Bold with Strength in my Soul {Psalm 138:3}

“In the day I cried out, you answered me and made me bold with strength in my soul.” Psalm 138:3

Psalm 138 Mockup CROPPED

I recently received this as a special order on my shop. The more I worked on this project, the more I realized how great a comfort this verse is. Especially because I’ve heard of several families lately who have undergone tragedy, losing little ones, receiving a difficult diagnosis, or losing a job. I haven’t personally known all of these people, but even the thought of their heartbreak tore me up on their behalf.

I don’t know if you are struggling, if you are crying out, or if you know someone who is- but I give this encouragement today. Not that I understand or can fix anything, but that this hand-drawn verse would carry some of the complex power and lavish love of the One who can.

May God answer you and make you bold with strength in your soul.

Sunlight & Shadows: Albums, Art, & Anticipation

How bout that alliteration, people?

This week, I want to celebrate the release of a new album by an awesome group of guys in the band, Carrollton! Their newest album, Sunlight and Shadows, just released September 18th, you guys!! (Click the pic to go hear some snippets of their songs on iTunes!)

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These guys are good. And they have a heart for ministry, too! The lead singer, Justin Mosteller, happens to be the worship minister at our church… (I totes know him. We’re pretty much BFFs.) He’s a humble and gifted person, and this album has already blessed so many people; I know it will bless you, too.

One of the purposes of this blog is to celebrate excellence within the arts within the church, specifically. So, I’m very intentional in the kind of artists I share here. Carrollton showcases that excellence, because they’re not only gifted at what they do, but their purpose of glorifying God and encouraging others transcends talent alone.

That’s one of the most unique characteristics about art created by believers. The art is a vessel for heaven to break through. I talked about this a few weeks ago, and decided to doodle my attempted definition of art and add it to Ebenezer Designs on Etsy this week! (Click the pic to see it in the shop!)

Art is a Bell Mockup

Speaking of adding things to my shop, be sure to watch for something super fun coming here to Long Live Beauty for the month of October!!! (EEEP. I’m so excited. But I’m not telling you what it is yet!) Suffice it to say that it will keep the blog and the shop (which is to say- me) very busy for the whole of next month…

I sincerely hope you go buy Carrollton’s album, Sunlight and Shadows, this week! (And if you need some hand-lettered art, I’d love to have visit my shop as well!)

Enjoy this video of one of my favorite songs on Sunlight and Shadows:

Performing at Disney: Aka The Best Thing Ever

I am about to tell you about possibly the most amazing, fun, surreal, magical experience I’ve ever had.

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Let me first say, it was all because of my mom. Awhile back, she sent in this video of me singing a song I’d written inspired by a sermon series at our church back in March to a competition. Without my knowing. (How cool is that?! Well, in this case it was…) Here is the song!

Basically, the audition was to perform at Night of Joy on the Talent Spotlight stage this past weekend at Disney World!!! (If you don’t know what Night of Joy is, click here.) The Talent Spotlight is a fabulous event within Night of Joy that showcases new and young artists and bands, and- according to the website– the winners who get to perform are selected by “industry leaders and Disney executives” (What the what?!) 

So, it totally made my day that my mom thought to enter me in the first place… And then I found out about 3 weeks ago that I was selected to be one of the performers!!!!!!! [Insert combustible excitement and shock and awe and amazement here.]

After finding out (and combusting from the aforementioned reasons) there was a rush of plan-making and flight-booking, followed by a surprisingly quick couple of weeks leading up to the event.

Ryan, Lucy, and I flew down Friday afternoon, met up with both sets of parents at Planet Hollywood, walked around afterwards. (Mom and I split fried lasagna… after which walking around is crucial. Although we also got gelato after that…) I think I woke up every hour that night, partly from nerves and partly from the fact that Lucy was in our room. (My Mom Radar won’t shut off when she’s that near; I’m overly attuned to every rustle and sniff she makes.)

Then came Saturday. It was a crazy and awesome day, people.

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Our tickets didn’t get us into the park until late afternoon, so obviously we spent the morning hearing one of those time-share spiels where you get a $125 gift card and a really good deal on a 3-day/2-night stay (Ryan and I think we’ll use ours for Harry Potter World next year. As in, all three days at HP World…) Then, after Lucy got to actually take a full nap, we all went over and met up with my parents- and the weather was mercifully in the 80’s instead of the 90’s.

