Pre-Fall: A Most Frivolous Post

That’s right. That’s what season it is. Don’t try to tell me it’s the season called End-of-Summer. If you did, you’d be wrong. It’s definitely Pre-Fall.

If it weren’t, people wouldn’t already be pinning stuff like apple cider donuts (aka “AreyoukiddingmegetinmybellyASAP”) would they?

Ok, ok. Clearly I can’t be trusted not to gorge myself on fall stuff, and need to remember that no matter what Pinterest says, it’s still 90 degrees outside and boots are not viable footwear.

So, in an effort to distract myself from it not being fall yet, I decided this post would NOT be about all the beautiful wreaths and whatnot I saw at Michaels…

…Except to show you an adorable picture or two of my child next to the faux-flora-and-fauna:

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Notice how she points accusatorially at said pseudo-garlands. You can’t tell in the picture, but she was saying, “Enough of your shenanigans, Michaels! I’ll not be drawn in by your seductive and overpriced sprigs!!! Good day- I said good day to you, sir!” Or something like that. She’s very articulate.

Now back to not thinking about fall… My distractions shall be in the form of a current list of my favorite things! {And there was much rejoicing.}

And they are as follows:

1. This sweater

920884fa54df32bdeedabbc7c88929f1 Okay, so it’s kind of fallish. WHATEVER. Since I pinned it the other day, I just keep finding myself gazing fondly at it, resisting the urge to pet my computer screen and creepily whisper, “Myyyy preciousss…” Anyway, isn’t it fabulous?

2. This book by Claire Keane called Once Upon a Cloud

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The whole thing is seriously so beautiful, and so well done, you guys. Please go to B&N and buy it!! Claire Keane is incredible to say the least and one of my new favorite artists! She did concept art for Tangled and Frozen, and artistically speaking I basically want to be her when I grow up.

3. These pillows at IKEA

90f44dbc2573a819cb6bdc241a103eb4 b4945d12fe64cd45c834a3b871919cbdThey just reinforce my love of cottagey gray and white things, and are here representing all the other gray and white things I love at IKEA.

4. This mug

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Here it is in a cozy context.

IMG_1756 …And again in a this-is-actually-where-I-create context.

Okay, this is the first thing on the list I actually own… Which might make all the other things cheats, but regardless, I. LOVE. This. Mug.

5. Grumppuccinos. IMG_2106

I mean, seriously you guys. These are epically (epic-ly? epicly? epicley???) delicious. Probably because they’re made for grumpy people in need of de-grumpifying. Well, mission accomplished, Grumppuccino. I am officially de-grumpified. (You know, if it isn’t first thing in the morning or something… I mean, I’d have to ingest such a beverage in order to be de-grumpified at that time.)

So, there you go. Just some favorites to tide you over until we can properly celebrate fall together… in like, two months. (Gaaaaahhh.) Anyone have anything else to distract me??? Anything fabulous in your life? If it’s on Pinterest, I count it.

Letters from Ella: Light on a Tuesday

If you knew me during my high school years, you would’ve been so intimidated. I mean, walking down the hallways with my baggy jeans (that time period predates skinnies) ICC t-shirt, and either my brown or green cardigan (both were frumpy, so it didn’t really matter), covered by my long, curly, exceedingly frizzy reddish hair? Forget about it.  Add in my mouth-bling (that’s braces for all you uncool, naturally-straight-toothed people) and I was basically a rock star.

Ok. So, I was fairly average and awkward and thoroughly unnoticeable… except for the aforementioned wild mane on my head. (Hey, if Brave had been around at that time, my hair would’ve been awesome… But as I’ve said to people before, I was going for Eowyn hair, but really just ended up with Gimli hair most of the time.)

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But my awkwardness notwithstanding, that time in my life is particularly dear to me. And that is due in large part to an equally quirky group of kindred spirits called “The E’s.”

The group was so named because we all had- wait for it- “E” names. Names which initially began with the first two- founding members- we will call them, who decided one day that they wanted fancier names than their own. Something more storybookish and romantic. (I’m reminded of Anne asking to be called Cordelia for the same reason…) And after perusing a baby name book, they selected names which both happened to begin with “e.” (Shock and amazement, right?)

