When I started writing and making music recreationally, fear was hardly a factor.  Little risk, I suppose.  But with each post, each attempt, each listener, my fears grew.  Small successes actually made them stronger.  Farther to fall, and other fallacies.  I’ve pushed them down, tried to ignore them, but all it’s done is made me avoid my pursuits in order to avoid the voices.

So, my first step is to expose the fear, and I invite you to do the same.  Tell someone you trust to listen, journal a prayer, write them here in the comments.  Whatever you do, be specific.  Don’t just say you’re afraid of failure, describe what it looks like under the full light of your inspection.  Here are some of mine.

There is only so much success to go around – another person meeting their goal precludes me achieving my own.

I will make my work too honest, or not honest enough.  Too honest and people will shy away or feel they have to boost me up, or not honest enough and there will be no personality or truth on the page. 

I will include too much moral, which will make someone feel I’ve preached at them, or not enough, which will deny my belief that our surroundings are full of teachings that we should attend.

As I identify previous mistakes I’ve made, whether in writing, music, relationships, or the day-to-day, I become afraid that sometime in the future I will look back on this very moment as a mistake.  It is common to say that one regrets more the things they didn’t do or say than the ones they did, but my regrets fall at least equal, if not more toward the latter.

I did not hone my craft enough in my younger years.  I would stay in bed all morning on a Saturday reading, like many who are interested in writing, but it was typically The Baby-Sitter’s Club, not Anne of Green Gables or The Hobbit.  This means I will never understand good writing.

If I receive praise, I’m being patronized.  If I receive critique, I’m being told to quit.

The list could go on, and probably will, elsewhere.  It feels good to ask myself what exactly I’m afraid of, to answer honestly and without a filter.  With some, hearing myself out loud is enough to break the spell of fear, and with others, it is good to know what I’ve been listening to internally.  No wonder it’s hard to get work done with all that noise. 🙂

Fears found.  Tomorrow, a post on replacing them.

January is for plans, for resolutions, for new motivation.  I love this time of year.  Love the possibilities and goals.  Love it.

Well, no, that isn’t entirely true, but it’s true enough.  Well, okay, it’s just a little true.  It’s truthy.  I also begrudge January.  Because while I watch other folks with plans, resolutions, and motivation, I am jealous.  I want to participate in the talk, which is easy.  But most of all I want to succeed, which is daunting.  I set my sights on the desires of my heart, but pounding in my ears is, “Best laid plans…”, “You know you don’t stick with resolutions”, and “Have you seen your gut lately?  Motivation?”

I know, my internal dialogue is riveting.  But truly, I do love the marker that is January.  I love that we give ourselves the freedom to re-evaluate and try again.  Immediately behind each goal, though, for me, comes fear.  Fear that I am an imposter trying to sneak into the world of art and music and it is only a matter of moments until I am discovered and expelled forever.  And the surest way of being discovered would be to make something that is bad.  Something that will let everyone know I have no business here.  Worst of all, something that I had thought was good.  And I will be made the fool for believing.

In December I sprained a ligament in my lower back.  Not doing anything glorious, just stepping off a ladder.  Apparently I am tall.  And have been doing too many things in a slightly bent position for my lower back to keep up with, and now it has retaliated.  This means a new position at work and for the past several weeks, fewer positions at home.  Namely lying down, walking, some standing, and minimal sitting.  I would’ve imagined that all that time would get me through my stack of reading and a lot of writing, but my mind has been a scatter and the few times it has come to rest it has done so on discontent with my lack of productivity.  My doting dog breaks me out of the cycle when he can, eager as I am for purpose and movement.

Last night the best of my friends quietly sat and probed.  Quietly waited while I searched for a way to convince him that I am done trying.  I will cook and garden and pursue the things that I can fail at without anyone being the wiser.  And then he got angry, which was the most surprising and helpful thing he could have done.

