The Zone; One More Time Around

A2J Garden, 3 Blocks from The Zone.
A2J Garden, 3 Blocks from The Zone.

We’ve been rolling around this country for a few years now and Phoenix is one of our original stops. It’s a place that holds so much in terms of learning about faith and humility. Which I guess makes sense, seeing as it is the desert.

The first time we showed up Phoenix we had about $50 in our pocket, which we have found isn’t that unusual. But, two years ago when we were really just getting a taste of the nomadic life it was extremely worrisome. We still drift into the anxiety that comes when we are down to the last cent but we have always made it to the next stop and remembering that gives us faith.

That shift in¬†perspective came the first time we visited the Zone. I’ve written about the Zone before but for those who are new to our travels, it’s a place similar to Skid Row. It is a place where physical, mental and spiritual afflictions really stand out because there are no pretenses to hide behind. It is where the rawness of humanity is found and where we are confronted with the core of our being. It is in this type of environment that texts like the ones found in Matthew or Luke make so much sense to us.

“You‚Äôre blessed when you‚Äôve lost it all.¬†God‚Äôs kingdom is there for the finding.
You‚Äôre blessed when you‚Äôre ravenously hungry.¬†Then you‚Äôre ready for the Messianic meal.¬†You‚Äôre blessed when the tears flow freely.¬†Joy comes with the morning.”

And so, here we were a few visits later, down in the Zone with Dave, Amber and a few other from the A2J community. This time around there was a warm breeze and folks were in relatively good spirits. In fact, if you didn’t know the harsh¬†reality of where we were you might think we were at an outdoor music festival. We gathered in a circle and played all sorts of old timey tunes, hymns and later a fella named Nick showed up and lead us all in a few Motown songs. I met a homeless woman named “Little Mar” who was about my age. She was clearly mentally ill, professing to be the Princess of Persia, as well as, one of the best crime stoppers on Americas Most Wanted. She had a strength about her, and although she was skittish, she had a generous in spirit.

"Little Mar" is sitting in the blue tank and hat, to my right.
“Little Mar” is sitting in the blue tank to my right.

As we sang “Tis So Sweet,” I began to watch her more closely. I tried to imagine what her childhood was like, did she have children, how did she get here, what did she do if she had to use the bathroom, what about when she was thirsty? I didn’t find any answers but I was in¬†awe of her resilience and stamina to face the elements and oppression of a world that was whizzing around her at a frantic pace.

IMG_7397The added bonus was having so many other kinfolk there with us, sharing in song, listening, being present and bringing peace to a people who are constantly living in survival mode. The healing nature of the arts and music provided the space for creativity, unity and understanding.

We believe it is important to care for the widow, orphan and poor, but have learned that doesn’t always mean meeting physical needs. Sometimes, we need to go deeper and offer something of our selves. When we go to the Zone it isn’t because we feel superior or desire a pat on the back for serving the homeless. We go to the Zone to find ourselves, to look in the mirror and see that we are all made of the same mud. We go to the Zone to bring and receive healing.

And so, when that spirit of anxiety or striving tries to steal our joy we remember. We remember that day we sat and sang and shared in community with the Princess of Persia and her court.

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Pepe and the Vacant Lot

The Kineo Community Urban Farm sits on a large block of land in Central Phoenix. Next door to the property is an equally large vacant lot. On the far corners and the back of the lot sits three other small farms. Two of them have horses.

20131123-112807.jpgThis morning, as I was sitting and enjoying my coffee I saw a beautiful cream-colored horse utilizing the vacant land. He was eating and playing. I went out to get a closer look. His owner was standing at the far end of the lot, calling the horse down. The horse, who the owner called Pepe, was frolicking but would only come half way down the field.

I stood there for about ten minutes and I noticed that Pepe spent most of his free time in the back corner of the property, closest to his home. As hard as the owner tried, Pepe would only gallop to the middle and back towards home. I found this very intriguing and pondered how Pepe was given more freedom, but tended to stay just outside of the boundary, not seeing that there is more available. Or maybe he did see and was afraid. I began to philosophy and make assessments about Pepe and his fear of the unknown. Mind you I know nothing about horses. His owner walked close enough that I could share my insights. His name was Sean, a Mexican caballero from Zacatecas, Mexico. His specialty is the lasso.

I shared my observations and he smiled, it was a generous smile. He gave me, “it’s possible” in his eyes but said very simply, that Pepe knew that home was where the people were, and the other animals. Of course! It was community that kept him close.

