ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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Better Together

I’ve been thinking about community…

Recently a friend posted about setting “Better Together” goals with her husband. It got me thinking (thanks, Cara!). I’m not much of a goal setter, too generally scatter-brained. But Guy’s more organized along those lines. What if we set goals together and held each other accountable?

During my Inauguration Day media fast, another friend called and said, “Our church is divided because our country is divided. We need to come together to pray for our country.” Her words rang true in my soul. As we chatted, we realized that we stand on opposite sides of the political divide. And we stand together in prayer.

Last night I scrolled through Facebook and saw pictures of friends all across the country peacefully marching in solidarity with one another. The heaviness in my chest lifted some, replaced by hope. I’m not alone.

I didn’t march. Instead we attended our friends’ son’s bar mitzvah. Despite having taken a few years of Hebrew in seminary, I quickly gave up on the transliteration and instead read and prayed along in English. It was a beautiful service, fascinating and moving and so different and like what we do at church on Sundays.bar-mitzvah-1

Two things especially struck me throughout the day. First, we all ought to speak heartfelt words of blessing, over our children and to one another. How different might our families, our communities, our world be if we noticed and spoke into the best parts, the uniqueness, of the people in our lives? And secondly, I am so grateful for my friends!

As we celebrated the rite of passage that welcomed this boy into Jewish manhood, we talked. We laughed. We danced and ate and drank. But because we also do life together, we asked hard questions. We whispered prayer and rubbed salve on the aches we know our friends carry. We rejoiced together all the more because we have also suffered together.bar-mitzvah-2

Before it started raining this afternoon, Guy and I took the dogs for a quick walk. He remarked, “I really like our neighborhood!” I agree. I like our street, our section of town, this geographic community we call home. And I like our neighbors and friends, the community that fills our hearts. I think we’re better for engaging in life in this place, at this time. I hope others would say the same about us.

So tonight, despite the dumping rain, despite my introverted self running on full-weekend extrovert overload, I will drag myself out of my cozy cocoon to gather with other friends, our church Community Group. We will talk and laugh and discuss and pray. Because I need them in my life. We’re better together.

Come & See
Week 3 – 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Connect
Which part of your body do you think is most important? Which would be hardest to live without?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.
Notice who has responsibility for assembling the body parts (vv. 13, 18, 24, 27). How does that knowledge reorient our perspective?
Rephrase the statements in vv. 15-16 as someone might actually say them. How would you respond?
Sadly, how do we communicate “I don’t need you!” to certain members of the body? How can we change our attitudes and actions?
How would you explain to someone who hadn’t read this passage why we need each other?

Live
What are some of the Church’s favorite body parts? How do we demonstrate that?
How would you describe your place in the body? Have you ever wanted to be a different body part? What and why?
There should be no division in the body, but we can all point to examples. How should we address division when we see it?
How do we practically suffer and rejoice with one another?
How can we strengthen our connection to the body?
What does this passage communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for stronger connections with other members of the body.

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Thankful Thursday – Embrace Truth

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glass-89051_640No matter how forcefully you jab at your phone’s red “disconnect” button, it won’t satisfy like the plastic crunch of slamming down a landline phone. The news I’d just heard warranted a strong response.

Something terrible has happened. People I love are hurting. I am hurting.

Through deep sighs, voice shaking then breaking, tears turning to sobs, I breathed out the bad news to Guy. He embraced me, but all the feelings made me restless, too much to be contained. I prayed: Lord, have mercy! I sent a text to my gals, inviting their love and prayers. I poured a shot of tequila. I distracted myself with the best (worst?) online idiocy. I wrote a little, until somewhere in the early-dark morning when my computer conked out and my eyes drooped in bleary desperation.

Sleep came heavy, but not rest. I yanked my sluggish body from the comforter just as fatigued, head pounding, face puffy. I had to go to work. And I decided to embrace truth.

Energy zapped, I had no filter; I shared the story with coworkers. I risked their pity, judgment even. Thankfully, they responded with grace, encouragement, prayer.

