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Monday, December 29, 2014

Making Room For Hope

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces I would still plant my apple tree." ~~ Martin Luther  

This quote found its way to me a few days ago.  It succinctly puts into one sentence a myriad of emotions, wonderings, and thoughts that are overwhelming me as this year comes to a close.  I appreciate the metaphor of crossing thresholds from the past into the new and not yet discovered.  It is scary and exciting.  It is how we grow.  However, at the same time, I am living in the midst of challenges in my own life as well as in the lives of those about which I care deeply.   I am standing in an uncertain "gap" space holding incredible joys and very painful sadnesses not knowing quite where to plant my feet on the threshold of this year.  In recent weeks, I have been very intentional about waking early and beginning my days with extended prayer, journaling, art, reading, etc. just to keep some sense of connection with the Holy in such an uncertain time.  Many of you have shared your stories with me about being in a similar place and I know that others in the AWBA community may relate to this very gentle, tender, thin space that we occupy at times.

I believe deeply in the prospect of hope when everything around me seems to be broken or in conflict - in my own small community as well as in the larger world.  I believe deeply in the prospect of beginning again when everything inside of me says, "No, not again.  It takes too much work.  Why can't I coast for a while???"  I believe deeply in planning for tomorrow even though I am often reminded there is no promise I will have a tomorrow.  It is certainly a different way of living and can seem to go against any kind of reality check, logic, scientific evidence -- whatever you want to call the thinking brain process. 

How are we to choose life when captured by the reality of expanding brokenness, call up energy when personal exhaustion is a daily experience, and/or plan for tomorrow when today is not looking so great?

I believe that the answer lies within the power of community.  When people choose together to "plant their apple tree" in the very moment in which God invites a resounding "Yes!" from us, we gain strength and energy from those around us making their own life-giving choices.  When we consider that our community also includes the "cloud of witnesses" -- those, like Martin Luther, who have gone before us and have shown us how to persevere, we have a large community indeed.

The AWBA Community is about planting apple trees even when the next day is uncertain.  So, in the midst of my own weariness, uncertainty, joys, griefs, loss, big dreams for the future, I plant my own apple tree firmly in the ground and invite you to do the same.  

As you stand on the threshold to come in this new year, what might your "apple tree" look like? What would it mean for you to plant it firmly in the ground of your reality?  Who can you share with to support you in that process?  Who can you support as they plant something of importance in their own life?

Thank you for sharing this AWBA journey with me, with our faithful Board of Directors, and with those we serve.  This community is growing and there is new life taking root in each of you that offer your presence here.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Choose Life

I received this picture yesterday standing on my front porch.  Those following our blog and Facebook may notice the view.  It is a favorite of mine.  It is a stunning view in the snow (see a recent Facebook blessing) and doubly beautiful in spring, summer and fall.  As I head toward winter, however, it is hard to see the same beauty in such barren trees.   I appreciate the truth of winter -- a time of rest and hibernation to prepare the earth and its creatures for the new life that spring promises.  I also know the same invitation exists in our human lives -- a time for rest and more stillness than usual, and staying indoors when the dark, cold and icy elements forbid much travel.  The slowness and hibernation prepares the way for the aliveness of spring and the months that will come.  Every season carries it own purpose in maintaining the balance.

But "real life" gets in the way of us humans doesn't it?  Nature and its creatures don't have much choice but to follow the instructions of the seasons.  We humans, however, do have a choice and can ignore the whole concept.  Those with children must transport them to their myriad activities regardless of the elements and 5 pm night sky.  The many people who work outside their home most often depart home and return with the darkness greeting them at both ends.   Our son is an adult and I work from home so what has happened to the rest, stillness and hibernation that I promised myself would begin at the beginning of December????  No excuses for me.  I, alone, am responsible for answering that question.  There is no use beating myself up, and I hope that you do not engage in that hopeless battle when you realize you are running too fast and in too many directions.

For me, it comes back to the wisdom of one of my favorite Bible passages from Deuteronomy 30 that counsels, 

"I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  
Now choose life …"

I know the easy choices for myself to ensure that I choose life and blessing.  It is the small, less easily identified places that threaten a life-giving choice.  When the day is cold and dreary with off and on drizzle (today), a list of things to do that borders on impossible nags at me throughout the day, and I carry the sadness of quite a few people, how do I "choose life" in those circumstances??  Do I eat a piece of chocolate?  I don't think so (I may succumb but that is not choosing life.  Sorry, comfort food eaters!). I had to stop myself mid-afternoon today to ask that question and take responsibility for making some tough choices for how I will invest my time for the remainder of this week.  I feel a bit better having better identified my Sacred Yes and Sacred No that will result in a couple of life-giving choices.  Perhaps, it is more difficult to choose life in the dark winter months.  Perhaps, it is more difficult to choose life when no one would blame you for not doing so.

How about you?  If you are one living with a chronic diagnosis, what does it mean to choose life when you receive another medical bill that yanks the home purse strings even tighter?  If you are caring for someone, what does it mean to choose life when your loved one has  made the same request of you ten times and does not remember your answer?  If you are a volunteer or professional who serves this population, what does it mean to choose life as you are ready to go home when a client in distress knocks at your door?  It is hard and we each do it differently.

