Giving Life Through Art

Courtney Smalley

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]I had an enchanted childhood. When I wasn’t coloring, playing dress-up, or playing with my stuffed animals, I would daydream for hours in my backyard, swinging on the jungle gym, singing softly to myself, and listening to God whisper through the leaves how much He loved me. In the age of innocence I walked in my own golden Garden of Eden. I think of it often now when I pray.

In addition, I am the only child of two wise, loving parents. Growing up my mother was my playmate by day and my favorite storyteller by night. She encouraged all of my wide-eyed wonder and creative efforts with the most sincere enthusiasm. My father, who came from a broken family, hugged me every day and often told me how my mother and I were the fulfillment of his lifelong dream to have a family that loved each other. Not for a moment did I doubt my infinite value or the infinite amount that I was loved.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Smalley_Dad.jpg” image_size=”large” lightbox=”true”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]I am well aware that not everyone grows up this way. In 2014 I travelled to a small, rural town in Guatemala and met a group of kids who my Spanish professor, through her recently founded non-profit, was sending to school. There was one little girl—Elvia—who looked at me with such astonished, aching hope whenever I paid attention to her, that I sobbed at night thinking about it. Elvia barely has enough self-confidence to speak her own name, so I don’t know her story. Others’ stories I do know: Lluvia and Luis’ father was killed while walking home from work one day, by a man he may or may not have owed money. Irineo, an orphan, spent part of his childhood shining grown men’s shoes in the town square and sneaking into farmers’ sheds to sleep at night. Marvin, the gentlest, sweetest 12-year-old I have ever met, still says he wants to be a barber like his father, who died of alcoholism.

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Smalley_Marvin.jpg” image_size=”large” lightbox=”true”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]In less than a month I’m going back to Guatemala to see these kids, and this time I’m bringing a team of artists with me. Through Athentikos we’ll be putting on an art camp called I AM ART, designed to help Elvia, Lluvia, Luis, Irineo, Marvin and the other kids understand that they are works of art created by God, and therefore of infinite worth, infinitely loved.

God has asked me to share my time and talent as a writer and photographer to help with this camp, but as a recent graduate who works at another nonprofit, I am still a little lacking in the treasure department. If you would like to contribute to I AM ART, and send me there as the official Storyteller (i.e. person-who-gets-to-take-photos-and-write-about-what-God-does-in-the-hearts-of-the-kids-and-artists-during-the-camp), you can visit my fundraising page. THANK YOU for supporting Athentikos. Even when we don’t have enchanted childhoods, God never stops trying to reach us and communicate His love. I believe He’s using I AM ART to do just that.

Thank you![/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”http://athentikos.kindful.com/i-am-art-se-luz-2016/courtney-participates-in-i-am-art-a-special-art-camp-for-at-risk-youth-in-guatemala” target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″ btn_hover_bg=”#dd9933″]Support Courtney in I AM ART[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]

GO-ing for God and I AM ART!

I AM ART - Jen Galvin Blog

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“ Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”

My journey to Se Luz began when I took a class, a class that changed my “perspective” and my life. In the winter of 2011 I took the Perspectives class. A class that teaches you to be in a mode of looking to GO and tell ALL peoples that Jesus loves them and is there for them. This class did literally change my perspective and my life and made me go from wanting to help people locally, to really look to needing to help people for God both locally and globally.

I want to live to glorify God through my art and to take the love of God to people all over. I truly believe that we all have creativity and art inside of us and that God wants us to use this creativity to glorify Him. When I work with people and get to play and make art with children or adults, I want everyone I make art with to feel empowered and creative. I often find myself telling people, “If I handed you a basketball, you wouldn’t expect to make the shot the first time, maybe not even the fourth time.” Or, “ If I say you down at a piano, would you expect to play perfectly?” the answer is no, but we expect, somehow that art is something a person is born with the innate ability to either do or not do, and I am here to tell you that maybe some people are that way, but most of us, myself included, need to practice! Just like anything else we want to be good at, art is something that we can do that will glorify God and it can also just make our souls sing, but first we need to give ourselves the grace to as Ms. Frizzle of the Magic School Bus used to always say, “get messy, make mistakes.” Getting messy and diving in and letting yourself make some mistakes is sometimes one of the hardest things to do for me as an artist, but sometimes ends up being the most rewarding. I want to help children learn that art doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, that it can be fun and healing and just good to do for the sake of expressing ourselves. And, that as we do this, we keep getting better, and this practice is what makes us better artists, the mess and the mistakes. Just like in life, living through the mess and mistakes with the forgiveness of God makes us better humans.

