I Hope You Dance

I want to preface this blog by saying that I am not a dancer. I went to a week long summer dance camp when I was 6 or 7 years old and that is where my professional training ends. The only other dance I do is my crazy, cleaning dancing I do with my roommates when we decide to clean our rooms.

During the 2016 Oasis camp, I spent the early half of the week working with the Oasis staff and house moms assisting in a mindfulness workshop for them. However, that finished on Wednesday so that the moms could have some time off, which meant on Thursday I had no idea what to do with my afternoon time. I asked Amelia what I could help with and she tells me, “Everything is fine right now, why don’t you come with me to Kati’s large group dance class?”

My response inside my mind: “Uhhhh, no. No, I will not be coming to dance class. I will not be dancing at all, ever, in front of anyone in a dance class. So, definitely no. Thanks for asking, but no.”

Out of my mouth: “Yeah, sure! Why not?”

I had been doing the group dance we learned in large group every day, but that was a lot less intimidating than a class. No one would notice me in the huge group dance, but a class was smaller. I realize now I probably could have said no to Amelia and found something else to do, but I hate to turn down a new experience, so I went anyways.

Kati’s dance workshop was set up so that after every 4 counts, you’d have to come up with a new dance move. After the warm-up, the first activity started with 4 people creating different movements to lead the entire workshop. I bet you can guess who was picked to be one of those 4 people…

*hint hint – it was me*.

Now I know that dance is good for people. Dance and movement therapy is a growing field in psychology. According to Butler, Snook, and Buck (2015), “Community dance is capable of challenging perceptions of what is considered to be dance, and it enables an aesthetic to emerge where people can redefine who can and cannot dance and challenge notions of what dance is”. That quote is what Kati’s dance class was all about. It was not about being a skillful dancer, but about letting go and having fun.

I didn’t want to be the one everyone was watching, but I knew that if I let all my nerves show, it would set a tone for the girls to feel like they needed to feel self-conscious and awkward too. And it would have killed me to see them feel like they’re anything less than beautiful creations of God. Then, as I had that thought, I realized that I should be treating myself the same way. I’m God’s creation too. So I powered through my discomfort and I was embarrassing in the most fun way. I acted silly and I didn’t care what anyone thought. All I wanted was the girls thinking that they could dance and be silly too.

The next part of the workshop was in a group of 4 girls, each taking turns creating different moves on the count of 4. Then finally, we got partnered up one on one. The girl I partnered with seemed somewhat unsure of herself. She had the shy kind of smile that I recognized as apprehensive, but interested. I tried to give her my best look that said “I understand the nerves, but we can get through this together and manage to have fun too.” And we did. We laughed, danced, switched chairs quickly, and even accidentally ran into each other a few times.

Butler et al., looked at community dance in relation to cancer patients, but I think if they had expanded their study, they would have found similar results in girls like the ones at camp. They found that “…the simplicity of the gestures and movements offered a way of making something meaningful out of their shared journey” (2015). We might not be professional dancers, but we were having fun together. And after we finished I looked around, it wasn’t just me and my partner. All the girls were having fun and Kati was beaming with pride just watching them.

Am I going to drop everything and go join the nearest dance class or quit school to pursue becoming a prima ballerina? Definitely not. But will I take the joy and confidence I learned and apply that to other new and scary things? Yes, I like to think that I will. Even more importantly, I hope the girls take that with them too. Kati gave us 2 life lessons at the beginning of class. 1) Cry when you want to cry and 2) Ask questions when you don’t understand something. By the end of class, she’d taught us a third life lesson: Dance. Take the chance to try the things that seem scary at first. Later that evening I even tried to learn how to swing dance with some of the other volunteers. I haven’t nailed “The Pretzel” yet, but maybe with a little more practice! Being willing to take the risk of failing or looking silly in the spirit of joy is the most I could hope for any of us.  I named this blog after Lee Ann Womack’s song, I Hope You Dance, because it’s the epitome of what Kati taught us and what God hopes for us.

“Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance/

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance/

I hope you dance.”

