Tried and True

This March we celebrated our first love in Key West, taking in the beauty of a sunset and enjoying a fantastic dinner by the sea. While we sat there enjoying each other and our surrounding we took a sobering look at our marriage journey line, remembering the heights and depths that we have traversed over the last 15 years. We fully embrace every aspect of our journey, the good and the ugly and the truth is that we know that without every single moment we would not have the conviction or drive to live the way we do now.

Many have heard our story sitting around a table, sharing a meal or through listening to our second album, Ashes to Beauty, which poetically chronicles the first ten years of our rocky marriage. When we sit with kinfolk from all walks of life, we understand that they are influenced by different subcultures and lingo. However, through the face to face conversation process we are able to really work through meanings, finding common ground and understanding.

I have rarely written about our story of covenant, mostly because of the limitations of language when writing prose. It’s also a long story and I never know where to start. However, recently I stumbled upon some old journal entries, like the one below and felt a prompting to share it in it’s raw, vulnerable form. I’ve sat on it for a few months now, but can no longer hold it in. I believe story, specially stories of restoration, redemption, and reconciliation are valuable to the heart of humanity. When we hear these stories it is like taking a shot of wheatgrass, revitalizing the soul, infusing goodness and building faith.

Ours is a story including three characters, God, Man and Woman; all working out this thing called covenant. Whatever your predisposition to spirituality, our hope is that you will find it encouraging and begin to see the value in sharing your own story.

This particular sequence of events was written in 2010, during the darkest hour of our marriage. In this entry I remember back to 1999, back to the beginning of our relationship.

“Nov. 5, 2010

Betrayal is one of the most relationally debilitating experiences. It evokes feelings of rage and engages that dark part of the soul that longs for revenge and justice. In the past, I have experienced the fruitlessness of bitterness but this time my heart longs for more, I longs for reconciliation. However, reconciling is a process that is a mysterious as the idea of grace and I don’t know how to make it happen on my own. Over the months I have fought, waited, fasted and had hard conversations with my beloved with seemingly no result. It all came to a head last night but didn’t end with an apology, it actually was the darkest, loneliness night of our marriage, I ended up sleeping downstairs and woke up with deep deep heartache. To occupy my mind, I spent the day cleaning and in prayer. I was reading through the old testament book of Isaiah chapter four, which was poignant as I had read this once before during a very important moment in our past.

It was 1999, the year Craig and I were dating. I was learning how to discern my voice from God’s. (another conversation for another time) I had been given a very clear impression that Craig was going to be my husband but as we neared that pivotal time in our courtship I started to wonder if I heard right. I struggled with so much insecurity and was very unsure of my own feelings. Not towards Craig. No, I was smitten by him, but rather I was scared I was being selfish and of falling back down into that deep dark pit. (that’s a whole other story…) I really wanted to be on the right path and I wanted assurance. So, I “fleeced” God the first and only time in my life. For those who don’t know about fleecing, it’s often involves seeking God’s will through a predetermined sign. And so, I asked the Creator of the Universe to show me “rain” in the morning when I woke. If he did, I would know it meant that I was on the right path and that I had heard right, Craig was to be my Beloved.

I know, I know, as soon as the words came out of my mouth I wanted to take them back. What was I doing? Of course I heard right the first time. I felt like a silly child. I prayed and asked God to forgive my unbelief and to just never mind but I knew it was out there. And so, I laid my head to pillow but barely slept a wink, arguing with myself about how ridiculous I was, yet waiting with great anticipation, hoping for rain.
I woke up to the brightest, sunniest day EVER and my heart sank. I apologized again and again. I felt so silly. My day continued on with breakfast, taking my daughter to her pre-school and heading back home to contemplate what I had done. I was reading through the sacred text of Isaiah. Isaiah chapter four to be exact. I sat there in a fog reading about the Branch of the Lord and how it will be beautiful and glorious. I continued on… bla bla bla…I was reading but my mind was distracted and numb. And then, these words nearly jumped off of the page “God will bring back the ancient pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night and mark Mount Zion and everyone in it with his glorious presence, his immense, protective presence, shade from the burning sun and shelter from the driving RAIN!” I began leaping in the air, screaming out, “Wow! Wow! Oh God! Wow!” Oh, how thankful I was for God’s clever sense of humor and his amazing mercy and faithfulness. And,  honestly I had no idea what the actual chapter was about, all I knew was The God of the Angel Armies graciously and tenderly affirmed me, showing me rain, giving me the confidence I needed to enter into covenant with Craig.