Even though we didn’t get to really do much in the Magic Kingdom, can I just say that I love it there?! It’s just so beautiful, you guys. Plus, they had fall decor put up… Bless their sweet little Floridian hearts.

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We left Lucy with the Grandparent Brigade (as I’ve decided to call them just now), and rushed over to Liberty Square for a meeting with the people in charge of the Talent Spotlight. (She was seriously SO GOOD the whole weekend, and we had to get her something for it being her first trip to Disney, so we/I opted for the Princess Minnie you see above. Perfect, right? Plus, she loves that thing.)

I thought it would be purely informational, but it turned out to be this wonderful moment to breathe and be encouraged by both the other performers as well as the leaders, who managed to bolster my belief in myself in a way I hadn’t expected. They just reminded us that God brought us here, that we truly do have gifts that people need to experience, and that they wanted to make it as great an experience as possible for both us and the audience. I mean- wow. I left that place feeling so uplifted and and- I know this sounds completely redundant and cheesy, but- believed in, that it totally set me on track to truly enjoy the night. Which was all I wanted.

I was so afraid of getting down there and not being able to soak it in and enjoy it, because of things I usually do, like overanalyze it to death, anticipate every single awful scenario possible, things like that. But this was one of those times that I could tell was just- protected.

Have you ever felt people’s prayers taking effect over you? This was like that. I just knew everything would be fine (Aimee Brown’s mantra). I had wise friends remind me that this was a gift from God, to receive it as that, people texting me that God knows what He’s doing, reminding me to have fun… and also telling me my hair is perfect, which is comforting in a totally transcendent kind of way, of course.

And that feeling just continued throughout the night- one good thing after another. It even thunderstormed- after we’d magically found a table for dinner inside. (Now THAT is a Disney miracle.) Even that was a God-moment for me. Maybe it will sound silly, but during the first Disney trip I remember, I was like, 8 or 10 or something, and it was kind of rainy. But not a monsoon- just a perfect kind of rain that made everything beautiful while not prohibiting us from enjoying the park. I don’t know why, but I loved that it rained that trip, and I loved that it did on this one, too.

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After it stormed, we headed over to Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in Tomorrowland, where the Talent Spotlight stage was this year-which was awesome!! I got to hear a lot of great artists, but my favorite was an alternative rock band, Suddenly Still, with whom I got to connect while we waited to perform.

This group of guys from Melbourne, FL was so laid back and funny, hanging out with them quieted my nerves and helped me do the thing I was hoping most to be able to do- enjoy the moment. Plus, when they went on, they were so good, you guys. Go check them out here for their Facebook page and look them up on iTunes!!!

Then, it was my turn. And I love absolutely every minute of it. Even the awkwardness at the beginning where the mic stand wouldn’t stay where I put it, and the tech girl had to come out and work on it, and the awkwardness right after that when I introduced my first song… and the keyboard wasn’t turned up (and then it still wasn’t turned up, so I had to cast out my awkwardness into the dark crowd by asking if I could get some sound). I loved even those moments, because it made me laugh and not take myself so seriously. In fact, that dispersed any lingering tension so well that I think it would’ve been worse if it hadn’t happened.

And here, for your viewing pleasure, are videos of the 3 songs I sang (as edited by my amazing, super fancy-schmancy, tech-geniusy husband!):

These are by no means perfect, but I don’t care. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I’ve never felt so right doing something! I feel like I understand what the runner, Eric Liddell, meant when he said, “…when I run, I feel [God’s] pleasure.” (Say what you will, do as many hilarious cheesy slow-mo-running-while-singing-the-synthesizery-movie-score moments as you want, Chariots of Fire is still awesome)

If you are one of the many people who overwhelmed me with love, support, prayer, encouragement (you know- all the feels), let me just say- THANK YOU. I’m so incredibly grateful for you all. I had no idea people would respond that way when I first started sharing about it. You guys are good.

I hope you enjoyed a thumbnail of this adventure; I hope it encourages you to be brave and remember you were made to do the thing that scares you the most, but is the most desperate desire of your heart.

Artist of the Month: Heather Knudtsen

Our September Artist of the Month is the beautiful, articulate, brilliant Heather Knudtsen! (And not to brag or anything, but she’s one of my best friends and most kindred of spirits! So… yeah.) Heather and I used to stay up way too late in college talking about this very dear subject of beauty, of Jesus, of the inextricable link between the two, and how we carry his beauty into the world. (And sometimes dressing up like pirates because it’s cool to do that.) It is a great treat and a high honor that you get a peek inside her beautiful heart today. Enjoy!