Also, as we use art to glorify God and just to express ourselves, it heals our very souls. Whenever something happens in my life that I can’t vocalize, I need poetry and drawing and painting. I can’t talk it out, so it just comes out in my art. This is what I hope to bring to the children in Guatemala is to help them to tell their stories through art. And, not just for the week that we are there, but to give them some lifelong ways to use art as a form of hope and also of just getting out the feelings when we feel hopeless. When I pray before I create, my art is somehow different, always better, and this too, is something that I hope to help the students to see, that when we involve God in our lives, it matters!

Stepping out and GO-ing is always amazing, but usually involves some of those getting messy and making mistakes kind of moments. In order to be able to show God’s love and grace through Jesus to other people, first we need to give ourselves the grace to go and just be humble and experience another culture and hope that in that minute of joy and art and love that God Himself can only provide that we can be part of something greater than ourselves, part of the plan of the great I AM. And, through art, we can share love, share compassion, and show God’s love. Art can help us all to get messy and make mistakes together to grow and discover who we are for God![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”http://athentikos.kindful.com/i-am-art-se-luz-2016/jen-galvins-i-am-art-se-luz-2016-mission-fundraising-campaign” bg_color=”#dd3333″ btn_hover_bg=”#000000″]Support Jen Galvin’s I AM ART Trip[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Why is the most important question

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Why is the most important question we can ask during our journey in life. It is important that we wait patiently for the answer to make sure we are asking the right question. I have many times asked myself why we invest in Athentikos and I AM ART. Each time, I am encouraged to wait and learn more … Over the last five years, we’ve watched I AM ART grow from a rough idea into a detailed creative journey that deeply transforms the hearts of at-risk youth, artists, and translators.

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I AM ART 2015 Casa Bernabe included international team members from California, Guatemala, Michigan, and Tennessee. Many of our translators were students at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City, who volunteered to gain college credit, but said that they had been richly blessed through the experience. Over 70 at-risk youth from Casa Bernabe Orphanage joined our team of creative volunteers to walk through a five day curriculum based on elements of story: character, setting, plot, conflict, resolution, and response.

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I documented the week in photos, and had the privilege of witnessing the details of all the activities – and the resulting transformations. Our curriculum is challenging for both the artists and the youth because it connects external symbolic truths to the truths of our lives. Strategic waypoints teach the profound truth that God creates beauty from the broken. I AM ART uses the vehicle of creativity to teach the deeper lesson: We are all God’s Art. Our lives are precious and meaningful, and we are meant for community.

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At the end of the week, we gathered as a team for a final time of evaluation and encouragement. We were all exhausted from having poured ourselves out into the activities. It was a good tired … the kind of tired one gets from a job well done. I looked around the room and was filled with gratefulness. Each of our team members took risks – including – taking time off from work, raising funding, developing lesson plans, traveling, engaging with new people, and … transparently sharing their hearts.

A few team members shared stories of being hurt in the past by people they trusted. They explained that I AM ART helped them see their wounds and stories in a new light. I AM ART encouraged them to engage life with new passion and intentionality. Several team members expressed a desire to reconnect with communities of faith of which they had once belonged, but had grown estranged. I AM ART repaired the broken by connecting individual stories to God’s greater story.

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At the end of our meeting, I told our team that creative ideas often sleep dormant in the mind, and are never born into reality. Many dreams just linger as a dream. However, with I AM ART, a dream was born into reality greater than the dream itself – authentic community.

As creatives, we can understand each other more than anyone else. We don’t have to create in a vacuum. We have the ability to observe truth, reflect, and communicate truth to one another. We can encourage one another and serve together, using our talents to help others heal.  That is our mission. That is our purpose. We are not just artists, we are ART of the Great I AM … trophies of grace.

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Learn more about I AM ART 2015 Casa Bernabe.

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Dancing in the Orange Glow

It was our last evening in Guatemala before returning home. We had traveled to Lake Atitlan to rest and reflect for a few days after an incredible I AM ART Camp at Casa Bernabe, an orphanage outside Guatemala City. My head was full of thought, so I went out for a walk by myself to soak up one last evening before eating dinner as a team. I wandered through the small town of Panajachel recounting countless stories from our many journeys to Guatemala … everything from our first trip in 2006 when we visited our son during his adoption process, to filming Becoming Fools. I must have been on autopilot because I didn’t have a specific destination in mind. But, I ended up at the back end of town, where a small river meets the lake – a place I had been to before under different circumstances. It had rained a little that afternoon and the air was cool and damp. Far in the distance the sun dipped into the horizon. I heard children playing and kept walking towards the source of that magical sound.

