2016 By The Numbers

Friends of Art House Dallas!

Thank you for such a great year! Your generous giving, prayer and participation have allowed Art House Dallas to really flourish in 2016, and we are so grateful.

Thanks to You, we’ve been able to host over 30 programs and welcome more than 1,000 artists from all walks of life in DFW. These events have ranged from concerts to intimate artist dinners, to our first ever Writers Workshop – and a whole lot in between. You’ve also allowed us to continue our longstanding relationships with Scottish Rite Hospital, West Dallas Community School, PCPC@Work and forge a new friendship with Mercy Street in West Dallas.

Thanks to your generosity and support:

  • We held our first ever “Art House Summit” gathering with Art House Dallas, Art House North (St Paul, MN) and Art House America (Nashville) with acclaimed author/speaker/professor, Steve Garber and founders, Charlie Peacock and Andi Ashworth.

  • A third Writer’s Group was launched in the Spring, allowing even more aspiring writers to take the steps necessary to achieve their goals.

  • A spiritual formation luncheon called Origin was launched, as well as an ongoing discipleship program, helping over 150 people connect their art to their faith.

  • Places with little to no exposure to arts and culture were given the opportunity to engage with local artists through our new program, Deploy. Our friendships with West Dallas Community School and Mercy Street continue to grow and allow us to reach hundreds of children and adults.

  • Local painters were provided with a monthly painting group in a Lakewood home where they get encouragement and support through our new program, Da Vinci’s Easel.

  • Talented local artists, Songbird and Strings, Crystal Yates and J. Withrow had the opportunity to open for 3-time Grammy Winners, Jars of Clay, at the Kessler Theater.

  • Singer/Songwriter Jairus Withrow played his powerfully moving song, “Strong” to over 1,600 people at McFarlin Auditorium for Jackopierce Christmas.

  • Six visual artists had the unique opportunity to showcase their work in Bishop Arts for hundreds of patrons.

  • Four local artists got the chance to tell their stories in our artist video series, and three artists were featured on our website.

...and the list goes on and on. It’s been a truly wonderful year - and it’s all thanks to YOU! We’re excited to see what the new year has in store for our Creative Community. Will you help us make 2017 a year built on Creativity for the Common Good?

The success of our programs depends on donors like you, and we are so grateful that you’ve chosen to partner with us over the last six years. Please help us make year 7 the best yet by donating to Art House Dallas.

Your tax-deductible donation will ensure the success and continuation of our Programs, Partnerships and Patronage - making Dallas a more beautiful and culturally vibrant city!

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Cary Pierce
Executive Director

Imagine Everyone: A Reflection on Art House Dallas' Five-Year Anniversary Celebration

Imagine Everyone: A Reflection on Art House Dallas' Five-Year Anniversary Celebration

Imagine writers admiring paintings. Nurses taking to the stage to show their singer-songwriter sides. Dallasites standing together to sing a sweet, surprising “Stand By Me.” 

After the five-year anniversary celebration of Art House Dallas, none of this is difficult to imagine.

On that rainy October night, a grant writer and a graphic designer literally stood by me. For me and countless others in the Dallas arts community, the evening brought to life the mission of Art House Dallas: cultivating creativity for the common good.

Cultivating Creativity The anniversary event crafted a creative environment from start to finish, welcoming artists, amateurs and arts advocates of all genres. When I walked in to the Life in Deep Ellum Cultural Center, the leader of my Art House Dallas writers group greeted me, then pointed out the paintings on the wall (prepared by an Art House Dallas artist!) and introduced me to a novelist.

These are my people, I immediately thought, as I do so often at Art House Dallas events.

And trust me, for someone confined to a computer almost all day, having people is a priceless gift. At a practical level, the people of Art House Dallas provide professional support by answering my questions about how to publish or freelance. At an emotional and spiritual level, these people provide moral support, walking with me through old dreams and new projects, rough drafts and polished pieces.

After some laughter and lemon bars in the lobby, I was ushered in to the concert space. Snagging seats in the back with some creative colleagues, I couldn’t help but sit back and feel privileged. In that moment, we were privy to a brief talk and performance by Art House America founder Charlie Peacock, followed by a performance “in the round” from Nashville musicians Brooke Waggoner, Andrew Ripp, and Matt Wertz. 

For the Common Good This was no ordinary concert. When I later tried to convey to friends the unique nature of this Art House Dallas event, one friend said, “I’ve been to plenty of concerts. What was so special about this one?”

I fell silent, then I said, “It had a purpose.” It was art for art’s sake, yes, but also for the sake of community, for the sake of a city even.

The musicians sat comfortably on their stools, taking turns and laughing with—and at—one another. They shared the stories behind their songs, and Andrew Ripp told of sharing his songs with Young Life campers, made possible through financial backing from Art House Dallas. They invited audience participation. They made the venue feel like a living room.

And maybe that’s what the city of Dallas needs: more living rooms. And not the stuffy kind at Grandma’s house, but rather the kind Art House Dallas provides that encourages real, full living—the kind that compels people from all professions and parts of the city to come together for drinks and desserts, stories and songs, to recognize the beauty that (though we oft forget) is around us and in us.

The kind that cultivates creativity for the common good.

Julia Powers is a writer and proud member of an Art House Dallas writers group. You can find her online at www.juliapowersblog.com

The Peace of Home

The Peace of Home

Editor’s note: Towards the end of 2014 Ryan Wood attended an Artist’s Retreat at Laity Lodge on scholarship from Art House Dallas. The following post is a reflection of his time there. 

When I was a senior in High School I moved across the country to live on a small farm with my mother's parents. I recall many things about that transition, but the number of family reunions that I attended during that year still stands out.

I met cousins several times removed, aunts and uncles with whom I have only the most tenuous common relations, and people that I am sure were just friendly neighbors who wanted to attend a party with free food and drink.

The common thread that wove each of these events together in the tapestry of my memory is a sense of being home. These people were complete strangers that needed introduction, but I felt like I was home when I was with them.

Although I moved so much as a boy that it is hard to pin one particular place as home, I still have a strong associated feeling with that word. There is a sense of belonging and welcome. Home is a place where, although I may not own the mug I'm drinking from, I still have a sense that it is mine. Everyone leaves their keys on the counter in case a car needs to be moved, and it's okay to root around in the fridge for a mid-day snack.

Home is a place where I don't need to prove my worth by résumé or accomplishments because I'm validated as a member of the family. Home is a place where there is no rush in the conversation, and sharing a pot of coffee on the back deck is a good use of time. 

The weekend before I went on retreat to Laity Lodge I flew out west to look at some business opportunities. It was a place that I had lived in before and I have wanted to move back for almost two decades. During the trip I discovered the financial opportunity was there, but I couldn't get past a sense that I was not welcome. It is hard to quantify, but I just felt like I was crashing someone else's family reunion. The following weekend at Laity Lodge was a response to that turn of events. 

I felt at home during my stay at Laity, and that is exactly what I needed. My family is in the middle of yet another transition. Our business is closing our retail location after economic difficulties and we are looking to God for our next steps. Honestly I would have been ecstatic to wake one morning to literal handwriting on the wall of our dorm but it didn't happen. And I'm okay with that. 

There is a song I sang as a child that talked about a peace that passeth understanding, and during my time at Laity I felt that great peace despite the remaining questions about specific direction in our family. That peace, I am convinced, comes from spending a weekend just "being" with spiritual family.

Ryan Wood

Photo copyright belongs to Laity Lodge

The Year Ahead

Friends of Art House Dallas,

Since our inception and launch in October of 2010, Art House Dallas has experienced many exciting opportunities and wonderful accomplishments. This “little-non-profit-that-could” has moved from a stage of survival to a stage of stability, and we are all very grateful. As we near our 5-year anniversary in October 2015, we look forward to furthering our success and significance in the community.

