I Accept Guidance

Of all of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years, this one has been the most difficult. Not so much from a standpoint of turning to others for guidance, but more about accepting help from others and paying attention to the voice inside of me that knows which direction is right for me.

It can be hard to trust that we’re going in the right direction when things don’t seem like they’re not going “according to plan.” Maybe the problem is that we’re following the wrong voice.

Becoming comfortable with the phrase, “I need help,” has been a challenge for me, being honest it still is. I equated the need to ask for help with an admittance of failure; failure to be able to “rise to the occasion” or that I’d had a lapse in judgment and made a mistake. I readily owned up to and learned from mistakes in my work life, but rarely in my personal life.

As a woman who wanted both a professional career and to be a mom, I fell into a huge superwoman syndrome and spent the better part of my adult life trying to “prove” I could do it all. I thought everyone around me had certain expectations and perceptions about who I was and what they thought success looked like for me. As the primary and often-times sole income earner I felt tremendous pressure to perform. My home life was unhappy, so I used work as an excuse to cover up my sadness.

It was a mixed up time in my life and I now realize that during those years I spent my time believing I was living up to expectations that I thought other people had of me, but really I was hiding from life and ignoring reality. I made a lot of poor choices during that time, some of which still affect my life today.

Back then, the mere thought of confessing even half of what was going on and taking responsibility for the poor choices and decisions I made nearly crippled me with anxiety.  My fears spanned the gambit and included everything from being yelled at and perceived as stupid to being rejected by everyone who knew me.

I was only fooling myself

The reality is – the person I was the most dishonest with was me.  I thought I could and should make things right on my own.  I lied to myself and pretended that there was a way out of the mess I was in and that no one would ever have to know the ugly truth.

Little did I know that my pain and struggling was obvious and everyone around me was praying that I would wake up and ask for help. We’ve all been there, watching someone we love struggle and at a loss for how to let them know that they do not have to bear their burdens alone and that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength and of trust.

What I know now is that three things were missing from my life during that time. One is that I was afraid to ask for help and I was unwilling to be honest about what was going on in my life. Two is that I wasn’t listening to my inner voice. Three is that I spent every day doubting the future and without faith that I was truly supported by the universe and everything I need is always provided.

We are Always Supported

Asking for help does sometimes mean admitting you’ve made a mistake and need some help to right the ship. But it also means you have enough confidence in yourself to ask, accept, be grateful for, and do the same in return.

Listening to the voice inside you, the one who really knows what’s right for you might be even more difficult than learning how to ask for help. It gets crowded out by the voice of societal expectations and our perceptions of what we think others expect from us.

Listening to, and following that voice, sometimes requires that we say no to opportunities that don’t “feel” right, even if it will bring in some extra cash or look good on a resume.

Accepting guidance is something that comes from inside us, believing we are on the right path, rolling with and adapting to change, having faith and asking for help when we need it.

 

I Accept My Talents

I wrote the following as a part of my “All is Well in My World” art and journaling project on July 7, almost exactly two years ago from today.

The project was inspired by the teachings of Louise Hay, author of “You Can Heal Your Life.” She has an amazing story and her beliefs are very thought provoking.

She firmly believes that we can heal what ails us through the power of loving oneself and that aches and pains in each part of the body are associated with things like past experiences, negativity, fear, and a lack of self love. Based on personal and very real experiences, I believe there is a great deal of truth in what she teaches. I do believe that our “issues can get stuck in our tissues” and a lack of self love can hold us back by keeping us in a state of shame, fear and believing that we don’t deserve all of the abundance life has to offer.

I’ve recently come to realized that I have a recurring and ongoing fear of the future and money; it stems from a series of life events that began in my early 20’s and contributed to significant feelings of unworthiness and insecurity. I’ve processed, released, forgiven and moved on from many of these memories and as I do, my life becomes richer,I am more at peace and I have faith that the future holds wonderful outcomes for me.

The funny thing about letting go of doubt, anger, resentment, shame, fear and/or sadness that we associate with particular events in our lives, is that those same feelings can resurface when we least expect it. Sometimes they are intertwined with other past events that deepen the grove in our record that keeps us from moving forward, toward our greater good.