But, here I am eleven years later and I am just as insecure and unsure about God’s faithfulness. Wondering if I really did hear right, for how could my beloved betray me. How could “the little foxes breach our walls and wreck havoc on our vineyards?” I am still committed to my husband, but these are really hard times. The perfect timing though, in remembering this moment in 1999 is one more gift of assurance, for I am reminded of God’s unfailing love and desire to turn our ashes to beauty. I can feel something brewing, as discouraged as I have felt over these past six months, I know that something has to break. We are His. He put us together and He has our back.”

Nov 6, 2010

My beloved came home from work early. He looked forlorn and as he set his lunch bucket down, he reached for me and embraced me like never before. His heart had broken and he offered a sincere apology asking me to forgive him. The light changed in his eyes, they were no longer haughty or proud but humble before me. As his tears fell, I could feel my anger, hurt, angst, and pain instantly start to melt away. I literally felt it flow from the top of my head down my shoulders, lower back, all the way to my feet. It left my body and a peace that is pure filled my being.

This was real. This was a miracle and as the sense of aloneness and the relenting need to stand alert dissipated, I could breath again, I could see again.

Thank the Lord for this miracle of reconciliation, for freedom and for faithfulness. We’re ready to rebuild!

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It was Jan of 2011, just two months after this entry that we began to dream of a life that was simpler, less fragmented and community driven. The idea of giving away our possessions and buying/converting a bus, came over the course of the next eight months. Finally leading to the our lauch in Oct 2011. The joy of making our way, sharing our gifts and talents, merrymaking and encouraging those we meet along the way as well as, the impact this experience has had on our marriage and family has been more than we could have ever dreamed.

It is a delight to share our story and we will continue to do that. But, even more it’s amazing how your stories encourage us and keep us on our way. So, if you have a story to share, please do, we’d love to hear.

“We have broken bread with some along the way during their darkest hour, some well after the miracle of reconciliation has come. Always it is an honor to share in this journey with you.” ~Craig & Jana Holland

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Bus Rider Number Two

Have you ever had one of those moments in life where you met someone you really admired and dreamed of collaborating with them in some way, whether musically, artistically, etc…?

IMG_5412Well, when I met flutist/vocalist Colleen in 1999, I thought, I want to be friends and I hope someday we can play music together. Over the years we did become friends, dear friends and in 2011 Colleen contributed flute and tin whistle to our album, “Ashes to Beauty.” It was pure joy to have her participate in the creative process of that album and over the years she would join us for live performances whenever we’d come through Chicago.

Fast track to our request for muso’s to join us on the bus and Colleen sends me an inbox letting me know she’s really considering it. You can imagine how excited I was, our whole family was! It would be a big commitment for her, with a husband, son, job and community in Chicago, and yet, where there is a will there is a way. So we began conversations about what it would look like, how long and what her role would be. And on August 14 she got on the bus. She rode with us through Kansas and into Colorado, offering antidotes and comic relief, beautiful photographs and performed 9 shows with us. Her final performance with us was on August 25th, at one of our all time favorite venues, Avogadros’ Number in Fort Collins, CO.

The Hollands! at Avogadro's Number

We will miss you friend! Come ride again anytime!

Phoenix Arts and Community

20130203-172550.jpgPhoenix hasn’t also been know for the arts but over the past few years the downtown district has done so much to encourage the arts. There is still work to be done, specially in The Zone, which we discovered last time around. However, we meet a community that sites just a few blocks from the desolate streets and offers a constant peaceful and creative presence. We meet Ryan Thurman through our gracious host family, The Skeens and visited his A2J community one afternoon. We were inspired by the communities commitment to their community and to each other. We heard stories of struggles and redemption in the neighborhood. One story included a woman who had been homeless for a time and found her way off of the streets into the A2J community and know offers her gift of hospitality behind the prayer house. We heard about the longing for more families to move into the neighborhood, for a deeper connection with the greater body. We immediately thought of our friends in Oakland at New Hope and our friends, in Omaha at InCommon and began to tell their story. There is something encouraging knowing that there is a global/local community out there. We’ll be thinking about them as we make our way, and encouraging folks to consider hanging with these kinfolk for a while.