-Lee Ann Womack

Being Blessed Back

I’m Ivette, a Guatemalan I AM ART volunteer and currently a full time university student. In addition to working with I AM ART, throughout 2016 I was also temporarily an interpreter, nursery teacher, and radio host. I suppose you could say I do my best to fulfill any need in Jesus’s kingdom.

My first I AM ART camp was at Casa Bernabé in October 2016 as an interpreter and it was one of the greatest weeks of my year. I was able to be part of an awesome experience, so when Athentikos invited me to be part of the last camp of the year, I was excited to work at Oasis. Because of the incredible time I had, I now want to share my experience with you.

As the days passed in the week, our relationship with the girls got closer and our hearts started to become full with God’s love. I, as an interpreter, try to help the international volunteers get that beautiful connection with the girls, but this time I wasn’t “just” the bridge between English and Spanish.

The I AM ART camp started Monday morning but I didn’t get to Oasis until Tuesday, so I didn’t know the girls yet. My first time in the room, the girls were quiet and shy. They looked concentrated on their projects with the instructions that Becky, the collage workshop leader, gave them. I didn´t know anything about collages until that week. Everyone was focused on what they want to express for the first two days, so they were quiet at first, but then I started seeing the girls open up to the workshop leaders and to their projects as well. I watched the girls using bright colors and different shapes and I enjoyed seeing the girls experiment with something new. Even though the girls followed the instructions given, I could see their personal creativity and the love they put into their projects. It was like watching a super famous artist working on her next masterpiece; each girl was putting on a unique touch that would be hard to replicate. I saw real artists doing what they love with a variety of materials like glue, paper, tape, canvas, paper punchers and even nail polish. They were able to express through art what some of them are not able to express with words.

So, just as it happened to me I bet it happened to the girls: we all started with an idea of how the week is going to be, but never imagined what God has prepared for us by the end of it. The entire week was an art piece. Just like Becky said constantly, “When you make collages, and art in general, you never know how it’s going to look at the end, but that’s the beauty of art.” After the conflict day (Wednesday), I saw the girls more connected and comfortable with what they were creating and trusting that the final project would look amazing. And it did!

In a snack break we had Thursday one of the girls said, “That is what life is about, you don’t know what’s in store for you tomorrow, but you are the one who’s creating your most wonderful and colorful masterpiece”. It was a very blessed week for me because God used the girls to show me that it’s time for me to work on getting closer to Him and trusting Him on another level. I was questioning myself about my relationship with God, but it looked so easy for them to have faith in Him. They showed me how much easier it can be just by trusting every day in His hands.

I want to finish this with a small story that had a big impact. On Thursday night at the bonfire, one of the girls from my workshop approached me and surprised me with a handmade letter. She is Carolina*. She is energetic, smiley, delicate and smart. During the week, she was always smiling and giggling, giving her opinion, and actively participating with the collages. I wasn’t too close to the girls at the beginning because as the interpreter, I usually think that it’s the workshop leader who they should remember and not me, but this time it was different. I didn’t read the letter until I got home after camp, and I was surprised that she wrote, “I’ll be praying for a man who will protect you, and who will love God first and you after, for you to have hope in God’s plan.” You might say “how sweet!” and it certainly was a sweet gift, but it’s even more heart-touching to read this from a girl that suffered through mental and physical abuse. I’m not sure why she mentioned finding a man in the letter, but what I am sure about is that she cares about me and others, just like God cares for her.

These girls learned that in God’s love, there is great healing. They are mighty in God’s strength and what I love the most about them is that they share it with others. Everyone involved in the camp was hit with this truth: God will talk to your heart no matter if you are the organizer, the workshop leader, or an interpreter. Remember as you do God’s work to bless others, as they will bless you back.

*Carolina is a fake name

Art as Incarnation

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Christmas, a feast of thanksgiving for the incredible fact of the incarnation—that God would take on human nature, including human flesh, to redeem it and draw us into union with Him. “The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Just in case you’re rusty on your Latin, the word incarnation quite literally means en-flesh-ment.  To incarnate something, then, is to en-flesh it, to give it physical properties.

So what does that have to do with making art? As I’m learning from Madeleine L’Engle in her book Walking on Water, and as she learned from artists and theologians before her, to make art is to incarnate an expression of the soul. If our bodies are the incarnations of our souls themselves, our art may be the incarnation of an idea, emotion, desire, belief, question, or some other movement of our souls.