The Case for Beauty 

When I was little, I used to hate when my Dad listened to the news. It seemed to me to open a portal into our little living room to let in all the misery the world had dreamed up that day. I’ve always struggled to keep my perspective hopeful when my focus is drawn to the evil, the ugly, or even just the empty that shares this world with the good, the beautiful, and the meaningful. How is it that I can trust or believe in the beautiful and the good when there is such cruelty and despair?

For whatever reason, evil seems to cancel out good more quickly than the reverse. I wonder if this is not the reason that for much of the past hundred years our artists seem to be more and more disenchanted with the pursuit of beauty in creating their art. After two world wars and countless other horrors, who can believe the lies beauty has been telling us all these years? That there is good, there is healing, and that we are part of a story bigger than ourselves?

I think artists are somewhat more sensitive to despairing at the evil in the world. We are always stretching the hands of our souls out, feeling through the dark for little pieces of infinity. We have an intuitive sense that constantly reminds us of the way the world should be: filled with purposeful identity, excellent craft, and moments of beauty.

This is perhaps why “artists” as a group are often less concerned with the get-a-job-and-a-house-with-a-picket-fence standards of the society around us. We seek after a standard on a different dimension. But this means that when we realize that the purposeful identity and moments of beauty we seek are even harder to come by than a job-and-a-house-with-a-picket-fence, we feel cheated. Our souls stretch out their hands and so often find filth instead of beauty and apathy instead of purpose.

The question is, what do we do next? Do we give up on art? Do we pretend we never found the evil and create instead a false world of meaningless beauty? Or the opposite—do we use art only to express our sense of despair?

I think these have been reactions that myriads of artists have chosen. But I believe there is another perspective to be had. One that says it is evil that is intruding on a world that was meant to be good and beautiful, rather than the beautiful fighting a dying fight in a small corner of an evil world. Those of us who believe the words of Christ and his followers know the world to have begun with “it was good”, and eagerly await the day when good is restored. In our perspective, the evil and the ugly are a passing fancy; foreigners to our land who will not succeed in their attempts to conquer it. They do not belong, and deep down we know it, and their departure is the very cry of our hearts.

So take heart, my fellow artists! You are not over-idealistic misfits soon to be dashed on the harsh, stony shore of the world, but instead, the keepers of beauty and meaning in a time when the souls of the world are hungry for the hope you hold, as they wait wearily for evil to thrash its last thrash. You have a job to do, and it is bigger than the insecurities you have about your artistic ability and even transcends the work you do in your specific artistic medium.

Bring some beauty back to the world.

It might not be popular, it might be accused of taking no account of the grittier truths of life (but it is because of these truths that you should do it). Be willing to go after this subjective and ethereal thing that is as likely to make a fool of you as it is to decide to show its face. Because when we decide to attempt the creation of beauty, we open ourselves up to the possibility of failure. We reach for a standard we do not intrinsically have the full power to achieve. The attempt cannot even be begun without vulnerably opening ourselves up to be sensitive to the whispers of beauty and the story we need to tell. We must be willing to dream bigger dreams than we assuredly know we can accomplish.

And as far as how to recognize when you’ve created something beautiful, I think you’ll know. If you shut off the voices of comparison and just do the work, something right will happen inside you when you do it. And you must try, because a world without beauty is a world without grace, humanity, and hope.

Beauty refutes both the meaninglessness of the daily and the despair of destruction. It does not negate it, but it meets it on the battlefield and says “this is our land, not yours”. As artists, we must bridge the gap between the world that we delight in and the world that we have. We must live in the tension of the world we hope for and the world that is.

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Heather Knudtsen directs theatre and is a freelance graphic designer & social media marketer by day. Recent theatrical productions have included The 39 Steps adapted by Patrick Barlow, A Christmas Story adapted by Phillip Grecian, and Trifles by Susan Glaspell. Her favorite arts are music, literature…ok all of them. Her favorite college roommate was Haylie Allcott. Find out more about Heather at heatherknudtsen.com/directing.

The Zoo, Cannolis, and Netflix: the Key to a Good Marriage

That’s right. I’m revealing to you here, free of charge, the key to a good marriage. (You’re welcome. I feel like I have to say that a lot here on this blog. It’s because I’m always imparting profound wisdom and wise profundities.) 