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Before I knew it, I was standing at the water’s edge watching a glorious sunset in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The scene was absolutely breathtaking. A red-orange glow reflected on the glassy water as the green mountains faded into the distance. Dark clouds rolled in to contrast the fireball laying down to sleep in the west. In the foreground children ran free, laughing and playing, calling out to one another as they and their parents looked to the sky.

I followed the sightline of their gaze up and was suddenly overwhelmed with a surreal emotion I couldn’t quite define. Long strings stretched from the hands of these children, crisscrossing into a purple sky … filled with dozens of colorful handmade kites dancing in the twilight. I paused for a moment to soak it in. For just a moment, I was transported back in time. This place of awesome beauty was the place of horrific tragedy just a short four years ago when a holy fool named Italo Castro drowned in these very waters, at this very place. I began to weep in remembrance. It was an odd feeling because I had only spent a few hours with him during the production of our first documentary, Reparando. But, this man significantly changed my life (and many others). I spent three years working on a documentary about the impact of his ministry to homeless children, and somehow, he felt like a brother.

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Four years ago, we mourned the loss of a hero. Four years ago we stepped forward in faith to share the legacy of his life in a way that would honor his life’s work to help children at-risk. Four years ago, we had no idea … how difficult … and how beautiful our journey would be. But in that moment at the water’s edge, all of the tragedy and comedy collided together into beautiful irony written by the hand of an author writing a greater story. After all, it was the weekend of All Saints Day and Día de Muertos, a holiday to remember loved ones who have passed away. In Guatemala, kites are flown during this holiday as a symbolic gesture to connect with the spirits in heaven. I had seen people flying kites all weekend, but these kites were different. These kites were like angels hovering over the water, quietly, but powerfully honoring a holy fool. The children, the place, the sunset, the memories – they all combined in a way that I could never quite understand nor communicate. I’ll just sum it up to say it was beautiful.

In that moment, my spirit was carried up with those kites, and I caught a glimpse of heaven. I imagined Italo looking down at the place where he breathed his last breaths on earth … and seeing so many children playing joyfully with their families … he smiled … and I smiled with him. In that moment, there was no tragedy, there was no comedy … there was only peace.

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Help us empower at-risk children through I AM ART.

Kristi Bredeweg – Returning Home

I’m sitting on the plane. The man next to me is fast asleep. I have three hours to think; so I do. What on earth just happened to me? I left the comfort of a typical American lifestyle and wound up in a country where I knew not one soul, did not speak the language at all, and had no idea what was expected of me. Result? Unbelievable personal growth, new friends, a scant smattering of Spanish words and a new appreciation of God’s sovereign providence.

There is a certain comfort in returning ‘home’, wherever that might be, and I’m experiencing it as I fly over the Gulf toward Atlanta and then Michigan. However, I start letting my mind process my time recently spent with mostly teenagers for long blocks of time each day, trying to convey to them an art concept that even I was skeptical of! My fellow team members did an excellent job of supplying me with what I needed to pull it off. Along with the supplies I purchased and lugged to Guatemala, I was well equipped. And so we began.

Within 10 minutes of my dive into the approved workshop, I scrapped it. This isn’t going to work with this group. I sensed a guarded and apprehensive mentality. Let’s face it: I was a white American woman of privilege coming into their world. There wasn’t much common ground there. Or was there? I calmly put aside my agenda, sat on a chair in the middle of the room, and told them about my life. My real life. The one where my 5 year old son died while I was pregnant. The one where my husband left me with 4 kids. The one where my roof collapsed.

I stared into the eyes of 10 interested kids. They saw that even I, this white American woman of privilege, had real issues. From then on, they trusted me. We began the workshop. They knew I cared about them, their lives and struggles. I may not be able to fix all or any of the stuff they dealt with, but I knew with all my heart that we would connect on some level that transcended skin color, location, language, age, and status. We were all on the same artistic journey.

I watched them as they used their individual talents to transform a simple mirror into a reflection of who God made them to be. I shared the meaning of their names with them. They quietly took that information in.

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They were so special and so unique. I would have taken any one of them home with me. I said my “goodbyes” to each of them individually. My tears flowed freely. They looked me in the eye and told me that they too would miss me. We connected. We shared. I was blessed beyond anything I could have imagined when I began this journey.

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I now see the lights of American soil and the Atlanta airport. I get a lump in my throat at the real possibility that I will forget their idiosyncrasies and individual quirks; all the things that make me want to return and once again sit in a chair in the middle of a room and become a real person to real kids and delve into art… and so much more.

Kathlyn Beyer – Casa Bernabe Retrospect

I’ve been processing, the past several days, I AM ART camp that took place last week at a children’s home in Guatemala City. It was a week that I dreaded, stressed over, planned for and simply, to be quite honest, didn’t really want to begin. Little did I know I would feel very differently by the end of it.