One of the deep sadnesses that I have carried these few days is the passing last week of one of our founding board members.  John Cronin was at the first brainstorming meeting before there was a mission statement, board of directors, website, blog, checking account or money to help us get this ministry off the launchpad.  He has served us so faithfully these years and helped put flesh on the bones of a God-sized idea.  His passion for AWBA's mission and his dedication to his role as a board member was invaluable.  I often received emails from him at the moment I most needed a word of encouragement and counsel to keep me focused on what we were to be about.  My husband and I go back 25 years with John and it made sense to invite him to join me on this wild ride of God's design.  He has been a special friend to both of us for different reasons.  For my birthday this year, he wrote me a song to the tune of "Hey Jude" telling me not to be afraid for AWBA and to remember that we always begin again.  John was the picture of choosing life.   I will miss his voice that often spoke to me in the hard times.

So in the midst of grief, weariness with too much to do and not enough time, and concerns for many I love, I am working this week to choose life and to begin again. It has not come easily but there has been clarity for those choices and I have chosen them.  I invite you to do the same and to remember that this growing AWBA community encourages you to always choose life, to always remember the invitation to begin again each day, and to know with a deepening assurance that the Holy One companions you with strength and with tenderness in the most uncertain of places.

We ask your prayers for John's family, friends and colleagues who will miss his physical presence.   May we trust that John's spirit continues on in the love shared and expressed to others through his lovely wife, young daughter, siblings and family; through the music ministry that will continue to honor him at his church; through the work that will continue through his co-workers that ensures justice for all; and for AWBA, the ministry he helped plant for those in deep need as they walk the path of chronic diagnosis.  

One life makes a difference.  Remember that truth when you wake up tomorrow morning.  Choose life and begin again to make a difference.    

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Creative Expression

First, I must apologize for not posting at all in October.  As we grow our presence on Facebook, Linked In, and our monthly newsletter, I sometimes lose track of what I have posted where.  That being said, I do want to share with you about the month of October... 

I attended my next to last set of classes for Expressive Arts.  True to the school's word, "intensive", it was an intensive focus on the business and organizational side of each student's expressive arts practice as each prepares to complete the program and put it to work in their world.  I still have a final class series to attend in January, followed by a six-week internship beginning in February, and a portfolio review that will complete this 2+ year learning process.  The use of movement, music, sound, visual art, poetry, collage, clay, painting, fiber, etc. continues to speak to me as it supports those impacted by a chronic diagnosis --  as the one diagnosed, a loved one in the 24/7 support role, and the professional and volunteers serving this population.  To have a means of expression for the emotions and feelings beneath the words is such a gift.  Myself, along with a few of my expressive arts colleagues, look forward to exploring this in more depth through AWBA in the coming months.

Tangent to that, AWBA had three great October/November experiences with Touch Drawing.  The four-session pilot program targeted to those with Parkinson's was wonderful.  The feedback was positive and most were surprised at the impact it had on their overall well-being during the time they were drawing.  One caregiver identified it as his "chill pill."  Two individuals shared that they were hesitant to come and were so glad that they did.  The field of expressive arts is better "experienced" than "explained."  It is often the simplest of creative experiences that yield the best results.

Our retreat/fund raiser at Gilgal Farm raised over $800 for our 2015 programs while a full room of participants engaged in Touch Drawing and visited with the horses at Gilgal.  Two people even set up their space in the horse barn itself and had one horse do a bit of touch drawing with her nose :)  Plans are underway for another retreat/fund raiser in the spring.   Stay tuned for that if you missed the October retreat and/or want a repeat!

Lastly, we were asked to visit a local Parkinson's Support Group to share Touch Drawing with their group.  Since time was limited this was presented as an introduction and demonstration.  The group worked together to create three drawings as the board was passed from person to person for each to make their mark.  One gentleman shared that he was "looking for the door" when the demonstration began.  He gave it a try and was surprised by how much he enjoyed the experience.   There was laughter as scribbles, squishes and pounding took place.  Play time and healing time for everyone.

Because of confidentiality, it is often a challenge to have pictures to remember the day.  But, here are  a few from the retreat day at Gilgal.

One participant framed his Touch Drawing board.  Beautiful.

The room is ready for a full house!

Such a simple process.

Touch Drawing in the horse barn.

Taking a break to visit with the horses.

Friday, September 26, 2014

When the day feels hard ...

There is a small, country church that I often drive by when running errands.  Since last week, its sign has read, "Life is hard.  Look up."  Honestly, I somewhat discounted the message with thoughts along the lines of, "I already know to look to God when things are hard."  I pretty much ignored the fact that it might have something new to say to me today.  Yesterday, without recalling the sign's literal meaning, I looked up.  These past few days and nights in Ohio have been absolutely stunning.  Cerulean blue sky, a wisp of cloud here and there, leaves beginning to break open their color box ~ truly take-your-breath-away moments.  

While my personal circumstances seem to clicking along in a kind and gentle way at the moment, any quick peek at the international news breaks my heart and can give way to moments of deep sadness and  helplessness of "what can I do"?  It seems there is always "something" just not right.  It may be a hardship in your own life, in the life of someone you love, in your immediate community, and, often, in the larger world in which we are all intimately connected in ways we often miss. 

