A Poem: The Climber

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Photo Credit: Crystal Smith
I stumbled upon rock climbing while I was volunteering abroad in Ireland a couple years ago, and was instantly hooked. This past summer, one of my best friends and I decided to join a rock gym near us. It was there that I discovered bouldering, and fell completely in love with it. I think staying active is important for our physical health, but much more importantly I think it improves our mental and spiritual health as well. Although I haven't been able to make it to the rock gym recently because of school, I eagerly await the day when I can get back into it. For me, the most important thing about rock climbing is that it doesn't actually feel like "working out." I encourage you, dear readers, to discover activities that don't make you feel like you are working out, but instead make you come alive, inspire you to work harder, connect you to to other people, and bring you laughter and joy. For me, those activities mostly manifest themselves in dancing and bouldering. What activities do that for you? 
This poem was inspired by the strength, grace, and poise of the climbers I saw around me at the gym. It really did look like they were dancing: I think bouldering, like so many other things in life, is an art form in itself.
  The Climber
Somehow he is...dancing.
Fingers claw the variegated pouch and  
Clouds of dust billow
Before his sinewy frame as he claps the chalk from his hands.
With meticulous grace he clings to the wall,
A peaceful predator roaming free in the wild.
Gently springing into action,
Each movement is studied.
One arm upwards,
A careful foot placed against the rock.
Cross over,
Take a breath.
Every fiber strains
Fit to burst
In a concentration of energy and poise.
All too soon it is over and,
Letting go,
He alights from the wall.
The mat beneath is a
Welcome release from the pain--

by Leanna Jill

Artist Spotlight: Tania Alden

Saturday, December 2, 2017


1. Tell me about your watercolor painting.
 Art was a big part of my childhood, though I never thought that I would become an artist. I started experimenting with watercolor when I was a teenager, but I only started painting regularly about 3 years ago. I never received official instruction in watercolor, but taught myself with mentorship from my artist mother. In the last year I have begun to invest more intentionally in my art. I have set myself painting challenges and goals, studied painters I admire, and took my first official class from a watercolor instructor. I paint as a form of expression. I don’t intend to do it at this point as a business, but it is great when people like my art enough to want to buy it.

2. Who or what inspired you to start painting?
 My mom is my biggest inspiration. Watching her artistic journey and process of discovering herself as an artist has been very powerful to me, especially because my process has been similar in so many ways. She is also just a fantastic artist herself, and her work speaks to me. Her feedback on my work is always of immense value.
Having an artist mom has been a major advantage, but it was also a drawback early on. I felt like I had to be her or nothing, and I wasn’t her, so that is probably why I didn’t consider the possibility of taking myself seriously as an artist until a few years ago.

"Liesel" by Tania Alden
3. Can you describe the process you go through when working on a new piece?
 I paint from photos. It's hard to say what grabs me about a picture...sometimes it's the mood, or an expression that inspires me, especially if it's a person. Sometimes it's the shapes and the light, but for whatever reason something about it strikes me. I know it when it's there and it’s very hard to paint if that inspiration is not there.
Before I begin painting it helps to spend a while looking at the picture and get a feel for it and what I want to do with it. Then I do a quick pencil sketch or value study. I then do the drawing, and because watercolor does not allow for much correction once the paint is applied, it really matters that I get the drawing right. I used to rush this part and was inevitably dissatisfied with the result. Then I wet the page with clean water, mix up my first wash and get started. I paint fairly quickly, I don’t think I have ever taken more than 2 hours on the actual painting part. I have learned to stop painting before I think the painting is finished, and step back to get perspective on it and decide if anything more is needed. Often taking a picture on my phone gives me a better perspective on the painting because narrowing it down into a smaller snapshot helps me see it as a whole. Cameras are also less forgiving and help highlight any major issues! Usually this whole process takes under two hours.

4. What is your favorite thing about watercolor painting?
 The actual putting paint on the paper! Watercolor is magic, and watching it do its thing and move on a wet surface is SO cool! I’m often sad that watercolors have to dry.
And there’s also nothing like reaching that point in a painting when you can see that what you were aiming to do is working, and sometimes working better than what you had envisioned. Having a picture come to life under your brush (especially when painting a person) is so exhilarating.

