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Love Can Win

Posted on August 17, 2017 by Sarah Stevens | 0 Comments

I sat blankly staring at the screen of my laptop off and on for hours yesterday. I was frozen with indecision of how to write this blog.  I wasn't sure where or how to start so that I convey my heart of hearts and don't offend or anger people. Instead I wanted to be say some things that are hard, heartfelt, and honest. But because of the current divisiveness in our country I had no idea how to achieve the result I hoped for. So, after some prayer and watercolor art therapy I just started typing... sharing my heart and I hope that you all accept it with the intent it comes with. If you know me at all I think you will. Here goes.....

I am more and more troubled by things that are happening in our country and the leadership we are receiving from the top office of this land.  I do truly understand some things and don't understand others.  

 

What I understand:

I understand that a large part of America couldn't vote for Hillary Clinton for good reason. 

I understand that a large part of America feels frustrated with the politicians in DC and want a voice that sounds different.

I understand that a large part of America feels we need someone who will bring jobs back to America.

I understand that a large part of America are feeling like they have been forgotten and uncared for.

I understand that a large part of America like the idea of a savvy business person vs a polished politician for our President.

I get it.. I really do.  I actually have many of the same general feelings.  

 

What I do not understand:

I don't understand that a large part of America is ok with their president not wanting to help people who have been forced out of their homeland.

I don't understand that a large part of America is comfortable with their president commenting on the body of a foreign leader's wife or lewdly eyeing a female reporter in the oval office.

I don't understand that a large part of America is fine with their president playing nuclear war chicken with a crazy tyrannical dictator.

I don't understand that a large part of America is satisfied with their president's disrespectful tweets that lack integrity and high character.

I don't understand that a large part of America is quiet when their president doesn't preside over us all in genuinely and swiftly denouncing evil hate-filled groups who protest, chant inhuman things, carry a swastika flag and intentionally use a car to kill a human being.

 

This is not a right issue.  This is not a left issue.  This is a human issue.  

This is not about Democrats.  This is not about Republicans.  This is about Humans.

This is not about political talking points.  This is about human listening needs. 

We should never condone the actions of anyone to chant "They will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Blood and Soil" ever.  

We should never excuse anyone to use a vehicle to run over a human being.

This is not in line with the teachings of Jesus. This is not, in any way, living out the Gospel.  This is not the heart of God. 

We should all be horrified by these things.  

 

Folks, honestly, I am sad that we are not hearing much from a whole segment of people. I know many good, wonderful, moral folks who voted for Trump and raised their voice when they didn't agree with things Hillary Clinton said or did. They were loud when they thought she had done illegal and immoral things. They were vocal when they didn't like things about President Obama's healthcare program and many other things. I understand these things. But what I don't understand is why they are now quiet when the current leader is behaving in ways that the kind of high character that they demand of themselves and other leaders in the past.  

When someone the likes of David Duke praises the comments and actions of our president and the president doesn't immediately say "I do not side with this man. David Duke does not represent anything that I stand for.  He speaks for evil and I am against that." I am repulsed, worried and incredibly saddened.  

When our president tries to level the playing field and equalize Nazis and White Supremacists with people who protest their hatred-filled stances I am disgusted. I understand that the anti-protesters fought back and used some forms of violence as well and I DO NOT condone that at all. I actually feel it doesn't do any good to fight hate with hate.  So, even though I am not in agreement with the methods I could never, ever, ever put those people on the same plane as those who want to wipe out all humans who are not white.  Never.  And I will not be silent about it either. I am a white Christian woman and I believe that black lives matter, Jewish lives matter, Hispanic lives matter, gay lives matter, Muslim lives matter, and ALL lives matter. I will not stand silent in the face of hatred and evil.  I will not. 

 

Now I sit here staring at my screen uncertain that it is a good idea to hit "publish".  I worry that you will read this and hear anger and vitriol, not the sadness and concern that are my reality.  I worry that you will read this and discount it because you feel I am a "right-winger" because I like Jesus.  I worry that you will read this and write it off because you feel I am a "left-winger" because I care about immigrants, the LGBTQ community and other "left" things. This is distressing.  I am unsure about letting these thoughts go out into the universe. However, I believe LOVE CAN WIN.  But love can only win if we speak & act in love. Out loud.  So I want you to hear my heart. BUT... I also want to hear from YOU. I want to hear from you all who voted for him but might be disappointed. I want to hear from you all who voted for him but might be angry at his handling of things like Charlottesville.  I want to hear from you all who voted for him but might be frightened by his impulsiveness. I want you to say "I agree with him on many issues and back his policies and hope he moves forward with the great economic plan I voted him in on but this behavior is unacceptable and has to stop". I want to hear you say that you hold this president accountable for the immoral things he has done much like you did previous presidents you felt were lacking character.  I want to hear you speak and act with love. 

I am saddened by all the events in our country and the world.  But I am absolulety heart broken by the silence when it comes to the moral pulse of our land.  


May you be a strong voice for the morality and honor of the USA.

May you speak up when the world needs to hear it.

May you understand (and share) my heartbreak. 

May we never see the hatred of Charlottesville again. 