These next few posts I will be exploring this dynamic of art and fear.  An old and common journey, but one I clearly need to fully travel.  Because I have a great desire to give in to one more than to the other.  And because I have a  husband who calls me an artist, even when it makes me cry.

If you like, come with me.  We’ll wear fear-colored ribbons and stop ignoring the problem.

Garden planning.  Because we need to see things grow this year.  Because we need the Lord to be caretaker of us and our work.  Because we want miracles to sprout in our backyard.  Goodness.

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“There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth.  The first is by war… this is robbery.  The second by commerce, which is generally cheating.  The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein a man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God…” – Benjamin Franklin

You’ve seen them.  Instagram, hipstamatic, coolerthanyoutronic.  Photography apps that do the art for us.  We use them to broadcast the shiny parts of our best moments.  I can show you my dinner in a cool, cropped shot that is far too narrow to show just how dirty the kitchen behind it is.  My first inclination is to be annoyed by this trend.  Isn’t that what trends are for?  To annoy us until we buy in or move on?

This morning, though, I’m grateful for these cropped shots of life.  A childhood friend of mine is at the hospital with her eighteen month-old.  Two nights ago he tripped in the bathroom and ended up in the hospital with bleeding in his brain and emergency surgery.  They are spending their new year in worry, prayer, and cafeterias, surrounded by machinery that shouldn’t be attached to their child.

This morning this mother posted an instagram of a coffee mug. Not what I expected to see from her today; I’d gone to her page for an update on her boy, maybe another picture of his wound or hospital room.  But there was her coffee mug.  She put a caption that she’d brought it from home to fill up on the newly routine trips to the Ronald McDonald House, something normal to keep her grounded.

I was struck then with the up-side of this micro-view trend.  On the ever-shrinking, increasingly connected globe we inhabit, it can be hard to find focus.  Hard to sift through the headlines and friendlines, to distinguish between filler and pertinent information.  But an artfully cropped take on the situation gives new direction to this task we have of weaving order from chaos.   I’ll take whatever help I can get to highlight the small, important things, no matter how trendy.

The big picture is important, but in many ways it has little to do with us.  If we pay attention to what is before us, the tasks and blessings and talents of the day, we keep going.  We show ourselves worthy of the small jobs, whether it’s writing a chapter, or wiping a table, or holding our son’s hand in a prayer for intervention.   And we trust the outcome to someone greater.

I work at a grocery store.  The week before Thanksgiving is our “hell week”, so to speak.  Kicking off the retail season with the toughest work we’ll do all year.  Unpracticed customers are often cooking from scratch and entertaining family at the same time – enough to put anyone on edge.  Add to that the modern-day demand that your Thanksgiving meal be some forward-thinking, healthier, tastier, prettier, more impressive version than last year’s, and you can hardly blame folks for the panic they feel.

However, alongside the panic is perhaps the most communal holiday celebration of them all.  There is little political or religious offense available when you wish someone “Happy Thanksgiving!”  Smiles abound and reasons to be thankful even slip into short conversations about turkeys and vegan gluten-free stuffing.

From the chaos of carts and smiles and scowls yesterday, I went upstairs for a quick lunch and to make a last-minute plan for our own small Thanksgiving meal.  I flipped through month-old magazines, their covers torn off and sent back to the publisher for reimbursement, rejected and ready for recycling, but still full of fancy recipes, a few of which I may be able to pull off.  And there, of all places, on the third page of Real Simple, my friend, Mr. Chesterton, interrupted to have a word… and what a word it was.

“You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

G.K. Chesterton, from an early notebook (mid-1890s)

So much fussing over a table of food, but is that really the focus of the harvest season?  Or the first thanksgiving feast my nephew is re-enacting at preschool?  We recreate the details we’ve inferred, with some plain omissions and substitutions.  (Or maybe there were marshmallows on the sweet potatoes back on Plymouth, too, I don’t know.)  We hope that somehow a lot of food and taking a turn before the meal to impress each other with the very deep things we’re thankful for will… will what?  Set us up to indulge in laziness for an afternoon?  Make amends with family members in time to get a better Christmas gift out of them?