None of this would have been possible without the support, guidance and trust of Charlie Peacock and Andi Ashworth, the founders of all things Art House. We are grateful to them, and to everyone involved, for allowing us to be part of the conversation and the journey.

We are especially grateful to two dedicated and amazing people specific to our efforts here in Dallas. Jenny Green, our original Executive Director for over three years, was instrumental in establishing our brand in Dallas, developing our community and providing amazing programs. Jenny set things in motion and provided us with a foundation on which we could grow, and we are forever grateful for her hard work and contribution to Art House Dallas. Marissa Miller-Delcambre, our Programs Director and Interim Executive Director, was (and is) also key to establishing our efforts in Dallas. When faced with a dual role in the interim period, she responded tremendously and was the single most important person in maintaining our momentum over the past year and a half. To both Jenny and Marissa we emphatically say, “Well done!”

As we searched for our new Executive Director, we considered many candidates - all of whom were talented in many ways. It was a difficult position to fill as we targeted the “sweet-spot” of creativity, ministry, and development. We decided to be faithful and let things unfold organically with each new prospect.  In the end, this approach was successful and we are pleased to announce that Art House Dallas has found the best candidate for the position.

Cary Pierce accepted the position in November of 2014, and we are pleased to enter the New Year with this exciting announcement. Cary, though originally from the Northeast, is now Dallas’ own. He is an SMU graduate, musician, friend of AHD and actually served on our Creative Council when this all began. He understands the vision of Art House and offers a sound perspective in the areas of creativity, ministry and development. Please help me in welcoming Cary to his new role. We look forward to all that we will accomplish in the coming years and are confident that he will do great things to carry us to a place of success and significance.

Cary, Marissa, and our entire community have great things in store for 2015. We look forward to completing our efforts on a permanent space, continuing to provide our community with great programs, planning a large celebration of our 5th Anniversary in October, securing more involvement from our Patron Community, and expanding our reach into the community - all with the hopes of “Cultivating Creativity for the Common Good”.

If you woke up this morning and drew a breath ... if you are reading this now ... if you are involved already ... if you are thinking about getting involved ... if you are an artist, a business person, a spouse, a parent - whether you realize it or not - we are ALL RESPONSIBLE for cultivating creativity and impacting our community.

Please come take part in the conversation. Please be an encouragement to the world around you regardless of your canvas. Please join us on the Art House journey.
Brad Reeves
Chairman of the Board


Hello Art House Dallas! It’s so good to be here, and I am so honored and grateful to be part of the Art House Dallas family.

As a lifelong artist, I am excited to grow with you as a songwriter and musician. I have so much to learn and so many of you to meet. I pray that 2015 is a year of more imagining and more creating for all of us, and I pray that Art House Dallas will continue to enrich your soul and inspire your creativity. As Charlie Peacock once said, “if you want to change the world, make something beautiful.” I look forward to all of us doing more of that!

Blessings and see you soon!
Cary Pierce

What Art House Means to Me

By Guy Delcambre

What does AHD mean to me?

A man without community is more than a man without friends; he is a man void of peers, and structure. Left alone to fend and find our way through life, we quickly make a mess of things and tangle in the inconsequential and, all things progressive and given to growth, diminish in the small circle of ourselves. A man with friends is good, but a man belonging to a community of people who know him, a result of an exchange of relationship, is life changing in the way of shaping, forming and grooming him, not merely for the better, but to optimize him to live fully.

All the more for the creative soul, expressive yet often muted by self-doubt and loneliness. Community found me keystroke stuttering, pen shuffling and lost in a dream of creativity. I hadn’t earned a literature degree nor could I even confess to avid reading habits. Only the audacious pressing to pen words hanging in my head like pictures taped to a wall, escorted me into a world of words. Early morning jaunts into stories and late evenings lost in my journal chronicling the journey mired in secret, I made my way as a writer, but not until my first public admittance of myself as writer did I permit myself to transcend creativity as hobby to creativity as life. Enter Art House Dallas. The community I discovered, perhaps stated more accurately, the community which found me, infused more than courage into my go as a writer; the community of Art House Dallas created a place in my life where creativity was prima facie, accepted and even to my surprise, needed by others who were more like me than I imagined. 

The needed element to community produced spark, which grew to flame, pulling me further into creative expression and growth as a writer, and now an author. So when the idea of a writers group grew beyond discussion to the level of invitation, I leapt at the opportunity to learn from peers and give in collaborative exchange. Months deep into our writers group, I can say that I’ve benefited as a writer and creative in ways beyond imagination because of community, unreachable in my individual effort.

And now, each time I walk into an Art House Dallas Exchange, I look for the first timers, especially, who may be wondering if this community is for them. I have an affinity for stories similar to mine, for those needing and needed. This is what Art House Dallas means to me.

Guy Martin Delcambre is an author and public speaker based in Dallas, Texas, who writes about faith in thin moments, strength found in weakness, and God’s grace immeasurable. Guy was once a pastor, a church planter, and a widower, in that order. From the darkest night in life— the death of a spouse— to learning to live life as a single father to three young daughters, Guy has traveled the greatest distance of the heart to find home in God’s faithful goodness. Together he lives with his wife, Marissa, and three daughters, Elizabeth, Emily, and Chloe.  Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyDelcambre.  Visit Guy's Blog here.

Art House Dallas Creates Harmony Across the Arts

By Sarah Kay Ndjerareou

Writing is a solitary endeavor. It’s the stillness that feeds the music rushing from my hands onto the page. The essence of this moment is sacred to me and yet when the fevered rush of creation is over, the silence can be deafening.

Art House Dallas became a bridge out of my four-walls into a wider world of creativity. Gaining trust and making friends I’ve become a more confident professional, I’ve been given freedom to make mistakes and invited to collaborate.

The range of art being created is beautiful. Professional or amateur you are invited-in with dignity and grace. Meeting other souls that crave the same craftsmanship has become my lifeline. To be surrounded by work being penned, painted and poured out has nourished me, the starving creative, looking for a place to grow. 

At Art House, I’ve met muralists, landscape architects, jewelry designers, photographers and musicians who passionately create the vision that’s been planted in their soul. Personally, being exposed to all these individual visions, in process, has given wings to how I see my own work. The effort behind voices raised in song has inspired my own struggle. Unexposed to other creatives I got lost, viewing my own work as a hobby that should be fun and demand little from my daily life. 

After being welcomed into a community of hard-working, joyful people, I respect my own voice and work anew. I value the sweat and intensity squeezed out \of stolen moments for pouring out and value breathing in the inspiration of a graffiti lined wall, the spoken word or a piece of film. The wide open door of Art House Dallas has taught me a lot about being creative and there’s nothing solitary about it.


Sarah Kay Ndjerareou is the author of Pieces of Glass. The child of missionary parents, writing became a natural way to process my adventures through Siberia, Ukraine, Kenya, Monaco, Swaziland, Thailand and beyond. Ndjerareou means ‘he who builds the road’ in Ngambai, my husband’s Reounodji Nathanael (Nate’s) tribal language spoken in Chad, Africa.  Our favorite travel companions are our daughter, Sophia Nerolel, and son Isaac Benoji. Today our home is in Texas. 

Belief in Me

By Ryan Wood

When I moved from Michigan to Texas as a child a package addressed to me arrived at our new home. I opened it and found a book inside. There was no return address on it and none of the grandparents would admit to sending the book. After this happened for a few more months my parents found out that it was a generous elementary school principal that happened to have met me before the move and said she knew the benefits a "good reader" enjoys. She saw a potential in me. The books continued for years and I gained more confidence at school, something that goes a long way as the new kid.

More recently Art House Dallas has been that benefactor in my life, calling out the potential that I may have overlooked or taken for granted. Because of Art House Dallas I have been challenged as a musician, encouraged as I stated my first real business venture. Through collaborative contacts, my family has found a welcoming faith community that has strengthened my marriage and bolstered my confidence as a dad. I have shared my table and living room with amazing artists during songwriter dinners and enjoyed some of my favorite artists at Stories and Song events. I have watched as artists have bloomed under the nurture of Art House and I've seen men and women breathe sighs of relief when they find kindred spirits at Exchange nights.

