The Thrill of a Name Tag

Ecstatic, overjoyed, elated, thrilled, tickled pink, giddy with excitement – these words somewhat describe how I felt for at least five minutes of my day.

My friend (and often partner in crime) and I were invited to be guests at a Women Executives (WE) Author’s Luncheon in Downtown Charlotte today. Though this was an incredible experience, and it truly was, my tickled pink moment actually happened before the event was even underway.

We walked through the doors and were greeted by two nicely dressed women, obviously executives volunteering as greeters, and they gave us our name tags. I have worn many a name tag in my lifetime, but this one, well, it absolutely thrilled me.

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Do you see it? Can you see why it made me so excited? Yes, it included my name, and also identified me as a guest of one of the authors (a big thank you to Judith Sutton), but it also had something I had never seen before by my name – writer.  IT ACTUALLY SAID WRITER!

My friend, who also happens to be a writer and so many other wonderful things, was equally excited by her title, so we did what any self respecting guest to an executive event would do – we ran like middle school girls to the bathroom to take pictures. Yes, we actually did and just thinking about it makes me smile.

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I’ve been writing recreationally for over two years. It started as a request someone made of me, grew into a blog because my sister believed in me, moved to a writing class to see if I believed in myself, and has grown into a love and a regular part of my life. And now, writer was on my name tag for a roomful of women to see, for me to see. What an incredible moment.

The funny thing is, last night I was rehearsing what I would say if an executive asked me what I did for a living. Starting with I’m a writer seemed like a good idea since that’s what I’ve been doing lately, and then I would continue by telling her I have spent the last twenty-five years working with several non-profits. You know the kind of non-profit I’m talking about – mothering, homeschooling, tutoring, teaching, Bible study, Women’s ministry, Praise Team, caring for aging grandparents, volunteering, proofing and editing papers for my husband while he was working on his Masters and PhD, and on and on. I actually got to use my rehearsed line once, and it was received well.

You know, I’ve spent half of my years living this non-profit kind of life, at least a life not profitable in a financial sense of the word. I cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel towards my husband for making it possible. I have treasured these years and all the experiences. It hasn’t always been easy but it has been rewarding, fulfilling, life changing, emotional, and life giving.

I rarely give my non-profit life a second thought, that is, until I’m with people who have careers, the work-for-profit kind. Then I suddenly find my value begins to leak and my confidence starts to shrink.

Why do people deflate themselves through comparison? Why is it so hard to embrace and celebrate ourselves in the company of others?

Today, I was recognized as a writer, and believe me, that was a high point. But a nametag doesn’t make me a writer. A paycheck doesn’t make me one either. What makes me a writer is this, I WRITE. And it just so happens that I love doing it.

Whatever it is that you do, for-profit or not-for-profit, do it. It’s a gift. You don’t need a name tag for it to be true. And you don’t need a title or a big paycheck for it to be valuable. It’s worth comes from you, because you’re doing it. No two people do anything the same. Everything you touch is a one of a kind original.

Tomorrow morning when I pry my eyes open, I will remember I am a writer even if I don’t have the name tag to prove it.

31 dAYS

Held: the Power of a Name

Over the Christmas holidays last year, my husband and I went to see the movie, Wild. I was riveted, repulsed, intrigued, moved, heart broken, nauseated, but more than anything, I was gripped. Cheryl Strayed’s journey from grief to life pulled me in and spoke to me on so many levels.

After losing her mother, Cheryl went on a journey of self destruction and abuse (that was the repulsive, nauseating, heart breaking part), and at some point, after losing almost everything important to her, she decides to hike alone on the Pacific Coast Trail starting in the Mojave Desert and ending at the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon.

One of the important things she lost along the way was her husband in a divorce. They were amiable about the whole thing, but their marriage was destroyed and they decided to end it. Here are her words about the experience.

When we were filling out the divorce documents there was this line on which you could write whatever you wanted your new legal name to be. So much was ending and beginning for me then—I tell the whole story in my memoir, Wild. I knew naming myself was important and I set about it with great intention in the months before my ex and I finalized our divorce. I read the dictionary. I searched favorite novels and poems. One day the word strayed came to me and I knew it was my name…Strayed is the realest name I’ll ever have. It feels like my heritage.

