Two years ago, I was the first one of the two of us to visit my sweetest friend Jeanne Oliver. (Read about it here.) She invited me to be a part of her very first art workshop in her stunning new studio.
Jeanne lives in an absolutely beautiful part of Castle Rock, Colorado, in an absolutely beautiful home. Jeanne has impeccable taste. I will never stop bothering her to write a book on all things home and creative living. She embodies the beauty of those concepts like no one else I know.
Then...Jeanne came to visit me. Last week.
I, by contrast, live in a declining urban neighborhood. I live in the kind of neighborhood where the houses are small and the cars are big, and the hubcaps are even bigger. I live where you pass peonies and porch swings one minute, then peeling paint and an abandoned appliance the next. I live where there is sometimes a steady thump thump of the bass in what can only best be described as mariachi-hip-hop-gansta music.
I live in what we affectionately call "the cul-de-sac"(I sometimes hashtag it the #cultesac, because I have a sick sense of humor, my husband is a pastor, and two of my four grown children ended up buying homes in the culdesac. So we all live across the street and beside each other, and most people think that's weird. But we like it just fine.) and every day, I reconcile the ugly-beautiful.
To say I am visual is an understatement. To say that I am an intuitive artsy "feeler" is an even bigger understatement.
Seeing grand babies playing in their yards every single day is what is beautiful about where I live. And that is enough. Seeing my neighbor's grand children playing in their yard every single day is another thing that is beautiful about where I live. It also is enough. Otherwise, my need for beauty in my surroundings is challenged to the core every single day. I am forced, by nature of my environment, to see the beauty in all things eternal, not external.
I have always been very honest about this, and I am so glad for my own transparency.
Because sometimes an online friend becomes an in-real-life friend. The best you can ever imagine. And then you go to your online friend's house. And then she comes to your house. The kind of online friend whose home has been featured in books and magazines, comes to your house in the 'hood.
But a real in-real-life friend comes to see you, and she does not bat an eye at what kind of neighborhood you live in, or what model car you drive. She comes to snatch a few minutes of real, intentional presence with you. No i-phone, no a-genda.
I share all this only because that is a small part of our story, and telling that story is so appropriate, given what it is that brought my dear friend Jeanne Oliver all the way from her beautiful Colorado home, to Nashville, TN, and then to Knoxville, TN and my home.
Our stories brought us together.
This is Jeanne's first book, released by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, published by Northlight books on July 4th. It is all about using your stories to create a beautiful visual narrative - one that at the very least will be a joy to make, and at the most will bring healing and become a family heirloom.
Our stories matter. So much. No one could have written a book like this better than Jeanne, because she has a courage in telling her own stories, and a curiosity about the stories of others, that is authentic.
This book is beautifully photographed, and the art instruction is clear, step-by-step, and the philosophy contained inside its pages is contagious. You will find yourself valuing your own narrative. You will find yourself remembering things you thought you'd forgotten - and those things you remember will be some of the most important parts of your story. The human mind is funny like that...we are good forgetters of what matters most.
Can I talk to you, just for a minute, about two things: 1. How important it is to put yourself in the presence of incredible women, and 2. The ministry of simply being present with others.
It would have been so easy to cancel Jeanne's visit to my home. I mean come on - let's be real. You should see where I live.
I could have come up with very legitimate reasons to decide against opening up the guest room, and instead make arrangements to just meet her for lunch, someplace halfway between here and her workshop/book signing in Nashville. And I would not have been lying. I could have said I wasn't well (I wasn't. Menopause. Bless. Say no more.). I could have said that unforeseen ministry-related things had come up (they had). There were at least six "good" reasons I could have used to mask the simple fact that allowing my friend to come inside my space and my heart felt very vulnerable.
But I passionately believe in challenging my insecurities, and in putting myself in the presence of people who I know are amazing, and receiving an impartation of their courage and creativity. Practicing that has changed my life.
I have been leaning into what many are calling "the ministry of presence". For me, that means quieting my busy mind, quieting the self-talk, the insecure (or opinionated) monologue that can go on in my head when I am with others. That means choosing vulnerability - looking a friend in the eyes and saying what is true.
Practicing that is changing me.
Also, I love her. I love Jeanne. So I had to, somehow, send her the message that I trust her, no matter what.
She could have left and said all sorts of things to others about me. She could have drawn all sorts of conclusions, or made all sorts of judgements about everything she saw here. But I trusted her (and her sweet husband Kelly) to love us as we are, and to look past what is not beautiful about where we live, and see what truly, truly is beautiful about where we live: my lion-hearted, gorgeous husband, my daughters, my sons, my grands, our sweet homes, our gardens, our urban chickens (ha ha), our heart for our neighborhood, our heart for ministry, and the lives we have made here together on this here #cultesac.
That's a lot of beauty.
That's my story, and I am sticking to it.