Life is hard.  Look up.  Really.  Today, get outdoors wherever you are and in whatever environment in which you find yourself today.  Take a moment to look up.  Look out.  Look down.  This planet Earth is our home.  The Holy One created it for us.  The beauty is there, even on the darkest of days.  Take a moment to soak in Creation and deeply breathe.  That Sabbath moment invites us back to center to move through our day feeling just a bit more grounded and held in a holy embrace.

If you are photography nut as I am (amateurs included, as I am!!!), send a .jpg to me at director@myawba.org of your moment.  Simply provide your first name and your general location.  I will post these to share with others in another week or so.

Here is mine to get you started …

Judy, an early morning in Southeastern Ohio

Monday, August 18, 2014

Friday Blessings on Facebook

If this blog is your primary means of connection with AWBA, we want to make you aware of a new offering on Facebook.  You can find us on Facebook at "Always We Begin Again".  From our most recent newsletter (you can receive this monthly news by providing your name and email on the home page of our website at www.myawba.org):

In his book To Bless the Space Between Us, author John O'Donohue writes in the introduction, 

"It would be infinitely lonely to live in a world without blessing.  The word blessing evokes a sense of warmth and protection; it suggests that no life is alone or unreachable.  Each life is clothed in raiment of spirit that secretly links it to everything else.  Though suffering and chaos befall us, they can never quench that inner light of providence."

When we make the decision to begin again as one impacted by a chronic condition, this act of blessing seems a critical piece of our support system in making that daily and, sometimes moment to moment, choice for a new beginning.  Recently, AWBA began posting a brief quote, an image, and a blessing on its Facebook page every Friday morning.  The instant response indicated by likes, shares and new followers told us there are some seeking a sense of blessing.  If a "Friday Blessing" would support your journey, visit our Facebook page and follow us for this weekly blessing if you are not already doing so.  You can also access our page by clicking the Facebook icon on our website at www.myawba.org.  If you have a favorite quote and/or photo you have taken that you would like us to consider in the future, email it to director@myawba.org.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Our New Logo

When determining where to place precious financial resources, AWBA has been very intentional about budgeting as much as much as possible directly to our programming.  Keeping our fees within reason for those tending to the unending flow of medical bills has been the best way for us to remain accessible to those we serve.  Your donations have helped tremendously in  that effort.  At the same time, we also appreciate the value of getting our message out in a way that is simple and consistent.   A logo helps identify us within the community we serve.  After almost four full years of ministry, our Board decided it was time to create a logo.   Two donors were generous enough to offer a reduced fee and an in kind donation to make this a reasonable project for AWBA at this time.

When meeting with our design team at Miller Strategic Marketing, their process helped us better identify our brand that resides within our mission and vision statements.  We determined that there are several things the logo needs to communicate:

~ AWBA offers a warm, friendly place where people are accepted just as they are.
~ It’s a friendly place where people can go to catch their breath and build faith and hope.
~ It’s a community of caring individuals who will provide loving support to those with chronic illnesses.

To capture the essence of this brand, the word we chose to “own” is “Community”, and the gate within the logo serves as the entrance to that community.  The team at Miller developed a look and feel to reflect this identity, and to communicate these important points to the public. We believe that the warm, relaxed type font combined with the gate image delivers the look and feel we were going for.   Our full color beloved gate image used up to this point will remain on our website, blog and in other places.  There is much affection for this "secret garden" image and it is our intention that the logo builds on that.

None of this is of any use if we do not deliver on what we desire to accomplish in those points mentioned.  If at any time there is something we can do to provide an even more welcoming community environment as one impacted by a chronic diagnosis,  please let us know.  

Welcome to our new logo.  Over the next few months it will begin to appear in our print materials as well as on the web.  One person noted that she likes the "connection" depicted with the letter "A" touching the "W".   What do you notice?

Learning to Walk in the Dark

Since moving to the country, my husband Roy and I are developing a new relationship with the darkness.  We travel winding back roads on our way home from evening meetings in the city hopeful that we remember the twists and turns, and that we can see the deer before they decide to appear in the middle of the road.  We are consistently aware of the lunar cycle anticipating the bright evenings offered by a  full moon, and the clarity of a starry night in the darkness of a new moon.  We took deep delight in gorgeous July nights when the lightening bugs danced amid the corn fields in front of our house and essentially made us lose track of time as we watched them prance and twinkle -- thousands of them lighting in that mysterious movement that only a creative God could have dreamed of.  To see the Milky Way after many years of suburban living is a deep delight that takes my breath away.  We have adjusted to the darkness of our bedroom at night without the street lights.  We keep a night light on in our bathroom but there were a few "stumbles" as we re-learned furniture placement and how to walk in the dark.  Roy rises at 4 a.m. on weekdays and is the most skilled at navigating the darkness.  

As I have l made these adjustments and observations, I am mindful of the metaphorical "dark" that many walk when living with a chronic diagnosis.  I often hear people speak of dark night of the soul, living in darkness, a time of confusion and darkness, pushing away the dark -- none of it good and, often, lacking hope that light will come.   On one level, I understand that light is so much more beautiful when experienced within the darkness as I have experienced with this move.  Yet, when it comes to the seeming "dark" places of sadness, loss and difficulty, any sign of light or beauty is so much harder for me to claim.  I can see it in retrospect but it can take a very long time to be known by me.

