Career Rollercoaster

I think I need to start by saying, this post is not a request for advice. I love you and please hold your ideas for my life and just see how this plays out.

I’m sharing this process in hopes it’s helpful- to me, to you, to a friend or your kid or my kids in the future. Last month I shared an Instagram story that I’m looking for a job. If you didn’t see it, I said that I’m not sure exactly what I want- except that what I really really want seems impossible at the moment. My top choice would be to continue making art, and whatever else I want, and to sell enough of it to make an actual living. An actual living to me is at minimum 30k a year, year after year. And for a number of reasons over time I’ve begun to feel that it’s not something I can rely on happening solely from selling my artwork. As a result of those feelings, in the past few months I have gotten on and off all of these rollercoasters:

I’ll write freelance 2 days a week and do art 3 days.

I’ll work part time for a friend’s business and really build up my art on the side.

I’ll go back to school for design.

I’ll take any job someone will give me that means I can renovate my kitchen, buy a new car, go to the dentist and have savings for old age.

I’ll go back to school to be an art teacher.

I’ll give myself a year to really really try with the art, since I’ve only ever had part time to work on it, since I’ve had kids at home during the weekday still.

And round and round I go…

This weekend I cried publicly when a friend who didn’t know any better asked if I’d ever thought about just being someone’s receptionist. Holy shit, it was like she shot me in the heart. I can both see how practical the idea seems and how grossly offensive it is to me. I wouldn’t wish that job on my worst enemy. Yet, I’d love to be able to have a life where I’m at peace no matter what work is in front of me. What I really want to do is live a meaningful, joyful, peaceful life that spreads goodness to others and experiences goodness to the full. Contentment is part of that goodness, but so is vision and courage. These only come through agitation and resistance. In this moment, I definitely feel agitated about my career and life path, but I’m not sure if the resolution should be vision and courage or contentment with small things.

Humans Want Art.

People want to live with art. Why? It’s impractical, expensive, no apparent essential function, and if another human made it surely I could too if I really tried. So why does it matter?

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For the same reason we want to read poetry or listen to music made by someone else, or go on a hike or look at stars. We want to connect to other humans, to their creativity and imperfection. We want to be reminded our complexity and value, and at the same time our smallness relative to time and space. We want to be “inspired”, which means, to receive the breath (life) of someone else, like spiritual CPR.

Today I heard another artist describe her life on a naval ship, and the thrill of coming into port and experiencing beauty again- in the way food is made, clothes are worn, spaces are decorated and designed. The void she felt in a hyper-practical, functional space was stark and showed her the value and meaning in art.

Olivier Rasir’s studio via  Design Files .

Olivier Rasir’s studio via Design Files.

I notice such a difference with a piece of art made by an artist vs. mass produced in a big box store. I think about the artist when I look at it, about their process, about their history. I relate and connect.

In college I learned a lot about the value of fiction that has helped me in my understanding of visual art. Fiction is like parable- it’s more powerful because it’s indirect. It’s not didactic. It’s the difference between getting a linear outline describing the meaning of life, or love, or suffering versus experiencing someone’s story of the same. Art is story, it’s fiction.

Art is also liturgy. Art is a spiritual practice, a physical act representing a spiritual reality. Christians immerse their bodies under water, wearing a white robe, incense floating through the air, on a particular day of the calendar, as a physical representation of a spiritual experience they’ve had. Catholics count beads on rosaries, buddhists breathe and chant and hold positions, hindus draw colorful descriptive images and carry objects, witches light sage, and Jews eat horseradish off a special plate. These are all art, or perhaps art is a spiritual ritual.

When we buy art, we participate. This participation may connect us to an artist’s concept, or to the craft, or to the beauty of the materials, or to the process. Some artists want you to know and feel what they meant and felt. Other artists want you to have your own experience, to create your own liturgical practice.

The reason I’ve been ruminating on this is that although I’m an artist, my culture growing up did not include a lot of fine art. My family lived with and understood music and craft, but art is not something we ever paid for or saw people around us paying for. I haven’t been around a lot of people who buy art. We visited the art museum growing up, but our understanding and engagement stopped with observing the skill of the work. The idea of investing in a piece of art the price of a used car would have blown our minds and sent us into a long rant about how silly that was.

The more I’ve understood art, the more I’ve valued it. Artists tend to be prolific art buyers, because even though many don’t have a lot of disposable income, they prize it for it’s ability to connect, to breathe life and to become a part of their practice of connecting to the things that are unseen and cannot be accurately described in word.

Farewell, Silence

Over about a year and a half starting in 2015, Nate and I decided we needed to leave the church. It was a long process of figuring out what we wanted, how we’d make money, where we’d go. We had multiple meetings with the church elders to talk about when and where and why. We were invited to an elders meeting. They told us at the beginning of the meeting in jest (I assume), what a great honor it was to be invited to one of their meetings. To me, they were peers who had made decisions about our pay and what we did with our time for years. To me the honor was theirs to hear our dreams and vision. At the meeting, I was terrified of saying anything that might be taken the wrong way., especially by the lead elder who seemed to take anything I did or said as a slight to him. I stayed mostly silent and let Nate do the talking. He told them we were looking for a house or apartment to move to a neighborhood on the West side. We’d spent a long time praying and exploring around the city. They told us another couple, an eldership couple, were also going to be leaving around the same time. Soon after, that couple’s plans were announced at church. We were told by the lead elder not to tell anyone about our plans to leave but that he would announce it to the church. Time went on and it got painful and uncomfortable that we would soon be leaving the church we had been so invested in for twelve years and no one had said a word publicly about it. When a friend called the lead elder’s wife about it to ask if there was a plan to announce our leaving, she yelled at the friend over the phone and made accusations of her. The lead elder emailed to say that they would be announcing our leaving a few months later to give time for celebrating the eldership couple because “they deserved that”. We stopped going to the church in August and returned in October for the church to announce we were leaving and have an after church reception in the hallway with cookies. This was so painful because of the many years we had invested and the contrast to the way other people were celebrated and sent off— with parties at the larger venue, thoughtful gifts and words, announced well ahead of time. They had done something to deserve it, I guess. Other long term, crucial members left to no fanfare as well. I won’t make conjectures as to the difference, that’s for them to decide.

We had communicated any time we were with any elders that we were looking for a place to live. Over the course of a year we had offered on 4 houses in the neighborhood. There are a bunch of reasons we chose this place- affordability, home ownership, that it was a border between several communities divided by race and class where we could build bridges, something that had been a long term value of ours . It was important to us to buy a house at this time, since we’d be working for ourselves. Not only does it take a long time to build up enough credibility to get a mortgage while self-employed, we had no idea what it was going to be like- whether it would work. We knew we probably wouldn’t be able to buy for years and with 3 kids and rental rates in Chicago as high or higher than the mortgages we were looking at, it felt like the necessary next step. After a long process, we had an accepted offer on a house. We’d gone from looking at foreclosed homes needing gut renos, to the highest priced home we’d seen in the neighborhood after nothing else worked out. They were asking too much and we got them to come way down to a comfortable price range for us. We got all our paperwork done, and were days from closing when the lead elder met with Nate to discuss a timeline for our departure.

