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The Birch Tree Leaf Newsletter Issue 3 - August 2019

>in a deep deep sssleep

of tHe inno$ent/completely terrified

I am born again

— Radiohead

2019 Dream Journal Project - Hospital Security Guards

Things had been pretty quiet this shift at the hospital. Frank was telling me again about how he’d given up pop while the two of us sat in the security camera control room scanning the monitors for anything unusual.

“You do know that lemonade you’ve been drinking has just as much sugar in it as the pop, right?”

“Yeah, but I’m not addicted to the lemonade.”

“You most certainly are! Sugar is an addictive substance same as caffeine!”

We’d had this discussion before. There was no convincing Frank, but I enjoyed razzing him about it. I glanced at the monitor of the Emergency Room entrance. There was a dark small something on the floor right inside the doors. I looked closer, “Hey, what’s that, Frank?”

“Duh no,” Frank paused and stared at the monitor, “Is that a cat? I hate cats.”

I watched a few seconds more, “Yeah, it looks like a cat. How did that get in there?”

Non-plussed, Frank stood up from his chair, “I’d better get down there and take care of that thing.”

“I’m coming too!” I scrambled out the door after him.

An obviously unwell cat was waiting for us when we reached the ER. It was acting completely deranged, foam dripped from its chin. I thought of crazy actor, Steve Buscemi. “I think it’s rabid!”

“Yep,” said Frank as he looked around for something he could use to scoot it back outside.

The cat hissed and growled and foamed some more. Frank grabbed two spine boards off the wall and tossed one in my direction. Using the boards, we pushed the cat back towards the doors. I hit the automatic open, Frank slid his board under the cat and sent it flying out into the night. I closed the doors.

“That went better than I thought,” Frank chirped and we made our way back to our post in the control room. Having just settled back into our chairs, a nurse could be seen on the monitor opening the ER doors.

“No way!” I exclaimed . . . The cat was back.

2019 Dream Journal Project - The Cat is Back

THE BATTLE IS ON

We can’t see or hear it, but there is a battle happening around us and inside of us. The Enemy is working — he observes, he assesses, he plans and he executes those plans with stealth and ruthlessness. Most of us pay little attention to this reality. We might believe in theory it’s there, but we simply don’t give it much thought on a daily basis. And ultimately, we aren’t exactly sure what is even at stake.

The opening story is of a dream I had several years ago. I like dreaming. I find it fascinating what comes during the night. For years now, I have been writing down my dreams. My spiritual director tells me it is important to pay attention to dreams — they hold information, advice, and insights from our inner selves and from God Himself.

One of the messages rising from my dreams is a warning: THE BATTLE IS ON. This battle has been raging since the beginning. It has been on for months…years…and I’d been paying some, but not enough attention…which also means I’ve been losing, and in the past few months — losing BIG TIME.

Around mid-April this year, I experienced a pretty significant emotional and spiritual lowpoint. I felt as though I’d lost my internal bearings. If you’ve been reading my newsletters, you are already aware of some of my recent struggles. Now I found despair had set in. The Enemy had pinned me face down.

A few things were going on for me at this time:

  1. I turned 45 at the beginning of April and this birthday was feeling weighty.
  2. I had just completed another successful year of working on set and lighting design for a yearly community theatrical event. I hit the low that comes when such a project is over. I had to say goodbye to the work which consumed a great deal of time and energy. I had to say goodbye to the wonderful people I was blessed to work with also.
  3. The church our family had attended came to the end of a long reconciliation process (that I had participated in up to a certain point). I was devastated. The process did not bring the restoration and healing my family and I had hoped and prayed would come.

In the midst of all this, I found it difficult to look at things with the same sense of clarity and confidence that I had felt much of the way through the journey I’m on. It’s a horrible feeling to suddenly be standing in front of a mountain of uncertainty. I would imagine myself laying down like Elijah under the broom tree saying,

“I have had enough, Lord.” — I Kings 19

I’m so thankful for stories like this one in Scripture and their ability to exemplify my exact feelings of confusion and exhaustion.

SATAN IS happy with your progress.

Take a look at this modern art piece by George Horner, Satan is Happy with your progress, 2012. When I first read it, I thought about a person who is deliberately choosing to be bad. “Yeah, they’re working to get his approval.” I imagined those people walking right up and pulling the chain to light up the sign themselves.

