Artist of the Month: Heather Hernandez

I am so honored to introduce May’s Artist of the Month with you! Heather Hernandez is a wife and mother of two, writing about embracing divine joy in every season. We met recently over the interwebs, via our mutual membership in an excellent website called Hope*Writers.

Encouragement flows naturally out of Heather and subsequently her writing, because it is innately part of her. She writes over at rejoicinginlife.com where you can find more encouragement as a mom, creative, and/or human being. Heather was recently featured at (in)courage as well, which is a website devoted to creating a new home for the hearts of women to connect and thrive with God and each other.

You’ll also find some excellent FREE resources when you subscribe to Heather’s blog that will help you embrace the season you are in through faith, organization, and really good questions to ask yourself.

Today, she generously shares how to live a creative and artful life well from a place of purpose and peace.

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“God wrote, ‘I love you’— he wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea.  He wrote his message everywhere!  Because God created everything in his world to reflect him like a mirror — to show us what he is like, to help us to know him, to make our hearts sing.”  Sally Lloyd Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible

I was reading this to my son yesterday and it stuck with me.

Because all of creation, all of the beauty God lavishly painted across the sea, the earth, the sky, and the stars, all of his ART…it all points us back to him.  It whispers to us deep in our souls and spirits about who he is.

He poured out his creativity into his creation.  Into us.

And I believe that all of us have that spark.  That divine well of creativity that when we are soaking in His words, His song, His beauty, His creation, enables us to live creative, beautiful, artful lives wherever we are at, in so many different ways.

It’s been almost seventeen years since my father died and it wasn’t until last month when I wrote about him living his life well, that I realized part of why I thought he lived it well was because he was making art with his life.

I think that looks like being present, blooming where you are planted, using limitations for inspiration, doing the things that make you more fully yourself and using the gifts our Creator bestowed upon you.

For my father, that looked like, transforming our little backyard into his own mini farm, woodworking, leather working, hiking, camping, fishing, taking classes in Western history, and writing a book by hand during his lunch breaks and cracks of time.  It also looked like playing, and chasing, and wrestling with my brother and I.

He didn’t have acres of land to farm or the money to buy one.  He didn’t have the ability to quit his “regular” job and write for a living.  But he didn’t let the limitations stop him from using his gifts and pursuing the things he loved.  He lived and loved and died well.  And his life pointed everyone back to the Creator.

I inherited my love of writing from him.  There have been a lot of stops and starts and redirections along the way, but I’m finally feeling like I have a purpose in it all.  That I have something to write about.

But this season for me is one of pregnancies and raising babies and making a home.  And so it looks like finding my cracks of time to write and create and dream.  And remembering to be present with my children and my husband.  To see the limitations as ways to decide what is important and refine my focus.

I think there is this idea that bigger is better.  That we have to be on the NY Times Bestseller list, or reach hundreds of thousands with our words.  That we need to be selling albums, or be a nationally recognized name, or grow our businesses bigger and bigger.

But I think when we measure value by the number of sales, page views, and likes, we are missing the mark.

It is so easy to compare my life, my purpose, my gifts to other people.  Especially the well known ones who do have the big numbers, likes, and followers.  But we are all unique and we are in different places and seasons and God’s purposes for our lives are as vast and varied as His creation.

And the person who is faithful where they are planted, who blooms there as they cultivate and care for their patch of ground, their little family, their little community.  They are doing just as valuable work as the person who is speaking to the masses.

It’s not about the quantity of what we have to offer, or even the number of people we touch.  It’s about offering up our gifts to God and listening to what He is calling US to do and being faithful in that.

In the interest of my love for lists, here are some things I think we can do to be purposeful about living more creative and artful lives.

1. Be Present.  

It’s so easy to drift through life always thinking about the next thing on the To Do list (Ahem, Me!) Try to stop and slow down and be present in what you are doing.  Really take in your surroundings when you’re going for a walk.  Give your children some focused attention and listen to what they are saying.  Dance in the kitchen.  Sing with the kids.  Savor your cup of coffee.  Use your five senses.

2.  Where Are You Planted?  

Take stock of your season and your responsibilities.  What are your limitations right now?  They can change sometimes without us really noticing.  Be realistic about what you have time for.

3.  Use Your Limitations for Inspiration.

Take the parameters of those limitations and think about what you can do within them.  Prioritize what is important to you and your family and refine your focus and purpose for this particular season.

4.  Use Your Gifts.  

What do you love?  What skills and abilities did the Lord give you?  What makes you feel alive and energized?  Write them down and think about ways you can use them in your life.  You may not have room for all of them at once.  Come up with what you can do right now in this season and pick some to add in.  Depending on how much time and energy you have in your season, it may look as simple as writing while the kids are napping, or inviting another mom over for coffee once a week or sketching after the kids are in bed, or playing the piano for your children.

5. How Can You Help and/or Enrich Other’s Lives?  

This goes hand in hand with using your gifts.  Once you decide what you love and which things to make time for, then think about how you can use them to help others or enrich others lives.  Can you make dinners for new mothers? (They SUPER appreciate this, I guarantee!)  Maybe start writing encouraging notes to people, or help in the nursery at church, or do something to raise money for charity.  Ask the Lord to show you opportunities that are a good fit for your season.

6.  Keep Your Well Filled.  

This should perhaps be #1 as well.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness, in the cares of this world and stop dwelling on God and my well dries up, and I feel like I don’t have anything to pour back out.  Anything to fuel that kind of art.

