While looking for something entirely unrelated on my blog, I came across this post I wrote two years ago, before my dream of launching my own business became a reality. It gave me a little lump in my throat, and so I thought it was worth pulling forward and sharing with you.
The three young girls I’m raising and the one that I was
On her second birthday, Nikki spent about an hour trying on all of the clothes she’d just gotten as gifts, while the toys got brushed aside. She rarely wanted to ride in the stroller if she had the option of running. She scoffed at anyone who wasted her time with fairy tales or made-up entities like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Now that she’s thirteen, her friends call her the “Tyra Banks” of her group because of her passion for fashion. She dreams of the day her knee heals so that she can run, run, and run some more. (She’s jealous of me when I run on the treadmill – can you imagine?) She’d rather read a biography than a work of fiction any day.
At two, Julie had a better command of the English language than most teenagers. She learned to negotiate (and sometimes manipulate) almost as quickly as she learned to talk, and before long, we couldn’t keep enough books in the house to keep her happy. Now that she’s twelve, she volunteers for every public speaking opportunity that’s available to her, she’s trying to get a student council set up in her school so that students have more of a voice, and she’s almost always lost in a book.
Some of Maddie’s first words were “can you imagine if…” She filled our house with her imaginary playmates and all of the stuffed toys and dolls her sisters had tossed aside. Her favourite game was a fanciful round of “would you rather?” Now that she’s seven, she still plays “would you rather”, writes story books, paints pictures, calls herself an artist, and creates elaborate play spaces for her dolls under tables or chairs. She loves 3D movies and insists that they’re much better when you reach out for the things that come flying at you.
I don’t know how these things will continue to manifest themselves in my daughters, but I suspect some of it will shape the way their lives unfold. I hope that we as their parents have instilled in them enough of a belief that those passions have worth.
In more than one book I’ve read recently, writers claim that “our youthful passions serve as a foreshadowing of our calling or life’s work.” I want to honour the foreshadowing I see in my children, and so (in my moments of attentive parenting) I buy books on fashion for one of them, help another one coax school leadership to consider a student council, and climb under the table with the third and help her spell out the words for her latest work of fiction.
I want to go back to the child I once was and tell her the same things I try to say to my children. “Those hobbies you have? Those things that make you happy? They’re not just a waste of time. They have value. Don’t set them aside in pursuit of a more practical career. Trust them to direct you into your path. Don’t try to fit into the boxes you think you’re supposed to fit into.”
On the bus yesterday, I read “…just scribble your recollections of childhood passions in the margins here.” And so I did. This is what I wrote:
I loved to go places, either on my horse, my bike, or (on rare occasions when our family went on an adventure) in the car. I loved to wander all over the farm and thought of myself as an explorer in the woods. I had a special little hideaway in the middle of a bramble bush that you had to know how to navigate your way through to avoid the sharp thorns.
I was always creating something – macramé plant hangers, doll beds, decoupaged memory boxes – you name it. I learned to sew and was forever digging through my mom’s fabric closet for interesting scraps of fabric. I was happiest when I had a creative project on the go.
I wrote endless journals, stories, poems, one-act plays, or whatever tickled my fancy. My very first drama was a little play my friend Julie and I wrote and performed in our living room as a fundraiser for a mission organization. I wanted to speak and have people listen. I wanted to influence.
I would walk to the farthest field on the farm if I thought that Dad would give me a chance to drive the tractor. It felt like freedom to me, to be able to drive and to be trusted with something that was usually reserved for my big brothers. I thrilled at the little grin my Dad got when he was proud of my independence and determination.
I loved to be active. I would join almost any team or group activity that was available to me. I played ringette, soccer, volleyball, and baseball. I joined the drama club and the choir. I was never a star but I was always a joiner.
I gravitated toward positions of leadership and influence. I was student council president in grade 9. (After that, though, I had to go to the ‘big’ school in a much bigger town. I lost my confidence and didn’t run for student council again until college.)
What would that little girl tell me if only she could? What were the dreams she had that got set aside when bills had to be paid and careers had to be chosen?