When I had heard that Athentikos would be leading two art camps this year, I signed up. My anticipation of my involvement was that I would help with translation like I had the year before. As logistics were being sorted out stateside, the team realized they needed more artists to teach workshops so they asked me what I thought. The idea of workshop leading excited and terrified me all at once. I responded to them that I’d pray about it but they could probably count on me to do it. It happened. I was signed up to lead a workshop. Then fear set in.

I had no clue of their expectation or what art medium I would use to teach the I AM ART curriculum. After a couple of days I decided on photography. Team Skype meetings came; I dreaded them. Every time it stressed me out to present my ideas to the more experienced artists. I had no clue how it was all going to pan out. A supply list was compiled, but there was no way I could afford to buy it all. I was overwhelmed! I was looking at the big picture or at least what I perceived it to be and it seemed impossible for my human form to accomplish. As time went on, I realized how right I was. God revealed His hand in three tiny miracles;

Miracle #1: God gave me community. A friend, the right artistic and creative friend, came alongside at just the right time. We spent 2 hours bouncing ideas off one another and developing a plan. I felt more at peace with the undertaking after having her help.

Miracle #2: He supplied the resources to make it happen. My mom shared the need with our support team and in little to no time all supplies were on their way!

Miracle #3: As time passed and I attended more meetings and my confidence and preparedness grew. I had freaked out about the details but He didn’t leave me there long. God provided. He is faithful.

The week approached and I was stressed. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I wished for more time. Feeling somewhat unprepared, I had forgotten Who had and would work it out.

Monday, the first day of classes, I was nervous. So many unknowns flooded my mind. I had no idea if the “plan” would work well, if it would engage the children or bore them, if it would last the full three hour session or leave me frantically filling time with unplanned games after completing the lesson in 30 minutes. Would the children behave, enjoy, tolerate, or act out? Perhaps the biggest uncertainty was that not only would I be teaching photography for the first time but I would be doing so in my second language, Spanish.

I survived day one. My Spanish held up. I didn’t love or hate the outcome of the day but was glad it was over. My kids were some of the oldest in the group so along with their adolescence there were the attitudes you might expect. With many of them having lived at the children’s home for the majority of their lives, they have come to be calloused to short term groups and teams. If they don’t allow themselves to feel attachment, they won’t feel the heart tugs as the short-termers skip country. This dynamic was fairly obvious from the get go. I didn’t struggle understanding their hesitancy or should I say their cool attitude. In fact, I’ve found myself, to some extent, on the other side. Me being the cold host. Sounds pretty harsh but I don’t have any lighter way to put it. I was thankful to have that deeper understanding of the children’s lives.

Slowly they began to open up. Not nearly as quick as I did but they got there. Very seldom was I able to see the excitement of the children as they learned. I guess partly because I didn’t truly know them yet. But I would. My first perception was I had a class full of uninterested young men and women, a potential flirt and a class outcast. Man was I wrong. I quickly learned (well perhaps it took me the whole week to learn) you can never know the heart from that which is displayed on the faces of others.

One example of this was one that brought tears to my eyes. It is that of a young man of about 15 or 16. He hardly ever spoke. I struggled to remember his name at the beginning of the week. So expressionless, I wondered if he even cared to be there. Second to last day, I sat down beside him on the basketball court and he turns to me and asks,

“Will you all come back next year? I mean to do an art camp?”

To which I respond “I really don’t know. Hopefully!”

“Well, I’ve really enjoyed it.”

This from the expressionless adolescent. His voice spoke with sincerity. It spoke deeply to me. As if that wasn’t enough to touch my heart, he wrote me a sweet note thanking me for teaching him so much, that he had really enjoyed it, and that he was going to miss me. I had observed this boy all week. During our large group session he would enter, his face would say “I feel alone in this crowd of people, I don’t even know where to go”, and then he would awkwardly shuffle to the back of the room. I had seen it happen several times as if he was lost and couldn’t find anyone he knew. But by the end of the week he knew me, that I was there because I cared about him and the others. That he realized that blessed me.

One of the older girls had an attitude at the beginning of the week but that disappeared as the week came to a close. She would walk up and greet me with the sweetest of hugs. Hugs of friendship.

…to be continued

Kristen Paquette: To Be the Hands and the Feet of Jesus

As I prepare for Guatemala, I have been reflecting on my past experiences that have led me to be the Hands and Feet of Jesus. It is hard to believe that the trip is fast approaching. In the midst of excitement, I often feel anxious and I find myself in a panic. During the moments that panic sets in, God reminds me that He has equipped me with knowledge and the skills to go on this trip. These are the seeds that have been planted in my heart.