"Quiet" by Tania Alden
 5. What is the most challenging thing for you about watercolor painting?
Not being able to erase or make big corrections, because in this medium there is very little ability to correct without spoiling the beautiful watercolor washes. I used to ruin many paintings by “fiddling.” It’s also just hard when a painting flops, or doesn’t come together. It can feel very disheartening and it’s always tempting to draw sweeping and inaccurate conclusions about myself as an artist. I’m working on this though.

 6. What use do you think your art serves in this world and/or what is something positive that has come out of sharing your art with others that you did not foresee?  
It’s definitely a struggle to believe that painting has a use. It can be easy to think that it's just me doing this thing and it doesn’t have any relevance beyond that. But I believe that what is so powerful about art is that it captures something true, and in painting that can be a truth as simple as the roundness of a peach, or as big as the natural beauty of a landscape, as nuanced as a person’s expression. But when something true is depicted, it reaches us and uplifts us—challenges us, touches us. And as human beings this enriches our lives.
In my own painting, something that often moves me about a photo and makes me want to paint it is a depiction of innocence. This is particularly why I am drawn to painting children. Being able to depict a true quality as big and as good as innocence is kind of incredible to me. It’s amazing that it is possible. But it is uplifting to me and seems to be something that others respond to and value too.

"Rooted" by Tania Alden
 7. Any thoughts on the interaction between spirituality and your art specifically?
Painting absolutely serves my spiritual life and is an expression of my spiritual state. The times when I’ve painted things I feel the best about often feels like I was channeling something bigger than myself as I painted. It essentially feels like being a vessel. It can feel exhilarating and almost a little unnerving. I absolutely believe that this is the Lord flowing into my work. All good comes from the Lord and so whenever I capture something true or good in a painting, it is because I am giving up control enough to let these qualities flow into my work. It’s a weird intersection of learning skills and practicing them and owning the result… and also knowing that none of it is mine. It goes the other way too: I can paint best when I’m in a spiritual state, and painting often helps put me into a more spiritual state. It takes me out of myself and gives me a sense of purpose and wonder in creation.
I particularly find that painting lifts my mood and helps me move into a more elevated state when I decide to just have fun and play with the paint. And this makes perfect sense too because the Lord created this world for us to enjoy, and play in. Creative play feels like sending a great big thank you to our Creator.

8. Anything else you would like to share?
I’ve recently completed my first watercolor class and I feel like I’m entering this whole new realm of knowledge. I've been realizing just how big the pool is and I’m inspired by how much there is to explore. I have learned so much in the last few months, and there is still SO much room for growth. It is exciting and humbling, and overall makes me want to keep painting! 

"Colour Me" by Tania Alden

"Bright Girl" by Tania Alden
For more masterpieces by Tania, visit her on Instagram: @taniaaldenart

Thanksgiving: Inspirational Quotes

Thursday, November 23, 2017

This year, I am grateful for the wisdom of others. Although we are told to read the Lord's Word on our own every day, I find that in addition to that I rely so much on others to help me along the way. Be it through teachers, ministers, friends, or strangers, I find I am constantly inspired by others in my journey to discovering what the Lord wants me to do. In this post I have included a number of quotes that have inspired me to look at spiritual life differently, as a mark of my gratitude for the help of others along my path to finding the Lord. I hope you enjoy!

"Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done."
~C.S. Lewis~

"In a world of people trying to 'find ourselves,' we would do well to listen to more closely to what God says about us."
~John Rinehart~

"I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God, it changes me."
~C.S. Lewis~

"The Creator gave us two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. Perhaps we should learn to use our eyes and ears more and our mouth less."
~Native American Reenactor, Colonial Williamsburg~

"I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun - not because I can see it, but because by it I can see everything else."
~C.S. Lewis~

"Someday you'll be really, really grateful that God gave you what you needed instead of what you thought you wanted."
~Mandy Hale~

"When poisons become fashionable, they do not cease to kill."
~C.S. Lewis~

"Don't follow your heart. God did not design our hearts to be followed, but to be led."
~Jon Bloom~

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."
~C.S. Lewis~

"It isn't what we say or think that defines us, but what we do."
~Jane Austen~

"'Why, then, did God give them free will?' Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the ONLY THING that makes possible any love or goodness or joy WORTH HAVING."
~C.S. Lewis~

(As you can see, I am rather fond of C.S. Lewis...the man was a genius, I think!)
Happy Thanksgiving!

