When Life Feels Messy

encouraging words by artist, Jennifer Frith

I took this picture of my dad and step-mom on their wedding day. It makes me happy. 🚗

When I was 16 and my parents divorced, I was pretty devastated. I don’t know of any kid who leaps for joy when their parents split.

But I see now that beauty can come from brokenness.

What I've learned from my own experiences (and I'm still learning...still totally learning), is that life doesn't always turn out the way you think it should. In fact, sometimes it's messy, disappointing, painful, frustrating, and straight-up hard.

But God promises good things to those He loves:

"'For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." - Jeremiah 29

Eventually dark clouds of disappointment sweep away, sunny days return, and you're wiser than you were before. 🌅

If your life seems messy right now, I hope you let go (maybe just a little) and let God work all things together for good.

encouraging words by Jennifer Frith, artist
encouraging words by Jennifer Frith, artist
encouraging words by Jennifer Frith, artist

  • How has God worked out some Good Things in your life?

  • How are you wiser now than you were before a '“messy event”?

  • In what ways have you developed a deeper capacity for joy and love after a hurt or disappointment?

How to Pick Your "One Word" for the New Year

2018 was a year of dormancy for me…. roots going deep… withdrawing inside myself. It was a cold, grey, and sometimes-frustrating period (kind of like my nemesis: winter!). But I’m ready to thaw out, how about you?

With that in mind, my Word for 2019 is Bloom.

Do you do this “One Word” activity each year?

If you’ve not done it before, it’s a meditation practice to help you set a year-long intention. You pick One Word as an anthem. Once you’ve chosen One Word, you’ll find that your mind starts guiding you based on that one word for the entire year.

You can read more about the origins of it here.

I pondered about mine and decided upon bloom.

Bloom, by definition:

bloom

noun (1) \ˈblüm  \

a state or time of beauty, freshness, and vigor

As I was meditating about this word, I stumbled upon these verses, and then I knew it was a perfect pick for this time in my life:

Isaiah 35 

Joy of the Redeemed

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus,  it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.

The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,

    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.

Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isn’t that a good one? I liked it so much that I illustrated it.

Jennifer Frith - Illustrator - Bloom - My One Word

So how did I pick “Bloom?” Here are the steps I took. Maybe these steps will work for you too.


1. First, reflect upon how you FELT this past year:

I reflected upon the majority of my emotions last year:

  • I felt mostly strong but also worn out … my “roots” were strong and growing deep, but the cold winds of ennui and grey days of boredom settling in my heart were starting to get old. I was feeling both strong and tired.

2. List the words that described YOU in the last year.

After I listed how I felt, I wrote down the words I would use to describe myself in 2018.

  • the not-so-good words…. This part takes some hard honesty: worn-out, bored creatively, ungrateful, uninspired, unfocused. (ugh, It never feels good to say that).

  • the pretty awesome words: strong, brave, determined, resilient, proud (completely unrelated to art, but I finished my first Spartan Race last year. The pictures below show both my misery and pride from slugging around a 50 pound bucket in the freezing mud…. totally worth it).

Jennifer Frith - Spartan Race
Jennifer Frith Spartan

3. Determine what you want MORE of and LESS of during this year.

I want more: art, depth, trust, strength, lightness, energy, focus, kettlebells, running, gratitude, discipline

I want less: hurry, worry, impatience, wasted time, judgement

4. Meditate.

Sleep on the above. Think about what you wrote for steps 1-3. Pray about it. Ask God what He wants for you in this coming year. Come back to all of it a few days later.

5. Decide. Pick your 1 Word!

After a few days of reflecting, your One Word might rise up for you in your mind and heart, like a balloon. Hold onto it. Look up the definition. See if it fits. Decide on it for the entire year. Let it guide you. Maybe even illustrate it or sketch it in your journal to remind you of your One Word.

. . .

So my word is Bloom.

I’m looking forward to the beauty, colors, freshness, and vigor it will bring this year.

What’s your One Word for 2019?

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.” 
― Benjamin Franklin ― 

In the Brokenness

Photo of my Mom and me

When you lose a parent to a drug addiction and mental instability, you carry around a lot of heaviness, confusion, and shame as a kid. I think that's why I want to create as much love, hope, encouragement, and joy into my artwork as possible. Because life is hard.

But there is hope.

For all the things you feel were taken from you as a kid (for me: a strong, healthy example of how to be a woman), I believe you can give those things back to the world. And maybe that's where the gift in the heartache is.

To anybody carrying the weight of the universe on your shoulders, I hope you use that pain and heartache for good.

I hope you are able to move past the hurt and into forgiveness and maybe even one day gratitude.

I hope you eventually see the gift in the brokenness.

I hope it fuels you to give back to the world 100x what you've been missing.

Because the world needs it. 🌄

- photo of my mom and me.

. . .

“The world is full of suffering.

It is also full of overcoming.”

- Helen Keller -

Jennifer Frith - lion art print Helen Keller quote

Lion print available in my etsy shop.

How to Embrace Your Clark Kent Disguise

 
on my way to work

on my way to work

renewing my soul at my art desk at home

renewing my soul at my art desk at home

If you'll lean in closer, I'll share a secret with you:  I'm not a full-time artist. 

