holy curiosity: questions for painting, questions for people (johanna schram).

Guest post Tuesday! We’re traveling in the South right now, so I’m delighted to have Johanna’s words – and her natural curiosity for humans! – in this space. Enjoy the story weaving she brings us today: from Picasso to humanity to her own life’s calling now. I think you’ll love what she has to say. Read, relish and share! 

A number of my college classes took field trips to the Art Institute of Chicago. After completing my assignments and touring the collections, I always made my way to The Old Guitarist by Picasso where I’d sit for a hours in an out-of-the-way corner. A steady stream of people visited the painting, many seeming to almost miss the guitarist himself as they searched for the ghostly face peering over the back of his neck, evidence of an earlier painting on the same canvas.

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In all the hours I spent with The Old Guitarist, I could never decide whether it was a painting of hope or despair. I didn’t know whether the guitar was his lone companion or whether there was a rapt audience just beyond the edge of the frame. Maybe that’s why I kept coming back. He couldn’t be summed up in a couple of words.

He wasn’t just a picture to look at but a person to be known.

At the annual back-to-school poster sale at my college I purchased my own Picassos—cheap prints of The Old Guitarist and Blue Nude—to hang in my dorm room. My roommate thought they were creepy, but I never tired of looking at them.

Those paintings didn’t give me answers, but they raised questions about how I viewed other people’s humanity and my own. Their rawness made me want to see beyond the paintings to know the people depicted.

It was refreshing to see people who weren’t pretending to have it all together. They weren’t dressed up and gracefully posed with gentle smiles. I saw people with unknown depths who weren’t hiding—or at least weren’t hiding that they were hiding. I saw people I had something in common with if only we could talk.

There was so much I wished I could ask. I filled a page in my journal with questions for the blue nude, asking her about everything from her deepest secrets to the most mundane trivia. What is your greatest fear? When is the last time someone told you you’re beautiful? Do you like spinach?

My final question on the page was what do you want to know about me?

I wanted to be known, to be seen for who I am instead of as the perfect (or perfectly flawed) person I was pretending to be. I think deep down we all do.

Yet I shrank away from other people’s curiosity and didn’t even dare ask myself who I really was. What if I wasn’t someone worth knowing?

That’s not to say I didn’t ask myself questions, but the questions I asked didn’t lead to deeper self-knowledge. Why can’t I be who I’m supposed to be? What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I care about the things that make a person successful? Why can’t I be more outgoing and likeable?

The unspoken questions I asked of others weren’t driven by curiosity but by fear. What do you think is the right opinion? What are your expectations of me? Is this good enough? Who do I need to be for you to love me? Again and again my need to feel safe and accepted won out over my longing to know and be known.

I lived that way for many years, but shutting down my curiosity didn’t make life less scary or unpredictable. It mostly made it lonely.

Now I’m working with a coach who stands with me as I learn to ask better questions and to listen for authentic answers. Instead of asking why I’m not who I think I’m supposed to be, I’m getting really curious about who I am.

After all that time of dodging and hiding, it can be hard to listen for my answers even when I’m brave enough to ask. As I keep asking, I’m starting to believe that it’s ok to know who I am. It’s ok to be who I am.

Learning to wonder and ask gives me a glimpse into the vastness of all the things I don’t know. But being curious isn’t about getting it all figured out. I’m glad I’ll always have more questions than answers—it means there’s always more to discover.

When I listen for the song of the old guitarist or the whispers of the blue nude, I’m really listening with a holy curiosity to discern my own true voice and yours rising through the incessant clamor of fear and expectations.

So now I’m curious…

What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? What is the one thing you would change about yourself if you could? What is your favorite color?

What do you want to know about me?

JohannaSchram

Johanna Schram is learning to value wrestling with the questions over having all the answers. She’s sifting through the internal and external expectations of who she is supposed to be to discover who she really is, what she values, and what she has to give. Johanna loves company while exploring what it means to live authentically and fully self-expressed. Visit her at joRuth and download your free guide, Who Are You? 3 Simple Ways to Know Yourself Better.

a sad, sad tale of cell phone meets coffee.

When cell phone meets coffee, the ending is not exactly what fairytales are made of. Sometimes, a couple cups of basmati rice in a Mason jar does the trick – and sometimes, forty-eight weary hours later – it doesn’t. Sometimes, one is left with an absolutely, positively, fried cell phone.