Recently, during a moment of panic, I realized that I have a heart of compassion and a heart that breaks for Guatemalans. Ever since I took a sociology course while I was attending college. Remember, this was 9 plus years ago and I still vividly remember watching a video in Developmental Sociology. The video captured children that were living on the street and as a method of survival they resorted to “huffing” any type of aerosol products they could get their hands on. After all these years, that image has always vividly remained in my memory. Then as time went on, my friends Scott and Amelia Moore adopted two handsome sons from Guatemala and started the nonprofit organization Athentikos. As I followed their posts about the I Am Art trips, something resonated within me.

I would of never thought my first overseas mission trip would include me teaching an art workshop to adolescent girls. I always imagined my first overseas mission trip would be to Sierra Leone, Africa with a medical team and during the trip I would be administering vaccines, conducting HIV testing, and working in the maternity clinic. Naturally this makes since. Right? I do have experience as a public health nurse and this is within my comfort level. Then God kindly reminds me that my preconceived ideas of my first overseas mission trip was my plan and not His. God really does has a sense of humor.

I also get reminded of the importance of art in my own life and how it has helped aid healing during the most difficult times. In the midst of anxiety and panic, God gently reminds me that art is a big part of my own life. From childhood until I graduated from College in 2006, I was a dancer and taught dance classes. Then as I started my career as a Registered Nurse I stopped dancing as a profession. However, I am all about impromptu dance parties (just saying). In 2008 my husband and I attended professional ballroom dance classes to prepare for our first dance at our wedding reception that we hoped would “wow” our guests. As a child I grew up in an art filled home. My mom taught me at an early age how to cross stitch. She was a “crafter” and often had a booth at craft shows. I remember watching her “craft” which stirred up my own interest. I would often get in trouble for raiding her craft room and leaving it a mess as I attempted to create my own masterpieces. As I grew older I learned to knit, scrapbook, make jewelry and sew. To be honest I find myself working with all kinds of art mediums. For me, the sky is the limit. I have realized that I resort to my art hobbies during times of joy such as making a baby blanket for a co-worker to celebrate a birth. During times of sadness I make items that remind me of a loved one that has passed away. Art is apart of who I am and God has reminded me that, “No Kristen, not every Guatemalan is an artisan and yes, you have the skills you need to teach them a art workshop.”

During my moments of fear and panic, God reminds me that I have a heart that breaks for adolescent girls and I especially love mentoring to middle schoolers. For the past year, I have helped out with youth ministry at my church. These middle schoolers have won over my heart. I have a small group of middle school girls I meet with every Sunday morning. I have learned a lot from them and they bless my heart each and every week. So of course this is another way God has gently reminded me. “Duh, Kristen. Yes, it makes perfect sense for you to go on a mission trip to Guatemala to work with adolescent girls.”

I am filled with so many emotions in regards to my upcoming trip. During my moments of panic and feeling of inadequacy, I am reminded of the moments that have already given me the skills and knowledge needed to go on this trip to Guatemala. I am so excited and I cannot wait to see what God has in store for the girls at Oasis Home and the I Am Art Mission Team. Please keep all of us in your thoughts and prayers as we prepare for this amazing journey where we get to be the Hands and Feet of Jesus.

Kristi Bredeweg – Preparing for Casa Bernabe

I am about a week away from traveling to Guatemala with Athentikos for I AM ART Fall 2015. How did I get here? It’s already been a wild journey …

I was, sitting in my home church of Heritage CRC in Byron Center, Michigan. By the way, I am a charter member, which makes me: 1) boring, 2) blindly loyal, and/or 3) totally in love with my congregation and not wanting to leave. Pastor Joel VanDyke spoke to us in early May and mentioned this thing called “I Am Art” in Guatemala. I have been the “artist” at my church for over 23 years so that caught my attention. Perhaps there would be a place for a middle aged neurotic, artistic woman to go on this trip and use whatever God has gifted her with in reaching peoples of an entirely different culture. Painting? Tile murals? Set design for drama? Character roles in a play? Music? I’m comfortable in all areas. Many people came up to me after the service telling me I “need” to go. I told these people “I’ll think about it”, but I was busy. Right? We’re ALL busy. Is this my fearful excuse or is it legit?

More time went by in my ‘forgetful fear’ stage, and after 2 weeks, a good friend phones me and says she had been prompted to call me and urge me to go on this journey to Guatemala and use my gifts. Once again, fear takes over and this time it’s accompanied by an over-whelming sense of inadequacy. This is entirely foreign to me as I am about the least insecure, fearful, non-self confident person you’ll ever meet. I tell her I’d think about it and once again, I don’t take action. However, the opportunity lurks around in the back of my mind and I can’t shake it.