Shortly after that conversation, the mortgage lender called the church office to confirm Nate’s employment. Apparently not understanding the consequence and just wanting to be truthful, the lead elder told him that we planned to leave the position. We lost the mortgage. The lender called to give us the news. He also told us we would lose the offer because there wasn’t enough time to work with another bank. We were devastated and had no idea what to do next. We’d already told our landlords we’d be closing on the house soon and moving out. There were no apartments available in the area where we wanted to move. In fact, anywhere in the city or near suburbs we moved was going to be a huge price jump from our current apartment, unless we went to Ohio or Indiana where our parents lived, leaving our dreams in Chicago. But our oldest was supposed to start kindergarten in just over a month, and our 3rd child to be born days before that. Was this the end of Chicago for us? What jobs would we do if we had no network and moved to a new place?

In desperation, Nate asked the church elders, could we have a few more months to work at the church to figure out what to do next? We waited a few days while they discussed. In the meantime, the elder’s wife emailed us, copying her husband, to tell us how they were sad about what we were going through and praying it would all work out. Brokenhearted and angry, I responded. I told them how we felt- undervalued, used, silenced, and shut out of relationship. I called them out for her being the one to contact us on “their” behalf. I was tired of her trying to show us compassion on his behalf, and him remaining silent. I tried to do the sandwich- say all the good things I could think of with the hard truths mixed in like horseradish. After I sent the email, I felt like a different person. I liked myself for the first time in a long time. I felt respect. I felt honest. I felt connected, for the first time in a long time. I had given up trying to make a relationship with them work, trying to be valued, trusted and understood. The elders got back to Nate that the timeline set a week or so before was solid- they had “never agreed to help us buy a house”.

Full of mercy, our mortgage lender found a solution for us. A stranger to us, he generously gave up his commission and helped us find a way to get another mortgage with another bank quickly. He helped us extend our contract time and told us how to get the paperwork done in time.

I received a backlash from the email. The elder acted as though completely surprised. The next Sunday at church his wife and I spoke. I had hurt him more than anyone else in all his years of ministry. What had changed between the meeting with the elders and now? (Answer: my silence). He was brokenhearted. I should apologize. I was unguarded. My husband had already apologized. None of what I said was true. They shared the email with others for accountability and the others agreed none of what I said was true. I told her I had shared the email with 2 people I looked up to as well, and they told me I did a good job. She insisted on knowing who they were.

We found out later that they had already committed to hiring a South African couple (meaning, I assume, hiring the man and recruiting his wife as a volunteer). We were reminded multiple times how generous they were being to us, because they would be tapering Nate’s work hours and pay for 4 months instead of cutting us off immediately after Nate was to stop working full time, when our daughter was born. The lead elder announced the new hire to the church, and for some reason felt the need to make it clear that they weren’t trying to “replace Nate”. There was no mention of me because, of course, in the church’s memory I had never been employed.

Writing all of this down, I realize why I’ve been so disturbed. Why I’ve been going over all of this in my head, why it keeps coming up. I’ve felt so unheard, unseen, so invisible and small. I haven’t even seen myself. And writing it down helps me see, Why I’ve been raging, tossing and turning inside, unable to settle, why I’ve been so uncomfortable. I see clearly that I was marginalized and silenced. I see that I was disrespected and mistreated. I see that I was trying to get something for a long time- a career, equal respect, the ability to use my voice and contribute- that I was never going to get in that community. I see that what I initially thought was a more progressively feminist space than I was used to was actually more oppressive to women than any church I had been to. I had had more voice at my summer camp, in my youth groups. There had been more expectation for my future contribution to the church in those spaces, more being seen, more opening of doors. Some of this was intentional- my questioning and exploratory personality and confusion over their discrimination offended them. Some of it was unintentional and just a result of the different cultural expectations we each had.

One thing that made me SO angry, and a large impetus for my infamous unguarded email was the way the lead elder treated Nate in the process of our leaving. I think now that this made me more angry because it proved to me that it wasn’t solely about my gender that they disrespected me and marginalized me. It wasn’t that I accepted this treatment, but I knew about it. Mistreating Nate was a new thing. Knowing that we were passionate, reading, listening, learning, discussing building bridges across lines of race, class and gender, he accused Nate, if he really wanted to learn from diverse voices, why was he planning not to come to the next Apostolic meeting to hear the South African guy who lead the church network speak? He couldn’t possibly have thought this was listening to diverse voices. Why didn’t he want to listen to yet another white South African man give the same message we’d been hearing for 12 years? Why didn’t we want to listen to a guy who the last time we heard him speak, vaguely referred to people who disagreed with him and boldly asserted that he knew he is never wrong because he is “all prayed up”? That he’s spent enough time in front of God to know that he isn’t wrong in the ways some vague church people have accused him? This public defending against people we didn’t know who’d accused him of things we didn’t know about was embarrassing and reminiscent of when the lead elder had asked a group of 20 some people who’d gathered, hurt by the elders response to a talk about race, for those people who had wronged him to apologize to him for how we’d apparently mistreated him. No one that I could see had any idea what he was talking about. I still don’t know if he was referring to the fact that we were all hurt and angry or if he had heard some specific thing that he felt was harmful to him that someone had said or done. This indirect addressing of relational problems was the source of so much paralysis in our church.

That August, after sending his first update email to friends and family about the work he was doing, the past finance team elder emailed Nate and said, “Why couldn’t you just do this stuff still working for the church? You didn’t have to leave to do any of this and you were getting paid.” Nate took the time to carefully and genuinely respond. The elder never acknowledged his response.

We left in silence to the wider church. We tried, so hard, to do our best. Our expectation to be sent in partnership from the community we considered family was gone. We moved at the beginning of August, had our daughter at the end of the month, and our oldest started kindergarten a few days after that. The church didn’t really know any of this. I don’t even know if the “eldership couples” (yes, that’s what they call them) knew a lot of this stuff. Most of even our closest friends didn’t know. We didn’t want to affect their relationship with the church and we believed in honor.

It’s not that I don’t believe in honor now, but rather that I see it differently. We would never slander and make stuff up. We would never try to destroy anyone’s relationships with others or tear them down. But being silent about the truth can be really dishonoring, not only to others’ growth and learning, to their ability to get through hard things and learn from them, but to ourselves. Nate and I had a large debt of honor to ourselves we had stacked up over the years. And this is a lesson for anyone in ministry: It is not honoring to God for you to have no boundaries. It’s unsustainable. It’s not kind, generous or honest to others. Nobody wants to take what you don’t want to give.