Not everyone has a benefactor that sees and invests in an individual's potential. I have been dually blessed to have both a childhood principal and to have Art House Dallas call out potential that even I often question. Thank you for seeing with creative eyes the things that God has called true for my life.

A Community of Purpose

By Andrew Young


When I first heard of Art House Dallas, I immediately emailed to inquire about any potential job opportunities. The following week, I drove from Fort Worth to Dallas with a new, appropriately hip dress shirt and the best intentions to find some way I could become involved in such an interesting, mission-driven organization. The following month, before starting an internship there that would eventually open my world to a career in non-profit management, I wrote an article on my personal blog about Jon Foreman’s recently released song “Restless.”

In that article, I talked about my restlessness to see the world changed by God’s movement through His community and beyond, through intentional discipleship and an honest pursuit of redemption by those moved by The Spirit. I found such a community at Art House Dallas, in “an unusual group of artists in Dallas,” in my words, “filled with the restless passion to use their gifts for the glory of God and the service of those in their community.”


I’m exceedingly proud to say those words still describe Art House Dallas. As I continue my involvement with the organization, now as a patron, I marvel at how much the organization and community it cultivates has to give the world, for the glory of God.  As a self-described hobbyist of the arts, I continue to grow from the lessons learned from those who come together every month to talk about the role of creativity in their lives and how they choose to pursue art for purpose. I take those lessons learned and apply them to every aspect of my life, from my artful hobbies to my professional life and all of my endeavors between. The community at Art House Dallas gives me inspiration to always find purpose in everything I do. And, for that, I am truly grateful.

Andrew Young serves as Marketing and Membership Director at the Lone Star Film Society in Fort Worth, Texas. Andrew graduated from Texas Christian University in 2011, pursuing a career in non-profits. Before joining the LSFS, he served as Web Intern for Art House Dallas, where he worked closely with local artists—musicians, photographers, writers and filmmakers—to help them develop their craft and pursue creative careers. As a creative himself, Andrew is passionate about finding new ways to pursue academics, art and information in community as a way to influence culture and develop a greater understanding of collective experience.

The Soul-Restoring Work of Creative Community

By Blake Atwood

2009 was the most soul-taxing year of my life, a time of deep depression that led me to question basic assumptions about my faith, identity, and calling. I escaped to Dallas the following year to reboot a life that had suffered a major system crash. Seeking healthy community, I stepped foot into my first Art House Dallas exchange in late 2011. It was there that I met people like me: creatives who wanted to do something good with their creativity. I’ve been involved ever since.

This may sound melodramatic, but it’s true: Art House Dallas was instrumental in my restoration as a person of both faith and creativity.

Since late childhood, I’ve defined myself by two significant words: Christian and writer. But it wasn’t until I became involved in Art House Dallas that I saw how those two could and ought to influence each other, and even how the intentional mingling of those words could turn into a career.

Since becoming part of Art House Dallas, I’ve written and released The Gospel According to Breaking Bad and have launched out on my own as a full-time freelance writer, editor, and ghostwriter.

Yet more valuable to me than the professional growth I’ve seen are the relationships that have formed, especially within our first Art House Dallas writers group. While the Exchanges offer encouragement on a broad level, the Awaken Creativity writers group provides the kind of accountability and help all serious writers need but seldom know where to find.

To me, Art House Dallas is the kind of community creatives crave: encouraging, helpful, knowledgeable, and working toward something larger than themselves. In just four years, AHD has accomplished much, and I can’t wait to see what the next decade holds.


Blake Atwood is a freelance editor, writer, and ghostwriter with EditFor.me and the author of The Gospel According to Breaking Bad. For updates, subscribe to his monthly email list.

Release from the Bondage of Freedom in Creative Pursuit

“Free" or "not-free" is how most people in the modern world now identify themselves. While the debate as to when the trend towards individual rights in the public and private sphere actually began is more complicated than the purposes of this post (the question reaches as far back as or farther than Ancient Rome), there is no doubt the last several centuries of world history ushered in a new era of freedom for the human race without precedent, and the definition of what makes us free now defines almost everything in our lives, from our status in our culture and society, our political leanings, our purchasing habits and our presumptive daily choices, to our conceptualization of the sovereignty of God, or the existence of God altogether. Freedom is the paradigm by which we define the minutia of our lives and world-views.


As creatives—whether writers, painters, musicians, or community leaders—our ability to pursue the creative path is dictated by our ability to choose freely amongst the many options available to us in a way that conforms with the identities we hold most dear as individuals. In a different time, creatives were much more limited to the demands of their society. This is still true for many in other parts of the world. The ability to decide you are a painter and freely choose a life limited to the scope of your artistic vision is, amongst other things, the gift of freedom. And, in a world of technological and intellectual freedom, the select-few are no longer the only ones who can pursue that path without marrying their artistic identity to any particular religious order or government. Today, the painter can truly live as a painter and nothing else. Such a freedom liberates the creative in a way that allows him or her to pursue their personal vision to the fullest, without alteration or compromise.

And yet, such freedom comes at a peculiar cost that we can almost define as a paradox in that more freedom to define one’s path introduces the danger of never fulfilling one’s path at all. With an increase of options, there is often a correlative increase of opportunities to make poor decisions that hinder personal growth (You see this in almost any system of self-determination, especially in the realm of individual liberties). And, because we often qualify freedom with the belief that the exercise thereof should be for the upmost good of the individual, whether that good be increased health and opportunity, or the ability to live unhindered in the expression of self, this hindrance becomes a form of bondage that can impede the purpose of freedom to the individual. While most will typically seek that which makes them content, the very things we seek to the end of happiness can actually derail that happiness through poor health, alienation from others, excess of ambition, etc. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman reflected on this very idea shortly before his tragic death. In a conversation with Simon Critchley, the brilliant actor mused on the fact that pursuit of something inherently good, in excess, can actually produce great pain instead of great joy or happiness. Hoffman used the example of coffee--one cup can bring abundant pleasure and increased productivity, but too much can make us sick. For Hoffman, like so many of us, overindulgence in life quickly followed the discovery of some good that brought pleasure or happiness.

See the conversation below:


So, if the paradox that freedom can deliver us over to bondage is true, the question then becomes what this means to us as creatives. After all, while this lesson can apply to pretty much any discipline or facet of human life, this is a post meant for those pursuing some creative end. 

The answer, I think, actually lies in another paradox. In order to be free of the bondage freedom can bring, one must seek the subjugation of one’s personal freedom to a greater cause or power that can bring focus and balance to one’s pursuits in freedom. In other words, by freely limiting our personal freedom as individuals, we can better channel our pursuits as creatives to a more fruitful and fulfilling end. We must limit the range of our creative pursuits in order to fulfill our creative identities.

As an artist and a community leader, I find this concept especially liberating. As a photographer, my work is richer and more meaningful when I work within a set of constraints, whether those be the use of only one particular lens with a short aperture range, or the focused study of only one subject at a time. By limiting myself, I learn more about the world around me and my labors become more meaningful. I become a better photographer, and I thus fulfill my artistic identity to a richer end. Without those constraints, I find myself wandering and lost. I become undisciplined in my pursuit of the medium, and my work becomes more formulaic and less effective. On this point, I think most photographers can relate to the predictably empty results of a meandering ramble in the park, which usually leaves the admirably serious artist with nothing but poorly conceived pictures of squirrels and over-fed geese. Excess freedom in photography thus hinders my very purpose in pursuing that freedom: to become a better artist.