20131123-112819.jpgI rested in this wisdom. Maybe my perspective was off, maybe instead of representing freedom, the field really was a an overflow of community. Maybe, community is where the real freedom is found. For, if Sean wouldn’t have come over to have a chat, I would have walked away from that moment with my ideology in tact. I would have continued on in my limited understanding of horses, ultimately making parallels to our humanity in a rhetorical way. I would have walked away arrogantly thinking I understood something I really didn’t.

We need each other. As the wise old proverb says, “Your face mirrors your heart. You use steel to sharpen steel,¬†and one friend sharpens another.¬†

Glory and The Pink Lady

We were asked by a friend, how God gets the glory in our lives and service. This is a friend who is serious about his faith and… very wealthy. He’s a thinker, a debater and has watched us from the beginning of our process but there was always a question from our friend, regarding our motives. He¬†knew of our marriage issues and reconciliation, we shared our parenting woes, as well as the amazing ways that we saw God working in, through and, around us. We recently send out a letter to friends and family asking for support and his question was asked in the context of potentially partnering with us financially. ¬†

Now, this whole fundraising thing is a little foreign to us and we long for our friends to care for us whether they can support us financially or not. However, we’ll admit that, we do have some systemic issues with the perceived manipulative nature of it all. We don’t have any trouble asking for help but struggle with the expected corporate way supporters ¬†are catered to, pulled on and adorned just so they share their wealth. ¬†

For instance, the reason we were able to meet our friends for lunch, was because they were flown in and put up as guests at a lovely conference center for a¬†“Presidents” weekend¬†in Scottsdale, AZ. Apparently, they were scouted out by large ministry, and brought in to be lavished on and ministered to, in hopes that they would feel a connection and give. It sort of reminded me of those deals that the fancy hotels in Vegas send out, for free stay at their casino. They know if they can get you there, that you will probably spend your money on their slot machines.¬†

We also know of an organization that does research for some of the richest Christians in the country. They look at a ministry and analyze it in a quantifying way, assessing whether or not the ministry is kingdom worthy. I can see a need for this type of research, as most of the ministries that they are looking at are large organizations. However, it all just seems so distant from where God is really moving. And, can you imagine the hoops those ministries have to jump through, to prove they are worthy of those funds. Good grief.

Here’s the thing… about the Glory of the Lord. We know that humility and poverty has something to do with it.¬†

…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”¬†Matt 20:28

…sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.¬†2 Cor 6:10

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to deathРeven death on a cross!  Phil 2:68

Blessed¬†are the¬†poor¬†in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”¬†Matt 5:3

And then there is the story of the widow and the copper pennies. We see Jesus make note of what folks were giving and compares the gifts of the those who give out of their abundance. These were people who great wealth, and though they give much, they could easily spare it, and had enough remaining:¬†but she, the widow, in her”penury”,¬†gives all that she had, her whole substance, all that she had in the world; what was to have bought her food, for that day; she left herself nothing, and trusted to providence for immediate supply.

And then we read about the Corinthians who gave out of their poverty to Paul and Timothy.¬†“For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own,¬†they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.¬†And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.”

And so, we throw our hands up and we say, take our lives that we might really live. Take it all, that we might see you’re glory.¬†

20131104-124550.jpgWe arrived in Phoenix ten days ago, on our last financial leg, we had zero dollars. Our host, Kineo Community and our family have been gracious in caring for us. When we arrived we made note of things that might be helpful in our service at Kineo church and we put a shout out on our Facebook group ‘Tillers and Travelers” for art supplies, food and building supplies. Within a few days of voicing that request we had art supplies and a large box of fresh veggies show up. And then, yesterday, our friends The Huff family asked us to join them for lunch.¬†

We met Niqee at Camp Nebowa in Iowa three summers ago. We were in the process of getting our bus and heading out. She stayed in touch and two summers ago she invited us to join her family, Daniel, and two darling children, at an outreach in Shannandoah, IA. And, later at their home in Omaha, NE. we shared in community with this humble family. A few months later we heard that they had sold everything and hit the road, to serve. They travel in a minivan and similar to us, stay with host families and ministries, offering helps, encouragement and healing prayer. We watched them from afar and then two weeks ago they let us know that we were going to be in Phoenix together. We were excited to hear how things were going for them, to love on them and encourage them to keep rolling and serving. Little did we know that they were actually going to be the ones to pour into us. 

