January | Inspire | A Lesson By Anna Jordan
When I was in high school, I went tanning a lot. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and between dance team practice, my schoolwork, and my job at the mall there were many long winter days where I barely saw the sun. So two or three evenings a week from October until March (fine, April… alright alright, and sometimes through May), I would drive myself to Executive Tans for twenty minutes of warm, sweaty UV bliss in the lowest bed setting. As a busy, extroverted teenager, those twenty minutes were some of the only quiet, reflective times I scheduled during the week.
My friends always teased me about going in the lowest bed setting for the longest period of time because it was, objectively, a better deal to do a higher bed setting for a shorter period of time. If I wanted to get the most bang for my buck, I really should have just blasted my bod with 5 minutes of UV rays in the standup super bed. But as much as I was there to “look like I just got back from Cabo all year long” (according to my boyfriend at the time), my main motivation was to retreat into the tanning bed for 20 minutes of sweat and the silence.
I’ve since discovered far more healthy ways to find sweaty silence, and you’ll be happy to know that I haven’t set foot in a tanning salon in over 12 years. However, what I learned back in high school has been so helpful for me with regard to my own quest for inspiration. It was during those moments when I was encased in a tomb of dangerously hot light that I found essay ideas, character descriptions, and plot concepts. I worked out the details of books I had read, thought through relational conflict, and strived to figure out the nuances of my life. It wasn’t until the tanning bed that I knew what it felt like to have a brand new idea fly through my brain and fill my body with chills and tingles. After the timer went off and the bed went cold, I would wrap myself in one of the thin white towels and pull my journal out of my backpack to write these ideas down. I’ve always been a journaler, a note taker, a record keeper of my own reflections, but it wasn’t until high school that I understood the meaning of creative inspiration.
In all honesty, I don’t think I’ve cornered the market on my own ability to access inspiration; I have a lot of non-sweaty inspirational moments, but for me, inspiration and perspiration tend to go hand in hand. As much as I loved tanning (RIP) and have come to love running and yoga, my secondary motivation for any of these activities is always inspiration. My brain turns on when my body works out.
As we embark on this twelve-month journey towards Creativity, I think our own personal inspiration is a great place to start. This is not to say that each of you will need to sweat profusely from now until December of this year. No, no. You do you. We all find inspiration differently, and while I'm currently in a place where motherhood doesn’t get in the way of inspiration, it does distract from it. Often I feel so depleted from the minutiae of daily life with small people that I forget that I can even be inspired. I’m too tired to be original. Too exhausted to enjoy a flash of brilliance, and sometimes even when I do get a big, beautiful idea, I feel like I don’t have the time to pay attention to it.
However, my children seem to be inspired all the time. My son is always coming into the kitchen to share his new “big idea” with me; sometimes I catch him in the midst of his genius and offer some (loving) redirection (sorry sweetie, that zip line you made with shoelaces from your bed to your closet is probably not the safest inspiration you’ve ever had). What I’ve learned from my children is that their inner critic is quite often on mute. Perhaps it doesn’t even exist yet. They’re some of the most creatively inspired people I know because they really don’t believe there are bad ideas.
If it sounds fun, we should do it – that’s their motto.
Because I’m the one to pump the brakes on so many of their inspirations, I think it’s easy for me to pump the breaks on myself, too.
In the last year, I’ve committed myself to embracing inspiration, and I’ve worked to silence my inner critic when her presence is just not necessary. I’ll write down any story idea, any essay concept. I’ll write without direction just to see where my words take me. As a result, I’ve written more in the past twelve months than I ever knew possible. When I silence my inner critic, I’m far more easily inspired.
My hope for you is that in this next year you will find inspiration in all things. Seek it where you least expect it and then allow yourself to be changed.
"No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered." - Winston Churchill
Download your 2017 Inspiration Workbook below and make a creative plan for your year of creativity.
Write a pep talk. For anyone. This could be a pep talk for a brand new mom, a pep talk for your child, a pep talk for your high school self, etc. We want you to take all of the inspiration you found this month, let it simmer and settle, and then offer it back to the world as a gift.
A great way to get inspiration going is through journaling. This month, our writing exercises will focus around journal prompts that help you seek and find inspiration. Dig around inside your creative soul and see what you find.
Fill in the blank -- allow this phrase to guide your journal entry. Finish the sentence and elaborate.
When I was a little girl I always…
If I were the ocean I would…
To me love is…
Imagination description -- use the prompts to guide your journal entry.
Imagine the sunshine warming your face. What does it feel like? What do you feel?
Close your eyes and listen to a song that holds a lot of memories for you. Write about how it makes you feel.
What is an item you own that holds an intense amount of sentimental value? Who gave it to you? What memories does it have attached to it?
Artist Interview with Ruth Chou Simons:
1. You are a wife, mom, business owner, artist, writer, and photographer—you wear so many hats in your day to day life! What does a typical day look like for you and your family?