I think that’s why it’s so important to dwell on the true, the noble, the just, the pure, the lovely, the admirable, the excellent, and the praiseworthy.  (Phillippians 4:8)

To seek out the things of beauty.  To fill ourselves up so we have something to give, to create.

To reflect the glory of God.

So remember, you are special and unique and don’t have to be anyone except who God created you to be.  You can live artfully no matter what season you are in and what your particular gifts and talents are.  And everything you have to offer is valuable and you don’t need to compare yourself to anyone.

And all of this beauty?  All of creation?

It is his message of “I love you”.

Artist of the Month: Favorites!

Ok. So maybe this isn’t a post of my favorite previous artists of the month so much as as recap.

Artist of the Month

I just thought y’all needed to remember some of the wonderful people we’ve welcomed here at the Long Live Beauty cottage over the past 8-10 months! Remember when I first announced we’d be starting this monthly feature?

  1. Erin Elisabeth Aubrey.  10672222_616158333230_550600183772033997_nRemember her? Sweet-singin’, guitar-strummin’ Tennessee girl? She shared with us her story of creating and making music, both as a music therapist and as a human, how creating is integral to living life whether society deems it “worth something” or not. (By the way, Erin creates beautiful music herself, which you can find here and here.)
  2. Bailey Roberts. january-8-5Her photography. Wow! And her heart for beauty found in the story, one reason why she loves wedding photography. Her story of God working through her in spite of obstacles like OCD and social anxiety is so encouraging! And her skill is excellent.
  3. Heather Knudtsen. untitled (14 of 14) Her brilliance. Her heart. Her articulate words that light the dark places that art tries to go so often. Those are rough waters to navigate for Christ-following creatives. My favorite quote (well, one of them), from her post is, “We must live in the tension of the world we hope for and the world that is.”
  4. Andrew Peterson. theburningedge Yeah, there was that one time I took it upon myself to write a post about an artist whose work I love and admire. (Admittedly, I never asked Mr. Peterson if he’d like to write the post himself… maybe I should do that sometime?)
  5. Aimee Brown. 1551609_10202193226584670_1552926476_n “The Art of Motherhood” remains one of my favorite posts ever of all time. This woman knows the art of loving people into thriving children of God (not just her own kids). I love her spirit of dwelling in palpable gratitude for right now, for treasuring every moment with her children in their current season.
  6. Brooke Reed. IMG_3910 When she writes, my soul cries, “Amen!” Especially when she shared about the struggle to bottle beauty and take ownership forever out of a fear of losing it, which of course means you miss out on just savoring and enjoying it at all. “Beauty begs enjoyment, not ownership,” she succinctly illumines for us. And she connects this to stories, and their power to “crack open the universe.” (AH. So good, right?!)
  7. Humiltea Design by Kara Clinewindblown KaraA multi-talented as a gifted photographer, potter, writer, painter, hand-letterer, and musician with a marked spiritual gift of hospitality, with bold humility, she reminds us that the voice telling us we’re alone, that we’re deficient as creatives and artists, that we have nothing of value to give compared to others- that voice is a liar. It’s so good to remember that we make the Holy Spirit heartsick, as she says, when we reject our gifts and view them as “filthy rags.” Re-reading her post recently reminded me that my gifts are from God, and their value comes from him.

If you missed any of these posts, I encourage you to go back and read them! This is one of my greatest purposes in continuing this blog: cultivating community among believers who are creatives. I don’t just do these posts for fun. I include them because they are crucial for all of us.

Be encouraged and empowered by their stories; invest in whatever gifts God has given you. Any gift! Whether you are a business-person, an IT guy, a mom,  a painter, a cashier at a grocery store, a preacher, a mentor, a friend, a butcher, baker, or candle-stick maker. You have capacity to bring the kingdom of God into right now, where you are.

That is the greatest beauty of all.

Artist of the Month: Humilitea House {Everyday Arts by Kara Cline}

For February’s Artist of the Month, we are featuring Kara Cline of Humilitea House!!! This post has been a long time coming, and I’m so excited that Kara is sharing her heart with you today! I met Kara when I was a freshman in college and have counted her one of my dearest friends ever since. Almost immediately after meeting her, I experienced her decided spiritual gift of hospitality; even in our crumbly dorm rooms, hers always felt like someplace homey and peaceful, where there was always a cup of hot tea in your hand practically right after you set foot in the door.

Kara is multi-talented as a gifted photographer, potter, writer, painter, hand-letterer, and musician (and probably something else she hasn’t bothered to mention to me), with a deep and abiding love of Jesus and every person she meets (with whom she is immediately friends).

I can’t say enough about Kara’s generous and perceptive heart, nor her overflowing creativity, nor her gorgeous flowing locks of golden hair. (I mean, seriously people, no one has hair like hers…) So, I’ll just stop saying things and let her take over. I’m sure there’s enough hot tea or coffee- or both- here for you and enough good words for your soul, too. Enjoy.

windblown Kara

Hello fellow artist hearts and kindred spirits. Allow me to share a cup of coffee with you for a few moments, welcome you to my kitchen table as the snowflakes swirl outside, and be vulnerable with you.  I want to share something I struggle with every day.  You see, I’ve been procrastinating. Procrastinating to write this blog post, and, really, to create in general… because I’m afraid.

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If I take a long hard look, I’m really astonished at how fear has managed to snake it’s way into my heart.  Entwining it’s coils around every beautiful young plant that God has intended for good and for strength. It suffocates delicate shoots before they even press all the way through the soil, and chokes the light out of things that my Creator desires to use to help bring about wholeness and healing in this broken world.

