I’m preparing my mind – one moment of awareness at a time – to bring my crazy thinking mind back to home and life and a restful peace, beginning to practice a different presence again. Being “Present” is the only thing that has allowed me peace in the midst of the cacophony of suffering and uncertainty of the lives of my women at the studio. You don’t spend everyday in this atmosphere without remnants clinging to your heart, knowing you cannot fix any of it.
So… you continue to go back to the space where love covers a multitude of sins, over and over and over, comforting and listening and loving.
Loving like Jesus.
Over the past three years we have had the extreme blessing of meeting well over two hundred women who have walked, limped, rolled and danced through these doors. I personally open the door to each one, emphasizing the importance of their safety and their presence in this amazing space.
We have hosted self-defense classes, sexual health classes, mental health awareness classes, classes to quit smoking and Bible Studies, just to name a few. We have opened up the studio for guest teachers to teach jewelry classes, card making classes, glass painting classes, upholstery classes and a variety of craft classes. Thanks to all our generous teachers who have shared their hearts and gifts with our ladies!
We have a phenomenal teacher/facilitator/mentor/friend in Joyce Irwin who designs the curriculum, teaches the sewing internships and a multitude of other creative outlets. Joyce is the backbone of the Art Studio. She has been the consistent face and heart over the past 6 years, beginning as a visitor to the studio, a volunteer and has stuck around to share her love of the arts with these amazing women. She is an invaluable fixture here, not just to train these women in the arts, but to encourage, strengthen and pray peace over them. You are so loved Joyce!!
We have completed three years of paid Sewing Internships funded by GiveWell Community Foundation providing sixteen women a consistent paycheck and training in the dying art and skill of hand and machine sewing. The last grant session’s focus was on Advanced Sewing Techniques with the ladies just finishing up the four month Basic Sewing Internship.
The Advanced Sewing Internship was taught by Virginia Smith who had been volunteering her time each Monday afternoon to help keep the studio running smoothly and organized.
Nancy Pridmore and Chris Calkins have filled in teaching alongside Joyce bringing ideas to the craft side of the Studio. So appreciate your willingness to share your talents and your heart here!
We are, at this time, engaged in our second year of HUD, CDBG Grants. To date, we have had twenty-seven women begin our sixteen week Paid Sewing Internships. There have been eighteen women completing the program and we have had the absolute thrill of housing nine of these women who have completed this fabulous program.
These nine women are now a vital part of our Dignified Income Program. This life-saving program requires these ladies to work 44 hours a month at the studio or in the community to earn the next month’s rent that we pay to keep them housed, encouraging commitment and responsibility for their own work and their own housing. Alongside the women when they get the key to their new “home” is a housewarming gift that includes: pans, dishes, silverware, sheets, blankets, pillows, towels, garbage cans, cleaning supplies and a rolling cart for groceries. Once in their own home they receive a sewing kit that includes a table, if needed, a brand new machine that they spent four months learning and everything needed to continue working in their new home, using their newly acquired skill. It’s such a blast to watch these ladies “shop” at the studio for fabrics for their next project. Thankful for all the donations that keep us productive and growing in these “normal” life skills.
We have set up our RePurpose Art Studio tent monthly at the Downtown Farmers Market, connecting with Lakelanders and out of town visitors, sharing our studio, our ladies and the beautiful things they create. The monies made from the items sold at the market goes back to the woman who created it, giving them the opportunity for a little bit of normalcy… a bus pass, a court cost or just a pack of cigarettes.
To walk this arena…sharing the stories of our ladies, the amazing work that we do at the studio and to open up the eyes and hearts of total strangers to the plight of living homeless, humbles and strengthens me to love everyone differently. Loving the donors, the volunteers, the workers and the homeless, knowing that we are all doing our best at the level of our own understanding.
“By shedding the burden of judgement I will experience silence in my mind.”
That silence is what is required to love!
To love like Jesus.
We have had the extreme pleasure of sharing our work, as we get the opportunity, by speaking to church groups, women’s groups, community groups and other non-profits working alongside us here in Lakeland.
