Prayer and meditation is something I try to do regularly. Some weeks back, I was in prayer and I was asking God about time in my own studio. A question formed in my mind. “Why are you working on someone else’s dream and not your own?” To be honest, this wasn’t what I was expecting. There was a conflict in my life and I expected to be corrected and to be led to a different conversation. Not that I’m perfect and don’t need to humble myself, but through this meditation I discovered the real issue was that I’ve been giving my time and effort in areas that I should have let go of a long time ago.
There was no good answer for the question being raised. I was doing what I was doing out of habit and loyalty. Loyalty to an idea that had nothing to do with my life or destiny.
An attack of diverticulitis has given me time for reflection. At the end of the year I will be making changes to be in my studio full time. I have done full time studio painting before, but this will have a very different focus. Transitions are rarely smooth. But at least that won’t take me by surprise.
The adventure continues.
Focus or lack thereof
September has been quite a busy month. I had hoped to have the worship/creative studio up and running, but it was not to be. Good things and less than good things came up and my time and energy has been spent elsewhere.
One good thing was a trip the the mountains of Pennsylvania to visit friends. A group of siblings were having a reunion and I have been adopted as an extra sister. It was a joyful time and road trips invigorate me in many ways. There are wonderful things to be discovered when staying with locals who know things off the beaten, touristy path and I enjoy driving across this big country.
Another lovely thing was meeting and studying contemporary calligraphy with Carl Rohr. If you’ve ever opened a Kindle reader and seen the brushwork calligraphy, you’ve seen his work. Actually, you’ve seen Carl's lettering on a lot of products and advertisements. He’s a very accomplished man who is approachable and generous in his teaching. He has a passion for lettering that I can’t say I share, but his way of making marks on paper was really fascinating and I hope to integrate what I observed into painting. A big thanks the the Pendragons of Kalamazoo for letting me join them for the weekend.
Other things have also been taking up my time and energy that have nothing to do with creativity or refilling the creative well. In fact, it’s been siphoning off my time and energy for my own studio work. The most I’ve been able to do at my studio is keep the lawn mowed and paint one of the garage windows.
An unexpected conversation brought the realization that I have been sacrificing a lot of time and energy for dreams that aren’t mine, while my own destiny lies waiting and ignored. I am at an age where my time and resources need to be more focused.
Changes are coming. Stay tuned.
I Dare to Dream
When I was around nine or ten years old, my mother told me she’d buy a horse for me if I saved enough money to pay for a saddle. She didn’t look at a tack shop that would have most likely had something more reasonable and better made. She pointed to the Sears catalog and told me that was the goal. As memory serves, it was around $200. An impossible fortune for a young girl who had no allowance, lived isolated on a farm with no transportation to get any sort of menial work. But Mom underestimated my desire and determination.
On the weekends of the school year, and every day during summer vacation, I scoured the ditches of roads and lanes miles around my house. At two cents a bottle, I found every pop and beer bottle in a two mile radius around my farm on foot with a paper bag to transport them home. One day I struck the mother lode. Most likely some teens had been drinking on the back roads and had to ditch an entire case of beer in order to not get caught. They had drunk enough to get sick, however, which made the discovery a mixed blessing. I dragged the case home (I did not have a wagon), washed off the vomit, emptied the rest of the bottles and collected my reward. My saddle jar was looking good.
I dared to dream a horse would be mine.
The money adding up made the adults nervous. It looked like I’d actually reach my goal. There was no excuse about lack of room, since we lived on a forty acre farm. I was chipping away the excuse of having tack. So they came up with a plan. Convince me to put the money in the bank to accrue interest. Of course, not a separate bank account to be able to track progress. Put it in my so called college account. I trusted these people. I followed their advice. The money disappeared and the horse never materialized. In fact, about eight years later Mom took that money and purchased some worthless land in Arizona as a retirement investment. That money did not go to any sort of education for me, nor did the land ever get used for her retirement. In her dementia, she had quit paying taxes on the lot and it went back to the county.
That’s what happened to my dream.
Recently, I dared to dream again. I dreamt that I could have an art studio that would be big enough to create in, have storage, hang art in, have classes in, fellowship in, and worship in. A creative worship studio on the northeast side of Grand Rapids. Something dedicated to both art and prayer. I talked it over with Mike. I made the pitch that it made more sense owning a property rather than paying rent every month for something too small and gave us no value in return. He was on board. We set a budget (albeit small) and started looking.
I dared to dream that things that had been spoken into my life would come to pass.
The realtor I was working with was great and on board with the vision. We looked at a lot of properties. The market is currently overheated and people looking at houses were offering far more than they were worth. Nonetheless, our plan was to steadily and patiently look and not be in a rush. But the political situation affected the markets and suddenly we were no longer in a position to purchase anything. I had dared to share the dream with others, asking them to pray. I had dared to share the dream with the realtor, wasting so much of her time. I had dared to believe the dream could come true.