Interview with Cheryl Strayed.

She was incredibly deliberate about naming herself. For her, the definition of strayed aptly described her life up until then – to move away aimlessly from a group or from the right course or place.

That act of naming herself so impacted me that I gave the idea a lot of thought and prayer. No, I didn’t legally change my name, but I did think about what it would be at this point in my life, if I could change it. And this is the name I came up with, Susan Held. In this season of my life, I feel held by God. I no longer feel like there is a relational separation caused by my sin or failure that I have to build a bridge back to through good works and performance. I am held because He loves me just the way I am, not because I am good but because He is good and I am His.

The truth is, we all could change our last name to Held right now because it’s true. He loves us not based on our behavior or our actions. He loves because that’s who He is. And He holds us in that love. Healing came to my heart when I started living in the reality that I am loved and I am held by Love. As it turns out my name could have been Susan Held all along because He has held me from the day I was born into this world. I didn’t always sense it, but He was.

And He is holding you now in His love. It may be hard to accept or believe, and that’s okay. I lived a long time unable to believe this. I didn’t do anything special to live in this awareness. I simply started asking Him to convince me of His love for me. It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s happening and it’s changing me. Everyday I live, He continues to convince me. I don’t need to convince myself. He is able.

So, when the story of my life is finished and you see the name Susan Held on the cover, I hope you’ll remember it’s me.

31 dAYS

The Misplaced Happily Ever After

A baby died yesterday. Not just any baby. He was his mommy and daddy’s little treasure. He was a little brother, a really little one. He was only six months old. I can’t even write he walked this earth six months because he never got the chance to walk. I don’t even think he ever crawled.

Happily ever after is the stuff of fairy tales. Sure fairy tales contain the opening line for my story, but happily ever after is misplaced and sorely misused. The line troubles me because it gives the impression that once it happens, happiness is ensured ever after. You know the it I’m talking about…

  • after I get my braces off
  • once I learn to drive
  • when I get a date for the prom
  • when I go off to college
  • when I get married
  • once we buy the house with the white picket fence
  • when I get pregnant
  • when I finally go into labor and have this baby
  • when the baby sleeps through the night
  • when we get through the diaper phase
  • when they’re out of the car seat
  • when they get potty trained
  • when I lose twenty pounds
  • once I go to the gym
  • when I get that promotion
  • when the kids start their lives
  • once I save enough in our 401K
  • when I have grandkids
  • once I retire

Our life is filled with the once and when’s, but somehow suffering, strife, loss, and tragedy still come. We finally arrive at when and then stuff happens.

Fairy tales only tell part of the story. They share the struggle of a young person who is cruelly kept at home to serve her evil step family instead of partying at the ball, or the girl who ends up living with a witch because her dad made a really bad deal and is locked in her room so long that her hair ends up growing out the window. And the stories go on. Eventually they are rescued by the man of their dreams, and the stories stop there with happily ever after. No one tells you what follows.

“Happily ever after always depends on where you chose to end the story.”

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What follows is LIFE. And that life is certainly filled with happiness – except when it isn’t. There are no money back guarantees for this life we have been given. It’s a little like buying a house as is. It’s wonderful, full of potential, spacious enough for dreams and a family, and a great yard to play in, but behind the walls are leaky pipes, faulty electrical wires, perhaps a even a family of squirrels, or a termite or two thousand. You can’t see the trouble, but over time, it will make itself known. And you face it as it comes.

Yesterday was not a happily ever after for one sweet family. I pray God walks closely with them through their grief and loss and sorrow. One day, they will be reunited as a family and that little guy who left this earth way too early in my estimation will see his mommy, his daddy, his big brother, and I imagine sisters and more brothers he never met before, at least that’s how I want to imagine it. And that day will be their happily ever after. Until then, they will live their story, fill the rooms of their life with moments they never imagined. Occasionally, the pipes will leak and the foundation will settle, but they will live a full life.

31 dAYS

The Artist’s Way: Being a Froot Loop

The worse part of a trip for me are the last two days. I start to think about the adventure ending and a sadness mixed with slight panic sweeps over me. When I inventory all the things I still want to do and see, I wonder how on earth I can possibly make them happen. And then my mind wanders to the routine of life that awaits me when I return home.