Then it hit me, “Oh crap, that’s me on all those days I’m not paying attention to what is really going on.” Letting the Enemy drag me into a state of hopelessness is exactly the gleeful chain pulling high he’s looking for. Light that baby up…KA-CHICK.

It's not going to stop

Till you wise up

— Aimee Mann

2019 Dream Journal Project - 15 Black Ravens

wise up

One day in early June, I felt the urge to read the one book that has been recommended to me over and over: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I needed this badly. Julia’s words helped soothe my ache of despair. I began to come out of the of hopelessness where I had been camped out. This then led me to a most practical and enlightening book series written by Steven Pressfield:

  • The War of Art
  • Do the Work
  • Turning Pro
  • The Artist’s Journey

Then a few weeks ago, I plopped myself down on the big leather sectional of my therapist’s office. Sitting down across from me she asked:

How much of what you’ve been struggling with is spiritual warfare?

I sat there for second stunned at the question. “Probably more than I am willing to see or admit,” I answered.

“From what I’ve learned about you, Michelle, and the kind of work you do…if I were the Enemy…I’d want to keep you down.”

I admit, it is easier to say that my trouble has been depression or PTSD or rises out of childhood hurts than to say evil has a heavy hand in my distress.

Both the books and my therapist have helped me clearly see the forces (both inside and outside) working to keep me (and maybe you) from doing the things I was created to do. I’m coming to understand new aspects of the BATTLE, specifically the tactics used against creative/artistic folks such as myself. Reading specifically how both Julia and Steve have become strong and persistent warriors has been most encouraging and empowering.

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance…Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius…As powerful as is our soul’s call to realization, so potent are the forces of Resistance arrayed against it…You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you...We’re facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, whom we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential and to release the maiden who is God’s plan and destiny for ourselves and the answer to why we were put on this planet.” — Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Steven articulates it quite well. And through it all, God has been working and waiting for me to…wise up.

KEEP GOING

At the end a particularity wearying winter here on the South Dakota Prairie, March 19th, 2019 marked the 365th day of my daily art-making challenge. I reached the milestone with the completion of a piece fittingly titled, The Victory. The rewards and challenges of this daily practice were well worth it. So worth it, I decided NOT to stop. The challenge would keep going, and I would too…all the way to 1000 days now.

Since April, the daily painting challenge I had given myself last year became more important than ever, and I knew that picking up my brush, putting some paint on the palette and just letting myself do whatever would help me get up from under the broom tree. It very much became my dominant prayer practice. During this time, I pushed myself to alternate between painting with dark and light colors when I might have just stuck with a whole lot of black. This was a spiritual discipline to remind myself we are never without hope of better days —

God is faithful and unchanging. He is always good. He is always kind and compassionate. He is always caring. He is always sending forth blessings…even on the days when these are hard to accept and believe.

GIVE & RECEIVE

Completing 365 days of making art was beyond huge for me. It felt quite miraculous really. I’d never done something so challenging and yet fulfilling.

One of the things that kept me going on my 365-day challenge was the encouragement and support of my social media following. Their kind words and even the occasional “hey, did you paint today?” inquiries were invaluable in finding motivation.

I wanted to give back to these most helpful folks. I held a drawing and chose 12 winners from the 40+ entries to each receive a custom work of art — a mini canvas featuring the image of a hand. It’s an artwork I designed as an aid to prayer. By displaying the canvas on its easel in different positions, this piece of art can serve as a symbol of the prayers held in the heart on any given day, at any particular moment:

  • Hand down — I seek Divine presence, help, guidance, blessing, the outpouring of the Spirit.
  • Hand up — I give praise, worship, adoration to God. I commit yourself to His Word, His will and His work.
  • Hand to right side — I lay the needs of others before the Lord.
  • Hand to left side — I commit to helping, supporting and edifying others through the prompting of God’s Spirit.

These are the coordinating Scripture passages for each hand position:

  • Hand down — God brought me out into a spacious place; God rescued me because God delighted in me. — 2 Samuel 22:20
  • Hand up — Praise God’s glorious name forever! Let the whole earth be filled with God’s glory. Amen and amen! — Psalm 72:19 …offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. — Romans 12:1b
  • Hand to right side — And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. — Ephesians 6:18a
  • Hand to left side — Therefore encourage one another and build each other up. — 1 Thessalonians 5:11a
A Receiving - Elijah's Raven, 2018

PICTURE DAY

Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight, 1500 by Albrecht Dürer

It was the year 1500. At age 28, Albrecht Dürer painted what would become an iconic self-portrait in Western Art. He was at the height of his artistic career and his life's midpoint.