Unable to change the situation, I tended to my wounds. I prayed. I tried to nap. I read. I poured myself into work tasks and binge-watched TV. During a break in the rain, I found joy in a laughter-filled walk with friends and dogs.

I keep telling the truth. I am not “okay,” not “How are you? Fine.” I am angry, sad, confused, brokenhearted, aching. On some levels I am fine, and with hope I am getting better each day. Still… I know those are ugly-messy emotions, hard to hear. You might prefer to plug your ears. But this chaos is my song right now, and if you can’t handle my dischords, likely we’re not friends.

At our moms’ group this morning, I stood in front of 150 or so women to ask for prayer. I felt the weight of the pain spread as people felt newly sad with me, for me, for the situation, and my shoulders felt lighter. Some present may have been shocked, probably were. Maybe some even felt embarrassed for me: how dare I have the guts to talk openly about something so awful? That’s behind-closed-doors news, private.

Maybe it has been. But no, not any more. I’m embracing the truth because this messy truth, for now, is our truth. It’s what we have to deal with. I refuse to let you belittle me with your label of shameful when I call it illness, tragic. What we keep hidden in the dark will fester, spreading insidious infection. When we tell the truth, we set ourselves and others free. We share the pain. We create connection. We give and receive encouragement, hope.

Several women approached me after, some to offer a hug, but many to thank me for speaking up. They told their stories. I am sorry, desperately sorry, they have these stories to tell but, through the courage to tell the truth, we find out we aren’t alone.

“…the truth will set you free.” –Jesus

On Creativity & Sabbatical

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

Create Challenge #31: Mike Loretto

I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II.

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

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

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

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

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

My Instagram photo showed what sabbatical was supposed to be like

My Instagram photo showed what sabbatical was supposed to be like

III.

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

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

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

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

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

IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V.

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

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

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

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

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

VI.

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

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

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

mloretto

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

The Most Amazing Gift

This Create Challenge began as a challenge to myself – and to all of us – to think outside the box on what it means to create, to be creators, to engage in creative activity. Because Life = creative activity. Because miracles abound in the mundane, the sacred infuses the secular, play does a happy dance at work. So I absolutely adore that my friend Jessie challenged her own traditional thinking to recognize the Creativity inherent in the everyday moments of full days with energetic littles. Jessie has long been one of my favorite people to laugh and talk with, and I’m so excited to share her story with you.

Create Challenge #8 – Jessie Colburn

I used to think of myself as a creative person. Now I think of myself as a stay-at-home mom for these two young girls:JCbabies

Most days, I’m just aiming to make it through. Forget creativity. To quote Sweet May Brown: Ain’t nobody got time for that. Forget plans. Forget recipes. Forget anything that makes me feel like I’m in control of my own life. I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m literally making stuff up as I go.

This is the honest-to-God formula for my time with my little people:

Three-ish square meals + snacks + not too much TV + not dying = success  

My life feels a lot like this picture: blurry, messy but smiling, and at the same time— fighting with my 4-year-old over who gets to push the button.JCblur

Not exactly the stuff creativity awards are made of.

But here’s the thing: I feel as though God has given me the most amazing gift. Motherhood, He whispered, is the most creative thing you’ve ever done. You are made for this…this selfless, extraordinary, boundless love.

My response? Motherhood (Parenthood) as a creative process? That’s insane.

I mean, being creative means you create artistic things! And I absolutely LOVE people who create artistic things. I am, in fact, a lover of those artistic things they create! But I’m not one of them.

My friend is a crafty genius. She takes simple things like fabric, or yarn, or unmilled flour, and makes something entirely new out of them. (Julie, you are fantastic). Not only is the end result beautiful, but she legitimately enjoys the process. If you consider yourself creative, then you know that one of the most important ingredients you invest is your precious time. These things my friend makes from scratch do not happen overnight. That’s part of what makes them so valuable: they take time, and effort, and attention, and care.

I realized that I had been working with a very literal interpretation of the word “CREATE.” Per Webster’s Dictionary, I understood it to mean: “to produce through imaginative skill.” Like a painting, or a book, or some other tangible form of art.