The final evening of The Artist’s Way felt much the same way for me. We were asked to bring a final creative project to share and some light hors d’oeuvres. Professor Profound brought a lovely red blend wine – called Creative Block of all things – which he found on one of his recent trips. He shared it with pride and generosity, a true reflection of his heart. Hard on Herself Virtuoso (now a sweet friend of mine) brought a big pot of vegan chili (the adventures never stop for me) which was surprisingly good even with the foreign matter she referred to as vegetable protein. Sadly, the group was incomplete. Pet Healer was missing, but as it turns out she needed healing herself at home. Somehow though she still felt present.

We sat around that familiar rectangular table which had strangely become our temporary shelter of sorts. With each class, the accommodations became more and more comfortable, more homey as the inhabitants added pieces of themselves to the space. It had become a safe harbor from the storms of perfectionism and the thunder of criticism.

In the middle of the banter, the Silver Desiderata handed each of us a handwritten note expressing her love and gratitude for not only who we were but also for the unique creative expressions we brought to the class. Her words were a sweet addition to the warmth and love already present. Between taking pictures and engaging in snatches of conversation, I sat back to watch the scene unfold, to soak in the laughter, to take in the love and color radiating from their faces.

The lovely Lady of the Box invited us to join her in the living room and indeed it was a living room . The walls were covered with oil painting her father had created; plants and candles tastefully dotted the space. Every inch felt alive and inviting.  She was the first to share. The woman who had given us so much over the past twelve weeks, was giving us yet another gift – our own personal collection of photographs of the symbols she used at the start of every class. Our snapshots were enclosed in a black box wrapped with a red ribbon. Like a flight recorder found on every commercial airplane, our black boxes contained images, reminders of what happen during our flight, our journey on The Artist’s Way. My heart was full.

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Color Lover shared a journal she had been working on, every page filled with vibrant images and rich hues. The girl who came to us in black and white was now full of color much like the collages she had created in her book. Super Hero Zombie Girl was next. She showed us bold and textured canvases of comic book superheroes she had painted. She explained how when she was unable to sleep she would create these pictures, pictures of her friends. What an image – a super hero painting her super heroes.

And then it was time for The Quiet Man to speak. He read us poetry whose source came from the deep well within him. As he read, tears puddled in my eyes making him a blur, and yet we all could see him more clearly that night than any other we had spent with him. One by one, our members shared their creativity. They were generous. They were vulnerable. They were alive. We were a tribe, a tribe of artists.

Finally, it was time to share my offering. What else would a want-to-be illustrator share but an illustration representing my experience of the last twelve weeks. It was simple, a watercolor study of a bowl of Froot Loops. I had decided if I was going to be authentic with this group, I needed to share my initial impressions from the first night of class. I explained how I felt like a Bran Bud in a bowl of Froot Loops. Many laughed but some didn’t. Perhaps they were recovering from the sting of being labeled a Froot Loop. I further explained as the weeks passed, I started to wonder if it really was a noble thing to be a Bran Bud. After all, people only eats Bran Buds because it’s a have to of life, but for a child, eating Froot Loops is a definite want to.

I continued as each of them handled my offering, reading the little notes I had written throughout. I expressed how over time their creativity and love seeped into that room like the color of Froot Loops bleeding into the milk they float in. Over our journey, we shared, we mingled, we realized we were all in the same bowl. We were a bowl of artists who struggle, who create, who sink at times yet float to the surface again and again.

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And I concluded with my big reveal…I AM NOW A BIG ROUND FROSTED PINK FROOT LOOP! A metamorphosis of sorts had taken place in me on this journey. And now I get to create in beautiful, messy, imperfection and hopefully help color the world with my artistic expressions.

Thank you, Froot Loops and The Lady of the Box. I have been forever changed along the way – The Artist’s Way.

The Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Today is my mom’s birthday. I had a memory of her today that grew into a gift. This is so like my mom, giving gifts on her special day.