(I would like to interrupt myself here and assert that my understanding of this is very, very feeble, even by human standards, but I’m going to charge on and try to explain what I’m learning anyway, just in case it may prove useful to someone. I suppose this is what you call “comparing notes on the human experience.”)

The following is the best I’ve got (so far) on how incarnating movements of the soul/creating art works:

  1. God stirs our souls.
  2. God inspires us to make art about those soul-stirrings, and He even inspires our specific artistic choices.
  3. We attempt to listen to, trust, and obey God’s inspirations. We create art, and hopefully art that looks at least a little bit like the vision He’s placed in our mind’s eye. At this point we may not understand why the colors, words, shapes, or chords flowing out of us are the right ones, but that’s part of the trust and obedience. (Side note: I think this is what people mean when they talk about “good art” or “authentic art.” In my opinion, good art is created when the artist trusts his or her inspirations, instead of letting fear or vanity get in the way. I’m pretty sure it’s going to take me my entire life to figure out how to do that.)
  4. When the piece is finished, we step back to contemplate it. Now the colors, words, shapes, and chords—the incarnations of our soul’s movement—teach us more about those stirrings. They help us understand what we feel, believe, wonder, hope, etc. and why. Essentially, God now teaches us through the concrete piece of art He has just inspired us to create.

Mind-blowing, right? God allows us to share in His power of creation. We are artists, and we are tools in the hand of God. Rather, to be an artist is to be a tool in the hand of God.

“I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

-Mother Teresa

So how does this process play out for the children who participate in Athentikos’ I AM ART camps?

In case you’re new to the I AM ART concept or need a refresher, the I AM ART five-day curriculum centers around story. On the first two days of camp, the kids begin work on a piece that represents who they are and where they come from. They craft their pieces lovingly and are often very proud of the results. On the third day of camp, the children are instructed to drastically modify their piece in such a way that the piece looks, to them, destroyed and irredeemable. Faces are downcast and dreams seem ruined. But then, during the fourth and fifth days of camp, the artist leaders show the children how to continue crafting their piece into a new work of art that is even more beautiful than they imagined it could be.

As a result, the kids’ perspectives change. Through this material-spiritual process, they learn:

  • What is ugly can become beautiful.
  • What seems impossible is not impossible after all.
  • What seems to be within our control is not within our control, but it is controlled by the Master Artist, who loves us even when we don’t understand what He asks of us.

The art that the children take home with them is an incarnation of this new perspective—a physical reminder they can touch and feel when things look dark again.

And this incarnation is important, because sometimes when we are close to giving up hope, all it takes is a beam of light through the clouds, a hand on our shoulder, or a symbol of hope lovingly painted, to remind us who we are.

And believing you are God’s masterpiece changes everything.


Awake My Soul

AWAKE: fully conscious, alert, and aware : not asleep.

We have been leading teams to Guatemala for nine years now through the Athentikos documentary projects and now the I AM ART camps. Over the last 5 years, we’ve led eleven camps in Guatemala with 6 different partner organizations, 120 artists/volunteers, and nearly 2,000 at-risk children to transform pain into purpose through creative arts and God’s greater story of redemption. I have the honor to lead a camp each year and I love it! It’s a highlight of my year. It has been humbling to see this vision grow as well as how others participating in and facilitating the camps experience something new within themselves. I love showing others the beauty of Guatemala for the first time. I love seeing the team bond, as it’s significant that most people come on these trips not knowing others. I love seeing the kids get excited about their art projects and hearing stories about God’s healing in all of our lives. I also love the fun times of dancing, playing card games, and site-seeing with the teams. It’s all significant and each camp leaves a deep impact on my heart.

While some aspects of the trip may not be as awe-inspiring to me anymore… like seeing an active volcano or all the colorful textures in Antigua. I always leave these trips with a new sense of life stirring in my heart. As we led our teams through some mindfulness exercises to be in the moment, I sought to understand the impact on my own life. What is it about these trips that stir something new in my soul? 