More than a few of those feelings emerged this morning, which prompted me to re-read and re-share the entry associated with this affirmation: “I stand tall and free. I love and approve of of me. My life gets better every day.” and “I move into my greater good. My good is everywhere, and I am secure and safe.” ~ Louise Hay

I Accept My Talents

07/7/2014

I embrace my talentsBooming thunder, flickering lights, and a brief power outage caught me off guard tonight. Just as I was settling in to write I could no longer see the keyboard.

Thankfully the power outage lasted only a short time, however the storm is raging on. In an odd way, the sudden squall provided the perfect inspiration for tonight’s thoughts.

Unlike many writers and artists, I wasn’t born with a passion to create, at least not that I was aware of.

When I was young, school systems and teachers considered reading, writing, and arithmetic to be important and subjects like art and creative writing were merely electives best suited to becoming a hobby. The focus of the education system, coupled with the fact that I moved 9 times before I turned 15, and the reality that there were no obvious clues that there was an artist hiding inside led my parents to guide me toward a practical path.

Truth to be told, I was better at math than I was at art and there were very few opportunities to explore writing that extended beyond my interpretations of novels by famous authors like Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edgar Allen Poe, and Henry David Thoreau. I excelled at math, but literature courses were what I enjoyed most.

One of my favorite memories was a weekend field trip to Red Cloud, Nebraska – the home of Willa Cather. I don’t remember any specifics outside visiting her tiny home and afterwards sitting around a campfire talking with my classmates and our AP American Lit teacher. Who knows what we talked about or how much sense we made, I’m sure we thought we were profound.

To be honest, I don’t remember whether or not I actually loved “My Antonia” or pretended to because I wanted to impress my instructor. I do know there was a part of me that dreamed of being the woman, from the middle of nowhere, who wrote a book that both entertained and inspired people to think.

My journey to understanding and accepting my talents began about five years ago, during one of the most difficult times of my life.

In a late night and tear-filled conversation, my best friend challenged me to find a creative outlet as an alternative to escalating patterns of self-destruction.  The next day a flyer for ed2go.com arrived in the mail. The brochure promoted online learning opportunities and the featured area of study was creative writing, an event that I can attribute to nothing other than serendipity.  I registered for a class to learn about how to write romance novels. (who knows  it may still come in handy someday.)

I posted my assignments to the classroom forum using the pseudonym “Lady.” I used the penname for over a year in various 6 week courses before I gained enough confidence to sign my own name to what I wrote. Today I write with confidence both personally and professionally.

In 2012 I dusted off my desire to draw, bought a sketch book, and took the bold step of registering for the Intermediate/Advanced level drawing class through a local organization, The Artists of Yardley.

I was petrified the first day of class.  My one and only “real” class took place twenty-two years prior to that, and I was positive that my place was in the beginner’s class, which had sold out. After conquering my first fear, which was to enter the classroom; I perched in front of the easel stiff and nearly paralyzed, staring at the sunflower we were supposed to reproduce.

Petals, stems, and leaves seemed to fly from the fingers of the other students and they all finished their unique and amazing sunflowers by the end of the three hour class. My pencil drawing took me nearly three months to complete. During each lesson that followed, my instructor encouraged me and helped me see my artwork through her eyes and not through the eyes of a perfectionist (me). Over the past 2 ½ years my comfort has grown and my style has begun to emerge.

It may sound strange, but sometimes when I read something I wrote it makes me cry, other times it makes me laugh. When I look at things I’ve written or drawn as though the creator is unknown, I think things like – “wow, that inspires me.”

Today, I no longer introduce myself as a “want-to-be-writer” or an “aspiring artist.” I own who I am.

Today, I accept, embrace, and am thankful for the talents and gifts I have been blessed with and can share.

Make Art and Share it With the World – The Sidewalk Chalk Project

I grew up in the Midwest and there was nothing better than a warm Spring day to shake off the chill of winter and enjoy being outside. As the days heated up, the countdown for school letting out for summer began. My childhood memories of summer are full of things like sleeping in, chasing fire flies, swimming pools, games of kick the can and decorating the neighborhood with sidewalk chalk.

Not all children are as fortunate as I was, we certainly weren’t wealthy but I always had everything I needed and then some. Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of just how very fine and fragile the line is between those who have and those not.
I can’t say that I’ve experienced it first hand, but I would imagine that summer days are just as easily filled with boredom and feelings of hopelessness rather than joy and lightheartedness if your family is on the verge of poverty.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by what feels like a state of scarcity in our world and to convince ourselves that the problems are too big for us to influence or change.

