Thankful Thursday – Middle School Music

bandWhen my kids were in elementary school, I’m not sure I could have predicted how much I would enjoy middle school band concerts. Teen skipped school music altogether, but Tween got bit by the band bug, particularly the trumpet. He loves it, he seems to have aptitude for it, and he’s got two pretty incredible teachers: one at school for five instructional hours plus after-school jazz band; and another, a professional jazz musician and a funny, generous guy who musically hangs out with Tween a few times a month.

This week I attended the spring band concert. Due to a work commitment I got there late, just as the 6th grade band (Tween’s group) began their final piece. Still, I smiled ear-to-ear through the 7th & 8th grade band performance.

There’s a big jump between elementary music (one hour a week) and middle school music (5+ hours a week). Whereas before we strained to hear music between squeaks, now we hear melody and harmony. And the similar jump between 6th grade band and 7th/8th grade band sounds tremendous.

I love watching kids develop creativity. Seeing pimply, gorgeous, awkward kids count furiously and focus ferociously. Wiggle just a little because the rhythm moves more than their instruments. Kids learning about art and together creating beautiful music; learning to express their thoughts, heart, soul, drama through a productive medium. Music has created a safe place for the one kid in a sea of white shirts who forgot and wore blue instead; for the darling who wears a tiara because she is royalty; for the hipster who wears a fedora because: jazz.

Tween is exceptionally bright but not yet easily suited to classroom achievements. He’ll get there, but he’s only in 6th grade. For now, I am thrilled he gets excited to go to school because he has Band 1st period. For at least one hour of every school day, he works cooperatively with teacher and classmates to create something bigger than each individual contribution. No tests, no pressure, just FUN. Well, maybe some pressure, as he has to do his part, and sometime his part is a solo. Still, making music is mostly just fun. He’s learning so many valuable life skills beyond music while simultaneously learning to appreciate, enjoy and play fantastic music. It makes the other, harder, less fun parts of a middle school day bearable.

Because: music.

And I am so thankful!

Love as Creative Energy

I don’t dance well but, when the music and mood strike, watch out! And I have danced with today’s guest post author; together, we have joyfully boogied at a friend’s wedding celebration and at concerts in the park. She danced with my kiddo first, though…she was one of his fabulous PreK teachers and, though I didn’t know it at the time, I’m sure he regularly moved between observer and participant during “Friday dance.” What I did know, what was abundantly clear, was that she loved him. She loved her students and she loved their parents. Her quiet wisdom draws us all in and keeps us there. I wish everyone I know could spend at least an hour soaking in Kristi’s generous presence, listening and being heard, learning and sharing, praying, laughing, dancing.

Create Challenge #16: Kristi Grover

“Love is the Energy of creation.”–Dorothy Sayers, Mind of the Maker

One of my mentors has often told me how, all her life long, she loved color and shapes. When she discovered paint as a young girl, it brought her great joy to use this medium to celebrate color and shapes on paper and canvas. Though she lived in a community that viewed such artistic expression as wrong and sinful, her father was held in high esteem; under his protection, she had freedom to paint. Moreover, her father was highly creative in his own way and encouraged her to express herself, to grow as an artist.

Eventually she fell in love with a wonderful young man and, after marrying him, moved far from home. No longer under her father’s protection, painting was no longer permissible. While she rejoiced in new love with her husband, she also experienced a private sense of loss and grief.Sunflower_Cosmos

Slowly she found new ways to create beauty which were acceptable within the community: a garden with wide splashes of overlapping color, dramatic stone anchors, and an interplay of light and darkness; quilts and rugs and blankets fashioned of fabric bursting with innovative design; meals which celebrated the senses; a home which brought joy to all who entered. These gave her outlets for her creative energy and yet there remained an essential loneliness–she yearned to paint, and that was not allowed.

One hot summer day she canned fruit and vegetables from her garden. As the day ended and suppertime drew near, all kitchen surfaces were filled with cooling jars of produce. Where could she prepare their meal? She cleared space by stacking several jars on the window sill. As she turned to collect supper supplies, she suddenly saw a brilliant painting on the wide white kitchen wall. The setting sun burned through the varicolored jars and projected purples and reds and greens and oranges in a spectacular display. She stood still, transfixed by beauty. Smiling, she adjusted one jar to make the colors flow better. Then, in a burst of energy, she cleared them all off the sill and pulled together a different creation. After that, she said, “Every afternoon God and I would paint together.”colored light

Eventually the young couple found a different community in which to honor God, where each could celebrate the unique artistic gifts they had been given. It has been a joy to witness their creative life journeys, and yet I have returned again and again to this particular story as an encouragement when I feel alone or stuck in my creative journey as an artist.