Ella and Effie began calling each other such, and they were soon joined by Elly and me- Emma. And what bound this great fellowship together, you might ask? Only the highest and deepest and most beautiful forms of story. Namely, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Peter Pan, Little Women, Robin Hood, King Arthur and other classic tales of that variety.

Ok- we were nerds. But not just nerdy nerds. We lived in our own heightened reality, which we believed ought to be more beautiful than the current one (i.e. mouth-bling and frumpy cardigans and anything mundane and ordinary). 

When we were together, it was like we disappeared through the wardrobe, or into Diagon Alley, and everyone else was just a poor, ignorant muggle.

You should’ve seen us at Ren fairs…

This is from our very first one... We are such babies!!! And you have no idea the thrill we all got at being addressed as
This is from our very first one… Look at us- we’re babies!!! And you have no idea the thrill we all got at being addressed as “M’lady” Heck, I still don’t know why people don’t address each other that way.
And here we are... older and even more awesome...
And here we are… older and even more awesome…
This is how we usually saw ourselves...
You guys. So much frolicking.

But I’ve got to say, one of my favourite (and it must be with a “u”) things I treasure from The Age of the E’s is a stack of letters. Mostly letters from Ella, but I actually realized I have a handful from Elly and Effie too.

I remember I began the letter-writing because of my family’s semi-bi-annual-ish trip to Florida to visit my grandma. Of course, we loved writing letters because it seemed old-fashioned and fabulous and reminded us of letters sent to and from various characters in all our books. But these weren’t just any letters… Each one I decided to embellish- usually with a picture, or at the very least a lot of swirls- and often, if the situation permitted, I wrote them on straight up parchment with a quill and ink. And I made the envelopes too, y’all. 

These are some of my first letters to her:

Dragon Road Mermaid

And Ella decided to follow suit.

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(Sometimes Ella didn’t get to mail them before I got back, and often she just ended up giving them to me in person… but who cares? Look how awesome they are!!!)

Of course, the ones scribbled on notebook paper or on a random bit of stationary our mothers gave us are just as dear, but if possible, we tried to spiffy them up.

Addresses changed and we changed a little- insomuch as we just became more awesome, obviously. But there are few things more delightful to me than receiving one of these letters in the mail. I always tell Ryan that if I’m was ever in house on fire, those letters would be one of the main things I’d grab.

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And sometimes we tend towards similar themes…

This is the most recent letter I sent to her.
This is the most recent letter I sent to her.

It is a surprisingly difficult topic to share about with you, because for one thing, I feel like I revert back to being 14 even thinking about it, therefore divesting myself of all ability to articulate thoughts… For another, it challenges me to depict in a written thumbnail a period that filled itself so fully of joy. But I guess that’s how it is when you find a kindred spirit or two or even three; after all, a kindred spirit is someone who connects with you in a unique part of your heart. A heart can be a hard thing to explain.

However, this attempt at explaining is relevant to what we talk about here at Long Live Beauty, because The E’s were some of the first proof to me (that I recognized at least) that the ache burning inside me for something more, for someplace more, some One more, was not exclusive to myself. We longed for new names- better names, and you know, someday we’ll all actually be given those.

Maybe when that day comes, we will all be kindred spirits, because we’ll be bound by the utter and eternally increasing joy of being in the presence of our good Father, who tells the best story. It’s the one that hovers like fierce light beneath the shadows of the worlds we love.

And getting letters from Ella is like holding a beautiful reminder in my hands that that Greater Story is being told even now. Plus, it’s just fun. I hope you remember that today- on a Tuesday- when much of the mundane begs your tired attention. I hope you catch a glimpse of that light behind the shadowy world.

If nothing else, this picture of me wearing fairy wings is pretty entertaining...
If nothing else, this picture of me wearing fairy wings is pretty entertaining…

If you need to go by an “e” name for awhile, I will totally get that.

I linked up at the House of Hipsters linky party- here!

