Twenty-Two: Reading and Dreaming

As the Art Beyond the Classroom leadership team looks to the future for jobs, graduate schools, and start-up business ideas we have been reading Allison Trowbridge’s book Twenty-Two. She writes the book in the form of letters from the perspective of a mentor to a college aged student; in the letters she laughs and cries along with dear Ashley during her college career.

As I have been reading, I have been struck by the narrator’s poise, wisdom, and down-to-earth writing. Writing with maturity and grace, she says “To become a joyful adult, one must grow in experience and wisdom without losing one’s childlike wonder” (71). As I look into graduate school, I hope to grow in experience within my field, while maintaining my curiosity. As we decide next steps for ABC, we look to professionals for mentoring while maintaining our mission. And although we may have ups and downs along the way Trowbridge reminds us in her book to seek relationships with those we can talk about our hopes and dreams.

Exploration of Limiting Situations

Hello all–Dani here!

Art Beyond the Classroom’s mission is to provide a safe space for imaginative freedom, creative play, and exploration in visual art for children (ages 3-21) in limiting situations.

But what is considered a “limiting situation?” If you really think about it, aren’t we all limited in some way by some thing – whether it is in or out of our control? To be limited is…


…to be confined, to be restricted, to be lacking breadth and originality – to fulfill that definition, doesn’t there need to be something to base “limited” off of? A norm to determine what should be considered “limited” and what is, well, for lack of better terminology, “normal?”

I struggle with this idea that there is such a thing as “normal” that exists, so instead, I will refer to what is typical. That brings forth a whole host of other issues. On one hand, there is the “personal typical,” or what exists as a norm within one’s own personal understanding of their life.

SquaresI like to visualize this like two squares:

One square is what the person expects; it is the distinctive qualities of their life that pertains to their life a majority of the time. In other words, it would not be out of the ordinary for them to have experiences within that entire square (diamond – lightly shaded). The other square, shaded a bit darker, is the situation that life throws at them that would be considered “limiting” to them personally because it restricts them from reaching all edges of what is typical for them. This is a subjective consideration of what is abnormal because though this may be truly limiting to one person, for the person beside them, the darker grey square may be considered part of their typical experience. (Hence why defining typical and limiting is so challenging!)

The personal typical can include a host of different scenarios, but one I have personally experienced stands out for me as I try to wrap my mind around this idea of “limiting situations:”

When I was entering in to my freshman year of high school – picture it now – 14 years old, I was a little socially awkward, hardworking, and a non-athletic-looking athlete. Towards the end of the summer, I noticed an increase in pain in my back while I would be doing different activities. My parents decided that I should go get it checked out. Little did I know that over the next two and a half years, what I considered “typical” would be limited by scoliosis, or the curvature of your spine.

Now, in hindsight, I am very lucky that it was just scoliosis! It truly is not the end of the world, though at times it felt a little bit like it as a young teen.

As my growth spurt continued, a wider “S” curve developed in my back (rather than making me a few inches taller, which would have come in handy as a basketball player), so the doctors decided that to avoid a spinal fusion surgery I should be put into a Boston Brace for 20 hours a day until my growth plates closed. What is a Boston Brace? Basically, it is a 1.5 inch thick solid plastic corset that is hand designed to theoretically help prevent my curvature from increasing. “For 20 hours a day” – giving me enough time to exercise, shower, and maybe have dinner without being physically restrained by this crazy contraption.

I vividly remember the first day wearing the brace to school (thankfully, I could wear under my clothes, but you could see the edges of the brace through the clothes sometimes); I was in Leadership Development class – third row from the front. Being slightly clumsy as it was to begin with, I knocked my pencil off of my desk. So, as any student would, I reached down to grab my pencil. It took about half a second of reaching over to realize that I had just tipped too far, and, without any access to abdominal or back muscles, there was nothing stopping me from crashing face first into that cold, dirty, white tile floor. And so, that is exactly what happened.

Thankfully, I was able to laugh at myself and all was well; I became friends with the girl next to me who would kindly pick up my pencil the numerous times I dropped it after that incident and I learned a knew wall of my abilities. The point of this story is that for the next two years, I had to constantly learn to adapt and change what I considered “typical” because of a restriction that was placed in my life. I was suddenly forced within that dark grey square. However, this was a personal typical experience. Some people, people with a physical disability, for example, live their daily lives without being able to reach that pencil on the floor. That is a typical experience for them. In that regard, I am extremely blessed that the situation I was limited by was only temporary! But for me, this was out of the ordinary and therefore caused a level of discomfort and made me feel confined in what I was capable of doing.

