Entry Level Maturity #5: Competition Vs. Cooperation

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Humans compete, right? That’s what we do. After all, we’ve gained total domination over the food chain and the all the world’s resources.

Well… actually… scientists have  attributed our success as a species not to our ability to compete, but our ability to cooperate. If you’re a real nerd and you’d like to follow a rabbit trail off the actual topic of this blogpost, here’s a scholarly article about it: The Evolution of Cooperation (quite fascinating, really). But, I want to talk about something loosely related.

In the economy of our relationships, there are a store of resources and a set of goals. Productivity, esteem, and attention are based on values. Your personal values will inform your relationships. For example, a few of mine are: honesty, creativity, spirituality, openness, kindness, playfulness, and hard work. As water seeks its own level, so do we seek out those who share our values, but we create problems for ourselves when our intrinsic motivation is competitive.

Fun Fact: Our relationship with ourselves affects our relationships with others and our relationships with others directly inform our relationship to society and ultimately our level of productivity in the social economy.

It’s a really good idea to take a cue from those social science guys and realize that cooperation, not competition is the key to our personal and social success. Life just works better when we are gathering over our values to build one another up and reach them together. Anything else leads to isolation. It’s pretty ironic that when we start to compete with others for esteem and attention, we are really sabotaging ourselves and our society.

The obvious motivation for competition is a sense of threat. So, here we are again: Love Your Awkward Little Self.

Contempt is a nasty old manifestation of this. Contempt is jealousy cleverly disguised as elitism and sounds something like:

  • Thank God I don’t have giant knees like that Faith Hill.
  • Everyone in this town driving around with these fancy cars is eyeball-deep in credit card debt.
  • Justin Beiber is an idiot. I only listen to Scottish Pirate Music with a German ProgRock influence.

Clearly, contempt tears others down to elevate the self. If you catch yourself thinking ugly thoughts and saying ugly things about folks, try to make sure you aren’t being contemptuous.

Side Note: If you find yourself at the butthole end of someone else’s contempt, it would be so nice to realize that they need nurturing and to help them, but be careful that you don’t wind up in someone else’s energy vortex. Takers take until there’s nothing left. Sometimes really helping them means not allowing them to take from you.

Competition can’t exist without rivalry and rivalry is really another word for jealousy. Jealousy takes many forms. Theres’ workplace jealousy, friend jealousy, romantic jealousy, time jealousy, sibling rivalry, etc. Sometimes we’re jealous and we don’t even know it. So, we do stuff that jerks do like convincing ourselves that we are, “offering helpful criticism,” that really translates into, “Let’s remember that you aren’t better than me.”

A problem with this form of competition is that you might actually win, only to find yourself surrounded by people who you chose to put beneath you. People who chose to be beneath you. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything more miserable than being the best person I know.

A better alternative is to look at everyone the same. To realize that we are all flawed and all beautiful. We all have something to teach and something to learn. On a personal note, I believe that we are all divine creations, God-breathed, and meant to be honored and revered.

Seeking out teachers in each of your values is a good place to start. Humbly receiving instruction is a brilliant way to thrive. Seize the opportunity to encourage and build others up. Try not to dwell on flaws, but speak to the highest selves. Instead of “winning,” you may just find yourself surrounded by a bunch of bad @$$e$.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Entry Level Maturity #4: Our 3 Choices

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In life, most of our struggles boil down to 3 choices:

  • Learn to live with it.
  • Change it.
  • Freak out about it.

Number 3 usually happens first. No shame in that.  A lot of folks will tell you that freaking out is a bad thing, but I think it’s perfectly okay if done well (for more on this, see the first installment of Entry Level Maturity, It Only Matters What You Do with It).

But, when you get tired of number three, which you may or may not do, you are going to need to move on to number one or two.

Fun Fact: if it happened in the past, number two is no longer an option.

That pretty much leaves only one choice for junk that happened in the past. But, before we can learn to live with the past, we need to allow space and grace to come to terms with what happened back there. If it’s hard to live with the past, it’s usually because we’ve lost something: friendships, possessions, trust, innocence, hope, confidence, a sense of self, etc.