Surrender: How to Wait Well

As a child, one of the reasons I even started drawing was because of waiting. Waiting in lines with Mom at the BMV, waiting to be seated at restaurants, waiting for everyone’s food at restaurants, waiting around at church for my parents to be done talking (PKs- can I get a holla back?)… suffice it to say there was plenty of opportunity to doodle on the back of receipts from Mom’s purse.

As an adult, I find waiting is a completely different experience. It seems like waiting for anything can easily become this emotionally-charged process full of drama- 90% of which only happens in your head and is basically unnecessary. Maybe we wait for the right spouse to come along, wait through the dating process, then (if you’re a girl anyway- and I realize this is a generalization, but if you’ve got your big girl panties on today, I’m sure you can manage) wait for a proposal, then for the wedding, for RSVP’s, for the florist to get back to you, and ultimately for the Big Day itself…

Or maybe it’s waiting for a job, whether for you or your spouse. When you’re growing up, people never prepare you for the ridiculous emotional roller coaster this can be. You hear about an opportunity, you may or may not be excited about it, but you pursue it. Then someone calls you back, and you get a little more excited- this could be awesome- you think to yourself. The ball appears to be rolling, but before you know it, several weeks have gone by, and you’ve become more emotionally invested than you ever intended, seeming more like a pathetic supporting character in a sitcom, standing outside Mindy Kaling’s window with roses going, “I thought we had a connection!!!” And you realize you are being slightly neurotic, but then Mindy looks down at you with a pitying look, and says, “It’s not me; it’s you… And also you’re overqualified for the position.”

Ok, she doesn’t say that. She says something a lot funnier. But that’s what I went with for the metaphor’s sake. So, you move on to the next opportunity, and the process begins again… or you just give up and stay in the current dysfunctional position you’re in already, wondering if you’ll ever do something fulfilling, and/or if that something will also provide income.

Or maybe you’re waiting for a baby, either trying to get pregnant or trying to adopt. Sometimes both of those processes can be thoroughly painful. People have courageously written and maintained entire blogs devoted to their stories of waiting for a child, documenting and sharing their pain, the process, and hope to encourage others in the same boat. We haven’t experienced it, but have known plenty of people and heard plenty of stories of that heartbreaking kind of waiting.

Or maybe you’re waiting to buy a house, and feel like it’s never going to even be a possibility. Or you’re waiting to finish school, to go to school, to start a blog, a business, to write that story, to record that album, to get discovered, or to discover something great.

It seems that to some degree, we’re all just waiting for the next thing to happen. And sometimes, it just seems like waiting is nothing more than an exercise in futility and frustration. “What is the point of it?” we ask.

I think God often uses waiting to get through to us (if we’re listening). I remember a few years ago, being in a particularly uncomfortable waiting period in our lives, and I read Psalm 13. It’s short, but it says:

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

This psalm shocked me when I read it. I had been desperately searching for some word of encouragement in God’s word, and my shock in finding this- this expression of everything I was feeling- gave evidence to the reality that I didn’t trust God to even give me that. And that I’m not the first person to feel this way.

Now, having experienced several seasons of waiting (or is it just one big one?), I feel like I’m finally beginning to understand (key word is *beginning*) God’s purpose behind it. I think- a lot of the time- God wants to give us the gift of surrender through waiting. To repeatedly surrender our control, our desires- our will- to Him. To dwell in his sovereignty, his love, his peace.

Peace in waiting? Can it be possible? It’s not only possible; it’s promised.

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3

Perfect Peace edit

It’s not an easy thing. The evil one would rather you keep on striving and languishing; after all, despair is always easier than hope. Really, it’s a war for peace. And it can leave you bloodied and bruised and all to close to giving up.

So, I encourage you like I encourage myself- give up! Give up and surrender- but surrender to the One who is in control, who loves you with a passionate and fierce love, who intends good things for you. And whose definition of “good” gloriously, deeply, infinitely, beautifully surpasses our own.

We were made to know our Father, to love and be loved by him, and to bring him glory. He’s the creator of beauty, and creates beauty in every season we live through. 

And the crazy thing? We can imitate him and bring beauty to seasons of waiting, too. In fact, you could seize a season of waiting as just another grand opportunity to create something beautiful.