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As an artist I look at the tangled mess in my spirit and a voice slithers out and says that I am alone in this. The voice mocks and claims that God cannot use anything that comes from these two hands.  The voice reasons that I am ugly through and through, and that no beauty can come from such a jumble of insecurities and half-hearted attempts at creating.

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But, dear children of the Living God, I say this to myself as much as to you. That voice is a liar.

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Christ has rescued me from the power of sin and death. Through His blood He has transformed me from a charred sinner into His holy and beautiful daughter. He has completely changed my life! Why, why, WHY then do I insist on viewing His gift of creativity in my life as a filthy rag?  Why am I ashamed of it, holding it at arms length and desperately searching for a place to hide it lest people discover I’m a fraud?  Why am I terrified of practice and of falling down? Why am I so prideful that I allow fear to keep me from sharing such gifts?  Why do I say they aren’t good enough?

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I’m rejecting His gifts and I’m making the Holy Spirit heartsick.

Friends, even though that deceptive voice keeps telling me that I’m alone, I know that I’m not. Once you dig through the surface, so many of us artists struggle with the exact same thing, but we’re fighting a battle that has already been won on our behalf.

“… for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

“ Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

For so long I have let this fear and procrastination prevent the use of so many blessings. I can make excuses and put off sitting down to my pottery wheel, picking up my camera, or pressing my piano keys, and I usually do. I envision myself in an imaginary future where I am suddenly adept at all of those skills, or I look through my Instagram feed and fuel the consuming fire of comparison until I am immobilized. The real tragedy of this though, is that my days on this earth are passing more quickly each year, and I am wasting the precious time that my Father has given me.  It may sound dramatic, but it is nonetheless true.  We are eternal beings, yes, but our time in this world is not infinite.

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How can we let such gifts stagnate when this globe is crying out for hope and purpose? It is no coincidence that the favorite tools of the enemy against creatives are fear and discouragement.  The liar wants to keep us deceived.  We have been blessed with creative voices.  They are voices that are meant to be used, and used right now.  Yes, we will create countless things that are far from perfection, but our God is a God who takes broken things and makes them beautiful.

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So please, be encouraged from someone who is still fighting those lies.  Whether your gifts are music, sculpting, homemaking, writing, painting, conversation, or a myriad of other combinations, don’t listen to the deception anymore that you have no place in the world as an artist.  Turn your attention to the one who gave you such wonderful gifts…and pour out.

gnarledtreePour out to the One who has made you, dear friends.  Pour out healing beauty on this fractured earth, and be not afraid.

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I’m so thankful for Kara stopping by to share these vulnerable thoughts that so often plague us as artist, and for sharing a sampling of her beautiful photography with us!!!  (Remember back in October when she did our family photos? She captured us so perfectly!) You can see more of her photography here. Coming soon is her Etsy shop of her gorgeous, rustic ceramic creations! I’ll be sure to share the link with you all as soon as it’s up.

 

Artist of the Month: Brooke Reed!

Kicking off the new year is our Artist of the Month for January, my dear friend, Brooke!!! Some of you may remember a certain post describing our kindred-spiritedness and mutual love of fancy-letter-writing and other things  last summer. (It was possibly my favorite post. Ever.) 

Brooke is a 6th grade language arts teacher, as well as being in charge of theatre productions where she works. (Basically, she’s the coolest ever.) If it weren’t for the fact that being best friends with her is LITERALLY THE BEST then I would want to be able to somehow go back to junior high and have her for a teacher. (And that’s saying something.) She epitomizes a crucial aspect of what I look for in an artist to feature: she is doing noble, creative work- a daily chiseling away at a mountain to find the masterpiece. She boldly creates beauty out of her life, and comes alongside little not-quite-people in their stories, and pours into them inspiration and exhortation to the same excellence she achieves and pursues.

Her creativity, brilliance, humility, and passion for Christ set her apart. When she speaks, people listen. And you should too. Today, she puts into words what I keep trying to over and over. This is why we need each other as creatives/people/children of God. Enjoy.

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Standing in the park, I looked at the tulip trees towering above me, golden and beaming, clapping their branches, and I imagined the gates of heaven are tulip trees. My inmost being cried out, “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart! I will enter His courts with praise!” I prayed to see the courts of the Lord, and I gave thanks. I remembered that Christ has overcome the world and that he has loved me with an everlasting love, and I felt exuberant.

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Beauty does it to me. It bends my soul to the light of exuberance. The beauty of a cello solo moves my heart fibers like plucked strings. The beauty of the bend in a creek turns me to water and makes me long to transform into my namesake (Oh, that I could become a babbling brook for a day!).

The terrible paradox about me and beauty is that I crave it so badly I cannot savor it when it finds me. I want to capture it, bottle it, and keep it to myself that I might have it all the time, safe and secure whenever I need it. I want to steal that beauty; I want to ensure a way to hold it and use it to banish all the ugly, impure, and horrid in this life. Tragedy upon tragedy, in my thievery of beauty, I lose what was already mine. Beauty showed itself to me as a gift, but I was so busy trying to put a cork on it that I missed it: the music ended or the sun went down and I didn’t soak it in.

Beauty begs enjoyment, not ownership.

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I am ashamed of my selfishness for beauty. When I can’t enjoy a sunny Saturday because I’m wishing my whole life could be sunny Saturdays and never cloudy Mondays, I know I’ve missed the mark and lost out on a beautiful day. Why can’t I soak the day in and be content?

But how can we be content in this life and yet yearn for something much more beautiful than this life? Why must I crave MORE?