Grief has to happen when you’ve lost something. It’s just a natural, healthy process. You can google the stages of grief to understand that better, but I will say this: the first stage is denial. It presents itself as avoidance, blame, numbness, etc. It’s important to note that living in denial isn’t exactly the same thing as learning to live with past hurts. That’s because unchecked past hurt is a dangerous thief of life. It becomes subterraneous, dwelling and expanding beneath the surface, poisoning us in ways we often don’t even realize. It often leads to that sort of freaking out that isn’t good like addiction, bitterness, rage, or depression. In short, to truly learn to live with past hurts, we have to deal with them.

Dealing with our junk usually leads to some unpleasant discoveries. Lies that we accepted about ourselves will inform the choices we make. We can’t change the past, but we can change the way that it informs us of our present and our future. Did something happen to make you think you were bad? Unloveable? Unworthy? Shameful? Those are ideas you can change. And now, we’re back to this: Love Your Awkward Little Self

Next time you face a struggle, run through this list of choices and evaluate the options. If circumstances are making you miserable – freak out. If you get tired of freaking out – change the circumstances. If you can’t – accept them. If it hurts – grieve the loss but, no matter what, make sure the ideas you form about yourself in the process are guided by love. Because love is the only thing that matters. And the better you get at accepting love from God and from yourself, the more you have to give.

One caveat to this whole thing is that change always comes at a price. Sometimes it will involve sacrifices. Please, please make sure the price you are willing to pay is coming from a point of love and not insecurity.

“I’m unworthy,” is a lie. “I am helpless,” is a lie. “I’m just worthless,” “I’m just bad,” “I’m just stuck,” “I just can’t” are all lies. If you come against a lie, speak truth back at it until you believe it. There are three choices, the difference is those choices can be fueled by love or lies. Love begets love. Lies beget lies. You choose.

Prisoners for Christmas

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“We tell stories because they save us.”

-Madeleine L’Engle

Yesterday I received a book I had ordered from Vox Press called, In Our Own Words, Writing From Parchman Prison.”  As I sit by the light of the Christmas tree in my cozy home, I am reading a collection of stories written by inmates of Mississippi’s federal prison. Louis Bourgeois has lovingly harvested these stories and prepared them for publication, in what I am certain is a plan to offer hope and empowerment to the men whose lives have run off the track, but the work doesn’t stop there.

The book is filled with breath-taking and poetic passages that my words would not do justice. I will not try. Instead,  I will simply share this excerpt from Vincent Young’s piece, “Cotton Picking.”

“I saw the women take off their shoes about noon when the dirt warmed up. My mother would give me a kiss every time I’d empty my pillow case into her sack, and I wanted my kisses from my mother because the kisses meant she loved me and I was doing good […] The day after the birth, my mother caught me getting cotton from the other women and she called me by my whole name. That’s a sign I was in deep trouble. She made me work by her side for the rest of the day. I couldn’t run around the field getting cotton from the other women. I only got four kisses that day instead of ten. Once we got home she told me to go the kitchen table and that meant I was going to receive a talking to about what I’d done. When I got there she got on me for taking cotton from the other women. She told me that those women gave me cotton because they thought we were poor after seeing my sister and I in the fields instead of school.”

Young is serving time for armed robbery and aggravated assault.

I was looking over an old blog post this week about interpreting our own lives in the form of a narrative. In it, I had spoken about the modern day fairy tales that teach, “sympathy for the devil,” and how we look differently at characters when we see their upbringing (think of Disney’s Maleficent and Frozen). We are at a point in history where we can see the truth that bad attitudes start with sad stories and are learning the tools of compassion through understanding. I am doubly convinced of this truth reading In Our Own Words which is a collection of anything but fairy tales.

Bourgeois’s book, and those like it do more than offer hope to the authors. They encourage the rest of us to do our part to create a world that is more hospitable to those who are suffering. When  I read of Seriehel Belton’s dilemma of choosing to attend school for the food it provided,  and the fear of being teased for not having supplies, it was a reminder that we all have work to do to make the world safer for those less fortunate.

