It is with great sadness we write this.
Aaron John Steibel was delivered on 4/10/19, 4lbs, 13ozs & 19 inches long. He had his daddy’s long fingers and toes, his mommy’s dark curly hair and the most precious little face and button nose. He wasn’t alive to take his first breath.
The morning prior, at 36 weeks, AJ had dropped and had not made his usual morning movements. The nurse directed us to the hospital right away and there we discovered he was no longer with us. Upon delivery, the doctor was able to see what happened. He’d had a cord accident. It was pinched somewhere around his foot or ankle, causing a hemorrhage and cutting off his blood supply. Other than this, he was a perfectly healthy little boy. Beautiful and precious in every way.
We were blessed to have an amazingly supportive staff at Sparrow and have felt all the love and prayers for our healing. This has been the toughest situation we have ever faced and are strong with the loving support of our family and friends. Above all, we have grown closer than we ever knew possible and for that, we are grateful. AJ will forever be in our hearts and the love of our life.
Amanda and Michael
Growing up I’ve often prided myself on my ability to be creative. Keyword.. Prided. I used the arts as the anchor in my identity. One day I was going to “make it big” and someone would float from the clouds and drop millions of dollars and gum drops in my hand saying, “thank you for being God’s gift to creativity!” Ha! Man was I off. This was not only an illusion that I personally had but this is all around us. Good people continuously spinning on this make believe hamster wheel of trying to, “making it big”. Endlessly striving to create the next big external contribution to society and save the world. This not only runs ramped in our western culture but even more so in the subcultures of religion. It may just be the biggest elephant in the room and yet we seem to have a hard time seeing it.
Now I’m not trying to discourage those who love to create, just those who may have fell into an artistic religion of their choice with the constant striving to produce the greatest projects ever. And if you are reading this, it may be time to grow a little. Set down that little rubber ruler of “making it big”. Embrace a freedom that comes from within and let a true, deep and meaningful expression bubble up. Let the creative juices flow effortlessly from the depths of your being. Relax and let the lock jaw of your own efforts subside. This is where the peanut butter and jelly resides in the sandwich of good news.
The present day sage and Christian mystic Richard Rohr writes, “people living under capitalism find it very hard to know their own center and to live from it. We live in a affluent society that’s always expecting more, wanting more, and believes it has more coming to it.” Rohr adds, “But the more we own, ironically enough, the less we enjoy. Happiness is an inside job, and when we expect to find it outside of ourselves, it is always a disappointment.”
There’s a narrative that continues to ride the coattails of being an artist in the 21st century. Or a human being for that matter. It paints a glorious picture of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A little leprechaun will applaud you for all the hard work you achieved and reward you with lollipops, financial stability and a plastic golden statue . And maybe if your in the streams of religion the leprechaun will hand the mic over to the Almighty Creator Himself so he can reward you by giving you slap on the back and medal of honor for all the wonderful contributions and advancements. He'll then say, “you tinkered around with more ideas and stuff than the others sooo.. well done bro dog.”
So where does one go from here? Maybe the rainbow, gold and all the magical leprechauns are dancing within you waiting to explode. Maybe there’s an infinite source of effortless glory that beams wildfire throughout your being. And maybe it’s not by your own efforts but the simple gift of grace that needs a little unraveling. Maybe God himself dwells closer then your next breath. No. More. Pursuit. It has pursued you. Now that’s a scandalous paradigm shift.
True happiness may just be the contemplative act of looking inward. This may mean giving up the proverbial ghost. Giving yourself permission not to fall into that dogmatic pattern of striving to get more. Going for a period of time without feeling you have to make some world changing contribution may just be what the doctor ordered. Is it really your responsibility? Why burden yourself with all that hoopla? If you need the permission I rightly give it to you. That’s right, take a day off. Let it go.
Rohr, R. (2003). Simplicity: The freedom of letting go. New York, NY: Crossroad.
From the book “New Seeds of Contemplation” Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote a chapter about what he called the 'General Dance'. This simple and yet profound chapter offers a paradigm shift when it comes to participating in life. “Yet the fact remains” Merton writes, “that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join the general dance.”
He’s referring to the newness of life that is constantly around us and within us. That the Creator of the universe and everything in it, including us, was and is created for enjoyment. To enjoy the interior silence of our hearts and to join in this divine dance. He again writes, “What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as ‘play’ is perhaps what he takes most seriously.”
How awesome is that?!? Could God Almighty himself be happy? This is good news! When it comes to creation you cannot exclude the greatest creator of us all, The Divine. And it turns out we have been extended an invitation to participate in this general dance. The only question is, are you willing to accept this most delightful invitation? To awaken and stir up the divine love that is already within you? A Love that transcends and includes.