Or at least, they shouldn’t want that. And yet, through this process of healing, I see the emotional manipulation that we received from the beginning of our relationships in the church. I think it was rarely intentional and mostly subconscious, but many young couples swept into the dream of the kingdom of peace coming through this church and our work there together, so that we were willing to sacrifice anything we were told we needed to. Many of the elders did not have time for rest and for their families the way they wanted to deep down, and so when we tried to take time for those things we were shamed. Our “day off” was Mondays and one elder would intentionally schedule meetings with Nate that day because “he never got a weekend off”- he spent it volunteering at the church. Any mention of rest in front of certain elders brought a reminder that they could “never do that” but that was the sacrifice they gladly made “for the kingdom”. The leader of the church network openly taught that your kids and family come second to doing things for the kingdom- which really meant carrying out whatever vision the elders had for the church at that time. Elders were honored constantly for their sacrifices as heroes and legends. These words are so sharp and stark to me because nobody ever says them outloud. You aren’t supposed to openly disagree. That’s not allowed for people who aren’t elders- it’s divisive and not partnering with the vision God has given. It’s not celebrating what God is doing. Well, I call bullshit.

Each of our kids were named prophetically. Meaning, from something resonating in our insides. They ended up having significant meaning to us for one reason or another. Our daughter’s name is the literary word for a valley with a river running through it. To me, it felt like home, which is what we were seeking for our family at the time of her birth. It wasn’t until a couple years later I was looking at meanings for her name again and saw the secondary meaning: Farewell.

This painful, in some ways traumatizing transition was a goodbye to so much. More than leaving that church community and its employment, it was the beginning of more changes for us than we knew at the time. It was goodbye to a version of us that was dead now. The people-pleasing, honoring through doing whatever was asked of us, nicey-nice version of us was gone. The trusting and willing young ministry hopefuls were gone. Respecting people above ourselves just because of a biblical title they held was over. Waiting to be heard by an authority that didn’t want to hear from us was gone. We were the ones who would listen to ourselves, open doors for ourselves, and activate our beliefs. We just had to return to ourselves again, to remember ourselves, to practice saying no to other people’s ideas for us. And that would take time.


Snags

This is a rough one. I keep asking, is it immature to post this? Is it airing dirty laundry? What is the reason for this?

The reason is that I have been silent. I have felt silenced and shamed. The reason is power dynamics- my lack of power in these situations, and the inactivity of those in power to help me. It’s using my power now to return to these moments and assert my value. The reason is for my healing. The reason is for others to recognize themselves in the story and make different choices. The reason is for women like me in churches like this. The reason is for light to shine in the dark and bring growth. We have all made mistakes. We can all grow. I’ve never believed in hiding our faults and mistakes.

I write this matter of factly. This is not vitriolic or bitter. It’s the story of my experience in a job as factually as I can remember it.

Nate and I got married in 2007 and plunged full force into a life centered on the success of the church plant. I was the church’s first employee outside of the pastor or “lead elder” to use the terminology of the church and its affiliated network. Working for the church was exciting in the beginning, and then less so over the four years I was solely employed. Initially, I worked in the couple’s garden apartment, right in their living room, and I got lots of relational time with them as a result. They began to rent a small office where I could work, which I was glad for because it was at times difficult to get things done in the middle of a busy family living room. I saw them a lot less, and the elder and I had difficulty staying in contact about what needed to get done and what items were priorities to him. I was employed for 16 hours a week and wearing lots of different hats doing the accounting, paying bills, restocking supplies, running errands, planning events and attempting to design printed materials in Microsoft Publisher. I always felt like I was behind and began to sense that the pastor and finance leader questioned my competence because they could never understand how everything took so long.

My relationship with the pastor and his wife began to hit some snags. He let me know that it was now a requirement of the job to go to the bank on Monday mornings. Previous to that, I had always deposited Sunday’s checks on Wednesday- the first day of the week that I worked for the church at the little office, where the bank was about 10 minutes walk away. Nate was working as a manager at a valet company in the west loop and had the car most days. So, to deposit the checks on Mondays, I’d have to bring the church money home with me on Sunday, and walk from my apartment to the nearest bank about a half hour walk each way (Uber wasn’t a thing yet and there were no trains or buses that went very easily from my apartment to the bank). I had already had no luck finding other part time work, and decided it was just God’s way of allowing me to “devote more time to the church”. So, it wasn’t about the time it took me on Mondays as much as the feeling of not being respected or allowed to have a boundary. I was really upset about it on the phone with him, and as was a pattern over the years, the pastor had his wife talk to me on his behalf. “He just has no idea what he’s done wrong. He asked me desperately, what am I doing wrong?”. In hindsight, I think part-time female employees were treated as though they were full time, salaried and benefited workers who could be expected to do whatever needed to happen to get things done, whenever they were needed. This expectation and the pressure to complete a lot in a very minimal part-time position was other women’s experience after mine as well.

The next big snag came when they asked me to meet up for lunch and to talk about how things were going with the job. This was near the end of my 4 years working there and the first time I’d had any kind of employment review. I was excited about having lunch with them and getting some time together, which is something we didn’t really do anymore. I expected to be recognized for the things I had developed in the position as the first employee- the things I had figured out and streamlined with just 2 days a week to work. What I didn’t know was that the only thing they wanted to talk to me about was that I had been “questioning his character” behind his back and “broken his trust” because he had now heard from 2 people that I was asking questions about the way the church used money.

I was in shock. I had been in conflict about some of the church’s financial practices for some time, and legitimately felt we weren’t recording certain things properly. Sensing that this would be a sensitive topic to approach with him and with our relationship already rocky, I had talked to the leader of the church’s financial team, who I reported to on those matters, and a trusted friend on the leadership team about my discomfort and questions. None of it was a direct critique of the lead elder’s personal use of money, but rather the wider church leadership’s policies on how to handle things like reimbursements, large gifts to speakers, and how we labelled travel and entertainment expenses. I had no doubts in his integrity. I did feel there was very little transparency with the church about how money was being used and what different labels actually meant. I still have never talked to those two people about the situation, or what they said to him, or how it had gotten translated as a questioning of his integrity. I was too swallowed up in shame that I had done something wrong. I was embarrassed that they were talking about me, that I had voiced my concerns, that I had used my voice. My voice! I think it went quiet in that moment. I wept painfully at that lunch, brokenhearted. Our relationship was never the same after that. I was 27 years old, and he a decade older and supposed to be my mentor. At the time, and for years after, I was sure we’d work it out and be on better footing than ever.

