The Only Kind of Art that Matters

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Consume that which drives you to create.

My most artistic friend had invited me to the Van Gogh exhibit at the Denver art museum, so we swapped dressy outfits and went on a date. Everyone mistook us for sisters, anyway, so we figured we might as well wear the same clothes. College classmates had even tagged us in the wrong Facebook photos, confusing Alyssa for me.

One poor kid named Curtis never got our names right in four years at a small school.

Anyway, we stood in line to view a small selection of original works, some iconic and others less recognizable. Apparently, none of Van Gogh’s art would have qualified as famous in his day, since most people hated his paintings until after he died. Then, near the end of a dim hallway, I stopped in front of a cluster of purple aspens.

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He must have seen the trees near the edge of dusk, just before total darkness descended, to imagine so much purple in the shadows. He must have ached just to see them. He must have felt so deeply sad. He must have been longing for something, to paint them that way. I knew because I felt it, too. To me, he hadn’t painted merely a grove of trees. He had captured a mood that spoke from the canvas to my gut, and suddenly I needed to write.

Now, you should understand that I knew absolutely nothing about painting. I had gone to this exhibit for no other reason than to spend a fun evening with a friend … but staring at that image, I felt impatient to express myself, almost fidgety with a childlike urgency to play. Since I knew words better than a paintbrush, I wanted to get back in the car and drive immediately to the journal by my bedside.

The best kind of art inspires more art.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

The best kind of art inspires more art.

Inspiration goes way beyond temporary chills. True inspiration culminates in creative activity. Real art propels you toward your own form of artistic expression. Find that kind.

Today, I can’t find those purple aspens online. Maybe I remember the details wrong. Maybe Van Gogh didn’t even paint it! Memory does funny things — but picturing those trees, right now, I feel the same drive to create: a physical sensation in my diaphragm, spreading through my arms into my fingers. Five years later, I wrote this blog post because the artist shaped my opinion of the true purpose of art.

Seek out the kind of art that moves you to creative action. Don’t settle for passive entertainment or escapist distractions. Pay attention when inspiration strikes you in unlikely places, and then respond in your own way. I did this. You could photograph, draw, tell, dance, sing, film, act, or a thousand other marvelous things.

Who knows? The art that you create just might inspire someone else.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

Your Life Isn’t Boring

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I did not want to come home from Christmas vacation this year.

As my husband will attest, I grumped my way through long stretches of the thirteen-and-a-half hour drive through the snow from Deming, New Mexico to Littleton, Colorado. Going home meant returning to responsibility, which felt overwhelming. Dishes, laundry, cat litter, weary days at work, grocery shopping, lonely nights when my husband had to work late, and much-needed home repairs stretched before me with depressing certainty. I preferred to stay at his parents’ house, sleeping the mornings away and watching Christmas movies endlessly.

Then I actually got home.

Turns out, I missed my sweet kitties. It felt really good to exercise again. My stomach thanked me for a break from the rich food. I enjoyed my first days back at my job, and I discovered a fresh wave of motivation to get started on my goals for 2019. My husband even surprised me with Wicked tickets as an early anniversary gift, and then we watched a movie on the couch together.

So … what was I dreading, exactly?

Instead of boring, mundane, or difficult, my ordinary life turned out to be full of delightful moments. I loved my routines — even getting back to my own toothpaste made me smile. How had I forgotten so quickly? Feeling foolish, I found myself thanking God for this lovely life that I live.

My ordinary life turned out to be full of delightful moments.

Your life might not look anything like mine, but I’m guessing that you have plenty of reasons to appreciate your daily routines, too. Instead of complaining about tomorrow, maybe you could learn from my mistake and make up your mind to notice the little blessings. As I’m discovering, the day ahead is rarely as difficult as I imagine.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

5 Good Things About Today

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Tonight, my spirit wants to complain.

There are a couple of stressful areas of my life right now that I am trying to solve, and my natural self wants to obsess about those problems until I conquer them with pure willpower. If I’m honest, though, fixing those issues won’t make me happy because two equally urgent conundrums will instantly take their place. We live in a broken world surrounded by imperfect people, and while we should continue to take concrete steps toward progress, sometimes we need to take a break and count our blessings.

