Art vs. Bills: A Conversation with Robert and Amanda Redd

Our next stop after visiting with HandLettering Co. in San Diego was in Los Angeles, where we met Robert and Amanda Redd.  Gracie and Amanda connected last year over a print Amanda bought from Gracie, but we had not met them in person until the four of us were seated around a giant pizza at Pizza ‘N Such in Claremont, California.

Robert and Amanda are remarkable people.  Their strong friendship and love for each other and their deep faith in God were quickly obvious as we began our conversation, and we quickly realized that one conversation with them would not be enough.  It is always enjoyable to make new friends, but even more so when you realize that you are both deeply interested in a lot of the same things. We talked about so much that it won’t all fit into one blog post. We’ll start, for now, with one of the big topics:

One of the main things we talked about was the tension that often exists between creativity and the practical demands of life.  We all have to eat and have a place to live, and meeting those needs often demands sacrificing things we care about doing.

We already knew that Amanda was a talented artist because of her Etsy shop, Madeline Drive, where she creates intricate woodcut ornaments, custom invitations, and special artistic details for weddings. [Unfortunately, Amanda has unexpectedly had to put her Etsy shop on hold for awhile. Challenges abound when running your own business, but Amanda is faithful and patient, trusting that He makes all things work together for good. We’ll keep you updated when she’s back up for business!] We did not know as much about her skills and interest in math and architecture that feed into it.  

By day, she works as a small architectural firm designing public schools. “It sounds super creative, I know,” she explains, “but it is mostly technical: building codes, concrete mix designs, detailing and elevating bathrooms. These are all important things, but it has been very hard to tame my creative heart into submission for forty hours every week.” Amanda told us because of her day job, she has to fit designing for Madeline Drive into her evenings and weekends.

Robert, too, has an alter ego. He is a network engineer during the day—but after that he is a writer and a poet.  My degree is in English Literature…” he told us, “[but] In order to secure a more sound future for my family, one in which I could provide a ring for the girl of my dreams and aid for my parents down the road, if need be, I self-studied for the technical role, certified, and interviewed.”

“Getting married cost money and kids cost money and home for these kids cost money, especially in California.” Amanda says,“Legacy in family is something that has always been super important to Robert and I, essential in fact. And someone always has to pay the bill. I am humble often to tears by the Christ-like sacrifice Robert has made in his creative pursuits to be able to establish a sound financial foundation for our marriage and future family.  God’s provision must be in response Robert’s faithful sacrifice. I know money is not our security, and I pray and hope with all of my heart that Robert, too, will have the opportunity to creatively shine like I always imagined he would.”

Their support for each other in every way—especially in each others’ creativity—was obvious and inspiring from the beginning. Robert couldn’t say enough about Amanda’s design work, and Amanda’s admiration and pride were clear on her face while she listened to Robert recite one of his poems for us.  It was great to see how, even though they have different talents and different jobs, the creative work of each was of great importance to both. They both desire to create, and to support the others’ creativity while still working for stability in financial matters for their future family.

This conflict between the creative and the practical raises a lot of questions, not the least of which is why art matters at all when there are basic needs that must be met.  “Often times I feel that my creative gifts are kind of superfluous in a world that is lacking these very practical things like food, shelter, medical care and physical protection.” Amanda explained,  “While I am not especially equipped to provide these things, I am comforted by the fact that, while I haven’t yet discovered how God plans to use my gifts to His glory, I can still know that He is too is a creative, the Creator, and created so many beautiful things: ‘the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands’ (Psalm 19:1) and because of that I can know that He values creativity and making and that He made all the parts of the body of Christ, and thus can use all parts of the body to His glory.”

Somehow,” Robert adds, “poetry, even if it’s making my quiet prayers rhyme before a tough meeting, engages that part of me which desires God, loves to think about him, and gets creative about interpreting where me and Amanda are and what we should be doing to follow God.  All this helps to sustain me between mountaintop moments I don’t often see.  The lesson learned is that I can’t live for the summit experiences: I have to live for God, whatever the thrill, because I’m called to be obedient, but you can bet that I’ll be eyes wide open for opportunities to be Christian in the day-to-day workplace.”

Maybe you’re like us (and Amanda and Robert) and are looking for ways to make your day job more related to what you love to do—whether it’s creative or not. Whether or not you feel “called” to a different job or role and whether you’re planning on launching a new career tomorrow or mulling things over for a “someday” change, we can all learn from Amanda and Robert’s story. None of us can neglect the responsibilities and jobs that we have, but we cannot neglect creativity or beauty, either. 

Art helps us to interface with ideas that we can’t always make sense of with logic.” Says Robert, “I think that individuals have beautiful life stories that can’t just be reported.  They need to be felt with senses we don’t entirely understand but we can’t entirely deny.”  Those things need to be expressed and we need to be reminded of the beauty of God and His creation—especially because we forget them so easily in humdrum of our daily work.

 God gave you the talents you have, whether they are artistic or not. You may not be using them in your day job, but don’t let that discourage you. For one thing, who knows what God is doing through you in your workplace?  For another, He gave those talents to you so they could be used. Use the gifts you have, delight in the things He has created you to delight in, practice and develop the skills He has given you, even if you can only do it in stolen evening and weekend moments as Robert and Amanda do.

Stay tuned for another post more specifically about the inspiration behind the creative works of both Amanda and Robert!

Do You Know What Your Calling Is?: A Conversation with Handlettering Co.

Do you know what your calling is? 

We don’t. And we’re willing to bet you’re not quite sure about yours, either.  

You want to serve God—desperately. You want to make a difference, help others, further the Kingdom of God in some way. Sometimes, most of all, you just want to know what that one thing is that God has for you to do. If you knew, beyond a doubt, it would be easy to do, even if it was something crazy like dropping everything and going to live in another country, or giving away everything you have. If you just knew for sure, you would do it in a heartbeat. 

Are we right? 