I think it was shortly before this that the church had agreed to hire us full time, and made clear that they would be “hiring us as a couple”, but the check would be in Nate’s name merely as a formality. Agreeing to a job where someone else would receive a paycheck on my behalf sounds crazy to me now, but I knew when I was marrying Nate that the likelihood it would be any different was small, unless I took a full time women’s or children’s ministry role, or a part-time administrative role. Plus, I was excited about working side by side with Nate- something we had always loved to do from the beginning of our relationship, of being honored for the call we’d both felt to this work as teenagers, for all the possibilities ahead with more time and flexibility for both of us to be involved in the church. As soon as Nate started working for the church, I was pregnant with our first child and was also passing the accounting duties on to a new person after communicating that I thought that role would be best served by someone else now. When I’d finished showing her the ropes and was officially off the payroll, the pastor had me stand up on a Sunday and announced to the church that I was no longer working for the church, and that they were grateful for the time I had spent serving. I was surprised at the way he phrased it, and felt really conflicted. Wasn’t I working for the church? Had I just been fired? I turned red and teared up in front of everyone but played it off like I felt honored.

Sure enough, I stopped being invited to meetings. I stopped being expected to show up for anything or do anything at all, in fact. This was so quiet, so subtle it was hard to address, and so painful. It would be many years before I’d have the words for what happened in this time. I was shut out of relationship, shut out of involvement. The lack of expectation was painful. Nate’s position was treated like a typical corporate position, or at least 100% more than what I’d expected going in. He had hours to clock, and I had none. He was required to be places, I was not. This also meant I would become the full-time default parent.

Nate and I would not have taken the job if we had understood what they wanted it to look like. And if we hadn’t taken the job, where would we be now? I don’t know. I really don’t. But we did take it, and it wasn’t what we expected. Nate was expected to be available for any and every church meeting- and there were a lot. He was on call. He never counted time that he would have been at church anyway as part of his work hours. Apparently, at one point, the lead elder added 10 more hours a week he expected him to work because “that’s what a standard corporate job in Chicago looks like”. We never wanted a standard corporate job, never pursued or took one, and weren’t being paid like we had one. I recently recalled with new eyes that two of the elders asked us to make a list of all our personal expenses at the time they hired us, and then based our salary off of that. When one of them moved away and a new finance leader was in place, the new person in charge gave Nate a raise, some backpay and a letter explaining the backpay and the church’s appreciation (for Nate). Even after that, we were making around 50k/year, giving 10% of that back to the church, while living in Chicago. We had 2 kids, and zero work boundaries in an entrepreneurial situation that required us to be centered on the church with our lives- personal health and wellness, Sabbath, play, and family taking a backseat. Teaching that the kingdom comes before kids, family and self was common. Many times we felt we needed to say no to something for a break or a family event, we were given push-back and our commitment questioned.

At one point, the pastor and his wife met with us again. He told me he didn’t think we’d be able to work on a team together because he felt I thought of him as autocratic. He couldn’t give an example of why he felt this way. Writing all of this out, it reads like they were trying to get me to leave without asking me to leave for a long time. It’s hard to understand why we still stayed for another 5+ years after he communicated we couldn’t be on a team together. I think to understand that, you have to realize that we were taught by this church that we were family. We were taught that relationships are primary. We looked down on taking ministry positions just to have a “job”. We saw it as an opportunity to serve God, and only needed to have our needs covered. We didn’t view it as a “career”, but a “calling” so it had different standards for what we’d accept as normal. We had faith in God that relational disruptions with our spiritual family would work out, because we believed in unity and in the work of the Holy Spirit. If it had been any other type of job, the complications we faced would have had to be dealt with, and we would have had to work it out or part ways.

I suffered depression at this time. I was crying every day. I went to the ER several times and had panic attacks. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I had a colonoscopy and did elimination diets. I would wake up out of a dead sleep and throw up. I was more alone than at any other time in my life. My husband was on a different path, leading a different life, working with a team where I was not welcome and I didn’t understand why. I was a full-time stay at home mom without ever having made the choice to become one. I felt trapped every day. I felt I was terrible, that I had done something wrong (though I couldn’t say what), that I had somehow failed the leaders by being who I was, by questioning.

When I started to try to make time for myself to do things outside of parenting, I asked permission to furnish a large loft space the church had begun to rent. For some reason, they told me yes, and that I would be working with one of the elders wives. I was asked to make a budget in order to get approval to spend (out of pocket) money and be reimbursed, but the money was never approved. I wasn’t communicated to directly about this, but through others heard that the finance elder became upset when I tried to reimburse $100 for decor I’d purchased. On the other end, the lead elder was communicating to me through his assistant that I wasn’t completing things fast enough. It was heartbreaking, again. I had a misguided faith that because God was in both of us, we would be able to work together.

In contrast, what I would want now for myself when I was 23 and full of energy, vision, some talent and lots of willingness, is to find leaders who believed in me and knew how to mentor, give feedback, and not take my exploratory questions and ideas as aggressive or questioning of their competency and integrity. It would be somewhere that valued both of our education in theology and ministry practices as an asset to the team. I’d want to be somewhere that valued us without regard to our gender. I’d want regular reviews and raises, and to have reasonable boundaries with our job. I’d want to be somewhere where I could see a model of people like me in leadership- women in paid positions, at the top of their potential in leadership roles, widely read and engaged in Chicago, people seeking to build bridges with other communities, people who saw my potential and could point out my weaknesses for the sake of my growth, continuing in relationship with me throughout the ups and downs. These are the things I’m seeking to give myself now.

Thank you for reading this far. If you have feedback for me on this story, I’d welcome it. What do you see in the story? What do you think I missed on the way? What would you do differently, if you were me?

Church Planter

This post is part of a chronological story! Read the last 2 posts first if you haven’t yet.

When I made the decision that I didn’t want to do anything else the rest of my life but communicate a message of love, of connection, of acceptance (which at that time very much meant an evangelical American version of Jesus to me)- when I made that decision to pursue that with all my energy and resource and heart for the rest of my life, the only obvious vocation that seemed to leave for me what that of “missionary”. I struggled on that Mexico trip with that idea because it didn’t seem to quite fit right. Something about the forms of missionary I had seen didn’t feel related to the euphoria and rightness I’d experienced talking to people on the street in Tijuana with my friends. But, what else was there? The role of missionary was the codified methodology for evangelical communication of God’s message with anyone that wasn’t white. And, as a woman, it was also the only spiritual vocational option. I couldn’t communicate messages, ideas, theology, to my own culture as a woman. To do that I had to go to another culture. Something about that trip over the sea or into a community with different skin made my gender less inappropriate as a spiritual leader, more valuable, more capable. In the community I came from, I could be a great children’s ministry or women’s ministry director, but I had no desire to be boxed into the limitations of those roles at that time, afraid I would be slotted into that role forever the way an actor gets stuck in a particular trope.