When I'm not in my studio, I actually work as a Human Resources Manager for a local company.  I'm also on the Leadership Team.  At my 9-5 job, I enjoy the people side of business.  I enjoy developing our values and coaching our team.  I especially love learning about negotiations and resolving conflict.  ***Nerd Alert: one of my favorite books of all time is Chris Voss' Never Split the Difference.  He's a former FBI hostage negotiator.  I highly recommend the read!***

Because of my desire to learn more about negotiations at work, my boss invited me to go to a full week, all-expense paid training at Harvard Law School back in December.  My heart skipped a beat.  I immediately accepted the offer.  

While at the training, I learned from Peace Negotiator and founder of Harvard's Negotiation Program, William Ury, Harvard Law School professor Gabriella Blum, and Harvard's Guhan Subramanian.  I got to meet CEOs from around the world, foreign diplomats and dignitaries, whip-smart attorneys and entrepreneurs who came to learn with me as well.  It was humbling to be in a room with so many talented and driven people.

Dr. William Ury

Dr. William Ury

Guhan Subramanian

Guhan Subramanian

Harvard's Memorial Hall

Harvard's Memorial Hall

me

me

 

As much as it was an honor, I realized that while I was there, I felt really out of place.  Who was I to belong there with all of these successful professionals who were out conquering the world when all I wanted to do was to create things from my cozy studio and illustrate journals and children's books?

I felt like I had to pretend to be someone I was not and act excited about things, that --- while interesting --- didn't light up my heart like art does:   "Oh yes... business is booming.  Revenues are high.  How have your recent corporate decisions affected your shareholders?" 

Shortly after this amazing trip, I started to sink into depression. (No shame here.  You can read more about the link between Creativity, Intelligence, and Depression in this article.)   I fell into a mucky-stuck rut with my art.  If I can pin-point when an "identity crises" type of thing occurred, it was probably after this trip.

Why?   Because the more successful I became at my job, the more I felt pulled away from my calling.  Each day as I went off to work, I felt like I was stepping into a disguise and leaving my true self buried under spreadsheets and business clothes.  I felt lost and sad.  To be frank, I felt pity for myself.  Why couldn't I just be me 100% of the time?   

My poor-me and self-destructive thoughts made me feel paralyzed.  Who was I becoming?   Is my life a fake?  Was I leaving my artist-self behind?  What is the point in me continuing with my art anymore?

And then I began thinking of Superman and Clark Kent.  If you're not familiar with the DC comic, Superman was an alien with super-human qualities.  He was found as an infant and adopted by human parents.  To assimilate into society, Superman took on the identity of nerdy, awkward Clark Kent who worked as a reporter for a local newspaper.  It was his way of surviving in a world where he didn't belong.

clark-kent.jpg

Thanks to Superman, I realized, No.  I was not leaving me behind.  I was protecting my true identity.

The realization helped me embrace my Clark Kent/Human Resources disguise, which has freed me from feeling stuck and sorry for myself. 

If you're feeling down and stuck because you're not where you feel most alive, I want to share 4 things that have helped me:

1.  Recognize the opportunities your disguise affords. (aka, Be Thankful).

Being a professional allows me to grow in ways I would have never otherwise experienced.  Had I not shown an interest in negotiation or had the boss that I have now, I would have never gone to Harvard.  (For a girl who was a teen mom, this was an incredible blessing for me.)  Had it not been for my full-time job, I wouldn't have made the connections that I have, nor would I have grown into the person I am today.

2.  Remember the safety your disguise provides.

My "disguise" allows me to pay the bills and live in a nice, comfortable home.  It has given me experiences that cannot be taken from me, experiences that will most definitely help me in my future.  If Superman were Superman all of the time, I'm sure he'd be tired and exhausted from having to constantly look over his shoulder, wondering when the next threat will come.  My job gives me a lot of security.

3.  Be sure to take off your disguise from time to time. 

Do the things that make you feel most heroic and alive.   It was in Superman's blood to be super strong.  He used those powers for good.  Had he stayed hidden in his disguise, I'm sure he'd feel lost, frustrated, and out of place more often than not.  And where would the world be without Superman to save the day?  Go out and kick some butt with your true, God-given talent.

4.  Surround yourself with people who remind you of your true self.

Just like Superman had a few people in his life who knew his true identity (his adoptive parents and his love, Lois Lane), it's important to have people in your life who remind you of your true self.  For me, these people are my husband, sister, and best friends. These people encourage me when I'm feeling lost and down and out of place.

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." 

- author unknown

where I feel like I most belong

where I feel like I most belong

So, how about you?

  • What does your disguise look like?

  • In what ways does your disguise help you?

  • When are you your truest self? What are your super powers?

  • How can you go out and save the world?

On Being "Stuck"

Jennifer Frith, Artist

Hi. 👋   I've not created anything new in the past couple of months. ...Boredom, ennui, creative block ... I don't know what the heck to call it. 

But instead of continuing to resist it or worry that I'll be stuck in this paralyzing dark hole of "the creative blahs" forever, I'm going to just relax and ride it out.  That's what you're supposed to do when you're stuck in quicksand, after all.

Sometimes when we label ourselves as "creators" or makers or artists or moms or workers or whatever, we can really mess ourselves up in the head when we fall short of the expectations we put on ourselves.

But I'm more than "what I do", and you are too. ✌

And sometimes resting, stepping back, and looking at ourselves as whole people instead of just a role we fill is one of the healthiest things we can do.

And that's all I have to say about that. 🎨  I'll be back to making art soon.

What do YOU do when you're stuck in the deep dark muck of creative despair?

Jennifer Frith, Artist

Originally posted on my Instagram account.  To all of those who replied there, thank you!