Life is full of light and shadow
O the joy and O the sorrow
O the sorrow
And yet will He bring
Dark to light
And yet will He bring
Day from night
I’ve always loved the song Shadows, by David Crowder Band. It spoke a lot to me when I was grieving. It was a really dark time for me, and I really identified with just resting in the shadow of the cross. Now as I’m learning to paint, the depth of meaning in this song has intensified.
One of the many hard things for me to learn as an artist has been light and shadow. My paintings often end up in the medium range of color. My art teachers are constantly pushing me to “add more light” and “add more dark.” I can look at the painting and agree with them, but still really struggle to push outside my boundaries of color. My tendency is to stay in the middle, stay in my comfort zone. But if I stay there, the painting ends up being flat.
Light and shadow transform a painting. They create movement, leading the eye around the painting. They create a focal point, guiding to the most important part of the piece. They create depth. And depth is what makes a painting beautiful, real. Artists can make subjects pop off the canvas by increasing the light in that area and putting areas of dark right nearby.
It’s the same with life. Light and shadow create depth in us. Dark areas really highlight the light areas. And the darker the dark areas, the lighter the light areas. The deeper the pain, the higher the joy. After recovering from grief, I have often felt like I am floating as I walk around. I just feel so much lighter. After experiencing a deeper pain than I ever could have imagined, I am experiencing a higher joy than my mind could have ever conceived.
Light and shadow make the scene on the canvas of our lives deep and beautiful. The more depth that is created, the more the light and glory of God can pop out through our lives.
Oh but we so desperately want to keep our lives in the medium zone. We try so hard to grip tightly with control and avoid the darkness. We know it adds beauty to our lives, makes us stronger, etc. But we want to get there by avoiding the pain.
The bad news is life is going to bring pain. The good news is we can rest and grieve in the shadow of the cross. The even better news is – there is so much hope there. There is a purpose for it. A beauty that is not possible without the darkness. A joy unspeakable on the other side of the pain.
When shadows fall on us
We will not fear
We will remember
When darkness falls on us
We will not fear
We will remember
When all seems lost
When we’re thrown and we’re tossed
We remember the cost
We rest in Him
Shadow of the cross
David Crowder Band, Shadows
I think one of the best things about being a girl is showers. I really really LOVE showers. I love: the girl time, going to someone’s house, the details, the invitations, the decorations, the flowers, buying and wrapping the gifts, watching her open the gifts, the fun food, the cake, and even the silly games.
When I was grieving, this obviously became increasingly difficult and then completely overwhelming and nearly impossible for me. Not only was it difficult for the obvious reason that I really wanted a baby – and no matter how much I loved my friends and was so happy for them – it was so hard to celebrate God giving out so many babies and withholding from us. See My Cabbage Patch Kid. I also felt The Ache of Desire so much more intensely at baby showers.
And even harder, I grieved the gap widening between other women and me. I really wanted to get away from my pain and just connect with the things I loved about being women, but the conversation at showers usually surrounded babies, pregnancy, delivery, nursing, and diapers. Because that’s what most of the women were experiencing at the time. I do appreciate the times they asked me about my dogs. I tried to throw in anecdotes about nieces and nephews. But mostly – has anyone read any good books lately? didn’t go very far. No one had time to read anymore!
So when I volunteered to host at my house, it was a bit surprising to all of us. Not only does it represent so much emotional healing and redemption of the pain of our story. There are several other physical reasons this was such a big deal!
- I can think! I could plan! I could organize it! When I was grieving, it was so difficult to think. The details became so overwhelming. The emails. I just could not handle all the emails. It was hard to make decisions. The fog and heaviness of grief make it really hard to focus and process information.
- I had the energy to host! Grief is just so exhausting. It is a lot of work. It decreases your normal capacity to function in day-to-day tasks. It also depresses your energy level and makes social interaction more taxing. I was just so tired all the time. I remember several social occasions where I was actually fantasizing about laying down on the floor in the middle of everything because I was just so tired and sad.
- I could shop for supplies! I could go to Wal-Mart! Going to Wal-Mart became extremely overwhelming while I was grieving (even more than just the regular Wal-Mart is always overwhelming) I could become overwhelmed in the parking lot before I even went in. I nearly had a meltdown over traffic or packed aisles several times – and again started fantasizing about ramming other cars or shopping carts. Grief consumes a lot of energy, so minor irritations can often feel really major!