 

 

A Reason To Sing

Posted on June 06, 2017 by Sarah Stevens | 0 Comments

One year ago today, at high noon, I sat in my super cool mom van {don't laugh!}, sobbing and yelling... at God.  I had just left an appointment that was the last ditch effort to find any stinkin' thing to relieve my pain caused nerve damage done during the surgery to remove a portion of my kidney.  The caring, good-hearted acupuncturist had just told me, with kindness and sadness, that if the 6 treatments we had already done had not changed the pain in the slightest that continuing would be futile.  They had not changed it.  Not one bit.  So, I left the office, went to my car and melted into a puddle of tears that had been held in for a long time.  The normal Sarah-sized strength, courage and hope were washed away in that moment.  I sat there for what felt like hours while many cars creeped by my car with their drivers looking at me to see if I was leave the parking spot. Tough beans people, I was slightly frozen by this tough life news so just move on people! Move on. ;)


I turned on the car, finally, and my phone's Spotify playlist, titled "Restore The Joy" filled the car with glorious sounds and inspiring words.  I can still remember the song playing at the time.  It was All Sons and Daughter's Reason to Sing. These are the words that were divinely chosen to be playing in this moment:

When the pieces seem too shattered to gather off the floor
And all that really matters is that I can't feel You anymore
Is that I don't feel you anymore.
I need a reason to sing, I need a reason to sing
I need to know that You're still holding the whole world in Your hands
And I need a reason to sing. 
When I'm overcome by fear and I had everything I know
If this waiting lasts forever, I'm afraid I might let go.
I'm afraid I might let go.
Will there be a victory?  Will You sing it over me now?
Your peace is the melody. Will You sing it over me now?
I need a reason to sing.


A breathtaking pure peace took control of that space in my mom van.  The words of the song were like a healing balm.  I went from screaming at God in anger and frustration to praising Him in gratitude and hope.  This sweet spirit-filled voice inside of me said "you need a reason to sing".  I knew that I needed to find something new in my life that would help me rediscover the voice within me that could sing songs of joy instead of groans of pain.  

So, while rubbing off the ugly streams of mascara, looking in the vanity mirror, I tried to think of something that would be fresh, creative and beneficial to my soul.  My very first thought was "maybe I could try that hand lettering stuff"!


You see, many months before, on the day that I learned that the post op pain that wasn't going away wasn't normal and that it was actually permanent, chronic nerve pain, I took a drive out on the country to clear my head.  I stopped that same mom van on the top of a Wisconsin rolling hill and got out to take in the beauty.  I took a photo and posted it on my business {Cellar Designs} Instagram account with lyrics of a Bethel Music song that was playing in my van while I stood outside. I posted the lyrics as the caption alongside my photo...


Then a funny thing happened.  Some strange guy posted a 2 word comment that ended up changing me forever... even if I didn't realize it at the time.  Stefan Kunz wrote "wow, amazing".  I didn't know who this was and I definitely didn't have many people outside of family and friends commenting on my posts back then so it stood out.  I clicked on his name and saw this amazing feed of beautiful, inspiring lettering!!  I scrolled through his posts for quite awhile in amazement and awe. I hit "follow" and didn't have any understanding of how important that click would be for me.  

 

In the months to come I was inspired by his art and followed just about anyone he talked about.  He lead me to some extraordinary hand lettering artists who have been a big part of the fabric of my life ever since.  I would watch some of their process videos and be mesmerized by the fluid motion of their pens or brushes and it instantly calmed my spirit. It was like therapy. 

 

So, back to that moment in my mom van outside of the sweet acupuncturist's office... When I had that thought to try hand lettering it was a result of that one day standing outside of the same van, listening to a different but equally powerful song, taking a picture to share with the world and somehow be seen by Stefan Kunz.  I had already been using hand lettering as a therapy of sorts and now seemed the perfect time to try this art for my own live-and-in-living-color prescription for the pain. 

 

I drove immediately to Hobby Lobby and walked in with my tear stained face and searched the store for items I knew nothing about.  As I wandered aimlessly through the aisles the sounds of Mercy Me's Flawless floated above me. 


No matter the bumps
No matter the bruises
No matter the scars
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless


I finally found some bright colored ink, a Pentel Aquabrush and some mixed media paper.  I went directly home to my walnut stained kitchen table and unpacked my new medicinal tools.  And started something new...

 

I write this today because this morning I opened my Time Hop app and saw that today is ONE YEAR exactly from that day crying and yelling at God in my mom van outside of the last chance for pain relief.  ONE YEAR ago today I started to hand letter.  ONE YEAR ago the Holy Spirit filled my minivan sanctuary with the words I needed to hear. ONE YEAR ago today I chose a therapy method that had been in my life through others for almost a year.  


And today........ {here comes the real goose bump moment folks!}.... at 7pm registration for my FIRST ever hand lettering workshop opens!  I had no idea that when I chose today as the day to go live that it was one year from the day I decided to start teaching 
myself the very thing I will now educate others with.  


I believe, with my whole heart, that this was not a coincidence but the work of my loving Father who saw I was hurting and placed things in my life that could help heal and bring me joy.  This is the photo I posted one year ago and it clearly is a message of hope that became a truth filled outcome.