We coordinate with Talbot House in engaging their women residents in our internships. We have open communication with the folks at The Dream Center, Options for Women and Peace River.
We contacted Talbot House’s Women’s Director, seeking women who would be interested in the four month internship. That interaction brought us Pauline Gilmore and Glenda Harris, who completed the internship with flying colors. Pauline went on to be hired on at The Ledger and Glenda went on to complete the Advanced Sewing Internship and is now on the payroll working with Joyce teaching this current internship. Both women have their own home…be it an efficiency
The hard work accomplished here goes so far beyond threading needles… it stitches a myriad of life lessons, learned through the collective lives of all these precious souls, together with the support and courage these ladies glean from this time working alongside other women living through this very difficult time.
So…in my preparation to walk away from this office, there is a lot of sorting, organizing, decluttering and “removing me” from this physical place that has become home away from home for me over the past three years. Paintings are coming off the walls, personal notes and cards are being removed from the desk and doors.
Transferring the administrative information to a loving, sweet and capable young woman makes this shift so much easier. Thank you Rachel!
Leaving the Studio will be much more of an emotional departure.
Thank you Murray!
Thank you Brian.
Thank you for offering me this opportunity to grow-up.
Thank you for the peek into a life I could have lived.
Thank you for the lessons to love differently.
Judy moved down from Pennsylvania after her husband died. Prior to her tragic loss, she had been under hospice care with kidney failure. She recovered and made a life change and a move south. When we met, she’d been living in her station wagon with everything she owned. She had been carjacked, robbed and left with no resources and little money, finding her way to the Talbot House. The following day, surrounded by our “Tribe” of women who watch out for the newbies, Judy was escorted in through the studio door.
Judy is a writer of stories…other’s stories that have mingled into her own. She’s generous with her time, with her heart and ferociously jealous of her private space, a gift to herself she requires until the loneliness rears up and she makes her way back to the company of ladies who lovingly call her “Mama Judy.”
Judy was briefly engaged in one of our sewing internships and quickly realized the sewing machine was not going to be her friend! She comfortably switched seats and exchanged the sewing machine for beads, scissors and paint brushes, creating lovely ornaments on sand dollars among other pieces that occupy the mind and keep restless hands busy.
She wears her beautiful, long, grey hair across her shoulders, it frames her mischievous, elvish grin and sparkling eyes. Judy, as with all of us, hungers to be known, she has engaged in several relationships online hoping for love and adventure, reminiscent of younger times and committed love. Contentment seems elusive during these last couple years. Judy has suffered with one illness after another, as do most women surviving their days without direction or purpose. Waking and sleeping, smoking and eating making up their days wandering from one bench to another and learning our limitations with swings! 😉
Judy had been fortunate to get assigned a case worker who moved her into a rooming house with a roommate. I’m learning no matter how close these ladies friendships are they do not survive living with one another in crowded efficiency apartments. Judy moved back to her trusted wagon and parked at Walmart for months. She is now in a small efficiency apartment in a compound along with several male renters. She is safe. She receives a monthly check, but seldom leaves the confines of her home to pick up groceries, depending on a kind gesture from one of the men who have a vehicle. We keep in touch, making a point to do a lunch when the time allows.
Judy has a twin brother who has been promising to come down for a couple years now, his family is still in PA and his health mirrors her own. Her heart is bound to him and she aches outwardly as the time moves forward without a visit.
Judy is an old hippie with vivid memories that are kept alive by her international Facebook friends and YouTube videos of Jackson Browne, Harry Chapin and Joni Mitchell… Yes, we are kindred spirits!!
Her story melds into the studio’s beginnings as a mainstay of it’s purpose and possibilities. Her story, as most, begin at home as a child under the care of a creative, tender father and a resourceful, controlling mother. A family unit that was grown from the Eastern European cornerstone of a Grandmother, with whom Joyce shared a bedroom and remembers through her myriad of stories she shares. Those stories are told through the eyes of a wounded child, a broken woman and a resilient, beautiful friend.
Joyce can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear…Really! Everything she touches, from fibers to paints become another chapter in her story. From the life she brings to canvases and walls to recreating trash into treasures, she pours herself into each piece, Remaking that joy of handwork to remind herself that she is also remade into a capable, courageous and beautiful woman, free to be free!