When most people use the word “calling” these days they mean "vocational calling"—what it is that you do as your main occupation. I don’t think we’re alone as twenty-somethings trying to figure that—and life in general—out. It’s not for lack of advice. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what our life is supposed to look like. Sometimes it’s really helpful, and seeking wisdom is good. But sometimes it can feel like you’re the rope in some ridiculous tug-of-war between the things the people close to you hold as the most important.  

“You’re so good at __________. You should do that." 

“Your life doesn’t mean anything until you have children.”  

“Providing for your family is the most important thing, not what you do." 

To us, anyway, it gets confusing.  

So how do you know what your calling is? Is it even possible to be called to something? What does that look like? Last week, we had the chance to talk about these questions with Chris and Carly Wright of Handlettering Co., who create beautifully hand drawn scripture for display in your home.

Chris and Carly are wonderful people. They welcomed us into their home (and gave us ice cream!) without even knowing who we were until a few months ago when we started planning this trip. They had a lot of wise and great things to say about many topics, including what it’s like to have a creative Christian business, balance in life and work, and relying on God through all sorts of trials, but we spent much of our time together talking about what it means to be called.  As a bit of background, Chris started HandLettering Co as a personal project, both for an aide in scripture memorization and for gifts to family and friends. He didn't feel a specific call to begin the now successful online business, it just grew out of what he loved to do and share with others.

They explained the way they view calling over the course of a long conversation, and we’ve boiled it down to the basic idea that there are two types of calling:

  1. Our basic calling as Christians.
  2. Our vocational calling.

The first includes everything the Bible calls us to in terms of our relationship with others:

Are you a Christian?  Share God's Word and help everyone you can.  This calling is for all of us—it doesn't matter who you are or what you do to put bread on the table.     

Are you a husband or wife?  Love and serve your spouse.  

Are you a parent?  Love your children, provide for them, and teach them to love God. 

Are you a son, a daughter, a friend? Love and care for the people around you.

"The bible,” Carly explained, “has called me first to be patient and loving and kind to my kids and my husband and anybody before He's called me to get things done and meet my goals.  You know, seek first the kingdom of God."

 

The second is our vocational calling—what you do as your main occupation:

Are you an artist?  Are you a teacher, lawyer, mechanic, chef?  Use the abilities God has given you to glorify God, provide for your family, and serve the people around you.

Chris and Carly noted that it’s very important to keep these callings in proper perspective.  Your vocational calling should always be subservient to your first calling.  The people around you are more important than your job, and we all have to be careful not to make our vocation itself our chief focus in life.

   "So for calling—is it an idol?” Chris asks. “Kind of a good reminder, I think, is [to ask myself] how strong of a hold does this have on me?  If God took it all away right now, would I be discontent?  And that really makes me think, am I really doing this because God is leading me to it?  If it went away and you're not content with God alone, then you're probably not in the right place.  He wants you to love Him…So with Handlettering, whether it grows a lot, or whether no one knows about it, [our] goal is to be content.  It doesn't matter.  If you can be content, the changes won't take away your joy."

You might be thinking, “That’s great for them, but I don’t even know what my vocational calling is supposed to be yet. What about me?”

If you’re like us, and you don’t know exactly what your vocational calling is, don’t sweat it. First and foremost is your calling to be a “little Christ” in the world, and fulfilling that call is no less important that answering a call to be a missionary in Africa. God may lead you to something more specific along the way, but it’s not often one thing for your whole life. It might change many, many times. And whatever that vocational calling is, it’s still second to the overarching Call for each and every one of us—to  be like Christ, whoever we are, whatever we do. The rest, He will lead you to in His own time.  

We know. That’s hard. And it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense when here you are, ready and rearing to go change the world, if He would just tell you how He wants you to do it.  Being kind to people, being gentle and loving, caring for your family and friends and that one person who always gets on your nerves may not feel that big or important. But remember, we don’t know all of the Story.  Any given moment may be an opportunity to be a Little Hero, and in this tale of trials and betrayal and magic and love for a Beloved, someone’s life can be changed by a cup of cold water given in His name. 



Thankful for a broken-down car(?!)

I’m actually really glad Walter (our Chevy Tahoe) broke down.

I certainly wasn’t jumping for joy when we were stopped for the third time on the side of the road, trying in vain to get him to go more than a couple of miles per hour, while our GPS cheerily shouted in the voice of Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit), “We’re bang on course, lads! Keep going!” 

Now on the third day of our trip and in the third car in as many days,  I’m glad.

There are the obvious blessings to count: if we had continued with Walter for even another hour before he broke down, we would have been stranded in the middle of nowhere, and that nice old guy from the gas station wouldn’t have been able to help us. We wouldn’t have been able to make it back home the next day and would’ve had to pay more for a rental car than we did, which might have meant not going on the trip at all. There are hundreds of other things that could have gone wrong, and hundreds of ways, I’m sure, that God was looking out for us to keep us safe. But why am I glad that Walter broke down in the first place?

Because I had too many plans. I’m a planner by nature, and I put way too much stock in making plans. I rely on them to make things alright. I get stressed if I don’t have a plan, and feel like I’m somehow a failure for not being prepared enough. Plans feature way too heavily in my sense of worth and safety.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this trip so far, it’s that being part of telling the Story does not make you the Author. 

Just because we felt like God was nudging us toward this trip and leading us to start this blog doesn’t mean the plans we had made for the trip and the blog are the plans He has in mind for either. 