Who is the devil? Is it the man who grows up selling cocaine or is it the poverty that drove him to it? This is an important question, because when it comes to our own stories, we can only fight one.  I do not mean to say that we are not responsible for our own choices. These prisoners are clearly paying the price of theirs, but I am saying that when we can only evaluate the choices of others when we hear the voices of others, and that as I sit in my snug, little home on Christmas Eve, my heart is bent toward the boys these men were. I am duly convicted of the detachment of my, “charity” this season and resolved to better next year, to do more than buy the toy, but also to hold the hand, to be the hope, and to love the children who will become the adults that will make the choices to serve humanity or their own unmet needs. The needs we meet are the ones that will go away.

I would encourage everyone to grab a copy of this book to support this initiative. It is well written, engaging, and soul-stirring. The money you spend on it will be hope-giving. May we all see the needs that we are called to meet and may we have the will to do so. It would seem as though neglect is the first crime.

Merry Christmas

Remember Wonder?

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I stood impatiently at the river’s edge calling to my boy, “Let’s go. Come on.” IMG_6878

“But, look,” he said, hunkered down, driving a small stick into the silt.  His face was intent, eyes fixed upon the water and I, with tapping toe was nearly too driven by the perceived need to hurry home and start dinner, but “Look!” he called again. Tugging against my own urgency, I cast my gaze to match his and saw them, the tiny clouds he was creating. Roiling sand stirring, becoming glitter in the sunlight. Each time he drove his stick down, it happened again. A magic emulsion rising.


We spent nearly an hour by the water’s edge that day. Tossing in handfuls of earth and conjuring billows.  I remembered. Wonder. It is the work of childhood, the steady stream of curiosity that drives the small ones to overturn the rocks, to poke the holes, to chase the movement in the tall grasses, to crouch at leaves, to study the small lives marching by with breadcrumbs like boulders on their backs. How sadly we outgrow this way of being. How pressing the need to rush.


But, there is magic in the wonder. A full heaven lies in the microcosm along the ground, inside the flowers, and at the river’s edge. Yet another is the macrocosm that spreads above us, the spinning stars, the yawning universe, the pale-faced moon. And, I have accepted God’s nudging in my spirit that He would have us drink these heavens like the children do. Hands scooping heavens from the bowl He has provided, drawing them to our lips, and knowing wonder. The creation of our senses, the portals for the experience of each minute and monumental miracle, are  a testament of God’s desire for us to remember wonder as evidence of His tender care and immeasurable control.

IMG_2980May you find cause to remember wonder.

Love in a Time of Terror

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Today is the birthday of many fears. On September 11, 2001, I was 25 days into a relationship with the man I would marry. I was starting my last year of college at a new University. I went for breakfast in the student union and saw a smattering of people frozen beneath the television monitors that hung from the ceiling. I froze too and watched the planes destroy the buildings of our nation. I drove to Ben’s house and climbed into bed with my new love, feeling both heartbroken and mysteriously safe. Later that day, I wrote this poem which is really two poems.

911 poem

I continue to feel conflicted at the way in which we carry out our existence, parallel to such suffering. We have no incoming television in our home and I have made a habit of hunting up news of ISIS. At times, I lie awake wondering what we would do if the rumored terror training camps in our nation were mobilized. At times, I cry for the brothers and sisters and children overseas who have lost their lives for professing loyalty to our Heavenly Father. I imagine the mothers watching their children die and the fathers watching their wives raped. And I weep. Here. And I drive to the store and buy groceries and pick up my children from school and climb  into bed with my old love feeling both heartbroken and mysteriously safe. I do not know what to do with this detachment. I wonder what it was like for uninvolved countries to learn the news of Hitler’s reign of terror. To learn that while they were going on with their mundane lives, people were experiencing grueling suffering.

I have something now that I did not have in 2001. There is something I can do now that I did not know that I could do then. I can pray. If you feel detached today from the suffering that is happening in the world, please take a moment and join me:


I thank you the life you have given us, for appointing our existence at this very trying time in human history. I pray that you would use us in a way that glorifies and honors you.