Here I go:

  1. Today I shared my commute with my dad.
  2. Today I laughed with my coworkers.
  3. Today I ate lunch with my husband.
  4. Today I discussed movie theme songs live on the radio.
  5. Today I drove home to a hot dinner waiting in the crock pot.

Sometimes we need to take a break and count our blessings.

You know what?

That actually sounds like a pretty good day.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

Have Something to Look Forward to

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Everything’s more fun when you’re planning something.

My husband and I are flying to Florida for a few days, partially to visit family and partially to go to Universal Studios. I’m noticing that my daily routines are more enjoyable simply because I’m completing them in anticipation of something else.

For instance: shopping. My new swimsuit, which I’ve been wanting for a while anyway, is for Florida. I’m getting my hair and nails done for Florida. This umbrella is for Florida.

Also, chores. I’m keeping up with the dishes so we won’t leave behind a full sink. I’m vacuuming so we’ll come home to a clean carpet (unless the cats keep throwing up while we’re gone). I’m doing laundry so we’ll have clean clothes to pack.

Work becomes more fun, too. Completing these tasks now will help my coworkers handle these shows in my absence.  Scheduling these social media posts will keep the momentum going while I’m gone. Writing this ad today will prepare me to produce it as soon as I get back.

I’m fully in favor of looking forward to something, even if it’s not something as big as a vacation. When I’m engrossed in a novel, I can’t wait to take my lunch break so I can read the next chapter. When we find a thrilling new show on Amazon Prime, I’m eager to get home so we can watch the next episode. Normal activities take on a fresh glow when there’s something happy ahead.

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Daniel Swanson Photography

Normal activities take on a fresh glow when there’s something happy ahead.

I’m one of those people who gets excited easily, and that’s something I like about myself. I’ve been told that birthdays are more fun with me because I tend to exclaim delightedly over every gift — even when they’re not for me. When my grandparents meet me for lunch at work or my parents offer to buy coffee for me over the weekend, I smile more often throughout the day and feel more relaxed. Something about an out-of-the-ordinary treat — even if it’s actually something ordinary — lifts my spirits.

I’m guessing that there are actually a lot more things to look forward to, and most of the time I just don’t notice them. Even when some things are going very wrong, there’s almost always something to get excited about. And when there isn’t — why not try creating one?

For instance: today is exhausting, but tonight I’ll take a bath with a glittery bath bomb. Now I can look forward to that when my eyes start to get tired staring at my computer screen. Another example: my husband is working late tonight, so the thing I was excited about won’t happen after all. I’m disappointed, but instead of moping, I’ll head to a coffee shop and work on my blog. Now I can look forward to that instead!

There’s probably more to say, but I’m too busy getting ready for Florida.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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My Sleep Challenge (Abundant Life)

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I envision a well-rested future for myself.

If I put my mind to it, I truly believe that I could go to bed earlier, sleep longer, and eliminate the exhaustion that fogs my days. Naysayers, I have a song to sing for you.

May this blog post be my challenge to live a more balanced life. I am determined to get more sleep. Feel free to act as my accountability partner.

So many problems lie outside of our control, but I choose my own bedtime.

So many problems lie outside of our control, but for the most part I choose my own bedtime. You may have small children or homework keeping you awake, but I do not. If I want to get more sleep, I can! Starting today, I want to set aside the vague complaints about sleepiness that often slip from my lips because I am not a victim of circumstance. I have the power to choose how many hours of sleep I get each night.

Every decision comes with sacrifice. I may not have as much time to watch The Office with my husband on the couch before bed, scroll through Instagram, or sing along to audition videos on YouTube. Change requires discipline, a quality I need to develop.

Instead of staring groggily at my computer screen at work, I long to look with fresh eyes at the world around me and the tasks before me. Recently the Holy Spirit has been whispering the phrase “abundant life,” and whenever He repeats the same message from multiple sources, I try to listen. Perhaps He plans to reveal a new layer of abundance.

I want to be awake for that!

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

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Daniel Swanson Photography

5 Simple Pleasures I’m Loving Right Now

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1. Coffee

I’m not a coffee drinker by nature. In the past I’d wander down the coffee isle at the grocery store to inhale the smell of the beans, but I did not enjoy the bitter taste. Then my in-laws introduced me to New Mexico Pinion Coffee — specifically the Morning Blend — and I joined the ranks of the caffeinated with enthusiasm. Now I’m thoroughly enjoying the morning routine of brewing dark liquid to pour into my travel mug.