Stories of Beauty

Stories might be my favorite beautiful thing. Stories get right at the core of something sacred. They shake a person from within.

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In third grade, my teacher read portions of Treasure in an Oatmeal Box to the class for fifteen minutes everyday before school let out. By the time we got to the end of the book, she cried so much she could barely read the words. We passed the tissue box to her, the air hanging heavy with depth, and everyone felt changed–even the boys who liked to staple their own thumbs were moved. I thought: stories can DO that. I remember the day in fourth grade I spent devouring A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I had to stop every few pages to stare at the wall in awe. I could feel the words sink straight into the slivers of my soul and change me. I knew that stories like this were more: they cracked open the universe. They ripped open the ceiling of your bedroom and poured down the depth of a thousand histories and opened portals to a thousand futures and made you forget your singular self to become part of something bigger. It was a MORE that brought unspeakable joy.

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There’s a beauty in story that invites me to enjoy it rather than try to capture it.
Maybe that’s because the Great Stories reflect the light of something I cannot keep all to myself. Maybe that beauty needs to be shared instead of bottled.  

I’m sharing C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair from The Chronicles of Narnia series to my sixth grade classes. We turn on all the cozy lamps and switch off the fluorescent lights. I sit in my reading chair. They sit on the floor. Together, we leave the world for a while and traverse through strange lands with Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum.

I’m tempted to read a bit slower these next few days so our time in that story can last a little longer. It’s just so good. Sharing this story with a group of eleven-year-olds who get it–who understand what Aslan’s about and who see their own stories through Jill’s–is an incredible privilege I will never forget. And here’s what those kids understand: at the beginning, Aslan sits with Jill on a mountain top far above the world. He gives her a quest to carry out far below the mountain in the land of Narnia and beyond. He tells her to remember four Signs that will guide her on her journey. “Don’t forget the Signs,” Aslan cautions. The Signs are meant to make her journey better.

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The Signs will guide her. Aslan tells her to repeat the Signs to herself when she wakes up in the morning and lies down at night, and if she wakes in the middle of the night she should repeat them again and again lest she forget them and lose herself along the way. Aslan reminds Jill that up on the mountain the air is clear and it is easy to remember the Signs, but down in Narnia and beyond the air is not so clear, and her mind will not be so clear.

If Jill does not take care to repeat the Signs, she will soon forget them and lose sight of the quest. Jill, as one might guess, soon gets selfish and greedy. She starts thinking about what she wants and forgets the quest. She muddles the Signs. The sixth graders understand that we are all a bunch of Jills.

And all of us Jills are really just a bunch of Israelites. Deuteronomy 11 opens on a group of Israelites who had forgotten God’s promises. They forget what he had done for them–how he scooped them out of Egyptian slavery and brought them into a covenant with him. They forgot that in the desert wasteland, God gave them manna from heaven so they would not starve. The Israelites forgot the commands. They forgot the promises. They forgot whom they served.

They forgot the story.

letters 1God commands the Israelites to remember the story of what he did for them–to never forget that he was faithful, is faithful, and will always remain faithful.

Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth” (Deut. 11:16-21).

Don’t forget the Signs.

I have forgotten the Signs too often to admit, and it shames me. I have forgotten God’s promises. When God says, “I have kept my covenant to you” and “in this world you will have troubles, but take heart, for I have overcome the world,” I blunder about and wonder why my life cannot always be beautiful and why must I tarry in this ugly world AND I MISS IT. I miss the beauty in God’s kept promises that he has plastered all over this place. Infinite beauty lies in the written Word and yet many days I neglect to read it and wonder why I’m yearning for something MORE. I miss the beauty of a life well lived that sees God’s faithfulness in all things and accepts him like a gift, palms open wide.

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In the park, under the tulip trees, God reminded me of his faithfulness, and
it was beautiful. I read a story in those trees and the words said, “Remember the Signs!” I remember that the Lion is good. I remember that he is beautiful.

There is boldness and might in the beauty of his love. He draws our eyes up to the treetops and down to the pages of a story and asks us to drink in it. Soak it up. Savor all this beauty. Share it with another because there’s so much of it to go around. Know that the Lord is beautiful. And if he is true Beauty, I cannot possibly hope to bottle him up and keep him for myself. Rather, his beauty is so vast the whole earth cannot contain it, not even in the pages of a book.


Artist of the Month: Dogwood and Oak! {Becca Woodbury}

It’s time for December’s Artist of month! I’m SO thrilled for you to hear from the heart and art of my dear friend, Becca, the creator behind this lovely wreathery on Etsy called Dogwood and Oak(Is wreathery a thing? Never mind, I’ve decided it is. I mean, what else do you call a shop that sells wreaths? Plus it sounds fancy schmancy.) Becca and I go way back to our days as lowly baristas in tie-dye t-shirts (ick) in East Tennessee. Her quiet but honest spirit always encourages me; her humor and sass always surprise me (don’t let the quiet thing fool you- she’s hilarious).

And if you’ve ever struggled with justifying making time for creativity in your life, this post is for you. Welcome, friend. Enjoy! (And P.S. There may be a gift of the discount variety just for you at the end of this post…)

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As a kid, I loved art in so many forms; you name it, and I was into it. I sketched, painted, made Christmas ornaments, scrapbooked, wrote short stories, read like it was my job, and played piano. As I got older and had more claims on my time, I gradually let many of these hobbies fall by the wayside in order to take care of my responsibilities. The creative activities that still found a place in my life went from activities I got to do to things I had to do, such as reading for school or practicing a piano piece for a recital. Before long, as is often the case with necessity, the joy was gone.