I pray today for the victims of terror, for those who have suffered the loss of family members and loved ones in the attack on September, 11, 2001, and for others who been affected by the fall of those in service to you and to this country in the fight against the evil of our enemy. I pray for only the peace and comfort that you can bring.

I ask, God for mercy and protection for our nation and for Israel. Please lead them, your chosen people to freedom from their oppressors and strike down the enemy that hides in our midst.

I ask for wisdom for our leaders who strive to make decisions for the greatest good. Please be with them and advise them and expose any evil that would threaten our safety among them.

God, please forgive us for being a nation that has turned our back on you. Forgive me for the times I seek to serve myself and my own image rather than your will for my life. Please turn our hearts back to you and return peace to our land. Grant your presence for those who have yet to surrender their lives to you, who have never endeavored to mine the depths of your love and found it inexhaustible.

I love you Lord and it is for your body and in your name that I pray.


Fish Kicker

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Fish Kicker


Lazy Sunday afternoon

We stretched reptilian on the rocks

And bore witness as two fish escaped from the boy.

The third rose thrashing from the river

And when the line swung close

His heavy boot with rounded toe and tassel

Met it in the air.

The noise from me

My belly

My nose

Was pressed into my shirt

So he would not hear.

Because I could not decide if laughing was the appropriate response

To the kicking of a fish.

“Issa Peckerel,” the boy called from across the slow water,

“I ain’t doin’ it justa be mean. It’ll eat up allyer good fish.

Got a nasty mouthful of teeth too.”

Our elbows perched our bodies above the igneous plane as

the fish slid

 slightly wiggling into the reedy grass

and was stomped hard



Three times

Before  it  soared through the air


To meet that heavy boot.

And again

I buried my face

As the children scrambled to see where the fish had gone

Dead fish float

This fish sank

White blur beneath the current

I have never seen anyone drop kick a fish.

And I, in my laughing ignorance

Am torn between the justice of an animal

And the wisdom of the mountain people

Who very well may be saving the waters

From pestilence.

The State of Fruit

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God is Love.
God is in me.
I have love.
I give love.
When I am loving,
I am giving to God;
I am giving God.
This is goodness.

Love is patient. Love is kind.
God is in me.
God is Love.
I have patience and kindness inside me.
When patience and kindness come from me, I am giving to God;
I am giving God.

God is Love.
God is in me.
Love is peaceful.
It is not easily angered and it forgives.
Love is not selfish,
envious, proud, or boastful.
It does not delight in evil.
Love is in me and it gives me self-control.
I do not control others, only myself.
Love is gentle.
When I desire to control others, when I am not peaceful,
when I am easily angered or unforgiving,
when I am selfish, when I want what another has,
when I am proud or boastful,
I am not giving to God;
I am not giving God.
Only when I am gentle and peaceful am I free to give of the God who is within me.

When I protect others,
When I hope,
When I trust Love,
When I do not stop loving,
I am giving to God;
I am giving God who is within me,
the God who protects me,
hopes for me,
never stops loving me,
and who believes in His power within me.
This is faithfulness.

Love always trusts.
To trust is to believe.
God is in me.
I believe in God in me.
God believes in God in me
Because Love trusts and God is Love.

Love loves truth.
This is truth:
God is Love.
Love never fails.
This is joy:
Love never fails.

Against such thing, there is no law.

Galatians 5: 22,23 and Corinthians 13:4-7

Your Life: The Novel

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“We tell stories because we can’t help it. We tell stories because we love to entertain and hope to edify. We tell stories because they fill the silence death imposes. We tell stories because they save us.”                                                    -Madeleine L’Engle


It is rumored that Alexander the Great slept with a dagger and a copy of The Iliad under his pillow because he was so inspired by Achilles.  Countless quizzes circulate the internet that will identify you as a character from any given novel or series.  “Are you an  Eeyore or a Piglet? A Hermione or a Dumbledore? An Eowyn or a Samwise?” For all it’s worth, there is some pretty great wisdom to be gleaned from this little practice. My friends will know that I frequently refer to life as “the grand narrative,” and that I believe very strongly in educating children through an understanding of history as one story in which we have a part. Each person is indeed a character and the reason that archetypes resonate with us and are recognizable, is that they are true. The world is and always has been full of lovers, dreamers, sages, scholars, skeptics, vixens, villains, nurturers, adventurers, whiners, weaklings, cowards, comrades, loners, losers, and heroes. Today, the question is, “which character are you?”

