Sun & Shadows

Life for me isn’t always crazy happy and sunny in the art making world. Sometimes the sun casts long shadows.

And sometimes it takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the shadows in order to see what’s really there.

That happened the week after we restarted the therapeutic art workshops at the Lighthouse, a faith-based year-long residential program for women recovering from substance abuse – the week after I wrote my “Crazy Happy” post about apprehension turning to “sunny” delight.

My art partner and I returned the second week to find that four of the women had exited the program including the two who had been so excited about sharing their “Morning By Morning New Mercies” art work. Flying high and working their recovery one week. Gone the next. I was thunderstruck!

While four had left, a small established core remained even with a recent graduation and the delightful distraction of new babies being born. Several new women had joined the program which is not uncommon. But the whole energy in the room seemed to have shifted. There was a subdued engagement in the art activity, more than average confusion, and even some minor resistance. It felt difficult to connect with the women. I felt disheartened by the end of the morning. What was ordinarily a sunny experience seemed suddenly overcast.

The third week brought more new women to the program, others were missing because of appointments or out-of-town opportunities. The energy in the room was still distant and subdued. Good things happened throughout the morning, but the workshop felt disjointed. Lee and I felt perplexed.

There’s nothing like sushi for lunch to shed some light on the darkness. To cast some sunlight on the shadows.

Along with the soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger, there were insights to be savored. We are beginning the third year of our therapeutic art workshops with the Lighthouse. Over that time, there has always been an evolving core of women who have made art with us, and have become familiar with the various art media and art making processes we use. Now, mostly they are newcomers unfamilar with who we are, why we’re there, or what we’re asking them to do.

Over the months and years, we’ve developed easy give and take relationships with many of the women. Suddenly, we’re complete strangers in a new foreign environment for the many women who’ve recently entered the program. We’re just a couple more people they each have to adjust to in an already challenging situation. Additionally, those who’ve been with the program awhile have lost one of their social extroverts, a woman with a self-proclaimed big personality. A lot of energy left with her. I think I’d be subdued too faced with so many changes and such loss.  

By the time our mango mochi arrived for dessert, we’d picked out some of the details in the shadows. We’re not just picking up where we left off after taking our summer break. We’re beginning afresh with a mostly new group of women. We need to establish who we are, why we’re there, and what we hope to accomplish with them. We’ll have to get to know each one over time, taking every opportunity to speak a blessing into their lives through the arts. And perhaps, most importantly, I need to stop being lazy.

With the creation of an art ark, a large, well-stocked, metal storage cabinet at the Lighthouse, I no longer have to schlep art supplies. But that also means I’ve gotten lazy about bringing home supplies to make prototypes for each art project planned. For the women we’d worked with over time, they’d generally “gotten” what the art activities were all about. But with so many new to the art making process, the lack of visual examples only represented more confusion in an already confusing new life.

We’re also having to adjust our expectations about the ease of interaction with this group. Group personalities change with the composition of its members. It will take time for us to discover the uniqueness of each woman and to gain their trust. We love them before we know their stories, but our mutual ease will only grow as we get to know one another.

I’m grateful for these deeply cast shadows in an otherwise sunny experience. As I’ve strained to see the details of the forest more clearly, it’s given me deeper awareness of the challenges the women face and my interface with those challenges. It also challenges me to step into the light more clearly in offering the gifts of healing and transformation I hope to bring to them through the arts.

Is there a “sun and shadows” moment happening in your life right now? If you were to step into the shadows and allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness, what would you see? What new insight might you discover? What might you then bring into the sunlight? If you were to create a painting entitled “Sun & Shadows”, what would it look like?

I’m looking forward to your sun & shadow comments.

6 comments to Sun & Shadows

  • cynthia hashbarger

    This is very interesting Lynne. YOur disappointment in ‘the attendees’ is evident.. and there is some adjustment on your part(and your partners) to ‘go with the flow’. I grew up in a law enforcement environment.. My Dad was a Sheriff.. and we lived in that residence.. Relationships were fragile with the inmates.. even tho the staff worked hard to establish a good footing and offer guidance.. Be not dismayed.. even one session with your loving touch in art will impact that person along their tender walk of life.. and they will remember that you cared for them.. and about what they were doing.. Carry on.. sounds like a good program at The Lighthouse.. Cynthia xx In addition to the above, Tom and I are CASA’s(Court Appointed Special Advocates) This work with young people in the court system has put us thru a lot of tough love and tears.. But we were always glad we did it.. You will also feel that way one day soon I am sure..

  • Sara Blackburn

    I had an interesting thought years ago… if there is shadow, we are not in complete darkness because in order for there to be shadow, there must be at least a small amount of light. There are often times in our lives that we must pause and allow our eyes to adjust to the darkness simply so we can see what light is still there.
    For me right now, the darkness is trying to work with our public school system to bring more arts into the schools. The children are suffering on so many levels because of the lack of art education and chances for creative expression. All I want is to be able to provide simple ways for the teachers to incorporate the arts into their daily routine, but it has been beyond a struggle to get cooperation. If I get a principal on my side, then the higher administration always seems to be throwing things at the principals that have to take precedent over my presentation. The presentation to teachers is key to building credibility so they will allow me into their classrooms and I can’t even get past scheduling a meeting time! In the midst of so much darkness, among the shadows created by the little bit of light I see there is this: I have building relationship with two neighborhood school principals who desparately want me to work with their staff and students as well as several teachers who are excited about the prospect of my involvement. It is a place to start and I just have to trust that at the right time, God will bring it all together. I am determined and when this girl gets determined you’d better look out! 🙂

  • Carl McDonald

    RE: Sun and Shadows. I certainly can relate to what you wrote. Sometimes, I feel like my entire life is lived in the shadows, always seeking the sun, which gives me life and love. When I read your post, I couldn’t help but think about how this compares to whenever I have begun a new youth ministry with a new group. It never seems to go in the direction that I intended or thought that it might go. Now I have learned to not blame myself for this, but to step back and let the group take time to develop their own sense of community. Of course this doesn’t happen at one session and they need some guidance. Remember, it also takes some light to cast a shadow!

  • Deanna J Bowling

    I’m in this spot myself. It’s tough when life has been self perpetuating, to all of a sudden have the self perpetuation stop. All I can say, Lynne, is to keep on being you. I love, love, love the work you are doing at EPC with all of the “banner” work that’s up on the front wall now. Maybe one area of your expressing your arts has slowed a little bit in order to allow another to flow. Take it easy on yourself.

    Love, hugs and prayers,


  • I know the shadow and the sunlight of small group ministry. This summer I had the experience of working with a small book group that boomed to over 40 participants – today I started a second offering of the book discussion in a daytime format – and no one showed. While the seasons of light and shadow are natural, it can be hard to accept – like today – that shadow is a season of note too.


  • I can’t help revert to a powerful song by Switchfoot: The Shadow Proves the Sunshine. Rather than being about finding the bits of sunshine in a shadowy experience, the song’s about the fact that shadow exists being due to the fact that there’s a strong enough sunshine to make a contrast with what is an obstacle to it. For instance – the fact that you had such a unique group in the past allowed you to notice this group was different. I’ve been frustrated by the obstacle that I haven’t been able to be myself and express myself a lot lately. But the sunshine in that is that 1)I’ve been able to figure out who I am and how I want to express myself, and 2)I work a lot making it hard to just ‘be myself,’ but I’m grateful for the work and it’s been the work itself that has helped me figure out who I am.

    🙂 Lynne, I love these blogs.

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