As a community leader, the same is true. The abundance of options has always been a struggle for me professionally, and I suspect the same is true for many others. I'm not saying I've had more job offers than I can handle. What I mean is that because there are so many options in so many different fields for someone interested in non-profit management, by not limiting my focus in purpose as someone pursuing a particular career path, my work runs the risk of defeating the very reasons for which I originally chose to work in such a career. I am one that, if I were left to pursue every whimsical interest in my professional life, I would never move forward towards purposeful contribution to society, an end that only a career-long dedication to a specific goal can achieve. And so, I must define my purpose. I must limit my freedom so as to develop as a community leader. I must drink less coffee.


This concept is certainly not new. The great mystics of multiple religions and philosophical traditions throughout history built their legacies brick by brick on this very foundation. In fact, some scholars even argue this concept was one of the founding principles of the French Republic (the revolution of which quickly ushered in our new era of personal liberty). Yes, the subjugation of the self to the other in order to achieve a more perfect unity of purpose and identity is an idea possibly as old as the quest for personal freedom, and the lessons to be learned are more acute today than ever before. 

Based on this peculiar nature of freedom, therefore, one of our challenges as creatives is to take the time to honestly ask ourselves what freedoms are holding us back from achieving our full purpose in creative identity. We must seek ways to limit our ability to pursue every aimless whim that comes our way so as to sharpen our resolve to be creative voices of purpose in our individual communities, our nation, and our world at large.

Andrew Young serves as Marketing and Membership Director at the Lone Star Film Society in Fort Worth, Texas. Andrew graduated from Texas Christian University in 2011, pursuing a career in non-profits. Before joining the LSFS, he served as Web Intern for Art House Dallas, where he worked closely with local artists—musicians, photographers, writers and filmmakers—to help them develop their craft and pursue creative careers. As a creative himself, Andrew is passionate about finding new ways to pursue academics, art and information in community as a way to influence culture and develop a greater understanding of collective experience.

Quitting for Good

I don’t know why I like summer as much as I do. I think I like the idea of summer far more than the actual season. Perhaps after twenty odd years of tacking the word  “break” onto summer, we’re trained to associate the season with freedom, rest, opportunity - a break from routine. This year I approached May without any promises of free-form summer days but felt the building excitement all the same. 

I made to-do lists of epic proportions and set goals like nobody’s. And then I found myself waist deep in a pile of commitments with no goals completed or accomplishments in sight. Somehow I managed to take on too much without any compelling reason. I wish I could say it was a unique occurrence. 

Why do we make ourselves busy? Do we commit to things because we truly believe they deserve our time and effort, or are ulterior motives at play? Personally, I’m a sucker for being told I’m needed for a project. Tell me I’m the best one to get the job done and I’ll be there, no further questions. I also love a good team. There’s nothing like diving in with a group of creative, intelligent, like-minded people and running after a common goal. 

Yet as great as these things sound, I frequently return to a place of needing to cut back and un-commit. It’s not that I don’t look before I leap - I always carefully evaluate a commitment before I sign on. But a lot of the time I’m attracted to something when it speaks to an appealing idea, rather than providing an appealing reality. I end up committing to good things, but not the best things. It’s a lesson to learn and re-learn as the story repeats itself at different times with different context and characters. 

This summer marked the second year I’ve met with a particular group. We went through some changes as a group and a familiar, niggling doubt rose up in the back of my mind. It was the same End-the-Relationship, Quit-the-Job, Step-Down-from-the-Position doubt I’d met many times before. Remember why you started, I told myself. Think of why this group is good. My reasons felt hollow. For every “Pro” I had a “Con” and on paper it looked like an even split. The implications of quitting - the offense I may give or the pain I could cause, kept me frozen. It was a good group. People don’t just quit good groups. Right?

Eventually, with time and many rambling, one-sided conversations with friends who obviously love me a lot, I found some clarity. I went back to the spot I’ve gone with every other similar scenario: Is this commitment helping me achieve my goals in life? At first glance it may sound a little callous in reference to a group of people, but life goals aren’t always calculated and unfeeling or based on your career or material possessions. Sometimes life goals look more abstract, like surrounding yourself with people who fuel your creativity, being a part of things that you are uniquely equipped to support, or finding places where there’s a need and serving your heart out. Whatever they are, it’s important to have goals and remind yourself of them. Otherwise your time gets consumed by a thousand different things, none of them providing growth, rest, joy or any need for that matter. 

Maybe your summer brought a lot of good intentions and new projects that remain unfinished. Maybe your summer was beautifully restful, but you’re facing an autumn of renewed commitments to things you can’t remember why you’re a part of. It may even be that the approach of a new season holds an alluring opportunity to sign up for a new batch of activities and groups and leadership positions. It’s tough to do, but take the time to reassess where your hours are going and ignore the sparkle of new opportunities if their only draw is their newness. Quitting good things can be painful and new is exciting, but what is it worth if your commitments aren’t molding you into the person you want to be or helping you achieve the things you’ve set your sights on?

You may find yourself with gaping holes in your weekly schedule. People may ask you what you’ve been up to or what you’ve replaced your recent “quits” with. Terrifying as it is, your answer might be, “Nothing.” Own it, embrace it, and then go use that time to  do good works and help create the world that ought to be.

Kate Petty is a writer, photographer, and videographer. Born and raised in Texas, Kate will always call the South home, no matter how far her travels take her (may they be very far). Coffee, sunshine, family and friends fuel the heart behind her work - finding beauty and joy regardless of circumstances.

The Sameness in Us All

I am a homebody, a reluctant traveler. I have no problem with new places; I just prefer to have my home with me wherever I go.

I have to admit, however, that one of my most interesting years many years ago still informs my writing in almost every way. In that year, I was displaced from settling into a home of my own.

My first upheaval that year was a move to Las Vegas from Denver. Up until the day I left, Colorado was all I knew as home. I left my roots and had to learn to live on my own. Moving to the desert from the mountains was as much of a life change as it was an aesthetic shock. I moved from the place of my own roots to a place where roots were not meant to grow.

In Las Vegas, I lived in a hotel for a month while my few belongings that offered a sense of home sat in an unknown storage unit. Living in a hotel forced me to get to know my surroundings. I quickly realized that a sense of home would be hard to find in such a transient place. 

A month after moving to Las Vegas I spent the summer in Boston, a place deeply rooted in American history as well as generations of familial history for many who live there. The east coast was faster, manners were clipped to their barest minimum, everything seemed old and grand, and tradition was at the heart of everything. I was not a part of those traditions, so I watched as an outsider looking in. For most of the time I was paralyzed by awe at the different ways I was not used to, but that awe opened my eyes to the past to see the relevance of time in experience.

After the summer I returned to Las Vegas ready to settle down only to be called back to Denver to attend my grandmother’s funeral. I noticed when I arrived that my home had changed, not because it had changed but that I had. Everything was as I remembered it, but I was seeing it with new eyes. I learned while I was there that I was homesick, but I was no longer homesick for the life I had left. The feeling reached much deeper.

This feeling stuck with me as I returned to Las Vegas. For a few months I experienced Las Vegas as a tourist even though I happened to live there. Friends visited just about every weekend to take in the sights and entertainment. My experiences of that time showed me the side of the city as it was intended, as an escape from any sense of reality. 

Not long into attempting to get acclimated, my father died. Another layer of who I was seemed to become hollow. I had to leave again to bury him in his hometown, an old factory town tucked away in the Berkshire Mountains. I saw the factories my grandparents worked in had long since been abandoned. I met people that I had never met, but they knew my family so by extension they felt they knew me. I heard stories I had never heard and looked into the eyes of people who held their own vision of who my father was, which was different from mine.

After the death of my father, I finally settled down in my new home in Las Vegas. This time, however, the lights had lost their transfixing shine and my view behind the façade was uninhibited. I saw the flip side of the escapist mentality the city was built on. I saw the people wanting something deeper in a place void of meaning.

During that year I saw the effects place had on humanity; I saw it in myself and in others. I felt how pulling up my own roots and feeling lost found things deep in me that I didn’t know were there. I felt the importance of my own family history and where I came from. What struck me the most through it all were the people that wanted connection and a sense of home as much as I did.