What a blessing it is to have a great body of fictional and nonfictional literature throughout human history that promotes our ideals. These stories nurture us. They give us a well from which to draw inspiration on the type of character we should possess and are therefore critical to our people as a model of goodness. Conversely, there is a classic body of children’s literature in which evil is evil and that is that. I am trying to resist the temptation here to launch in to a back-in-my-day, diatribe, but perhaps it is worthwhile to point out that there was a once upon a time when the wicked witch was just wicked. We didn’t know or care about her own vicious upbringing and consequent attachment disorder. We just accepted that there was a force of evil that needed to be fought. It is interesting that as the roots of dysfunction become more identifiable, stories begin to take on a new life. As a mom, I have the opportunity to be exposed to a new generation of children’s books and films that have more…shall we say… “sympathy for the devil.” We are exploring the age-old truth that every bad attitude starts with a sad story.

Surely this effort will be rewarded. I can not imagine a society that suffered from too much sympathy. That is, unless it became unhealthily focused on taking on undue responsibility and enabled the problems it longed to solve. It is my hope that a generation nourished on the truth that compassion is a necessary ingredient to the development of the human soul will be able to help it along. Much good can come of this type of story as long as it does not prevent us from identifying with the true heroes, disguise true evil, or encourage us toward self-pity.

Somewhere along the way, I heard the saying, “everyone is a hero in their own drama.” I remember how deeply this impacted me and how it prompted me to set out on the impossible task of avoiding bias in my own narrative – to try to look at it objectively. I believe it’s important to try to see how our attitudes and actions shine under the light of our circumstances, but that it isn’t quite possible to do this in our own strength. To borrow a great moment from a chapter that was written long ago, the shepherd boy, David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalms 139:23-24) Perhaps this is why God called him, “a man after my own heart.” Would we not also be wise to borrow this prayer and make it a regular practice for our own lives? Sometimes, when I ask God to do this for me, He is kind to reveal traits that would make for an unsavory character in any book. I think it is by the grace of God alone that we can, in the present moment (not in hindsight) shed the protective and defensive mechanisms that blind us in to fierce justification of bad behavior. I believe that people, being made in the image of God, bear the mark of a conscience and that it is less common for us to be intentionally wicked than it is for us to justify ourselves into some false and imagined form of righteousness. We can glean from a trend that was prevalent in the oldest recorded stories: that we all possess some tragic flaw. Perhaps this dogged self-defense of our own sin and selfishness is a tragic flaw of the whole human race. I have yet to meet anyone who consistently sees and admits their own fault (well… maybe Anne Lammot). But, we do each possess our own set of faults that are usually tied to the other side of our strengths. For example: Leaders are vulnerable to pride; beauty can promote vanity; gregariousness can be a stage for the addiction of approval; sweetness can lay a foundation for enablement or the inability to say, “no” when necessary, etc. The really great news about this story, though, is that it is forever changing, and we have the power to ask for help in identifying and overcoming our flaws…or at least to keep them in check.

This is the point at which the thought of narrative becomes a powerful introspective tool. At any given point (when a decision must be made, for example) we can experience a pivotal moment. We may ask “If I were reading this story, what would I hope to see as the outcome?” Of course, it is important to remember that each character is equally important. I love how, in the modern stories, the villain is redeemed. What part might we play in that? Sometimes we are called to be the hero and to stamp out the evil, but we must be careful to avoid the role of heartless, zealous vigilante. Sometimes we will be the loyal friend, but we can’t overplay it and become the pathetic sidekick. Sometimes, we get to play the dream chaser, but not the one who claws their way to the top at the detriment of others (like the too-busy parent).