I could take this failure deep into my heart and decide that dreams aren’t for me. But don’t underestimate my desire and determination. I am taking to heart the quote by Paul Tillich. “He who risks and fails can be forgiven. He who never risks and never fails is a failure in his whole being.”
I will continue to dare to dream.
Show and Tell
I'm happy (overjoyed, actually) to report that I finally finished the restoration project and delivered it. The client is happy, I'm happy...life is good.
Tomorrow, I'm having surgery to remove a plate from my leg that's from an accident I had about five years ago. Not sure what the recovery time will be like, so I can't say when I'll next post. Until then, I'll leave you with the images of the project I just completed.
Whine and Books
I have so much to do. I know you do, too, but this is my whine.
I’m taking the summer off to try to get things done. Work has been slow, so there’s no hardship on my co-workers.
I’ve been frantically trying to work in the studio, edit a manuscript and complete projects in the house. Mike and I were up late last night working on trying to complete an herb garden. We worked until a storm came in – or rather Mike did. I saw it coming, packed up my tools and went to soak in the tub. My husband is a diehard and kept at it.
Even with taking time off, I can’t see how I can get everything done. So when the going gets tough, the not-so-tough play computer solitaire. So much so, that now I have tennis elbow and am getting acoustic compression treatments to get it to heal. I’m not really impressed with myself, to be honest.
It is time for some serious prayer, but I seem to be rather lost even there. Me – the woman who loves prayer, who has spent hours in prayer, and who has received supernatural healing through prayer for crying out loud.
What is up with that?
Fortunately, I’ve stumbled on a book that seems to be helping me find my way again. It’s a work of fiction. I heard the author at a conference at Calvin College and made a mental note that I wanted to read her book. The title is Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown.
It’s the stories of four woman going through a spiritual formation class. I can see bits of myself in each woman. As I read their journey, it’s guiding me back to a place of deeper prayer and contemplation in ways I’d forgotten about. This book is filled with spiritual insights and gentle truths.
I think I’ll set aside my panic attack for now and read another chapter.
One goal for this summer was to take time off work to concentrate on painting in the studio and to write and polish the manuscript of the story of caring for my mother. After a series of fits and starts, it looks as if my time is opening up. Up to this point, there have been a few days off, and then I get called in to work. Last week I filled in all week for someone on vacation. But it looks like I finally have some time off for a bit and can start working in earnest.
Of course, once you sit down to write nothing comes to mind. But I will try.
My last post was about the Freedom 58 Project. I thought I’d post some photos of how the first painting is going. Please keep in mind it is a work in progress and isn't done. But if you aren't a painter, nor have ever seen a painting being developed, I thought you might find this interesting.
(For captions, hover the pointer over the image.)
It is a slow process, but it is coming along. I can tell I'm rusty, but I haven't lost my training completely. There's a parable in here. I'll leave it to you to figure it out.
A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out an email account that I rarely use. Most of the emails were spam and I was deleting entire pages of junk when one message caught my eye. I can’t really tell you why I didn’t delete it with the rest. It was from someone I didn’t know, had an attachment, and the heading wasn’t something that I knew anything about. There was just a gentle nudge on my heart to check it out.
It was from a man named Robert Swenson representing a group called Freedom 58. He had seen my profile on a website I’d completely forgotten about. I had been invited to this group about ten years ago or so and I posted my contact info but never completed a page. Sort of like my LinkedIn or Google Plus profiles. Imagine my surprise when someone actually contacted me from this site (www.christiansinportraiture.com).
Mr. Swenson introduced himself and the ministry he and his wife are heading and asked if I’d be willing to donate a painting to help end human trafficking. I asked my husband if he’d ever heard of Robert Swenson, and he asked, “The All American football player?” Yes, that would be him. A former professional player for the Broncos was contacting me about portraiture for a ministry to work against human slavery. This was getting interesting.
I started researching the Freedom Fifty Eight Project. Part of Freedom 58 is this call to artists to donate their time to paint a portrait of someone who was formerly enslaved. Essentially, creating dignity portraits. Photos and canvases are supplied to the portraitist. The Freedom Fifty Eight Project is looking for a significant number of artists for this project with the hope to develop exhibits to showcase the problem. The art exhibits are dedicated to raising awareness about modern day slavery and other forms of violent oppression. The secondary purpose of the exhibits is to drive people to the web site www.Feedom58project.com for more information, resources and opportunities for action.
Once I realized this was a legitimate organization and request (as opposed to the “Dear Beloved, help me move money out of this country/ministry” scam), I contacted Mr. Swenson to ask more questions. He was very helpful and soon I found myself volunteering to paint not one, but two portraits.