This has been, in the past, God’s way of getting my attention. I’ve learned to not let a lot of time pass when He does this, so I focus. As another few weeks go by, things start happening in my life that turn my attention to this trip, such as: my granddaughter asking me to learn Spanish, several art projects I am doing that involve international thinking, and imagining myself in scenarios that make me laugh out loud. Scenarios of being covered in paint with 20 kids who can’t understand what I’m saying! THAT’S funny! I guess when God allows Nebuchadnezzar to share his wall-writing experience with you, pay attention.

I sign up. I’m accepted. I pay my entrance fee. Yet, I am petrified.

Typically, I’m a daredevil and will try anything once or twice if it’s exciting! Why am I so afraid? I’ve always been the first-in-line kinda gal and I find myself even crying at times when I think about committing to this trip. I speak not one word of Spanish. The farthest “out-of-the-country” I’ve ever traveled is Canada and the Caribbean. I have a husband, 8 kids, seven grandkids, an overweight cat and a dog on Prozac for pity’s sake! They all need me here, right?

Suddenly I’m not so sure and I begin to entertain the idea of bridging a gap between my outlandish way of creating art and a dozen kids who can’t understand me! I again laugh out loud and begin to get a bit excited. Maybe part of the process can be in our resolution of a language barrier and how we’re all “one” with God understanding our hearts using the language of ‘art’.

At this point I download Duolingo at my team leaders request. It takes me four days to master “Mujer.” I begin to pray about mastering fear by giving it ALL to God; seriously giving it all. I think Christians do a great job of lip service when they say “I’ve given it all to God!” Not all. Perhaps most. For me at this juncture, it meant I’d enlist the support of some good friends in prayer, verbal encouragement, and take a good look at my finances.

Peculiar things started happening. I began talking to the Spanish family who just joined our church. Sketchy on my side, and they are gracious. I acquired several more clients and my bank account has a surplus. My friend tells me my passport picture is the “best she’s ever seen!” Okay. Okay. I’m also gently reminded of events in my life when I was forced to fall on my knees and simply let time play out. God’s timing. I have to just let go. Seriously, just like that. I did NOT pick up the fearful/inadequate thoughts again. I focused on not fretting! Overnight? No, but gradually EVERYTHING seemed to now be coated with a warm feeling of ease. I am no longer apprehensive when I talk about going on this trip. In fact, I’m so calm, I write a letter explaining my purpose and the Athentikos mission and am prepared to send it in early October to over 200 friends asking them to pray for me and my team. I’m geeked! Guess the “total surrender thing” works.

Probably the coolest thing that put me at ease was the formulation of my art project. At this point, I didn’t even know if my team leaders needed or wanted me to submit an idea. But if they did, the one that kept bouncing off my brain was one that had sprung from the death of my oldest child and the valley I had to walk through. I had shared it in several banners and projects for various areas of mine and other churches. Even a speaking engagement to a couple hundred people. I think I have something to share. God guide my mind….

I began to mess around in my studio with various forms of “fun-art-stuff” that I have done with kids for years. The things that make me smile are the ones I will move forward with as well as the pieces that came out of my personal tragedy.

As I share my early fears with my husband, he prays for me and we laugh at how things are answered in a timely manner. We laugh a lot! The months pass with very little contact from my team. I’m fretting again. Rats. Here I am, heading to a foreign country, eager and somewhat focused, and I have not had one iota of contact with one single soul going on this trip. It’s been weeks. Oh boy. Here comes my new neighbor Fear, closely followed by his brother Apprehension and cousin Inadequacy. I again concentrate on turning to timely-trust, as my husband and I have begun to call it.

Within days, my team leader David schedules an individual meeting with me on Google Hangout. As I’m not very computer literate, my old buddies knock on the door. However, David is so totally welcoming and accepting of my computer shortcomings that once again, the gang-of-fearful-three run and hide. David also promptly sends me a link and I log-on and we chat. He is going to be my friend! I already love him and his gifts. He lets me ask a zillion questions and I’m sure some of them were redundant and rather silly. He doesn’t laugh and repeats his answers as frequently as I repeat my questions. I find out I’m necessary and am encouraged to formulate a lesson art plan for the kids. In his chatting, he mentions areas where I know I’ll be able to help others on my team. Drama, music, sports and games. All things that encourage me and he didn’t even know he was doing that. God is a complete kinda guy and had this conversation all covered before it even took place. Nice!

