There was a light in her that leaked through the layers of heaviness and depression in her life. I don't remember much from that day or first week with The Art Project, Houston, but since then Ms. Carolyn has been a constant in my life and the life of The Art Project, Houston. Over the past year and a half, I have gotten to know and work closely with Ms. Carolyn. We've shared some of our stories with each other, and she has given me permission to share some of her stories on this blog.
Ms. Carolyn started living on the streets of Houston more than 10 years ago. She learned of the Bread of Life during a worship experience at St. John's Downtown. There was an announcement about the services offered everyday, so she decided to check them out. Now the Bread of Life is her community. When we first started inviting men and women receiving shelter at the Bread of Life to participate in The Art Project, Houston back in April of 2011, I must have asked Ms. Carolyn once every week, to which I received a very kind and little giggle, "No, I don't think so." She continued her daily routine without interruption, watching the project develop and getting to know me better.
In August 2011 we hosted an art show of work by the first participants of The Art Project, Houston. Our first audience were the men and women staying at the Bread of Life's After Dark Shelter. Ms. Carolyn came to see the art and drink a free cup of coffee. During the show I learned that she is a self proclaimed "artist by nature" and she was very much at home in the room filled with art. One of my colleagues told her she should join the next art class and without hesitation she said, "Ok. You can sign me up."
So in August 2011 Ms. Carolyn became a participant of The Art Project, Houston. Since our first encounter, I have been privileged to see the external and internal transformation happening in her life as she has opportunities to tap into her creative spirit within and participate in something life-giving in the midst of a reality that is life-draining and hard. She recently shared in an interview that living on the streets,
"is not convenient. I can't get to what I want to get to living on the streets physically. The environment--we are not in a rich environment; we are in a poor environment and The Art Project keeps us from being depressed about other things. Some of us may not have enough to go to McDonald's every day, and I am used to that. (smile) Art kind of helps, you know, I feel a little better doing something. I don't feel so depressed because I don't have enough Federal Notes to go to McDonald's. It's pretty much that, you know, it helps me from getting so depressed."
Carolyn's story is her own, but she is not the only one who knows this to be true. As I manage The Art Project, Houston, encountering lives like Carolyn and the numerous others who receive the invitation to participate; I am inspired, encouraged and empowered to reach my full potential. Every time I am able to get out of the office and sit at the art table with the men and women we serve, I believe more and more that just as we hunger for bread and thirst for water, we hunger for beauty and have a need to create. We all have a need to tap into the creative capability within and be affirmed as good. There is power in affirmation. There is mental and emotional power in creative expression.
There was a time Ms. Carolyn and I could not hold a conversation about the possibility of her living in an apartment, but a few months ago she asked me to check into some housing options for her to consider. For months the only art Ms. Carolyn would do was sing, stamp John 13:16 in her scrapbook and prayerfully package the TAPH Art Cards, but now she creates pottery and other simple art pieces with paper. There was a day when Ms. Carolyn would not join The Art Project class for our field trips, and last month she joined our trip to the Houston Center for Contemporary Crafts and Lawndale Art Center. She enjoyed herself and added so much to
The Layers of heaviness, depression and mental blocks that have hindered Ms. Carolyn from thinking past the moment she is in, have been falling off. Every day her light gets brighter and brighter as she creates, opens herself up to new experiences, is surrounded by an affirming team and begins to imagine new possibilities for her life.
Ms. Carolyn shines, and it is beautiful.