What’s the goal of the day?  Is it a time to revel in our resources?  Maybe.  Is it a time to celebrate the grace that brought us here?  Definitely.  Would we celebrate if we were alone?  I wonder.  To whom would we voice our thankfulness?  What is grace or gratitude without community?  Where can they live without relationships?

So often in the what and how of holidays, I skip right past the source of celebration – my community.  A God who loves and cares, people who are vulnerable and allow me to be so.

Say grace, says Chesterton.  Speak blessing and thankfulness before meals, before the play and the opera, before reading a note that may be full of spelling errors, or hearing a song that may very well be better than the last one I wrote.  Speak grace before dishing up a serving of lumpy gravy.  Speak favor and pardon to one another.  Speak grace to the turkey (or soy bean) who gave its life for your sustenance.

Thank you to our community, near and far, for the gifts you bring to our lives, for the examples of grace, for the beauty you bring us from chaos.  Favor and blessing on you on this day of feasting and on each day that follows.

In the last 30 years (read: my lifetime) I’ve had the fortune of watching several members of my family grow to very old age.  Eight of them lived to their eighties, one all the way to one hundred.  She especially grew sweeter as she grew older.  Her body became dependent on the help of others, and her heart seemed to follow, finally embracing what it had always needed.  She doted on her great-grandchildren, spent hours studying the pictures of a great-great grandchild she’d yet to meet.  She was tiny, sweet woman with beautiful wrinkles, bright eyes, and terrible hearing.  Her eyes were clear and blue through the end and she taught herself to read lips with them, so that while she struggled to participate in group discussions, she persisted with one-on-one conversations and tenaciously kept abreast of her family’s affairs.

My childhood memories of this woman are distinct from the later years.  I have clouded images of an old house with a fascinating church organ we were not allowed to touch.  It was slightly dank and the pink-tiled bathroom may be solely responsible for my continued aversion to that color.  Nana didn’t talk with us much then, that I remember.  She worried a lot and had neck pain that bothered her intensely.  She mostly sat in her rocking chair and adjusted her  brace, her feet occasionally touching the floor.  My sister and I would sit across the room or explore carefully outside while we waited for the visit to end, never stepping too close to the small fence which continually sank further over the eroding cliff that bordered her property.

When she moved into the retirement home, it was with readiness for her life to wind down.  She could no longer take care of her belongings or keep herself in health.  She whittled that house down item after item to fit into a small kitchen-less studio and anticipated a small and quiet ending.

But she was wrong.  Nana lost her independence, the home where she raised her child, the neighborhood she had inhabited for fifty years.  She gave up what had become her life, and she then came alive.  She signed up for water-color painting and we each have her paintings displayed in our homes.  They are simple, but beautiful.  She took a tai chi class and felt the pain in her neck lessen.  She had friends to lunch with each day and took it upon herself to learn the geography of her new town, though she never drove a car again.  She took pride in “treating” us to breakfast with her saved up dining points and wasn’t satisfied until the table was filled with every variety of juices and Eggo waffles available.

Most people in my family maintain that giving up her home and responsibilities added many years to Nana’s life.  And when eventually her health outlived her money, her dependency, and her joy, reached yet a new level.  She became less and less the woman we had known, or even she had known.  If you ask Jaron to do his impression of Nana, he will put on his best high-pitched voice, turn his head to the side while he snaps his wrist and says, “Oooohhh, ooh!!”.  In her later years it didn’t take much to make Nana smile and even an attempt at a joke in her presence got you the rich reward of that expression which Jaron felt the need to master.  She thought less and less of herself and became younger and more beautiful in the process.