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This, of course, happens to come near the end of a 40-day Lenten fast from social m
dia on said phone. Call it irony of ironies, or call it God really calling me on my inability to actually take notice,  it’s been rather Dickensian in nature:

Being without a cell phone in 21st century America is rather the best of times …and the worst of times. But I have come to realize a few things.

I take notice. Hello, bicyclist to my right who waves at my children. Why, hi there funny billboard in Berkeley, full of wit and charm. Greetings, almost every single driver who seems to have his or her nose pointed downward at the stoplight: get off your freaking phone!

[I can’t tell you how many times I employed my horn this past week, at the number of drivers who didn’t realize a red light had turned green because they were staring at their phones for one… two… three… seconds. It’s unreal! People, let’s vow to let email and Facebook and Instagram be while we’re driving, for the love.]

But then, when I’m driving down the street, I see the blues of the sky and I see the gray clouds coming in from the north. As I drive over bumps and potholes and splayed bits of gravel, I notice the urban grit of my city, and I love it, all over again.

And I hear my children sitting in the back seat – maybe for the first time – because I’m not hearing hands-free conversations with friends and family while I drive.

“Mama,” Cancan said in the car this morning, “when I grow up I’m gonna be a James!” (See also: The HBH/Hot Black Husband)

“Oh, really?”

“Yup! I’m gonna be a dada when I grow up!”

“Well, did you know that you can still be a Cancan and a dada when you grow up, baby?”

“Oh.” He paused for approximately 3.5 seconds, which is an eternity in three-year-old land. “Well, then I’m gonna be a Cancan, and Feo’s gonna be a Feo, and Dada’s gonna be a James, and Mama’s gonna be a mama!”

“Well, can’t I just be a Cara when I grow up?”

“No, you’re gonna be a mama!”

So it’s final: I am not a Cara, but I am a mama.

But y’all: I would not have heard this had I been zoning out to the latest podcasts and catching up on requisite audio books. 

It’s so lame. So lame. 

And it’s no way to live.

But this silence, this silence that’s somehow come to surround my life since Monday afternoon, isn’t something I’m prone to embrace.

Noise, I can embrace. Chaos, I can thrive in. But silence? Silence makes me think too much. Silence means that I’m not silencing my insides with all the noise I fill it with on a daily basis, even if I qualify that noise as very, very good. 

But this silence, I need.

This silence, you need.

So, when I get a new-to-me cell phone, which I will, soon, I have a feeling it’s not going to be so loud. It’s not going to be so urgent. It’s not going to be so scream-o. 

But it’s going to be a little quieter, and it’s going to help me to take notice, and in its own little way, it’s going to force me to slow down – because I’m going to realize how much I don’t actually need it, as much as I’ve come to depend on it. 

And could it, I ask, be the same for you?

Try it.

Double dog dare you.

xo, c.

I’m grateful for these little moments of grace, these reminders to take stock of what’s really, truly important. What has it been for YOU this week? 

 

holy curiosity: outsourcing (annie rim).

Holy curiosity is BACK! Let me introduce you to a friend of mine: Annie is a reader and a writer, and someone I’ve enjoyed getting to know over the past couple of months. And the message she brings today is so, SO very important, for our own curiosities should NEVER be outsourced. Read, enjoy and share! 

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I’ve always been a curious person.

When I was young and had a question, my dad would point me in the direction of his out-of-date set of encyclopedias. Sometimes my question was answered, but more often, I would get sucked into reading about other places and ideas and histories.

As a teacher, I was surrounded by curiosity and in charge of facilitating it in a meaningful way. My days were spent creating activities and lessons that guided my students toward more questions and ideas. I still made time for my own curiosity, through books and travel and cultural events.

And then I became a mom. Everyone knows kids are curious – google it and you’ll find quotes from Walt Disney and Madeleine L’Engle to Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein about the incredible curiosity of children. Mine are no exception – my three year old explores and questions her world constantly.

As my daughter became more active and more curious, I found myself outsourcing my own curiosity. I was surrounded and enthralled by Bea’s discoveries – who has time to add to that full day? I continued to read and my taste turned more and more toward nonfiction – a way to continue learning, but I didn’t really allow time for my own curiosities. I pushed them into the margins and told myself that one day I’d have time for my own interests again. Today is the day to focus on my kids; to build their own discoveries; to cherish these quickly passing moments.