I remember two little girls and their mommy eating out for dinner, a lovely distraction from some of the difficulty we were going through. We were three girls making memories, dreaming dreams, asking questions in the midst of pain and loss.

We scooted into a booth and immediately turned to the individual jukebox mounted on the wall. Mommy gave Kathy four quarters to put into the slot. We were each allowed to pick out four songs and she would select the remaining two. I only remember one of the songs I picked, I Would Give Everything I Own by Bread. It’s so funny I would remember that detail.

After we settled in and gave our orders to the waitress, I remember asking my mom, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” She gave me a sweet smile. She wasn’t offended in the least and if she thought the question was ridiculous, she never let on. She answered me as though it was a perfectly legitimate question for a daughter to ask her mom.

“Well, Susie, when I grow up, I am going to be a hippie. “

I thought for a couple of seconds and asked, “Mommy, what’s a hippie?”

She replied, “A hippie is someone who wears tattered bell bottom jeans, doesn’t take baths, and never cuts her hair but always wears flowers in it.”

I remember tears falling down my cheeks, and my mom asking me what was wrong. I looked into her beautiful blue eyes and pleaded, “Please don’t be a hippie, Mommy.”

She made her way around the table and gave me a two arm hug, assuring me that she was only playing. There was no need, she said, for me to worry. No matter what she did when she “grew up”, she would always be my mommy. Her words seemed to assuage my fears of having a dirty, tattered mom.

Our meal came. We ate our fries first and nibbled on our pork sandwiches. We talked about school and friends. Suddenly, in the middle of our conversation, Mommy blurts out, “Girls, when I die, I want this song played at my funeral.” Her comment seemed so random, but that’s the way my mom is. When she has a thought, it bursts out like hiccup.

She told us to listen. One of her songs was playing on the jukebox. It was Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkle. All three of us sat perfectly still for three minutes or so, until the song was finished. At that moment for me, the words and music were overshadowed by the prospect of my mom one day being gone. I felt really sad. I think Kathy asked her what she liked about the song. I love that about Kathy. She was in the moment with Mommy. She actually heard the words and was interested in what Mommy liked about it. I don’t recall what her answer was, but curious Kat seemed to be satisfied.

The meal continued and my memory ends there.

Once the memory faded, I decided to look up the lyrics of the song – one I am familiar with but had never really examined.

I was blown away. I understand now, decades later, why my mom loved this song. It is her anthem, her heart song. As a young mom, this was her hope, her dream of what she wanted to be when she grew up. She wanted to be a bridge over troubled waters for her three girls (she gave us one more sister when we were teenagers and I’m so grateful for that). She wanted to leave a legacy of I Lay Me Down. And, she did. She didn’t do it perfectly but she did it fiercely. She sacrificed so much so that we could grow into the people we are today.

When I read the final words of the song, I felt like she has been singing this over me my entire life.

Sail on silver girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
Oh, if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Thank you, Mommy, for being that bridge. Thank you for wanting me to shine. Thank you for teaching me to dream and to sail through this life, even over troubled waters. Knowing that you are right behind gives me strength.

Happy birthday and before I forget, thank you for the gift. I love you.

The Artist’s Way: Nurturing Dreams

I was intrigued by the wooden box sitting on the table off to the side. It didn’t have a place of prominence in the room, but it was there, high enough to capture my attention. There’s something about a box that piques my interest.- a gift box, a  wooden jewelry box, a brightly painted toy box, round hat boxes, even boxes in my garage.  I want to know what’s inside. I want to unearth the hidden treasures buried in a drawer, a closet, the garage.

So as the leader spoke, my gaze periodically turned to this wooden box. I listen as she spoke about the journey were all on and the need for our class to be a safe place for our dreams to be shared and nurtured. But, if I were to be honest here, I was a bit distracted by that darn box.

Finally, she opened it and carefully pulled out a bird’s nest complete with feathers and even a piece of twine woven into it by it’s feathered builder. It was masterfully crafted and it’s current owner not only handled it with care but saw it’s tremendous value. Week after week, The Lady of the Box would open the lid revealing a symbol for the week’s lesson – a seashell for safety, a kite for possibility, headphones for connection, and so on.