I haven’t totally abandoned those things I loved to do. Even in the practicality of life, I’ve usually found some small way of honouring them. But sometimes we believe other voices rather than our own, we follow someone else’s idea of what our calling should be, and we set aside fanciful things for those that seem more pragmatic and realistic.
Somewhere along the line, most of the passions got relegated to “hobbies” rather than “life’s work”.
What about you?
Two years ago, after choosing “fearless” as my word for the year, I finally confronted my irrational fear of art tubes and took an art class. I fell in love. Barely a week has passed since then when I haven’t picked up a paintbrush.
Much of that love affair with painting has taken place inside my art journal. I’ve always kept a written journal (and still do), but my art journal has helped me expand my dreaming, give colour to my thoughts and ramblings, unleash my visual creativity, and work through some pretty tough spots in my life. There are a lot of secrets between those two decoupaged covers.
This morning I am very proud to announce that I will be part of an impressive tribe of artists who will be sharing our art journal secrets as part of my friend Connie’s next iteration of her online workshop, 1 Secrets. I’ll be sharing a very personal part of my art journal process that I’ve never shared with anyone before, and that I won’t be sharing here. You won’t want to miss it!
Go on over and check it out. For the ridiculously low price of $59, you can learn a lot of secrets!
I don’t remember the question that we were supposed to discuss at our table group, but I remember where it lead us. One of the women at the table was the newly appointed head of a women’s program at a university. She was wrestling with where she needed to lead the organization after the departure of its founder.
She’d had an a-ha moment that week and had come to realize that what was ironically missing in the program was a truly feminine approach to leadership. It was modeled too closely after traditionally masculine styles and needed to evolve into something new. I think it was during our conversation that she had the even deeper realization that she had, in fact, been hired because her background in engineering made her well skilled at thinking like a man.
What she said touched me in a place so deep I didn’t even know it needed touching. “Yes!” I said. “YES! That is a systemic problem! I see it everywhere! It’s the major flaw of the feminist movement – that it poured so much of its energy into getting us access into men’s role and teaching us to adopt men’s wisdom and leadership styles that it forgot about what it SHOULD have put energy into – raising the value of women’s voices, women’s roles, and women’s wisdom and leadership styles.”
Spilling out beneath my words were so many memories of the times I’d tried to introduce things like “feeling checks” into staff meetings, or clay molding into annual visioning exercises – the many times I’d intuitively felt compelled to introduce a more feminine style of leadership. BUT almost all of those times I’d been met with so much resistance that I’d simply given up and fallen back on old models. Oh, I could write a book about the times when I let the fear hold me back from what had always come so naturally. Too many times I saw those things dismissed as frivolous, or “just a silly girl’s ideas”.
During the course of our conversation, something rather magical happened. I don’t think I realized just how magical it was until it was done. There were markers at our table and a paper tablecloth. As I so often do when I’m sitting in a meeting, I picked up a marker and started to doodle. The man at the table asked “can I add something to your art work?” and I said “oh certainly!” And then, with a gesture, I invited our other two tablemates to join in the fun.
It seemed innocent enough, but it was transformational. Soon, we were all animated and energized in both our conversation and our art-making. Each of us added our unique flare to the tablecloth and each of us built on something the other had done. At one point – though I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it – the man at the table tried to put a square black border around the area where we were making art. Something bubbled up from within me and I resisted, scribbling all over his border as he drew. The other women joined and soon we had spilled over the border into every direction. Defeated, but with a good sense of humour, the man happily added to the “outside the box” art. (To be fair, at another point, I ruined a sun that the man was trying to create by prematurely drawing a line around it.)
By the end of the discussion, we’d filled the whole tablecloth with art, and we’d helped the leader of the woman’s program realize some of the steps she’d need to take when she got home. On top of that, I think each of us at the table had a unique a-ha moment that emerged from both the art and the conversation.
Mine didn’t fully evolve until later. I knew that something significant had happened, but I didn’t at that point know just HOW significant. Some day I think I will look back at that collective doodle art and remember that it represents the moment my life changed.