When I had the option, I dropped the things I had once loved. Music had become so stressful and full of outer expectations that I begged to quit taking lessons — and then went years without even touching a piano. I read what I had to for school assignments and nothing more. My life had become so structured that I didn’t feel like I had the mental capacity for creativity. My free time went to mindless activities that numbed me and passed the time, but did nothing to heal or refresh — often the opposite (hello, Facebook).

I lived a life virtually devoid of art — my own or anyone else’s — for years while I worked to reach my academic and professional goals. I immersed myself in three and a half years of undergrad and two years of grad school, allowing myself very little outside activity. As I neared the end of my masters program, my professors talked to my class about the need to have hobbies, particularly creative ones, in order to prevent burnout once we began working. I was surprised, but I made a mental note. It was only when everything came to a screeching halt that I realized how important their advice was.

Long story short, a move to a new city that was supposed to bring plenty of opportunity has been a huge disappointment. I rarely work, spending most days at home while my husband is at his job, and I don’t know anyone. I realized several months ago that I had two options: I could (continue to) spend every minute of every day agonizing over job applications and wondering what was wrong; or I could give myself some grace and allow myself to have hobbies in this unique period of waiting.

(Click the pick to see the Etsy listing!)

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For the first time in a long time, I picked up a book simply because it interested me — and finished it quickly. One book turned to 26 as I began (and soon finished) a reading challenge, my enthusiasm growing with each book. This kickstarted a memory of my interest in writing, the fact that I had considered journalism in college, and I soon began my blog. I remembered the joy of physically creating something, and my Etsy shop was born.

(Click the pic to see the Etsy listing!)

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I wish I could say it’s been easy to tap into my creative side again, but those muscles were severely atrophied. It has been a joy, absolutely, to pick up where I left off all those years ago and to discover new outlets that I love. But, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been scared. There have been times — so many times — when I didn’t feel good enough to do anything creative. You know how “comparison is the thief of joy” and all that jazz? It’s easy to read all about it in an insanely gorgeous font on Instagram and say yes and amen until you actually do something that makes you feel vulnerable.

(Click the pic to see the Etsy listing!)

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The comparison game is far too easy to play, despite the fact that we all know nobody wins. And yet, I sometimes can’t stop the thoughts… I’m not as creative as this other person. I’m out of practice. How will anything I do matter?

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Gradually, I’ve realized that creating, in and of itself, is a thrill. It’s an expression of the God-given heart that is uniquely yours. Your creations may never hang in a gallery or soothe hipsters while they mull over life in a coffee shop, but even if another soul never sees/hears/experiences what you make, it matters for you, the creator. It matters when you pour your heart into something that moves you. It matters when you use your abilities to make something beautiful for God’s glory, whether it’s shared or private. It matters when your whole body and mind feel refreshed and ready to face life, even if all you’ve done is get lost in a coloring book.

(Click the pick to see the Etsy listing!)

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There are always reasons why we shouldn’t create. Time. Resources. Stress. Lack of confidence. But you don’t have to be Taylor Swift to make something important and refreshing for your soul. Love and nurture your inner creator.

It matters.

I know you probably loved reading Becca’s thoughts about this seemingly impractical act of being creative (or even just, you know- reading a book!) as much as I did. So thankful for her and her beautiful shop!!!

And guess what- EXCLUSIVELY for readers of her post today, Dogwood and Oak is giving a 10% discount with the code longlivebeauty at her shop! (Plus, currently ALL Christmas wreaths are marked down!!!) Also, follow @dogwoodandoak on Instagram for further festive additions to her shop and sales!

Artist of the Month: Aimee Brown {And the Art of Motherhood}

1551609_10202193226584670_1552926476_nAlong with being a wife and mother to 5, Aimee Brown has been a second mother to hundreds of others- and indirectly- to thousands! Her influence stretches far and wide, because that’s always been her posture- open and welcoming to anyone and everyone. She seems to give away an overflowing basket of love to anyone who brushes her space. She poured that love into me when she and her husband pastored my youth group growing up. She’s always seen beauty in me even and especially when I couldn’t/can’t see it in myself, and a good deal of who I am today I owe to that sight and the encouragement that accompanied it.

I just know you need to hear her words today. Hear from a true artist of love, one who has made motherhood into an art.

Welcome to my front porch!

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Come on up and make yourselves comfy. I’ve got coffee brewing and muffins fresh from the oven for you to enjoy. I want you to feel loved and accepted here, so just take a load off for a moment to be encouraged on this beautiful journey called mommyhood.

Let me remind you, precious Mama, that you are treasured and highly regarded by our Loving God. That you are a difference maker in the lives of your children-that yes you are doing a fantastic job of loving them well, especially on those days you feel as if you have utterly failed them.

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Let me introduce myself-I’m Aimee, wife to Rob & momma to five beautiful children ages 17 down to 8.

10989256_856010467805397_9007892530086802728_oWhat I originally thought would be a journey of heartache (being told I could not carry babies) has instead become my very joy and delight; my grandest adventure. Mine is the majesty of raising up this ruckus bunch (did I mention we have four boys?) into whole-hearted folks who love God and love people with all that they are.

I remember holding my oldest, my Jack, for the very first time. I remember thinking ‘ah. This is why I have arms-to hold and protect this beatiful, perfect boy’. I recall thinking if Jack could never form words, if he could never call me Mama or tell me he loves me that everything would be okay; my love for him was enough. I whispered my thanks like a prayer….I’m so glad it’s right now.