I am grateful to no longer be interested in being the ingenue. I hope I get to be the one who grows old and is surrounded by books and friends, to be the feeder of birds, adored by children. I hope to be the one who nurtures and speaks kindly and wisely. I know that if I could ever become that particular type of hero, I will have to be intentional about it. I am so often a flaky, self-centered bat. But (and here is hope) characters can change for the better. It will involve much sacrifice and many hard-earned lessons in restraint and gratitude, but that will be its own story…

Sometimes we foolishly play the part we think was written for us, but we fail to see that this is a choose-your-own-adventure. Who do you want to be? To what are you called? Great stories involve quests and enlightenments. Heroes maintain their strong characters through trials.  What are you seeking? Is it a noble quest? Are your traits admirable? Are you the victim of an evil plot? What could you do rise above the circumstances without bitterness and fear? Are you fighting for your own interests or for the well-being of others? If you read your story, would you love the language of your character? How shall we work together to create a happy ending?



How Old Books and Georgia O’Keeffe Transformed my Porch

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This summer I got a wild hair to paint the floor of my porch. It was born from a desire to make something happen in the space, mingled with a desire to just paint something big. I am always interested in the inspirational story. What is it that makes someone decide to create what they do? So, here we go. This is where I started:

Every summer I teach an art camp. This year I had the children create a series of works inspired by American artists. Among them were Jackson Pollock, Romare Bearden, Alexander Calder,and John Baldessari.  Aside from witnessing the elation that a child experiences over their own creation, the best thing about my job is being forced to do really fun research.

I don’t think it would be fair to cover American art without covering the incredible Georgia O’Keeffe. I remember marveling over her skulls and flowers as a child. But, somehow, in all my years, I had never come to question the fact that the images I have of her in my mind, cover such a broad stretch of time. It is widely known that O’Keeffe had a long-standing affair with photographer Alfred Stieglitz which eventually led to their marriage. Stieglitz made O’Keeffe the subject for a lifelong photography project. This summer I spent a goodly amount of time hunched over his photographs of her. In some the subject is her strikingly brazen visage, in others it is her wry smile, while some are simply of  her beautifully sculpted, sinuous hands. You can not stare long into the steely gaze of this woman without feeling as though she is somehow seeing you too.

And yet, at the same time there is the connection to the photographer. It is a powerful thing to look at the image of someone knowing that you are standing in the middle of a fixed stare between two people. Photos of O’Keeffe in her youth are emblazoned with a sultry passion that is meant for the person behind the camera. There is something so strong and mysterious about looking into the eyes of a dead woman when she was in the height of her life and knowing you are looking at an affair in the making. Taking that into consideration,  I am forced to look away.

I personally prefer the later photographs of O’Keeffe. Her countenance has become her own. Despite Stieglitz’s later affair and O’Keeffe’s presumed subsequent nervous breakdown, her age brings with it a new beauty. With her old photographer long since gone, the desire to appear appealing or provocative is replaced with a stoic resolution which I find more intriguing by far. But it is of note that the ferocity of her stare has not faded.  It amazes me that the same commanding presence O’Keeffe held in her 20’s only became more refined and dignified in her nineties.  Drawn in by the woman herself, I began to appreciate more deeply her works and I found great inspiration this year in her flowers and landscapes.


My house is easily overrun with books. I have to take great care to purge on a regular basis. Sometimes, when there are so many, you don’t even know what you have. The upside to this is that occasionally a pleasant book will turn up that you have never seen before. Such was the case this summer when I discovered, in my stacks, a delightful little title from 1914.

It is basically a tutorial for how to create art and design in the stylings of art nouveau. From the yellowed pages of this book flowed all manner of inspiration. I wanted to paint a rug on my porch floor and it just so happens there was a whole section on rug design.

Then, I was left to grapple with the subject matter. With O’Keeffe still on the brain, I ran across this page. Oh, the flowers!

I realized that I was on to something. So, I married the size of O’Keeffe’s flowers to the rug design from the book and threw in a geometric background. I checked out some books on poppies from the library and went to town. A few days later, my porch turned in to this:

I hope she wouldn’t mind.