2. Professional Manicures

I feel a tad guilty about this one because I’ve never had enough disposable income to indulge in luxuries like fancy nails before. When I worked at the Starbucks drive-through window, I spent a lot of time noticing customers’ hands, and I marveled at the number of women with gorgeous, colorful fingers. How do they afford the upkeep? I never want to become dependent on non-essentials, but I’ll admit that purple glitter on my fingernails brings me inordinate amounts of pleasure throughout the day.

3. Morning Cuddles

This may be my current favorite aspect of married life. My husband and I set multiple alarms in the mornings, and when they go off for the first time, we immediately drape our limbs over each other and go back to sleep. He’s so warm and muscly, and I still relish the experience of feeling small by comparison to his hulking manliness. (At 5 feet 11 inches, I’ve never been considered petite.) Love is so fun sometimes.

4. Commuter Calls

Since my drive home takes me about 40 minutes during the week, I have gotten into the habit of calling various members of my family as soon as I get in the car. My mom answers her phone most consistently, but lately my sister’s lunch break has also corresponded briefly with my evening commute as she works swing shift in California. It’s nice to feel connected from a distance.

5. Board Games

I’m one of those extroverted introverts who needs a healthy balance of social interaction and alone-time, and lately I’ve had enough energy to plan a few game nights. To my surprise and delight, many of my college friends have stayed in the Denver area after graduation, so I never lack willing participants. Board games perfectly accomplish the two primary goals of any friendly get-together: conversation and entertainment. Right now we’re unanimously loving Code Names and King of Tokyo.

I remain convinced that God fills every life with precious, personal gifts waiting to be noticed and enjoyed.  Let’s start thinking of life like a giant Easter Egg hunt, searching for the joy hidden in the ordinary. Next time you open your mouth to complain, pause to take note of one small pleasure. You may find that you suddenly have nothing to say.

Love,

The Reluctant Bride

3 Reasons I Feel More Stable Today

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Daniel Swanson Photography

The ground feels steady under my shoes today.

I had been in survival mode for months, barely breaking the surface long enough to breathe before stress and exhaustion dragged me into darkness again. I had stopped enjoying my job, my stomach tightening every time I approached the parking garage at my office building. My talented, ambitious, hardworking husband filled evenings and weekends with homework, live gigs, and recording, so loneliness often tainted my hours at home. As for the state of my house, when I could no longer see an inch of clear space on tables or countertops, I sent a pathetic text message to my grandma, asking her to help me clean (which, of course, she immediately did). I lost touch with friends, stopped blogging, skipped church, and rarely read the Bible.

Today feels better — and not just today, but the past many days and weeks. I see a definite trend toward personal and professional improvement and significantly higher levels of emotional stability. I’d like to pinpoint the exact cause that led to this highly desirable effect, but I think the truth involves multiple variables.

1. A toxic person dropped suddenly and permanently out of my life.

I find it disturbing that a single negative influence can wield such destructive power; I didn’t realize how much I had been affected by regular contact with this individual until our interactions ceased and the sun resumed shining.

2. I started exercising regularly again.

For six consecutive weeks I completed three cardio workouts and one yoga workout per week. Sometimes they only lasted ten minutes, but I never missed a day. Thanks to a little discipline, I bid headaches goodbye at long last.

3. My spirit (finally) adjusted to a full-time work schedule.

Took me a little longer than I anticipated, but after a year and a half of 40-hour work weeks, I no longer feel constantly overwhelmed by my daily life. For the first time in recent memory, I have actually begun to experience boredom again!

Sometimes the process of transitioning seems unbearably long.

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Sometimes the process of transitioning seems unbearably long and my small improvements so unimpressive. I still don’t go to bed early enough; dirty laundry lies in heaps on my bedroom floor; and my attempts at meal prep are far from consistent. More than anything else, the past two years have clearly revealed to me my own weakness. Hopefully I’ve learned a little humility. With the assistance of the Holy Spirit, I pray that I would also develop compassion for others struggling to develop healthy habits.

Since our good God offers grace to us, the least we can do is extend it to one another.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. – 1st Thessalonians 5:11

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. – 2nd Corinthians 12:9

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