I am not a visual artist. I work with words and with the lives of others as I interact with them as teacher, mentor, friend. What I take from my mentor’s story is that creativity flourishes in an atmosphere of love. Everyone is creative, as we each reflect the image of God, so then I choose to love those with whom I am in contact and rejoice in how they uniquely celebrate God.

For the many years I taught young children, “Friday dance” was a tradition in my classroom. At the beginning of each school year I explained that I would play music at a certain time each Friday and those who would like to dance could do so. There was also a place where those who opted not to dance could sit and chat with friends, but I made it my own challenge to find music which would entice the most dance-resistant individuals to participate.

Occasionally I had a student who would fold his or her arms and stubbornly say, “I don’t dance.” That just made the challenge more interesting. Since the variety of music played through the year included classical, movie themes, rock, international folk, and country, even the most recalcitrant would eventually choose to dance, would even feel compelled to dance.

One student in particular stands out. He sat stubbornly with folded arms and rolling eyes for months. “I don’t dance!” he would say again and again.

“I simply haven’t found your music,” I would think.

And then, one lovely rainy Friday, he danced. The music that week, I had told the children, was warrior music; when it was originally played the warriors in a community would leap and lunge and swing swords and enact a battle as they danced. As the music’s first few notes began, I could see my reluctant dancer fighting to hold still. Suddenly he leapt out and, slashing with an imaginary sword and grimacing as he faced imaginary enemies, he danced and swirled his way in and around the other children.

When the music ended he stood, chest heaving and light of battle still in his eyes. He looked at me and slowly smiled. I smiled back. As the next song began, my warrior dancer leapt into the fray once more.dance kids

I truly believe we have all been gifted with unique creative abilities. Some individuals, it is true, use theirs in inappropriate, destructive ways. But many haven’t yet discovered their particular ‘medium;’ they haven’t yet found the music which makes their heart dance.

A friend of mine had recently been named to head a large industrial facility which had experienced dramatic loss in both output and morale. She heard my Friday dance story at a dinner party and told me later, “I need to find the ‘music’ which compels each individual member of my executive team to dance.” Obviously she did not envision her executive team dancing as they worked–given the nature of their work, a chemical research plant, the mind boggles at the thought–but rather she wanted to inspire each one to find joy and fulfillment in their work and then inspire those who worked under them to discover in their own ways a similar joy and fulfillment.

When I have lost the creative spark, I know I need to be quiet so I can once again hear my own music in my heart. Eventually I know I will turn around and be amazed at the beauty of the colors on a once white wall of my life as I hear the unique sound of the love song the Creator sings over me. And then God and I will again create beauty together. His energy and love will inspire creativity as we work together in the lives of those around me.

some things that are true about me:

My work in life is as a teacher and storyteller. I take joy in many things – time spent with children and my family and friends; working in various ways for justice; hiking along high mountain ridge lines, walking in the woods, and sitting quietly to stare at the ocean; hearing and affirming as people share their life stories; writing and reading; rainy afternoons by the fire with my small grey cat; listening to music and singing and dancing; intelligent conversation and laughter; making a home. These and other things are true about me but the truest thing is that I am a child of God.

 

Pride & Joy

Parents often speak of their children as their Pride and Joy.

My mom has often said that she can’t be proud of her children. Not that she doesn’t have reason to feel pride, but that she won’t take credit for our accomplishments.

I hope it’s not disrespectful, on Mother’s Day of all days, to say: I get that, and I don’t.

7-2-11 006I love you, Mom, and I believe you deserve at least some credit for anything I’ve achieved. Throughout my life you have poured into me love and confidence, strength and energy, beauty and creativity, and countless stories of heroes near and far overcoming odds to live meaningful lives. You have been my model of faith, integrity, and perseverance. You held my hand when I needed courage and patted my back when I needed an encouraging nudge forward. You listened–oh, how you have listened–to my never-ending drama and you spoke words of wisdom in response. Who could count the hours you have spent in prayer for me, from before my life began until this very day?

Yes, I have made my own decisions, for good and ill; I have formed my own opinions which have influenced those choices; but I did neither in a vacuum. Your loving presence has helped to shape the woman I have become, and I am grateful.