And the art of hand lettering and the community of beautiful people I have found there has helped me to restore the joy every day since.

 

Folks, listen up.  If you are in a season of crying and yelling about the pain or heartache you have let me tell you that there is a way across that murky pond.  There have been lily pads set out for you to walk gingerly on to slowly get to the other side.  My lily pads were Bethel Music, Stefan Kunz, the hand lettering community of Instagram, All Sons and Daughters, Hobby Lobby, Mercy Me, and a year of daily therapy with a new found passion.  None of this is coincidence.  All of it is from God.  He lays those lily pads out for us, lets us scream at Him, holds our hand as we navigate our way across the pond and gives us reasons to sing again. 

 

May you have hope that if you have a moment of crying and yelling that you feel the flood of grace that I did.

May you pay attention to the messages in songs and words of encouragement from others as they very well might be part of the lily pads of hope God has laid out for you.

May you discover something new that brings joy to yourself.. and maybe others! 

Foggy Glasses

Posted on January 11, 2017 by Sarah Stevens | 0 Comments

Divided. Polarized. Separated. Disconnected. 

America today.

Do you feel this? Do you see this? Do you scratch your hair and shake your head when you experience this? I know I do. I want it to change. Desperately.

Undivided. Balanced. United. Cooperative.

America... one day. Hopefully.

There is lots that has to happen for this second set of words to become some of the descriptors used when one asks to define America.  Lots has to happen, but I want to talk about just one thing that needs to change to make way for this.... 

We have to be brutally honest about our own bias. 

Folks, listen.  We are all biased when it comes to which "side" of things we land on.  We all believe so firmly in what we hold dear that we often put on the fogged up glasses when looking at a situation, thus our view of it is not quite as clear as it could be.  We tend to let these lenses get smudged lots from taking these glasses on and off all the time, which makes our view even more cloudy.

 

 

Here is what I mean....

Glasses off: A woman sees a teen making fun of someone because they look different. She is saddened and angry.  For weeks she tells her friends about it with frustration, passion and indignation.

Glasses on: The same woman hears a city council member she supported, in the last election, telling lies about a colleague at a meeting.  She looks past this unfortunate choice of behavior and defends the council member to friends when at dinner that evening.  

Glasses off: A man listens to a friend at lunch admit his unfaithfulness to his wife.  He is loving but firm when he advises his friend that this is wrong and tells him to stop.  He offers to meet regularly with his friend to be accountable with each other because he too has things he needs to work on.

Glasses on: The same man hears of the infidelities of an athlete that plays on the team he has been a diehard lifelong fan of.  Although he is saddened by this news he tells friends that it doesn't affect his ability to play the game and that it is his private life and none of his business.

 

These glasses can muddy our view of things.  They can also be a crutch we cling to when the people we admire or hang out hopes on disappoint us.  We reach for them when we feel our heart tugging and pulling our conscience away from where our feet have been firmly planted because we want to stay where we believe we should be.  This pair of spectacles can cause us to loosen up a bit on the core characteristics we live by normally.  They cloud our judgment and blur our otherwise clear vision.

I have a pair of these glasses.  I used to wear them often.  Long ago.  When Bill Clinton became President of the United States back in 1992 I was one of the millions who voted for him.  I agreed with where he stood on some issues, and didn't agree on others.  But there were a few issues back then, while I was a young mom with 1 little I was chasing after, that held more weight for me when deciding who to vote for.  I liked him and liked the change I felt he was going to bring.  So I was a Clinton backer.  When the news of his affair with Monica Lewinsky hit I was stunned.  I was saddened. I was disgusted.  But I searched for those glasses in the back of a kitchen junk drawer and put them on my face.  I brushed aside this indiscretion and said it was his personal business. I continued to move the glasses up and down on my nose and smudged them more each time.  I forged ahead with my support of this man and dismissed the importance of his actions. 

I was confused.

I was immature.

I was wrong.

I should never have compromised my own character because I wanted to continue to be "on that side". I should never have pardoned behavior because I wanted to appear consistent and "right to have chosen him". 

I should have said what my heart was whispering.  I should have spoken up. I should have been grown up and admitted that someone I put my trust in had let me down.  

Just to add this... I did not vote for him the 2nd term.  I took the glasses off in time for the election.

This is what we need more of.  When people on one side of the aisle grab their glasses and look through the messy lenses they aren't being honest. The spectacles aide in the spin game.  It is easier to shift the focus off the thing that normally would have our panties in a wad if it was our child behaving in this way!  Both sides do this.  Civilians, politicians, journalists, me, you.  All of us.

If we are all honest, we are foggy glasses wearing Americans.

It is time to get out the glasses cleaner and a nice little soft rag.  Let's mist them a bit with the spray bottle {or breathe heavy on them like we did "back in the day"} and start to wipe them clean.  It's ok to say "I still believe in the policies of that senator but I am saddened, disappointed and quite frankly, disgusted by her behavior.  She was wrong and I am unhappy.".  It is acceptable to say "I can't believe what he said and am appalled.  I continue to hope that the changes he promised will happen but, for cry eye, this is not cool.".  