We were also able to connect with a number of aspiring and professional visual artists at the Artistree Arts Conference which we offered our Songwriting Workshop, our Swimming Upstream Workshop and a performance. Our kids were able to take advantage of the sketching, journaling and graphic arts workshops offered by other practitioners.  Joel Pritchard spearheaded the event. We met Joel through Steve, with Hope thru Art and are excited to announce that Joel will be doing all of the art and design on our upcoming album. We’ll keep you posted on his work.

While at Artistree we meet John and Elli Milan, world renowned oil painters. And are especially unique in that the Milans create their paintings together. Although John and Elli are both accomplished artists on their own, their collaborations bring out a side of their work that neither could reach by themselves.  The couple says that the Spirit of God inspires their work and allows them to create together and maintain a unified vision.  The end result is aggressive and spontaneous layers of paint which create a bright and playful scenario that is interwoven with hints of narrative.  We were invited out to the Milan farm and studio in Queen Creek, AZ for lunch and had an encouraging visit, learning about their faith journey finding their purpose in creating together. We even saw the beginnings of a painting that was inspired by our album, Ashes to Beauty. We meet two of their four children, who are quite the artists in their own rite. We enjoyed the horses, chickens, dogs and cats. It was energizing to meet a family committed to one another and to creating together.

New Album in the Works

The life changes we have made over this past year have been so mind altering and soul stretching. It’s been a process to digest it all but over the last few weeks we have put our minds and efforts into writing songs. We hope to record these new songs this December in Portland, OR with David Fuller. Looking to have it available Spring 2013.

Crux of the Album:

There is a great love and purpose for us that is worked out in the messes, storms, blue skies, daily work, and dreams of our common lives.  This album gives narrative shape to actual people and circumstances in their dealings with God, each other and the inner workings within themselves.

Themes: Community, Common Lives, Storms, Injustice, Faithfulness, Long-Suffering, Circle, History, Pastoral, Poetry, Kingdom, Voyage.

We’ve decided to redo Old Man’s Town from our latest album, ‘Ashes to Beauty’ and feature it on this upcoming album. It’s a song that has aged well and our hope is to really allow the energy that has been building in that song to have a second chance to impact.

We’ve also been working to incorporate the unified sound that has developed in us as a family, not just a duo. Over the last two years we’ve performed as a family 355 times. There is a solidity that has developed and we are looking to incorporate that into this album. So, although we will still have room for guest appearance’s, on this recording we will feature “The Hollands!” as a band and as a family, including musical parts and songs that have been written by our children, songs like “Lanie Done Did” written by Graciana Holland.

Here is an excerpt from that song:

“Just about 26 seconds ago/Lanie done something bad/That time that time that time/Was all it took to make him mad/And the waves came down/Like an earthquake ready to rumble/Rolling round, Lanie, done did stumble”

Kara Counard’s “The Women Over 90” Project

Kara Counard is one of the most inspiring people you could ever meet. We met her in 2010 when she came to one of our concerts. She ended up coming to just about every show that summer. In fact, she had come so many times that when she didn’t make it, we really felt like something was missing. She gave us that sense of “home.”

After a while we started to connect on a social basis in normal everyday circumstances, sharing lunch and dinner and we were even invited to a hula hoop party she hosted, where we learned to make hula hoops! And later, Grace and I were asked to take part in her 101 women photography project and it was then that we were introduced to the miracle of her gift. Yes, she can take pictures, but it’s more than that. She has this unassuming way of seeing life and her gentle spirit flows through all of her photos. She was able to capture us in a deep and meaningful way and I became a believer.

When it came time for our 2011 recording, “Ashes to Beauty,” we put the word out to several of our favorite artists and they all offered beautiful work, but when we saw what Kara whipped up we knew that we wanted her to be apart of the process. So, she not only did our CD artwork but she also took our photo’s and designed our limited edition t-shirts. It was an organic and pleasing process working with her.

Over the course of the last year we have kept in close contact as she has become our main link to our home, which never sold. She has lived in the upper and cared for the last of our past life with tenderness and respect. While we were in Australia I noticed an invite via Facebook regarding a new project Kara was working on. This one really caught my attention because it involved women over 90. That tapped right into my love and affection for the elderly and I was looking forward to seeing what Kara’s eye would capture.