The whole story of what happened with the three different cars is longer than it is interesting, but so you have some idea of the adventure so far, I’ll sum it up. In bullet points, it goes something like this:

  • Before we left, we discovered Walter had some leaks in the doors in the back, and all the rains we’ve had recently had caused him to mildew under the mats, which we didn’t realize until we pulled them up to give him a good vacuum, so we spent most of the day before we left scrubbing him out, and he still smelled bad and we were behind on packing.
  • Somehow we managed to get out on time the next morning.
  • Almost to Amarillo,  Walter suddenly decided he had no more what I very scientifically call “oomph."
  • With the help of the elderly gentleman at the gas station, we got him going again for a few more hours and headed back toward Dallas.
  • An hour away from home, Walter couldn’t do it anymore, and the temporary fix we had done wouldn’t work again.
  • We got a tow to the nearest dealership and spent the night in that town.
  • Over $800 later the next evening, Walter got us safely back home, where we got a rental car.
  • The next day we drove for 17 hours to make it to Phoenix, AZ, and outside Phoenix the service engine light came on, which given our recent track record, made us nervous enough to not want to drive it across the rest of Arizona that way.
  • This morning we swapped rental cars and are headed to San Diego, where we’re blessed enough to still be able to meet with Chris and Carly Wright of HandLettering Co for a short time this evening.
  • Just now, I lost my wedding ring down the shifter of our car. Pretty sure it's gone forever.

Having so many things go wrong has been stressful to the point of being overwhelming—the kind of overwhelming where you literally don’t know how or what to do. Being in that state isn’t exactly what I would call fun, but it does push you over a certain line where you realize that since you’re not in control you might as well stop worrying or trying to make plans.

Which is good. Because I at least have a tendency rely more on my plans than on God.  And the way I’ve been approaching this trip lately was putting way too much of the focus on trying to be prepared instead of being open to what God wants to do with it.  I’ve been getting really nervous and feeling inadequate and unsure of how I would be able to conduct interviews about something I have a ridiculously hard time articulating verbally, and my response was to prepare, plan, and prepare some more. I haven’t really been able to do that lately given the circumstances. and although that scares the crap out of me, it’s also an incredible relief. I think all these crazy circumstances have been God’s very kind way of telling me to shut up and trust Him, and focus on Him and His Story, not what I think my little story should look like right now.

Did we know for certain going on this trip anyway was the right thing to do? Not exactly. Was it stressful? Yes. Am I still nervous? You betcha. Were potentially stupid financial decisions made? Probably. But will God take care of us? Absolutely. 

Somewhere along the way the second morning, Ethan was reminded of this verse:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
— Matthew 6:25-26

So here were are—third car so far, somewhere in the desert, tired, somewhat frazzled, and unprepared.

Can God still do something with that? Of course He can.

My prayer is that we are able to let go and let our little story play out however God wants it to, trusting that His plans are always the best.

And, after all, it’s the unexpected twists and turns that get the story started. 

Will [Mr. and Mrs. Darling] reach the nursery in time? If so, how delightful for them, and we shall all breathe a sigh of relief, but there will be no story. On the other hand, if they are not in time, I solemnly promise that it will all come right in the end.
— J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan


You aren't the Hero

Part of the point of Once and Still is that there is a Greater Story, told by God as the Master Storyteller since the before the world began, and that you are a part of it.

If you want more details about that main idea, check out our “Why Stories Matter” blog post, and the “What Your Story Says” booklet (or audio) here.

Most of the time we don’t wake up in the morning thinking of our lives as a story, but if we do, one of the first things we all naturally do is to cast ourselves as the Hero. In a way it makes sense—the plot we see always has us in it, and our actions have great consequence to how our particular story goes. Part of being human is wanting to be important, wanting to have some special role to fill. We all want to be the Chosen One, the one the prophesies are about, the one to pull Excalibur out of the stone, the one who will save or change the world somehow.

You want to be the Hero. But you aren’t.

Back in the Garden of Eden, this desire to be the Hero reared its head in the ugliest of ways—humanity wanted to be like God in the same way Satan had wanted to be like God. Because of it, Adam and Eve disobeyed God, were cast out of the garden, and sin became a way of life—or rather, death. 

But God, who knows how we were formed, and remembers that we are dust, (Psalm 103:13-14), redeems all things.

He knew we weren’t the Heroes—that there was no way we could possibly save ourselves from Death, Satan, and Sin, in whose dark dungeon we were captives. He had loved us deeply from the beginning, even though He knew how we would betray Him. So He sent the real Hero.

The real Hero, the God-Man, could do what we could not. In His death and returning to life, He defeated our captors and set us free.

We want to save ourselves.  To be as powerful, independent, loved, respected, admired, and strong as the Hero, all on our own. We want to be the most important, the long-awaited King. We want to have others cheer for us, and need us. We’re pretty self-centered that way.

But perhaps that part of us that wants to be the Hero isn’t totally off—perhaps its just twisted from the good thing it was meant to be—a desire to be like God in a way that points to Him, instead of replacing Him like Satan wanted and wants us to do.

Why do I think that? Because the title of this blog post isn’t 100% true. In a way it’s completely accurate—we can’t have saved ourselves. But there’s more going on here that makes it complicated—and amazing.

You see, the Hero, this God-Man, didn’t just unlock our chains, lead us out of the dungeon, and leave us with a parting “Have a nice life!” He didn’t just save us because it’s His job as a Hero. He did it because He loves us—so deeply we can’t even begin to understand how much. We are His Beloved. The ones He would die for.

Because of His great love, God sent His Son to do everything He had to to bring us back into a restored relationship with Him, to adopt us as Sons and Daughters alongside the Hero.  Now, in our new lives after captivity,  because of the real Hero, we get to share His role of Hero in a good way.  Now, when God looks at us, that’s who he sees—not only us as the Sons and Daughters we were meant to be, but also Jesus, the real Hero, in whose blood we have been washed, and the Holy Spirit, who lives in us. Now God has redeemed our evil desire to be like God as equals, and teaches us instead to be like God as Sons and Daughters.

We are, as Martin Luther put it, “Little Christs,” sent out into the world to mimic the Hero. As Little Heroes, we are to point to Him with everything we are, to be like God in order to give Him the Glory. We wanted to be the “Chosen Ones,” and in a way, we are. We are the Beloved, loved deeply by a Hero so Great, Moses literally glowed after seeing His back.  We are the adopted Sons and Daughters of God, ambassadors of His love, with the Hero in the form of the Holy Spirit acting through us. We may not be the Hero, but we aren’t extras in this Story. There are no extras. We are Chosen, we are Little Heroes, we are the Beloved.