The minute we all start to do this... on both sides of the seemingly impenetrable divide.... we can start to heal.  Folks, if we can see that someone over yonder on the other side is saying that they also feel the same way about a behavior or action, then we start to believe that there is common ground... it comes from common character.  If our feel stay firmly planted in good character and it is shared then we can work together better.  This doesn't mean we agree on everything, but that we start our walk every day from the same foundational piece of land. 

America. Home of the FREE & the BRAVE.

Let's all be brave enough to say when we know something is wrong. Let's all be free enough to express it in a respectful way with the hope of bridging the gap. 

And listen, folks, some of you may be thinking "she is just upset with Donald Trump and the fact that he won" and I understand that you would think that.  Honestly, while that is true for me personally, this is about so much more than just this one election.  This is about a ever growing cavernous divide when it comes to politics, religion, environmental issues, social issues and much more.  This is about every election from City Alderman to Mayor and from Governor to President.  This is about having a moral compass and being willing to be as upset with "our" candidate as we all are with "their" candidate when they do something erroneous or disgraceful.  

We have to be brutally honest about our own bias. 

 

May you read these words with the fair, solution-searching heart they were written with.

May you look carefully at what you stand for and what you won't stand for.

May you be willing to be honest and say something is wrong even if it hard to do. 

May we heal as a nation and take the steps necessary to do just that. 

I'm with Hope.

Posted on November 06, 2016 by Sarah Stevens | 3 Comments

I usually am quiet about who I vote for.  I usually feel this is a private matter.  I usually feel strongly about one candidate but if my choice doesn't win I accept and respect the one who does.  I am having trouble with doing any of these this year. This election has changed America. This election has changed our democratic process.  This election has changed me.  

Let me give you a bit of history... I am going to let you in on something I have told very few people... who I have voted for. Yikes!  I am a registered independent. I am a strong Christian woman who leans both ways on many issues. I have never been a single issue voter because I don't feel that is fair. In the end my vote usually relies on my assessment of a candidate's character and worthiness of the highest office of our country. Every election I listen carefully, look at their platforms, check impartial sources, tune into my intellect and listen to my heart.  I have voted for the senior George Bush, but not the junior George Bush. I have voted for the 1st term Bill Clinton, but not the 2nd term Bill Clinton. I have voted for Reagan, but not for the ticket that had the 1st woman VP candidate. I have never voted straight ticket. Ever. I have voted not as a Republican, or a Democrat... but as an American.  

I was brought up in a home where my brother, sister and I didn't know who our parents were voting for. They kept all their "kitchen commentary" neutral. They said good and bad things about each candidate. When we would ask who they were voting for they said that that was private. It was, at the time, maddening. I just wanted to know what my parents thought because I respected them {even though I probably didn't tell them that ;) }. But now, looking back, I am so grateful they chose to lead us like that. They positioned us to be adults who discovered our own political identity.  I know many parents are very vocal in their homes and not coincidentally their children vote the same as their parents do in their elementary school mock elections. They never really learned to explore their own views. I am grateful that I was allowed the opportunity to do so. 

So, I come to this year's election a very independent, open minded voter.  It was clear very early on that the Democratic candidate would either be Hillary or Bernie. And I was eager to see who the Republicans would have to choose from. I loved seeing 16 people step forward to run on that side. I wasn't "in love" with anyone.. on either side. But mainly because many were relative unknowns and I had lots to learn about and listen to. As much as politics can give me a headache, I absolutely love the fact that we have this PRIVILEGE to vote in our country.  I am proud that I live in a country that values the voice of the people and honors their collective choice.

This year has made me so.... Embarrassed for America. Disheartened about people's desire to be public servants. Frustrated with our inability to demand answers about policy in place of the propaganda.  Angered by the disrespect shown to others & the absence of consequence. Heartbroken for the fading strength of the democratic process. Dumbstruck by what people let slide. Sad, just plain old sad. 

I voted 2 weeks ago as an early voter. I love election day! I look forward to wearing the sticker and the energy of that day. Seriously folks, I get a bit choked up on the 2nd Tuesday of November every 4 years. I put such a high value on that privilege and it touches me every time to see the people of America using their voice. But...sadly, November 1 brought surgery to my silly torn tendon and I knew I wouldn't be ambulatory enough for my polling place. So, I went to our local village hall and went straight to the tables {because I was the only one there} to chat with the lovely women who volunteer to ensure the voting is done legally and correctly. I marked my ballot and got my sticker. I walked to my car... and still got a little choked up. 

So, now you know my voting bi-partisian record. You know my upbringing. You know my current emotional status. But what you don't know is my decision for 2016. Here it is.....

I voted for Hillary Clinton. I, a gal that I am sure many in my little town call "churchy", relied on  my faith, my gut, my conscience and what I believe in to cast my vote. Even though Hillary has never been my favorite, my choice was ABSOLUTELY CLEAR. Here are just a few of my many reasons...

I thought about the 3rd party candidate and was leaning his way until I heard a few interviews. Gary Johnson didn't know what Aleppo was, or even that it was a "where" not a "what". He couldn't name a single world leader who he respected. These things are deal breakers. If he, as a candidate doesn't know anything about the besieged Syrian city or can name one leader in the entire world then he is not ready to be President of the United States. 

