us all.

Here’s the older of the songs I played, written after visiting Lexington, Massachusetts, site of the first battle of the American Revolutionary War. Sarah and I were in a season of, let’s say, stumbling over each other more than building each other up. It’s just a demo, not a professional recording, so excuse the quality:

VI.

Experiencing that living room floor, those people, that beauty, that Thursday evening…if that was all that I got out of my sabbatical, it would have been enough. It led to a new passion, a new sense of direction for me.

I crave the sort of collaboration and encouragement between artists that I experienced that night, and I crave the sense of God being alive and present and active that it brings for me. So (somewhat selfishly!) I’m determined to do whatever I can to help create that sort of space in my locale (the East Bay).

I’m in the beginning stages of organizing an Artists’ Collective, in which anyone who creates has a regular space to share their work, be inspired by the creativity of others, and to reflect together on how our creativity fits into the larger creativity of God. If you’re in my area and interested in an experience like that, I’d love to hear from you and be in creative community with you!

mloretto

Mike Loretto (@mikeloretto on Twitter/IG) is a songwriter, worship leader, husband to Sarah, and feeder of dogs Bristow and Jed Bartlet. He and Sarah write and perform music under the name Truesdell and are hoping to release an album this year. (Find Truesdell on Facebook or @truesdellmusic on Twitter). Mike is passionate about the intersection of art & spirituality, contemplative prayer, good food & drink, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, and Kansas City Royals baseball. He almost never blogs at mikeloretto.tumblr.com. Email: mikeloretto at gmail dot com

The Table

I adored Cari from the night I met her. We cheerfully bantered back and forth and I may have talked her ear off. I felt certain I’d made a new friend. Cari has that effect on people: they want to know her, listen to her, spend time with her, learn from her. Her life is rich soil for growth–she always has a new story to share of what she is learning and how she is growing; and she provides soil for others to plant their seeds and grow. Her tables are quite often set outside, in a garden, and that is fitting. Relationships grow around Cari’s tables. People grow around Cari’s tables. You’ll want a seat at Cari’s table. But better yet, learn from her and set your own table. Invite others to gather with you and watch what grows.

Create Challenge #30: Cari Jenkinscj-4

I create by drawing people to the table.
I set tables with beauty to proclaim the value of the one who sits at the table.
Each element of the table is important as the table tells a story.
When individuals gather around tables, they cease to be a lone character, but instead they become a member of a collective.
I design tables to inspire people to remember their Creator.
I set each table with purpose to express, through beauty, an element of God’s character.
I create through theme, light, glass, food, weaving relationships and asking a question.
Every table I set is a collective of people who gather together to be given dignity, shown love, and inspired to replicate.
The beauty of the table is experienced when each invitation inspires an invitation. cj-7 cj-5
The creative process begins with the guest list and moves to a theme that invites each guess to consider an aspect of God’s character. The theme dictates the beauty and the beauty invites people to feel valued. Leaving the table valued, evidences the fact that the image of the Creator was spoken through the creation. Each element from invitation, to menu, to participation and inspiration is included in the creative process.
Every year I have a goal of inviting 500 or more people to sit around tables, created with purpose, to weave an even broader tapestry of relationship around the city. The more individuals gather around tables, the stronger and more beautifully diverse the collective tapestry becomes.  cj-6cj-3
As I prepare to set a table for nearly 100 people this coming Saturday, I am in mid-process of watching another table lead to the strengthening and diversifying of the relational tapestry in Denver.
cjenkins

With over 25 years of relational ministry both in and beyond the local church, Cari uses her gifts to make the Kingdom of God tangible through relationship as she pastors those without a pastor. In partnership with Urban Skye, Cari shares the story of Jesus and His invitation to live into our truest identity as children of God. Cari loves to see individuals formed by Jesus for the transformation of the places where they live, work and play. Cari lives in Englewood, Colorado, where she loves to host, redecorate daily, play often and create beauty. It is an annual aim of hers to host over 500 people for meals in various forms and to encourage true hospitality in others. You are always welcome at her table.