Week nine of The Artist’s Way, our assignment was to bring a totem or symbol to class. I wasn’t sure about a totem, but a symbol worked for me. Symbols can be concise and powerful reminders when words are abundant. We were asked to bring a totem/symbol to class representing one of our dreams fulfilled. When I considered the dreams I have, I realized many are in the gestation stage. Growth is happening, but they are not necessarily ready for the world.

My symbol, as it turns out, ended up being a nest – the first item our leader took from the box. I went on Pinterest and saw a small nest pendant made from wire and beads. Instead of purchasing it, I decided to try my hand at jewelry making, a feeble attempt, I might add. Jewelry design is not in my wheelhouse of creativity. My bird’s nest would contain three small beads, each representing the dreams that are still growing inside of me. I threaded my bright blue dreams onto the 20 gauge wire, weaving, twisting, bending the silver to create their shelter.

This is what I wrote in my morning pages after I had finished my symbol.

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Dreams are fragile

Dreams take time

Dreams grow on the inside even when there’s nothing to see on the outside

Dreams must be birthed

Dreams must leave the nest so they can soar

I made a nest for myself and one for The Lady of the Box as a gesture to thank her for being part of the nurturing process. She handled my dreams and the dreams of the other Artist Wayers as carefully as she held that nest on the first night of class.

As it turns out, this group was a very safe place for dreams whether they were still being incubated or standing on the edge of the nest poised to soar.

Hanging Onto Every Word

We didn’t plan it. Actually it started as solution I came up with to help my husband gain some strength in his voice. More and more he was speaking at conferences on Technology and Ethics and almost every time, his voice would strain near the end his presentation. Being the fixer I suggested reading aloud might help. I grabbed a book I had on my shelf, and the metamorphosis began. I call it this because what started as a potential remedy to a problem actually grew into a lovely weekend activity that my husband and I have enjoyed together ever since.

We sat at the table with freshly brewed coffee and a copy of Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. Kevin began reading the foreward, “When our children were young I would sometimes rise early on a Saturday morning and fix them pancakes for breakfast. It was great fun – the broken eggs, the spilt milk, the batter and the chatter.” The words cascaded from his mouth, gently, fluidly, all in his beautiful South African accent. I so love that accent. When he would call me when we were dating, I felt my knees go weak when I heard his voice on the other end. He continued to read, page after page, until the words were interrupted by the clearing of his throat, a sign of strain. He eventually passed it to me to carry on for a bit, and I gladly accepted. Back and forth, we handed the book to one another, taking turns reading. I don’t know where the time went. Two hours passed like it was a quick 15. Such a lovely morning it was.

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Sunday we decided to do the same, except this time our coffee would be accompanied by scrambled eggs with sauteed peppers and onions, sliced avocado, and toasted English muffins topped with real butter and locally farmed honey. After breakfast, Kevin took the lead, and I listened, sipping my coffee, hanging onto his every word. Something he read evoked a memory from my childhood, so he paused as I shared an experience from my adolescence, a painful memory that I hadn’t thought about in years. He listened intently to the details.

Then I read a bit, and he stopped me to discuss an idea presented by the author he had never thought of before. And this is how it went for the next 2 hours, the back and forth, memories, discussions, laughter, tears.

In those 4 short hours we spent reading that weekend, we discovered things about one another we had never known. We discussed topics that weren’t part of our regular dialogue. We were walking into uncharted territory and loved it.

Many months have passed and several books have been consumed and enjoyed by us both. I cherish our time. I love the unhurried tempo of our weekend mornings. I love that after spending over half my life with this man, I am still learning new things about him and myself as well.

But what I love even more is that I am still being read to in this season of my life. I find I am enjoying it every bit as much as I did as a child, maybe even more. I hope I never get too old for this.

The Dust of Life

This week I feel dusty. The grit and grime from the wear and tear of life clings to me like grease on a mechanic’s hands. Every grain weighs me down, oppressive and burdensome. I so want to wash away those fragments, to remove the scum that often comes with life? When I feel this way, I know I need to position myself in a place to receive. More and more, that place is creativity.