This portrait was like none other. Its highly unusual full-frontal view was traditionally reserved for portraits of Jesus Christ alone. There is much controversy around Dürer’s decision to use this pose for himself: Does he think he’s God?! But given his deep faith and later commitment to Protestant theology, I tend to lean towards the faith-centric explanations. Dürer may have chosen this pose as a depiction of his personal transformation of becoming Christ-like OR Dürer could be projecting his deep belief that artistic gifts are God-given.

Dürer’s God-given talent was exceptional. He stands as one of the most skilled artists the world has ever known. His body of work includes some of the most wonderful Christian art ever made. Chances are your grandparents owned a print of Dürer’s praying hands.

Dürer’s gaze, the dark coloration, the intricate details of his portrait all exude a strong sense of confidence. To an artist such as myself he seems to say,

“Come on, stay strong. Live the life worthy of the artistic calling you have been given. Be true to God your Creator and Christ your Savior.”

My reference photo for the self-portrait taken with my cellphone and a selfie-stick.

I’ve decided, taking a cue from Dürer, to paint my own mid-life portrait in similar fashion. I will hopefully complete it by the year’s end or my 46th birthday. To be honest, I’m out of practice for this kind of intense realism (and I do want it to be realistic…with all the details that go with being 45 — wrinkles, forehead crease lines, unnatural hair color), so the pace is pretty slow.

2019 Dream Journal Project - Trying to Get Some Rest

THE NIGHT WORLD

One January day, an ad appeared in my Instagram feed from the Brooklyn Art Library. It was a call for individuals to join their impressive project to amass the largest collection of sketchbooks in the world. I did not hesitate to click through to their website and began exploring this intriguing invitation.

Not long after, I purchased a sketchbook and committed myself to work daily at some healing and growth. I can’t even remember now how I decided it, but I made a plan to work through the summer months on visualizing my most intriguing and insightful dreams — those that have served me well with their messages and guidance.

I then decided that I would like to have some poetry or text paired up with the different dream illustrations in the book. My adventurous brain suggested I take my dearest album of music (I listen to it several times every week), Radiohead’s OK Computer from 1997, and use the lyrics to accompany the images — this would certainly be a way to let my subconscious play along on the project.

I’ve arranged the journal in a different format where it doesn't necessarily begin with the first page. Instead, it starts at the middle where I’ve painted a self-portrait of me sleeping. From there the journal unfolds to the front and to the back with dreams and spreads that mirror one another. There are many experts that like to believe that dreams occur in reverse order and our waking mind remembers them in the opposite direction as if it was seeing them in a mirror.

In early July, I managed to scratch my left cornea which really put into perspective just how fundamental my eyes are to my work. Having to try and work with one eye being fairly blurry due to the medication I needed to put in my eye. I found the situation interesting in regard to this sketchbook of dreams. Dreams are never that clear. I remember specific scenes but not always all the details, so painting for a while through blurry vision adds another element of truth to this project.

I am now mid-project on The Night World and it has been a very good thing. It is the most personal project I have engaged since my college days over 20 years ago. It is art-making for art-making’s sake alone, and it seems to be connecting me to new depths of creativity and expression. I feel more like a legit artist vs. someone who is just artistic.

To be an ARTIST is to ask the bigger questions of life and our world and of ourselves. To be an ARTIST is to explore the recesses, the dark places, the dark emotions, the hidden spaces. I don’t know if that will come across to the viewers of my completed sketchbook, but I am diving deep with this.

There is a mystery and magic in the creative process.

As my hands and head are busy with the art-making itself, there is a quiet conversation that takes place in the heart. There the elements that are being brought together in the work bring me to new revelations about anything and everything. I see myself, I see the people around me, I see my circumstances — all in a new way. Insights and new perspectives can then lead me to a healthier mindset and worldview.

Likewise, the creative process has the ability to restore and revive one’s joy and hope.