The Power of One

My friend, Jennifer Broderick, an artist in Ohio is an amazing example of how “just one person” can make a difference. Earlier this spring, a neighborhood with sidewalks decorated with sidewalk chalk art caught her eye, as did the evidence of a lack of financial means. Over the course of a few weeks and more than a few walks, the sight of children playing outdoors and the smiles on their faces was the start of something big.

Toward the end of April, Jennifer posted some pictures of her driveway which was covered in big X’s and O’s; it turns out that she had started leaving packages of chalk and notes of encouragement outside her house to inspire the children in the neighborhood to continue to play outside. Her post motivated more than a few artists from across the country to contact her directly and offer to donate chalk and money to help her with this inspirational project.

Driveway covered in sidewalk chalk
Photo Credit: Jennifer Broderick

A few instant messages later, I placed an order for a package of big, fat pieces of sidewalk chalk in assorted colors and thanks to Amazon’s most excellent product recommendation engine, the order also included a gallon of Miracle Bubbles and a dozen wands. I thought that the bubbles would be a great extra surprise and something the kids would enjoy.

The image of kids playing with the bubbles was so delightful and distracting that I neglected to update the ship to address with Jennifer’s information and the order was on its way to Pennsylvania thanks to Amazon’s exceptionally fast fulfillment process.

Two days later the unopened box occupied the space next to my piano and my intention to send it to Jennifer was thwarted by news that caused an unwelcome turn of events in my own financial situation. In light of my change in circumstance, it seemed like spending money to ship the chalk and bubbles wouldn’t be prudent.

For the next couple of months, I enjoyed following the progress of Jennifer’s sidewalk chalk artists as their works of art transformed her neighborhood into an outdoor art show.

Sidewalk Chalk Heart and Circle Art
Photo Credit: Jennifer Broderick

Project Sidewalk Chalk had evolved from Jennifer leaving sidewalk chalk on her front stoop to a full-blown community outreach project. Throughout the summer, she is attending numerous events to hand out individual packages of chalk to over 300 children within the community. Each donation includes a warm personal note from Jennifer explaining a little about the project and to spread the message: “Remember to be safe, make art and share it with the world.”


In the meantime the sidewalk chalk I’d purchased was still taking up space in my living room and I continued to debate with myself over spending the money to ship it.

What was holding me back? The bubbles. I knew that the shipping cost for the chalk and the bubbles combined would be more than what I had paid for the entire order, it didn’t make sense to pay return shipping on the order for the same reason and so the box continued to take up space.

Last week I had an “aha” moment! The bubbles and the chalk did not have to stay together and if I just shipped the chalk it would be affordable and although my personal situation hadn’t changed it felt like the right way to spend a few dollars. I wrote Jennifer a note, drove to the local shipping store and sent the chalk to Ohio with a prayer of thanks and a smile.

The only thing left was to figure out what an empty nester was going to do with a gallon of Miracle Bubbles and a dozen bubble wands.

Facebook to the Rescue!

I took a picture of the bubbles and accessories and posted it in “Lower Makefield is a Great Place to Live,” the Facebook group for the community I live in.

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Almost immediately a woman from the area responded, “I’d be…I have granddaughters that love bubbles.” I sent her a friend request and an instant message to make arrangements, it quickly turned into an “It’s a small world” kind of moment.

She had been blowing bubbles with her grandchildren a couple of days before; they enjoyed it so much she used up an entire bubble wand and she was planning to buy more before they visited her again. Her youngest grandson is 15 months old and has Downs, she was also using the bubbles as a way to potentially help him to gain fine motor skills by reaching out to grab at them while one or more float in front of him.

As we made the pick up arrangements, we discovered that not only do we share the same zip code, our houses are less than 5 miles apart, her husband was a former patient of my chiropractor and she and her husband did some work with a lawyer who rented office space from my chiropractor when she owned the building. Crazy!

The bubbles are now in the loving hands of a grandmother and her grandchildren. 124 pieces of sidewalk chalk made it safely to Ohio.