I’m sure you know where this is going. Outsourcing curiosity is not sustainable or healthy.

In my years as an educator, I would tell parents the importance of reading with and in front of their kids. Yes, it’s important to read with your kids, but it’s also so important for them to see that you value reading. That, unless they see you practicing reading for pleasure, there’s no buy-in to teach them to read for fun. (Reading can be substituted for anything – cooking, hiking, singing – whatever you value and want your kids to value.)

I knew the importance of modeling curiosity but I wasn’t following my own advice. As Bea became more independent, it was easier to add my own interests. I would read in her playroom while she invented games with her toys. Soon she would sit next to me with a stack of books and we’d quietly read side by side. I started a blog and now, she likes to “blog” alongside me.

When our second daughter joined our family last year, I instinctively put aside my own activities. And, in that newborn haze, it was ok. But, as she has become more independent, I am reminded that I need to pursue my own curiosities.

So, I’m learning the art of calligraphy. I’ll never open an Etsy shop, but the act of sitting down, pen in hand, writing the alphabet over and over and over again is soothing and reminds me that pursuing my own curiosity fills me as a person. I set up a craft table in Bea’s playroom (read: table I don’t have to clean up before dinner) and now we sit together working on projects while Elle watches.

Something I’m reminded of again and again is that God created us to be curious. When I hear holy curiosity, I am struck by the fact that this is how we are designed. We are designed to create, to invent, to explore. However that looks and whatever form it takes, the way we draw near to our Creator is to Create.

I’m slowly remembering this and when I make room for my own curiosity, not only do I model this life-giving practice for my daughters, I honor the person I am made to be. And that restores my soul.

b0e99c233553803656d6d63843356e1bAnnie Rim lives in Colorado where she plays with her two daughters, hikes with her husband, teaches at an art museum, is part of a longtime book club, and reflects about life & faith here on her blog: annierim.wordpress.com. Though she’s not particularly witty or artsy, for a dose of “real life,” you can connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

on tangled strings, a tangled faith & #nightdriving

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Not my blinds, not my house – but looking good, nonetheless.

We have two sets of beautiful bay windows in the front of our urban-suburban house, one in front of the dining room and the other in the forefront of our living room. There’s a small window + large window + small window set up, with wooden blinds covering each of the three panels on each of the three sides. And then there are the blinds.

Oh, the wooden blinds.

They look good, mind you, but the strings from which we pull them up and down are a beast. Now I know some of y’all have super fancy, string less blinds, but we are not those people. We are the people with lovely bay windows and decent wooden blinds and annoying-as-hell, massively tangled pull strings for said blinds.

Most of the time the strings are one big, fat, jumbled mess crying out for me to show them some inanimate attention LOVE. Untangle me! Detangle me! Help me, Rhonda, help, help me, Rhonda! 

And it can feel like all my time and all my attention goes to untangling that which is tangled. 

My faith is the same way. 

I believe in God. I receive the love of Christ, a love that is not for me as an individual, but is a love I believe covers all people, everywhere. So I take this Love Given Me, and I shove it in my back pocket or I bury it in my soul or I gulp it down by the mouthful, and I then try my hardest to then push it back out to everyone I meet.

I want to believe that it’s this simple.

Because it is.

But there’s a detangling of my religious past I constantly find myself wrestling with. There’s a detangling of black and white, and there’s a detangling of the should’s and the supposed to’s. There’s a detangling of right and wrong, and of who gets in and who stays out, and of everything I think I had to do and had to be in order to be right with the One Who Loves. There’s a detangling of belief that my faith should always be shiny and my insides should always be happy and everyone around me should be and do the same. There’s a detangling of rigidity that I think I’ll be struggling to loosen my entire life.

And there’s a detangling that I can’t and won’t sometimes find myself in the dark – and that darkness is then okay. 

Like I said, there’s a whole lot of detangling to do.

I suppose that’s why I loved – and devoured – Addie Zierman’s latest spiritual memoir, Night Driving.

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Addie dares to confront all the baggage that comes with darkness, a darkness many of us in our youth were trained like good little soldiers to believe doesn’t and can’t and won’t go hand in hand with faith. It’s a story that embraces the feeling that there might be more questions than answers, more gray than black and white, more not knowing than knowing.

