Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Encircled.


People often ask me if I have any religious paintings. The truth is, they are all religious, they are all a form of worship for me. Even the wildest landscape will usually have strong spiritual underpinnings, not the least of which is emulating the Creator. Yes, I have paintings of temples and even a portrait of the Savior. But that doesn’t detract from the deeply spiritual meanings behind all of my paintings, often revealed or at least alluded to in their titles. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. 


This week’s scripture reading contains the intersection of meaning and inspiration behind this painting, Encircled. Yesterday I read one of the most beautiful accounts of the Savior, witnessed by thousands, where he calls for the humblest, most vulnerable members of the multitude to be brought to him...first for those "afflicted in any way", that he might heal them, and then he calls for the children. He prays to the Father and blesses them, with language more beautiful than they had ever before heard or imagined. He blesses each child, one by one. He weeps, twice. He experiences a fulness of joy. Angels descend from heaven in a pillar of fire and encircle the children. It is clear that they are being blessed, protected, and that they are valued beyond measure. 

I began this painting as a brief sketch and a plein air painting, which I ended up calling Stream of Light. While I was standing on a bridge painting the glorious back-lit autumn leaves and the stream below, a handful of teenage girls walked into the scene. The overhanging leaves encircled them like a giant halo. I reached for my camera. I knew immediately that this would make an important painting, and I knew what its title would be. I finished my plein air painting on site, but this was a larger studio painting, based on the earlier experience. It took a little more than a year to complete. 

In the scripture story Jesus says, “Behold your little ones.” Granted, a group of teenagers wouldn’t necessarily be thought of as little ones. But which of our children most desperately need to know they are valued? Need the Savior’s protection? and blessings and love? Teenagers. Definitely.

Another favorite scripture including the word encircled is found in 2 Nephi 1:15. 
"I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” 
That is how I felt that autumn morning as I stood there taking in this scene at Sundance. The Lord’s glory was everywhere. I felt it. I felt Him. And I felt his love surround me in warmth and light. 

That is the kind of meaning behind just one of my paintings. This is an award-winner, a large, visual statement-maker. But to me it represents a spiritual experience, a couple of favorite scriptures, and being embraced by the love of the Lord. 






Encircled is September’s Painting of the Month, on sale for 20% off, framed and ready to hang, and fill your home with spirit and light.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

A love note from my Mother

It's my mother's birthday today. She would be 83. But she passed away when she was just 54. Nearly 30 years ago.

I love that her birthday is right between May Day and Mother's Day. It's a two week mom-fest of flowers and memories. One thing I especially love about my mom is how humble she was, despite her amazingness. Nothing was about her. She loved to point the spotlight on others. She had the sweetest birthday tradition of sending flowers to her mother, to thank her for bringing her into the world.


Mom's favorite flowers were daisies. A perfect symbol for her. Bright, cheerful, and humble.

Today I'm sharing a note she wrote to her mother, on her birthday. It's dated May 5, 1981. My cousin Adrienne brought me this note when we moved here from California, 15 years ago. I was so touched that she had it, and had saved it for me. And now I'm sharing it with you. In a small attempt to honor my mother. So much love wrapped up in one little hand-written note!

Mother Dear -- 
I love you. I always love you, but on my birthday I guess I love you just a little bit more. I'm thinking about the past 44 years and wonder where or what I'd have been if you had given up after six children. 
I can't imagine living with someone who didn't love Christmas and bells and beautiful dishes and parties and family togetherness.  
I shudder to think of growing up with someone who didn't haveth patience to tolerate my adolescence' who didn't understand my need to stay home from school occasionally to clear out the clutter in my head; or who didn't play the piano and encourage me to learn, and then turn over to the her prized privilege of accompanying Daddy. 
I needed a mother who could build me and make me feel capable of anything, one who could show me by example the things you can accomplish when you trust in the Lotd and do your best. I needed a mother to show me that being a good wife is being a listener and confidant, a supporter and builder a value for pressure release, and at the same tie growing intellectually and spiritually to stand by his side.  
Mostly, where could I have found a mother who could teach me to love my Heavenly Father, that nothing is as important as the gospel of Jesus Christ -- and to do it by example as well as precept.  
Boy am I glad I got you! 
Love,
Susan

Thank you, Mom, for your enduring example of kindness, devotion, humility, and pure goodness. I love you so much. I'm especially grateful for those times when I can still feel you nearby, feel your guiding influence and support, from clear across the universe.

