NameWhat’s in a name? We worked with that question a bit last week during the therapeutic art workshop at the Lighthouse, a twelve-month, faith-based, residential treatment program for women in substance abuse recovery. This group of women is mostly new to the three of us who facilitate the weekly workshop and thought it would be good way for us to remember names – always a challenge at every age. But it also fit well with the repeated comment of several women who expressed their hope of discovering a fuller sense of their identity, especially in Christ, during their recovery. So we invited them to create large name place cards that included symbols of things that represented them in some way – things they liked, family members, dreams, goals, etc.

Even Julie and Lee set about making name cards for themselves. Much of the art was beautiful cursive renderings of their names embellished with few symbols, but the stories they shared were far more elaborate and meaningful. Especially meaningful was Cathy’s name created in fat balloon letters with polka dots which she said symbolized her history of hiding behind a facade. However, on the right side of her name card was a substantial leafy tree with fruit on it, and its roots growing deep. Taking imagery from Psalm 1, Cathy dreams of being fruitful for her family because her roots go deep into the word of God.

But something else, an unnamed something, took place Friday morning. All four tables were ganged together into one large table that all the women were sitting around when we arrived. I’m beginning my fifth year of workshops at the Hayes St facility and this is the first time the tables have been arranged this way. Responding to my surprise, they volunteered that the tables are usually in that configuration when they have house meetings where the issues of the day are dealt with. Deciding to keep the tables ganged together, everyone set to work on their name cards. For most, this wasn’t a lengthy art activity. But it did allow for lots of sharing, and likely because of the table arrangement, an increased level of participation and depth of sharing. Women didn’t get up and wander out when they were finished. They stayed around the larger table, and when one person left in tears while explaining her symbols, we simply stopped and prayed. She returned a short time later feeling more composed. I couldn’t help but observe, and share in a bit of word play, that many of them had come from gangs, but with the tables ganged together, suddenly they seemed to be forming a good “gang” – one of encouragement, support and love.

British writer Iris Murdoch once said, “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” One of my favorite small treats is an art day every six weeks or so with an ever changing good gang of friends. Saturday I took the opportunity to create my name card with symbols of some of the favored small treats that give meaning and shape to my life. Inspired by an art journal entry created more than a decade ago, my still favorites include:

The first cup of coffee in the morning
Fresh flowers any time
A candle burning on the coffee table
Avocados and cranberry sauce
Peppermint ice cream in a sugar cone
Good books at my elbow
The first star of the evening
A full moon rising over an autumn landscape
The love of making art with the ladies at the Lighthouse.

If you were to create a name card including symbols of small treats, or important dreams, what would your name look like? What would it have looked like a decade ago? What good gang are you a part of? What symbols might they add to your name card that represents the treat you are to them?

So looking forward to what you might have to share!

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