I told myself that being a mom doesn’t flex those same muscles. I told myself that 24-year-old Jessie should have written this blog post. She was a budding actress! She took creative writing classes; she attended improvisational workshops; she went to see lots of live theatre…

She also:
* slept in
* had morning sex with her husband
* ate dinner after 6pm
* did not dress like a homeless person
* watched adult TV during the day (not adult as in “porn”; adult as in “created for people over age five.” Just wanted to clear that up.)

The life she had…well, some days I really miss it. Now, I “create” things like PBJ sandwiches. I “make” rules like “Sometimes Mom gets to poop with the door closed.” Why? “Because sometimes Mommy needs a minute.” I no longer produce through imaginative skill.

But then… I do.

Motherhood is, absolutely, an ongoing creative act. It is an ever-present process. It takes time, and effort, and attention, and care. Whether intentionally or subliminally, mothers constantly create—schedules, traditions, memories. These little acts during long days will eventually lead to one full life. We do create.

The end result of my subtle creative acts might not hang in a museum. But I’m absolutely a creative person:
* I create meals to feed my family.
* I make space for my little girls to play.
* I carve out time for adventures.
* I force them (lovingly) to eat their vegetables.
* I draw baths.
* I paint tiny fingers and toes.
* I teach them when something is not OK.
* I sing songs.
* I say prayers.
* I tell stories and read books.

Added together, these are not small things. Mothers CREATE a childhood.JCtrail

The parenting stakes are high. The weight of so much responsibility tempts me to totally lose my mind. What if I screw it all up, creating a sociopath, serial killer, or mean girl? The self-doubt is so palpable and, at times, all-consuming. Because, shoot. This mothering thing is HARD. So many days I think: I’m doing this wrong. Or I’m just not good at this. Or worse: My kids might be better off with a different mother.

For all the good I create, my very real fear is that I also create not-so-good things:
* I make mistakes.
* I create excuses for the kids’ bad behavior and mine.
* I lose my temper and yell at my babies.
* I let them eat terrible things.
* I give into unreasonable requests (who has energy to fight every battle?).
* I tune them out.
* I choose my phone over giving them my presence.
* I park them in front of the TV so I can shower, or cook, or just close my eyes for 20 minutes.
* I go back on promises.
* I do what is easy instead of what is right.

Sigh. That list makes me die a little bit inside. But moms are human. We will never be perfect. Our job as parents is not to create magical childhoods that result in well-adjusted adults. We don’t actually have much control over that. Our job as parents is to love our kids extravagantly.

We contort and concoct and misinterpret this role so profoundly. And truth be told, I think it breaks our Creator’s heart. He did not create us to be perfect. He created us with the knowledge that we would fail so epically that we’d need to be rescued.

So why do we look at mothering through this lens of unattainable perfection? I’ve been a mom for almost five years (a relative newbie, I grant you), but I’ve been deeply saddened by how negatively most mothers view themselves.

Thankfully, there is an upside. Because with God, there always is.

This creative, beautiful God who made us—who made our kids—made us for community. We were not meant to do this job (or live this life) by ourselves. Community sustains us and empowers us. It nourishes our soul and gives us the strength to keep going. It gives us a healthier voice to counteract the negative self-talk that swirls around in our minds.

One of the intensely powerful blessings I’ve discovered is the community of other moms. They are the voices of women who cut through the noise and, instead, deliver grace and love. And for me, they come from all over: from church, from work, from my kids’ preschool, from my own family (Grandparents, here’s looking at you). Sometimes they’re from blogs or books of people I don’t know in “real life” but capture my sentiments exactly—Bunmi Laditan, for example, is my spirit animal. Jen Hatmaker, the hilarious genius behind For the Love, I assume wrote that book for me personally (Thanks, Jen. That was really nice of you).

The point: there are people on this planet who help me in this intensely creative quest.

These women validate my experience. They confirm that my kids will turn out OK; they affirm that I’m doing my best; they remind me that God is in charge; they let me cry when I feel guilty; they laugh with me when my offspring does something entirely preposterous; they love my kids when I find them to be a bit too much; they are a source of encouragement, wisdom, and advice; they remind me to breathe between the waves in this sea of baby vomit and dirty diapers and toddler meltdowns.