Life Lesson 2: The Lord Will Fight for You

Saturday, November 18, 2017

In reading Exodus chapter 14 this morning, I discovered some astoundingly clear messages about the nature of repentance and just how much the Lord is willing to fight for us against evils. After years of horrific captivity and slavery in Egypt, Moses finally frees the people and they escape into the wilderness. Huzzah! As soon as the Egyptians start chasing after them, however, the children of Israel respond with the following:

"Are there no graves in Egypt, that thou hast taken us to die in the wilderness? What is this that thou hast done to us, to bring us out from Egypt?" (Exodus 14:11).

What a powerful message! Because when the hells (evil spirits/devils) are chasing after us, repentance feels like death: starving our sense of self/ego from doing evil feels like death. Why would we ever want to stop living in sin when it feels good, or when it feels like such a big part of our identity?
The hells can also feel like an army against us: it is so easy for us to think they have all the power.
But then the Lord provides us with a beautiful, strengthening, awe-inspiring image: the angel in the pillar of cloud moves from standing in front of the children of Israel to standing behind them, and puts himself between the Egyptians and the Israelites. The Lord will fight for you! The Lord will defend you! Wow.

I was partcularly struck this time through by another impressive image in this story, that further solidifies the idea of an all-powerful God: the Lord actually suspends the sea, and then lets it crash down on the Egyptians. He suspends the entire sea! Thinking about how dangerous a mere river can be, the force of the ocean is mind-boggling. How awesome is He?! It brings to mind a particular doxology we often sing in church:

"Glory and might be unto Him, forever and ever amen. Who is and who was and who is to come, The Almighty. Amen" (Take from Revelation 1:6,8).

Life Lesson 1: Change is a Comin'

Friday, November 10, 2017

A little life lesson I desperately needed today, that came to me in the leaf-covered woods...

Why box up life? Change is what life is all about. Seasons change. Knowledge changes. Popularity changes. Uses change. Every year is new: new breakthroughs, new failures, new stories, new leaders. Every day is new: new weather, new interactions, new objects, new surroundings. Every moment is new: unpredictable, unimaginable, uncontrollable, unknown. Habits are broken in an instant, a life ends, a relationship begins, groundbreaking discoveries are made.

Why box up life? Let go of control: Don't worry if the body seems unfit, if the knowledge is not perfected, if the skill is under-rehearsed. Don't resist the changes, don't wait until the moment is "right," don't give up before you have even begun. Flexibility grants us peace, tolerance, acceptance, patience. Spontaneity grants us laughter, adventure, and most importantly: a chance to play.

Why box up life? Open your mind. Choose to like something new every day. Like the chilly air, like the crooked glasses perched on a crooked nose, like that one cloud in the sky. Try something new every day. Try baking that cake, try climbing that tree, try sketching that portrait. Failure? Comes when you forget to laugh about the charring, the scrapes and bruises, the disproportionate features. So what if before today you didn't like baseball, or travelling, or rainy them now! The biggest obstacle? YOU.

"For I know the thoughts that I think upon you, says Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Hello, thanks for checking out my blog!
I started this blog for two main reasons: 

1) Because I want to return the inspiration
I used to think blogging was self-centered; what's so special about my thoughts that I need to share them with the whole world? Who really needs to hear what I have to say? However, I am constantly being inspired by other people online, whether it be through a blog, a video, or even just a simple comment. And while I would NEVER claim that the things I write will be inspirational to others, I realize that the people I am inspired by are able to inspire me because they share. And I think sharing ideas is extremely important! So I have decided to return the favor and share back. Will my thoughts actually turn out to be inspirational to even a single person? Perhaps not, but I am willing to give it a shot.

2) Because I don't want to forget
Sometimes an inspired thought comes into my head, as I'm sure happens with everyone, that really changes the way I see the world. Maybe it's triggered by something I've read, or seen, or heard from someone else. These inspirations can be life-changing...for about five minutes, or five days, or even five months. And then I'm on to the next thing and forget that I ever had that life-changing inspiration, until it comes back again in a different phase of life. Or never comes back at all! Some of these inspirations I really do not want to forget, so I decided to put them here. That way, when I forget that the Lord will always be there to fight for me, or that expectations lead to disappointment, or that prayer is essential, I will have this blog to return to to rediscover those life-changers.


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