I am a fan of writer Barbara Brown Taylor and knew that her most recent book, Learning to Walk in the Dark had been released earlier this year.  In the chaos of our move, this fell off the radar and I forgot about it.  The title found its way to me again a few weeks ago.  I found a copy at the library and could not put it down.  When someone is impacted by a book as I was with this one, the first response is that "everyone must read this book."  We all know that is not often the truth of the situation.   It is simply a book that found its way to us at just the right time.  However, I do pass it along as an option to consider if you find yourself navigating a season of spiritual darkness.  Ms. Taylor offers a perspective that we don't often hear taught but is one that, at its core, I suspect many of us have wondered about and couldn't quite articulate.  She writes,

"… I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion.  I need darkness as much as I need light."

Whether or not you pursue this book for yourself,  I pray that your seasons of darkness do not overwhelm and that points of light make themselves known when and where they are most needed.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

For Parents of Children With Autism

AWBA is preparing for two upcoming programs featuring Touch Drawing.  Recently we have been contacted by parents of children with Autism about their interest in our developing a program to serve them and, possibly, their children with a Touch Drawing experience.  If this is an event that would interest you, click the survey link below to provide us with your input.  The survey includes eight short questions and should take only a moment of your time.  If you know of others who might be interested, please provide them with this link and ask them for their input. 


Monday, August 4, 2014

Are You a Leaner or a Lifter?

What is it that causes us to make things more difficult than they need to be?  I heard a wonderful message on Sunday from a retired United Methodist pastor.  It is to important to keep our ears open to the wisdom of those who have walked this earth longer than we have!  He was talking about our tendency to be a "leaner" more than a "lifter."  When I choose the hard way, the worrisome way, the anxious way, the distrusting way, the doubting way, etc. everything in me leans and becomes a weight on myself and on others.  That is not how I have chosen to live my life these days.  To be a lifter is to choose being in the present, trusting that God will provide the right thing at the right time, and inviting hope more than doubt.  It is a daily beginning again to choose this better way to live.  

I am growing into my artist self (she is definitely a "lifter"!) and there have been times that I have made the creative process more difficult than it needed to be.  I recall one day last spring so incredibly beautiful that I had to capture it somehow.   I tried to paint it but God's creation so overwhelmed my senses that day that everything I painted was inadequate.  I then chose the simple way to capture only the colors of the blooms that caught my attention.  When I look at this picture below, I remember the colors, the warmth of the sun on my skin, the smell of spring - it all comes back.  Rather than leaning in to create a perfect image, I am now lifted whenever I see this image.

I am also relearning how to pray in a way that is "lifting".  Poet Mary Oliver shares that desire so well …


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

~ Mary Oliver ~


Thank you, Bob, for a "lifting" message as I continue to re-create a more life-giving way of being present in the world.  Thank you Mary for always stating the truth so simply.

For those who have not visited our Facebook page recently, we are now posting a Friday morning blessing if that would be a support for your journey.

May you choose an attitude of lifting for this day and may you, then, be equipped to lift others. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

What Energizes You?

As a Benedictine Oblate, I focus on maintaining balance with work, study, prayer and leisure.  This past Saturday I led a retreat helping men and women develop a life-giving balance within their particular circumstances.  The one area that seems to often be lacking is that of leisure, rest, refueling.  It can be hard to carve out seemingly "nonproductive time" for something that is fun and infuses fresh air into our schedule.

With our recent move and all of the details that flow from such an undertaking, I have become very aware of my need for leisure.  Last Friday, my husband and I continued our annual tradition of almost 9 years attending a local festival, Lily Fest. Because we had such a full day of things still to complete, we were only there a few hours.  It was a challenge to keep this commitment in the midst of other tasks grabbing at us.   But those few hours, well spent, were incredibly life-giving.  Visiting with artists amidst the beauty of these beautiful gardens filled the dry places in my soul from these recent months of intense work.

Part of this annual visit always includes listening to the music of Mark Thunderwalker whose concert takes place in a garden surrounded by water lilies and dancing dragonflies.   Mark is a gifted musician who plays the Native American Flute as well as crafts them.  His wife, Sheila, is also a gifted artist.  I purchased one of her pieces in addition to a few of Mark's CDs as gifts.  To listen to some of Mark's music, here are a couple of  YouTube links 

Following Spirit 
Today We Begin

You can order his CDs by visiting Mark Thunderwalker.

Identify those activities that energize you and get them on your calendar.  In those places where you may feel limited in what you can do, where you can go, etc. ask God to show you what is within your means for refueling.  Lily Fest is always one of those "big" things.  I also have smaller activities like sitting in my favorite chair and listening to quiet music that energize me throughout each day.

May you make space in your day today to "waste time with God" by simply inviting the Spirit to nourish you.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Faith and Patience

Poet Mary Oliver shares the poem, "Black Swallowtail" in her book, Red Bird.

The caterpillar,
  interesting but not exactly lovely,
humped along among the parsley leaves
  eating, always eating.  Then
one night it was gone and in its place
  a small green confinement hung by two silk threads
on a parsley stem.  I think it took nothing with it
  except faith, and patience.  And then one morning

it expressed itself into the most beautiful being.