Over time, as I vocalized this desire and commitment to be a missionary, it became a part of my identity. I began reading missionary biographies and books about the history of missions. I began looking into schools and tracks for becoming a missionary. I had some truly awful senior pictures taken of me with a globe (I’ll try to find them and share here). I asked to meet with my youth pastor, who told me to start where I was (still great advice for anything and anyone) and referred me to the senior pastor, who suggested I go to a nearby Bible college and then referred me to the missions pastor, who didn’t seem to actually have much knowledge or interest for missions at the time and I can’t actually remember anything he said to me, except that I could not go on the adult mission trip coming up.

I set my sights on Bible college, and filled out my application, and got rejected. Determined to make the most of it, I did a gap year style thing and went to St. Louis to help some (white) friends with a children’s ministry in the housing projects. That summer truly messed me up with culture shock, confronting my inherited racism and stereotyping narratives, melting my judgment of privileged Americans into a puddle and the beginning of chipping away at a white savior mentality. I read my first John Perkins book that summer, proposing ideas about community development. I got told off by the educated black woman I shared a room with for espousal of the right wing anti-feminism I’d been taught. I still remember how she fasted regularly and prayed on her knees every morning with her face in the carpet and that I couldn’t understand how either her anger at me or her feminism could coexist with all the time she spent in spiritual practices.

I started Bible college through online courses and classes at a satellite location. I took a semester long course on the “Global Christian Movement”, that gave me a new way to view the ultimate goal of a missionary as “planting indigenous (led and formed by culturally local people, as opposed to colonizing another country with white culture) churches.” In 2004 I enrolled full time at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in the Missions Department pursuing a degree in Evangelism and Discipleship. October 23rd, two months after I got there and already through 3 or 4 short-lived crushes, I met my husband Nate. I was fairly certain I was meeting my husband. I know that’s super annoying to hear. The night after we met, we had a conversation on the steps outside with a guy who was aimlessly walking through our schools plaza about love and God and acceptance. And I felt it again, that alive connection that I wanted to give to all people for all my life.

When we met, Nate told me about a church he had just visited that Sunday. The pastor and his wife were from South Africa. We laughed about how they had given him a couch the day they met, because they’d just gotten new ones. Who does that? It was a brand new church plant, a few months old. He thought he was going to go there regularly. We talked about church planting. I told him that’s what I planned to do. The church sounded intriguing to me and though I wanted to go check it out, there was no way I was going to follow him there. He never went anywhere else for the next 12 years, from that Sunday til we left the church in 2016, 9 years after that pastor had married us, 9 years after they’d employed me to work part time, and 7 years after they hired Nate full time.

This church was mind blowing to us. First of all, South AFRICANS, as missionaries, to America? Yes, please. We need some outside voices in the American Church, I thought. They were white South Africans, so not exactly minority voices, but they weren’t from here at least. Also, they empowered women. By that I mean, they let women preach. I can almost see myself clutching my throat like Ariel, finding out this glimmer of hope that there could be a way to use my voice, that there could be a mic of the people again in my life. They were charismatic, and that was a little weird to us, but I had experienced the mic of the people, and had read a lot about Christianity around the world at that point, and I was down for any supernatural stuff that wasn’t weird or manipulative, like I’d witnessed in American charismatic churches. They didn’t require the false pretense of a seminary degree for leadership, they didn’t use hierarchical titles like “Pastor”, and they showed interest in being supportive of other churches- a sign of security and maturity that’s absent or at least not apparent in many churches. They were part of a church planting network that had churches in “cities all over the world”, and took great pride in being able to connect us with people whom we could go visit in almost any country. The pastor and his wife took interest in us, ate meals with us, looked us in the eyes when we spoke- things I hadn’t experienced much of growing up in evangelical churches or in any of the other places I’d visited in Chicago.

Over time, I’d notice that most of the churches started in cities all over the world were started by white South African couples who emigrated to mostly the wealthiest parts of the wealthiest cities and suburbs around the world. If you speak to anyone from that church planting network about this, they will be sure to tell you about Nigel, who moved his family to a black neighborhood of South Africa a few years ago. I’m not sure if Nigel knows he is their token representative for all racial reconciliation, social justice, or work outside of the upper class. I wonder if he’s aware of how they talk about the “dangerous place” he lives with glowing admiration for his immense sacrifice. I’m not sure how his wife would feel that I’ve never heard any mention of her name.

But, we didn’t know these things yet. We saw a small, scrappy, church family that valued women and had plenty of ways for us to bring our skills and passions to the table. We saw a husband and wife in leadership modeling something we wanted to do. We saw something different- less hierarchical and more inclusive- than the churches in which we’d grown up. As we fell in love with each other, we also fell in love with this church and all the possibilities that could be explored together in living out our faith in Chicago. We were all in.

Voice

It’s the year 2000 and I’m 17 years old. I’m in California for the first time in my life. I’m at a base for YWAM- Youth With A Mission. I’ve worked hard to earn the money to get there on a trip with a couple dozen peers from my church youth group. There’s a worship service every night and Thursday, the night before we are to take a bus to Tijuana where we’ll perform skits that scores of white kids before us had performed in barrios and on beaches, and eat cinnamon ice cream; where I’ll skip the afternoon game time to go on the street with a couple friends and make good on the money we spent to get here- telling whoever we come across in our midwestern high school spanish, about the love of God. That Thursday night in California the 20 something leader asks anyone who wants to dedicate their life to spreading a message of God’s love in the parts of the world where it hasn’t been heard, to stand up. I stand up, with little hesitation and a sense of profound importance of the moment.

Later that week when Sarah, Mike and I skip out on the frivolity of board games in a dank dormitory, we don’t have much to say theologically to people. It’s not an academically robust message. It’s very simple. We just wanted to tell people about the existence of an immense love. For them. For all of us. Mike turned to us and said, “I feel so alive!” I felt in that moment that I didn’t want to do anything else the rest of my life.

This group of teenagers from the rust belt portion of Indiana, just outside Chicago, evangelical in heritage and trafficking in bad punk rock music, had made an important discovery together. Dan, our twenty-something worship leader, had instituted “the mic of the people” at our youth group worship times, where we could all say…anything. That mic became the place where we discovered our voices. We discovered how it was that we ourselves were interacting with God, with relationships, with things that were important to us. We discovered that we could believe in a God who was love, who was uniting people. We could even follow a God like that. We could even dedicate our lives to a God like that.

This mic was the first place I felt the power of my voice. I felt I could transmit and translate an idea about God that resonated, that ignited something in my friends, in me. I felt connected.