As Jack grew, discovering his world and forming a huge imagination, I savored every moment. He giggled often, asked many questions and ran everywhere we went.

A couple years later, along came our second son, our Eli. What a gentle, kind addition he has been! He champions the underdog, he loves people so well. He is a discoverer; he loves to figure out how things work. He provides levity, he’s a peacemaker.

Our third son, our Camden, he’s a fighter. Born 6 weeks early, we were told he wouldn’t make it through childbirth. I hoped, I prayed, I begged my God in heaven for his life. Our tiny boy, our hilarious Cam- what a gift he is to us! Both tough and tender, spirited and gentle, he is brave and honest and good. He has my heart and my gumption. In those first days, when premie clothing was way too big and his suckle reflex wasn’t quite what it should be, when I was trying to make sure he received enough calories, that he was warm enough, that he would thrive…in those days as I held my sweet baby, sleep-deprived and weepy, I would whisper ‘I’m so glad you’re here, Cam; that you’re alive. You are strong and good. You will do great things……… I’m so glad it’s right now”.

Ahnna Caroline, our beautiful princess, full of such gentleness and kindness, humor and generosity. An artist, she sees beauty everywhere. Sharing with others is her second nature. I asked the Lord for a daughter one sunny afternnoon, my arms elbow-deep in soap suds in our old farmhouse. Oh the joy she has brought us! A snuggler, she just wants to be near, and I love that with my whole heart.

Our baby, our curly-headed, animal-loving, kind-hearted, darling boy, Asher. Big and deliciously chunky when he was born, instantly loved and adored by his siblings, sweet and quiet. He is a seer, he notices when someone feels left out or is shy. He loves to wrestle with his daddy and his brothers, loves to snuggle with me.

 

Our babies came nearly every two years (some closer together, others further apart).

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These child-bearing years were the best kind of busy. But I remember. I remember taking our time, never rushing the sitting up, standing, walking. I knew these things would come. I remember the late night child-wonderings, the questions, the chats, the prayers. I remember chubby hands and messy spills and always running late (I’ve never minded being late to things, so this was never a big deal)

Savor.

Don’t be in a hurry; pause so you’ll remember always the beauty of these ordinary extraordinary days.
I want to encourage your spirit of adventure Mamas, because Motherhood isn’t a pause button; it’s not an in between where your goals and dreams rest.

Motherhood is the adventure!

I’ve lived more fully in the last seventeen years because of the wonder of my children. I’ve nursed babies in downtown Mantattan, on beaches, in national parks, in restaurants, churches and everywhere in between.

Doing real, actual life with our children allows them to feel intrinsically part of this world, to know for sure they belong in any situation. Sometimes this inclusion has lead to idealic, easy breezy situations, other times we’ve had to back up and start over regarding behavior in certain settings. Always, we’re glad we choose to include our five.

If I could look each one of you in the eyes, I would tell you to trust your gut, girls. You are hard wired to know exactly what your child needs, where they should sleep (crib or co-sleeping with you), how they should be educated, which activities best suit your life, etc. True rest may be found in motherhood when we parent according to our own instincts instead of swimming around in the pool of public opinion.

Trust yourself!

The most beautiful parts of our family life occur, not on social media, but privately just among us seven. Our story is personal, sacred to my heart. Sometimes the very best moments can get lost in a haze of filters and angles. Being private doesn’t mean having a lack of authenticity, it just means I’m holding my children’s stories closely.

They enjoy having memories to recount, weaving their own takes into experiences we’ve shared. They have beautiful voices that I never want to overshadow with quick snapshots, with casual references of my own.
Our oldest, after having spent years looking back to make sure I’m right there, is now only looking ahead. He’s checking out colleges, studying for the SAT. He’s perched right on the edge of my nest, ready to fly. He’s a man now. I have to look up to see his face, his voice is deep, confident.

Our second born will soon be driving. Tall like his brother, he calls me shorty.

I am loving these days with teenagers and deep life talks. There is absolutely nowhere else I would rather be than right here with my people. They need my attention, they need my ears to truly hear.

There are few things I would do differently. I’m so glad I’ve paid attention, was present, savored.

You are enough just as you are, dear mamas. You’ve got what it takes to love your children well. Put away that imaginary measuring stick, those unreal expectations. Look your babies in the eye, smile, tell them how glad you are that they were born. Love them big, cheer for them loudly, champion them, hold them close. You are exactly who they need, especially when they push you away. These really are the glory days.

Someday in the future I may get a phone call from one of my babies recounting a grand adventure they’ve had on their own. I’ll listen, I’ll marvel, I’ll savor that conversation. Then I’ll whisper it again like a benediction….oh Jesus, thank you. I’m so glad it’s right now.

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Thank you for sitting awhile on my porch awhile. I’m glad you stopped by.

Artist of the Month: Andrew Peterson! (Day 22)

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For October’s Artist of the Month, I chose to write about an artist myself versus having someone guest post. (I’d warned you that I may do this from time to time, to showcase examples of excellence in the arts within the church- even if I don’t know them personally. That way, you may still get to learn and spread the word about what God is doing through them!)

I’ve been simultaneously excited about and dreading this post, because it’s been a long time coming, and I just want to do this artist justice. So, without further ado, enjoy this month’s artist, Andrew Peterson!!!

“I feel like I’d be friends with him.” Pretty much. “It connects with something that’s going on in me… something I didn’t even know about yet.”