My prayers have been primarily with my husband as I prepare for this journey. As we do a devotional time over coffee each morning, I Am Art has become our focus. I know my prayer warrior friends are also praying for me and all of us. I find myself repeating these very simple yet powerful words:

“My Father who knows me completely: help me to know You and discern Your will. My thoughts are racing and my plans are many. Set me on your lap and and open my ears to hear your gentle voice guiding me on the perfect path You’ve already chosen. Your will be done throughout the entire earth. Help me as I branch out in trust and faith. Thank you, my faithful God.”

And by the way, Soy una mujer!!!

Paul Lowder: An Honest Introduction

I’m spending the winter here in the ash
house on the edge of the crinkly sea.
Darling I don’t usually say darling but I
want you to have everything behind my
eyes. In the darkness your dark flashlight
points out the room’s troubles. I’ll never
have the really important ideas: I see
only by the light of my skin.

Post Moxie by Julia Story

My name is Paul Lowder, and I have been involved with Athentikos and the I Am Art initiative since the summer of 2014. I jumped aboard for several reasons:

  1. I was going nowhere in Los Angeles,
  2. I needed a positive, creative outlet, and
  3. I wanted to see the world.

To be plainly honest, my desires to travel to Guatemala and to help run an art camp for at-risk youth grew from a selfish desire. This isn’t to say that volunteering and service are not close to my heart. They are. And they were, in many regards, responsible for getting me involved with Athentikos. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I wanted to go because I wanted to go.

Athentikos’ mission, broadly put, is authenticity. I would like to be authentic with you about who I am, what I believe, and how I am going to be involved.

Who?

You know my name. I am 26 years old. I am a father and a husband. I studied Religion and the Arts (Writing) at Belmont University from 2008 to 2013. Yes, it took me 5 years to finish. I wish it had taken me longer. I’m not sure I’ve figured out how to operate in the real world yet. But if I’ve figured anything out, it’s that no one else has any real clue as to what is going on out here. I cannot decide if that is comforting or discouraging–depends on the day.

What?

Athentikos is a non-profit organization that operates from a Christian worldview. My worldview is less grounded, and I hesitate to identify with any sort of religious title. I know how picky some people can be about other people’s identification, so I want to speak plainly and honestly about all of this.

I grew up in a Christian household and in the Church. I lived that life honestly and fully because it was the life set in front of me. I prayed the prayer. I prayed it again. I went to Christian athletic camps. I was baptized. I met with a small group every other Sunday from 7th grade until I graduated high school. I played in the youth group band. You get the idea. It wasn’t until I attended my Christian university that I began my departure (some would say descent) from the faith I was born into.

Now, I don’t want to make myself seem virtuous, enlightened, or anything like that. I don’t want to preach that this path is necessary for everyone or that I found a more real truth. I can only say that it was what I needed to do. The first step to self-discovery (in my case anyway) was complete abandonment.

“…if someone rejects religion in the name of the moral function of the human spirit, […] in the name of the cognitive function of the human spirit, […] in the name of the aesthetic function of the human spirit, he rejects religion in the name of religion. You cannot reject religion with ultimate seriousness, because ultimate seriousness, or the state of being ultimately concerned, is itself religion.”

Theology of CulturePaul Tillich

Isn’t it our parents’ wish for us to go out into the world and make our faith our own? Are we not taught to follow our heart? I believe we are. In doing this I stopped identify as a Christian. To this day, I remain with this un-identification. Yet I still find myself ultimately concerned with trying to live a compassionate life.

Some might be wondering; If you’re not a Christian, then what are you? A Buddhist? How do you coexist and help Athentikos in their mission that is largely Christian? How can we trust you?

No. I am not a Buddhist. Neither am I an Atheist. Or an Agnostic. Unfortunately, the answer to those questions are not going to be satisfying. They won’t resolve cleanly and nicely like a Hollywood movie or a best-selling novel. I believe life is far more complex and that language–despite being incredibly complex–is wholly inadequate for matters such as this. But in order to answer the question, I will say this:

My views on God are apophatic, which is just a fancy, theological/philosophical term meaning that I believe God is ineffable, which is just another fancy word for unspeakable and unsayable. In other words, Jehovah’s Witnesses rub me the wrong way. Ludwig Wittgenstein said it beautifully at the conclusion of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Some people tend to be troubled by this. Not all people, but some. Human beings like for things to be identified, for things to be delineated and organized. I am not exempt from this. I’m peculiar like the rest of us. My room is messy, but my food must be orderly on my plate. My clothes are often dirty and disheveled, but I am sure to keep my napkins folded symmetrically before, during, and after I use them. But the human condition, as I see it, is far more complex than simply checking a box that says “Christian” or “Muslim” or “Buddhist” or “Atheist.” I find great contentment and fulfillment in leaving that box unchecked.