Because, my dear friends, that moment was the culmination of so much wrestling, so much thinking, so much struggle to find my focus, my truth, my place of belonging. Remember the necklace metaphor – how it wasn’t the struggling that untangled the necklace but the slipping from my hands and dropping to the floor? Well I think that moment was the “dropping to the floor and untangling my truth.”
What am I talking about? I’m talking about THE VERY THING that I’ve been grasping for. For years now I’ve known that my greatest energy comes from sharing wisdom – through facilitating workshops, writing, public speaking, etc. – about the things I’ve learned about creativity and leadership. I’ve known that somewhere in all of that lay the nugget that would lead me into the next phase of my vocation. Only… I couldn’t seem to find the right shaped nugget to fit me. It all seemed too general, too vague – too unfocused. I thought I found a few times, but it never felt quite right.
And now, after a week at ALIA, and especially a remarkable moment of doodling, I have clarity that I’ve never had before. The purpose that is evolving for me is TO TRANSFORM LEADERSHIP THROUGH FEMININE WISDOM! There it is! Bringing more creativity, compassion, art, soul, and holistic truth to leadership. AND helping those people who think their feminine passions and gifts – art, spirituality, motherhood, body wisdom – do not make them qualified for leadership recognize that the world needs them to help in its transformation.
It’s simple and yet it makes so much sense. Look around you – wars, oil spills, climate change, oppression – isn’t it clear that we have a leadership crisis on our hands? Isn’t it clear that the old models aren’t working anymore? It’s time for a new model and I believe that new model includes a much bigger space for feminine wisdom. I’m not saying that all the male leaders need to be replaced by women – I’m simply saying that both men AND women need to learn to trust their feminine wisdom more.
It’s an idea as old as the Bible, and yet as often forgotten and marginalized as so many other truths in the Bible. Sophia. Wisdom. FEMININE wisdom. It’s what Solomon wrote so many sonnets about. It’s the feminine wisdom of God.
THAT is the power I’ve been called to stand in, the wisdom I’ve been called to share. It’s time to get busy sharing it!
How will this evolve? I’m not quite sure, but I am excited. I know this… I am not really “fumbling for words” anymore. This is something new and it will need a new space. Maybe it’s “leading with your paint clothes on” or maybe it’s “sophia leadership” or maybe it’s something else I haven’t thought of, but I’ll be spending the summer thinking about it and hopefully by September something will have emerged.
Hang on for the ride, because it will most definitely be colourful and exciting!
This morning, with the sun emerging after an overnight rain, I swear my run felt more like church than many church services I’ve been at. My alive and energized body served as temple. The birds celebrating the ease of their post-rain worm harvest provided the worship music. Lilacs and other flowering trees blessed us with incense. And these three songs, showing up in this order in my random playlist, were more inspiration than I’ve heard in a lot of sermons. Take a moment to listen to them and see if you don’t feel something shift.
1. Wake me up, by Martn Joseph
2. Polly Come Home, by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
3. Soul Meets Body, sung by Catie Curtis (original by Death Cab for Cutie)
There was something about this woman that captivated me. Just outside the Chicago Institute of Art, she was spending her afternoon wrapping yarn around a tree. Installation art, I suppose she’d call it. For no other reason than that it looks pretty and engages the eye. Or perhaps it’s a form of meditation, those steps round and round a tree. Whatever her motivation, it holds meaning for her.
Much has happened since that moment when I stood there with my camera. The world has shaken; deep emotions have been felt; many tears have been shed; guilt, anger, and fear have all been wrestled with; and seemingly insurmountable boulders have been thrown into the paths of myself and the people I love most in the world. The world looks darker and colder than it did that lovely afternoon when I wandered around Chicago in the sunshine.