After returning from the trip, we were singing a song in church that deeply touched me because I felt that the song’s message is what happens to the soul when experiencing a trip like this. I went to look up the Chris Tomlin lyrics and then came across one of my favorite songs by Mumford and Sons with the same title: Awake My Soul. It’s a different song than what we sang at church, but these lyrics deeply describe me:

“How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes
I struggle to find any truth in your lies
And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know
My weakness I feel I must finally show

Lend me your hand and we’ll conquer them all
But lend me your heart and I’ll just let you fall
Lend me your eyes I can change what you see
But your soul you must keep, totally free

Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul”

Part of my soul re-awakes each time we travel to Guatemala. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m removed from my day-to-day routine and connecting with God, others, and myself in a new way, or if being in a different culture allows my perspective to shift ever so slightly. Maybe it’s because hearing stories of great heartbreak and amazing healing is inspiring. Regardless of the triggers, part of my soul awakes during each trip. 

 I had a hard time writing this blog because it’s hard to explain the feeling of your soul awakening as it’s difficult to explain the powerful impact of our I AM ART trip. Many times I have said that it’s hard to express our experience in words. And that is the power of art: to express an inner abstract idea. Throughout time, people have used art for this same purpose— to communicate their stories, to worship God, and to express the thoughts of their soul. Dance, music, painting, sculpture… all of these and more allow the soul to express itself in ways our words cannot. And sometimes  you have to find yourself in the journey of creation.

In addition to leading the team, I taught a water-color class this time around. I love the fluid nature of the water and the paint. I  love putting water on the paper and adding color and watching it create with some direction. You can kinda direct the outcome of a piece, but for the most part the nature of watercolor technique is to allow it to “develop” itself.  You have to really let go of control and watch the beauty unfold. And the creation is beautiful!! While I LOVE this and think it’s really a simple medium, it was difficult to teach and for the most part, it was difficult for the girls to work with the water instead of controlling it. We did a variety of techniques and projects that followed our  themes, but in the end the essence of the teaching was in working with the water and how it relates to our relationship with God. As I sat and worked with the girls, I felt a connection to my soul that I rarely experience back “home.” The simplicity of creation allows the soul to feel, explore and breathe.

As I look back on 2016, I am very grateful for the four I AM ART teams in Guatemala. Like the creation of the watercolor pieces, our leadership team took steps of action to put “water and color” on the paper, but it was God that created the beauty that unfolded through the camps. The people on our teams are the core of the experience and the reason we are able to offer the I AM ART camps. I love the deep sense of community we feel during our time together as well as getting to know so many different types of people. I am grateful for the kids who willingly follow our direction in the creation of their art projects and humbly share parts of their stories with us. I am also thankful for our partnership organizations: Vidas Plenas, Lemonade International, Se Luz, Ten Fe, Kids Alive, The Oasis Home, Casa Bernabe and Friends of Children Everywhere who generously opened their communities to us. 

I hope in this New Year that our collective “artwork” will develop even more into a grand piece that only God can direct. It’s difficult letting go, listening to the depth of your soul, and taking steps in and towards God. Even though we love the I AM ART vision and want deeply for this vision to grow, at times it is extremely scary to trust God in this. We need money, people, and leadership to accomplish the great vision God has laid on our hearts. Our hope is that we will all continue to be the color that God is using to create this beautiful piece of art. While this blog isn’t necessarily about an opportunity to give, I do want to make that offer: If you have joined us on an I AM ART trip in the past, you understand the power of art and you know the sense of your soul awakening in new ways. We need you to continue to be a part of this by financially supporting the vision, please consider joining our monthly financial support team at http://athentikos.kindful.com/. If you have not yet been able to go on a trip, you can still support us! You can donate using the same link listed above and/or follow us on social media. Be on the lookout for future I AM ART camps you might want to join or other ways to support Athentikos. Your investment will make a difference in the communities we serve.

“In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life

Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul
For you were made to meet your maker
Awake my soul, awake my soul
Awake my soul
For you were made to meet your maker
You were made to meet your maker”

To get the full lyrics to this song click here.

Many, many, many thanks to all who are a part of our community, who have shared stories, invested, loved and listened. You have left an impact on my heart and many more.  Happy 2017 to you all!