As I listen to the stories that flow through these windows and walls I’m always reminded of how lost we believe we are while in the midst of our journey.
Joyce hasn’t forgotten her paths through her labyrinth- she regularly looks back to remind herself how far she’s come.
Organizing the storage room again. We have been gifted with so many amazing components to recreate beautiful handmade pieces to sell allowing our ladies to bring in a little bit of an income, and yet, more importantly build confidence and wonder that some have never experienced by creating something beautiful with their own two hands. We have bins and boxes of fabric, all manner of sewing supplies, yarns and ribbons for knititng and crochet. Drawers full of card-making equipment and lovely papers, exquisite cross-stitch kits, looms and basket weaving supplies. The women have been thrilled with making colorful wreaths with ribbon and flowers for Spring Obsession at Munn Park. I could go on and on about the materials that fill our cabinets and keep these magnificent heads and hands busy during the week at 310 Plum Street, but you are all welcome to join us in our work and play.
I came across, again this week, a bag full of cut-up clothes along with a couple log cabin blocks that was intended to be the beginning of a memory quilt…Sabine came to the studio excited about having somewhere to be out of the heat. She quickly found her niche’ with a paintbrush and watercolors. She then ventured out with sewing by hand and one day, weepy and grey, she told me her story. Her mom had died the precious year and Sabine was broken and empty. she began self-medication and that escalated into a place she never believed she would go. We spoke of the process of quilt-making and the therapy that flows through all aspects of the process. The following week she comes in with a bag of clothes. Looking them over, carefully choosing other fabrics to coordinate with the memories each piece held. After all the chatter and laughter, I handed Sabine a pair of shears. She felt them in her hand and she broke down in a body trembling sob. We sat down as she allowed her grief to flow unashamed and unfiltered, tears wetting the delicate patterns on the fabric of her mother’s blouse. She dried her tears and made the first cut, severing the side seam and quieting her heart. We stood together cutting and stacking in neat piles the 2″ strips that were to be rebuilt into a renewed purpose…covering Sabine with the love, comfort and smell of her beloved mother.
Sabine never returned.
There have been so many women, over these past 3 years, that have sat for a while with us…
Some come for a peaceful space blending into quiet corners.
Some come in angry and volatile, throwing their pain from wall to wall, keeping us dodging and learning to love differently.
Some are hungry to be heard, to be seen…to be known, sharing their stories and looking for healing they didn’t believe possible.
Most come in for a while and leave…
They leave knowing themselves a little differently…
They leave having been heard…
They leave knowing they have been accepted as they are…
They leave believing life can shift in a safe space…for a while.
Strange, but I don’t remember when “Cindy” began coming to the studio – it feels like she has always been here. She just pitches in and does what is asked or required of any given project, meticulously finishing each sewing project with sequins and flare! She’s become a proficient seamstress even though she stumbles over the simplest concepts. A gentle reminder and she’s off and running creating lovely bags and aprons to sell at the market.
“Cindy” lives with constant pain from the arthritis racking her body. She is diligent in her doctor appointments knowing it is the only path to healing and relief. She has had little contact with her family until recently.
Watching and listening to her responses, her excuses and reasonings of her choices, it has become so telling that her childhood was one of belittling, shaming and neglect, building her desperate case for acceptance and love. She has little concept of personal space probably due to her hunger to be close…to be seen…to be heard…to be loved.
“Cindy’s” residual emotional pain lies just under a fine veil of peace and joy. She clings to that delicate lace with a tight fist, outwardly denying anger as an emotion until her lie cuts through. “Cindy” has few friends and repels the ladies like same pole magnets, not realizing that the impersonation she carries like a shield isolates her. The shield is no longer necessary…
She is beautiful.
She is capable.
She is loved.
She is enough.
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
We have been enjoying a couple weeks of open studio time…building jewelry racks, finalizing string art and decoupage projects before beginning our sewing orientation last Friday.