I lived out of my comfort zone and grew because of it. Being displaced and navigating new environments turned my skin inside out so I felt everything I encountered in new ways. Getting away and seeing the differentness of other places illuminated the sameness in us all, just expressed in unexpected ways. The sense of being lost, the people I met, even the opposing topographies of each place from that year have woven themselves into who I am. All the differentness I experienced that year still lurks in everything I write.

Derra Larsen is a writer based in Frisco, Texas. She has a BA in English with a creative writing emphasis from Colorado State University. In 2013 she completed her Masters of Liberal Studies in creative writing from Southern Methodist University. Derra is married and has twin daughters who will soon be turning nine.

Take to Summer: Embrace a Break in Habit

Take to Summer: Embrace a Break in Habit

Not in the spontaneity of come-and-go inspired moments that ebb and flow based on time of day or mood, but in the regularity of embracing creativity do artists produce. Some wake up earlier than dawn while others work deep into the evening, and still, other creatives hone their craft throughout the day - what is common to the producing creative is schedule.

As a writer, I struggle with discipline and regularity far more than the writing itself. I always try to convince myself that if I lived an adventurous life similar to Hemingway, I too would write with an intimidating ferocity. My keyboard would fear me, and the many books written as a result would wall me in literary glory. The convincing and the glory don’t stand a chance pitted against a schedule filled with work deadlines, family commitments, rest - not to mention the countless other minor distractions given attention to.

During the writing of my book Earth and Sky I reached a point of creative drought. All my words written and phrasing sounded like a monotonous merging of the same idea stated the same way over and over and over again. I hated the sound of keystrokes and the feel of pen in hand as all my effort lacked the creative passion I first started out the book with. I fought for my regular writing schedule because everyone reinforced the necessary discipline. As a result, those early mornings were losing battles piling higher. And the book wasn’t being written.

We reach points when we need escape: from ourselves, and the effort given.

Escape doesn’t become a necessity because of productivity or because of accomplishment. Every creative knows the rush of inspiration and glimmer of genius that graces our work at times, just as every creative has felt like a beggar hoping for something. Getting away from your work, and more so, the pressure felt from work, will often help you work better.

After shelving my manuscript for nearly eight months, I left for a cabin in the mountains, knowing I had a book to finish, but unsure of how and when. In a few short days, I found the trail and scent again. The last four chapters were written with such simplicity that I remembered again what it felt like to be a writer. Creativity flows freest in the most unrestricted times, sometimes outside of habit and discipline and schedule.

Getting away always brings healthy impact to my work. A new environment stimulates creativity within me and displaces the deflating pressure to produce. I can’t always retreat to a snowy cabin in the mountains, but I can embrace a break in habit with a simple change of pace or environment. During the early mornings of summer, I leave behind the indoor and escape to a shaded spot on my patio to write. A simple escape to a coffee house or library may very well do the trick. While it’s a certainty that habit does, in fact, fuel creativity, habit alone does not sustain creativity. Take to summer and embrace a break in habit as a means of learning something new, seeing your work through new perspective. These breaks are what sustain.

Guy Martin Delcambre is an author and public speaker based in Dallas, Texas, who writes about faith in thin moments, strength found in weakness, and God’s grace immeasurable. Guy was once a pastor, a church planter, and a widower, in that order. From the darkest night in life— the death of a spouse— to learning to live life as a single father to three young daughters, Guy has traveled the greatest distance of the heart to find home in God’s faithful goodness. Together he lives with his wife, Marissa, and three daughters, Elizabeth, Emily, and Chloe.

Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyDelcambre.
Visit Guy's Blog 

A Look into Awaken Creativity

A Look into Awaken Creativity Writer's Group

As espresso machines whirred to life at The Pearl Cup in Richardson, nine writers from across the Metroplex gathered together on April 10, 2014 for the inaugural meeting of Awaken Creativity, the first Art House Dallas writers’ workshop. Focused more on encouragement through community rather than critique by committee, Awaken Creativity lived up to its name in the very first meeting.
As evidence of the desire for creatives to connect with each other in meaningful ways, one writer drove from Ft. Worth in rush-hour traffic in order to attend. After she arrived and most writers had achieved optimum caffeination, each person introduced themselves and shared their passions for the written word. They then stated their literary goals as a result of attending the workshop on a monthly basis.
Despite the purposefully small number in attendance, the writers’ particular bents ran the board, from bloggers, screenwriters, and poets to authors-in-waiting and published authors. Even those that had been published varied from memoir to nonfiction to young adult to children’s books.
Following the introductions, Art House Executive Director Marissa Delcambre challenged each person to jot down a writing prompt for themselves to finish before the next meeting. Then, in a twist worthy of M. Night Shymalan (The Sixth Sense M. Night, mind you), each writer had to pass their prompt to the person sitting on their left, resulting in many of the writers being tasked with a prompt likely outside their normal realm of creativity. At next month’s meeting each writer will then report on their experience writing toward such a prompt.
Awaken Creativity indeed.

After the hour-long meeting finished, many of the writers remained to further connect with others in the group. From comments made at the close of the workshop, it appeared that such a group was exactly what these writers were looking for and precisely what they need in order to pursue their creative goals in the coming year. While this inaugural group is closed to new attendees, another writers’ workshop group will likely begin in the Fall of 2014.
In the coming months, the group will talk about paths to publishing and read through Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, all the while supporting each other’s words.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a prompt I need to write.

Blake Atwood is an editor at FaithVillage.com, a freelance writer, and an unabashed fan of both Breaking Bad and the Oxford comma.

A Look Back at Taste & See

Just two weeks ago we celebrated three years of Art House Dallas with an anniversary fundraiser! The occasion was marked with a taste of the creativity we cultivate: a silent art auction and gallery featuring work by some of our favorite Dallas artists, live music by local songwriters on the lakeside patio, plus floral design, a photo booth, and happy hour with delicious food by our culinary artist friends. We had a great time as we gathered together in community to support artful living in our city!

A look at The Filter Building on White Rock Lake just before guests started to arrive.

A look at The Filter Building on White Rock Lake just before guests started to arrive.

All floral donated by  The Southern Table

All floral donated by The Southern Table

Over ten artists participating in our silent art auction to help raise money for arts programming in Dallas. Here's a look at work from Christi Meril, Dawn Waters Baker, Melissa Ellis, Audrey DeFord, Greg Holmes and Karley Kiker.

Over ten artists participating in our silent art auction to help raise money for arts programming in Dallas. Here's a look at work from Christi Meril, Dawn Waters Baker, Melissa Ellis, Audrey DeFord, Greg Holmes and Karley Kiker.

Art from the silent auction by Erika Huddleston, Jenny Grumbles, Kenton Visser, Tiffany McAnarney, Mark Renner, and Nicole Morrow

Art from the silent auction by Erika Huddleston, Jenny Grumbles, Kenton Visser, Tiffany McAnarney, Mark Renner, and Nicole Morrow

A special thanks to Grapevine Craft Brewery for provided all of the beer for the evening!

A special thanks to Grapevine Craft Brewery for provided all of the beer for the evening!

Ways to support Art House Dallas - limited edition mugs, t-shirts and more!

Ways to support Art House Dallas - limited edition mugs, t-shirts and more!

All of the amazing artists that participating in the Art House Gallery and silent art auction for the evening with Art House staff Jenny Green & Marissa Miller!

All of the amazing artists that participating in the Art House Gallery and silent art auction for the evening with Art House staff Jenny Green & Marissa Miller!

Art House staff with the musicians that played for the party: Kirk Thurmond, Kelsey Lewis, and Cary Pierce

Art House staff with the musicians that played for the party: Kirk Thurmond, Kelsey Lewis, and Cary Pierce

Kelsey Lewis and Jordan Critz performing on the patio

Kelsey Lewis and Jordan Critz performing on the patio

Kirk Thurmond performing on the patio

Kirk Thurmond performing on the patio

Art House Dallas Board Member, Jason Kulas announced the many ways to get involved, give to Art House, and the amazing $25,000 match the night of the anniversary fundraiser!

