re:create recess

In 2015 I decided to adopt a word (actually, a phrase) that significantly affected my decision-making: put yourself in the way of beauty. Unlike any resolution or goal setting before it, that phrase began a work in my being–mind, heart, body, soul–that continues to this day.

Create was my 2016 theme, and it picked up where beauty left off. However, it didn’t take long to recognize the connection between creativity and play. I began to feel more playful, to enjoy life in new and fulfilling ways. Yes, sometimes creativity involves hard work, and still creative work can feel playful.

Which makes sense when you think that we often use recreation as a synonym for play. To recreate means: “to refresh by means of relaxation and enjoyment, as restore physically or mentally.” The creative process refreshes and relaxes me, leading to joy as I differently engage my body and mind in play.recess

I wondered if play would be my 2017 theme. But no, I’m not done with create. Yet I am interested in exploring the association between creativity and play and how both have the power to re-create (transform) us and the world around us. Hence, re:create—another take on create (“re:”) with an emphasis on play.

2016 was a mixed bag. Personally we had joys and more than a few bumps. So did our friends. And our nation experienced, arguably, one of the worst divides I’ve witnessed in my adult life. One month into 2017 and less than two weeks into a new president, the divide seems to be widening. Now more than ever we need to create, to play, to enjoy some good ol’ fashioned recess (preferably minus the playground bully, but we’ll try to ignore him…)

We can create…

…art, beauty, childhood and childlikeness, community, compassion, design, experience, family, friendship, growth, health, home, hope, innovation, joy, laughter, legacy, love, marriage, meals, memories, music, peace, play, poetry, rituals, service, stories, traditions…

Questions to ponder (and an answer):
What do you create? Or, what activities fill your days with life and passion?
I create a life, love, a home, a safe shelter for my guys. I create experiences, memories, traditions and rituals that enrich our life together. I create hospitality for friends and space to go deeper together. With all these beloved people, I create relationship, friendship, and laughter. We create hope and courage for one another when things get rough. I have created this blog as a means to record and reflect on miracles in the mundane, and through this blog I have created a community of writers/creatives and readers.
How do you recreate/play?
How does recreation affect other arenas of your life?
Why do you re/create?
How has creativity/play recreated your heart, mind, soul, body, life?

Next Wednesday I’ll feature 2017’s first guest post, and throughout the year we will hear from creatives of all stripes and spots: parents, teachers, painters, musicians, designers, coaches, pastors, thinkers, and of course, writers… They will inspire and challenge us with their unique expressions of creativity, play, and transformation. I’m calling this re:create recess and, just like in elementary school, I can’t wait to get to playtime!

Thankful Thursday – My Awesome Doghouse

No matter what you do, how hard you work, how much you invest, how great your love or commitment, you will disappoint people. The junior high and high school popular kids. Certain teachers or college professors. Friends and neighbors. Bosses and authority figures of all stripes and spots. Family members, community members, and church members. Strangers on Facebook. Whoever they may be, critics can crawl through walls like ants.

I said: “I feel like I’m in the doghouse.”
He said: “So make it one awesome doghouse.”

Great advice! I can only do my best and I can’t change the critics. Theirs is not the love I need most (read that with an Obi Wan Kenobi voice: “This is not the droid you’re looking for…” This is NOT the love I’m looking for).

I’m setting myself free to make my doghouse awesome!doghouse

I recently read Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, in which she wrote:

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations. You will not be able to fulfill their request. You will leave something undone or poorly done. Possibly, this person will be angry with you, or sad.

“What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love, and a strong sense of your own purpose. Without those two, you’ll need from people what is only God’s to give, and you’ll give up on your larger purpose in order to fulfill smaller purposes or other people’s purposes.”