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Jennifer privately shared a few pictures of children who had already received their gift; they were adorable! We want to keep them safe, so I can’t share the pics publicly – but I’m sure you can imagine the smiles that surrounded the “Thank You” sign as they posed with their sidewalk chalk for the camera.

Believe in Possibilities

Sometimes it can be tough to believe in positive outcomes, especially if you’re going through a stretch of “bad luck.” Like many people, there have been times in my life that have really tested my faith and my ability to be optimistic.

I’ve always considered myself to be a “cup half full” kind of person, however I’ve come to the realization that there is more to having a positive outlook on life giving lip service to the belief that “everything will be alright,” but letting the chatter in your head control your actions.

One of the many blessings in my life are my parents, they have lived through many difficult situations and have always maintained a positive outlook on life. My dad is a big believer in the power of a PMA, aka – positive mental attitude, and he lives it every day of his life. That’s not to say that there aren’t days that his optimism wavers, he’s human after all.

PMA could also stand for, perseverance means achievement; my dad faces every obstacle head on and somehow finds now to make the word No mean Next Opportunity.

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The drawing is from an art journal that I created as an outlet for my thoughts and emotions and to help me remain focused on the positive as I’ve been working my way through a recent set of challenges.

Near the beginning of this most recent “Adventure,” my friend Marilyn, gave me a beautiful postcard with this very meaningful quote from Art Mitchell – “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

The message really reinforces the way my dad approaches life and never gives up.

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Father’s day seems like perfect time to share a personal story of perseverance and growth, with many thanks to my dad for his unwavering support and for being an amazing role model for all of us. I am deeply grateful for all he has done for me and I know he is a big part of the reason that I am the woman I am today.

A look into the past….

On a warm September day in 2008, I watched the movers load our belongings onto the truck with mixed emotions and a few tears on my face. My thoughts ping-ponged back and forth between sadness and joyful hope. It was difficult to be leaving friends, family, a beautiful home and everything that was familiar and safe.But it was exciting to think about the possibilities that our future in Pennsylvania held.

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When I accepted the job in Pennsylvania, it seemed like nothing could go wrong and the future held nothing but rainbows and unicorns. Maybe I wasn’t quite that optimistic (or unrealistic), but I was really confident that it was the best thing that could have happened for my family and myself both personally and professionally.

We put our house on the market and my seven month commute between Omaha, Nebraska and Philadelphia began. It was a rather grueling trek back and forth, but it offered the opportunity for my daughter to finish out her senior year of high school without moving.

My youngest son was 12, and although I knew it would be difficult for him to move and adjust to a new school, new and very different living arrangements – I was confident that he would be able to adapt and in the long run it would help him grow and develop in positive ways.

Our move to Pennsylvania has been full of new beginnings and life changing events, but not at all in the way I would have imagined them to unfold.

I had landed my “dream job” with a financially sound company, or so I thought. The job was great, but the financial health of the company was not; two months after my start date, they declared Chapter 11. I was scared, but because I was the primary income earner, we had no choice but to move and hope for the best.

The real estate market in Omaha was depressed, just like everywhere else in the country. In spite of St Joseph statues and wonderful real estate agents, we were unable to sell before we moved, which meant that our new home was going to be in an apartment.

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It certainly wasn’t the end of the world, but it was such a major change for all of us and it was not what I had hoped for. My unrealistic and unhealthy belief at the time was that we moved “because of me” so it was my responsibility to make everything perfect and as familiar as possible rather than asking for help and support.

After moving the challenges and obstacles seemed to gain momentum and magnitude.

In those days the voices in my head were working overtime.

I spent every minute of every day worrying. I hashed and rehashed the decision to move.  I beat myself up about the fact that the house back in Nebraska hadn’t sold and we were losing money every month. I speculated about the viability of the company I worked for and whether or not it would emerge from Chapter 11 and if I would be spared from any future layoffs.

I blamed myself for my husband’s unhappiness and deepening depression. I spent hours agonizing about my youngest son Christian and the fact that the ‘normal’ trials of being in eighth grade were amplified by a new school in a new state, being the only child left at home, and having to make new friends – something that is easier said than done when you’re the new kid from Nebraska and you started school almost three weeks late. I wondered if we’d be able to afford to fly my oldest kids, Jeff and Katie, out for occasional visits and I held myself accountable for it all, most of all, for the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to fix any of it.