The desire to be the Hero isn’t all bad. It can be twisted and made into a vicious quest for fame or money or some kind of power over others. But it can also be good. We are called to a kind of adventure which requires bravery, and it does involve saving the world—we’re just not the one to save it. We are, however, the Little Heroes sent to be like God to show the world what He’s like, to tell the Story, and to point to the one who wrote it.

Saving the World

Almost everyone likes superhero movies. 

Even if you’re not a comic-con going, costume-wearing aficionado, you’ve probably seen a lot of superhero movies.  They tend to be predictable and way over the top, but they’re fun and easy to love. 

We all know the story: hero leads normal life; hero discovers new abilities after being involved in a radioactive experiment; hero beats up bad guys but is flattened by evil villain; hero mopes around for a bit; hero gets his act together, defeats the evil villain, rescues the beautiful girl, and saves the world.  The End.  Until the sequel.

We’ve all seen that story play out so many times, and yet we love it.  We keep going back to see it again and again.  After all, it’s a good story, and it always ends well: the hero saves the day at the last moment when all hope was lost, good triumphs over evil, and the people of the world can go back to their normal lives instead of being incinerated or enslaved.

It’s a good story, but something about it has always bothered me: Why do they have to save the entire world? 

Wouldn’t they still be heroes if they just saved a few people?  Imagine that you met someone for the first time and were told that they once ran into a burning house and carried a little girl to safety.  Would you say, “Huh.  Just the one little girl, eh?”  Of course not!  There’s no numerical minimum for true courage and heroism, and yet superheroes must always save the world!  Or at least a country or large city. 

I guess it makes sense: they are superheroes, not regular heroes, after all.  Just imagine BigStrongMan reporting to the Super League of Heroes at the end of his first day:

Captain Awesome:  "So, BigStrongMan, what did you save today?"

BigStrongMan:  "Uh, let me think: one old mailman and a dirty cat."

Captain Awesome:  "That’s pathetic!  Put your cape and spandex on my desk!  On second thought, keep the spandex."

We all know it doesn’t work that way.  Any hero worth his secret identity is going to have to prove that he can save at least several million people—and one of them had better be a girl dangling over a pit of lava.  And she’d better be a pretty girl!

The same goes for the villains, but in reverse.  No self-respecting super villain’s plan goes like this:

“Let’s see, I’ll create an electromagnet that sucks the spare change out of everyone’s pockets!  Ha ha!  I’ll never run out of laundry quarters again!”

No.  He must wish to conquer the planet or flatten whole cities!  He must bring an alien race to Earth to subjugate all humanity!  He must build a mind control device and then put it at the top of the Empire State Building!  The stakes must be high.

So, the question is: why must the stakes always be so high? 

The most obvious reason that I can think of is that high stakes make the story more exciting.  It’s true, so I’m sure that’s a big part of the reason, but, honestly, we’re so used to save-the-world plots that the death of a few million fictional people doesn’t faze us very much.  We don’t really care about the millions—even in real life, it’s too many people to comprehend—we care about the particular characters we’ve come to like.  Did he save the beautiful girl?  That matters.  Did he save the lovably inept sidekick?  That makes us feel good.  It’s hard to get our minds around anything bigger than that, and yet saving the world is part of every blockbuster plot.

I think the reason we like stories like this goes deeper than just excitement. 

Here’s what I think.  Feel free to disagree.  I think we like to see the world saved in stories because we know the real one really does need saving.

Turn on the news for half a second, or just think about your week at work and the people you had to deal with.  Think about that earthquake that left thousands of people suffering; that woman you know who’s sick and isn’t going to make it; that friend who lost his job for no reason; the people who worship in secret so they won’t be killed, or face punishment if they don’t cover their faces, or work like slaves and have no hope.  Honestly, the world is really awful a lot of the time.  It’s not great, and we know that.  Everyone knows that. 

The world needs to be saved, so we tell that story.

Let’s go a step further.  We like super villains.  They have cool gadgets.  They have armies of minions.  More importantly, they’re really, really obvious.  There’s nothing secretive about a man in green robes with giant horns on his head, or a crazy man with a painted face and a machine gun.  Super villains aren’t subtle, and that’s great.  They are a very obvious source of evil.  We might not be able to defeat them, but we sure don’t have to wander around thinking, “Why do all these bad things happen to good people?”  In the stories like this, the answer is clear:  “Oh yeah, it’s that gigantic monster crushing the entire city.”  Super villains are obvious.  We can blame them, hate them, and fight back against them.  Real life isn’t like that very often.

Except that it is.

The Bible tells us that, “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  He’s out to get all of us, just like those super villains, he's just too subtle and crafty to wear a silly outfit or let us know what he’s up to.  We know and feel evil in the world, and want it to be stopped, so we tell that story.  We tell it, listen to it, and wish it were true.  We wish there were a hero coming to save us.

Ready for the best part?

There is a hero.  He already came. 

It’s Jesus.

No, I’m not saying Jesus is a superhero.  I’m saying He’s so much better than that.  He’s not Superman, He’s God-Man, and that’s a lot better.  He also didn’t do the things we’d expect to defeat the evil villain.  He won by dying.  How’s that for a plot twist?

So here’s the point.  We love save-the-world stories not just because they’re fun, but also because they reflect something we know to be true about the world: it’s messed up and needs saving.  We love superheroes because we know we’re not up to saving the world ourselves and need someone else to do it.  There is something true there: there is a real hero, and He did save the world.  There doesn’t need to be a sequel.

Once and Still

Back in March of 2015, God shook our world a bit with an unexpected closed door. Then He tugged at our elbows with a small, persistent whisper to do something that scares (and excites) us both.

Several months of discussion and research and classes and learning and praying and journaling and lists and lots and lots and lots of coffee and late, late nights, and now. . .