Besides, synonyms for Pride include: pleasure, joy, delight, satisfaction. I would never ask you to bear the burden of my mistakes, but I do hope that as you look at me you feel joy or delight, at least from time to time. I want you to feel satisfied in a job well done (so much more than well done).

I look at my own sons through eyes filled with pride, my heart overflowing with pleasure, joy, delight, and satisfaction. They amaze me, these unique individuals, so much their own people from Day 1. The First, who has always slept so deeply because he filled every waking moment with his energetic joy at discovering life; and the Second, who has never slept well in part because his old soul moves him at a more peaceful pace. Like their mama, they eat books; like their dad, they drink nature. They reflect their parents and yet we still have so much to learn from them.

Other times I look at my sons and–I’m sure you understand–my heart aches. I feel crushed when others don’t see them the way I do, when others want to squash their out-of-the-box gifts into neatly-constructed, life-sucking boxes. My kids will never easily fit, just as I don’t. Just as you don’t, Mom. Thanks for teaching me that it’s more than okay to be myself, no matter what others think. More than just a lesson on how to be in this world, I consistently apply it to parenting.

And my heart aches for the moments lost, the opportunities I didn’t grab, the times my impatience got the better of me and I snapped instead of listened. I haven’t done this parenting thing perfectly, but I knew better than to expect that I would. I pray that someday my kids will recognize that I have been a Good Enough Mother, that I did a Good Enough job at this parenting thing, that they have had a Good Enough childhood, and that all the truly good stuff is God’s grace. You do your best, and let God do the rest. You taught me that, too.hands

To my mother-in-law: Of course this all applies directly to you as well, as you have done for your son everything my mom has done for me. Thank You for raising my Guy, this incredible man with whom I get to share life. More than 20 years into marriage and, to this day, he’s still better at the traditional homemaker activities than I am. You nurtured his creativity in the kitchen, and some of our favorite “dates” have been cooking together. You taught him to mend and iron and sew and clean and–hooray!–I have fewer chores. You prayed for him (and for me), nurtured his faith, and showed him the joy of servant leadership, and oh how he serves: his family, his friends, his faith community, and his community. Through your son you have given me a tremendous gift. I can never thank you enough.tent 2And to my Mama Friends: How could we do this messy thing called mothering without each other for support, encouragement, shared laughter, tears, prayers, and adventures? I am so glad my kids know they can call on you when they can’t stand me (c’mon, it happens). God has filled this village with strong, beautiful, graceful women, each with her own challenges and strengths, and I am so grateful we’re trekking this stretch of life’s journey together. Together we are raising quite a troop of energetic, creative, strong young people who are going to change the world in ways we can’t yet imagine. Thanks for being you.

Express

I’ve been reading Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

I like it. Just over half-way through, I find it inspirational, insightful, and encouraging. She writes in short anecdotes that make you want to keep reading, except that at the end of each one I feel the need to put the book down and create.

Which is exactly what I did this afternoon. I read these words–

Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir—something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration (172).

–and decided I needed to be absorbed, to adventure, and to hold something that I made.

I pulled out my watercolors and paper, a ruler, pencil, and markers. I sketched a circle and erased it. I reconsidered. I tried again, this time with no circle.

I recalled a delightful summer morning painting with my kids. We splattered watercolor paint in bright streaks and splashes across paper, sheet after sheet. We laughed and giggled and lost ourselves in the joy. Later I cut the paper into little squares, then cut petals, and then poked holes into which I wound chenille stems. We made a bouquet of flowers for my grandma, their great-grandma, flowers that would eventually fade, yes, but would not wilt with age. She loved them, and I found them in her apartment years later, after she herself had wilted.

But this time I couldn’t get the paint to cooperate. No big swaths of vivid color, but instead tiny dots. I told Fear and Frustration to get lost, and I kept at it. I prayed. I felt eager to play, to recapture the joy of that memory. Joy played Hide-and-Seek, and I kept playing.

When the paint dried I added the letters, and then I held my souvenir. It is not what I had envisioned. It is not what I set out to create. It is, in truth, a little bit of a hot mess.

And I love it. Who cares what it looks like, really? I made it. It’s an expression of me, The Whole Point! I can be bright, wide ribbons of color, and I can be subtle pin-prick polka dots. I can be precise and smeared. I can be a beautiful hot mess.