I thought about the email fiasco of Hillary Clinton. This is a tough one because it was a huge error in judgment. It weakens my trust for her a bit. I also learned that she is not the first, or last public official to do so.  And at the same time that I wish that she would show us her human side, I acknowledge that the minute she does, because she is a woman, it will be ripped apart as being over-emotional and not stable. I believe that she is a steady, smart, dignified, experienced person. The fact that she is a woman does not have weight in my decision, but it is a bonus. The fact that America might have had their first Black and first woman president is something I feel we can be so proud of. The tipping point for me was when Colin Powell, a conservative man who I would vote for in a hot minute, endorsed her. He knows her very well and has many things he does not like about her but he is clear in his feelings that the other choice is not even considerable.

And I have thought way more about Donald Trump that I wish I had.  He has been in the forefront of the news for well over a year.  What I know of him comes from what he says and what he does. I haven't been swayed by anyone's "spin" because there has been no need for spin.  His words are already so ugly and crystal clear that no spinning is necessary.  This man is unworthy of the respectable, dignified, honorable office.  If Hillary Clinton or any other candidate had said even 2 of the 100s of things that he has said their campaign would be dead in the water.  But Donald Trump is thriving because he has touched that shockingly hateful part of many of our hearts and stirred it up.  He has fanned the flames of many people's fears. He has spoken outloud the outlandish offensive hateful things that sadly some people actually feel themselves.  He is a racist, sexist, egocentrist man. He has run his campaign on fear, hate, distrust, mean-spiritedness, disrespect, rudeness, disdain and disunity.  He has changed the political process that I love into a side show.  He is a cancer that is invading the foundational goodness of our country. 

I just have to listen to my wise, compassionate, sensitive, loving 11 year old to know the answer.  Noah has said things like....

"He is a bully. If any of my friends said something like that we would be sent to the principal's office."

"He just doesn't get it.  If he loses he has to be ok with Hillary Clinton being President.  That is how America works."

"Why would he make fun of someone's disability? That is awful. He should be grounded."

"It isn't nice to call someone a pig or ugly. He is so mean."

This is not what I want my child, or any of our children, hearing the president of their country saying. Noah understands bullying. He has been a victim of it a few times in his short life. He knows how it feels. He understands that there is zero tolerance for it in his school. And he feels the same should be true for our country. Zero tolerance. 

As a mom, I can not vote for someone who I would not allow to have spent time with or cared for my children.

As a woman, I can not vote for someone who has a clear disrespect for me and all women.

As a Christian, I can not vote for someone who consistently, and unapologetically, behaves nothing like Jesus.

As a human, I can not vote for someone who easily, and to be honest, quite gleefully and unashamedly, is plain old unkind.

As a sexual assault survivor, I can NOT vote for someone who bragged about forcing women to kiss him and violating and assaulting them by grabbing their private, sacred, personal parts. 

I. Can. Not.

But I am not in control of this election and I do not know what the result will be. But what I do know is that I trust in a God of hope. I cling to the belief that no matter what happens Tuesday that He will still be sovereign on Wednesday...and all days.

I hold out for hope. I place my confidence in hope. I am convicted by hope. I am dependent on hope.  

I vote for hope.

 

May you exercise the privilege to vote, no matter who it is for.

May you understand the awesome gift that voting is.

May you work toward healing the divide
that has been caused by this election.

May you vote for hope.
 





Mess or Masterpiece

Posted on May 18, 2016 by Sarah Stevens | 3 Comments

 

A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black,
because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.

-Leonardo da Vinci

 

For a few years, online, I creepily stalked a beautiful southern woman with a great talent for painting.  I had been tipped off to her gifted ability by another blogger.  I can remember the first photo I saw of one of her paintings.  It was of a chapel in Alabama where a vendor market was going to be held.  One look at her painting and I FELT the spirit of that church.  It was like I could see the soul of that holy sanctuary in her choices of color, tone and light.  I prayed, right then and there, that one day I would be lucky enough to hang a piece of her art in my home.  

On June 25, 2015 at 7:52am, I hit send on an email to Ruthie Carlson, the amazing artist who would affect my view of life in the months to come more than she could ever know.  I told her how much I admired her work and requested a price quote for a commissioned piece of art.  She replied with her normal fee but also said that she loved my work {WHAT?! This extraordinarily creative woman liked MY art?} and suggested that maybe we could consider a trade. I was honored that she would even want a sign from Cellar Designs but also so very humbled.  This started us off on a unexpected friendship.  We connected on art, motherhood and our shared deep faith in God.  We prayed for each other while creating the artwork that would reside in the other's home. I have gained so much from this new relationship with Ruthie.  But I have learned so much more from her painting. 

Learn lessons from a painting?  You are doubting that it can happen....but don't you know me better than that by now?  I find lessons for my life in stone arches, brick mortar, and old buildings OH MY!  So why, in the world, are you surprised that I have discovered something meaningful in a painting?  Besides, when it is the first and last thing I see when I wake up or go to sleep at night it was bound to have had some kind of affect on me!