In finding myself refreshed and repaired, I will then be ready to continue the real work — spreading God’s healing and love to the world and the people in it. All along this road I’m on, God frequently reminds me there is MUCH work out there. That prospect is my hope — to do what I’ve been gifted and called to do for the well-being of others and to the glory of the Divine Creator.

Birch Tree Studio Booth

VISIT ME...GET Some art

First, in person this August…then later in 2019 online at my website.

I’ll be hanging out at the Turner County Fair in Parker, South Dakota from Monday, August 12th through Thursday, August 16th, 2019. Below are some of the wares you can browse at my booth. If you aren’t able to attend the Fair, you can make purchases too! Just shoot me an email or message me what you are interested in. We can make arrangements for payment and shipping from there.

$150 Framed Originals - FREE SHIPPING

Images above are 8" x 10" original art pieces for sale.

$35 "Give & Receive" Mini Canvases

Each 3" x 3" painted canvas includes a display easel and prayer guide.

New Blank Note Card Designs

Special Fair Sale! Cards may be purchased individually for $2 or in packs of six for $12.

As to my website and blog…

Yeah, so they are pretty much non-existent at this point. That has been a source of major frustration, discomfort and a series of complicated decisions over the past months. Basically, the company that hosted my last website and provided editing software is pulling the plug on everything. SO…I will be building it all new from scratch again. I do apologize if you had enjoyed my past website and the blog articles — I do hope to get things constructed again as soon as life allows.

A Receiving - Elijah's Raven, 2018

THE BATTLE IS WON

The Victory, 2019 by Michelle L Hofer - prints available

Every single one of us is battling something. It is the hallmark of being human. Each and every day we step out onto the battlefield whether it be on the inside or the outside of ourselves. It is ever helpful to keep in mind that we are not alone, and tales of victory abound to give us courage and strength.

Steven Pressfield shares his victory over the battle to complete his first novel:

“I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript. Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like the dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out it's last sulfuric breath. Rest in peace, ************. Next morning I went over to Paul’s for coffee and told him I had finished. “Good for you,” he said without looking up. “Start the next one today.” — The War of Art

Julia Cameron writes in The Artist’s Way:

“We need to trust the Great Creator and move out in faith…Give yourself the gift of faith. Trust that you are on the right track. You are. Like the career of any athlete…life will have its injuries. These go with the game. The trick is to survive them, to learn how to let yourself heal. Just as the player who ignores a sore muscle may tear it further, [one] who buries his pain over losses will ultimately cripple himself into silence. Give yourself the dignity of admitting your…wounds. That is the first step in healing them. Your own healing is the greatest message of hope for others.”

The Apostle Paul on the ultimate victory through Christ:

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. — 1 Corinthians 15:55,57-58

FINAL THOUGHTS

Thank you all once again for following my journey. As always, if you have thoughts to share, don’t hesitate to let me know. Your feedback is welcome and so often communicates to me something I have been needing to hear. I pray God grant you strength, peace and joy!

A dream from August of 2014…

I find myself in the sanctuary of the church I attended with my family as a child. But there is something unusual here — along the pews on either side of the center aisle are outcroppings of rock. I make my way down the aisle and open the door on the left side of the chancel.

I am now entering the chancel storage room at the church of my adult years. The room is completely filled with huge boulders much larger than me. It proves difficult, but I begin to climb onto the rocks making my way to a door at the back of the room. I notice as I’m crawling that the rocks seem hollow and not solid.

Opening the door, I am surprised to find myself on Main Street in my small hometown. There are some friends outside taking measurements of one of the buildings. The street is somehow the same hollowish rock surface as was in the church.

There is a loud rumbling and the street rock surface on which I’m standing on collapses. I feel myself falling among the chaos of rubble and dust.

“This is it,” I say to myself, “this is how I’m gonna die.”

Suddenly, everything stops. There is quiet. The rubble and dust around me have now settled. I open my eyes to find I’ve miraculously survived the collapse.

I’m lying there with my back against the massive pile of rubble, but my feet are resting on a soft carpet of grass. I get up to see a large expanse of grass. And there, in beautiful morning splendor, the sun is rising golden and warm over a gentle hill.

2019 Dream Journal Project - I'm Amazed That I Survived

its gonnabe a glorius day.

— Radiohead

Created By
Michelle L Hofer
Appreciate

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