There was no escaping the voices and daily I slipped further and further into a self-imposed state of emotional isolation. At work I found myself going through the motions and while I interacted with my direct reports, a handful of co-workers, and of course my boss. For the most part, I kept to myself and limited my contact with people to office hours only. I quit calling or even sending email updates to friends, and I talked to my parents and kids only when I thought I could fake a positive attitude.

I had no choice but to drag myself into work every day and do my best to appear upbeat and confident.  As the primary and now sole income earner I couldn’t afford to lose my job and it was the only escape I had from the dreary apartment and my relentless anxiety.  The voices took a back seat for a while every day while I managed my way through the work day. They were always there but just not as loud. By this point in time I’d had years of practice in compartmentalizing my personal life and my work life.  Lessons learned early in my career taught me to keep people at arm’s length and keep my personal life to myself.

Back then I didn’t realize or understand one of the underlying messages my dad lives,believes and had tried to communicate to me – worry doesn’t change tomorrow, it just takes the joy out of today.

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There were so many things I didn’t understand during that time in my life; concepts and practices that would have helped me maneuver more easily through a divorce, the financial strain and embarrassment that accompanied nearly foreclosing on my house and the challenges and blessings of being a single mom in a city half-way across the country from my family and closest friends.

I’ve not only made it through the majority of the initial challenges that came after my move; life is much richer because of them. It sounds strange to say, but I’m actually grateful for them because I’ve learned:

Self Love is the first step…

Self love is not the same as self indulgence or self acceptance. It means that we treat our bodies and our minds well, enjoy the person we are in the present, forgive and release the people and things from our past that hold us back and embrace our future with confidence.

I could write an entire book about the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years; lessons about being present and not dwelling on the past, tools for facing difficulties with positivity instead of catastrophizing and letting the negative chatter in my head control my actions.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned, and the most important one is that we only destroy our selves and sabotage our happiness when we hang on to regrets from the past, refuse to forgive ourselves for being human and compare ourselves to others as a way to measure success.

I suspect my dad finds the whole ‘self love’ thing to be a bit ‘woo woo,’ but I think that’s because he has an innate understanding of the importance of it.

Being Present is the next step…

I have never met two people who are as good at making the most of every experience as my parents. We moved a lot while I was growing up, and each time we moved they approached it as though it was the last place they would ever live and quickly made friends and became a part of the community.

My parents don’t “vacation,” they take trips. Earlier this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Hawaii with them. The entire trip was amazing, but I think if I had to pick, I’d say Wednesday was my favorite day. The last thing I expected that morning was for my dad to announce that he wanted to go zip-lining. His exact words (or close to) were, “I’m going to be 80 this year, who knows when I’ll have another opportunity to go zip-lining, so let’s do it.”

Talk about being present in the moment and making the most of things! I know for a fact that there were plenty of things on his mind that were “worry worthy,” but instead of focusing on things outside of his control, he chose to embrace the moment and experience something new.

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He may sometimes get lost in his own thoughts, but he definitely knows how to live life to it’s fullest and doesn’t let challenges or obstacles weigh him down.

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Believe in Possibilities….

Believing in possibilities is so much easier and rewarding than speculating about all of the possible negative outcomes that may (or most likely not) happen as a result of a current situation.

As Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Many, many thanks to my dad for all he has taught me about the power of positive thinking and the importance of believing in possibilities.

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Letting Go of “Why” and “How”

Serendipity is one of my favorite words – it means a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise”. Lately though, I’ve been thinking more and more about the role faith and the power of conscious intention play in the delivery of “serendipitous outcomes.”

Speaking for myself, it’s easy to say we have faith when things are going well, it’s a different story when things aren’t going our way. During times of smooth sailing, we tend to sit back and just enjoy the ride. We don’t question why things are going well and we don’t try and “fix” things.

But, when the waters get rough, all of the sudden our egos step in and trounce all over faith. Some of us begin to worry relentlessly; we ask, “why is this happening to me?” and begin to plot and plan desperately about the “how” we’re going to make it better rather than asking for help. We forget about all of the times in our past that we were certain there was no hope and seemingly out of nowhere came a serendipitous solution.