It’s a book that gives permission and says, It’s okay. No matter where you are – in light or in darkness – maybe you’re right where you’re supposed to be. And maybe, if you’re a person who believes in a Higher Power, a God, a Christ, maybe this Light is right there in the midst of the darkness, too.

So, go.

Order the book. Buy the book. Devour the book (which I did, in 48 hours’ time). Be sure to cheer on Addie’s writing by heading over to her website or by finding her on Facebook or Twitter.

And if you’re still not convinced that you might be able to find yourself in her story, leave a comment below and win a copy of Night Driving yourself!

Easy peasy, man.

xo, c.

So, is there a detangling you’ve had to embrace, in your faith or life as a whole? Otherwise, have you read (and resonated with) Addie’s words before? Leave a comment, win a book! Winner will be drawn and announced on Thursday, March 24th – good luck! 

*Post contains Amazon Affiliate links, yo yo ma.

once upon a social media ditch.

On Fat Tuesday, I deleted Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and Pinterest off my phone for Lent. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know this isn’t anything new. 

Oh, Cara just realized that she spends way too much time naval-gazing at her cell phone. So she’s gone and done it again. 

But friends, this time is different.

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This time it’s working. 

I still check various social media outlets once a day, mostly for writing purposes.

When last month’s super-crazy, call-it-VIRAL article ran, it was a good thing I only allowed myself to check in once a day, on the old-fashioned thing called a laptop computer. Somehow, all the good and all the bad things said in relationship to the article (and to me and my family) didn’t quite matter so much. Suddenly, it just was, and the positive and the negative didn’t come to define me, as I’d let them do so often in the past.

It made me feel like I’d returned to how writing is supposed to be.

And it made me remember and realize that I’m not as important as I sometimes find myself believing I am.

I know: it’s so LAME.

But health and life is ours to be found in moderation. LIFE is ours to be found when we stop staring at the four-inch screen we hold in the palm of our hands, and instead open our eyes to the very present, very real, very altogether-lovely world around us.

So, these are my words for you today. If you’re interested in reading the entire story, head on over to She Loves Magazine for the full, (let’s be honest), more well-written post.

Otherwise, consider this my double dog dare to you today:

Dare to take social media off your phone.

Dare to not pick up your cell phone when you’re bored or when you’re sitting at a stoplight or when you need to escape from the frustration of your world. Dare to instead enter into life around you.

Dare to only check these various outlets once a day.

And dare to see if you’re changed in doing so. It’s been a game-changer for me, and I’m betting it’ll be the same for you.

xo, c.

So, is this a double dog dare you wish you’d never seen? Social media: blessing or a curse for you? Does it matter if it’s on your phone?

why I don’t love the word “repentance.”

I slammed a door this morning. On purpose. Somehow, someway, it seemed better to take my frustration out on an inanimate wooden object than to yell or scream or pummel my fists in the air, Billy Blanks, two-year-old tantrum-style.

Really, the messiness of my morning is a confession of sorts. It’s my way of telling you that I don’t have it all together. It’s also my way of reminding myself that life doesn’t always—maybe ever—go the way I think it should, and that I need to lessen unrealistic expectations of perfection I place on myself and on those around me.

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Because life, man: it’s messy.

I can sometimes feel up to my ears in deadlines—for writing and speaking and all the Very Good Things I’ve said a hearty yes to. Instead of remembering that inspiration will come when it’s supposed to, and instead of leaning into waiting for the right time as opposed to my own forced version of it, I find myself running to the other end of the house and slamming a door as hard as I can along the way.

And when the door slams and seems to shake the walls of our urban-suburban house, and when a haunting silence suddenly ensues from two young boys who all of the sudden find themselves wondering why their mama is so very mad, I feel righteously vindicated and like the world’s worst mother, all at the same time.

Is it just me?

The story continues, don’t you worry! Head on over to the Mudroom to then hear how messiness and anger and the word “repentance” all intertwine together. Otherwise, door slamming: does it occasionally happen to you, or am I the only one?

a book club …podcast?

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Hear ye, hear ye: things are about to get real up in these here podcast parts. I mean, so real we’re going to have a virtual book club of sorts. And so real you’ll hear my voice over the airwaves discussing said books once a month.

Intrigued?

I’d love for you to join us.