On the other hand, there is something I like to call the “cultural typical,” or what we as a society or culture (broadly defined, as there are endless cultures within our larger society) define as typical. Whether it is stages in development or experiences that children face, the cultural typical embodies what is popularly associated with a child in our society. You can imagine the same square model as shown above for this – the outer square being what is expected to been experienced as a child (age 3-21), and the darker square being a limit placed on groups in society that does not allow them to reach that expectation.

In my hand-written version of this, I jumped with an arrow to this thought: “What are differences between an obstacle and a limiting situation?” Maybe, in part, this is what the issue is above that I mentioned: we all face OBSTACLES, but do we all always face limiting situations?

Here is my mental image of this thought:

An obstacle is like a hurdle. It is difficult, sometimes extremely difficult, to get over. And these hurdles that we face may be really low or really high or right in the middle. Some hurdles will take training and assistance to get over. Some we may knock down! But, in some regard, they end. We pass through them and can look back on them whether we succeed greatly or fail tragically at overcoming them and say, “That was a real challenge!”

However, a limiting situation I picture as more of a small, dark walled-room – a room like on some magic shows, that has moving walls that close in on the person in the room until they figure out some way to escape in order to not be smashed by the no longer existent space! (Ok, maybe that is a little dramatic, but stay with me.) Unlike an obstacle, a limiting situation is a lot more complicated; it isn’t something that you can see past when you are looking at it: all you can see is the limits of where you are. Your training to “overcome” or cope with the oppression of those limits has to take place within the limits themselves.

It reminds me of the concept of squares and rectangles: every square is a rectangle but not every rectangle is a square; every limit is an obstacle but not every obstacle is a limiting situation.

Ultimately and in some ways unfortunately, I could try to conceptualize what we mean by “limiting situations” for 100 pages or more! In other words, this is in no way, shape, or form a complete thought. However, for now, I will say this: Art Beyond the Classroom seeks to serve children who are within facilities which either associate them with or, in some ways, put them into personal or cultural limitations: specifically, our curriculum spans across pediatric healthcare, emotional support and trauma, and special education and early intervention areas.

ABC has a redemptive view on suffering similar to that of Viktor Frankl as he recounts in Man’s Search for Meaning: one tries to find a greater purpose, a redeeming end, and hope amidst the darkest of “small squares.”

To leave you on an uplifting note, I want to quote an idea from one of Allison Trowbridge letters from her book Twenty-Two:

All I can say is, regardless of how bad it feels today, regardless of how dark and discouraging and constricting, by tomorrow today will have passed, and you will be a day forward…That is the glory of our world. You might bear the weight of life’s woes on your shoulders, but you can bear it – because in twenty-four hours you will be, I guarantee, one day further along. The dance of life is learning how to watch the world turning amid your troubles. It’s learning how to watch the world turn and let it swing you forward. It’s up to you whether you leap into that next day or crash into it…That is to say, tomorrow will come. And you, the beautiful human that you are, will be more resilient for having journeyed through the lessons of this hard moment. (p. 73-74)


How ABC Helped Me Apply For Grad School

IMG_2606Over Fall Break I, Katy, was staring at my computer reading over graduate school prompts wondering what am I going to write about? How will I showcase my talents outside of the classroom in a way that would be appealing to admissions counselors? Should I write about dance? No, there would be too much to explain. Should I write about my trip to Brazil? No, they probably read a lot about semesters and trips abroad. Then I thought: how about ABC competing in Impact Venture Challenge (IVC)? Hmm, I thought, that might just work.

For the rest of Fall Break I brainstormed and wrote how IVC had impacted my communication skills and how I perceive ABC’s target market. Even though IVC pushed the more “communications” side of my English degree, it still highlighted my close reading and writing skills.

Throughout the challenge one of the skills I frequently had to tap into was perseverance. Some times that meant going to the Mac Lab late at night and staying even later or even going to the Mac Lab early in the morning. Seriously, I went there during chapel one time because I knew a class would not be meeting there. These frequent trips to the Mac Lab were due to saving our logo in the correct file name, correct file size, creating a slogan, and always having our graphics up to date.

While I was writing my graduate school personal statements I made sure to outline my commitment and leadership skills demonstrated by my participation in IVC. Thanks ABC! I’ll let you know if I get in!

Open Door Development Day

As we prepare to send out volunteer teams, in addition to placing teams we need to update our curriculum, too. Last Friday Ally and Dani met with any volunteer that wanted to come to discuss new ideas. Big shout-out to Jennifer for helping us! We developed 10 new curriculum strategies.