One of my favorite personal stories related to this topic is how I came to live in my current house and the series of events that have unfolded as a result.

My youngest son and I were living in an apartment and for a variety of reasons it was really important for us to find a new place to live; we both wanted to find a house to rent. Sounds easy, right? As it turned out, the process took several months and was fraught with many disappointments and a lot of tears.

At the time, the bigger question for me was, “why hasn’t my house in Omaha sold?” It had been over a year since we moved to Pennsylvania and the house we owned was still occupied by renters and I was in no position to buy real estate on the East Coast. I also had a whole lot of “how” questions,  the most pressing were:

  • How am I going to furnish a house? (we sold and/or donated most our furniture before we moved)
  • How will I afford a higher rent?
  • How can I avoid moving for the next 3 years until my son graduates from high school?

I’d have to admit that I was both bitter and angry about the situation at the time. Now I’m sincerely grateful for it.

After more than a few false starts, I received an unexpected text message from my realtor that quite literally changed my life; it said “I believe I have found the perfect house, can you meet with the owner tomorrow morning?”

My landlord is an artist (I’ll get to that in a minute), she not only rented me a nearly fully furnished house – there was just the right amount of space left for my own personal pieces of furniture and everything melded together in perfect harmony. The night after we first met, we negotiated a monthly rent I could afford and I signed a 3 year lease.

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The more interesting part of the story is how meeting her and moving into this house has been a catalyst for my artistic endeavors and profound changes in the way I think. By this time, I’d discovered that I have an ability to write but I had yet to tap into the potential of my visual artistry and I was struggling desperately with the notion of self-acceptance.

The summer I turned 50, my landlord, Jeanne Marie, introduced me to the work of Julia Cameron through the book Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity. As a result, I began to understand that it’s OK to be vulnerable and ask for help – people will still love and accept you.

I began to take chances in new ways like registering for a drawing class and sharing my progress with other people. One drawing class led to another and my style continues to develop and emerge.

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I could go on and on about all of the wonderful experiences I’d have missed if my house in Omaha had sold and I hadn’t moved into the house I’m renting now.

It’s amazing to me that my 3 big “how” questions were answered, and it certainly wasn’t a result of all of my “what iffing” and trying to control the outcome. It also strikes me that somewhere in the deep recesses of my subconscious I must have been hoping and praying for the opportunity to discover my creativity and to find a way to accept and love myself.

Over the past few years, I’ve become much more aware of the peace that comes with letting go of the “why” and the “how.” I’m learning that when we focus on the outcomes we desire rather than the methods by which we think we can achieve them, life is easier and more rewarding.

A few things I’ve come to believe.

  • Asking for help from God, the Universe or from other people is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength and it’s one of the ways that we connect with each other and and it’s one of the only ways that we can hope to receive and/or achieve abundance and fulfill our life’s purpose.
  • We have free will and so do others, perhaps there are times where things in life don’t work out quite the way we think or hope they will and it’s a result of someone else exercising their free will – it happens, we need to accept it and move on. The “why” doesn’t really matter.
  • We think and “pray for” what we “know” is best for us, but we rarely know what we actually need and trying to control the “how” let alone the outcome only serves to limit us.
  • We think a whole lot smaller than we should. Lots of reasons for this, fear of criticism and failure – fear of rejection and ridicule. Truth is our life’s purpose is a lot bigger than we can possibly imagine it to be, if we are open to letting it happen.

The “how” really isn’t up to us and the “why” doesn’t matter.

Start with the bigger picture and worry about the details later

Recently I’ve been learning about composition in creating two dimensional art. It’s not just about how the objects relate to each other, it’s also about how the artist relates to the objects.

The first step is to decide which components of a setting are interesting and intriguing enough to be a part of the composition, then you have to think about how much space you have and how to go about making the most of it.

We’re given an entire canvas to fill so there’s no sense in leaving uninteresting blank spaces around the subject matter.

Once we know what we want to include and maybe more importantly why we want to include them it’s time to start putting things into position  – loosely defining the shapes, locations, and relationships between the objects within the composition.

It’s tempting (for me anyway) to concentrate on one part of a drawing in an attempt to perfect it’s shape and dimension without regard to the larger picture and how it relates to it’s neighbors.

The interesting thing about art is that even the spaces and shapes between the objects are a part of the story and give clues to the artist about the relationships between the objects.