Willingness To Be Seen

I’ve been debating for, oh, 3 years, about how and whether to share my past experiences online. Recently, I’ve seen a number of people I look up to use their platform to share experiences that were vulnerable, that involved being mistreated by other people, that could result in judgment from others. What seems good about those shares is the healing that can take place by being open. I’ve been afraid to share some of my story, because it’s not just mine. It’s my husband’s, it’s past employer’s, our old church. I’m afraid of other people experiencing pain because I share my story. But that fear and consideration is countered by the cleansing that comes with being honest, being witnessed, receiving compassion and connection, and hopefully letting go of the past’s pain. Anne Lamott says, ““You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” I especially love this image from The Holistic Psychologist:

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These things from women I respect, plus the experiences of a couple of others recent shares give me enough validation that it’s at least not inherently sinful to tell your story, even if others feel bad about it. So, I’ve decided to start sharing my story of how I got to where I am now- thirty-five, married for twelve years, and on a brand new path of being an artist. Part one starts in the next post. I’m grateful for anyone who reads or responds, and understand if it’s not best for you to read these things that can be sad, frustrating or difficult.

If nothing else, I hope I can pass on the freedom to tell your story too.

Jamie

Conversation With My Body

 
Rachel Loewen Photography

Rachel Loewen Photography

 
 
 

Hello body.

I love you. I love your arms, chest, tummy, butt, thighs. I love your hands, face, hair, legs, feet. I love the way you work. All the ways you’ve helped me and carried me through this life. Thank you for the 3 people you made; for how you created and fed them. I’m eternally grateful and can’t express how amazed I am and always will be with this phenomenon. Thank you for protecting and healing, for all the hard work.

You’ve done a great job. You’ve even saved the extra calories I gave you, in case of emergency. In case we ever had a lack. Thank you.

I’m going to take good care of you. I won’t abuse you, with food or lack of it, with alcohol to deal with my emotions, with unchecked anxiety, with too much or too little exercise, with my words and my thoughts.

We are safe now. We have enough. The babies are happy and independent of our calories. We have no lack. I’m going to give you good fuel, and I want you to use up the extra you’ve been saving.

I know! We don’t want to have a lack. We don’t want to abuse in order to achieve cultural status. We’ll never be perfect in their eyes. I want you to know that I accept you, fully. Even the hair you grow that I constantly remove because my culture believes women should appear prepubescent. I want us to be strong and healthy for the long haul. I want to use those extra calories with love. We will always have ways to get more if we need them. But even if you want to hang on to them tightly (and it seems you do), I love you just the way you are. I’m so, eternally grateful to you, body.

xo,

mind and spirit

 

Sustain

 
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You are capable of a level of hustle that isn’t sustainable without sacrificing other things that are important.

I’m excited about my work every single day. But the last while I’ve found myself resisting the return to the cold basement floor after I put my kids to bed. Instead, I’ve been parking on the couch and soaking up the Netflix with my computer on my lap, relatively ignored. And it’s been so good. My work has still expanded and grown anyway, or maybe as a result.

I listened to a teacher talking about self-sabotage today (I listened to it 3 times to really marinate on the ideas). One thing I was mulling over was her recommendation, when you just don’t “feel like” doing what you need to do in order to be or have or accomplish something, is to ask yourself, “How can I help you feel like it?”.. I really like that.

So, I was asking myself, “How can I help you feel like working at night again?”. And you know, I was surprised by the answer. At first I thought okay, if I make tea, sit on a cozy pillow, have something streaming on my laptop- that sounds nice! I could feel like that!”. But what I realized after that is that a long term lifestyle of work at night might not actually be what’s best for the longevity and joy of my practice long term. It is doable and sustainable- for a time. In seasons. But I think for me, I will allow those seasons to come and go, and not expect it to happen all the time.

To be honest, I feel like my work has been getting better since I’ve relaxed into it a bit. To be honest, some stuff I’ve made out of pressure to perform and achieve has been shitty.

In 2011/2012 I hit a wall and fell hard- ER visits, colonoscopy to try to determine why I was spontaneously vomiting, insomnia, panic attacks, headaches….I have no interest in returning to that state. Since then, I’ve been working on building a life that is sustainable. I want to build a lifestyle that leaves me whole, better every year, growing.

In an emergency, you are capable of incredible feats. Hunger, staying awake, physical and mental challenge. But that emergency state is not meant to be sustained. In order for anything to create, to reproduce, it has to be out of that emergency state, and in place of calm, safety, rest and nourishment. I really think one of the ultimate experiences in life is a regular rhythm of work and play. I’m still taking it day by day to find out what that looks like for me. What does that look like for you? What does the position of ultimate creation look like for you? If one were to design a greenhouse just for you to grow and fruit, what would need to be in it?

 

Love Isn't Making Sure Other People Feel Loved

 
 

The most important thing I have learned in a long time is this: I am not responsible for other people’s feelings.

This goes four ways:

1. I am not responsible for other people feeling badly.

2. I am not responsible for other people feeling good.

3. I am responsible for my feelings, good and bad.

4. Other people are not responsible for how I feel, good or bad.

Lambie thinks she can control other people’s feelings.

Lambie thinks she can control other people’s feelings.

For my entire life I have felt it was my responsibility to make sure people felt good- loved, cared about, seen, understood, happy. If they weren’t happy, I felt responsible and was miserable and tried to fix it. I felt especially responsible for people who were especially challenged with their feelings. This individual doesn’t feel loved- I can fix that. This individual feels left out- I can change that. This person feels sad- I can make it better by showing them I love them. Likewise, I thought real love and healthy relationship meant other people took care of my feelings. If I was sad, they sought to cheer me up. If I was angry, they listened and validated. I held them responsible for my feelings about their actions and words or lack of them toward me. I did not think of myself as holding the power for creating my feelings. I gave all of that power to others.

 
The mouse in this bullshit library book believes that kindness is giving away the entire birthday cake he spent all morning and used up all his materials to make, so he shows up at his friend’s house with nothing.

The mouse in this bullshit library book believes that kindness is giving away the entire birthday cake he spent all morning and used up all his materials to make, so he shows up at his friend’s house with nothing.

I wasted a lot of time and made a lot of decisions in my day to day life trying to manage how other people felt- and almost no time managing how I felt without seeking someone else’s intervention. And I was miserable, and tired. While I was working myself to the bone to control something I couldn’t control (other people’s feelings) believing that’s what real love looks like, I wasn’t taking care of myself and I was pissed with other people for not recognizing that and letting me off the hook. While trying to create good feelings in other people (because that’s what love is, right?) I wasn’t creating the things that I was really capable of and talented at creating. I thought the path to my success in life was to love other people genuinely and with self- sacrifice, and that meant making sure they felt loved. I was wasting my time, embittered at them for not seeing me and reciprocating “love”, and holding others responsible for my feelings. My marriage, parenting, family relationships and friendships suffered under the weight of my exhaustion of trying to manage to make sure everyone around me felt loved.