These flowers, titled "Mom's Birthday Daisies" are for you! xoxox

Friday, April 3, 2020

Now More than Ever...A Sanctuary of Faith

Last January I was invited to create a poster for our stake (similar to diocese) women's conference. As soon as I hung up the phone an image came to me. I could see it so clearly in my head I called my friend and described it to her over the phone. The theme of the conference was Sanctuary of Faith. Recently, our prophet had encouraged us to "remodel our homes into Sanctuaries of Faith."  Instantly I knew the poster needed to have a home inscribed over a temple. I knew it was inspired.

I wish the execution of it came to me as easily as the idea did. It took weeks to research different temples, different houses, different color schemes. And then how to put it all together? This was one of those times where I knew I was being led, and I continued to press forward, trusting that it would all turn out somehow if I was dogged enough. 

There were stacks of paper all over my drawing table...sketches, paintings, outlines. Then one day I had to paint a demonstration of a sky for my UVU class. And I knew I needed to finish this project. Then I realized the sky I was practice-painting for my class was actually the perfect backdrop for this Sanctuary image I was working on. I cut out a white paper outline of our Provo City Center Temple, and laid it over the top. A perfect fit. I used the exact same colors from my sky painting to paint some shadows around a simple but welcoming white house. 

Then there was the nightmare of scanning everything and composing it all digitally. Thank heaven my husband is a technological wizard because this required a massive amount of his wizardry to create the final product. 


We had barely printed enough to give each sister in attendance a small photocopied souvenir. Many people asked if they could order prints. People who were at the conference, people who missed it, people from far away who somehow heard about or saw the poster. I started researching ways of reproducing it in a way that would be affordable. (My fine art prints require a $175 color match before the first print is even created. And the cost just goes up from there.) That project quickly fell to the back burner as I prepared to publish and launch my cookbook with an exhibit of the paintings that illustrate the recipes.


Fast forward to last week. Who could have imagined a year ago that now all our chapels and temples would be closed, because of the Covid-19 pandemic? That our only sacrament services would be held inside the walls of our own homes? That all of our work and all of our worship would take place here at home? 

It occurred to me that the world needs this image, and needs it now. To remind us that our homes can be sanctuaries of faith, that heaven's light can reach us here, and that our light can fill the world. Because we all need a reminder that our homes have now become our primary houses of worship. So a sweeter spirit can prevail. 

My husband once again helped me recompose the art as a stand-alone piece, in sizes and proportions that work better for matting and framing. And here it is. A print for which there is no original. The print is the original. 


We created a version without type as well.

We found a way to reproduce them that would be more affordable, so I could offer them to you at half the price of my regular fine art prints. Right now, when we need them most. In a very limited edition. Click through to my website, janaparkin.com, to order the size that's right for you.  (If you're local, simply venmo me @ jana-parkin and I'll save your order here for pick-up (no wait time, no shipping!)

QUESTION: How have you remodeled your home into a Sanctuary of Faith? I'd love to hear your experiences.




Sunday, March 22, 2020

Calling all Modern-Day Josephs

This morning I received an email in my inbox with the subject line: "Calling All Modern Day Josephs." I assumed this was about the prophet Joseph Smith, as we've been focusing on the 200th anniversary of his first vision in the sacred grove.

Instead, this was an inspiring email from another Christian contact, Pedro Adao, recounting the story of Joseph of Egypt, the dreamer and interpreter from the Old Testament. (As the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat tells us, "It's all there in Chapter 39 of Genesis."

I particularly loved the insight Pedro shared about Joseph:
"We love the story of Joseph...
But Joseph only had the opportunity to rise to power and influence, because he accessed the wisdom of God to bring salvation to the people he served... 
IN THE MIDST OF A CRISIS.  
You see, IF THERE WASN'T A FAMINE, NONE OF US WOULD EVEN KNOW WHO JOSEPH WAS!"
That really rang true for me, at this time when there is so much that is going very, very wrong. Those who turn to God will be given wisdom, will be called to serve, will be able to help and even possibly save others.