Welcome to Once and Still!  This blog is home to future posts, photographs, and artwork exploring many different stories--from literature, movies, history, mythology, and much more--and what they say about who God is and what it means to be a human being. Once and Still is all about viewing the world--and our stories-- through the lens of the Greater Story God is telling. We also intend to be a sort of community, where anyone can come and discuss and share and question as we all do in trying to figure out our own stories. 

This new journey we are embarking on was born out of many years of talking and thinking about stories, about God, and about things we've seen, heard, and felt that have left deep marks on us without being easily understood.  We've discovered some things through that process:

     1.  We are fascinated by stories.

     2.  We are fascinated by God, His creative power, and His creation.

     3.  Very few people spend time thinking or talking about these things.

Because of the first two--our fascination with stories and with God's creativity--we want to spend as much time as possible talking about stories and God.  Because of the third thing--few people focus on this--we've realized that we need to come up with a new term to define this thing we want to talk about.  Otherwise, we'll just keep yelling, "There IT is!  Isn't IT amazing?!" like we've been doing for years, and no one else will know what we are talking about.

So we're calling this focus the" theology of stories."  To explain what we mean, allow us to sound like a dictionary for a moment:

     The word theology simply means the study of God.  By stories we mean the stories God has told us in the Bible, and also the stories we tell each other, whether they be in literature, poetry, film, history, or art.  By the theology of stories we mean learning about who God is and who we are through the study of stories.

     The concept is pretty simple at its core.  Any time anyone creates anything, they leave their marks on that thing.  A painter leaves brushstrokes.  A carpenter leaves the marks of his tools.  A potter leaves his fingerprints on the clay.  Those marks and fingerprints tell you something about who made the thing, and what they are like. 

The same is true of God, the original Creator of everything--His fingerprints are all over everything He made, and we, His creations, cannot help but reflect Him in some way when we create: the beauty of our art reflects the beauty of His creation, and the stories we tell reflect the stories He has told us and, especially, the Great Story He has been telling since the beginning and is still telling today.

So, just as you learn about a painter by studying his paintings, we can learn about God by studying stories.  That is what we want to do, and that is what the "theology of stories" means to us.

What we're not here to do:

     We are not here to talk about the following:

          Doctrinal disagreements

          Denominational disagreements

          Politics

     While all of those things are important and worth talking about, this isn't the place, and we do not feel especially called to address those issues unless they are connected to the theology of stories in some small way.  We're not here for arguments. We're here for conversations about God, creation, and stories. If that's what you're looking for, then this is the place for you, and we're so glad you're here.

 

A bit about who we are:

We are Gracie and Ethan Klumpp.  We've been best friends since the age of nine, and have a shared passion for adventure and stories.  We love talking about the books we've read and the movies we've watched.  We love exploring the great outdoors.  We enjoy rainstorms, coffee, road trips, reading, writing, drawing, and eating huge amounts of ice cream.  We have no children of our own, as yet, but we often find that kids make more sense to us than adults--probably because they also spend all their time thinking in stories.

Gracie is a freelance artist and illustrator with a background in animation.  Her favorite stories right now include Perelandra by C. S. Lewis and Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger, but she loves so many that having to choose any as her absolute favorite right now was exhausting.

Ethan is a third grade teacher during the day.  He studied history and education in college and is learning to be a photographer.  His favorite stories at the moment include The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien (no, not The Lord of the Rings), Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl, and many stories from Norse mythology--which he has the great pleasure of teaching to his students.

Now you know who we are and what we care about. If any of this resonates with you, or you're just curious, or even if you think we're crazy, we'd love to have you join us on this adventure. Here are some ways you can become a part of Once and Still:

Sign up for our newsletter so you'll be kept up to date via emails.

Join us on Facebook to take part in the conversation and connect with others who think like you.

Adventure Ahead

[This post was originally published as part of On the Lookout for Hope, Gracie's senior project. It's very much related to Once and Still, and was part of the journey God has lead us on to where we are today. You can check out more from On the Lookout for Hope here.]


When I was a little girl, I used to think I was a changeling. You know— a fairy child that had been swapped with my parents’ real human child. I thought this because there were times when I would be out in the woods bending down to take a close look at a flower, or catching a bit of cottonwood drifting lazily down to earth, or watching the sun dapples change on a green-canopied gravel road, when I would feel this overwhelming emotion surge through me. It was a strange and wonderful combination of an abundance of Joy, a sense of belonging and home, a feeling of otherness, and a deep longing as it disappeared.

This happened to me mostly in nature, and no one had ever mentioned anything like it to me, so I started to have a vague belief that I was different, and I must belong somewhere else. Hence my belief that perhaps I was a Changeling.

In nature wasn’t quite the only time this happened to me. As some of you may know, I have an incredibly vivid imagination, and when I was a little girl I used to pretend to be different people—and fully take on that identity, so much so that I wore my Peter Pan costume almost constantly, didn’t answer to my own name, and crowed myself hoarse when I was four. I went through other character phases (including Helen Keller and Penny from the Rescuers Down Under), and played at being in plenty of other stories. Often when I was “in” these stories, having an epic adventure in my backyard, I would get that “Changeling” feeling again. It was like I had somehow seen past a curtain for a split second to something that was bigger and truer than what it looked like on the outside.

This “Changeling” feeling isn’t unique to me, or to childhood. When I went to college and began studying the telling of stories, I discovered many others that have felt the same type of thing, although it’s a little different for everyone. C.S. Lewis calls it “Joy.” Frederich Bencher talks of it. It blew me away to discover that I wasn’t alone.  I started searching for more accounts of it, more ways to talk about it. What words do you even use? For a long time I used Gary Schmidt’s “something about being human,” to mark the place of the “Changeling” feeling.

Somewhere along the line I realized—though I didn’t know how to explain it—that it  was God. I still didn’t feel like I had quite gotten to the bottom of it, but it had to do with God.  This seems incredibly obvious to me now, but at the time it blew my mind.

Between my junior and senior year of college, when my anxiety and depression really started getting bad, I started this blog and my senior project, On the Lookout for Hope, to capture some of those hopeful everyday moments that made me feel “something about being human.” Those true little moments that stand out somehow.