- I could go the extra mile! I could go down the baby aisle! I remember the point when I could no longer go into the baby aisle. It was just too painful. It was probably around the same time that I could no longer handle looking up a registry and tracking things down. Because of my exhaustion, my patience with machines became very limited. (And yes – fantasies about breaking them became involved.) From that point, I just decided gift cards would be better for everyone. This was the first time in a long time that I entered the baby aisle, enjoyed it, and bought an actual gift for a shower!
- I have decorated my house! Before grief I was motivated to clean my house, decorate my house, have people over. As the depression and exhaustion took over during grief, it was very difficult to clean, cook, care…. Even a load of laundry was a big deal. Hosting was out of the question. And as I mentioned in Christmas 2013, color had slowly snuck out of my life. But it’s back! I may have gone a little overboard in decorating my house with my paintings from art class, but color is back in the Henry house! And it is again open to the public! Well the invited public. You still might want to call first.
- I could get up early to get ready and prepare! I even went to the Farmers Market to get flowers. For all the reasons mentioned above, the exhaustion of grief made it really difficult to get up in the morning and face another day. I really enjoyed the beauty and quietness of the early morning that day.
So for all these reasons, this was a really big deal! Another marker of the healing God has brought into my life. Thank you to all of you who were so supportive during my season of grief and the multitude of baby showers. I’m so thankful to be at this new place and that it was so much fun to host!!
When I tell people that I paint these days, they often say “oh that sounds wonderful” – “that must be so relaxing,” “so therapeutic,” “so fun.” I hate breaking it to them, but I just I have to. It does create an awkward moment, but “No – painting is not relaxing for me – not at all.”
Painting is actually really stressful to me! I’m a recovering perfectionist, remember? A messy medium that cannot be perfectly controlled stresses me out! Starting with a blank canvas brings up a lot of anxiety. What if I mess it up? Waste the paint? The time, the money? I can’t breathe!
Then I decide I don’t care, just be free, don’t worry how it turns out. So I get started and it’s fun for a while. Then I get stuck and start to care. I get afraid to make even small changes because I’m afraid I’m going to ruin it. I thought I didn’t care. The good thing about paint is you can always paint over it they say. Turn your mistakes into masterpieces. Well they haven’t seen my mistakes. Ahhh! It’s crazy making!
The process of making art brings up all my issues! My shame – putting myself out there – on canvas. And others can see it! Aah! See the process. See me. See that I’m not perfect. And that I can’t even figure out how to be perfect. Then I get angry. When I get embarrassed, I get angry. A few times during art class, I had to go to the bathroom to cry! I know! This is so comical! (But I’ve been told I’m not the only one that has cried during art class.)
Here’s where we realize that art actually is therapeutic. NOT in the retail therapy kind of way. Not in the aromatherapy kind of way. In the actual – therapy is hard kind of way. Real therapy is hard, is a process, takes a lot of work.
Therapy is about change. And sometimes even trying to make small changes seems very scary. It’s amazing how my art instructor can give me a suggestion, which I then can see and totally agree with. But then I walk away, and even with great intentions, I can only make a very small change. Amazing how hard it is to get outside of my comfort zone. Amazing the parallel for change in life.
So why would you take up a hobby that makes you cry and act crazy? Good question. And actually the real reason is – it’s just something I felt God calling me to do. To take the risk. To face these issues. To keep going back. To face my anxiety. To work on the character trait of perseverance. To keep exposing and therefore facing my shame.
To let others see I’m not perfect. To let myself see I’m not perfect. To be ok with not being perfect! And learn to appreciate the beauty in the process. To learn that beauty is not perfection.
Beauty is in the crazy. Beauty is in the mess. Beauty is in the real. Beauty is in the vulnerable. And that actually is wonderful.
Carrie A. Henry after Alfred Sisley’s Flowers and Fruit 1911-1912
Yes – it’s wonderful that I paint – but no – it’s not relaxing! Maybe some day. It’s definitely getting better. I haven’t cried in the bathroom during art class in a long time! Although I did dramatically announce some trouble breathing last week!!
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
I really thought I was fine. I hadn’t made any exceptional plans to avoid Mother’s Day this year. I truly don’t have a desire to have children anymore. Why would Mother’s Day bother me now? I really hadn’t thought much about it besides “What should we do for our sweet moms?” I was completely blindsided by the grief. I really couldn’t figure it out or explain it this year. I finally had to accept that it was just grief.