I asked Kara a few questions about the project and these are some of her answers.

What is the heart and soul of this project?

I knew I wanted it to include were some kind of community involvement, some kind of focus on the stories of women, and a bridge or connection between groups of people who might not otherwise have met. So, the 5th grade girls at Chappell joined me as artists for this project. I went into their classroom to talk about photography, storytelling, light, composition, art, and interviewing. Meanwhile, I started photographing and interviewing women over 90.. and then far later in the project, the 5th graders actually took a field trip to Grancare.. where they split into small groups and interviewed and photographed 3 women for the project. Their photos and stories are alongside mine at the ARTgargage. I ended with 33 subjects from 89-100 years old.

How did working on this project impact you?

“I remember so many times when I was feeling uninspired or overwhelmed with all there was on my plate, I would go to a scheduled interview and leave with the biggest smile and lightness of heart. And I would drive by the places some of the women had talked about, where they grew up or had lived, and I would remember their stories. It all connected with my life in serendipitous ways. And I learned more about the foundation of this community that we live in. I share the stories of these women with so many people. I use them as examples in everyday life. And in that way they reach out and their beauty and lives spread. And, I learned so much from the 5th graders too! They are much braver than me with their cameras.. taking photos of ears and eyes and noses! “

My favorite capture was “Emerald,” who I happened to meet at the opening. What an honor to meet her. She was a sprite cat with a pleasant smile and lightness in her step. Add in the fact that she played the accordain and a great story teller. This is her story as told by Kara.

Emerald Conley- 92

“If my kids would allow me, I would go to the conventions, and I’d still be learning!” said the Bohemian Irish accordion player, who doesn’t play polkas!

Emerald Conley has always enjoyed a challenge. Her father owned Van’s Greenhouse. And when she was 3 1/2 years old, he showed her how to take a cutting and grow it. It initiated her love of a challenge which grew with her love and passion for music.

She began playing the accordion accidentally. Emerald first started playing the piano. For two years, she had lessons where she learned to read music well, and where correct fingering was stressed.. which came in handy! She had to quit lessons, because her parents couldn’t afford them during the depression. But in 1937, they offered accordion lessons to her sister, who starting on a 12 bass accordion, showed Emerald how to “pull two measures and push two measures.” Emerald caught on quickly, and she learned all the same lessons as her sister without any instruction. When her parents bought a 120 bass accordion for her sister, Emerald asked if she might take lessons too? She had to show the instructor that she could do all the lessons her sister could, and her sister quit the accordion shortly after, picking up another instrument.

Emerald grew up right next to Fort Howard Cemetery, and she would practice the accordion ‘til 10 or 11 at night, because there was no one to complain about her playing! 😉 When her teacher got his draft papers, he came by to tell her she would be taking over all his students. When she objected, he told her he had already told them she would.

After she was married, she traveled, following her husband who was in service in WWII. Her accordion went everywhere she did. Emerald spent years teaching and always perfecting her craft. She took lessons from the best of them.. and she can tell you all about making apple pie for the world’s greatest accordion player, Charles Magnante! She even got to play for him!

Emerald still practices daily, and she still gives lessons when time permits, saying, “I can’t take my knowledge with me!’

I didn’t get to make pie for Emerald but I did have the unique opportunity to “jam” with Emerald at a picnic that friend organized for us. The highlight of my day was strumming along on my guitar to one of Emerald’s Italian love songs while the living legend and stand up bass player, Ike Smith called out my cords. I’m sure I’ll be telling that story when I’m 90.

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You can see more of Kara’s work at BLOOM PHOTOGRAPHY BY KARA.

Industry Standard

We’ve been on the Northwest Coast for about two weeks. Our first destination was Eugene, OR for the Far-West Folk Alliance Conference. A trade show of sorts for those involved in the Folk music scene. The city is beautiful and quite user-friendly. It’s a smaller city about the size of our recent home, Green Bay.

I am always looking for the greater meaning in life and although we were in Eugene for the “conference” the underlying purpose was an awaking to a compulsive need we all have to be in control, “make it” and to be desired.