Most importantly, they remind me I’m not alone.

I do, actually, LOVE being a mom. My daughters light up my heart. They are so funny. And they are good kids. We have fun together and I genuinely love being with them. No question, they are my absolute favorite people.JCpink

But they exhaust and overwhelm me, too. And it’s OK.

Speaking from my limited experience, what I do know is this: This mothering thing is an insanely creative process that takes a lifetime to learn. You know how the song goes: He wrote the notes on your heart before it took its first beat. The melody won’t be perfect, and at times you won’t recognize the sound—but let yourself sing it. You are producing through imaginative skill. You are creating something beautiful.

Well done, mama.

JCbio

Jessie Colburn is wife to Chris, mom to Kate & Charlotte, and a general lover of books, friends, family, and wine (not necessarily in that order). You can usually find her on a hike with her kids, in her kitchen preparing a meal, or near the teen fiction section at her local independent book store. While most of her time is spent raising her babies, she’s also a freelance children’s book editor. Her favorite activities include laughing, eating, reading, and talking.

The (Wounded) Artist

Create Challenge Guest Post #1 – woo hoo!

I am so excited to devote Wednesdays on this blog to create a platform for friends wide and far, from every arena of my life, to share their perspective on and experience of creativity. And I am a big fan of today’s guest post author, Paul Quinlivan, as I’ve been cheering him on since he was in junior high. He held Teen when he was, ahem, teeny, and he was one of the first to hold newborn Tween when he arrived home from the hospital. Guy performed the ceremony in which Paul married his beloved, and these days their arms and hearts are full-up with their own beautiful boy-bundle. Paul’s one smart, thoughtful guy, and today he shares with us a vulnerable story to which I’m sure most of us will be able to relate.

Without further ado, please welcome Paul Quinlivan!

Like many young boys I was prone to doodling, you know, stick figures of our family dog, or the pretty girl who sat next to me in Mrs. Gauthier’s 2nd grade class. I filled the margins of my composition books while teachers attempted to fill my mind with the finer points of grammar or mathematics. As my imagination evolved so did my art. Sketches of soccer players transformed into beach scenes which morphed into surfers on waves. I imagine I am not the only person who has found themselves mind-surfing across the page. My drawings were by no means “good” art, as if one could put value judgments on works by an 8-year-old, but they were creations of the heart.

Super heroes consistently graced my pages. I was obsessed with the idea that characters could be blessed with powers that enabled them to step outside of the realm of possibility and wrestle with those who would threaten hope. I lived in comic books and Saturday morning cartoons.

My imagination also produced its own heroes. One character I created was a man with a square head, a combed-over Mohawk, a cape, and a giant “BM” on his chest: “Block Man,” protector of the universe (contrary to what may have been your first guess). A hero so strong and fierce and good and moral and literally block-headed, all evil fled from his presence. He was my imagination’s amalgamation of all the heroes I admired.

My father’s friend had a son who truly had an artistic gift and would often draw elaborate life-like sketches of his favorite heroes. One day as the two men talked about how this son might cultivate his talent, I looked at them with longing as I said, “I can draw, too. Look, I call him Block Man.”

With sadness on his face my father replied, “You do not have a single artistic bone in your body.”

His horrific remark raced through my body, mind and soul, wounding so deep. Did he not see my Block Man sketches? Sure, they would never end up in the Louvre or even the county fair, but were they not still art? When measured against his friend’s son I paled in comparison. I felt ruined.

When we arrived home I went straight to my room and trashed all my drawings. Out went the heroes and beach scenes. Out went the crayons, pastels, charcoal, and watercolor kit. I did not pick up an artist’s tools for years, and each time I did the wound stung as I heard the words echo, the message always the same: I could not possibly be an artist.

He wasn’t entirely wrong. I have always been an athlete, creating feats of art with my body’s movement and my teammates around me. But he most definitely wasn’t right. Let me be clear: my father meant no harm and spoke what he believed to be truth, that I would never become a professional artist. Intent, however, does not change impact.