As I approach the second third of my lifespan, I think often of Nana.  Here’s to the force of aging.  Here’s to the loss of our self-sufficiency, control,  and possessions, which we would never accept if given the choice.

Tonight I’m making salad for my aunts and uncles.  Watching the vinegar reduce.  Watching it become sweeter over heat.  Thinking of my Nana, and looking forward to an evening basking in the beauty of the people surrounding me, while I can.

(It’s a fun autumn salad, if you’re interested: Caramelized Beet and Goat Cheese Arugula Salad)

He looked out from the cliffs at the remnants of pink setting over the Pacific, noticed the birds silhouetted above the horizon and heard the seals calling back and forth on the sand below.  We huddled against a railing near dozens of other tourists and couples in famously scenic La Jolla, ready for the mood-setting twilight and hoping to glimpse the elusive “green flash”.  I watched as he exhaled, paused, turned toward me, and with emotion in his voice said, “You know, if this was a video game, it’d be a lot more beautiful.”

In that moment I knew, with a certainty I’ve rarely felt before or since, that I was dating a nerd.  This was not exactly my first indication of that fact.  The first time I met Jaron I took one look at his striking features, shook his strong, calloused hand, and thought, “Well, he won’t be an issue.”

Among these striking features was a dorm sweatshirt for “Moyer Hall”, the residence at our college where all the computer programming students lived. Next there was a pair of extremely faded jeans that tapered down to end far too many inches above a pair of furry, skinny ankles which stuck out of over-sized hiking boots that had clearly never seen a day outside.  He wasn’t sagging exactly, but his sweatshirt was just short enough that each movement of his arms unintentionally exposed a bit of midriff, equally as furry as the ankles.

Despite all these warning signs the joys of working in ministry and making music together quickly drew us close and it wasn’t long before the nerdy boy came to San Diego to meet my family.

His comment on the lacking beauty of the fallen world in contrast to the embellished digital one was not the end of the conversation that night.  You see, this “gamer” I had begrudgingly begun to fall for was in the middle of an internal revolution.  I wish I could say that it was the inspiring time spent with me that spurred the change, but even before we met he had begun to hear whispers from the Spirit.  Jaron had started down a road that he would eventually bring me along.  He was learning to discern engagement from exploitation. He proceeded to explain to me that night that he had spent too many hours trying to find the feeling of climbing a mountain without ever breaking a sweat.  He had spent too much conversation on fake battles and codes without ever connecting them to real conflict or confusion, on the virtual embodiment of characters motivated by winning rather than saving.

Since that time he has taken me along into these real experiences: hiking volcanoes and counting mosquito bites, singing in clubs rather than just the shower, writing essays without having an assignment due (and, of course, to our greatest playground for gritty living: marriage).  Together we have taken baby steps toward the courageous involvement with art that consumption alone cannot provide.

Just a few years into our pursuit of a more artfully engaged and financially down-to-earth lifestyle we came across The Rabbit Room. In this semi-circle of artists there seemed to be no exclusivity, no specific hairstyle or ironic t-shirt required.  Just support for the journey and a mutual admission that none of us is yet an expert.  The lessons that I began to learn from Jaron almost ten years ago I continue to learn with him in this community.  There may be nothing new under the sun, but the hard-won art of these Rabbits illuminates the same truths to new people, in a moment’s language.  And when the truth is spoken, they continue on, looking for a way to say it again, for someone else.

The artists that were present this weekend have spoken my language before I knew how in ways that have changed me eternally.  Their work does not promote escape, but holy entanglement.  It is not numbing entertainment; it is soul distillation.  And, oh, how I need it.  I am so grateful to this community, to those who host it, and to each artist who shows up over and over and hollers, “Y’all come!” despite what fear, despite what interruption it brings.

* If you’ve been reading along with me for a while, the beginning of this story may seem familiar.  It is.  Like the choose-your-own-adventure books I loved so much when I was little, many stories start the same way.  Both are true.  🙂