Art House Dallas Board Member, Jason Kulas announced the many ways to get involved, give to Art House, and the amazing $25,000 match the night of the anniversary fundraiser!

Cary Pierce of Jackopierce entertained the room and got the crowd to sing along!

Cary Pierce of Jackopierce entertained the room and got the crowd to sing along!

Let's not forget the fun Anniversary Photo Booth!

Let's not forget the fun Anniversary Photo Booth!

Thank you to everyone who supported Art House Dallas near and far! We are humbled to announced that  we raised just over $66,000 the evening of Taste and See ! And a special thanks to our sponsors! It wouldn't have been possible without your help and support!

Thank you to everyone who supported Art House Dallas near and far! We are humbled to announced that we raised just over $66,000 the evening of Taste and See! And a special thanks to our sponsors! It wouldn't have been possible without your help and support!

Thank you to our sponsors: William Noble Rare Jewels, Cordatus Capital, Grapevine Craft Brewery, Veritex Bank, Prattco International, The Southern Table, Times Ten Cellars, and CearWood Roasting Co.

Thank you to our sponsors: William Noble Rare Jewels, Cordatus Capital, Grapevine Craft Brewery, Veritex Bank, Prattco International, The Southern Table, Times Ten Cellars, and CearWood Roasting Co.

All photos by Lindsey Brittain and Can Turkyilmaz. To view the full album, please click through to view.

Shot and edited by Will Meier, Music by Seryn

An Artist's Affirmation

“I want to feel that art is an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another.” – Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam


Recently I was invited by an artist friend to show some artwork in a pop-up gallery. I’m not a visual artist, usually, but I dabble. At the time, I was sorting through boxes of old family pictures, so I decided to display some collages and family-themed pieces in the exhibition.

It wasn’t until the last minute when I finished the collection. I arrived late at the gallery space to put up my work, and all the other artists had already put up their pieces. Immediately I felt inadequate. Their work looked professional. Most of these artists were local art professors, or gave lessons, and regularly sold their work. My work looked like a family photo album compared to all these walls of framed paintings and tables of glass sculptures. Compared to everything else in the room, I wasn’t convinced my collages were art.

It was too late to bow out gracefully. So I arranged my work as I’d planned: with a lace table cloth and a vase of baby’s breath, to look like a table of pictures you’d see at a grandmother’s house. It didn’t look like it belonged. I scolded myself for not realizing that this collection would be too personal to be of significance to anyone else.

On the opening night at the reception, I stood beside my table, anticipating that I would need to explain the pictures to bemused passers-by before they moved on to the real artists’ work. 

And I did explain to passers-by, some of whom did look bemused. But I also got a reaction I didn’t anticipate: several gallery-goers approached me to tell me about their own family pictures and heirlooms. My work stirred up memories of their own grandparents. 

I thought of C.S. Lewis’ statement that “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” I connected with a lot of people that night, and we exchanged stories of our families and the things they’d left behind.

By the end of the opening reception, I no longer felt that my work was inadequate. It was, at the heart of my effort, “an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another.” And I am assured that it was art.

Aubrey Allison is about to graduate with a BFA in Writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design. When she's not writing or reading, her hobbies include photography, embroidery, and cutting out pictures from magazines. Aubrey is a native of Dallas, Texas, and she has sold her artwork in gallery shows in France and the United States. She is Ruminate Magazine's Web Editor. Her favorite things to write about are a small town in East Texas and the intersection of faith and art. She likes strong coffee, shoes that are silent when she walks, and the smell of old books. Find her artwork and more of her writing at aubreyallison.com

Less Freedom, More Creativity | Aubrey Allison

Featured Blog | September 2013

At the beginning of the summer, I started a creative project. I wanted to make collages with old family pictures — and I had a lot of old pictures to work with. Boxes upon boxes. More than one storage unit full. The project seemed wide open. I could use some embroidery, or parts of handwritten letters, or anything else I wanted. There were portraits, candid shots, and tintypes, from the 1880s to the 1980s. But the more I sorted through all those possibilities, the less I knew where to start. For a while, I gave up.

Some might say I was not being very creative. Maybe my work ethic wasn’t strong enough. Maybe I spent too many years in schools that emphasized “right” or “wrong” answers. But I think my reason for being stuck was simpler, and more basic to the nature of creativity: I needed a box before I could think outside of it.

When I started taking foundations courses in art school, this was something I noticed in every class. The professors would assign projects that, despite being open-ended, still involved a list of requirements and boundaries. For most, the requirements were a helpful jumping-off point. But usually at least one student would protest, because they had a project in mind that didn’t fit the outlined assignment — and this is art school, right? Why are we being limited?

Reluctantly they would think up a different idea to turn in. And almost every time, the project they turned in was more compelling than their original idea.

There are a lot of reasons why limits produce more compelling work than total freedom. For one, it forces you to keep brainstorming when otherwise you might pour energy and resources into one of the first ideas that come to your head. Like pruning a rose bush, limits can cut off the less-worthwhile endeavors and open up space to develop better ones.

Sometimes our limits are rules of the medium — for example, a sonnet is always fourteen lines in iambic pentameter, and one of a few standard rhyming schemes. Even if you only learn the rules so you can break them, your creative work will benefit from a mastery of traditional forms or classic techniques.

But the reason I got stuck when I tried to collage wasn’t that I needed to learn formal rules of collaging — it was that I lacked direction.

Endless options can be paralyzing. Does this sound familiar? Someone says to you, “draw something.” 
“What should I draw?” you ask.
“Anything! Something cool.”

Even if you don’t sit and stare at the blank page until someone gives you a more specific prompt, chances are you draw a personal standard, your go-to doodle. Chances are, without a nudge in some direction, you won’t take a risk or suddenly think of a new idea.

When my deadline came and I needed to produce that collage work, I found myself creating the limits I needed. I will only use portraits of my grandparents and their immediate family. I will make twelve pieces in standard-size frames, to be displayed on a table. One might say I simply started making decisions. But that’s really what a constraint is: an aspect that has already been decided. 

And when one aspect has already been decided, it’s easier to move forward and focus your energy on creating something unexpected. Instead of thinking about these constraints as a denial of creative freedom, we can think of them as a challenge to be solved. 

Limits have the potential to stimulate more creativity than they stifle — let them.

Aubrey Allison is about to graduate with a BFA in Writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design. When she's not writing or reading, her hobbies include photography, embroidery, and cutting out pictures from magazines. Aubrey is a native of Dallas, Texas, and she has sold her artwork in gallery shows in France and the United States. She is Ruminate Magazine's Web Editor. Her favorite things to write about are a small town in East Texas and the intersection of faith and art. She likes strong coffee, shoes that are silent when she walks, and the smell of old books. Find her artwork and more of her writing at aubreyallison.com.

Handmade Adventures | Jenny W. Green

Featured Blog | August 2013

Dear Friends:

Earlier this Summer, I attended a long weekend retreat at Laity Lodge down in Leakey, Texas. Among other wonderful things like canoeing down the Frio River and hearing Andi Ashworth speak on vocation, I had the opportunity to take a step-by-step painting class with my Art House North friends Sara Groves and Allison Gaskins. None of us would consider ourselves painters, but after two hours of instruction and layering paint on our canvases, we walked away delighted by our (somewhat real looking) birch tree forests. No, they weren't masterpieces, but the time together was wonderful as we talked about what life was teaching us and laughed at our inability to paint tree shadows. There is certainly a time and a place for perfecting your creative craft, but there is also a time to get outside of your comfort zone and try something new.