Getting out of this was difficult. I was in over my head, doing a lot of things I didn’t want to do in order to try to “help” others feel good. When I stopped doing those things, I lost the relationships that were built on the expectation that I would do those things out of love. But my understanding of love had changed. Love wasn’t making sure other people felt love. I could only be responsible for my loving actions, not for how someone felt or interpreted me. I didn’t need to fulfill all of someone else’s desires for me in order to make sure they were loved. I could love them without doing everything they wanted me to do. This may sound obvious to you, but to me it was not.

So now, for example, I could see that going to someone’s event in order to make sure they felt loved and didn’t see me as cruel, would not in fact be loving. It was dishonest, dishonoring to myself, and would deteriorate the relationship. Being loving was to bring my whole honest self to my relationships, not holding back the things I was pretty sure the other person wouldn’t like or the things they might interpret as unloving or the things they would assign a meaning to that meant I looked mean or rude in their eyes and created unsavory feelings in them. Being loving was not trying to control another person’s emotions or make sure they never felt bad about me. That’s not love.

I learned that consenting to anything in order to control someone else’s feelings is not love, even if they feel unloved by your “no”. I still believe we have to do things we don’t want to do sometimes. I just don’t think that those things should be done in an attempt to ensure a feeling in someone else. I experienced that some people, like I had myself, hold everyone else accountable for their feelings, and are a victim of everyone else’s decisions, instead of empowering themselves to create the feelings they want. Even this, I had to learn I can’t control. Sure, it may be loving to share with a friend how you’ve grown and how they can be freed from this mentality too. But I’ve seen that it’s not loving to try to control where someone else is on their journey in life. The most loving thing may be to walk away, letting them feel however they’re going to feel, and let them have their own journey.

Love isn’t controlling other people’s feelings. Love is letting them have their feelings, and being honest and responsible for your own.





 
 
 

Current Art Influences

 

These are people whose work I’ve been looking at, thinking about, sometimes gasping over. Intentionally or not, they’re likely influencing my work and decisions I make in the studio. They all directly influence my belief that art is an acheivable occupation, and for that alone I’m grateful. Putting them all together, I notice a theme of my interest in color palettes with bright pops of color surrounded by earth tones, repurposed materials, emotive process, and connections between past and future.

 

Emily Fox King

A fellow mom and cold basement studio artist, I spend a lot of time staring at her thick, heavy, gestural florals and studying the color palettes. I finally bought this print on the right after screenshotting it 5 times and going to the website that sells her prints to think about it 10 times.

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Anne-Sophie Tschiegg

If prints of this work ever become available I will absolutely purchase one. The color palettes, movement, and depth of the paintings stick out to me in an ocean of abstract paintings. This is not just a hobbyist taking advantage of the mainstream adoration of Abstract Expressionist color splashes, pours and mark making. The work is beautiful but not pretty; it has a shadow side. I especially love the figurative work- faces in shapes and colors fresh and unfamiliar, somehow looking like they’re in motion. Someone made a sweater from one of the paintings and I am both impressed and jealous.

 
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Lisa Congdon

I’m not a huge fan of displaying art with words in interior spaces (I feel like I would tire of it too quickly, or the words would get stuck in my head in an annoying way), but there are plenty of other uses and Lisa Congdon makes finding those options something I want to do.

 
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Manish Nai

I’m totally invigorated by his use of throw away clothing mashed in shapes that recreate them into colorful art objects. The squared off shapes are reminiscent of Wall-E (yes, the cartoon robot from the movie), who is a role model of mine with his creative use and appreciation of a trashed environment.

 
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Roderick Kiracofe

Historic quilts, appreciated as art, as they should be. The quilts he posts are not beautiful for their perfection, but for the ingenuity and creative expression you can find in their details- materials, methods, interesting use of color.

 
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Jess Feury

Since coming across her apparel work, I’ve been in love with the way she’s able to weave sudden bursts of bright color into otherwise earthy palettes in a way that enhances every color. I keep trying to imitate it and it’s much harder than it looks.

 
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Margery Amdur

These are makeup applicator sponges. As usual, I’m fascinated and obsessed with straight up garbage used in such a way as to showcase and value its retained beauty of texture, color palette, and size.

 
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Diana Weymar

My hero. She is leading a project called Tiny Pricks in which she welcomes anyone who wants to stitch the words of the current President onto heirloom fabrics in order to give them greater permanence and attention as tweets and interviews pass away in our memory. The often outrageous words in the form of embroidery on treasured materials is meant to highlight this contrast and provoke a sense of shock in us that gets dulled by the sheer volume and frequency of his absurdity. Once again, I love when anyone can take trash and make it meaningful.

Encouraging Creativity At Home

 
Encouraging Kids Creativity
 
 

This week I have a second opportunity to work with the Chicago Children’s Museum, and my first time to work with kids in the new art studio space. We will be showing them different ways to weave at home using repurposed materials. As a part of the workshop for the smaller age groups, I wanted to offer parents some ideas that have worked really well for our family to encourage our kids to create on their own (without unmanageable mess!). I made this list of a few tips that I feel have made a real difference for us, and a shopping list of some basics for stocking and all-ages creative space.

These things can easily translate to encouraging yourself to create in new ways on the regular! So whether your home has kids or not, here’s some things to try.

5 Ways To Encourage Creativity At Home

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  1. Create A Designated Space-- Find a permanent spot in your home where your kids can have regular access to supplies that you’ll be okay with a moderate amount of mess, and they can leave an unfinished project out. A table top, a small shelf or space for storage, and a floor that is wipeable are all you need.

  2. Make Something Yourself-- Tapping into your own creative space not only models this habit for your kids, it can create some quiet quality time that you both enjoy.

  3. Let Go- Try to keep your guidance minimal. There will be plenty of people in your kids life to give them rules and structure when it comes to creating. Their home art space can be the place they play and think outside of any boxes, a skill as important to foster as any other.

  4. Get Easy To Use And Easy To Keep Supplies-- but not too many or it will be too hard to clean up and organize! The basics are best. Use this handy Supply List I made on Amazon with some of the basics that my kids are always using. Follow their curiosity and get different or better things based on what attracts them to create most often.

  5. Take An Interest In What They’ve Made-- Instead of asking if that’s a tree or a dog and accidentally assigning meaning or completely misreading it, you can say, “Tell me about this part!” and then follow up with questions. Hang it on a designated wall with sticky tack or tape, or frame it with a small poster frame above their beds.

