Servant’s art

scuplture of woman with green trees

scuplture of woman with green treesI recently had an thought-provoking conversation with my friend, Jenny McGee. She talked about changing from an artist who used painting as self-expression to becoming an artist whose work serves others. Her focus has widened to encompass a participatory process with multiple people.

I have been turning over this nugget of an idea in my mind ever since.

There is art I make because I have so many feelings that I need somewhere to put them. This is art as self-expression, art as an external container.

There is art we make because others need our art. It fills an individual or community lack.

An example of art for others is the Field of Empty Chairs. The 168 chairs represent the lives taken on April 19, 1995 in the Oklahoma City bombing. Each chair bears the name of someone killed on that floor. Nineteen smaller chairs stand for the children. (from the Oklahoma City Memorial)

This art is a testament to both agony and healing; we mourn and we endure.

A world in need of your art

See what you can do to fulfill a need. You can be a translator of our existence. Where are common stuck places? What is often confusing? Use your abilities to bring light where others are in the darkness.

When you do art for others, you make them feel worthy of living in a world of art.

Your art is a gift. There is no more “my work isn’t good enough.” There is only “my offering.” Aspire to follow the little drummer boy as your guide.

Right now is your time. The chair with your name on it has a person in the world who can move, give and serve. People need your art.

Paint, take photos, sculpt, throw pots, crochet and draw for others. Show them what they have forgotten. Your symbols will remind them of eternal truths.

Sing, dance and act for others. Let them hear you. Your song will lighten their day.

Write for others. Tell them what they need to hear. Your words will clarify their experiences.

You, my readers, bring me joy. I appreciate the opportunity to serve you with this blog! 😀


Lord, use our hands
to make the pictures
people need to see.

Lord, use our voices
to sing the songs
people need to hear.

Lord, use our arms
to make the quilts
people need for rest.

Make us your servant-artists,
coloring the world to match your
brilliant vision of abundance, kindness and love.

Tell me your thoughts!

Where can you share your art as an act of service? If you let go of “not good enough,” what kind of art would you offer to others?

A guide to gift-giving: the single gift you need to give

heart in hand

heart in handMy father was a successful executive when I was growing up. I was the only child at home in the 1980s. I remember fat times and lean times. During the good times, we lived in a nice subdivision and ate at fine Chicagoland restaurants.

When things were going well, our Christmas tree had presents that stretched out beyond the branches of the tree to the edge of the room. My parents were generous. I opened lavish and luxurious gifts: cashmere sweaters, a Casio keyboard, Atari 2600 game system, new leather tack for my horse and an electric typewriter.

When it was a time of unemployment, the tree branches overhung a handful of small boxes. The contrast from flush years made it seem like we were in desperate times. We weren’t, but I was too young to understand the difference between belt-tightening and true financial trouble.

In my life, I have experienced both extremes of luxury and poverty. Because of my experience at both ends, I wanted the holiday to stay modest for my son. I wanted to be sure that I could be consistent.

A time to spend, a time to wrap

What are your memories of Christmas?

Do you splurge on gifts? Do you show your love through gift-giving? Do you spend more money than is comfortable for your family’s financial situation?

This time of year encourages us to be financially irresponsible in the name of Christmas. We see romanticized ads showing happy families due to the perfect purchased items. Everyone looks joyful.

Yet our families haven’t changed just because it’s snowing and the nights are long. They will stay our families: wonderful, annoying, entertaining, vexing.

One of the best Christmas gifts I get from my mother-in-law is a long letter from her heart that she includes with the gifts she sends. She writes about the qualities she appreciates in me. I keep these notes in my journal and enjoy looking back at them.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Slow down, dang it! It’s Christmas!

The typical Christian message this time of year is to slow down and remember the real reason of the season. I’m all for that. I also know that this is one of the fullest and busiest times of the year for me. I go to more parties, do more baking and shop more than any other month. It’s unlikely I will have wide swaths of time for prayer and reflection.

But I can take ten minutes to write a few notes. I will tuck them in the presents. I will let the people in my life know why they matter.

Interested in writing some too? Here are some ideas with examples:

  • Say how the person affects you. Describe details about what you appreciate and why, such as, I appreciate how responsible you are with the animals when I come home late from work. It means so much to know they’ve been fed and watered. It’s a great feeling to be able to walk in the door and relax instead of deal with six hungry mouths.
  • Include something unique. List a quality your loved one might have, such as, I appreciate your ability to laugh off irritating situations at work. It is such a better commute home together when you are upbeat instead of depressed, despite a tough day.
  • Tell the story of a specific memory about something that happened during the year that stood out to you. After you got your driver’s license, you offered to go get groceries for us. I thought that was so generous and helpful.
  • Keep it short. Don’t feel like you need to go on for pages. A paragraph or two is plenty. You have a way of lightening the room when you smile. I appreciate your good nature even when I’m grumpy. Thank you for being a sunny person!
  • Do it now. One note of a few words today is worth more than the intention to write everyone you know entire novelettes. You have been there for me through three dozen hairstyles. Thank you for keeping the mullet jokes to a minimum.