These times are opportunities for conversation with God, although to begin with, they often sound more like a monologue. I rant. I dump. I cry. I breathe. I let out my frustrations and worries and immerse myself in His presence. He surrounds me. Over time I feel the debris being carried away and hear Him reminding me once again that what’s on the outside is not who I am on the inside. My circumstances, my struggles, my failures or the failures of others do not define me. Who I am is an identity issue and my identity is solid, stable, and constant. I am a child of God, and I am loved. This is the one thing I can be sure of, even when my world is coming unglued.

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Picasso almost had it right. Art doesn’t wash me; it positions me, allowing Father God to wash “from the soul the dust of everyday life”, reminding me – I am held, I am loved, and I am His.

Moving into My Creative Space

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I feel like I am moving more into my life, into my art today , and as a symbolic step, I am temporarily making my daughter’s room into an art studio. As she has her year long adventure in South Africa, I will be having my creative adventure at her desk. I think participating in this 31 Day Challenge has played a big part in pushing me into making this move.

But I also think it has been the inspiration of all those people who have bravely moved into their creative spaces long before I ever thought of doing so. Here are a few of the artists in my life…

My little sister who combined her love of people with her excitement for cooking and started Soup Sunday, a weekly conversational meal with her neighbors.

The Cuban Martha Stewart who shares her love and expertise in creating beautiful spaces with her friends, helping them to have their own lovely spaces.

The Promoter who has a gift of helping advance others instead of herself, even helping our Decorating Diva get a spot on a HGTV show.

My Partner in Crime who sees the value in people and invests her time, talents, and energies into helping them to put  their dreams into motion, especially mine.

The Connector who sees people who need community and connection and makes sure to link them together.

The Potter who shares her gift of making others feel important and loved in countless ways, demonstrating this to all she knows.

My other Potter friend who has heard stories of my sweet Irish mom and came up with a line of pots called the Sally Series – she prays for my mom with every shamrock she paints.

The Mentor, whose out-of-the-box gift of teaching has transformed my understanding of myself, others, and God.

My Irish Twin who set up this blog site because she saw that I had something to say and who has patiently listened to me my whole life.

My Mom whose beautiful art was expressed through being a mother and who told her girls that dreams are essential, risks are worth taking, and gifts, by nature, were meant to be shared.

My oldest son and my daughter-in-love who use their gifts of singing, playing and writing with everything they have and still manage to support themselves financially.

My other son who discovered his love of learning and continues to learn, sharing his discoveries with us all.

My oldest daughter who has a special gift of being a friend and lavishly invests in those she loves and cares about, and who knows how to make someone she just meets feel like a friend too.

My youngest who is living bravely, using her the gifts and talents God has given her  in whatever part of the world she finds herself.

And My Love who shares his humor, his understanding and his love, making the world a better place, especially mine.

 

The list goes on and on. These people live creatively and are generous with their art, their life. I am grateful to the example they have been to me. They have moved in, and it has been beautiful to watch. If I could leave any parting words, it would be this. Your life is art and its expression  is unique because it comes from a one of a kind original, you. Be you! Be generous with who you are. It’s a beautiful thing to see a person being fully who they were created to be. Live the art you were made to create.

 

 

 

 

Have to Believe

IMG_2881When I look out before me, past the sleeping rhododendrons resting on beds of graying grass, into the horizon where sky meets hazy mountains, I just have to believe there is someone bigger holding this all together.

When I see the rhythms of the seasons, the punctuality of the the sun rising every morning, and the dancing of the tides to the magnetic tune of the moon,I have to believe there is someone choreographing these timely movements.

When I hear the skillful duet of two little song birds generously singing their refrain to each other while the wind makes the noise of a shaker with the dry browning leaving hanging on their limbs for dear life, I have to believe there is a conductor behind this organic music.

When I feel the hand of my beloved grasping onto mine, feeling his love pulsing through my hand like a gravitational force holding my feet to the earth as my heart soars to the stars, I have to believe that a love like this has to be patterned by a skillful designer.

And when I walk the streets of the River Arts District and peer into studios of working artists, seeing countless expressions of creativity flowing from each one, I have to believe there is a Creator, an Artist, who is taking delight in watching His beautiful children expressing themselves, being just like their daddy, Papa God.

I just have to believe.