Ruthie's painting sits atop our mantle in our family room.  My talented husband made a frame for it out of 2 different kinds of reclaimed barn wood.  It depicts a setting that is a real life spot that I see on our travels up to my favorite place in the world, Door County, Wisconsin.  On the left side of the highway there is a little white, simple church that sits in a field of green grasses and trees.  All alone. The crisp white contrasts with the millions of shades of green surrounding it. And the sky. Oh for the love, there is always the most beautiful sky above it...sometimes bright blue and sometimes a gorgeous silvery gray. This church has always spoken to my soul in an unexplainable way.  Ruthie captured this inspiring feeling in the painting she created for me.  Her painting is genius. A masterpiece. 

 

 

But it wasn't until I took it off the mantle that I saw it.  Something intrigued me and set me off on a study that would be rewarding.  

I had taken it down so I could paint a new color on the wall.  I leaned it up against the sliding glass door in our kitchen.  It was a beautiful sunny day and as I walked away I noticed out of the corner of my eye that half of the painting looked darker than the other half.  The light from the sun was streaming through it and was backlighting the painting in a way that changed what it looked like. The light made it possible to see all the layers of paint that were unrecognizable before.  I was stunned about what {sorry Ruthie!} a complete mess it looked like! It seemed like there was dark red in some areas, golden yellow in others, drip marks all over it and nothing looked even or balanced.  I thought maybe she had made several mistakes before finally painting it the way she was happy with. Why would only half the painting be red?  Did she change her mind and stop painting the red?  Did she spill paint on the canvas?  I was so curious....

 

 

 

So, I texted Ruthie and she was happy to explain. She taught me about underpainting.  An artist will paint a layer of color first that helps them to achieve the best tone for the final look.  It is used to achieve optimal tonal unity and helps to establish value relations from dark to light.  She told me that she wanted the little white church to have gorgeous cool whites and grays so under it she chose to underpaint with a warm yellow.  And the green grassy and treed area was to eventually be rich warm tones so she underpainted with a cool red.  Under the finished product was layers of seemingly odd choices that worked in direct contrast to the desired final look.  She didn't have to be neat or have clean lines with the under painting.  She had to know the end result and goal so that she could guide the painting through the layers upon layers of color to achieve her vision.  She had to be content with the paint dripping, uneven color, and overall chaos of the underpainting coats. She trusted that the layers of "wrong" choices would be exactly what the painting needed to become the emotion-producing, magnificent piece of art.

I have spent months pondering what Ruthie taught me about the art of underpainting...or imprimtura as it is known in the art community.  Here is what I have come up with.....

We all have underpaintings.  They are an integral, necessary part of who we are.  

Some of us have had tragedy fall on us.....dark red underpainting.
Some of us have had betrayal hurt us......raw umber underpainting.
Some of us have made a choice with awful consequences....gray underpainting.
Some of us have been bullied....raw sienna underpainting.
Some of us have felt we are too fat/thin/tall/short....black underpainting.
Some of us have been heartbroken...deep blue underpainting.

These life events are filled with the tone of paint that is valuable for what is the next layer of our journey and perfect for discovering the inspiring purpose of our life.  The messes of our days are important, crucial happenings.  We all can look back and remember a time when we thought we were in the midst of the worst thing ever....but with perspective we admit that where we are now could only be as rich of a life having had those experiences.  But the difficult part is not being able to see the final product when in the heart of the messy layers and drip marks. If only we could prop ourselves up against a big window and allow the light to shine through and show us the final product that is so beautiful.   


This is where, for me, I have to trust the artist creating the painting of my life.  

 

He has made everything beautiful, in its time. -Ecclesiastes 3:11

 

On June 25, 2015 at 9:20am I went to my first appointment with a Pain Management doctor.  This meeting set me off on a road that has been full of hard things.  It has been messy.  It has been painful.  It has been maddening.  The daily struggles I have had since that first pain medicine, I now see, have been underpaintings.  I firmly believe that there is no coincidence that I started communication with Ruthie less than 2 hours before I would unknowingly embark on an uneven, chaotic mess of a paint layer.  Something nudged me gently that morning to reach out to her.  Or someone. 

In my life, I believe that God has designed me and is the divine creative being who can see the end result.  He knows the woman that I am destined to become and is delighted with the uneven lines, messy drip marks, imperfections and bad choices because He knows that they are all necessary to bring purpose and unity to my life.  He knew that the mess was essential for the masterpiece to arise and live to inspire.  It just takes time. 

 

 

And just when you think the teaching time is done....a bonus nugget for you.....

Ruthie signs all of her art with something called a wipeout tool.  It is used when the layers of paint are not quite dry.  It cuts through all the layers and lands on the foundational part of the canvas.  When she does this she isn't sure what her signature will look like until the tool lifts the paint and exposes the underpainting once again.  It is much like how God writes His name on our hearts.  He signs the masterpiece by exposing all the messy junk beneath the surface...and loving it.  This happens so we can be reminded of what we have gone through and who has brought us through it.  

 

Mess or masterpiece?  Both. 

 


May you be full of drip marks for they bring texture to your life.