I left it at that for several years. Then a few months ago, right when Ethan and I thought we knew where God wanted us for the next year, plans changed. One a long road trip a few days later, we talked once again about our long-term dreams of having a creative business together and what we thought God might be calling us to. As we pondered all this, God started tugging on our sleeves, as it were. We talked about things we were passionate about and gifts God has given us, and over the next few weeks, God kept nudging me to dig deeper into the old “Changeling” feeling, and what He was trying to teach me through it.  We started making actual plans to pursue a creative business together, doing a lot of thinking and praying about what God was calling us to.  I was sure it had something to do with the “Changeling” feeling, but not completely sure what that meant or would look like.

Cue several months of praying, journaling, business classes, and long discussions in coffee shops. There were major revelations, reminders of past lessons learned, and wisdom from friends and family. Slowly, with many revisions, it started coming together for me, and for us.

On the Lookout for Hope has been an important—if sometimes neglected—part of my journey as an artist and a Christian.  It got me through some very, very difficult times. And now it’s time to say goodbye—not to what this blog stands for, but to this particular chapter in my story, and to move on to the next big adventure God is calling Ethan and I to together.

Which is why, starting tomorrow at 10am central time, the url for On the Lookout for Hope will redirect to a brand new blog that Ethan and I will be writing together that builds on everything we’ve started here in ways we could never have imagined. We'll explain more tomorrow at 10am.

Thank you so much, each and every one of you, for all your support and for sticking with me through the life of On the Lookout for Hope. I couldn't have gotten here without you.

We hope you’ll come join us in the new conversation we’ll be starting in this new chapter of our lives.


Why Do Stories Matter?

Most of you probably know I’m kind of obsessed with story. Maybe some of you don’t—it hasn’t been, of itself, the central focus of Lookout for Hope. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about story—more on that later—and I want to tell you a bit about why I love story, and why it’s so important.  It’s long, and may feel like it has nothing to do with stories at first, but bear with me.

Let’s start at the beginning.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Gen. 1:1

You’ve probably heard this a million times. “In the beginning.”  The beginning of what? The world, you say. History. Right? 

Sure. But I think Moses, the writer, who was really something of a poet, is telling us more than a scientific fact here. “In the beginning,” feels like the start of a great epic. A kind of “Once Upon a Time.”   And in some ways it might as well begin with that, because what follows is an incredible story, full of betrayal and love, fantastic beasts, an evil villain and a great hero, sacrifice and death and the magic of an incarnation and resurrection. “In the beginning,” is the beginning of a Great Story, told by a Master Storyteller.

I think it’s appropriate to call God the "Master Storyteller" because He did, after all, come up with the world we live in. He’s the one with control over what happens. And He’s the one who, when his characters choose to disobey Him, wrote in a twist with a Hero that was magically both God and Man, who had the power to defeat the villain and restore our relationship to Him. God is the Master Storyteller.

There’s another really cool thing about God being the Master Storyteller.

“Then God said, Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness…" Gen. 1:26a

We’re made in the image of the Master Storyteller. I think part of being in His image is having stories in our hearts, as part of us, as well as having a need to create and tell stories of our own. And we naturally understand a lot of our world through stories.

Why do you think Jesus told parables?

I used to think it was just because we were stupid and couldn’t understand what He was saying any other way. Which is partially true. In which case it’s already awesome that the God and Creator of the Universe would bother to try to explain something to us dust of the earth anyway.

But the rest of it, is that He knows story is in our hearts. He put it there. And He put it there because it’s in His heart, too.  That says volumes about God, and our relationship with Him, doesn’t it?

And guess what? There’s more.

Ever notice when you say something exactly like your mom? Or a sibling moves in a way that looks exactly like your dad and you do a double-take? It’s crazy, right?  We subconsciously do or say things in a way that mirrors our parents, and I think this happens when we tell stories, too. God is the Master Storyteller, and we have some of His Image in us, so when we go to tell stories, not only do we have our experience of the story we’re in to inform us, we also have some of the original Storyteller, too. We tend to use a lot of themes and structure that mirror the Greater Story.  In this way a lot of stories point to the Greater Story.

[at this point, the author of this post was temporarily incapacitated by a geek-out session in which the words, “DUDE!” and “WHOA!” featured heavily, along with lots of arm waving.]

Stories—and not just Bible stories, but those included—can tell us about the Greater Story. And God. And us. And they are a part of us on purpose, put there by a God who is the Master Storyteller. That is why I think stories are so incredible and important.

Big Exciting Things!

[This post was originally published as part of On the Lookout for Hope, Gracie's senior project. It's very much related to Once and Still, and was part of the journey God has lead us on to where we are today. You can check out more from On the Lookout for Hope here.]

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My husband, Ethan, and I are best friends. We’ve been best friends for a long, long time (we met when we were nine), and over the years have dreamed a lot of dreams and wondered together about what our future would be like. One of our dreams for the past couple of years has been to work together in a creative business, and although the full realization of that dream is still aways off, it feels a whole lot closer, because today it is my very great pleasure to announce the arrival of Ethan Klumpp as a studio member at The Chartreuse Umbrella!

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to be working with my best friend and partner in crime on this business, even if it’s only for an hour or two each week (he does have a full time job himself, you know)! This is the man who has supported my crazy decision to try freelance in the first place, who let me take over the entire living room with all my art stuff, and has listened patiently and spoken words of wisdom when I’ve explained how I’m agonizing over some business decision.

Some of you already know him, but I’ve asked him to introduce himself and explain a bit about how he’ll be involved in the studio. And afterwards, some more exciting news about big changes coming!

What’s your day job? I'm a third grade teacher.  I teach math, reading, and science, among other things, but my favorite subject is history because I get to tell my students so many interesting stories.  Teaching is great.  I get to be my naturally nerdy self and hang out with a bunch of goofy kids at the same time.