Dani said, “many [of the strategies] are very intuitive with unique sensory based materials and an aesthetic focus with a secondary concentration on process.” By emphasizing process over product we strive to let children imagine and play while making art. Dani also said that they tried to creatively draw from their own studio experiences. It is important to us to keep our curriculum up to date to keep art exciting for the kids!

A goal we have for this year is to create an example piece for each curriculum strategy made by our volunteers. These would serve as one way the lesson made turn out as, but not the only way. All of our projects turn out always turn our differently because all kids are unique.

Close Reading: Our Slogan

In the field of English, what I (Katy) study, when we talk about analyzing a minute detail we say we are “close reading.” When we began Impact Venture Challenge last Fall our slogan was the beautiful quote from Maya Angelo: “You can’t use up creativity, the more you use the more you have.” Sadly though, it was too long to be a traditional slogan, so we changed it… in one night. But I love what we came up with.
Cultivating imagination. Emboldening young voices.
Cultivating rather than fostering imagination nuances our desire for ABC services to hep the imagination grow. As we return to locations, like a farmer returning to his field, we tend to the budding imagination of the kids we work with. Our lessons intentionally help students ask questions about their work to push their imaginations.
“Emboldening young voices” is the product of the careful cultivation. Emboldening is equipping kids with boldness to express—in art making—things that are hard for them. This expression is the first step, and we hope to embolden them to express in speaking, writing, drawing, etc. as well. Each word was carefully chosen to evoke certain images and explain our purpose for ABC.

Peace in the Chaos

While Katy is studying abroad for a couple of weeks, I (Ally) am taking over our blogging… so get ready for some deep thinking because I am letting my mind wander!

Lately, I have been challenging myself to just “Let God.” Now, what exactly does this mean?

The idea behind “Let God,” to me, means to give up your reigns and place your full trust and intent into God’s hands. Sometimes, I still struggle to trust that He has my best interests in mind, and I want to remain in control of my life or the outcome of certain events. Over time, I have learned that the harder I try to control a situation, the more out of control I feel. Therefore, my attempts are counterproductive and hinder my faithfulness in God’s love for me and others.

With that said, the idea to “Let God” goes hand-in-hand with the future of ABC. I think I can speak for all four of us when I say I catch myself dreaming B I G about what is to come for spreading our services. I do it all the time, and sometimes, I find myself trying to plan out EXACTLY how I want it to happen… but no matter how much I try to “schedule” ABC’s lifespan, things generally take a 180 and I find us heading in another direction before I can blink.

I think I am learning to love God’s little surprises, though, along the way.

If you asked me what I thought I would be doing now prior to my freshman year of college, I would NEVER have imagined that ABC would even exist. I would have thought I’d be a typical college student, maybe involved in some clubs, but I had no idea I would assist in creating a program. Even if we back-track to when it was just Dani and me, casually sliding into a friendship (that changed my life!!) that created a partnership that simultaneously designed ABC, we had zero inkling that ABC would become something so much bigger than ourselves. God’s hand has relentlessly guided our hearts to allow our program to flourish in ways we did not know were possible.

Almost two years ago (our sophomore year), God called us to create an expansion initiative, and through countless hours of dreaming, planning, and listening for His voice, we grew in Leadership members the following year (just this past year) AND added volunteers.
Yes, I realize I am repeating everything you have probably heard over the course of our journey, blah blah blah, but wow. Letting God work through all four of us (Leadership Team) in His time at His pace, instead of us seeking to please Him (His gifts of grace and love are not gifts we earn, rather they are free gifts that equip us to better serve His people) allows us to genuinely find joy in serving others, work as a team of leaders, and spread the word about the needs of God’s Kingdom, rather than our deeds “checking off a box” for everyday life. When we allow God to take the reins of our lives, of ABC, and when we give up our perceived “power” to Him, before our eyes, He will do great [things through us and for us], for He promises these for us.

If we all fought to schedule our entire lives, the way we think we want them to be, we would not have time to admire the way that God has already designed our hearts and the moments ahead. We would constantly be in battle with the One who gave it all. Sure, I still struggle to do this every day, but we can all challenge each other to find peace in His will for our lives.

That’s not to say don’t dream… that means dream B I G G E R, T A L L E R, and W I D E R, because God may fulfill your wishes, if they align with His calling for your life, in ways even better than your mind ever planned, and in ways that will leave your hearts longing for more of Him.

Letting God means, allowing Him to use your life to be exactly where you need to be, exactly when you need to be there. That’s the key to finding peace in the chaos, because where you are, right this second, may very well be exactly where you will bloom tomorrow.