As I made my way through our daily workshops and showcases I found that there were moments that I would have to go outside of the 3 block radius to find a grocery or office store. Those trips provided a window into the reality of a town that is broken by the economy and struggling. I saw several young (30-40’s) folks holding signs on corners, stating their desire to work or a felt need. They were my age, wearing decent clothing and standing on a corner doing whatever it takes  to care for their families. It invoked a deep discomfort in me as I found myself staring but not exactly knowing how to help. Paralyzed, that’s how I felt for I could see myself in these folks eyes.

After returning to the conference, I started to noticed the desperation was similar, only we weren’t holding signs, rather name tags and business cards; hoping someone would take notice and see the value in having us perform at their venue.

The irony was glaring. I sat through a delightful and encouraging speech by a fellow folky about our purpose as musicians and the impact we can have to change the world and then in the next breath found myself in a business meeting trying to understand the ugly and confusing world of Performance Rights Organizations and “why” we as artist need to join these cronies and ban together to protect our interests. One conversation was driven by an open desire to serve and care for others and the other, fear based and self protective.

Having purposely stripped away to nearly nothing. (well, I can’t say nothing, we do own a bus and a car and are renting our home out) but in essence we are down to nearly nothing, I find this paradox even greater. If I look up and to far ahead I panic and find I’m lost in a place that is unfamiliar, a place of fear and self-protection. The vision to love others with a servant’s heart and ideals to live simply and sustainably are the only things that make any sense and so I focus on them.

We take what we do musically quite seriously and want to understand the “world” we are swimming through and with. However, there is a certain resistance we have as DIY artists and rightly so. This fear driven, self-protection will be the demise of us. We are reminded once again to stay open and be available. To be in the world but not of it.

Offerings

Have your heard of the ancient temple of the Lord, built by Moses and his people? It is said that this temple was made of the finest gold, silver, bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet material; fine linen, onyx stones and lamp oil; spices for anointing oils and for fragrant incense. All were offerings, freely given by any who were willing. It is recorded that the offering was made to the Lord, not to the tabernacle (for a tax deduction). In fact, this story is amazingly God-centered. God is present in every step of the process. In the text that this story is recorded, Exodus, God details the need, tells how to use the supplies, prompts Moses to ask for them, prompts certain people to respond, the people give to God and the gifts are used to glorify God by craftsmen God gifted.

It is an amazing story of how the great designer pulls together the most amazing mysteries and wonders, engaging with us to create community.

We are not building a temple of the Lord but we are building a bus that we long to use to create and encourage community. The bus is empty right now yet there are divine appointments happening daily. Folks are coming forward to share the load, excited and ready to help. It is humbling and almost unexplainable, expect for the fact that I know there is One I can trust through it all.

Here are a few of the offerings we had over the last weeks.

Troy, a neighbor, called and offered a fantastic deal for our sheet metal. Paul, another neighbor, stopped by and took a tour. He was pretty excited about our endeavor and announced that he is a mechanical engineer and would like to help design the heating system. We found reasonably priced salvage windows online through Factory RV Surplus, out of Elkhart, IN. Then our friend, Saul popped over and shared his expertise as an electrical engineer. If time stays on our side we will have heat and electricity by our departure date of Oct. 12. If not,  at least we’ll have the plans for what needs to be finished.

Another wonderful offering came from Allen Gokey, owner of Packerland Builders and a long time friend. He graciously donated a trailer full of cabinet grade birch wood that was once used for a skate park/outreach  in Appleton, WI. A word of delight greeted us as we loaded the wood on the trailer. Most of the wood is in great condition. One side was coated with the memories of youthful skaters enjoying life and company. The other side was pristine and will make for a beautiful home.

                        

To top it all off, Craig’s old band mate and violinist on our album Ashes to Beauty, David Baumgartner arrived with his fabulous family and Swiss expertise in furniture architecture. We dreamed, designed and built for two days straight. David’s mind moves a mile a minute and his design ideas were brilliant! Debbie, his wife and dear friend, brainstormed ideas for fabric and decor. She helped with meals and was such an encouragement.

                

We are so excited to see what else comes our way this week. “Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t. The heart regulates the hands. This isn’t so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, you’re shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end you come out even. As it is written, Nothing left over to the one with the most, Nothing lacking to the one with the least.” (2 Cor. 8:12-15 )

On a side note: My skin cancer issue has been resolved as my appointment with the dermatologist concluded that I am healed. Thank the good Lord and thanks for all your prayers, concerns and well wishes.