Merton, T. (1972). New seeds of contemplation. New York, NY: New Directions.
Author: Brendan Hamilton
"Let's just do it, hit record" dynamic sonic duo, Michael Steibel, and I, Brendan Hamilton, said.
We started the project 'Cotton Swabs' as a frustrated giggle, honestly. As a half joke I think made from our frustration with past musical projects. We would make awesome songs and just never record it. Kind of a treasure that was as delicate as time and air. Once the songs ended they were only pressed in our memories. I think Mike and I were sort of frustrated with ourselves, feeling like we would never quite hit our own ideals, at least in the recording of things.
An interesting thing about creative types is... well.... they create!
So both of us did what came natural, we made an opportunity to express something and make a path where there wasn't one before. We literally decided to record, on the spot, anything at all, just to have something. The name came up because Mike called me in excitement thinking about a name. Right after we ended the phone conversation I took a picture of the first thing I saw. It was a box of cotton swabs.
When I say anything.... I mean it! Immediately we started finding unconventional instruments in the kitchen, on the floor, and probably on the ceiling to just get something. All of the tracks were made on the spot with little to no preparation, intention, or expectation on them. Some pieces are collaborative, some are solo work by Mike. The underlying theme and concept of the entire thing was to allow things to be what they are and realizing the beauty it already was.
A unique aspect of Cotton Swabs, and probably the most fun aspect of it, was it's audio visual experience. Slightly reminiscent of Pink Floyd, mixing the senses to create a unique experience.
We both took our cameras and just shot stuff we thought was interesting. Something that would create a feeling. I took footage on trips to Washington D.C. & California and even at our local thrift shops. Beauty and experience can be found anywhere and are everlasting.
We both have a strong Christian faith, which is why there are so many public domain audio samples on the topic. I think in a way even the audio samples purpose was to make some topics that people make into heavy issues feel lighter. This is similar to what we were doing with the recordings in general.
Something I appreciate about Cotton Swabs is how I feel it really used Mike and my strengths. Mike tends to be better at foundation work whereas I feel more comfortable building from that. We are both great artists on our own, but we have a way of complementing each other in terms of style. Another aspect of this collaboration, at least for me, is there is a real sense of pointlessness if there is no one to enjoy creating with. It really helps me to work with someone else because I find imyself more motivated and creative.
All in all Cotton Swabs was a humbling experience; an effortless and flowing process. A rebellion against what everyone else is doing with these high production albums and idolization of ideas, people, and art.
Check out Cotton Swabs HERE
Let's talk artsy fartsy, shall we? I'll start by providing a definition for art that'll be sure to shatter your brains with awe! It's brief and quite easy to understand. Here it is.. life is art. That's it! How fun is that? You are being an artist as we speak. Look at you! You may of heard of this definition before but I would love to break it down as to why.
Creating art is a series of decisions that are made through a medium and end up manifesting onto a canvas of sorts. Guess what we do to shape our lives? You got it. We make decisions. Life is our canvas. It's really that simple. We wake up and start a day of deciding things. We decide what to eat, what media to consume, what exercise to preform. So why is creating art any different than say.. grabbing a burger or jumping out of a plane? It really isn't. It seems that it is but's not. If you can make decisions, you can make art.
So why art? Art is just another way to experience life. It is not the ends to a means. The end is the means. How about that one? You've heard the phrase "it's about the journey not the destination". One of history's ingenious predecessors Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote, "to me it seems that those sciences are vain and full of error which are not born of experience, mother of certainty, first hand experience which in its origins, or means, or end has passed through one of the five senses." Art in this manner is less threatening and more fun to create! On the other hand, when we put an unrealistic expectation on art we create, we might find ourselves disappointed. The unlikelihood of it not turning out how we'd imagine has the potential to frustrate and destroy our idol of it. There's no need to control it. Let it go, let it flow.
My encouragement to you is to pick up a pencil, paintbrush, a stick or whatever you prefer and just start creating. Put your inner-child back in the driver's seat and let er' rip. Don't sit around thinking to hard about what you want to do. Give yourself permission to not worry about such foolery. Practice having fun. Pay attention to the journey. Be aware of the beauty and glory that fills all in all. And remember, the next time you decide to make a sandwich, pay your bills, or take a left turn on the highway of life.. you are simply being an artist.
Da Vinci quote
Gelb, M. (2004). How to think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven steps to every day genius. New York: Delta trade paperbacks.