Ever since I was young, I have experienced deep longings within my spirit. Sometimes they are clear and I am able to respond with definitive direction, but most often those longings are difficult to determine and I am left feeling aimless. It is unsettling, almost like a soul cramp … a deep yearning for the something unknown.

In the movie The Matrix, Morpheus says, “What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”

One of the deepest longings in the human heart is the desire to be truly known and loved. I have noticed that we have been fooled into believing that we must first love ourselves before we can love others. The great poet, Rupi Kaur, states “How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.” But the truth is that it is nearly impossible to love yourself if you are not first loved. It is when you are loved that you are able to fully experience belonging. It is when you are loved, that you find yourself willing to rush forward in the joy of life’s dance. It is only when we have confidence in our belonging that we are able to drop our defenses in order to love the people and the world around us.

There is a story of belonging and love that is the foundational to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In it, there is an oppressed Egyptian maidservant named Hagar. God loved Hagar’s master and promised him that he would make him into a great nation and that he would bless everyone in the whole earth through him. Though Hagar’s master believed God, he was very old, he had no children and his wife was not able to conceive.

The master and his wife began to hatch a plan that he would sleep with the maidservant, get her pregnant and then take her child as their own. To use, oppress, abuse, or remove others, we first divorce ourselves from their personhood. Somehow we make them other. Don’t we do this all the time?

That was what the master and his wife did. They did not refer to her as Hagar; they referred to her as “servant”, “she”, “her”. They held a posture of superiority and robbed her of dignity. They did not consider her desires or rights.

And so the master got her pregnant. As you can imagine, the relationship became full of strife between Hagar and the wife, and the wife began to further abuse her. Things got so bad that Hagar fled out into the desert. But the God who loved the master, loved Hagar too. He sought her out and said “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

That sentence taught me three important things about how to love. One: God gave her personhood back by using her name. Hagar. He did not use slurs or demeaning names to separate her out. He didn't make her "other". Two: He acknowledges her situation. “Servant of Sarai.” He neither sugar coats it, nor ignores it. Three: God asked a question and allowed her to have a voice. He didn't stymie her in anyway. He invited her to speak - and he did so even though he was an all-knowing god. He already knew the answers. Yet, it was important for her to be able to verbally lament for healing to begin. These three things were done with complete intention.

In one sentence, God met Hagar where she was at, established communication with grace and initiated a path toward healing and regeneration. He gave her love and bound her pain with relationship and belonging. She felt seen and valued. The beauty of God's gentleness and care is staggering to me. The interaction must have had a strong influence on Hagar, too, because after he reached out to her, she gave this name to God: The God Who Sees Me.

The God Who Sees Me. Isn't that beautiful? She felt fully known and understood - fully loved and fully valued.

If you have never heard this story, the master in it is Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism and Christianity. Hagar’s son, Ishmael, later became the patriarch of Islam.

I have spent years contemplating the interface between suffering, injustice and art. Injustice and suffering are a given for us. We will all experience it to some degree. What we do with the injustice and suffering we witness and experience is important. We can choose to create verbal, figurative or literal bombs to lob at one another, or we can choose to create something transcending that will heal and regenerate.

Most of our enduring artwork is born out of suffering, and trauma. We have whole museums filled with depictions of wars, plagues, rapes, death. Much of what we treasure is born out of having the soul cramp - that feeling that something isn’t quite right with the world - it is often born out of longing to belong. There is something incredibly healing about having art that expresses our human experiences. It helps us to identify with others and we then feel a kinship. Love is always stronger than hate.

Van Gogh’s Starry Night was painted from inside his asylum cell. He didn’t have an inkling that the cry of his soul would be seen and cherished by millions. Yet he took his human experience, acknowledged it and gave it voice, one brave brush stroke at a time. And in so doing, communication and connection were made and hope was birthed.

Dr. King wrote, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here … Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” There is weight to that. Anything that is not love creates darkness. It destroys, desecrates and crushes us mentally, physically and spiritually. But even in the midst of our darkness, we can write letters of truth and hope from our virtual jail cell.

My artwork is multifaceted, and I work in many mediums. But all of my work is intended to be hopeful, truthful and humanizing. It is beauty born of goodness and offered to you as a gift. It is deeply personal. In it, you will see my hopes, angst, dreams, struggles, joys. I offer my work as a point of connection. When you look at my work there is communication between us. There is invariably a link born between you and me. In that, I hope you find some sense of belonging and that it softens you.

If it does, I hope it gives you courage to reach out to the people next to you. You might consider using my work as a launching pad to create safe spaces where sound relationships can crystalize and formative conversations can happen. Use it to create spaces where you can call strangers neighbors. Extend hospitality. Rest when your stress and suffering become too great in the moment.

This studio is obviously a work in progress and many of my friends have suggested that it is too small. It may feel small, but I hope it will be mighty. John and I created it with the intent of serving all of you. If we waited to share things before they were done, we would never share them because life is more dynamic, fluid and interactive than that. Thank you for joining us at this point in our journey.