One of the truly great messages of the story of Joseph of Egypt is that God hears prayers and talks to ordinary people. Joseph was among the youngest of a full dozen sons, and could easily have been overlooked. He was a victim of familial abuse, he was sold into slavery, he was imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. But he also had a connection to God.

In fact, he had a particular gift from God: The gift of visions (prophetic dreams) and the interpretation of dreams. He was able to use these gifts to get himself out of prison, and eventually to become second only to Pharaoh in the leadership of Egypt, and was able to save his family and his nation from a devastating famine.

But every single one of us has a spiritual gift (at least one!), a gift that helps us connect to heaven and know when God is speaking to us, a gift that then allows us to help others. And every single one of us can use our gifts right now, in the midst of a crisis, to connect with God, and to help others. God might need us to use our gifts now more than ever before.

But we have to learn a few things. We have to know HOW God speaks to us personally. We have to know what it is God wants us to do, and we have to trust God that he can use us, despite our limitations, and that, including our gifts, he can use us to bring about good in the world, to bring about change.

With that in mind, I want to talk a little about that other Joseph, Joseph Smith. Like Joseph of Egypt, he was no one important. He was a 14-year-old farm boy. In his day, there's wasn't a famine of food, but a famine of hearing the word of the Lord. (Amos 8:3) His story, too, lets us know that God hears prayers and talks to ordinary people in extraordinary times. His account of his First Vision, when he prayed for wisdom in a grove of trees, is an excellent pattern for all of us for both seeking the wisdom of God, and understanding how God works in and through us.

I have spent the past several weeks studying the First Vision extensively, and created a 10-page Discovery Journal. to help us seek God's input and discover our individual work, gifts, and callings. I have taken the First Vision account apart line by line, and added questions you can ask yourself, and ask God, to begin to discover the work God has specifically for you.




Please leave me a comment below with your email address if you would like me to send you a PDF of this Discovery Journal, to record your own spiritual insights. There is no cost to you whatsoever. I'm sharing this with anyone who would like one.

I truly believe we can all be modern-day Josephs, in the sphere where God intends us to serve. I know we can connect with our higher power, and have a greater influence for good in the world. To start, you just have to ask.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Creating a Sacred Space

Years ago, when I was in the presidency of our children's organization at church, I was assigned to make a decoration for the bulletin board at the front of the room. These bulletin boards are designed to help the children focus on a theme for the year, with words and pictures to beautify and liven up the room, and give the children something attractive to look at when their little minds start to wander.

Well, as a graphic designer and a fine artist, the very idea of a bulletin board kind of makes my skin crawl. I don't want to spend my time cutting out construction paper letters or corrugated cardboard scalloped borders when I can do that in a fraction of the time on my computer. More important, I don't want to create something busy and cluttered when there is real peace to be found.

I decided to create something truly beautiful for the room that would engender reverence--not by distracting the children with dozens of words and photos but by creating a painting of a beautiful, peaceful place--the sacred grove. I recruited a talented young friend, Katie Hamblin (now Kate Baxter), and we made a plan.

I bought big tubes of acrylic paint. I assembled photos and sketches, and then bought a piece of canvas big enough to cover the entire bulletin board. Katie and I rolled it out on my kitchen floor and made our initial drawing. But there were kids and a dog running through the kitchen, so we ultimately decided the best place to do the actual painting was in the cultural hall at the church.

So we schlepped everything over to the church the next time we arranged to work. We got the canvas rolled out and taped down, all the paints arranged and got to work, happily talking and painting. All of a sudden we heard the most horrific noises. Rattling in the rafters. Pounding on the roof. Shaking. We paused, hoping it would stop. But it didn't. Terrified, we grabbed everything and ran out of the building, expecting to see dark storm clouds and thunder and lightning. Instead, outside it was completely still. We looked for repairmen on the roof. Nothing. After we stopped to catch our breath we realized what forces were at work. It was very clear the adversary did not want this painting to happen.