We sat at In and Out burger, enjoying our meal and sharing stories of God’s amazing tapestry in putting the body together. Then they pulled out a big yellow envelope and handed it to us. They spoke healing words over us, words of affirmation, letting us know that this gift was an act of obedience for them, that God recognized our faithfulness and wanted to bless us. In the package¬†was a substantial gift for each of us. They wanted our children to know that God see’s how they care for others, and how He wants to care for them. ¬†They wanted us to know that God gave them this blessing to bless us.¬†¬†Mind you, these are kinfolk who live day to day, aka… in poverty. My eyes filled with tears, as I felt the presence of the Lord wrap his arms around us.¬†

We had but a moment to sigh and thank them when an elderly woman approached us. She was a tall woman with silver shoulder length hair pulled back into a pony tale. She had on a hot pink tank top and light pink shorts, pink socks and white tennis shoes. She had two bags with her, both pink. Her name was Debby. ¬†She sat down at the table next to our families and said “hi.” A few polite words were shared and then she asked us, with all seriousness, if we had $10 dollars to spare.

Ok, so wait a minute… In a 24 hour period, I was sitting with my friend releasing him from any financial expectations, blessed by a significant gift from the unexpected and then asked for help.

Debby begins to explain her story about needing rent money.¬†I tell her she doesn’t have to justify it to us, we’re happy to give.¬†Craig pulls out $10 dollars, then Daniel follows. She is now holding twenty dollars. There is a small tear in her eye as she begins to share how that just impacted her. She tells us of a life that is filled with violence, poor health and constant rebuke from those with whom she asks for help. Daniel asks her if she would like us to pray for her. She says absolutely. We move to her table. He begins to talk with her about her heart, and God’s longing for her to move towards him. That God wants more of her. She is in agreement. We pray, Niqee puts a gift card in her hand and Debby whispers, “how much?”¬†Niqee answers “$50 and to get whatever she desires with it.” Debby begins to weep and we all hug her.¬†

We say our goodbyes to Debby and to each other.

My heart is overwhelmed…. Love, Mercy, and Grace flowing from above.¬†

And so, to answer my friends original question: God gets the glory because he knows our every need and he uses unexpected means to care for us, and in caring for us, we are able to care for others. The glory is his because he orchestras it.   

 

 

Child of the Humble Sod

Hope thru ArtWe arrived in Phoenix on Thursday and jumped right into life with our friends at Kineo Community. We met Kineo through our dear friend, the late, Steve Malakowsky with Hope thru Art. This is our third visit to Kineo.

They are located on a large block in Central Phoenix between a mostly low-income Hispanic neighborhood and college students at Grand Canyon University.

Kineo has a heart for the broken hearted and use their time, possessions and talents to nurture relationships. They are committed to exploring ways to live in intentional community, caring for each other and for their neighborhood. One of those ways is to use their property as a gathering space. They are also in the embryo stages of planning an urban farm and we are excited to partner with them for the next five weeks. We are looking forward to getting our hands dirty but mostly for opportunities to encourage and offering a healing presence; to share the joys and woes of real life with our brothers and sisters here on the ground in this hot, tough soil.

TillingOur first weekend we literaly “tilled” the soil and laid sod. We cared for the little ones in the neighborhood and community by offering art, dance, games and music while the adults and older kids worked hard. Our friends, the Huff family, joined in the fun. We meet them in Omaha, NE two ago and recently they gave all they had away and began traveling and serving communities. They just happened to be in Phoenix at the same time and came over to help out.

Kineo has graciously offered us the space and freedom to serve along side of them. Five weeks are a long time for a community to care for us and so, we would like to invite our friends from around the country to partner with us by offering a tax-deductible donation towards our efforts here on the ground. We are specifically hoping to purchase art supplies, offer meals, and building supplies for the many project that they have, including building a chicken coop, paint, decking, and wood for the raised gardens beds.

Donations can be made at MODERN DAY. https://giving.modernday.org/client/index.php 

Thank you for caring for us so that we can care for others.

Sentrock

SentrockJoseph “Sentrock” Perez is from “Bird City” a.k.a Phoenix, AZ. His family of origin came from Central America before Arizona was ever a state. Sentrock grew up on the west side of Phoenix and much of that culture has played into his current artistic perspective. He¬†began by working solely with graffiti, but is evolving into a world-class muralist and gallery artist. He now lives in Chicago, IL and is studying art and design at Columbia College. ¬† ¬†¬†

This past weekend we had the opportunity to meet and experience his work. He laid down a fantastic mural behind the Geer home in the North Lawndale neighborhood, South Chicago. The theme was “From struggle comes strength” which was an inspiring message to a neighborhood that has seen much struggle. His offering was personal, vibrant, and we were taken with his humble spirit.

Typically we humans tend to clump into scenes, cliques and hang with people who have similar backgrounds or preferences in life. That isn’t a bad thing but it does limit the creative possibilities. To me there is something exciting about the union of differing cultural, creative and philosophical ideals! So, when we heard about Sentrock we were eager to meet him, hear his story and share ours. My hope was that there would be a connection and an opportunity for our creativeness to collide. My hope was that just as we were inspired by Sentrock, that he would be inspired by our family and desire to share his talents by painting a mural on our bus.