~ Mary Oliver

When we choose to learn the lesson, waiting teaches faith and patience.  As my husband and I settle into our long-awaited new home in the woods, this poem takes on a deeper meaning.  I can recall so many instances of "caterpillar life" in new circumstances requiring a new expression.  Some of those circumstances were particularly harsh and very unwelcome intrusions.  Some, like this move, carried their own form of harshness in all of the upheaval and change but were welcome at the same time.  Transition is a process of releasing what is known and comfortable and trusting that new life is on the horizon - always beginning again.

For some interesting tidbits about this metamorphosis (and the source of the above image), and to view a time lapse slideshow of the birth of a swallowtail butterfly visit

If this image speaks to you, I invite you to take a few minutes to wonder how the life stages of the black swallowtail may have something to say about your life stages.  There are seasons of life where it seems I am crawling, hanging, or anticipating flight for a painfully long time.  Recalling an image like this reminds me that the one place in which I feel stuck is not all there is.  Something else is coming.  If I can hold onto faith and patience rather than trying to take control, God will bring the new thing at just the right time.  It may not be what I expected.  It is not always I wanted.  But, God is good and will help me to fly within that new place.

As you look at these web images and reflect on the words of Mary Oliver, what most resonates with you?  

~ "munching" along at a very slow pace feeling somewhat unlovely; or 
~ dangling from a barely present thread as your old home breaks open wondering "when, if, how …"; or
~ acknowledging the place you are in and embarking on a new way of being fully present in that life.

If you would like to share your own experience for the benefit of others, post your thoughts below.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

October Event - Expressive Art as Healing Process

Expressive Art as a Healing Process
An Introduction to Touch Drawing
A fund raiser to benefit the programs and services of AWBA
Friday, October 3, 2014
10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Gilgal Farm Retreat Center

"Springs of Living Water" - Judy Smoot
Since posting preliminary information about this fund raiser open to the public, we have received quite a few requests for further information.  As a result, all details have been finalized and we have chosen to open registration.  Directly from our website ~

Gift yourself with a day of healing art in the countryside of Fairfield County at Gilgal Farm. Rest, refuel, and refresh as you experience expressive art as a healing process while helping raise funds for those served by the ministry of Always We Begin Again. This event is open to the public.  You will be invited to experience the simple expression of Touch Drawing and visit with the horses of Gilgal Farm in the quiet and peace of this sacred space on the outskirts of Lancaster, Ohio. 

For a detailed brochure, registration information, and links to additional information,  visit the Upcoming Events page of our website.   Space is limited so early registration is encouraged if you are interested.  Myself,  Chris Harnden and Deb Aichele will be your guides for the day.

I have found Touch Drawing to be a meaningful practice for myself and have enjoyed introducing it to others.  If you know someone impacted by a Parkinson's diagnosis, read about the  September pilot program for Touch Drawing, "Listening Beneath the Words."   It is fund raisers like the October event that make this September series available to the Parkinson's community at no cost.

Any questions or wonderings about either of these?  Email me at director@myawba.org.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

AWBA Happenings ...

Typically,  I try to get a few posts uploaded before a newsletter goes out and did not make it this month.  Life is very full for myself personally and for AWBA right now.  If you receive our newsletter (register on the AWBA home page at www.myawba.org) or visit our Facebook page, you will already know about this.  If not, below are the highlights.

We have been raising funds to cover expenses connected to an upcoming pilot program for those impacted by Parkinson's.  Thanks to our generous supporters, we have met that goal and details are now available for "Listening Beneath the Words."  Visit our website events page at Events to learn how to register.  Space is limited to 10 participants.  If you must miss a session, you will not find yourself out of the loop.  Just let me know when you register.

Listening Beneath the Words
Introduction to Touch Drawing
A Pilot Program for Those Impacted
by Parkinson's

Saturdays, 10 a.m. - noon
Sept. 6, 13, 27, Oct. 4, 2014
Gender Road Christian Church
Canal Winchester, Ohio

In addition, we are finalizing details for a fund raising event open to the public and tentatively scheduled for Friday, October 3, 10 a.m.  - 2 p.m.  Registration information should be available in July.  To receive advance notice of registration as soon as it is available, email director@myawba.org.  Space for this program will be limited to 15.

Expressive Art as a Healing Process
An Introduction to Touch Drawing
Gilgal Farm, Lancaster, Ohio
A fund raiser to benefit the programs and services of AWBA

Lastly, my husband and I are relocating to the Hocking Hills region of Ohio, about 50 miles from where we currently reside.  This has been a long time coming.  Our new home enables us to live in a natural environment that more nearly  matches who we are and carries the additional bonus of opportunity for AWBA to more easily expand into Southeastern Ohio for some of our in-person events.  As anyone knows who has built a home not in the area where they presently reside, it is chaotic on a good day.  We have begun our moving process with a plan to be reasonably settled by July 6.  As I prepare to move the AWBA office, my blog posts may be silent until July.  Just know that we are still here, still serving, still planning and still receiving emails at director@myawba.org.

Thank you for being here, for listening, for your comments and feedback, for your prayers -- simply for your presence.   

"Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God." - Maya Angelou

I suspect that bloggers everywhere are taking note of the passing of Maya Angelou today.  This woman of beauty and wisdom is one of five poets and authors who have a dedicated file on my computer for their words that I want to remember.

A favorite gem,

What is a fear of living? It's being preeminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself - for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don't know what you're here to do, then just do some good.