And yet I find myself glancing at this photo, and something stops me. Partly, it’s a longing to be her – that carefree woman spending hours wrapping yarn around a tree. I don’t know her stories – perhaps they’re even more insurmountable than mine – and yet when I look at the photo, my mind molds her into the ideal story I long to embrace. A whimsical, carefree woman interacting with art and creation, with no other reason (no guilt hanging over her head, no fears, no obligations) to be any place than where she is, wandering around a tree.
But beyond just coveting her carefree-ness, the picture holds a reminder that I need to look for my own way to wrap yarn around a tree – be it literal or metaphorical. I need to find colour, to make art, to touch nature, to meditate, to seek the presence of the Spirit, and to wander until my heart finds peace. In the wise words of Ann Lamott, “… the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.”
Starting with this post and the quiet moments it took to create it, I promise myself I will at least try. Because even if I can’t fix things for the people I care about, I can at least seek healing for the deep wounds and disappointments in my own soul.
He stood there. Naked and unflinching. Stared at by a dozen eager art students. Each of them trying to capture the curve of his belly, the shadow between his butt cheeks, and every flaw and imperfection on his face. Not even a hint of shame appeared – not a wince, not a clenched muscle in his jaw, not a discrete turning to hide any part of his body – he simply posed as the instructor told him.
It seemed fitting and somewhat ironic that in the middle of this particular journey that will lead me (in just 2 days) to lie beneath the surgeon’s knife and give up a part of my own profile, I was sitting in an art studio staring at a naked man.
What did his nudity have to do with my upcoming surgery? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about the human body in recent weeks. Trying to come to terms with how I feel about my own body. Trying to determine just what my personal body image is. Trying to hold each of the body-related thoughts along this journey captive while I examine what they mean and how their stories shape me.
I have never been very comfortable with my own nakedness. I dress quickly when I emerge from the shower, never stopping to look at myself in the mirror. Even before the children were born, I couldn’t leave the bedroom unless fully clothed. Much to my husband’s chagrin, I wear pajamas to bed and cannot sleep unless I am dressed. Taking the above photo was one of the most awkward things I’ve ever done.
I don’t want to be naked. I don’t want to be reminded of my flaws and imperfections. I don’t want to see the way one heavy breast hangs nearly an inch lower than the other, or the way the cellulite bubbles on my hips. If I keep it all covered, I can pretend I don’t hear the screams of “unworthy” sounding off in my head.
Years ago, there was an artist visiting the Winnipeg Folk Festival who was displaying the most beautiful sculptures of pregnant women. I longed to be sculpted by him, to be made beautiful in my nakedness at the hands of an artist. But I wasn’t pregnant at the time. He told me how difficult it was to find women who were willing to model for him. He gave me his card and said if I were ever pregnant again, I should call him.
I was pregnant again. Twice. But I didn’t call. Part of me ached for it – wanted it so badly. But part of me couldn’t get past the shame and awkwardness of knowing someone would see my every flaw. I don’t even like the way my husband stares at me when I’m naked, how could I let an artist do it?
In two days, I’m having breast reduction surgery. You might be thinking “perhaps you should get your body image issues in order before you do that” and maybe you’d be right. But the truth is, this feels like the right time for me. It feels like something I need to do to feel more free and alive in my body. That might seem messed up, but it’s my truth and it’s the journey I’ve chosen.
It’s about having the freedom to run down the street without holding my chest tight with one of my arms. It’s about not feeling the ache in my shoulders or back. It’s about not having the underwire cut into my ribs under the weight. It’s about being able to buy a “normal” bra and not being told by the sales clerk for the umpteenth time “we don’t have anything in YOUR size”.
Will it make me feel more comfortable with my nudity? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure it won’t be a cure-all, but maybe it will help me take baby steps. And maybe someday, a little further along the journey, I’ll let an artist sculpt me, flaws and all.
As I got lost in the meditative act of outlining and shading the muscles, the bum, the groin, and the slightly drooping stomach of our model last night, I couldn’t help but sit in awe at the wonder of the human body. It’s a beautiful thing, this mass of sculpted muscles, skin, hair, sagging bellies, protruding birthmarks, imperfect lips – all of it. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. In the likeness of our Creator.