But so long as I have breath, I desire to create.express

How Do We Pray?

walkAs we walked the trail, my friends talked about dealing with stress: exercise, meditation, therapy, hypnosis…

I said, “Or you could pray.”

They expected that from me, but I didn’t expect their response: “Well, you know how to do that. We don’t know how to pray. Maybe you need to pray for us every morning.”

On the spot, I grabbed them in a hug-headlock and started praying. It’s not that complicated, but we seem to make it more complicated than it needs to be. I talked to God our Father, asking Him to wrap them up in His loving arms and soothe away their stresses as they learn to rely on Him. Walk over, we grabbed a cup of coffee and went our ways.

That conversation certainly motivated me to pray for my gals, but it also broke my heart a little. These friends come to church and hear people pray regularly. Still, they feel ill-equipped to pray themselves.

I’ve been church-going and praying all my life and I still don’t like to pray out loud. I love me a good Bible study but don’t relish out-loud group prayer. Which meant, I thought, I didn’t know how to pray.

I remember the moment, about a decade ago, when I had an epiphany: I pray all the time! I pray as I read God’s Word. I journal my prayers. When I’m alone in the car, I keep the radio off so God and I can chat on the go. I pray as I walk. When someone comes to mind, I pray for them (and then get in contact to see how they’re doing – there is often a reason I’m thinking of them). I pray with and for my kids. I listen to music that leads me to pray. And on and on.

Why did I think I couldn’t pray? Because my introverted tendencies make it uncomfortable for me to pray in groups. It can feel too intimate. I don’t know what to say. I feel a responsibility to those I’m praying with to “get it right” even as I stumble over words. None of which provides an adequate excuse for not praying in groups. I still have to do it. Praying individually and in groups grows me as a follower of Jesus.

I’ve already offered a number of ways to pray individually. In addition, my friend Nancy has written and artfully illustrated a booklet of prayer ideas that you can download for free as you learn to Pray More. There are boatloads of books on prayer, but my new favorite is Fervent by Priscilla Shirer (written for women but don’t let that stop you, guys; the principles apply to everyone).

Some tips for praying together:
* Listen to what others pray for and agree with their prayers instead of composing your next prayer.
* Pray short prayers, using normal language.
* Silence is okay!
* Let the Spirit lead the direction of your prayers, each prayer building upon the prayers of others.
* Remember that God is your audience, not just others in the group.
* Use Scripture as God brings it to mind.

The good news? My friends are learning to pray. Like anything worthwhile, it takes practice. But they are reading daily devotional books and leaning on God throughout their (still stressful) days. As they pray, I suspect they are falling deeper in love with Jesus. Which, by the way, has been my regular prayer for them since that day on the trail.

Running in the Rain

run-in-the-rain

You don’t have to know me well to know I’m not a runner. My inner critic says, You might know at first glance, but I tell that voice to hush up now. For various reasons, I haven’t run since a college-required fitness class, mostly because it felt torturous, no fun at all. Walking, hiking, YES, but even still, it’s only been in the last decade of my life that I’ve realized how much better my body – and my brain – feel when I move for 30 minutes most days and some days more.

My funniest running memory? I set Toddler Tween on his feet in the park after releasing him from his car seat. He was so excited to see his friends on the playground that I said, “C’mon, let’s run!” He took three steps then halted, wide-eyed. “Wait! You know how to run?” Goodness.

Still, I’ve always admired runners and the freedom they seem to feel in their bodies. I can’t remember feeling truly free in my body. Even when I’m hiking, enjoying spectacular vistas, I fight feeling sluggish. I have to push myself forward no matter how much I’m enjoying the experience.

Last weekend I leashed up the dog and decided to shake things up: I decided to run. I had thought it through in advance since I walk this neighborhood almost daily. I walked down our street, then jogged the next leg. Walked half a block, jogged half a block. Walked the up-hills, jogged the down-hills. Wash, rinse, repeat for a longer distance than I usually walk in 30 minutes. I imagine even the dog was pleasantly surprised, and she indulged me by forgoing her sniff-and-water routine.

I can’t even think about how I looked. It felt as awkward as I remembered, and different: no one required this of me, and so I could think about it as play. I felt new feelings in my knees, my thighs, my arms. My lungs filled and ached. I felt slightly light-headed in a not-so-unpleasant way. And I kept moving. I didn’t pass out and I didn’t die. Surprising even myself, I might have had fun.