This week, I wanted to share with you 3 things we did this weekend that, I believe, also contribute to a great marriage… or at least, they are super fun and super fun to do with your spouse.

1) Go to the zoo: Seriously, people. Why? Because the zoo is awesome and beautiful and happy. Also, it’s possible this one might be on the list because our good friends Jonathan and Katie ever so generously shared 2 of their 4 FREE tickets with us on Saturday!!! (Lucy got in free. I think that should be a thing forever… She should get into everything for free- movies, amusement parks, college… You know, stuff like that.)

zoo and Lu dad and lu cutaloo

I think I was arguably the most excited person in our group. Although Katie was super excited too, which made me feel less dorky, and also benefited us by making our husbands seem crazy for not being as excited as we were.

My zoo-induced excitement was- I confess- in part due to Harry Potter. I mean, don’t all you HP fans out there agree with me that in light of that scene in The Sorcerer’s Stonethe zoo is a significantly more magical place?

And it was good for us as a couple because a) we actually socialized with other people, b) it’s a unique outing for us (versus our normal dates which feature our jammies and Netflix and the couch), and c) it’s outside (we pale hobbits are what you’d call in-doorsy). Oh, and we could add d) they had Dippin’ Dots.

Dippin Dots

If you have a zoo nearby, I’d highly recommend it.

2) Watch Netflix- For example, we burned our way through probably 70% of Parks and Rec this weekend. (Because we were so tired after all that time at the zoo. Outside makes you tired!) I love this show, you guys. I mean I seriously love it. And I’m to that point in binge-watching something where everything seems like it relates to the show and/or everyone reminds me of a character in it. (I’m Leslie Knope, obvi. Oh, minus the blonde hair, the pants suits, and the insatiable need to organize everything. So basically, I’m just hyper.) Also, Ron Swanson is *lit-rally* the greatest character in the history of characters. Right up there with Captain Ahab and Jean Val Jean. (Incidentally, I think he would like both of those men a lot, which was completely accidental of me.)

(That clip has subtitles for some reason… but it’s still amazing.)

I know it sounds weird to say that binge-watching Netflix is good for your marriage (obviously I don’t mean all the time). But a girl named Hannah, whose blog is fabulous, wrote about the virtues of this phenomenon here and articulates very eloquently the goodness of enjoying a story, laughing together, and a little surprisingly- learning something about love. And how it can be many other kinds of love than even just romantic love. And if you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s the quote I’m thinking of from her post:

Because sometimes you are too tired to talk about your day but still want to hang out together. Sometimes it is cold and dreary outside and you are broke and there is nothing else to do. Sometimes you can really bond over long debates about which character is the best and how they would respond in hypothetical situations in the real world. Sometimes watching all of the seasons of a show in the rapid succession that is the miracle of Netflix will just make you get all weepy and know you married a winner.

It’s so good. And so true.

3) Cannolis- Or, as I prefer to call it, The Cannoli Principle. I know what you’re thinking. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Because how could you not? And let me just tell, you this principle is right up there with communication in regards to successful relationships. Also, it is the Single. Most. Romantic. Dessert. Ever. We shared two different kinds on Saturday night, because my husband loves me. And I really want another one right now. 

cannoli

Here’s why I love cannolis: because we never eat them (restaurants don’t serve cannolis, unless you’re at an Italian restaurant, I guess- which we are sort of lacking at the moment) which makes them special, because they are fancy (hello. romantic.) and because they are ridiculously delicious. Muffins are my every day love and always will be. But cannolis are like the fancy cocktail dress of the dessert world. (For me, anyway.) Local schmancy grocery stores are the best place to find them, if you don’t already have a local schmancy italian place that serves it.

It occurred to me as I prepared my post for this week that these 3 things were probably on my mind since they all happened (or… were eaten) this past weekend.  Still, it was one of the most fun weekends we’ve enjoyed together in awhile! Not that we’d want to do the same thing every weekend, but experiences we have as a couple help remind us who we are, how much both unique outings and familiar nights-in alike nourish our relationship.

And really, these thoughts apply to more than exclusively marriage relationships. However, when you throw the cannolis in there, it’s obviously marriage material…

I hope you get to do something different and something familiar with someone you love soon. If nothing else, leave the zoo and take the cannoli. And definitely watch some Netflix.