May you believe that the color you are being painted in this moment will be the perfect undertone for what is next.

May you be grateful to the artist of your life and that the signature transforms you from a mess to a masterpiece. 

 

 

 

 

 

Testing and Teaching

Posted on April 07, 2016 by Sarah Stevens | 0 Comments

I have not met many people who love taking a test.  Most dread it.  Most dislike studying for one.  All hate the stress involved.  But some are good at it.  Some study wisely for long hours and do very well.  Some don't study at all and ACE it {but I am pretty sure it has been scientifically proven that these people are aliens!}!  Some are not especially gifted in the area of test-taking.  I am in the "dread it" and "not gifted" group.  I have never done well on tests.  I have never known how to study well.  I have always avoided tests and cringed at the thought of them.  

I often wondered about the role of the teacher in this and what their level of responsibility is.  Many believe that a good teacher is one who communicates to students well and instructs them in the curriculum before them.  Many think that a teacher is a good lecturer.  Most feel that the methods a teacher uses to impart knowledge is what will help a student learn and do well on tests.  I have realized {after many years of failing tests} that a good teacher is one who recognizes the struggling student, gleans information from the failed test AND THEN re-teaches the information and the bigger, broader lesson. They show the student, by looking back at the test, what they can learn from the sections that they struggled with and shows them how to take better notes and do it differently the next time. 

This is the same in life.  It is the same in my life.

Today is the 1 year anniversary of crossroad kind of day.  It was the day that I had waited for 4 months to arrive.  It was the day when I would have the half of kidney removed that a tumor was camped out in.  It was the day that meant that I soon would have closure.  It was the day that I thought the waiting would end and the {emotional} pain would stop. April 7, 2015 I had my open partial nephrectomy to remove the potential cancer that had grown in my body.  

The 4 months before this day had been a test.  A test of patience, understanding & trust.  I didn't score too well on that one! ;)  It is hard to be told that you have a "spot" in your kidney that you have to patience for 8 weeks to be scanned for.  It is difficult to be understanding when you are told it is a tumor and it can not be biopsied, but instead the entire organ or a portion of it must be removed.  It is hard to trust that it is all going to be ok.  I dreaded these months.  I dreaded the surgery.  I dreaded the results.  

So, after April 7th, the test was over.  Right?  "Not so fast!" is the answer I received.  As I have tried to restore the joy of the fallen stones of my life the testing has been uninterrupted.  And continues...... 

Remember, I am THE WORST test taker.  I have never known why I perform poorly in exams.  And not one teacher has ever been able to assist me in this struggle.  They tried giving me additional textbooks to read, referenced encyclopedia sections I should read, and advised me to read my notes over and over.  

What no teacher realized, while I was a student, is that I am a visual learner.  I need examples, illustrations and graphics, not textbooks, the Brittanica bible and my own notes.  My own notes!?  Oh for the LOVE!  How is a gal, who needs visual explanations, supposed to take notes from a book or a boring lecturer? This one can't.  The notes I had taken were inept.  It would be essential for me to start over and learn how to take notes differently. 

Life is the enclycopedia of illustration for me.  Life is how a good teacher instructs me.  And I feel like I have failed this year's lecture series "Organs, Nerves & Emotions". Sheesh.  Maybe I should have taken it Pass/Fail. 

So, now that I have taken the test once and am STILL in the midst of the 2nd go of it, I need a teacher who can look at how I scored and assist me in gleaning wisdom from the failing grade so that I can test out of this crazy class.  

I don't know the answers.  I, honestly, want to skip the class every day from here on out.  I want a cheat sheet for the retake.

But I can't do that.  I have to hang in there with my Good Teacher and allow Him to gently aide me in recognizing the larger lesson He is trying to teach me with these real-life, crappy illustrations. 

My hope for April 7, 2017 is that I will be able to come back here and write about what I learned.  I hope that I can report in to you all that 3rd time was the charm. I hope that my Teacher can kindly point me to the things that are probably in my notes already but make me read them a different way.  I hope I will share with you all that I have finally passed this stinkin' test!  

And if I haven't....I hope I will be still shoring up the patience, understanding and trust in the long term lesson plan. 

 

May you find someone who can discern what you need after being tested.

May you not fear the test, for it may make you wiser than you ever thought.

May you crumple up the old notes in order to take new notes on a crisp clean new sheet of paper.
 
May you not care, one single bit, what you grade you get on life's test.... as long as you trust your Teacher. 

Arch Support

Posted on March 31, 2016 by Sarah Stevens | 0 Comments

My family and I went to Florida for spring break this year.  We never go on a trip for break so this was a rare, special treat!  We spent time on the beach, in our rented condo playing cards, watching March Madness {because EVEN A BEACH won't keep me from the best time of the year!!}, a bit of shopping and a bit more of eating.  We also spent an afternoon going to see an old military fort.  Some people love these kind of things because they are fascinated with wars and history.  Some go because they love all things military.  I enjoyed it because of the.......arches.  What?  Crazy, right?  