It looks different from day to day and even month to month, but in my current season, we are juggling some new roles as my husband stepped away from his position as headmaster of a classical school last year and is now homeschooling our boys primarily. Our family spends our early mornings and evenings altogether reading, gathering for family devotions and meetings, and running errands together. Home is where all 8 of us live and do school, and where I run my business, paint, and write.
It’s busy and we have our part-time employees in our home several days a week with both shoppe help and help to me as a mom. I simply don’t juggle it all on my own!
This has been an unprecedented season as I’ve grown my business and completed the work on my first book, due to release September of 2017. We really came together as a family to decide how we would grow with these new opportunities while preserving our family culture and priorities.
I start every morning snuggling with the youngest two, chatting about the day and listening to audio Bible. After breakfast, I usually work for several hours in the morning in meetings or taking care of emails, while the boys start the daily lessons with my husband. (My oldest is on campus at a community college as a dually enrolled high school student.) We come together for lunch, piano lessons, and sometimes a few midday errands. My afternoons are filled with painting, writing, and conferring with my staff. When deadlines aren’t pressing, my favorite way to spend an afternoon is to take the boys to the library or to take my time with dinner prep. Prepping in the kitchen is truly one of my favorite contexts for a good heart to heart.
2. As a mother to six boys (!), how do you talk to your own kids about your creative work and using your gifts?
We talk a lot about using whatever gifts you have for the glory of God. Each of my boys are gifted differently, and I hope to model for them daily, that using our gifts has to do first with our hearts and less with our talents. Anyone can create something that catches people’s attention, but not everything created will tell the story of a faithful God in our lives. That story can be told in explicit and subtle ways….but they know that that’s what my work is about: pointing to the good news of Christ with my brush and my words.
3. You’ve written before about seasons of motherhood, and how those different seasons require different things from us. In your most full seasons of mothering, how have you still managed to create?
GraceLaced Shoppe was born out of a season when I painted with a baby on my lap and a toddler napping away in the afternoons. I wasn't trying to build a business or to work professionally as an artist; I simply saw things more clearly when I took some time to paint and write. Sometimes, those creative moments came in the evenings after the boys’ bedtimes, and in a different season as a busy pastor’s wife, I created but once a month at a ladies’ get together. It won’t look the same in every season of motherhood, but the key is to make time in increments, no matter how small.
4. How are you seeing the fruit of your creative work blooming now from seeds that you planted long ago?
I never imagined that my creative gifts would turn into the career that it is now. My husband Troy likes to say that though the shoppe and my platform really took off in the last three years, it has been two decades in the making. The seeds sown years ago didn't look like making money, building a platform, or growing a business; it really looked more like journaling, sketching, creating meaningful gifts for loved ones. It looked like living a creative life for the joy of it.
5. What inspires you: as a wife, mom, and artist?
I am most inspired by nature —the beauty of God’s handiwork all around us — and my own children’s awe of it. So many paintings, writings, and teachable moments with my kids come out of remembering God’s word and his faithfulness in the midst of seeing His love for us displayed in flora, fields, and mountaintops.
6. What or who do you read to help inspire your work? What other resources do you recommend to fellow creatives?
I sometimes find the most inspiring resources in things that aren’t meant to encourage me to paint or write better. Sometimes the most helpful thing is to think better…which ultimately leads to more fruitful creating.
I read a lot of Charles H. Spurgeon primarily in Morning and Evening. His imagery in expressing the theological concepts and spiritual formation, is unparalleled. I also really enjoy reading and soaking up a good cookbook. I love how artists that create with other mediums (like culinary ingredients!) can help us see our own with new perspective.
7. Do you have a scripture, word or mantra that guides your work?
Mantra: You don’t have to be blooming to be growing.
Verses: Romans 11:36 - For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. And Ephesians 3:20-21 - Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.
8. How do motherhood and creative work complement one another?
As I type these words, I have two young boys next to me, both drawing. Unless I am writing to meet a deadline and need to concentrate, I love to work and create in their presence. I make it a point to share the words I write on instagram, the meaning behind the paintings I paint, and why I spend time on my computer. I want the boys to see me use my gifts. I often say that motherhood is sanctifying because it requires us to persevere even when we don’t feel “good” at our job, allowing the Lord to use our weaknesses to transform us by grace. My work as an artist, writer, and businesswoman is similarly sanctifying…bringing about many opportunities to submit to the Lord’s refining and purpose to make more more holy by fire. They need to see both.
9. In what ways do you find inspiration? What do you do when you’re feeling dry creatively?
A few things always breathe new life into my work when I feel dry creatively:
Being outside, in the wild, on a mountain, or at the edge of the ocean.
Listening to Jon Foreman’s music.
Playing with art, for the fun of it.
Take time off and stop feeding the pressure to produce.
10. If you could tell moms who long to create as they raise little ones a word of advice, what would it be?
Nothing in the mundane is wasted. Living well is the ultimate source of creating well. If this season calls you to motherhood and not much else energy wise, then serve and love well. Your energy spent in what feels unseen is not wasted. Your season to bloom will come in due season, and it may look different…and more wonderful…than you can imagine.
Feeling inspired? Good. Head over to our Facebook group so we can chat about it!