What if I never had all those chances to wait around in the DMV, under its fluorescent lights, the dreary gray atmosphere, the musty smell? (Seriously, if they would just light a vanilla buttercream candle or something, it would greatly improve the place.) Maybe I would never have started drawing? Maybe now, without seasons of waiting, I wouldn’t know how to develop thankfulness for these chances know the Lord better, how to wait well. 

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If you’re in the in-betweens right now, or feel like you’re just suffering in the ugly places, maybe it’s a chance to encounter God’s love for you more deeply, to find out that as you’ve been waiting, he was there waiting, too.

Artist of the Month: Erin Elisabeth Aubrey!

IT’S HERE!!! Our very first Artist of the Month post. (And there was much rejoicing.) This week, our honored guest artist is the gifted singer/songwriter, Erin Elisabeth Aubrey, who found herself following music to a different sort of stage. I could tell you I knew Erin in college and that we were totes in music classes together… But I shan’t wax nostalgic. Although, should you desire to see and hear the album for which I designed her album art several years ago, click here… 

Here’s her story:

I was singing while staring at the inside of a stomach. Blood, and guts and exactly what you’d imagine the contents of a stomach to look like.

I told myself not to look up, to keep my eyes on the guitar strings. But curiosity got the best of me and I looked. It didn’t gross me out- it was actually breathtaking and invigorating to see the inside of the human body.

In this breathless moment, I thought about how I got here.

I used to sing on a stage, under bright lights, staring out at a room full of people wondering what they thought.

Now, I’m staring out at a room full of doctors who called me in to help with pain management. Now, the only opinion that matters to me comes from Justin, the 16 year-old boy on the table. The victim of a drive by shooting. He wasn’t in a gang or anything, just in the wrong place at the wrong time…

I pictured the moments when I had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Never were the consequences this bad. But now, maybe for the first time, everything felt right- that exhilaration you get when you are finally doing the very thing you were created to do. I was created to be a music therapist- to use music to help sick children manage their pain and anxiety.

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If you have never seen a music therapy session, take a moment to click the pic and watch this story WGN did on my work at Lurie Children’s Hospital in downtown Chicago.

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On this quest to find my true purpose, I experienced a major paradigm shift regarding my ideas about the arts, beauty, and God. It is my hope that you can take some of these nuggets and apply them to your own life!

1. Art is necessary for survival.

Ok, I know, we don’t eat or drink or breathe art. Would it be more accurate if I said, “art is necessary for our sanity?”
Just try to picture it: a day without music. You go into a coffee shop or a store- no music playing in the background. You get in your car- complete silence for your entire drive. You workout to silence, you clean your house in silence, you get ready in silence…

We would all lose our minds. So many moments in life require a soundtrack.

Jill Woelfle, a doctoral candidate in Washington, recently surveyed over 200 young people who are homeless in Seattle and Vancouver.

“Nearly all of the young people found ways to listen to music daily- even while they couldn’t meet basic needs like food and shelter.”

Whether we realize it or not, art is such a vital component of our daily lives.. our society.. our rituals… our spirituality… our connection to one another…our expression…our past… our coping…our legacy… our identities.

“I think there’s no question that art is as much a part of our human nature as eating, breathing, sleeping, procreation, communication, etc. There is no time in history that people did not make art or perform art. It’s just how we are. The issue becomes not if art is necessary, but how much we choose to nurture and support what is innate in us.”
-Miriam Grosman

How much do we choose to nurture and support the creativity God has given each of us? This leads me to the next lesson I learned:

2. Everyone can benefit from creating and receiving art

Somehow, our society has become extremely judgemental when it comes to the arts. When we hear someone singing in public, we immediately become mini Simon Cowels.

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We criticize other people’s art and we criticize our own! But in other cultures, groups of people sing in public and they don’t judge each other’s voices. They sing for the pure joy of music. Not in America. NO WAY JOSE. You can’t miss a note or a word in this country. We will rip you to pieces for it. We have more than one TV show based on people performing their art and judges scoring it, making fun of it, and determining whether or not it’s worth something.