It was mild. No one else would have known besides me. And then Patrick. On Monday the week before Mother’s Day I just felt cranky. It increased throughout the week. I was confused and frustrated by it and kept blaming it on hormones. On Thursday a sweet friend sent me a beautiful article called “Spiritual Mothering: Every Woman’s Calling,” by Alice von Hildebrand. She says, “Motherhood is not only biological maternity. It is spiritual maternity.” It was really encouraging and validating. I do feel like a mother. I do see the ways I mother others every single day. I have felt so healed for such a long time.
But also on Thursday, the irritability was increasing, and I was becoming difficult to deal with at home. I was restless, indecisive, getting frustrated with others for not meeting my needs, and feeling very confused about my mood and irritability. Friday night it was escalating. I really struggled with feeling discontent, changed my mind several times about what I wanted to do that evening, couldn’t figure out what would help. By Saturday morning I felt foggy, the restlessness increased, and the crying started.
And I finally realized it was about Mother’s Day. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know why it was about Mother’s Day. All I knew is that it just was. And that it was just grief. A dear therapist friend later said, “Sometimes I think the body remembers important dates to validate the loss.” Yes. I agree.
So I started trying to give myself permission to grieve, reminding myself that it was just grief, using the coping skills in my toolbox – journaling, Bible reading, prayer, talking about it, taking a walk, going boutique shopping with a special friend. I even decided to go to a film at the Bentonville Film Festival by myself, not something I would usually do – (but actually thoroughly enjoyed for future reference!)
Oh but the familiar battle of grief was there – trying to cope, but nothing satisfies. Trying to get away from it, but it stays there. Trying to think, but the fog takes over.
Trying to reassure yourself, but the battle ensues – the battle of the accusing messages that accompany grief – “You’re being really selfish.” “Why can’t you just focus on your own mom and blessing her?” “Why can’t you just be thankful for what God has done in your life?” “Why can’t you just get it together?” “Aren’t we over this by now?” “Are you ever going to be able to handle Mother’s Day?” “Mother’s Day is just like any other day of the year.” “You definitely can’t go to church and cry – people will think you’re focusing on yourself, not happy for other mothers, that you still want a baby.”
And of course, the overall feeling of shame. I think I really want the pride of – “Oh – I’m good now, over that, totally in control of myself now. Why would you even think this day would be hard for me? HaHa!” I don’t want to be writing about this. I want to be writing about the beauty of how all women are mothers and how much progress I’ve made. Oh the pride.
By Sunday morning, I was a total wreck and completely exhausted. Eventually my wonderful husband got me out and took my mom and I out for a nice lunch. By Sunday evening, I was feeling much better. I was really tired, but I knew that the battle was over. And in a strange way, I was thankful for the crash course reminder on the emotions and process of grief.
Because while sometimes it’s just grief. It’s not just grief. God created the grief process. It matters. It validates our losses. They matter. I still think it’s wonderful to have a day set aside to celebrate the beauty of motherhood. But anytime something is beautiful, there will be loss and brokenness around it. That’s the gospel. And it is deeply beautiful.
So I accepted that it was just grief. And I just grieved. And I’m extremely thankful it lasted only 6 days this time instead of 6 years.
“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
Many people that know me now think I have always been creative, always been an artist. Most people that know me from high school or college would be SHOCKED that I have gained the courage to call myself an artist! (It’s still kind of hard to write!) My art journey has been a long process, but I think it is also a wonderful story of personal transformation. My hope is that my story can convince others that if I can do this, TRULY anyone can!!
I only remember one art activity from a summer program in my school years – a hanging mobile made out of clay. I remember thinking it looked awful. Of course I now know I’m not supposed to say that about children’s art. It was – my “inner critic” that decided it looked awful. But let’s be real – it did look awful. It didn’t look how I wanted it to look. I was ashamed of it. And my budding creative process stopped somewhere around there. Art class became elective at that point, so I elected not to face that shame again! And I stopped learning about art.
From then on I avoided creative activities, adamantly stating “I’m not creative, I hate that kind of stuff.” I would try a few things here and there and decide they looked awful, reinforcing my decision that I wasn’t creative. Part of the problem with me and creativity was that I was also a little perfectionist. I was a pretty uptight and anxious child by nature. I could not make my art look perfect, so I did not want to do it at all.