Going forward, all the latest fancy gadgets will become quaint and outdated (remember the Atari and Casio I mentioned?). Clothing will get worn out. The popular games and music will be replaced by desire for the next new thing.

They might lose the notes you write, but the messages you give to your loved ones will be written on their hearts.

The effect of a love letter never ends. Write yours today!

Big Thank You Book Giveaway: my poetry book!

Have you gotten a note you treasure? Whom do you plan to write a note to? How is this Advent season going for you? Let me know anything on your mind and heart in the comments! I have my fifth and last book to give away and everyone who leaves a comment will get a chance to win it. It is my book of poetry from 2011 titled take. I will draw on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 at 3 p.m. Good luck!

Ultramen in handmade sweaters

ultramenMy mother knitted them for my niece’s Barbie dolls. She followed careful patterns to make sweaters, pants and dresses. She counted stitches. She included details of stripes and snaps, elastic waistbands and ribbing on the cuffs.

She must have used tiny knitting needles. The little loops curl around one another in rows, neat as bowling pins with equal distance between each one.

How satisfying it must have been to make the miniature outfits! A whole wardrobe could be finished in a week.

Making clothing for adults can be tedious. You never notice how big a grown man is until you try to knit a sweater for him! You notice how strange our heads are shaped once you wrestle with the angles of making a hat fit.

Dolls make perfect models. Never growing, they stand ready to pose in your latest fashion. They won’t stretch out the sleeves or wear out the elbows.

A new purpose

My niece grew up. The dolls—no longer needed—waited for a fashion show that never came in southern weather unsuited for sweaters.

Because of my interest in all things yarn, my sister asked if I wanted the Barbie clothes.

“Of course! Sounds fun!” I said.

She mailed me the clothes in an envelope the size of a thin paperback.

I admired them and put them in a box. The sweaters waited.

Meanwhile, my husband’s Ultramen protected the bookshelf from attack. They stood unyielding in molded red plastic armor.

The realization struck me. Sweaters are made to be worn, not stored in boxes.

These Ultramen need sweaters! I got them dressed immediately.

Could my mother imagine her creations would decorate Japanese plastic superheroes from the 1960s? Would she be distressed—or delighted?

After we’ve made something, we can’t control how it’s used. We can make it with joy and give it away with our best hopes. Once it’s out of our hands, it goes in its own direction.

What are you making now that will outlast you?

Her work—with its unintended purpose—continues to produce joy.

Proud Ultramen in knitted glory look out from their bookshelf across the vast bedroom. They are never cold, always cozy, cheering us up every time we see them.

Ultramen in hand knit sweaters—the silliness of it, the wonderfulness of it, life!

Give that horse a banana!

Devon sees the bananaWhat’s the typical thing to give a horse as a treat? Apples and carrots, right? But I know a horse named Devon who is different. Devon loves bananas.

When he sees that I have a banana, his eyes brighten, his ears perk up and he’s quick to the door. He even licks my hand afterward to get every taste of banana he can. Bananas are from heaven for Devon.

Do you give what you expect your loved ones to want (apples and carrots) without knowing for sure if it is their heart’s desire (bananas)?

Time to play games

I used to get my husband books, candy and clothes. Those were things he liked and they were easy to buy. Then I realized the sweetest treat I could give him wasn’t anything sugary. It would be playing games with him. Now I make time to play card games like Blitz and bluffing games like liar’s dice.

A friend told me listening and kind words are her banana. She appreciates when someone pays close attention to her feelings and responds by saying the things she needs to hear in that moment.

A pack of gum

After I graduated from college, I went overseas for an internship. There I met Rachel from Oklahoma. As the only young Americans working in a small town in Belgium, we were drawn together. Over a dinner of pasta as we got to know each other, she told me her dreams about how her future husband would be. What she said has stayed with me for two decades.

“He wouldn’t bring me roses on Valentine’s Day. I don’t want flowers when everyone else gets them. I’d love a pack of gum on an ordinary day if he brought it home to me and said, ‘I thought of you at the gas station and got this gum for you.’ Just knowing my husband had thought of me would be better than Valentine roses,” she said.

Since our time overseas, Rachel married and has been with her husband for 14 years now. While away on business, her husband recently posted a photo on Facebook of a beer on a Friday night. Now a cold glass of beer might be enough to make most guys happy, but for the photo caption he wrote, “Just wish my favorite lady was here to share it.” Her husband’s thoughtfulness makes her feel like the most important person in the world. Even thousands of miles away, he always has her on his mind.

Ask, understand, give

Devon enjoys his banana.Often we give what we like to get, or we give the typical choice. Horses eat carrots, right? Instead, ask your loved ones, “What is special to you?” Take time to understand them and their deepest values. Let them surprise you. Work to delight them.

Give that husband a game partner, give that wife a pack of gum and give that horse a banana!

What makes your heart sing? Do you know someone who gives affection in an unexpected way? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!