We become scared to create something unless:
– People praise us for it
– It makes us money
– It helps us achieve or accomplish something

This is why I love working with children. They aren’t afraid to sing at the top of their lungs. They aren’t self-conscious because they haven’t encountered the harshness of our society. They aren’t afraid of what you’ll say about their art when they stick their hand in five colors of paint and smear it on a page. They don’t feel guilty for making art instead of doing the dishes. They do it because it feels good to create something. They do it to express the feelings they have inside.

Why can’t we be more like that as adults?

For years, I beat myself up and cussed myself out for messing up a few notes or singing flat during a concert. I’m finally getting to the point where I can perform
Regardless of whether people praise it or not
Regardless of whether or not it makes me money (usually does not ☺)
Regardless of whether or not it helps me accomplish something.
THIS HAS BEEN THE MOST LIBERATING PART OF MY JOURNEY!

I sing for the pure joy of singing. (Did you know singing actually releases endorphins in our brain?) I do it because there are people lying in hospital beds who would give anything to be out performing right now. I do it because maybe it’ll bring someone peace or enjoyment. I do it because I love it and it’s fun! And as Haylie often quotes on this blog: it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful…

Oh and music, yes that’s my forte (<musicians-see what I did there?). Art as in drawing, painting, coloring etc, not so much. But doing it makes me feel good! So I started making art this year! At first, it felt wrong. Why am I making something that I’ll never hang up in my house? That no one would ever want to buy from me? That no one on God’s green earth would ever praise as “good art.” Am I wasting my time???!??! Stick to what you know Erin!

But in order to be my best when caring for others, I need to care for myself. I need to process my own emotions and experiences. I need to express myself in creative ways.

So I color in one of those fabulous coloring books made for adults!

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I cut words out of magazines and make poetry!

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“As the world turns, and maybe tilts. Shape life. Love among the friends and foes. Up close. Smile in seconds. Glimpse the world the artist lived in: not a desert but a greener place, where rain sometimes fell. The perfect pairing.
There are so many reasons to love.”

I listen to music and use chalk to draw the images that come into my head!

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A kindergardner could’ve probably made these 😀 But I share them to encourage you to subscribe to the notion of “ars gratia artis,” or “art for art’s sake.” Art feeds my soul. It comforts me. It allows me to stop and think and breathe for a few minutes of my crazy day. It gives me clarity.

Plus- research shows that music reduces a hormone called cortisol that our bodies produce in response to stress. You know, the one that will weaken our immune systems, our metabolism, and our mental functioning if we have too much of it. So by listening to music and creating art, I am actually making my body and mind healthier! Which leads me to my last lesson:

3. Art heals us

I truly believe that God uses art to heal us. In the hospital, I work with people on their darkest days as they live through their worst nightmares. When you step into a room and someone is holding their dying child, words feel so weak and useless.

But then I help them write a song about their child. About their love that will never die. And we sing it together.

And they contact me later on and tell me how much it helped. That it was a way for them to find beauty in suffering. That they caught a little glimpse of peace.

I am humbled to have played a part in it, but I know it was not me who did the healing. Music contains God’s healing power, and I have watched it provide comfort time and time again. When words fail, music steps up to the plate. I am honored to be the set of lungs, and vocal chords, and hands that are able to produce the sound. I cannot think of a better way to use my gift.

And whether the pain we have is big or small, we experience disappointment on this side of Heaven. Loss. Heartache. Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.

And we are left here making sense of it.

So forget what people think. Don’t fret about “wasting time.” Write music or listen to it. Go to a museum or throw some paint on a canvas. Hang up some photography or take pictures of your own. Nurture and support the artistic part of who you are.

When things get ugly, look around at the beauty in this world. Soak it in. Then create something that will add to it.

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Growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee instilled a love of beauty in singer/songwriter Erin Elisabeth Aubrey.  After performing in Nashville for three years, she began the masters of music therapy program at the University of Kentucky.  She has released three albums and is excited to be licensing her music in TV and film.  Erin is also in the process of opening a music therapy private practice in her hometown. 

Want to learn more about Erin and her wonderful music? You can find her on Facebook and on iTunes- here for her latest album! 

P.S. I linked up at the House of Hipsters linky party here!