Those two statements alone sum up a lot of my initial feelings about him. But let’s be clear- I’m not summing anything up yet. (Settle in, folks. I’m not even going to apologize for my wordiness on this one.)

  1. Songwriting:  I first heard Andrew’s (Peterson’s? AP’s? I don’t know, for some reason it feels weird to say “Peterson’s”) music somewhere in high school, the album The Far CountryAnd then I was hooked. I mean, not only is he a great songwriter in general, but he had a song called “Haven’s Grey” and copious allusions to C.S. Lewis and Tolkien in other songs, too, so basically I was destined to love and resonate with his music.

maxresdefaultPlus, as they mentioned, Rich Mullins was a huge influence for Peterson (there it is again… Andrew? Mr. Peterson? Why is this so weird?), so obviously he gets points for that, too. (If you don’t know Rich Mullins, you basically need to take a break from this post and go on a music-listening-rampage and catch up on his music. He was a great Christian songwriter, and I guarantee you that you know at least one if not several of his songs, whether you realize it or not… P.S. It’s best to just listen and not watch the super cheesy and/or extremely 90’s-ish lyrics videos paired with the songs. Just fyi.)

Andrew Peterson’s music resonates so deeply with me because not only does he bear his soul courageously, he does it articulately. It’s hard sometimes to find artists who do this.

Somehow, he manages to keep writing down the beautiful, life-giving, heartbreaking homesickness I- we- feel for our true home, our true Father. And I’m always surprised at the different ways he can say it.

As a songwriter, I feel myself come to life when he puts into words things that I never knew quite how to communicate, like when he mentioned that songs act as avenue for people’s stories to intersect. It’s also profoundly encouraging, because I’ve often struggled with why I personally write songs and have a desire for others to hear them. What is that? Why does God wire me/us/artists this way? So, hearing him describe that aspect of songwriting both affirms and quiets that struggle in me.

(And I love that he can laugh at himself. When they talk about Slugs and Bugs? I think many of us can relate to sometimes tending toward the solemn and somber and needing reminders to not take ourselves so seriously.)

Andrew’s newest album, “The Burning Edge of Dawn” just released recently! And it doesn’t disappoint. Go buy it now! (Click the pic to see it in the iTunes store.) Read an interview Andrew gave about the album here.

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2. “Behold the Lamb of God” tour

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Ryan and I got to go last year, and it was everything everyone said it was. It really was- holy. I love that the subtitle is “The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ.” It was so life-giving to me to be there, to experience such a unique telling of the story, and to experience other artists as well, some of which were new to me. It was one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given, being able to go to that concert! PLEASE go if you can.

Plus, they called it community tour. Are you kidding me??? This is only EXACTLY what I’m all about. One of the men described it as a collection of people gathering to tell The Story. And that’s what we are as artists in the kingdom of God. We gather and scatter to tell God’s story. And whether we are together or apart, he goes with us and- incredibly, graciously- lets us share in it, too.

I love the picture of this tour- of people gathering to create and literally tell The Story- because it’s like what we do as the church as a whole. We- the body of Christ- proclaim what he has done, the mystery and wonder of his grace and love, and are transformed in the process, as well as witnessing the transformation of others.

3. The Wingfeather Saga

Wingfeather_Bundle_1024x1024At the risk of repeating myself, I say again how I profoundly relate to Andrew’s love of story and of how God uses story to both communicate with us and engage in relationship with us. Which amplifies how dear this series is to me. I don’t know how to articulate the urgency of my desire for everyone I know and don’t know to go and read these books, and then read them to your children.

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The Wingfeather Saga has the light-heartedness of someone making up a funny bedtime story (i.e. the dangerous “toothy cows” lurking in the forest, and the fact that the evil creatures oppressing the land are called the “Fangs of Dang”… I mean you have to laugh a little bit) along with excellent and beautiful character development, brilliant plot-weaving and world-crafting, and the underlying profundity of a story woven with the longing and love for God. It is the first series I’ve read since Narnia to encapsulate these things. So much “Christian” fiction falls flat and feels contrived. But this? This is the fruit of a heart that beats for the Lord. A review of this book that articulates the wonderfulness of these books far better than this paragraph does may be found here.

(As a side note, Book 4 was beautifully illustrated by Joe Sutphin, who you should really look up!)

4. The Rabbit Room. This is one of those things I’d longed for all my life, and stumbling upon it, I found myself crying- here are my people!!! It’s a place that I love, and that I long to emulate here in some way. I believe in the power of community, especially in the church, and especially among artists. Because when we’re left alone with ourselves for too long, we can be consumed either by discouragement in our failure or by a dangerously inflated ego. Either way, our identity is not rooted in Christ and we can’t bear fruit for the kingdom of God.

Along with that, however, the Rabbit Room creates a sacred place for artists to gather and share the goodness of God through everything from good music, blog posts, books, and more.

That’s why The Rabbit Room shines so brightly into my own soul and others’. (Plus, it’s named that after the Rabbit Room found in the Eagle and Child in Oxford, where the Inklings used to meet regularly. If you don’t know what that means, you should really find out, because it’s awesome.)

Thus community is important. So, for Andrew to have come up with this brilliant idea- a place for people and artists of all kinds to discover, be inspired, to be fed, to feed, and to ultimately remember their part in the body of Christ- their identity in Christ- that’s a huge deal.

“A really great storyteller like Andrew enables people to experience their own story in a truer, deeper, and more beautiful way,” says Ellie Holcomb. I agree.