Some of you may remember that I have been an early morning walker at a nearby park since last spring.  Mid-winter was a bit of a challenge and I am thankful to be back with my  rhythm.  This morning, however, I had trouble getting out of the house and away from my office even at an early hour.  I was thinking about everything I had to get done this day.  It seemed there was no time for the "quietude" in  which God speaks to me.  I forced myself into the woods and things settled for me just a bit bringing the clarity I needed to fully live into the particular space that I occupy.

This act of "always beginning again" takes a lot of courage some days. It is one of those phrases that sounds so great when you hear it and, yet, takes considerable intention and prayer to make it a reality in one's life.  Those impacted by a chronic diagnosis that demands to be tended to every minute of every day must make a choice to begin again in each of those minutes.  I do not fall into that camp at this point in time but I have been there often.  It is never far from my memory.  

To take full responsibility for ourselves is no easy task and is not for the faint of heart.  We are here for such a short time.  Some of us become prolific and well known like Maya Angelou. Others of us engage in the simple daily activity of "doing good."  It is all important and carries impact for the world at large.

Take a moment today to bring to mind Ms. Angelou and any other writer or poet who has inspired you.  Their words carry such potential but if not put into practice for our own unique story, they are simply words on the page.  The potential is unrealized.  What can you do this day, in the midst of your current life story, to begin again and make a choice to do good somewhere for someone?  May you hear the voice of God in that act of doing good.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Our Newest Blog - Ebbs and Flows

We are so excited to share with you AWBA's newest blog, "Ebbs and Flows."  Blog author Michelle Rogers writes.

I’ve had years of experience as a caregiver in both my professional and private life. I consider myself blessed and challenged by the lessons I have learned while being with others in that way. In recent years though I have found myself on the other side of good health. Diagnosed in 2008 with the first of what would be several chronic illnesses, I have found myself facing many new challenges. And what I have come to believe is that the journey of life, whether as caregiver or care-receiver, involves a back and forth movement of body, mind and spirit. Sometimes I fight it and sometimes I can just go with it…either way there are things I learn and things yet to be learned. As a grateful member of the AWBA community, it is my hope to share some of my thoughts and feelings and to hear also from you, as our lives continues to ebb and flow…

Stop by to visit at Ebbs and Flows to read Michelle's first post, "Dragonflies and Fairies."  You can receive automatic notification of new posts by registering your email address on the blog's home page.  If you would like to comment to any post, simply click the comment link at the bottom of the post to which you wish to reply.

Michelle, thank you for sharing your story with the AWBA readers and helping us widen and deepen this community of compassionate and supportive listeners.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

To Communicate Without Words

When words seem ineffective, creativity makes visible the inexpressible.

(copyright 2012, Judy Smoot)

Those who have been following this blog for a while may recall that I am a student of the expressive arts and will finish my training in 2015.   I deeply believe that when the timing is right in a person's journey, creative expression has the power to move us beyond the walls we build around ourselves into an expansive place where the unspeakable can be heard in some manner - first by ourselves and then, as we desire, by others.  We trust our stories into the safe hands of a few chosen kindred spirits where we are listened to and honored without judgement.   Whether through movement, voicing, visual art, clay, sand play, collage, music-making, and other forms of expression our deepest and most authentic voices are heard.   

As AWBA continues to explore all of the ways of providing spiritual care to those we serve, expressive arts is one avenue for our programming.  If you do not receive our monthly newsletter (to receive this email visit our website), I want to share with you that AWBA is developing a pilot program directed toward those impacted by Parkinson's.  Below is information about this new program.  Currently, we are seeking funding for supplies so that we can make this series of workshops available to participants at no cost to them.  We are off to a great start and continue to seek your support.  I invite you to visit the links shared below to learn more about this simple and meaning-filled form of expression.

Introduction to Touch Drawing
(A Pilot Program For Those 
Impacted With Parkinson's)

(copyright 2014, Judy Smoot)

Using non-toxic, water-soluble oil paints, a brayer, tissue paper, and fingertips, participants will be invited to explore this visual form of expression.  No art experience is necessary in this casual, nonjudgmental creative space.  Touch Drawing has been very successful in the Sarasota, Florida community and you can read one person's experience here.  The facilitator for this AWBA event has received in-person training from the creator of Touch Drawing, Deborah Koff-Chapin.

It is our desire to offer this four or five-week pilot program to participants at no cost.  This is where you come in.  We seek your support for purchase of art materials.  Every dollar donated goes directly to this program.  It is our hope to expand this offering in the future to include other diagnosis so that we can tailor each program to those particular needs.

Your contribution of: 

$40 - purchases all supplies for one participant for the series

- or - 

$5 - purchases one paint board
$8 - purchases one paint brayer
$10 - purchases tissue paper for one person for the series
$17 - purchases paint for one person for the series

Paint brayers and boards are reusable for future Touch Drawing workshops. To make a donation in any amount, click here to be directed to our website.  

We anticipate offering this pilot program in late summer if not before.  We are also seeking a site for this event if you have access to a space with few or no steps or an elevator and, preferably, an uncarpeted floor with easy access to a sink.  Email us at director@myawba.org if you might know of a location for this series.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Instructions for Living a Life

Instructions for Living a Life

pay attention
be astonished
tell about it

~ Mary Oliver

I have been sitting with this quote for a few weeks now as I sketch and doodle to come up with a piece of art on which to place these words for safe keeping.   I think they need to stay with me for a while.