I am not alone in having a wounded artistic child. As humans, we bear the consequences of a long-ago broken relationship that opened the door for hurt and trauma and well-intentioned words that cut to the core. Many of us feel shamed by the culture of comparison, the pressure to live up to some impossible and invisible standard. Maybe, like me, you hear the echo of words spoken by a family member, coach, teacher, pastor, friend, or bully. Each of us has our own story of betrayal and faces that go with it.

Each of us has also been created to create. In the beginning, humankind was commissioned to “be fruitful and multiply,” or to create. When we create we move closer to the One who created all, to fulfilling our purpose for being. For most of us this will require finding a way to embrace our inner artist’s woundedness. We need to share our stories of betrayal and harm with those in community who can hold our pain and help us to (re)create and to again pick up our pens, paints, cameras, or clay.

My challenge for you is to tend to your wounded artist and once again embrace the younger you who had a vibrant imagination and a longing to allow it to run wild.

Godspeed in your recovery.pq1

Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer, Teacher, and Pastor are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife, almost 3-month-old son, and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist in private practice and instructor at a graduate school helping to train future prophetic therapists, pastors, and artists.pq2

Thankful Thursday – Life is More than Worry

As Church Communication Director, this week before Thanksgiving is always one of the busiest work weeks of the year as we rush to get Christmas PR printed, in the mail, up around town, in the newspaper, you name it. The creative work, writing and designing, is mostly done, so this week is all about details – proofing and making sure each design in all its necessary formats gets to the right place and people at the right time. The devil is in the details and I am no devil.

I can’t get stressed, though. The irony? This year’s theme is PEACE. No sense at all worrying about peace.

Today I got a kick in the tail in the best way. One of my favorite weekly activities, I have the privilege of leading a small group of delightful women in our moms’ group at church. I love these women. They are light and bright and smart and deep. Our speakers today talked about change and taking intentional steps toward positive change in our lives. Several of my gals are engaged in total life upheaval, not entirely by choice. And yet even in difficult situations, our response is our responsibility. We can still choose to make changes that make us better.moms 15

The gal seated next to me almost died from a fluke illness this fall. I kept rubbing her back, teary eyed, so grateful for her life. And to hear her talk about the peace that sustained her during her illness, the overwhelming sense of angels watching over her, the comfort that whatever happened God held her in His hands… Me, choking back tears because she couldn’t have said those words when we met a couple years ago. I am grateful for her life and for the joy of watching her grow in faith.

Listening to my gals encourage one another in situations I haven’t had to endure encouraged my heart. As I looked on, the words of Matthew 6 rolled around in my head:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

A few of the staff studied this passage earlier this week. We noticed that most people we see daily aren’t worried about food; even when kids complain that “There is NO FOOD in this house!” there truly is, and no one will starve this week, or month, even if we stopped grocery shopping altogether. So I replaced “food” with “worry” in v. 25:

Is not life more than worry…?

Life is so much more than worry!

I am thankful for my friendships with these precious women who encourage one another and me. They add so much joy and love to my life.

I am thankful for a day off with my love after a season of working too hard and missing one another along the way. We walked the beach with our happy dog on a perfect San Francisco day, followed by a spontaneous splurge lunch at a marina-view restaurant.SF dog

I am thankful for an opportunity to serve with one of our church’s mission partners, Harbor House Ministries. All three of my guys have been there more than once, but today was my first time. Our middle school group plus a few parent chaperones served a Thanksgiving meal prepared by church folks; we also built relationships, did a craft, packed up leftovers for people to take home, and cleaned up. I talked with a mom of two darling girls; I don’t easily talk with people I don’t know, but we so easily connected over kids and this blessed place where her older daughter is safely cared for. Tween enthused about the “amazing” place called Harbor House and can’t wait to go back. I got to tag along while my kid’s heart changed. So good!

HH Thanksgiving

Life is so much more than worry. Life is love, encouragement, connection, work and rest in balance, service, and community. Life is our creative response to life’s own twists. Life is our responsibility to create, and life is our creative God’s good gift. He already said, “It is good.” Now it’s our turn.