I love architecture. Anyone who has read my writings before knows how I love facades, doors, thresholdsbarns and all those architectural!  I love to see how something is built.  I admire the creativity and thought that goes into designing a structure.  I am a sucker for details.  But more than that, I am, admittedly, a dork when it comes to seeing meaning beneath the architectural details.  A complete dork.  I actually walk around these places and look at the architecture and think {paraphrasing a saying an old pastor used all the time} "there's a message in that".  I love thinking of how what I see translates into a lesson on how to live my life.  I know, I know...you are now in agreement with me on the whole dork thing. And I ok with that.  I am secure in my dorkiness. ;)

Ft. Pickens is a large, well built fort that is located at the western tip of Florida. It was used to protect the city and the opening to the bay that housed the Naval yard.  It was designed to allow the military to sweep the bay entrance with cannon fire when it was being compromised.  In order to achieve this strategic plan the fort had to be built to house oodles of extremely heavy cannons.  Fort Pickens had many cannons on the top of the fort and several below at ground level.  The ones below are set in a gallery.  A gallery is a long enclosed corridor on the base of the fort's walls.  They allowed for protection from enemy fire and had small window openings where the soldiers could fire the cannons from. These galleries are directly under the area atop the fort that the larger cannons are fired from.  These are incredibly heavy weapons and so, in order to support the hefty artillery, the fort had to be built to withstand this weight.  The designers decided to use arch support.  They built this fort with galleries lined with dozens of arches.

{Ft. Pickens}

Normally an architectural support system relies on horizontal beams that are sistered with each other.  There is a whole other beautiful message that can be found from architecture. {read Glennon Doyle Melton's thoughts on this on her blog} But the architects of Fort Pickens knew they needed an even stronger system to support the load this structure would hold.  Arches are stronger than horizontal beams.  Why are they stronger you ask?  Well, it is in the answer to this that the message came to light for me....

Arches are based on the idea of a wedge. If several wedge-shaped blocks are placed side by side it results in an arch. These blocks, or bricks in the case of Ft. Pickens, are called voussoirs.  A voussoir is designed very carefully so that it can press firmly with its neighboring bricks to support a heavy load uniformly.  At the top center of an arch is a keystone. This is the center bigger brick or a group of larger voussoirs that, as a group, become the keystone.  When a mason is constructing an arch the many voussoirs, on the sides, are placed first one next to the other.  But they can't stay up and need support from below...until the keystone has been placed. After the keystone is set there is no other secondary support needed.  The keystone is critical in supporting the heavy load. 

We all are voussoirs. I am.  You are.  The checkout gal at the grocery store is. Your car's mechanic is.  Your neighbor is.  Your parent is.  Your friend is.  The world is full of voussoirs.  

It is also full of heavy loads.  We all have things at some point in our lives that are hard and difficult to carry.  

Loss.
Abuse.
Divorce.
Health problems.
Depression.
Unemployment.
Financial struggles.
Relationship conflicts.
And many more.....

These are all weighty things that make us weary.  We feel like the load will never lighten.  We feel alone in the struggle to hold it all together.  

Maybe we should learn from an arch.  The voussoirs were designed to be set close together, normally without mortar.  Side by side.  Nothing separating them. Alone a voussoir does nothing.  But many together creates an astonishingly strong entity that can withstand tons of pressure.  And, furthermore, a whole gallery lined with arches can create a system that equips each other to be a force against extreme pressures. Together we are stronger.

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much"
~Helen Keller


 

 

 

{photo credit:Sarah Stevens,  Ft. Pickens}

But let's remember that an arch full of regular voussoirs needs extra support, even when there were many firmly placed with each other.  They need temporary stability because, until the keystone is placed, they {even together} can't support the weight that will bear down on it.  They all need a keystone. The keystones are critical.  

 

{photo credit:Sarah Stevens,  Ft. Pickens}

 

We all need a keystone.  We need each other, but without that keystone, we can't handle the weight of each other's struggles.  We can walk along each other, in our lives, and not need secondary support.  We can, unknowingly, be a part of the larger structure that gives aide to others who can't carry their load alone.  We may be at a point in our lives when we are not struggling with anything, but in being a small part of the larger arch, we are lessening a burden that someone else is carrying.  The keystone allows us to all stand tall, feel steady and have hope.  

What do you believe your keystone is?  For some people it is family.  For others it is knowledge. For some it is the basic respect and kindness for others.  For me... it is my belief system.

My keystone is similar to the ones found in the arches at Ft. Pickens.  They had the grouping of an odd number of bricks that were larger than the other ones that, when placed side by side, created a keystone.  The arches at Ft. Pickens had 5 large voussoirs for their keystone.  Mine has 3.  I believe, wholeheartedly, that my keystone is made up of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Without any of those 3 my load is impossible to bear.  Without them I am unable to be a support to others when my life is good AND to receive support from others when my life is hard.  My keystone is the divine support the arch of the world is strengthened, empowered and blessed by.

 

May you be a perfectly shaped voussoir...in order to come up right alongside another to provide support.

May you, in doing so, be a part of a human structural entity that holds each other up and the loads that are carried.

May you recognize what your keystone is and trust in the knowledge of that.

May you experience the benefit and blessing of that keystone and the architectural support that it creates. 

 

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