So what am I up to?
* Spending less time on social media and TV, and more time in books. I wandered the library shelves today and found a few to add to my stack.
* Reaching out to friends
* Counting my blessings in my gratitude journal
* Getting outside to walk daily with my sweet Guy or friends, always with dogs
* Drowning out the noise with silence
* Soaking in God’s love through the Bible, prayer, and greater attention to His presence
* Cooking simple, healthy food and drinking lots of water and herbal tea
* Enjoying my work and my play
* Saying yes and taking risks, and learning to say no
* I’ve hit refresh on my wind down ritual and my sleep has improved.

Last night after homework Tween and I played best-out-of-five games of Uno. Despite my strong start, he won. Along the way we laughed and talked. We might do it again tonight, or soon. We’re making what seems frivolous, important. Because it is.

I’m shaking off the dirt and falling in love all over again with my doghouse. Because it’s mine, I’m decorating it with people, activities, and things that fill me up with joy. And I’m grateful!

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Advent Week 1 -The Promise of Joy

road

No matter how far in advance I begin preparing for Advent–and as church Communication Director, that can be much farther in advance than you’d think–the first Sunday of Advent always strikes me as a bit of a surprise.

End-August through end-November are my professional busy season, reflecting on the past year as I compile the annual report and projecting forward as we plan for Advent and the new year. Personally, I lose track of the chronological calendar; I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving, wait, Thanksgiving is over…? I need Advent to locate me in time again.

More than Christmastime, when we decorate and bake and celebrate, I need Advent to rouse my slumbering soul, to reawaken my wonder. I need Advent to remind me to expect God to show up in unexpected ways.

I need Advent to hear God’s promise of joy.

This morning the church was beautifully decorated with Christmas trees sparkling with gold and silver ornaments and twinkling white lights. This morning our friends processed to the chancel and, as a family, read from Luke 1 and led us in prayer as they lit the first candle of Advent.

This morning we made a baptismal pledge to help a young family raise their son in faith. His parents grew up side-by-side in this church; his grandparents on both sides are stalwart members; this sweet boy is named for his grandfathers–John, his maternal grandfather, and Wellwood, his paternal grandfather (Woody). His parents are Eric and Liz.

Pastor handed Eric a microphone and invited him to read a Scripture. He read the verse painted above his son’s crib, Luke 1:13-14:

13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth…

This baby John receiving the sacrament of baptism, his mother is named Elizabeth. His great-grandmother Elizabeth also gave birth to a John, his grandfather for whom he is named. And way back when, God unexpectedly showed up to grant the joy of answered long-prayed prayers by another Elizabeth, who gave birth to John the Baptist.

The story of which just happened to be today’s Scripture text.

God shows up in wonder. We may wait for a long journey; we may struggle in the waiting; we may be righteous and still a little bit sad; we may–we do!–need God to show up in unexpected ways. God is good. God is faithful. God promises joy, the joy of His presence no matter whether the circumstances incline us to happiness. I need Advent to remind me to open my eyes to God’s presence, God’s wonder, God’s joy.

Guy snuggling little John at a neighborhood block party

Guy snuggling little John at a neighborhood block party

Week 1 – The Promise of Joy
November 27-December 3

 Read and light the first candle (middle purple candle): The first candle represents the promise of joy.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 1:5-25

Read: Zechariah and Elizabeth grew old in righteousness but childlessness had stolen their joy. When they least expected it, the angel Gabriel delivered God’s promise of joy: Elizabeth would bear a son! Their long-prayed prayers would be answered at last. John would be a joy and delight to his parents and cause many to rejoice as he prepared people for the Lord.

Pray: Dear God, we eagerly anticipate your joy as you prepare our hearts for your Son. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday Joshua 23:14 What promises has God fulfilled for you?
Tuesday 1 Chronicles 16:8-11 What wonderful acts has God done? Rejoice!
Wednesday Psalm 40:1-3 How do you actively wait for the Lord?
Thursday Isaiah 12:2-4 What difference does trusting God make in your daily life?
Friday 2 Peter 3:9 When has it felt like the Lord was slow in keeping His promise? What hope does this verse offer?
Saturday Jude 24-25 When has God kept you from stumbling?

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