First, meet my friend Osheta:

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Osheta and her family live in the greater Los Angeles area, which, for those of you outside of California is about six hours south of where my family lives. She too is a writer and speaker who just launched a brand new podcast, Shalom in the City, last week. Be sure to check it out and subscribe to if it you haven’t already!

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Osheta and I met over Voxer. Then we began to dream over Voxer. One thing led to another, and I’ll now be joining her once a month over to the airwaves to discuss a book.

We’ve chosen a wide range of books, both fiction and non-fiction, but they all hold the possibility of shalom in common.

What does it mean to seek shalom – or wholeness – within ourselves? What does it mean to seek wholeness in our relationships, with our families, and with God? What does it mean to seek shalom with issues of racial justice and what does it mean to seek wholeness creatively? 

Osheta and I will discuss the book on air, but there are so many different ways you can join in. Jump in on the discussion when I post about it here on the blog. Join the conversation in the Shalom Sistas Hangout group on Facebook. Or, start a book club of your own and read along with us!

And men, do join us as well.

So, without further adieu, djoin us. Do read for wholeness and with intention. Do have fun while you’re at it. The list:

March: Light of the World

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Elizabeth Alexander finds herself at an existential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband. Channeling her poetic sensibilities into a rich, lucid price, Alexander tells a love story that is, itself, a story of loss. As she reflects on the beauty of her married life, the trauma resulting from her husband’s death, and the solace found in caring for her two teenage sons, Alexander universalizes a very personal quest for meaning and acceptance in the wake of loss.

 

 

April: Bad Feminist

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A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay.

“Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.”

 

May: Esperanza Rising

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Esperanza thought she’d always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico–she’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home, and servants. But a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn’t ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances–Mama’s life, and her own, depend on it.

 

June: Wearing God

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There are hundreds of metaphors for God, but the church only uses a few familiar images: creator, judge, savior, father. In Wearing God, Lauren Winner gathers a number of lesser-known tropes, reflecting on how they work biblically and culturally, and reveals how they can deepen our spiritual lives.

Exploring the notion of God as clothing, Winner reflects on how we are “clothed with Christ” or how “God fits us like a garment.”

 

July: The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook

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From a Washington Post weddings reporter who’s covered more than two hundred walks down the aisle comes a warm, witty, and wise book about relationships—the mystery, the science, and the secrets of how we find love and make it last.

Ellen McCarthy has explored the complete journey of our timeless quest for “The One,” the Soul Mate, the Real Thing. This indispensable collection of insights—on dating, commitment, breakups, weddings, and marriage—gives us a window into enduring romance.

 

August: Love Walked In

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When Martin Grace enters the hip Philadelphia coffee shop Cornelia Brown manages, her life changes forever. But little does she know that her newfound love is only the harbinger of greater changes to come. Meanwhile, across town, Clare Hobbs—eleven years old and abandoned by her erratic mother—goes looking for her lost father. She crosses paths with Cornelia while meeting with him at the café, and the two women form an improbable friendship that carries them through the unpredictable currents of love and life.

 

September: Love Warrior

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Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out–three happy children, a doting spouse, and a writing career so successful that her first book catapulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list–her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed. A recovering alcoholic and bulimic, rock bottom was a familiar place to Glennon. In the midst of crisis, she knew to hold on to what she discovered in recovery: that her deepest pain has always held within it an invitation to a richer life.

 

October: Roadmap to Reconciliation

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We can see the injustice and inequality in our lives and in the world. We are ready to rise up. But how, exactly, do we do this? How does one reconcile? What we need is a clear sense of direction. Based on her extensive consulting experience with churches, colleges and organizations, Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil has created a roadmap to show us the way. She guides us through the common topics of discussion and past the bumpy social terrain and political boundaries that will arise.

 

November: Everything I Never Told You

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“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing.

 

December: Year of Yes

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This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood creating imaginary friends to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her (like Cristina Yang, whose ultimate goal wasn’t marriage, and Cyrus Beene, who is a Republican and gay). And it chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, and giving the Dartmouth Commencement speech.

 

So, what say you? We’d love to have you join us for one or nine of the books. And in the meantime, might you be brought to wholeness and shalom through all the big and the little things, like reading. Cheers! 

*Post contains Amazon Affiliate links, O Ye Friends.