One of my college roommates, who is an amazing artist and art teacher, talked me into going to a Creative Memories scrapbooking party one time so she could get more points. Ha! Somehow I got talked into buying an album for my majorette pictures. I worked on the album, thought it was pretty much awful, and toward the end, we ended up trading – she finished my album and I typed her boyfriend’s term paper since he couldn’t type, she was dyslexic, and I could type 90 words a minute! Again deciding I was done with that creative stuff.
Then I went to Europe, had great pictures, and again this crazy (wonderful) artist friend talked me into doing a travel album. From that point, I surprised myself and everyone around me! I started scrapbooking and really enjoyed it. I decided that maybe I was creative when it came to arranging pictures and papers in an album. But I was still pretty uptight about my scrapbooking. Still a perfectionist. Working on pages for hours until they were perfect.
We also bought our first house during this time. We were on a small decorating budget and had a lot of blank walls, so after seeing something in the store and thinking “I could do that. A lot cheaper,” I tried my hand at a couple of paintings. No – you really can’t do that – it’s a lot harder than it looks! My sweet husband has lived for quite some time with several of my amateur paintings on our walls. Never saying a word. What a dear.
Meanwhile as a therapist, I started learning a little about using art in therapy with children and encouraging the creative process. In art therapy, it’s really not about how it looks. It’s about what comes out on paper during the process that is often very surprising, meaningful and therapeutic.
One day Patrick and I went to an art therapy training together, thinking this will be fun, a fun day to spend together and get some CEUs. I had no idea we would have to do art right there in the training. Everything was fine until we were asked to “Draw A Bridge.” I immediately began to panic, thinking – “I don’t know how to draw a bridge, I don’t want to draw a bridge, I quit this training. How can I escape?” Meanwhile, Patrick started drawing right away, showcasing that he’s much better at drawing than I am. At this point I started to get MAD! My shame filled thoughts started flooding my head – “I’m terrible at this, now everyone will know, I’m exposed!” After realizing I wasn’t going to be able to get out of it, I slapped a bridge down on paper, put my pencil down and pouted while I waited for everyone else to finish. (Of course I realized later that what happened there was deeply meaningful and therapeutic – I titled my bridge “I don’t want to go anywhere, I like where I am” – which gave me some powerful insight into a life transition I wasn’t even aware of at the time.) Which then led me into a few sessions of art therapy for myself!
From this point I become more interested in art therapy professionally and read the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This is a really great book that talks about how the creative learning process stops in grade school, which is why most adults draw like 3rd graders. (I’m not the only one!) And that the skills can be learned, just like math skills. I just thought you either had creativity or you didn’t. And that I didn’t. She also talks a lot about this idea that we are all creative because we were made in the image of a Creator. These were new concepts for me! This really began to stir something up in me. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is another great book that demonstrates the idea that anyone can learn to draw.
Since my beliefs about art making had begun to change professionally, they also started to change personally. When The Art Location advertised a painting class on Living Social, I decided to try it. Previously a few rounds of Painting with A Twist had resulted in some episodes of shame and frustration, but also some great times and laughter – so I decided to take the risk again! What a risk! But it was worth it! Nadine Rippelmeyer – an amazing local artist and the owner of the Art Location – helped me with a painting, and I learned a lot in just one class. From there I started taking a few other classes at the Art Location – from a couple of other favorite teachers and local artists – Karen Ahuja and Shawna Elliott. (All can be found on fineartamerica.com)
Now – I’m all in! I’m a believer! I paint in my free time, take painting classes, and use art even more in therapy as well as my own personal problem solving. I’m learning about art history. I just finished an art history class with Nadine at the Art Location. I go to art museums and art districts on my vacations! I am learning to “see” things in a different way – seeing colors, shapes, relationships, spacing, movement. What? Wow – who knew??
So -if I can learn to develop my creativity, anyone can! If I can learn to draw and paint, anyone can! It’s an ongoing process – that takes time, effort, patience, and grace for myself. It’s therapeutic – making me face my anxiety and perfectionism in a new way. And it’s teaching me to let go. I will be forever thankful for my artist friend and teachers!
If I can do it, anyone can! And I’m looking for fellow artists! Who wants to join me on this journey?