Rain has been splashing down this weekend. But in Costa Rica we hiked in the rain, played frisbee in the rain, didn’t mind the rain; so why should I let some glorious and much-needed NorCal rain keep me indoors? Besides, I heard the voice of a long-time runner friend in my head telling me that she loves running in the rain. Doggy hates the rain so I left her home. I donned my favorite kelly green windbreaker, put my phone in my pocket and headphones in my ears, and took the same route.

Of course the heavens unleashed a downpour just as I hit the street. No matter. I thought about puddle jumping with a college friend during a big storm; our sweat pants got so wet-heavy we had to hold them up. I remembered puddle jumping with Teen as a preschooler. He wore his yellow rubber rain boots and yellow slicker, green froggy umbrella in his hand, as we danced and jumped and reveled in the rain. Head and heart filled with pleasant memories, I ignored my thudding steps and smiled.

Just as I topped an up-hill and prepared to jog down the other side, my phone offered up the Glee version of Rhianna’s “Umbrella,” arguably my favorite Glee scene/song. I giggled. Not singing in the rain, not dancing, but running in the rain – playing, and enjoying it, even when it felt hard. If my wet hand could have dislodged my phone from my pocket, I would have put the song on repeat.

Why did I run, not once but twice? I don’t know as it’s so out of character. All I can say is, I wanted to and so I did. I might even do it again, especially if it’s raining.wet child

Create Beauty

Create Challenge Guest Post #2 – Mandi Diehl

2016 Wednesdays on this blog I will create a platform for friends to share their perspective on and experience of creativity.

Today’s guest post brought up a visceral memory for me: sneaking into my mom’s bathroom, friend in tow, at about age 8. My mom’s beauty cabinet beckoned with mystical glowing attraction. I snaked her Bic disposable razor up my dry leg, my friend aghast (clearly I was doing this wrong, but how I was I to know?). Next, I smeared 1977’s shade of blue shadow across my eyelids. I loved it, thought no one would notice because, Beauty! My friend obviously saw the difference, and maybe she wanted to shrink into the shag carpet…?

No longer sporting 70’s blue, I wear my daily makeup way more natural these days. My friend Mandi Diehl finds joy in makeup. She is a make-up artiste to be admired, maintaining her creativity and sense of play as she empowers women to feel beautiful and simultaneously serves her family. Please welcome Mandi!

“Beauty isn’t about looking perfect.
It’s about celebrating your individuality.” –Bobbi BrownMDiehl 1

Makeup isn’t always considered to be very “creative.” People tend to look at it as something necessary to cover a flaw, to conform to societal norms, or a mask to conceal yourself entirely. Makeup is seen as something for the vain, rather than the artistic. While I have those moments of, “Thank the good Lord for whoever invented concealer because there’s a volcano on my face,” makeup to me is so much more than covering up.

I look at a face the way I imagine a painter or sketch artist looks at a canvas: clean, clear, and open to creative influence. The difference for me is, while canvases are all the same, faces are not. Faces have so many shapes, textures, and tones. Eyes, noses, lips, and cheeks all vary person to person. Lines, contours, and wrinkles are all diverse. While an artist can shape a canvas with paint or charcoal into whatever they desire, I love that a face doesn’t work the same way. A face defines what the makeup does. It defines what shades work will with its undertones, what blush suits the color in its cheeks, and what eye shadow really makes those eyes shine.

I have done makeup for weddings, photo shoots, proms, and parties, on a variety of faces. My clients visit me for special occasions, give me an idea of what they’re looking for, and I create that. It’s always a joy to watch them look at themselves in the mirror and say, “Look at me!” I love that I get to be a part of something so empowering for them. Helping women feel so confident and so beautiful on the most important days is amazing.

Creating and experimenting with looks on my own face has also been incredibly inspiring. After I had my second baby, my husband and I made the decision that I would stay home with my sweet kiddos instead of going back to work. While being a mommy is my favorite thing in the universe, it can also be isolating. You can lose yourself in the day-to-day care of your household and little ones, you don’t have a lot of adult contact, and it gets easier and easier to put yourself last. The creative process of “putting my face on” helps me find myself. Makeup is that deep sigh of relief for me. It’s that thing that makes me, me.

MDiehl 2

Mandi Diehl is a wife and work-at-home-mommy of two. She loves Jesus, super hot lattes, Pirates baseball, and the Pacific Northwest. Contact her for makeup consulting at stylesbymandi.com or stylesbymandi@gmail.com.