What will you be doing at The Chartreuse Umbrella?  I will primarily be helping out with our online presence.  That will mean writing some blog posts and taking a lot of pictures to start with, but I hope to contribute in as many other ways as I can.  Basically, it's my job to take things off Gracie's plate so she can focus more time and energy on creating beautiful artwork.

What are you most excited about doing at the studio? I'm very excited to be a part of what my wife does every day.  I love seeing what she creates, and I'm looking forward to really being part of the process.  I'm also excited about the photography part of my job.  I don't know much more about cameras than which end to look in, but I've wanted to learn more about them for a long time.

If you could learn how to do or be anything what would it be? Why? I like writing stories, so I'd like to learn to be a lot better at it.  I want to write good stories that are worth reading.

[HINT: this next question has to do with a big change in The Chartrese Umbrella’s direction coming up soon!!]

Why are good stories important? Our lives are stories and are part of a much larger story.  Telling and hearing stories of all sorts tells us a lot about right and wrong and who we are--about what it means to be human.

[surprised? Didn't think so...]

What’s your favorite medium? I'm not sure.  I like drawing with pencils and markers, but I'm guessing I'd probably like other things too if I learned how to work with them.

What your favorite thing to draw?  Goofy looking people and animals.  I used to try to be very, very realistic, but I wasn't very good at it, and at some point I realized it wasn't very much fun, either.

Can I show them a picture you drew? If you want to, sure.

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What’s inspiring you these days?  I'm inspired by the conversations Gracie and I have had about what kind of like we want to live together and what we want to do.  I'm excited to make it happen.

What do you do for fun? I love to read, play outside, go exploring, be in the water, and, sometimes, just be a big ol' lazy bum.

Anything else you want to say?  I'm happy to be a part of this.  It's going to be good.

I think so, too! Yay!

Two more things, really quickly. I promise.

  1. We bought a professional printer!

This may not seem like a blog-worthy bit of news, but it is, and I can tell you why: it means that I now can draw something tomorrow morning, scan it, color it digitally in the afternoon, print it out instantly and send it off to you in the mail the same day! Assuming that’s the only job I have that day, of course. But the point is, we now have a fully operational print shop that can handle most sizes and mediums I sell on a day-to-day basis, so you get your artwork faster, and much higher quality, because I have absolute control over materials and colors. SO pumped. As proof, I offer these pictures Ethan took of me while we were setting up the printer:

2. There are big, BIG changes coming for The Chartreuse Umbrella.

You may have noticed I haven’t been posting anything anywhere for…uh…awhile. And for awhile that might continue, but I promise, it’ll be worth it, because we’re working on the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in this business. Soon, my friends, we’ll be able to share it with you. Soon.

For now, enjoy this sloth:

Wonder and Majesty

I absolutely love the book of Job--it speaks so beautifully of the pain and sorrow of life, but more importantly of the majesty, power and mercy of God in the midst of all of it. The other day I was re-reading chapter 41 about the leviathan, which has always been such a fascinating chapter for me.

We Live Our Stories Too Small

[This post was originally published as part of On the Lookout for Hope, Gracie's senior project. It's very much related to Once and Still, and was part of the journey God has lead us on to where we are today. You can check out more from On the Lookout for Hope here.]

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I’ve been wondering recently why I sometimes feel like I’ve missed the boat, or why I feel so insecure when others don’t approve of me or my work, or how, when I hear about other people doing amazing things with their lives, it makes me often feel inferior, and like I must be getting something wrong. Because if I think about it all logically, I can clearly see that I don’t have to be like other people I know, that I should just be me, that I don’t have to feel inferior just because I’m not doing the same thing, and that those people I think have really “got it together” probably feel the same way as I do sometimes. We as people are always comparing ourselves to others, asking other people to tell us who we are, and it’s not their job. That's another blog post, though. Back to the main idea.

I know we are none of us created for this world as it is.

“There are no ordinary people. You’ve never talked to a mere mortal.” -C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Even so, I function day to day as if we were, and as if this world were all there is. That makes every disappointment, every perceived failure, every comparison, every imperfect situation, more of big deal.

If I did have just one shot to get it all right, if there wasn’t anything else to look forward to, of course I would wonder if I hadn’t ruined my one chance, or compare myself to someone else I think got it right. If this was all there is, it would be quite easy for me to mess something up irrevocably, and very easy to worry that I had. I would probably have a vague sense that my life “should” be something else, even though I couldn’t tell you exactly what my life “should” be. If this is my one shot, the stakes are incredibly high, and I know I’m more than likely to fail.

And there’s always that one thing. That one thing we think (mostly subconsciously) will fix it all. We know we want—need—something, and we don’t have it. It must be_______.

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But that’s not how it works. There is no one thing that will fix it all here, on this earth. It’s never going to be perfect. That’s what would make this world so disappointing, if that were all there was.

But it’s not. This world won’t ever be perfect in this life, but it will when it’s all made new. There will be more.

As disappointing as it is that this life will never be perfect, I’m glad, too. I’m glad that it isn’t up to me (or anyone or anything else in this fallen world) to make things right. I’m glad I don’t have to live up to that, and that this world, and the story I'm in, is bigger than that.

And I think that’s how I’ve been functioning.  Honesty, I think that’s how most of us function. But that’s not how things actually are.

The truth is we don’t belong here, not as it is. The truth is, our life here on earth is just a fraction of our eternal lives.  I’m not saying that in eternity we’ll have more time to become famous, make money, etc.  I don’t think most of the things that matter to us now will matter then. But my point is if I back up a bit to look at my life in terms of eternity, most of those things I obsess about now seem tiny.

No wonder we aren’t satisfied even when we are relatively successful according to the world's standards.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” –C.S Lewis, Mere Christianity.

I’m so glad the story I’m in isn’t really as small as I act like it is.

Ok, So Where's the Boat?

[This post was originally published as part of On the Lookout for Hope, Gracie's senior project. It's related to Once and Still, and was part of the journey God has lead us on to where we are today. You can check out more from On the Lookout for Hope here.]

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*****Please read all the comments on this post (click the “Comments” link above)—they are very insightful and express much better than I could what would have ended this post if I had followed the thoughts through further.