One of my biggest obstacles and sticking points when it comes to drawing is overcoming the desire to draw what I think I should see vs what is really in front of me.

Today’s art class started on time and as usual the small group of students surrounded the subject matter with easels, paints, and pencils. My seat was at an angle which presented a challenge for me.

When I look at something that I know is circular in shape from a head-on perspective that’s how I want to draw it. It’s hard for me to draw the perfect circle as a squished hoop even though that’s how it really looks from my vantage point.

But after some guidance I figured out how to do it. And I began to grasp an understanding of why it’s important to start with the larger shapes and relationships and refine them without immediately jumping into the detail.

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Composing art is actually a lot like life. We often-times get bogged down in the details and worry too much about making one particular aspect of our life “perfect” before moving on.

When we take a step back and consider the entire picture and all that life has to offer, it becomes easier to envision the shape we want things to take and how the different aspects of our life fit together.

My drawing isn’t finished, but there’s a sense of direction and a feeling of progress.

The details are the finishing touches not the starting point.

Every Little Thing is Gonna Be Alright

Three Little Birds Acrylic Painting

It’s almost impossible for me to believe that it’s been 3 months since I first wrote about my 3 Little Birds Project. Where does the time go?! 

How it All Started

It all started with the size and medium that has become my favorite and that I’m most comfortable with. My collection of ink pens and markers is well organized and I’ve also been told it’s also enviable.

Ink Pens

During the months leading up to the 3 Little Birds project, I’d grown extremely comfortable using ink on canvases the size of a greeting card to create a variety of drawings inspired by nature.

Hydrangea Ink Drawing

I was content spending my evenings immersed in this world of comfortable familiarity.

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It was without conscious intention that I branched out slightly in subject matter and a sea of swirling dots and teardrops became the leaves on a tiny whimsical tree.

Tree of Hope
An explosion of color brought the tree to life.

tree of hope

Little did I know, that this small step out of my comfort zone would set the wheels in motion and lead me into an unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating place: a friend of mine reached out and asked me to do a painting for her inspired by this whimsical tree and her anthem, Bob Marley’s song Three Little Birds.

The Facebook conversation went something like this:

S: “Hey. I am inspired! I need something above my fireplace. you can create it!” 🙂

Me: “what are you picturing?”

S: “So my new mantra is three little birds. Bob Marly song. But i need color. Your tree with an inset with 3 little birds in colors would be incredible. Your first commission!”

Me: “omg, my drawings are small.”

S: “You’re going Big!” 30 x 20 at least.”

Me: “holy buckets! that’s big for me, but okee dokee”

S: “Get ready for the big blow up! I’m confident that you got it.”

In some ways it seemed a little crazy to say yes. After all, I had extremely limited experience with painting, had never drawn a bird, and had never drawn anything that big, and it was going to hang over her fireplace for many to see.

I don’t know how to explain it, but although it was scary and intimidating, it was also exciting to think about trying something new, big, and different.

3 Little Birds Come to Life

From the beginning of January to the end of March my dining room table was covered with a bright yellow “Kinder Mess Matt,” aka a plastic table cloth designed to protect nice surfaces from messy craft projects. (designed for children, perfect for me)

Three Little Birds
In the beginning, I stuck with ink to gain confidence in drawing cute little birds and experiment with the color and composition.

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After playing with acrylic paint to decorate the cover of an art journal
3 little birds journal_back cover final
I bought a canvas and spent a few weeks learning what it felt like to work on a surface other than paper, which brushes worked best, and how to recover from mistakes .

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At long last I was ready to tackle the final version. Admittedly, the difference in size between the original and the yet to be completed final version of the tree was more than a bit overwhelming to think about.
Canvas size comparisons
The large version didn’t get off to a smooth start. Thank goodness acrylic makes it easy to completely cover one tree with a layer (or two) of paint and allows the artist to keep on going without having to abandon the canvas.

Now for the fun part, lots and lots of color. I started with red,

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added in some yellow, green, and blue along with the three little birds so they wouldn’t get lost.

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Mia was my faithful art buddy throughout the entire project, although she may have just been interested in keeping an eye on the birds.

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The devil is in the details. Truth to be told, this was my favorite part of the project. I can lose myself for hours in the small but important details.