Since beginning this particular blog back in June of 2017, the studio has continued to evolve into a peaceful place of learning. Learning how to speak, learning how to listen, learning confidence, learning courage and learning what love looks like at all these different turns in our lives. So many women have walked through these doors carrying a myriad of trauma, drama and consequences of decisions, choices and paths taken. Some continue in the same cycles, falling into the same holes, awaiting the same fool with the same ladder screaming the same promise to walk her through the same fix to a problem only she is able to identify. We learn, sitting in this space, that we can love without being responsible for others, we can care without putting ourselves in their shoes. We must learn to love differently and without expectations or agendas… Only then are we all able to create beautiful things out of a renewed beautiful heart.
Some come for coffee, some for the phone and others just curious to see what happens inside these doors. Some enter smelling like they just bathed in beer, some like they crawled out of a chimney! All accepting an open door, a smile, a listening ear and a hug. Willing, for the moment, to breathe in the quiet, feeling the change of energy and taking what they need…just for that moment. Over the past months we have had strangers become friends and some we thought were friends become strangers. The studio becomes a micro-community as our relationships grow and shift and show us ourselves. Each one of us learning more about ourselves, seeing ourselves reflected in the irritating characters of our fellow travelers. We are a pretty telling crowd, us humans! If only we can own our part in this space we work, live and love, others will have the same realization…possibly…and we can “keep the ugly outside!”
I’m dressed, fed and coffee’d up, ready to get in my wagen and drive the 10 minutes to my “job”. A job with a dignified wage, including vacation, sick days and holidays. I pull up in my regular shaded spot under a lovely large tree and sneak in the back door, through the courtyard, over toys, balls and swimming pools. On the way; making eye contact with people I’ll never invite to my lovely comfortable home. I’ve been told very definitely that I cannot do that! My family knows me!
Opening the back door to the studio I quickly jump down the three steps to disarm the alarm system that has yet to deter four break-ins. I turn on the AC and haul my bag to the office, on the way noticing the women have already begun to assemble outside the front door. All shapes and sizes, colors and cultures, in all forms of physical, emotional and mental states. As I put together the makings of 40 cups of coffee, I breathe deeply and prepare my heart and mind for the personalities and characters that make up my days and who have been lovingly instrumental in the remaking of me and the awakening of a passion to love differently and unconditionally, learning not to take the pain to myself and not to give more than they are willing to give for themselves.
Just outside the door “Jane” sits along with 8 to 10 others who have spent the night at Talbot House, the homeless shelter around the corner from the studio. They’ve been woken very early, breakfasted and sent out to walk the streets, find a library or an acceptable park to sit in – or come to RePurpose Art Studio. The regulars bring the women who are new to the streets to find a safe place, a cup of coffee, conversation…or not!
“Jane” is a veteran. A woman in her fifties who cared for her elderly father until he moved into a nursing home. The house was sold and she ended up at Talbot House. That was well over two years ago. She has been in and out of the shelter after her 21 days were used up…sleeping on porches, behind dumpsters and in a blessed motel if and when a friend gets a monthly check and shares their space in a local motel. She has been a good friend; kind and consistent in character. She has finally gotten a case worker and when she is lucid and there’s no full moon, she answers questions and is helpful in her own recovery. Being able to access medications and getting to doctor appointments is vital and always dependent on bus schedules and accessibility of a bus pass. “Jane” has come across wall after wall, mostly of her own building, keeping her frustrated and some moments impatient, angry and inconsolable. Depression sets in and she disappears for a few days building stories in her head to spread intrigue for the neighborhood and excuse her own inconsistencies. Her husband died years ago and she hasn’t been able to make life work since. PTSD has set in and rears it’s head when she gets agitated or witnesses injustices among her community. “Jane” is a beautiful woman, capable of creating a sustainable home if only she had a safe affordable space to be.
Once in the studio the smell of coffee and the relief of a wave of cool air brings a visible recognition of peace. The studio has become a home to many women stuck in the cycle of homelessness. Stepping in the door, leaving the dank humidity and sweltering heat of Central Florida’s summer, they enter into a welcoming refuge…surrounding the women with upholstered spaces, clean pleasant smells, books, puzzles, a wide array of creative outlets and a kitchen. A place of silence or an opportunity for conversation and building relationships in this very unsettling life experience. No one chooses a life of homelessness…certainly, decisions we make lead us on our paths direction at each maker, each one life changing.