Sentrock and The Hollands! We put it out there. Sentrock responded graciously and with enthusiasm that he would be keen to paint a mural on our bus. He came by to visit our space, took home our CD and is using all of it to source inspiration for the design.

We will continue a relationship with our new friend and are excited to see what inspiration comes from the urban, folky connection.

Stay tuned for what may come as we wait with anticipation for the creativity to flow.

The Process of Communal Creativity

We met Joel Pritchard on a warm Sunday evening in Feb, 2012. Actually it was my birthday, but after hitting forty, I had lost the appetite for big celebrations. We were performing that evening in the court-yard of a big suburban church in Phoenix, AZ and Joel was there because he was the young, hip art director at the church and friends with the opening band. After the show, we went back to the bus, which was parked in the lot adjacent to the court-yard, and planned on heading to bed. As we were winding down, a knock came to our door and Joel and a friend asked Craig if he wanted to go out for a drink. Always up for a party, Craig said, “sure.” I was a little miffed because it was my birthday, but honestly, I was tired and happy to have some alone time. They left, the kids went to bed and I relaxed with my glass of red wine and a book. I was lulling to sleep when the phone rang. It was Craig. He asked if I was still up. I said, yes, but just about to sleep. Inconspicuously, he asked me to stay up. I questioned but said, OK.

IMG_2971About 15 minutes later the fella’s arrived at the bus with gas station ice cream bars and big smiles on their faces. “Happy Birthday!” they exclaimed. I started to giggle and blush at their spontaneity and thoughtfulness. We ended up staying up sharing life for another two hours.

We kept in touch with Joel over the course of the year. When we visited again this January, Joel asked if we would lead a workshop at an art event he was hosting. We were delighted to be included. We had just finished laying down the base tracks for our CD and beginning to work on ideas for the CD artwork. I had a concept but am no visual artist. We had been keeping an eye out for an artist to partner with and Joel came on our radar after we saw his work at the art event. We were really inspired by it and by him. He was prayerful, had technical knowledge and most importantly he was a friend. So we asked if he would be willing to work on our project. He said, yes. We didn’t have any audio files to send him yet but he was happy to work off of the premise of the album and the lyrics. It was exciting waiting to see what inspiration he would have from our thoughtful words.

565618_590049887672574_1743006125_nHis first draft of an idea arrived and I have to admit, it wasn’t exactly the direction I was anticipating but I did like certain aspects. I shared my feelings gently and He assured us it was only a starting point and that he was going to spend more time contemplating ideas. I trusted him.

579102_591322334211996_892571188_nFast forward, we were three days before the artwork had to go to print and Joel sent me a sketch that diverted from his original work and mentioned a caricature drawing of our family riding a turtle. Parts of the sketch resonated with me,  I let Joel know I really liked the eye with the house but was struggling to find connection with the rest. And, the turtle idea was a bit cheesy sounding but I was happy to take a look. Over all, I was feeling a little panicked and unsure of how the piece was going to come together. However, I  continued to wait, pray and trust.

Meanwhile, we were parked in Lafayette, LA with the Campbell’s aka the”gift givers.” We were connected with them through our friend Chaz, who is mentored by them while attending school in Lafayette. Their home was buzzing with students coming and going during the three days that we neighbored with them. It was life-giving to be around so many young minds, all longing to grow and express themselves as spiritual beings.

20130421-200242.jpgAt one point, Kari Campbell spontaneously pulled out a few art supplies and five or six hands began to craft a piece of artwork. Chaz, a gifted artist, took the piece and added the final touches to create a colorfully, dynamic hot air balloon.

At first glance I knew it was meant to be included in the CD artwork. However, I hadn’t heard from Joel and didn’t want to undermine the hard work that he was doing. So, I called him just to see how he was coming along and he responded that he was really stumped and hadn’t been able to move forward. I told him about the inspired piece and asked if it was possible to include it or at least the concept in the CD artwork? He was keen to give it a go.

Thirty two hours later Joel sent me the draft for the final product. It was perfect! Everything about it was amazingly perfect.

Hollands_Over-Lands-&-Leas 908285_592422774101952_546274192_n

We have the original balloon piece displayed in our bus as well as the most thought-provoking artwork on our CD, including the turtle drawing which we have fallen in love with, and a phenomenal sound track that encompasses everything our family has encountered on this journey. Whatever may come, Over Land and Leas will be a treasure that will be passed down from generation to generation. It is a deep refection of community and connection, beauty and trust. It is a gift to have met so many precious souls along our way. It is a gift to have had the opportunity to create in community. It is a gift.

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 uniÔ¨Āed 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.