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A little over two months after I posted the ink drawing that inspired it all I finished the painting,

33_three little birds final on white background

had it packed and shipped to Omaha, NE and it’s now hanging above my friend’s fireplace.

34_3 little birds flew home

The entire project was fun, rewarding, and challenging. It made me stretch in ways that felt uncomfortable at first but ultimately helped me grow and gain confidence.

It was another lesson reinforcing the importance of being open to possibilities and the value of saying “yes” to trying something new even if it scares us.

Perhaps more importantly it was a reminder that there is potential living within each of us that is far greater than we can possibly imagine.

3 Little Birds, the slide show

I wish I could have set the slide show to the Bob Marley tune, but licensing it was a bit out of my price range, so I opted for something free and “sunny sounding.

Beauty Often Emerges in Spite of (or maybe because of) Adversity

For the past week or so I’d been moving along swimmingly and without any creative bumps in my quest to paint a tree and Three Little Birds that will bring peace, inspiration, and happiness to whoever sees it. It’s been a process of figuring out how to scale a 6 x 8 inch ink drawing to a much larger canvas and also how to translate it using a new and unfamiliar medium, not to mention the addition of a new design element, the 3 Little Birds.

tree of hope

Much to my surprise, the sketch came easily and transferring the position of the tree from a vertical orientation to a horizontal one happened naturally.

Three Little Birds

My confidence grew with each brush stroke and the painting began to take shape.

Three Little Birds_02_03_2015

Just when I started feeling really good about the painting and the fact that I hadn’t encountered any obstacles,

Three Little Birds_02_04_2015

I hit a fairly major bump in the road. I was trying too hard to make the red bird perfect. What I ended up with was a serious mess.

In an attempt to erase my mistake and start over, I ended up turning background of the very important space between the blue and green bird into the color that makes you cringe when you take the laundry out of the washer and realize that your favorite red sweater somehow made it into a load of whites. Both the delicate whites and the red sweater are ruined.

Unable to just let it go, I waited for the pink streaks to dry and covered them with a thick layer of white.

Three Little Birds_02_05_2015

Not sure why, but I didn’t toss the painting out. Maybe it’s because of the time I’d already invested or maybe it was because of the vision I had of the finished piece, or maybe it was just plain stubbornness that made me keep going.

I stepped away from it overnight and revisited the situation the next morning. The answer came to me, and while it’s not perfect (because nothing ever is), it’s beautiful and I feel very good about the outcome.

Three Little Birds_02_06_2015

All of the above can be applied to almost any circumstance in life; it’s tempting to just give up when things don’t go according to plan or when life gets messy. But when we hang on and keep trying, even if it’s by our fingernails, things do have a way of turning out.

Sometimes art (and life) doesn’t go quite according to plan.

That’s why we need to be able to take a step back and figure out how to make the best of a situation, even when it looks messy and hopeless.

Almost nothing is as it appears on the surface and almost no one has achieved anything of significance without making and recovering from a mistake or two along the way.

Refrigerator Art

I find that sometimes I draw something in my art journal that I’m thrilled about because it shows progress, but I choose not to share it because it’s so far from perfect.

Tonight my mind wandered to memories of refrigerator art. As children we were proud to have our works of art displayed in one of the most prominent places in the house – the front of the refrigerator.

We weren’t concerned about the fact that the nose was a bit wonky or that the shading was far from perfect, we simply enjoyed the process and we bubbled over with joy about our progress. We were darn proud to have our drawings on display, even the practice pages.

As adults we are often-times afraid to share things we create that aren’t perfect and we’re also reluctant to admit that it required a lot of trial and error to achieve a less than perfect outcome.

practice builds confidence

To take it a step further, I think that as adults, we’re afraid to try new things because we might not succeed.  There’s also a bit of “why bother” if there’s no way to monetize it.

It’s too bad we’re conditioned to think that way because there is absolute joy in learning something new and feeling proud about showing it off the same way you did as a child.

There’s also so much more to art and creativity than trying to find a way to monetize it. It’s a way to touch people’s lives. We commune through words, art, music, food, and nature; it’s how we truly connect with each other as human beings.

Celebrate your inner child and show off your refrigerator art (even the works in progress) off with pride and joy.

fridge art