Metaphorically, we had experienced the same kind of resistance Joseph Smith initially encountered when he went into the woods to pray. The next time we went to work at the church we said a prayer before we started. (I don't know why we didn't think of that before!) We were able to finish our mural to cover the bulletin board in peace. And the primary children had something beautiful in the room to remind them that you can pray to heavenly Father anytime, anywhere, and he will hear you.

That was over ten years ago. The painting we created is still in the room, with the canvas stretched on  framing boards and hung on the south wall.

Since then I have both encountered and created many sacred spaces. Places so beautiful it takes your breath away. Places so peaceful it could only come from God. Places where God has spoken directly to me. They are as banal as the chenille blanket on the bed where I knelt as a child. As grand as Capitol Reef National Park, where twice I've spent a week teaching students how to paint. As quiet as a trail alongside a stream where I walked in the early morning with a friend. As illuminating as the light streaming through a leaded-glass window in an otherwise dark parish church.

My question to you now is this: Where are your sacred spaces? Where have you gone to talk to God? Where has God answered your cries?  Where do you feel a divine presence? Respond with a comment, a story, a picture, anything to represent your sacred space.





Monday, February 3, 2020

A Visit from Mary Penopause


At first she was a total stranger.  So why was I flying into bouts of rage whenever she was around? Suddenly everything was wrong, everyone was annoying. Who was putting me constantly on edge? It had to be Mary Penopause.


My husband asked how long this nightmare could go on. When I answered "ten years," his look surpassed dismay and bordered on despair. That’s way too long for any houseguest to stay, let alone one who leaves such misery and turmoil in her wake!

For one thing, she was a kleptomaniac—tip-toeing around the house, taking my things. Where was my phone? My glasses? The car keys? I had no idea. Later I’d find them stashed in illogical places. So she didn’t actually want my stuff, she was just messing with my mind?

And why was she erasing items from my calendar, my to-do-list, and my planner? It didn't matter how many times someone reminded me of a task or an event, this phantom menace deleted it from my brain. What kind of sick pleasure did she gain from watching me struggle to keep all the balls in the air, dropping them with increasing frequency? She wasn’t just a klepto; she was a sociopath.

She started following me around, playing her little mind games. I’d run into friends I hadn’t seen for awhile, and suddenly my evil companion would shout “LALALALALA!”  How could I possibly remember their names with all that racket going on in my head?

And she was so invasive! I’ll never forget that first night when I awoke, certain that someone was holding a space heater against my chest. I was burning up, frantically kicking off the covers, afraid I’d have to dial 911 and report a fire. Then I realized that my night clothes were dripping with sweat. The only thing burning up was me, thanks to Mary Penopause and her space heater. I wanted to wring her neck, but she was nowhere in sight. (Probably hiding just outside the door, still holding the heater and laughing.)

Soon, it wasn’t just at night that she taunted me. It was any time, any place, when she randomly cranked up the heat. What kind of sadist messes with the thermostat in someone else’s house? I’m burning up, while my husband complains it’s too cold.  It feels like 90 degrees to me, yet he’s pulling on a sweater. And then a parka. 

She also took control of my appetite, coercing me to eat vast amounts of sugar and chocolate, while adding equally vast inches to my waistline. My belly was expanding like a lump of bread dough set out to rise.

Because the number on the scale surged upward every morning, I finally set up a nanny cam in the bedroom to see if she was feeding me fats through an IV during the night. She must have army-crawled across the carpet to avoid detection, because the camera never picked anything up — but I know she was involved!

Mary Penopause was wearing me out! All this nonsense from her, and suddenly I was needing naps, slipping into a coma around 3 pm every day.  I was exhausted when I woke up in the morning and fatigued when I went to bed at night. When was this nonsense going to let up?

I did all the usual things to combat her sabotage tactics—eating better, ramping up my exercise, drinking half my weight in ounces of waterbut nothing worked the way it used to.

That's when I realized my intruder was making me crazy. Einstein's definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results." But Mary Penopause had the opposite effect. I was doing the same thing over and over, expecting the same results (like any normal person would), but she was giving me different results. Every time. Who could predict what would happen next? The rug was being pulled out from under my feet. By the worst visitor ever.