Art Lesson #1 Fear Kills Art

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“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
-Scott Adams

I often start off my art classes with the following story:

A long, long time ago in Russia, there lived a family. The family was known for making beautiful matryoshka dolls. The great grandfather, Vasily had taught the grandfather, Uri who had taught the father, Anton who was going to teach his twin sons, Sergey and Sacha. Both of the boys loved to paint and were eager to please their father.

They had worked hard to carve their very first set of dolls and had sanded them as smooth as river stones. The boys both decided to make the dolls look like their mother and to give them to her for her birthday. Their father got out a set of dolls he had carved and taught them to paint the circles for the faces and to wait for them to dry. He had shown them how to paint tiny eyes, noses , and mouths on all the dolls. But when he was called out on an errand, he left the boys alone to get started on their own dolls.

Sacha boasted to Sergey, “My dolls will be the best! I will make them look exactly like Mother and Father will be so pleased!” Sergey just rolled his eyes and both boys began to paint. It was more difficult than Father had made it look and it wasn’t long before Sacha became very frustrated. Suddenly, he sat upright and shouted, “I can’t do this! This is terrible! ” Then, in a fit of anger, Sacha smashed his doll to the ground and stormed out of the room. Sergey looked at the broken doll and saw what made Sacha so angry. The doll’s face had smudged, making the nose look like a long line across the side of the head, but Sergey thought to himself that the work had been good before the accident.

Sergey had made good progress on his dolls. The largest one looked very much like mother. He was working on the next to the largest with a fine, circle for her face and two round eyes. He had gotten to the nose when the families’ cat, Klara hopped up onto the work bench and bumped his arm making a great, fat blob where the nose should be. “Oh no, Klara!” Sergey said looking disappointedly at his doll. But presently he had an idea and he set back to work.

When Father returned to the shop, the boys had gone. He noticed Sacha’s doll on the floor and shook his head, but then, he turned his attention to Sergey’s dolls lined up on the table. His face took on a smile of delight as he noticed that  along with his wife, there was large dog, a medium sized duck, and a tiny cat.

Sacha grew up to keep the books for the shop, but he never made another doll. Sergey, however, became a world renown toy maker, famous for his creative doll families and animals.

Now boys and girls, what do you think is the moral of this story?

Generally, the children will say, “Don’t give up.” We then go through the following Socratic dialogue (a Socratic dialogue is a conversation that is led through a series of questions designed to point the students to arrive at the desired response. So, what follows is the shortened version of the dialogue without the trails and offshoots that the students will inevitably take and that must be pursued in order to steer the conversation back to the desired outcome).

Me: Why do you think Sacha gave up?

The Children: He was mad.

Me: What do you think made him mad?

The Children: He messed up?

Me: Have any of you ever made a mistake and given up?

The Children: Yes

Me: Me too. Why do you think it made him so angry to mess up?

The Children: Because he wanted to do it right.

Me: Did you know that when people get angry, it is usually because they are feeling something else? Sometimes people have their feelings hurt. Sometimes, they are afraid they will lose something. Sometimes, they are sad or nervous. Maybe he had a feeling about making mistakes. Do you ever have a feeling when you make a mistake?

The Children: Yes. Sometimes I am sad or afraid.

Me: Me too. Why are we afraid to make mistakes?

The Children: Because sometimes we get in trouble.

Me: Yes sometimes we do. But, would Sacha have gotten into trouble for making a mistake on his doll?

Children: No.

Me: Do you think he was afraid to get into trouble?

Children: No. Maybe he was afraid of what his dad would think.

Me: Well, you know when paint dries, you can always paint over it. Or you can do what Sergey did and use your mistake to make something new. Sometimes mistakes aren’t bad, especially if you learn from them. I have a saying, “every wrong line is a lesson learned.” Maybe we could learn something else from this story. What do you think that is?

Children: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Me: Very good! Something I want you all to know is that fear is a great, great enemy to art! If you get discouraged and give up, then fear has won. You have to recognize the feeling and push through it and beat it!  If you promise to learn from your mistakes and allow yourself to make them, you will go very far.

Is this not true of life itself?