We don’t have any crazy dog pictures this year! Our dogs did remarkably well during the family photo shoot! Sorry to disappoint! So I’ll just have to write about the words on our Christmas card instead – the 2nd verse of Joy to the World, written by Isaac Watts in 1719. I’ve especially enjoyed singing the lyrics of old Christmas hymns this year. Noticing some verses and words that I hadn’t noticed before. And thinking about them in a new way. As I’ve said many times and in many ways throughout this blog, there are so many unexpected blessings that come in the wake of grief. Deeper meaning and beauty found in words and lyrics seem to be another one.
I grew up singing hymns twice a day on Sundays. I still know so many old hymns by heart. Although I also love modern worship songs, I really miss old hymns. There is so much depth in the lyrics written by these saints, often in the midst of great trials. We have so much to learn from each other and our stories – especially from the stories of the past. The book Amazing Grace by Kenneth Osbeck is a really great devotional of the stories behind many old hymns. (I miss the hymnals too. I’m really not sure if I can still read music since I never have to anymore. That is so sad to me! And I really worry about the next generation being completely musically illiterate!!)
Here are a few other treasures I’ve enjoyed this season:
The 3rd Verse of O Holy Night – written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847
Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
And a couple of verses from my favorite:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – a Latin hymn from the 12th century, author unknown
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!
O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease,
Fill all the world with heaven’s peace.
There’s just nothing more to say.
Merry Christmas everyone!
I held my new niece all weekend last weekend. So precious. Such a blessing. Completely filled my heart up. Holding her at church on the 2nd day, I was amazed again that I don’t feel The Ache anymore. I realized again that my heart is deeply full, instead of empty and filled with pain. I felt so thankful again for that miracle. SUCH a miracle!! God removed The Ache from my heart and filled it up with joy.
On the cusp of starting to try to have a baby, I had a flash of fear about the wait. After waiting for so many years as a single woman to find my knight in shining armor, I knew The Ache. The deep deep ache of having an unfilled desire. I had the brief thought – what if I have to go through feeling that unfulfilled longing again? I quickly replaced it with – oh surely not! I paid my dues waiting on my husband – there’s no way I’ll have to wait for a baby!
Since you know the rest of the story, you know I faced The Ache again. Much deeper this time. Part of the pain was that my loving God was allowing me to go through this AGAIN. No way! It felt so unbelievable.
The Ache is hard to describe in words. It was so present, so physically painful. Like a cavern that covered the entire span of my abdominal cavity. So deep. So bottomless. There were times it was more intense, times of reprieve, but it was constantly there. The worst was when I held a baby. For most of the time during my infertility I avoided holding babies for that reason. Couldn’t even go to the hospital to see a new baby. Just could not bear it. I already felt like falling to the floor in a heap of grief all the time anyway. I felt it much more in the presence of a baby.
But now The Ache is gone. And it’s an amazing story! Also difficult to put into words – but here’s my best attempt.
Looking back I know the day God removed the desire to have children from my heart. I was at Patrick’s 1st ½ Ironman race. I was by myself walking around keeping up with his race. I had started my blog a few weeks before. I knew God was doing something different in me. I knew the healing was coming and that things were changing. That day I had a strong sense of God’s presence – especially for an hour or so. It was physical. I felt it heavy on my heart and chest. One of my dear friends randomly texted to let me know she was praying for me. She didn’t know why. I didn’t either, but I knew God was doing something. I felt His presence and peace, but also a great physical stirring. I felt emotional. I felt the pain – but also a mix of deep joy and comfort and overflowing hope. I could tell God was doing something new. It literally felt like He was pulling something out of me. The entire day I felt a little tearful, but I wasn’t crying. I felt really full and joyful.
I didn’t know it then, but now I’ve realized that’s when I think God pulled out of me the desire to have children and covered that place in my heart with His healing and hope. At the time I wasn’t sure if I could trust it. I had been in so much pain for so long, I could hardly believe that the desire was going away. But it has been gone for 3 years now, and as I was reminded last weekend, it is a miracle! There’s just no other way to explain an unfulfilled desire being changed and filled with something new.
Such a miracle! What a blessing! How amazing that God would care enough about my pain to remove The Ache of a desire He wasn’t going to fill. What deep love. I will be eternally amazed and thankful.