5. Hutchmoot– Honestly, I can’t even talk about this. No, I mean I literally can’t, because I’ve never been. But I long to go. For one thing, they have an awesome name… (Which of course, is the most important thing.) To hear it described as a gathering of “like-souled” individuals to engage in unique community just sounds so life-giving. It’s a real life opportunity to intentionally gather and go “further up and further in” as Aslan said.

They call Peterson a “people-gatherer.” And that’s what he does. Whether it’s through his Behold the Lamb of God tour, The Rabbit Room, or through his beautiful songs and stories that I love to savor while soul-huddling with dear friends.

I can’t help but think of Jesus. I can’t help but see a parallel, but on a much deeper, heartbreakingly beautiful level. We gather and fill rooms and coffee shops and pubs and everywhere with our wonder. We toast his victory, his kingdom, his love.

We are storytellers.

And anything that is heartbreakingly beautiful in the way Andrew’s art is just acts as another part of transformation- of the glorious, unbelievable Story breaking through from heaven to earth.

So, take a leaf out of Andrew Peterson’s book. Keep gathering, keep writing, keep singing, keep engaging, keep creating. And be brave and humble enough to share with others.

Artist of the Month: Heather Knudtsen

Our September Artist of the Month is the beautiful, articulate, brilliant Heather Knudtsen! (And not to brag or anything, but she’s one of my best friends and most kindred of spirits! So… yeah.) Heather and I used to stay up way too late in college talking about this very dear subject of beauty, of Jesus, of the inextricable link between the two, and how we carry his beauty into the world. (And sometimes dressing up like pirates because it’s cool to do that.) It is a great treat and a high honor that you get a peek inside her beautiful heart today. Enjoy!

The Case for Beauty 

When I was little, I used to hate when my Dad listened to the news. It seemed to me to open a portal into our little living room to let in all the misery the world had dreamed up that day. I’ve always struggled to keep my perspective hopeful when my focus is drawn to the evil, the ugly, or even just the empty that shares this world with the good, the beautiful, and the meaningful. How is it that I can trust or believe in the beautiful and the good when there is such cruelty and despair?

For whatever reason, evil seems to cancel out good more quickly than the reverse. I wonder if this is not the reason that for much of the past hundred years our artists seem to be more and more disenchanted with the pursuit of beauty in creating their art. After two world wars and countless other horrors, who can believe the lies beauty has been telling us all these years? That there is good, there is healing, and that we are part of a story bigger than ourselves?

I think artists are somewhat more sensitive to despairing at the evil in the world. We are always stretching the hands of our souls out, feeling through the dark for little pieces of infinity. We have an intuitive sense that constantly reminds us of the way the world should be: filled with purposeful identity, excellent craft, and moments of beauty.

This is perhaps why “artists” as a group are often less concerned with the get-a-job-and-a-house-with-a-picket-fence standards of the society around us. We seek after a standard on a different dimension. But this means that when we realize that the purposeful identity and moments of beauty we seek are even harder to come by than a job-and-a-house-with-a-picket-fence, we feel cheated. Our souls stretch out their hands and so often find filth instead of beauty and apathy instead of purpose.

The question is, what do we do next? Do we give up on art? Do we pretend we never found the evil and create instead a false world of meaningless beauty? Or the opposite—do we use art only to express our sense of despair?

I think these have been reactions that myriads of artists have chosen. But I believe there is another perspective to be had. One that says it is evil that is intruding on a world that was meant to be good and beautiful, rather than the beautiful fighting a dying fight in a small corner of an evil world. Those of us who believe the words of Christ and his followers know the world to have begun with “it was good”, and eagerly await the day when good is restored. In our perspective, the evil and the ugly are a passing fancy; foreigners to our land who will not succeed in their attempts to conquer it. They do not belong, and deep down we know it, and their departure is the very cry of our hearts.

So take heart, my fellow artists! You are not over-idealistic misfits soon to be dashed on the harsh, stony shore of the world, but instead, the keepers of beauty and meaning in a time when the souls of the world are hungry for the hope you hold, as they wait wearily for evil to thrash its last thrash. You have a job to do, and it is bigger than the insecurities you have about your artistic ability and even transcends the work you do in your specific artistic medium.

Bring some beauty back to the world.

It might not be popular, it might be accused of taking no account of the grittier truths of life (but it is because of these truths that you should do it). Be willing to go after this subjective and ethereal thing that is as likely to make a fool of you as it is to decide to show its face. Because when we decide to attempt the creation of beauty, we open ourselves up to the possibility of failure. We reach for a standard we do not intrinsically have the full power to achieve. The attempt cannot even be begun without vulnerably opening ourselves up to be sensitive to the whispers of beauty and the story we need to tell. We must be willing to dream bigger dreams than we assuredly know we can accomplish.

And as far as how to recognize when you’ve created something beautiful, I think you’ll know. If you shut off the voices of comparison and just do the work, something right will happen inside you when you do it. And you must try, because a world without beauty is a world without grace, humanity, and hope.

Beauty refutes both the meaninglessness of the daily and the despair of destruction. It does not negate it, but it meets it on the battlefield and says “this is our land, not yours”. As artists, we must bridge the gap between the world that we delight in and the world that we have. We must live in the tension of the world we hope for and the world that is.

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Heather Knudtsen directs theatre and is a freelance graphic designer & social media marketer by day. Recent theatrical productions have included The 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow, A Christmas Story adapted by Phillip Grecian, and Trifles by Susan Glaspell. Her favorite arts are music, literature…ok all of them. Her favorite college roommate was Haylie Allcott. Find out more about Heather at heatherknudtsen.com/directing.