Following Ella

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Last year, our family did a great thing. We started having a weekly family night. Every Friday, we fought and scrambled to keep the calendar clear for time together. The fight was totally worth it. We don’t have a lot of money, so we have to get creative. Sometimes we would go fly kites or take walks/bike rides on the trail near our house. Sometimes, we would play board games over hot cocoa or even make pizza and pile up in the floor to watch rented movies (we tried to keep screen time limited, but if there was something out that we really wanted to see…well…you know).

This year, we have started something different. We are keeping the Friday family night theme, but we’re rotating through one on one time. The first Friday of the month we have the whole family together.

This month was fun. We went to the park and did “The Loveland Family Games,” where we had parent/child races on our hippity hop balls (yes, we have an adult-size hippity hop ball) and an endurance contest of who could eggroll (somersault or forward roll on the ground) across the baseball field for the longest amount of time- this makes you very dizzy. Its hard!

The next Friday, we have daddy/daughter – mommy/son date night. The following week, we flip flop. Finally, Ben’s mom (my mother-in-love) keeps them on the last Friday of the month and we have our own date. I can not stress to you how awesome this has been.

A few weeks ago, Ben took our little guy on a father/son camping trip so Ella and I were left to do some exploring ourselves. She opted for an at home movie on Friday night and a three mile hike on Saturday. If ever I had doubts about this one on one time, they were eradicated that weekend.

Saturday morning, we made a trip to the farmer’s market and our favorite restaurant where we sat on the deck with coffee and hot chocolate.Then, we headed home, packed a picnic and set out for Rabun Bald- to my knowledge, the second highest peak in our area. I like to tell people I could easily get lost in a paper sack. Of course, that day was no exception and Ella and I drove around back roads in the mountains for about half an hour. She was very patient with me.

We made it to the foot of the trail with plenty of daylight left and spent the next few hours chuffing up the mountain. Ella told me things about her life that I didn’t know. I did not ask or probe. I think she just sensed that this time was meant for just such a thing. She shared with me matters of the heart – about things that had bothered her last year at school, about concerns she had. I found out things she was loving about school this year. She surprised me with the depth and sincerity of her feelings.

I realized then that we have reached a new point in our relationship. This 7 year old was not the baby I brought home from the hospital. She was not the needy infant, the super smart toddler with an amazing vocabulary, or the sassy kindergartner. She is 7 year old Ella, still super smart with an amazing vocabulary, still sassy, but aware of herself and her relationship to others and she is willing to share it with me.

On the way up, we stopped to look at the first evidences of fall – a number of beautiful leaves that were among the first to change color.

We were so thrilled to finally reach the peak. All our huffing and complaining were rewarded with the most spectacular view. And then… I tortured my sweet Ella by forcing her to wait while I took a million photos of her …and us …and the view.


I know the best part of Rabun Bald for Ella is coming down from the mountain (does anyone know that Meat Puppets song?) The terrain is at a steady decline and there are berms that are either formed or built in the trail in parts. They are little hills about 9 inches high that stretch from one side of the path to the other. Ella loves the momentum of her downhill hike. When she and her brother are together, they like to do a rollicking, noisy run down the trail using the berms to launch them, leaping into the air.  Ella was not to miss the excitement without him.

We have a family call. It started as a whooping noise that Ben used on the job site. It is in such a pitch that it cuts through any surrounding noise and is highly identifiable from far away as a human. We use it in the woods to identify one another’s location. If we feel the children are too far away, we will give a whoop and they will respond with their own little puppy barks that tell us where they are, that they heard us, and that they are making their way to us.

On this particular day in the woods, Ella was bounding down the trail enjoying the mid air suspension jumps and periodically I would call to her so she wouldn’t get too far away. A few moments would pass and I would see her little head appearing a few feet in front of me as I rounded the bend. She would wait until I was in full view and then, in a flash, she would dissappear again. I would hear her laughing in the distance.

Then it occurred to me. This is like our life. I am catching peeks and glimpses of a moving story. And her beautiful little form will be forever disappearing before me. I will see her in the future, changed and transformed by her new adventures. I am so glad I get to be on this path with her and I am praying that the deposits I am making now will enable us, in the future, to keep up the conversation on the uphill climbs.