As many of you can appreciate, I am compelled to be outdoors in recent days.  It was nearly impossible to take my early morning walks when ice and snow covered every pathway (and I did try a few times), and temperatures were dangerously cold.  There were not enough layers to make it possible.  Now that the thermometer is above freezing, that is enough for me.   I ventured out in the wind and the rain this morning to visit my favorite garden to see how the new life is coming along.  I have seen crocuses showing their brightest party faces these past couple of weeks.  However, today, they were all curled in on themselves for safety.  But, oh my, the Lenten Roses were abundant and they did not care about the wind and the rain.  They demanded to be noticed.  Pink and white blooms everywhere.

I continued onto the boardwalk and came to a stop with this image.

I tried to keep walking but I couldn't.  Something drew me to the reflection of the bare trees.  Dripping wet with no one else walking the area but me; and this just stopped me in my tracks.  I don't know why.  Maybe someone else does??  It will come to me.

So, I lived Mary Oliver's words today. I paid attention in the midst of seemingly unpleasant environmental circumstances, I was astonished and now I am telling about it.  Was has astonished you this week?  Have you told someone?  It may seem silly like the above very wet walkway but there is no defending of "astonishment".  It simply is what it is.

I send blessings of spring to each of you.  May you look beneath the surface to new life straining to be found.  May it astonish you.  May you tell about it.   Share it here if you like :) 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Upcoming Retreat - Meet Libby Byrne

Our next online retreat "Beginning Again" is offered March 24-May 23.  This online community experience allows you to participate as much or as little as you like and to engage when it is convenient for you.   This program is open to anyone impacted by a chronic diagnosis which includes those in a personal support role, and volunteers and professionals serving this population.  Visit our website events page to learn about the book we will use and how you will be supported on this journey.  Registration deadline is March 14.

We have offered this program twice previously and are excited to welcome artist Libby Byrne from Melbourne, Australia as a participant for this 2014 version.  In addition to Libby sharing her own experience as one living with Multiple Sclerosis, Libby will share some of her artwork as a resource for retreat participants.  We asked Libby to share with our readers about herself and her connection to AWBA.   

Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I live in Melbourne, Australia.  I am an artist and I have worked with art and people in many different ways for years now.  The discipline of being a practicing artist is also a means of paying attention to the presence of God.  The canvas is often a place where God happens for me. Working with art materials allows me to see my human experience and then make room for God to work within those places.  

How did you find AWBA all the way from Australia?

I discovered AWBA when I was having a difficult week living with Multiple Sclerosis.  Having googled a combination of ‘spirituality’ and ‘chronic illness’ the AWBA site appeared on my screen.  

What is your experience with a chronic diagnosis?

I was diagnosed with MS in February 2010, although I think that the first symptoms appeared in 2007 / 2008. However my experience with a chronic diagnosis began in the late 1990’s when one of my closest friends was diagnosed with MS.  For twelve years I found ways to try and be aware of her experience with this mystery condition that seemed to be debilitating on some days and then barely present on others. The experience of my own diagnosis was a deep shock.  I think that we had never considered the possibility that I could be diagnosed with the same thing – it seemed evident that my role with MS was to be aware of my friend and to care for her as she lived with chronic illness. There was an underlying assumption that if I was caring, I could not expect to also be living with my own illness.  Since February 4th, 2010 I have been challenged to find the time and energy to do both.  

How do you believe that AWBA and this online retreat will support the journey of those living with a chronic diagnosis and/or the loved ones and professionals who support them?

I am hoping that AWBA may be a network of people who are beyond the immediate connections of friends and family – and so able to be present when the people who live with illness are tired, emotionally and physically.  I am also hoping that AWBA will be a community who calls and reminds us to listen for God in the midst of life with chronic illness. 

What do you hope to bring to the "Beginning Again" retreat through your work as an art therapist, studies with art and healing, and your own experience as one impacted by a chronic diagnosis?

As the retreat unfolds I plan to work with art materials to see the experience.  In sharing some of these images I hope that others might find resonances with their own experience.  However, it might also be that an image I post may be surprising to others and in this case I hope that it might be a signpost to begin thinking about our human experience of God differently.   I also hope that others may be inspired to make their own visual and creative responses.  I hope that in posting art online as we retreat – my images will be like postcards from my journey sent and received by others who are on similar but different journeys.  

What do you love most about living in Australia?

I value the freedom that I have in living in Australia and I am deeply aware of abundance as I live my life here. 


Libby and I have had wonderful exchanges via email and I hope you will consider this retreat opportunity as a gift for yourself or someone you know.   You can view some of Libby's art on her website.  I look forward to facilitating this experience and to journeying with you for this retreat. -- Judy

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Power of Creativity

I deeply appreciate the power of creativity to bring us into the present moment.  Visual art, clay, collage, poetry, fiber, photography can all quiet our minds, settle anxiety, give "voice" to experiences that are beyond everyday words, offer beauty to ourselves and others, and provide an overall sense of well-being even when our circumstances may not be that great.  We also can't forget the creativity expressed through cooking, gardening and interacting with animals.

