The Art of Weakness

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great blue heron painting

“Jen” 30×40, oil on canvas SOLD

I came across the following blog post I wrote on this day exactly two years ago. I was doing a 30 in 30 challenge in which I did one painting every day for the month. Each painting was based on a story sent in to me. The theme was inspired by the Brene Brown quote: “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand your sacred ground”. This post was day 2. I had all but forgotten about my November of 2016, but I stumbled across it, and it struck me as worth sharing again. I hope Jen’s words touch you as much as they did me then, and still do now:


From the Archives: November 2, 2016

Yesterday morning I dropped my precocious four year old at pre-k and then went to mass for All Saints Day. In the pew in front of me was a young mother with a baby strapped to her and two toddlers. The younger toddler was, let’s just say, spirited. It was all too familiar. He didn’t want to sit still. He spoke loudly. He whined. He had to go “pee pee”. What wasn’t familiar was the mom– she wasn’t frazzled at all. She took it all in stride. His tantrums did not result in one of her own. I couldn’t believe it. How often I have lost my cool over lesser offenses? With just my one child.

Comparison is the thief of joy. I get it. But the mom stuff is hard in ways I could never have imagined. And then there’s the voice. The one that says you aren’t good enough, you aren’t doing enough, you aren’t enough. Most days I resist that voice, name it a liar.  Seeing other moms model patience and strength helps. Seeing other mom’s struggle helps too. The mom at church never looked over her shoulder to see who was watching or who might be offended by her not-so-quiet kid. She un-sanctimoniously handled it. I wasn’t jealous so much as impressed. I felt like pulling out my phone and jotting down some notes. Watching her made me realize that sometimes it’s okay to just be. I’m one to jump into “fixing” mode way too quickly. I’m one to worry too fast what others are thinking. This whole painting a day project was founded on the idea of standing your ground. And it’s okay to take up space in this world– even when that space involves an unruly child. 

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. I’m attracted to my birds, particularly the heron because of the calmness they seem to embody. The boldness. They’ll stare you down as though you are infringing on their space and not the other way around.

Today’s bird is named Jen and inspired by a woman who knows strength is born of weakness. She’s a mom I admire and go to for advice. Like the mom in the church pew yesterday, she’s the kind of person you’d want to take notes from. Trust me.


So I’ve been wracking my brain for a moment when I felt like I was truly a strong person, and a few things came to mind, but no single one that I definitely wanted to send you. I asked my husband what he thought was the strongest thing he’s ever seen me do, and he said labor, which I said didn’t count because you don’t really have a choice 😉 So I thought of various things, but the thing that keeps coming to mind is this: the strongest thing I do in my life is admit my weaknesses. When I pray at the end of the day, I offer up every failure I’ve had that day: I harbored anger against my husband, I lost my patience with my kids, I gossiped when I had resolved not to, I ate unhealthy food, I didn’t give my teaching the energy I wanted to, my house is a mess. . . the daily list goes on and on and on. And thanks to my anxiety disorder, I usually have a few failures from years past intruding on my list. I have so many weaknesses, and I fail every day, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with setting my failures down at night and just trusting that God will transform them into blessings tomorrow. My failures today are my strength tomorrow because He makes beautiful things out of whatever we give Him. And I’m slowly learning to trust that. So I guess my strongest moment is when I feel the weakest and that finally enables me to trust.

I hope this heron shows both strength and weakness. The background is made of little broken pieces, and sometimes so is the bird. But it still stands tall, proud, capable. I’ve been working on this painting for days. It finally came together for me with the bolder blues in the negative space near the bird itself. It’s a big piece. I’ve got some teeny tiny ones coming up, but this one needed to take up space. A lot of it.

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

November 2, 2018

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