Just this last weekend, I was reminded again how much fun it is to try new things in the kitchen. For a while now, I've been intending to recreate an amazing pork tostada my husband I had enjoyed on our honeymoon. After a fruitless internet search for the recipe, I finally pulled out the good old Crock-Pot, gathered ingredients at the store, and set out to crack the code on this fusion of Hawaiian, Mexican, and Asian flavors. Eight hours later, the pork was tender and ready and we had chopped and diced and sliced our hearts out, combining four different recipes for each layer of the tostada. It felt similar to the painting class, adding layer by layer of colors and flavors. First the guacamole, then the shredded slow-roasted pork topped with the Asian coleslaw and pineapple-jalapeño relish. It tasted delicious. Even if it wasn't exactly the same as we remembered, it was a wonderful process of learning something new together.

Thinking about these recent experiences of painting and cooking makes me even more excited about our new Handmade series starting later this month. I've been dreaming for a while about providing opportunities to enjoy the pleasure of creating something with our own hands, and I'm so thrilled to have you learn more about cooking, hospitality, floral, and table design from friends who have been an inspiration to me along the way. If you've been dragging your heels on coming to an Art House event because you don't think that you're artsy enough, these are the events for you. It can be so intimidating to try something new, but I hope our Handmade series will allow you to get in touch with your creativity, learn a new skill, and meet cool people in the process. With only 10 spots per class, tickets are going fast, so reserve your spot soon! 

Hope to see you at Handmade or another one of our upcoming events! 

- Jenny Green, Executive Director

Discovering Your Calling, Slowly | Denis Haack


Last night, my wife Margie read from and signed copies of her book, The Exact Place. Anita had filled Toad Hall with candles and flowers, arranged chairs so everyone could hear easily, made individual Angel Pies for each person (the recipe is in Margie’s book), and set up a place at the dining room table for the signing. It was lovely, and a lovely evening. People drove in from Iowa and the Twin Cities, and one couple, dear friends, flew in from Connecticut to be here.

I didn’t know Margie was a writer when I married her. If I had known, I would have still married her, but still, I had no idea. Neither did she. I knew she was creative and intelligent, but the writing came later. It turns out to be one of her gifts, an essential part of her calling, but it was hidden or unnoticed back in the Sixties when we dated.

Some people seem to know from the beginning what they want to do in life. I’ve met people from a remarkable array of vocations who tell that story. They seem to be rather decisive, aware of their gifts and interests and what work is most fulfilling to them, and they go for it. Not a bad way to go through life, I suppose, but not a standard for everyone, either. Still, in a society like ours where extroversion is the cultural ideal the prejudice that everyone should be like this seeps into the church as well. It’s worth resisting.

Some people walk through life and discover their calling and gifts as their pilgrimage unfolds. The point is not how fast you uncover such things but whether you are faithful to what you know, to what has been revealed so far. The danger is not missing your calling, but being disobedient, or disdaining your gifts because you’d prefer something else. It’s a good formula for becoming increasingly bitter about life.

In his book Work MattersTom Nelson writes,

“I have found these four diagnostic questions very helpful for vocational direction at any stage of life. We need to ask ourselves: (1) How has God designed me? (2) What life experiences have shaped me? (3) What circumstances surround me? And (4) What do my wise counselors say?”

Even those who were aware of their calling from childhood should reflect on these questions. And they are certainly helpful for the majority of us for whom knowing our calling is a slow path of discovery over many years. I suppose the quick-responders would argue they have an advantage because they haven’t wasted time. I’d say the slow path is lovely because the process of discovery is rich with surprise.

Watching Margie discover her calling as a writer has been fascinating, because at times I think I’ve been more certain of her giftedness than she has. More than once over the years I’ve been away speaking at some conference. My host introduces me, kindly and thoughtfully, not by reading something I have written, but something that Margie has written. “Please welcome her husband,” they conclude, and the microphone is mine.

None of us are very objective about ourselves. We are both finite, and so see ourselves incompletely, and we are fallen, which means we also see ourselves wrongly, at least to some extent. It’s been good to walk together with Margie in this process, because when gifts are uncovered we can have the tendency to disbelieve it. Why didn’t we see them before? What else am I missing? What if I try and fail? It’s nice when friends have more confidence in us than we have in ourselves.

In the September 27, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone, there was an extensive interview with Bob Dylan. Mikal Gilmore says to Dylan, “You’ve described what you do not as a career but as a calling.” Dylan’s response is both wise, and sad. “Everybody has a calling, don’t they? Some have a high calling, some have a low calling. Everybody is called but few are chosen. There is a lot of distraction for people, so you might not ever find the real you. A lot of people don’t.”


Denis and Margie Haack founded Ransom Fellowship in 1981, a ministry that includes lecturing, writing, teaching, feeding, and encouraging those who want to know more about what it means to be a Christian in the everyday life of the 21st century. Ransom Fellowship offers two free publications (donations accepted): Critique and Notes from Toad Hall. Denis is the author of The Rest of Success: What the World Didn’t Tell You About Having It All and has written articles for such journals as: Reformation & Revival Journal, Eternity, Covenant, and World. He holds a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis.  Denis blogs at A Glass Darkly; Margie blogs at Toads Drink Coffee.

Image by Lucas. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

This work was originally written by Denis Haack for The High Calling and Foundations for Laity Renewal. Reprinted with permission.

Co-Habiting | Kate Harris

Featured Blog | June 2013

I would love to say that most of my best efforts are oriented toward others, or the common good, or world peace, or something equally admirable. But sadly, for the most part I tend to be pretty self-interested. In high school I arranged a surprise retirement party for our veteran calculus teacher smack-dab in the middle of our final exam (“Surprise!”) simply because I knew I would do better in the class if the test didn’t factor in my overall grade. He cried — he was so touched that his students would celebrate his 35-year career — and our whole class got an “A” on the final. Never mind the “A+” I earned in shameless self-service. Or, a few years ago when I had to plan a fall investor conference in California for my work: I intentionally scheduled it for the few days preceding my friend’s astronomically expensive wedding in Palm Desert to save myself the cost of an airline ticket. The conference was a success, as was the wedding, but I cannot say either arrangement was selfless.

In the same way, last spring when I invited all of my professionally creative friends over to talk about their creative work and creative processes I wish I could say that I had only their best interests or the interests of cultural renewal at heart, but the truth is that I needed something from them. I was, then and now, trying to figure out how I could write better and more often in the midst of a busy life with work and young children. I invited them based on my own selfish desire to better understand — and then yoke myself to — the disciplines and habits that serious, regular creative work demands. In short, I wanted to trade mint juleps and French 75s for some practical and well-seasoned creative wisdom from those who are in it, had done it, and could encourage me that the crazy-person feeling I was increasingly becoming accustomed to experiencing was mostly just a run-of-the-mill creative thing. I hoped so anyway. Otherwise, save the mint julep, I was definitely in trouble.

Despite my deep longing to be among the ranks of what I call the “true” artists, the kind who can effortlessly dress themselves in wonderfully whimsical, sophisticated clothing and decorate their homes with lovely abstract art that has deep roots in poetic allusion, I am really too poorly dressed and my home too pathetically decorated to ever count myself among their ranks. Also, I live in Washington, DC — land of navy suits, white marble buildings, and linear, deductive reasoning — so, in an effort to embrace these realities but still marry the wannabe creative part of my soul with the Capitol Hill pragmatism part of my soul, I asked each of my artist guests to come prepared to share two things:

1) A favorite sample of work they had produced and were most proud of.
2) A practical resource that helps or has helped them in the creative process — perhaps a book, an environment, an exercise, a muse, a routine, a person, etc.

The result was a wonderfully fun version of adult show-and-tell. It easily proved the single greatest self-serving idea I have ever had, mostly thanks to a room full of generous, self-giving, wildly gifted women. My friend Nicole, a portrait artist who makes her living painting commissioned portraits in the upscale neighborhoods of DC lugged a 6-foot portrait of a street surveyor into my living room and shared a bit about her love of street art, as well as her vision for what became the AS IS Urban Portrait project in DC. Jana unfurled a teeny square of silk, intricately covered in stunning gold, water-colored-looking aspen trees, a sample of her newest medium and technique. Susan brought her newest line of letterpress stationery, Katarina showed a slideshow from her photography site, and Laura showed a trailer from her new documentary. Others shared articles, paintings, and songs written and performed. It wasn’t a support group. The point here was not to focus on why art is hard to do, or why creativity is difficult to sustain, but rather how to do it, and how to stick with it despite that reality. No whiny, melancholy woe-is-me stories, just art on display, explained, shared, and lots of good practical resources, too.