Also, I just want to clarify: Most of the time I don’t actually think I have really missed the boat, and I like my life right now. I certainly want to enjoy where I am at any stage in my life. I wrote this to express those moments of insecurity I feel, especially when someone I respect seems to think otherwise, or I feel like whatever I’m doing at the moment isn’t really meaningful. *****

I work part time at a little shop downtown as well as doing freelance illustration, and I enjoy it. It’s been a very rewarding experience for me. It gets me out of the apartment and connects me with real people in the outside world, which helps me on anxious days and plus also I get to help little girls pick out dresses for their birthday parties and fill little bottles with wonderful-smelling bath salts. What’s not to love?

But when I meet new people, I try to make sure they know I’m a freelance illustrator first, because it sounds more impressive and put-together than “Oh, I work part time at a shop downtown.”  Like I actually have stuff figured out, you know. But I really don’t. I’m very blessed to be able to do freelance. I do get to draw and design things and mostly set my own schedule. But even though I enjoy both jobs I currently have, and one of them is at least mostly related to my degree, I still wonder what exactly I’m supposed to do with my life and whether or not I'm on the right track.

Awhile ago I was talking to a mentor of mine who expressed some concern at where I was in my career and gave me some alarming statistics about job opportunities a certain number of years after college graduation. I’m not gonna lie, it kind of freaked me out. It got me thinking things like:

Where’s the part where I know I’m doing what I was created to do and I feel like I’m in just the right place and that I am right for it as a person? Have I just missed the boat? If I did, how do I catch up to where I’m supposed to be?  I don't think Ctrl Z works here. What if I want a studio job in two years and can’t get one? What if I was supposed to do that?

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Some other people talk like my life isn’t really meaningful yet because I don’t have children. So should I forget everything else and just start having kids?

Or I’ll get really fed up with all the stuff going on in the world, especially in churches, and just want to go tell people about Jesus because all the other stuff doesn’t really matter, and I wonder if I was just supposed to do that and be some kind of missionary instead.

How do you know what you’re supposed to do right now? How do you know you haven’t missed the boat? You get the idea. Lots of questions.

On one hand it seems silly that I ever even subconsciously expected to find the one thing—the one job, the one dream, the one path—that is right where I’m supposed to be, that I was made for, that is my story. Like I’m a character without a book, wondering around in a library, reading the back blurbs and expecting that at any time I’ll turn over my very own story and realize “This is it! This is the one! I’m here now, and it can get started.” And that if I don’t ever find my story, or I find it and don’t recognize it, then I’ll just be wondering around the shelves for the rest of my life feeling out of place.

On the other hand, I know there is a plan, a story, for my life. I’d like to think that I’m not just an extra in it. I guess I just have to keep trusting the Author, because at least I know he knows what he’s doing. Also, I don’t think I can actually mess up his plans. At least not permanently. And if I did miss an inciting incident in my story somewhere, he’ll bring it back around again so I can get it right the next time.

Be the First Katie Eder

[This post was originally published as part of On the Lookout for Hope, Gracie's senior project. It's very much related to Once and Still, and was part of the journey God has lead us on to where we are today. You can check out more from On the Lookout for Hope here.]

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So it's been while. So long, in fact, that the name in the title of my last journal is no longer accurate. I actually started this draft of a post right before graduation. At the time, I wrote this introduction:

I'm sorry for the delay in posting this, the final journal of my senior project.  With final projects completed and packing begun, I finally have a moment to post this while I wait for my school files to copy over from the server to my hard drive.  It's weird doing this for the last time.

And it's kind of weird doing this now, too, after so much has happened. It's weird how different things are after school, out in the "real world." Weird how little anyone mentioned about this very awkward and painful transition.  Weird how much I had forgotten about the things I learned from my senior project. Re-reading this journal did me a world of good amidst all the scary reality and confusion that is life post-graduation. I think in a way it's a very good thing I didn't have the time to post this that day when I started this draft, because I really needed to hear what my past self had to say today. Hopefully it can help you, too.

So without an further ado, the final journal of my senior project:

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Journal #3: Lost in my Own Perfectionism

[This post was originally published as part of On the Lookout for Hope, Gracie's senior project. It's related to Once and Still, and was part of the journey God has lead us on to where we are today. You can check out more from On the Lookout for Hope here.]

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You might have noticed I wrote this awhile ago. I started doing this one before Christmas break, and it's very frustrating to me (as a perfectionist) to have to admit that perfectionism, which I think is at the root of a lot of these struggles, is still very much a problem and refuses to be uprooted. I think that's a big part of what this semester is for, so in that way it's quite appropriate that I finally post this now, during the first senior project class of the spring, the beginning of a semester I hope will be full of lots of quick drawings and brave exploration into who I am as an artist no longer tied down by my perfectionism.

Sometimes it feels incredibly pathetic that fighting something as internal and supposedly controllable as perfectionism is so difficult. And of course it's not all just perfectionism. But I do think perfectionism is at the very root of the matter.

So. Let the battle begin.

Journal #2: If We Could See Dragons

[This post was originally published as part of On the Lookout for Hope, Gracie's senior project. It's very much related to Once and Still, and was part of the journey God has lead us on to where we are today. You can check out more from On the Lookout for Hope here.]

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P.S. I know life is an adventure in a way, too. And I want to live it that way as much as possible. But sometimes it does seem like it would be easier not to slip into the false mindset that life is just a normal series of events if we could see our own battle in as physical a way as in the adventure books we love. Some days the impossibility of living life in such a book seems so much attractive than battling the normalcy of real life.

Journal #1: Exploding Head Syndrome

[This post was originally published as part of On the Lookout for Hope, Gracie's senior project. It's very much related to Once and Still, and was part of the journey God has lead us on to where we are today. You can check out more from On the Lookout for Hope here.]

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The first real attempt at drawing fast/journaling/not being perfectionist all at once. This was actually very therapeutic, so please don't worry. I feel much better now. : )

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