Check out this printable version of a shopping list to take with you to shop locally. I also made up an Amazon idea list here if you want to get some basics online. And of course, don’t forget to shop your recycling and the back of your closet for materials!

 

How To Do What You Say You Want To Do // Studio Before & After

 
 

I did not expect improving my basement studio to give me a mental and emotional battle.  

Here’s how it started. Last summer, while I was working, I got a hammer and started hacking away at the tile that framed out our basement window. I thought, if I just get started, then I’ll have to keep going because it will be a huge mess. If I just get started I can work on this a little at a time, in phases, and I won’t have to work in this ugly place anymore. So I began Phase 1: Get rid of the copious tile, paint the part of the basement where we work the most, and (ask Nate to) build the shared desk we’ve been wanting. We finished Phase 1 in a few days. And that was nice, for a while.

 
 
First Draft

First Draft

Second Draft

Second Draft

 
 

Come November I was getting real sick of looking at the blue ceilings (every ceiling in our house was blue when we moved in), the unfinished everything, the dark paneled wood of the staircase and the relative dysfunction of our undesigned space. I wanted a place I could invite people. I wanted a place I could feel good, a place I could take pretty pictures. So I started again. I’ll just do a little at a time, I thought. I painted, and painted, and painted, an hour or so at a time over several weeks...and did not seem to get very far. I told myself I'd finish it by the end of the year, and I didn't. 

 
 
That staircase. 

That staircase. 

Much better. 

Much better. 

 
 

Then in January, I had a pivotal moment reading You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero.  Here's the revelation that made the whole book worth reading for me: 

“The moment it gets hard or expensive or puts you at risk of looking like a moron, if you haven’t made the decision, you’ll quit. So often, we pretend we’ve made a decision, when what we’ve really done is signed up to try until it gets too uncomfortable”.

Woah. These 2 sentences shifted something in me so powerfully.  She called me out. I realized that I wasn’t honoring my decisions. I wasn’t following through, and I was calling it responsible. I was second guessing so much in my decision making as a business owner and artist that I wasn't producing what I actually wanted to produce. And I was jealous of the people who were making the exact things they wanted to. I had no idea how they were doing that-- how they were ALLOWING themselves to do that. I realized that if I made some real decisions and stuck through without stopping when my mind started to question things, I would see some real results that I wasn’t seeing. I had already written down what I want to do this year and why- or rather what I had decided to try to do until it got uncomfortable. One of those things was finishing my studio space. When I asked myself why I wanted that, the answers were clear to me and I truly liked my reasons. I could see the value of a better space. But I still wasn’t really making the decision to actually do it. I was getting held up by discomfort.

So, I decided to make the decision. I would really and truly for real real finish this space. I set right to work- adjusting my calendar, telling people I wasn’t going to be available for this and that, making space, getting the supplies I'd need. Right away, I was shocked by how hard and uncomfortable it was for me. Here are some of the thoughts that kept challenging my decision: 

 
 
I should be doing things that will make money.

This isn’t really important.

Other people don’t have this privilege.

There are people suffering in the world with nothing.

My friends will think I should be doing more important things.

It doesn’t need to be perfect/finished.

It does need to be perfect/finished and I’ll never get there.

I can’t have nice things.

It’s still a basement.

I can’t make a big deal out of this because other people will think it’s not a big deal because it’s still a basement.

I can’t make a big deal about this because other people have a lot less and might feel jealousy or see that I’m privileged.
 
 
Worse. 

Worse. 

Better. (Same view)

Better. (Same view)

 
 

There were moments where these thoughts took all the energy out of me, and sucked away my vision so I couldn’t see where I was going or why. I was so surprised noticing how often these things were slowing me down, like hurdles in my path. One day, close to tears and at that point of fixing up a space where it’s worse than when you started, I was feeling stupid and defeated. I felt like I was spending time Nate could be using to generate income for our family, and he would make so much more money with this time. I felt like he didn’t see the importance. I felt like quitting, but instead I tried on some new thoughts. “That’s okay if no one else sees this as important. I don’t need them to, because I see it. I know this is important, and I made a decision, and that's enough for me.”  I stopped with the paint roller in the air and said out loud, “I promise myself, I’m going to finish this. I promise I’m going to finish this to the place where I can look around and not see a bunch of things that I want to change. I’m going to finish this until it’s complete in my eyes.”

 
 
Just after moving in. 

Just after moving in. 

After photos by  Rachel Loewen Photography .

After photos by Rachel Loewen Photography.

 
 

As I got closer and closer to finishing, I still battled those thoughts about wasting time, but I started to notice the power of those thoughts diminishing, and being replaced with a new nemesis: Comparison. I could see that this basement studio of mine, that I love and that feels like luxury to me, would be nothing compared to some of what I saw on Instagram: Photos of a basement that looks nothing like a basement, with wood flooring and detailed moulding. Another of someone’s studio with floor to ceiling black steel-framed windows facing tree covered hills. I felt defeated by comparisons. What’s the use? I can’t show this space to any interior designer, or people who work in high-end spaces. This space is embarrassing.

But then Instagram, always a complex character, gave me some gifts to restore my vision. First, Jersey Ice Cream Co. I discovered them years ago via Design Sponge but hadn’t seen their work in a while. Their style consistently resonates with me. It’s creative and eclectic but thoughtful, intentional. They appreciate old things and imperfect things and texture but still use some minimal and modern touches. Their style feels connected to the past and not overworked.

 
 
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The second gift was Grace Bonney’s couch, posted right on her IG feed with a giant rip from her dog in the background. I respect her design eye and business practices so much, and that couch rip felt like validation that I can be myself. If Grace and Tara and Percy can show the beauty in imperfections, so can I. If they can be free to like what they like, so can I. And I like imperfect, down to earth stuff. Don't get me wrong, high end finishes and luxury elements are amazing too. But they're not right for the house I live in, or my family, or me. I like my studio with the patchworked lumber the previous owner used as a baseboard around only half the basement. I like that there are some splatters of paint and stain I can’t get off the floor, and a basketball hoop for my kids. 

These tiny examples of imperfect spaces were enough to get me out of my funk and so I could push to the finish line. When my deadline came and I called it finished, I was so happy with the results. My family loves the space and our use of it has increased. My husband raves about how much the environment has changed his day to day work experience, how he feels more professional. And I feel like I know better than ever how to actually do the things I want to do. This whole thing was another exercise in my life of building trust in my own ability to make decisions that bring life, even if no one else can see it at the time. 

What about you? Do you wait for other people to validate your decisions? Is there something you really want to do and see the value of, but you've been stopped by the discomfort it causes? Give yourself permission to really decide. Don't waste your time going half way. Go get the best "Afters" your life is capable of creating.