Several folks referenced Twyla Tharp’s brilliantly practical book The Creative Habit, others recommended Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way as a guidebook, and another loved Daybook by Anne Truitt. I am a big fan of Tolkien’s winsome, largely autobiographical short story about an anxious, visionary little artist man/elf titled “Leaf by Niggle” and the tail-kicking essay by Annie Dillard, “Write Till You Drop,” which is full of little jewels like this:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. . . . Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

So how do these friends spend it all?

One of the artists credits deciding to rent studio space years ago as the thing that forces her to make time and space for her art. Having a price tag attached — knowing what it costs her every month in dollars and cents — makes her budget time and money for it like she would any other priority. It also forces her to generate revenue from at least some of her work. For another, a writer, a commitment to her more creative writing is sustained by keeping a steady stream of deadlines on a wide range of written material, much of which generates the revenue she needs for childcare to protect a handful of hours of silence each week.

For at least one photographer, investing in classes at least once a year has been her way to keep her growth and creativity a priority even in the midst of a thriving business that is driven by client work. My friend who prints on an antique letterpress, a process that involves toxic chemicals and is rather time intensive, allocates an evening or evenings for printing each month or each week whenever she is in a season that requires printing large quantities. She does design work at a coffee shop during preschool hours or asks her husband to take a half day off of work to watch the kids if she needs to get caught up. Likewise, in anticipation of welcoming another new baby to their family and knowing that printing would likely be more cumbersome than she wanted to undertake for a few months, she launched a design blog to keep the platform for her business active and alive while focusing her creativity in an area that takes less physical energy and time.

For all, committing to read good books, watch good films, and be intentional about other inputs during “off” hours are disciplines that serve their work. Many also spoke about the important value of carving out time to rest and reflect.

For everyone in the room, a commitment to creative work is a commitment that costs them something tangible every day or every week. The hours or dollars sacrificed, not given to other important and worthy pursuits, keep them at it despite funks or frustrations. The discipline that keeps them focused is not so much an act of will but of necessity —  a sort of justification for making the gift and the sacrifice fruitful instead of wasteful. These women are clear-eyed about what their creative work is costing them and that is the very thing that forces them to work through it, to lean into it, even when it feels futile.  

My friend Laurel, who has three small kids, told me about going to a gallery show in the District about a year ago where she talked to several other artists and realized that all of them — without exception — were working a job simply to feed themselves. All of them did art on the side, in the evenings, sacrificially. For Laurel, as she tells it, this turned the tide of self-pity in her own creative life in the midst of mothering. Somehow, knowing that the limitations on her time and energy were no different — perhaps even preferable — to the limitations and sacrifices every other artist was making had the effect of making her own tensions both catalytic and normative.

Last but certainly not least of many cheerful discoveries of the night came from a third question my friend Katarina posed, asking each person to speak to it as they shared their own work and practical resource: What is it about what you do, your work, that makes your heart sing? What makes your heart leap in your chest? What compels you?

The answers to these one-in-the-same questions were simply staggering. They were so unexpected, so random, so personal, so counter-intuitive, and so widely and uniquely varied in accordance to both person and craft it easily made for the most treasured and memorable part of the evening — a little peek into one intricately, intimately crafted soul, one after another. The most surprising aspect of this was hearing every person reply with such certainty, such an established, rooted sense of hope and vision for what they want their work to be about, what they are longing to communicate, share, heal, affirm. Without exception there was a quick, accessible, purposeful, missional motivation undergirding every person’s highly-individualized compulsion to do what they do.

For Nicole, an expressionist painter, this answer wasn’t about training or technique but about her longing to see people, to give them dignity. For Susan, a letterpress stationery designer, it was a window into how she sees texture and packaging and craftsmanship as a means of communicating about value, substance, relationship, and care. For Jen, a photographer, this reply conjured her desire to help families make good memories together, to capture moments that are real, substantive, and lasting. And when I listened closely to those I knew best, for most of them there is also the shadow of something beneath that motivation, the longing for healing — echoes of questions, tensions, hurt, complexity, and confusion that somehow works out in their art as both a source of creative motivation and also a salve for pain. It is where creativity and redemption meet.

I love Cormac McCarthy’s reply to an interviewer several years ago in response to the screen adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Road. He said, “Creative work is often driven by pain. It may be that if you don't have something in the back of your head driving you nuts, you may not do anything.” And while McCarthy is obviously known for his dark view of life, this observation coheres with the undertone of our show-and-tell evening. It is hard to have a discussion about a creative process without talking about fear, uncertainty, insecurity, or shame. If those things didn’t exist there wouldn’t be much of a process. Learning how to stare down fear and create anyway is the process, at least so far as I can tell if I had to summarize. No fear means no creating. And squaring up to it is often painful, even if it is rewarding in the end.

In addition — and I think McCarthy has this right — committing to create something, anything, to develop a voice or aesthetic or style, is to tap into all of the broken things we wish to fix. It is thus an exercise in excavating pain, digging it up, examining it, shining light and experience back onto it, and daring to look again and again. Depending on how deep these foundations, the creative process can be varying degrees of loneliness, terror, confusion, disorientation, and discouragement — quite a range of unpleasantness! And all nipping, nagging relentlessly right at the back of the head, driving you nuts, as McCarthy so aptly describes.

For me, this is exactly why it’s good to build a community of serious, committed creative people who can show work they are proud of, access the tools they already have in their belt, and remember and say out loud why they do what they do across all variety of disciplines and mediums. It feels especially important for me to do this as I step into more intentional efforts at creativity. Working to create, to make something beautiful, coherent, dignifying, and true . . . these are efforts that all seem to devolve into interior battles that mostly feel like a street fight in my soul — chaotic, egotistical, and pretty futile. But knowing I have companions fighting the same grueling, petty-feeling battles in their own souls, and then seeing their art — how beautiful it is, what a gift, how important and stunning and redemptive and nourishing it is — helps me believe ever so slightly more that perhaps it is not as futile as it feels.

All of us need people. People to love us, people to help keep us sane, people to tell us what we are good at and where we would benefit from amendment, people to pour us a drink or hand us sea salt caramels as needed. For those drawn to creative work this is no exception. Dr. James Houston, the founder of Regent College in Vancouver, Canada once gave a series of lectures titled “Redeeming Our Tears: Experiencing Transformation Through Suffering, Sorrow and Pain,” and one of the few things I remember from listening to him more than 10 years ago was his use of the phrase, “the loneliness of uniqueness.” It is a tender insight, giving name to this loneliness we all experience simply by being the only “me” there is. Yet while this is deeply true —  I can’t fathom a day when my creating, reflecting, and working would not be wholly my own — gatherings like the one we had last spring go a long way in reminding me that I am not ever so lonely as I might think. What is more, I am always better for drawing others into my life. There is nothing magical about the way this experiment came together. It was a whim to begin with, and it still mostly feels like a whim if-and-when we reconvene every six months or so. The value of it — the point of it — is simply to acknowledge that artists need other artists. Somehow, some way, a means to deepen, expand, and flourish in our work as well as in our sense of friendship and companionship. A ready and regular reminder that despite angst or fear or loneliness there is the benefit of co-laborers journeying the craggy, thankless path of creation and redemption together with brush, pen, lens, piano, frying pan, or what have you.

Kate Harris is Executive Director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture, wife to a good man, and mother to their three young children. She resides just outside Washington, DC, in Falls Church, VA.

This was originally posted on the Art House America blog