“…Truth needs no label: it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu nor Moslem. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hinderance to the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in men’s minds.”

What the Buddha Taught

I enjoy quoting other people. I’m sure this is obvious by now, and like the Athentikos team, I love stories of all shapes and sizes. Walker Percy has a novel called The Moviegoer where the main character Binx Bolling is often pondering about God and questions about the universe. During an imaginary conversation, Binx is asked if he believes in God:

“I hesitate to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting myself a goal which everyone else has reached–and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest. Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics–which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker.”

Throughout the novel, Binx is constantly challenged to define himself in relation to friends, family, sweet-hearts, and colleagues despite his urge to remain vague and open to possibility.

“What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”

What I desire more than anything else, is to live a fulfilled, compassionate life. This, I believe, is incredibly Christian. It’s also incredibly Buddhist and, believe it or not, Atheistic. It is through this compassion and a sense of what Tillich calls ultimate concern that I am able to coexist within Athentikos and their mission.

Despite everything I’ve said about religion and Christianity, I do not hate it nor do I think that those who believe it are fools with their heads in the sand. Sure, there are Christians who have forgotten compassion just as there are Buddhists who have forgotten. There are bad Atheists and good ones. And amongst all of them, there are some people who transcend social identities and come down to earth. That’s a funny picture, isn’t it? Transcend to come down. Transcend the self in order to truly come down to earth and be a compassionate servant to others. I would describe Scott and Amelia Moore in this way, and I long to help Athentikos grow and spread.

Now What?

This summer I am reading a few books about the old desert fathers and mothers. Specifically, I am going through Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in preparation for the upcoming I Am Art camp in Guatemala. The book is incredibly short, but packed with wisdom (as it is with many of Nouwen’s works). It is split into three main parts: Solitude, Silence, and Prayer. These three attributes of the spiritual life intrigue me. They are difficult to obtain in this modern world, but I believe it’s possible and worth working toward. I am also reading Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality by Alan Jones and Theology of Culture by Paul Tillich.

Aside from simply reading these texts, I plan on putting together a few written responses in the context of the Athentikos trips this fall.

Finally, if anything I’ve said has sparked some interest or at the very least a feeling, feel free to contact me directly at this address – plowder@athentikos.com

“Though it may alienate your family,
And blur the lines of your identity,
Let go of what you know,
And honor what exists.
Son, that’s what bearing witness is.
Daughter, that’s what bearing witness is.”

Bearing Witness by David Bazan

Gratitude – Tina Beede

I heard it would happen. That feeling of uncomfortable gratitude that comes from fundraising for a cause that means something to you. It’s been a jam-packed month of finishing summer, planning for my new year of preschool, getting my own kids ready for their new year (middle school and 3rd grade – how did that happen?), and then starting the fast-paced routine of getting acquainted and feeling the excitement of the new school year ahead.

In the middle of all that, I reached my fundraising goal for my trip in November. I actually exceeded it! When I logged in and saw that my goal had been met, I immediately had butterflies of joy, relief, and this overwhelming humility. Close to forty people helped me get there. Forty of you generously gave money, and a sea of others have asked me about the trip, prayed for me, encouraged me, and shared their own stories of mission work that shifted the focus of their life.

The Athentikos team has been so encouraging and have been giving us a lot to consider and think about in preparation for our trip. We’ve had a few Google Hangout meetings to introduce us to each other, help us ask questions, and hear more about what to expect at the Oasis Home. I am still unsure about the logistics of my kids’ schedule meshing with David’s. I’m also still unsure what exactly I’ll be teaching these sweet girls once I get to Guatemala, but I have no doubt it will work out. The closer November gets, the more I’m feeling this underlying feeling of something big happening. I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels like the start of something different and exciting.

I’m a big fan of opening myself up to relationships and have learned (more than once) that when things get hard or uncomfortable or unpredictable, the people engaged in your life want to help. They want to be part of your story to help ease the burden and influence you in a positive way. I’ve learned to ask for what I need. It’s not easy for me, but I do ask when I know I must. Along with asking, I’ve learned that “no” is a fine answer to receive so it doesn’t offend or keep me from asking someone else, or at another time. And I’ve learned to cut people some slack. We aren’t created to do it all for everyone all the time. And because I have a hard time not being able to do it all for everyone all the time, I’ve learned to trust that people are cutting me some slack too. I’ll be reminding myself of this before I set off in November–the day after Thanksgiving–for a week and a half, right before Christmas.

Enjoy some pictures of an art-day fundraiser my sis-in-law hosted. Isn’t amazing what a few canvases, lots of fun paint, creative kids, and generous families can produce? It was a really fun day filled with faces I love and in just four hours, the kids and their parents donated $300!