The Spirituality Network offers an annual event, "Arti Gras", held on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday.  This year's event will take place on March 1 at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Bexley, Ohio.   Over the years, I have been an attendee, a workshop facilitator, and donated items for their auction.    This year I have been invited to offer the morning's keynote address, "We ARE Artists, The Power of Creativity."  I am so excited to be a part of this year's event and to be in a place to send everyone into their day of creativity.  I just received the workshop list for the day.   The Network and its creative partners have outdone themselves again.   Attending this event is a gift you give yourself (or another - bring a friend!).  This is a fun day with a focus on process, not product.  Each of us is an artist.  Sometimes all it takes to open that gift is to be among others who are playing alongside  you in a fun, informal, and nonjudgmental environment.  To learn more visit 14th Annual Arti Gras.   

If I have not met you as part of the AWBA community, please seek me out after I speak and introduce yourself to me.  I would enjoy meeting you!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

AWBA Expands to Australia

"I arise today, through the strength of heaven."
Art by Libby Byrne

"Working as an Artist I have been aware of an experience of mutuality that exists within the relationship I have with art.   Within the context of this relationship, I have learned that art is much more than a resource to be mastered or manipulated in the communication of an idea.  In fact the important thing is not what I can do with art, but what art can do with me.   When I am open and alive to these possibilities, art becomes a path on which I can travel. "  ~ Libby Byrne

We were recently contacted by artist Libby Byrne who lives in Melbourne, Australia.  Libby is interested in AWBA’s ministry and expressed a  desire to connect with AWBA in some manner.  Libby is a lecturer at Melbourne’s LaTrobe University in the Master of Art Therapy program.  In addition to being an art therapist, Libby is in the midst of her PhD, a theological inquiry into the Art of Healing.  Visit her website at Libby Byrne.

We are excited to share with you that Libby will provide some of her images with accompanying reflections for AWBA’s upcoming online retreat, “Beginning Again” offered March 24-May 23.  To learn more about the retreat, visit our website Upcoming Events.

This event is open to those with a diagnosis, family/friends, and volunteers/professionals who support this population.  We have offered this twice in the past and it was very well received.  I facilitate this retreat and deeply appreciate the opportunity to journey with this audience that covers the entire spectrum of living with chronic diagnosis.  I am encouraged by the stories, and touched by the care and nonjudgmental presence offered by participants to one another.  Take a look at the flyer on the link above, check out the book we will use on Amazon, visit Libby's link and discern if you or someone you know could benefit from this depth of community for an extended time.  The online format allows for flexibility across time zones and participants engage the material at their convenience.   

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Choice for Creative Joy

I am not a fan of New Year Resolutions.  In my own experience, and it seems with many others, it sets up a continuum of success or failure.  So much of life seems either/or, right/wrong, success/fail, good/bad.  As I have journeyed through life, the blacks and whites are not as clear anymore.  My husband and I were talking the other night and I blurted out with frustration, "The more I know, the more I don't know."  That is not a new thought but I understood it in a deeper place than ever before in that moment.  I think "at this age" I should know more, and I know less with each passing year???  What????  Frustrating.  I know that some people claim there is nothing left to surprise them.  As much as part of me desires that for myself and envies their seeming certitude, I also find it sad.  I want to believe there are surprises and places of growth that await me.  God is not done teaching me.  I want to remain teachable and receptive through the unknowing and humbling pieces of it all. 

There is a growing movement to let a word choose you for the new year.  Abbey of the Arts introduced that idea to me a few years ago.  For the past four years,  I have embraced a word for the year.    I suppose I don't want to add another black or white to my repertoire - I either succeed or fail with a resolution.  Allowing a word to reveal itself to me at year end, sets me up for all kinds of surprises and growth.  The word works its way through me in a way that I cannot control.  Having that intentionality for 12 months keeps me aware and open to how the Spirit is guiding me to that place.

Last year's word was "horizon."  I stretched, risked and explored to the edges of the places God took me, and my personal life and the life of this AWBA community was served by that journey.  As I explored those new lands, AWBA expanded into new areas.  We will begin to reap that harvest in 2014.  

I explored a few words for 2014 until the word "joy" came at me from about multiple directions in the span of a few hours.  After sitting with it for a few days, it is clear that I am being invited to be a seeker of creative joy in  2014.  I need joy in my life to balance the hard stuff.  How about you?  I am not looking for momentary snippets of happiness, although I will take them as they come.  I am talking about the deeper places that are not dependent on my circumstances.  I did a search of Joy in the Bible and the references are numerous.  Joy is God's idea :)  I focused on those in the book of Psalms and found 53 of them.  Perfect for a weekly joy meditation practice.  Now that I have settled in that place, other quotes and affirmations are coming forth.

"I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots.  Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands." -- Zora Neale Hurston, poet

As we humans sit in Sorrow's kitchen at times, I want to remember the possibility of being "wrapped in rainbows."  AWBA will do its best to help you wrap yourself in rainbows in 2014 in the midst of  your circumstances.  Using the Holy Text for your faith or other words of inspiration, consider "joy" as an invitation for 2014.   Reflect on what you find and, even if it is not your word for the new year, create a space for joy to take up residence within you as you journey with a chronic diagnosis.

AWBA will offer a new online retreat in early spring.  We have two new public blogs to launch this month and late winter.  We will keep you updated on this blog, our Facebook page and our AWBA newsletter. 

Thank you for your place in this AWBA journey.