Once I realized she was at fault, it became quite convenient to blame her for all kinds of things. I thought this would make me feel better about myself. But that didn’t work. I didn't need a scapegoat. I needed solutions.

Things turned a corner when I discovered friends who were going through the same thing. Mary Penopause was wreaking havoc in their homes too. One friend had to get up and blow-dry her hair in the middle of the night after Mary Penopause drenched her, dumping a bucket of water over her head in bed! That made me feel better about my own space-heater scenario. Another friend got fired from her job at the local church because she was raging at their members. (Okay, and I almost got myself banned from a doctor’s office for launching missiles at the evil secretary!) Talking and laughing about the weight, the temperature, the brain fuzz and the rage helped a little. And sometimes a lot.

But at the end of the day, it didn’t matter how many of my friends she was visiting. I was stuck with her. —And for heaven knows how long. I decided there was nothing to do but embrace her. Make friends with her, no matter how troublesome and annoying she was. Be ready for whatever she throws at me next. Dress in removable layers and carry lots of water. Buy a cheap paper fan from a flea market and carry that too. Learn sanity-saving relaxation and breathing techniques.  Take naps. Spend half our monthly budget on nutritional supplements. And just say no when she chases me down with her cookies and cakes, urging me to eat not one, not two, but damn near all of them!

If I must have this infuriating guest for the foreseeable future, enough with being miserable! I have to trust these new coping mechanisms. Dare to be myself, despite her presence. Keep things in check, rather than check-mate. Find ways to reward my husband for putting up with her ridiculous antics.  And relish rare moments of Joy.

Yes, Joy. I thought she was on hiatus. But she still pops in every once in a while to remind me that even Mary Penopause can’t keep Joy away forever!






Many thanks to my friend (and UCLA writing instructor) Victoria Zackheim for helping me polish this essay. And kudos to my son Josh who worked magic on the illustration with his photoshop wizarding skills! And extra big thanks to my husband for putting up with me all these years! I love you!



Thursday, January 30, 2020

On Death, Memory, and Discovery




I just finished reading the most delightful book! The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock is written by Jane Riley, an Australian woman, and has quirky British humor throughout, even while dealing with things that could be considered morbid—and sometimes because of said morbidity. I read bits of it aloud to Jeff and we were laughing out loud together over the zany characters and descriptions. The main character is highly fastidious and leads a very regimented life. He runs the family funeral parlor and is obsessive about ironing his clothes, including his underwear. Practically an old man, although he’s only 39. Can he find himself and break free? I won’t give anything away, but this was one of those books I was sad to finish. I was so immersed in the story and in love with the characters I never wanted it to end.


Serendipitously, we watched a movie over the weekend that was a perfect match thematically. Both treated the topics of death and dying, relationships, and how we choose to keep and hold onto memories. Surprisingly, both also dealt with (slight spoiler alert) the discovery of being loved by someone who has already passed on.

The movie, called After Life, also dealt with the topic of death using a gentle sense of humor, and moments of sheer delight. It reminds me of how my friend Cari used to refer to the things that will become clear in the hereafter as, “the great DVD in the sky.” This movie has a similar take. A random group of people interview new intakes as they cross the threshold after death, and help them choose a favorite memory to capture on film before they move on to the next realm. 

The salient question is: If you could choose just one memory to hold onto forever, what would it be? Jeff and I asked each other this question after the movie ended. He talked about meeting me for the first time, pulling up to my missionary apartment in Burbank, and that first conversation we had, right there on the doorstep. I chose another favorite day, when we were dating. I found out he was back in town unexpectedly. He tracked me down at my grandma’s house, and I drove home to meet him. It’s the best story and totally makes me smile every time I think about it.Ironically, my second choice was the day my mom passed away. I literally felt the veil part, and experienced so much love and light and joy seep through, welcoming her on the other side. I’ll never forget the experience, which completely eclipsed my grief, and strengthened my faith in a higher power and the continuance of life beyond this mortal sphere.



I got an advance copy of The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock through Amazon Prime. The book’s official release (and when my audiobook will arrive, a little too late…haha) is February 2.

The movie was made back in 1998 but is still timely and relevant. It was directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, who also directed Like Father, Like Son and Shoplifters, two other great Japanese films.