Here are some things you may not know about modern day slavery…
There are 30 million slaves today
Human Trafficking is a $32 Billion Industry
2 million women and children are trafficked annually
Human Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world
Children as young as 6 years old are being trafficked
A large box containing photo reference materials, return postage labels, and canvases arrived this past weekend and Tuesday I laid in the first layer on one of the portraits. As I was painting this lovely young woman who radiates dignity, I found I was praying over her. It had been a lovely day.
This is a unique opportunity for artists to give the violently oppressed the first taste of dignity, beauty and hope through their own God given gifts and passion - in the form of a painting. To participate and to get more detailed information on the vision and opportunity please email Bob Swenson at email@example.com. To learn more about Freedodm Fifty Eight Project, go to http://www.freedom58project.com/about-us/purpose/
I hope you’ll join me in supporting this cause, and I hope you’ll share this information with others.
Art and Grace
Clearly, I was not operating at full capacity this morning. I was an hour and a half late to meet my friends for breakfast, my hair looked like a scarecrow, and I was lost in an area that was familiar to me. My mind was saying over and over, “I'm an idiot.”
After sending a quick text that I was lost and getting my bearings again, I thought about the negative chatter in my head and decided that wasn't going to define who I was. Yes, I had made several mistakes this morning. It just shows I am human. I decided to re-frame my situation. I'm not an idiot – I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection. It has been a rough month, a tough year, and being kind to myself is the wisest thing to do.
It is a testament to my choice of friends, that Don, Dawn and her daughter were gracious and humor filled at my late entrance. Even the waitress cheered as I came in and I felt well loved. After quickly catching up and gulping down a cup of oatmeal, we moved on to the main purpose of the day: clearing out some of Jan's studio.
Jan has been gone for over a year now. It is time to start downsizing the studio. Some of the cabinets will be going to Dawn, some of the art materials will be going to grandchildren, some will be donated, and still other things will have to be thrown away. I was given some things for my studio – a portfolio with Jan's name on it, a painting apron, some paint supplies that we used at some workshops we attended together – mementos. Some things I took because I couldn't let go. What am I going to do with a big box of canceled stamps? Collage? Stamp collecting? I really don't know, but I could just picture Jan thinking of projects to use them for and I had to keep them.
As a group, we did quite well. Each of us teared up over different things, and the others would offer hugs for comfort. We filled Dawn's van (which is the same van that Jan and I did some camping trips in many moons ago), put some things in my car, and we were done for the day. We will be back at it after Thanksgiving.
I zipped home to meet my husband and take care of some banking issues. It is now late afternoon and I have some time to sit and think and reflect. My day was filled with grace and art. Grace and Art were the names of Jan's parents. There's a lovely symmetry to that.
I need a studio. It is an ongoing frustration of mine. When I was doing art for competitions and galleries, my husband created a studio in our basement. We installed color corrected lighting so that it was brightly lit no matter what time of day I was working. It wasn't perfect, but it worked well enough.
When I began to care for my mother, it was soon apparent that we'd have to move her to our city, and with that move came a lot of things from her house that we put in the basement until the time we could make better decisions. Ten years later finds me with a basement full of things I need to attend to and no studio space. As I started to sift through Mom's belongings, we once again were coming into a season of care giving and we moved Mike's parents to Grand Rapids. Again, we moved boxes of things into the basement to be dealt with at a later date.
After a few false starts in looking for studio space outside the house, I realized that I was going to have to bite the bullet and tackle the basement. I sorted through photos and memorabilia, sent things to various cousins, and barely made a dent. For a time, I gave up.
Lately, though, there have been stirrings in me. I've started refinishing a cabinet that's taking up a lot of space and there is light at the end of that particular tunnel. So much so, that I started rushing the finish on the last side of the cabinet and ruined it. After mulling over how to fix it, I realized I had to strip it down and start over. Twenty years ago, I would have plunged into anger, frustration and despair. Now, I just pray and ask the Lord to teach me through this experience, which is a much better way to go.
I've spent the morning stripping and sanding and reapplying the base coat surface. I've just sprayed the first layer and it is beautiful. Better than it was before.
It struck me how often I have to go back to the beginning. I fight against it (after all, I've already done whatever it is I have to start over), but if I do start over, the results are better. Which reminds me of when I had finished my art degree and was considering graduate school, but also considered an apprenticeship. I approached a professional portrait artist with my portfolio and degree in my hand to convince him to take me on as an apprentice. As he finished going through my portfolio, he looked at me and said, “You are woefully inadequate in the fundamentals.” Woefully inadequate. Yep. That's what he said.
I could have been offended. I could have looked for a different teacher or continued on to graduate school. Instead, I chose to start over and became a much better artist for it.
When you read scriptures, you find that God often speaks in metaphors. How often, I wonder, do I recognize the metaphors He's speaking into my life?
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.