Since the original writing of this story “Jane” has been housed! She called me this morning with a new phone number, an address and a voice emanating a peace I haven’t heard from her in a very long time. A home is essential for healing.
“Names” were changed.
Trust becomes such a treasured gift. Some of our women spill out their pain like water – sometimes because the pain is so raw and bleeding they cannot hide behind it or see beyond it. Therefore, it is what goes before them as a banner of continuous battles, not knowing that love and trust is even possible. Some bury their pain deep and are struck unexpectedly when it fights its way to the surface through a smell, a song or a conversation. Tears are wiped away quickly with a turn of the head, not allowing the pain to take the floor – once seen the pain might become a torrent that is inescapable. Once seen they are no longer holding their shield of protection – their hands are covering their wounds.
Trust takes time. Trust takes consistent care. Trust takes a healing space of proven love.
Love isn’t surprised or shocked at the pain revealed. Love is what allows me sleepless nights, incomprehensible of my friends’ pain and inconceivable perpetrators…putting me aside to see and listen when they are ready and safe to speak. Love just listens. Love doesn’t negate the pain. Love doesn’t erase the horrors. Love doesn’t mute the screams. Love doesn’t blame, condemn or shame. Love allows the truth of their experience to pour out; allowing a small space to breathe a fresh breath of trust – even if it is, “I trust you more than I trust them!”
I tiny bit of trust is a beginning.
“Allo”, “You don’t by any chance know the way through this labrynth, do you?”, “Who Me? No, I’m just a worm.”
Sarah: “You don’t by any chance know the way through this labyrinth, do you?”
Worm: “Who me? No, I’m just a worm.”
Sitting at the studio listening to the women maneuvering their way through their own personal labyrinths… brought back to me the wisdom of a worm from my children’s favorite childhood movie, The Labyrinth. The scene is a young woman searching through a labyrinth for her brother who was kidnapped by the Goblin King…David Bowie! She gets frustrated as the paths keep switching and changing and she comes across this darling little worm with a British accent. He invites her in to meet the Misses and have a cup of tea…
The choices each of us make takes us on twists and turns as we seek the “treasures” at the end of our journeys. Or, are the treasures supposed to be found along the path? The treasure being a home, a job, a relationship, a sense of well-being, peace, contentment or love.
As fellow travelers we come against crossroads or dead-ends, each turn takes us on a different path. Each path takes us through life experiences that lead to new paths. Each choice has a different outcome, some take us through shortcuts, others; the long way around, sometimes circling back over and over again. Some places where we have no idea how we got there!
Worm: “Oh no, don’t go that way…Never go that way! That way will take you straight to the castle!”
I’m continuously finding that I’m just a listener, engaging in each of their labyrinth experiences and yet simultaneously, a hiker in my own. Taking my own path, choosing my own journey through my own personal labyrinth. I cannot know their way, nor am I responsible for their choices of paths. But, I can be a worm on the wall…listening and inviting them in for tea.
I recently spent four days in Austin, Texas living in a tiny house in a community of previously homeless humans.
I engaged with folks over meals, as I walked the streets with my morning coffee, around evening bonfires and ending my precious time there with a late night karaoke sing!
We shared our stories and became more aware of our commonness. A connectedness that meanders through joy and pain and healing, sometimes separating friends and families and unexpectedly creating new ones.
A strength of character grown through struggle…Community!
We all need a community of people we surround ourselves with – those that know us and love us anyway. Those without expectations. Those who give and love unconditionally.
A family…A Community!
As the homeless are housed here in Lakeland they are separated from their community and too easily become isolated, depressed and hopeless.
Community First Village in Austin, Texas has created a beautiful place of community. A place to learn to live, an opportunity for healing and an atmosphere of love.
There’s much to learn walking the streets in this neighborhood, much to learn sharing the studio with the women in my community.
This community is a lesson in Courage!