Tag Archives: creativity

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair: The First Cut


Almost twenty years ago my husband and I walked down The Aisle. He looked as dapper in a Victorian morning coat as any twenty-two-year-old Tennesseean could be expected to look in the mid-1990s. I was channeling Scarlett O’Hara, with puffed-and-bowed sleeves and a skirt layered with so many petticoats that it could stand up on its own. It was Christmastime and the church was garlanded and the bridesmaids carried wreaths of fresh greens.

Wedding Day over, the rented tuxes returned, the cake top in the freezer, and my dress stuffed back in its original hanging bag from the discount bridal store and hung in a closet in my parents’ house. Where it remained for almost twenty years.

It made sense for them to keep it. At first, they had plenty of space, while we lived in small apartments. Then they stayed in one house, while we moved from place to place. Then, this year, twenty years later, my parents moved. Cleaned house. Let go of some things and offloaded other things onto us kids. And finally, my dress came home with me.

And I found myself at a crossroads between Practicality and Nostalgia, with a pair of scissors in my hand.


Cutting the dress wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision; I’d been thinking about it (and stalking Pinterest for project ideas) for several years. In fact, I surprised myself with my hesitation once I had the dress hanging in my own closet.

Nostalgia kept it hanging there.

Until one day Practicality spoke up. I’d been looking at Pinterest (again), pinning ideas of Things To Make with the Dress, and I heard Practicality say, almost audibly: “It can’t become anything until you make the first cut.”

(Then I heard the tiny preacher voice in my head pipe up, as it sometimes does, to say: “That’ll preach.”)

It can’t become anything until…

Over the next couple of hours, I systematically dismantled the dress. Separated the skirt fabric from the bodice; used a seamripper to remove the zipper and to release several yards of lace from the hem. A tiny, sharp pair of scissors helped with the covered buttons and the sleeve bows. As I removed each piece I carefully folded and stacked lace and fabric and trim, until the majority of my wedding dress fit into a single shopping bag.


And Nostalgia hit me. Hard. Cutting it was easy, but seeing it all cut up was (is) hard.

I will never be that person again. I’ll never be that young woman again, on the brink of a new life, with no idea where those twenty years would lead.

But I know that now the dress can become something new: keepsakes to be enjoyed rather than merely stored. Memories that are functional, or even simply beautiful. On our twentieth anniversary this Christmastime, our decorations will include stockings made with lace and bows; ornaments with covered buttons and tulle. And the two of us will look at pictures of our young selves–in all our morning-coated and puffy-sleeved glory–and dream about the ways we, too, may still become.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is a minister, mother, and wife to a Navy chaplain. She and her family now live in South Carolina, where Nikki enjoys biking, knitting, and writing.

Sarah Bessey: When you feel a bit selfish for pursuing your calling

September 7, 2015

In our new house, I have a little room of my own. Well, technically it’s not “my own” – it doubles as a guest room. But since the guest bed is a hide-a-bed, I’ll just go ahead and call it my “office” so that I feel like a proper adult. I’ve always had a bit of a laugh when serious well-meaning folks ask me about my “writing space” as if it’s a magical area. Nope. I have done 99% of my writing at the kitchen table or a noisy coffee shop or the public library. But now I have my own little room at the bottom of the stairs in the basement: the carpet smells a bit musty, there’s a hearth for a wood stove that doesn’t work, and cedar paneling that has endured since 1983. I love it mostly because I’ve established a No Tinies Allowed Here rule.The other night, I had to do a few final checks on my book manuscript and it was urgent. It has been a busy month with our move in particular, so busy that I hadn’t really properly written or worked for the entire time except as snatches during 30 minutes of Phineas and Ferb for the tinies, so that night after we had cleaned up the supper dishes, I passed the baby to Brian, he set up the Monopoly board with the tinies, and I went downstairs to get my work done. I turned on a bit of music, made a cup of tea, lit a candle, and entered into my work with my full attention for the first time in far too long.

I came up to nurse Maggie an hour later and tuck her into bed. Brian put everyone else to bed. He came down to check on me at our usual bedtime four hours after I had begun, and I turned to him as one resurfacing after a spectacular deep sea dive, my grin wide and my whole being excited. He laughed at my euphoria. I said, I’m just so happy to be working! I love my job! I love having a quiet spot all to myself!

I finished the manuscript checks, got organized for the next week or two, made some plans, outlined some articles, that sort of thing. Hardly any great creative work but it was the kind of work that lays the groundwork for creativity. When I set up the scaffolding, it’s easier to build, I find. I sent the final docs off to my publisher, shut down the computer, blew out the candle, and floated off to bed. I slept like a champ, nursed in the middle of the night with joy, woke up in the morning singing, all of my energy restored by the simple act of doing the work I love to do. I felt more alive, more engaged with my life, in every way.

***To keep reading this fabulous and inspired post, please click here.

Rachel Whaley Doll: Healing Journey

Rachel's painting
Rachel’s painting

Early last spring, as we were preparing to move, my husband, Aaron, brought me several small bags. “I found these in the freezer. Can you believe we still have bags of breast milk?! I’ll just throw them out.” I grabbed the bags, highly offended. “No, YOU did not make this, you do NOT get to decide what happens to it!” I surprised even myself at my passionate response to these little bags. You see, my youngest child is now six, in first grade, and stopped nursing at age one.

But those little bags signified so much I had never dealt with. I put them back in the freezer and spent the next week trying to decide what their fate would be. Our move would take us 800 miles away, so the bags would not be traveling with us. But they represented a time in my life that had been so hard in coming; I was not willing to simply throw them away. It felt like I had a tangible connection to so much untouchable loss. I prayed, I meditated, and I waited to see what would be created from those little bags of breast milk, sitting my freezer.

I’m not sure how I arrived at my plan, but I saw a watercolor forming in my mind. I gathered blues, purples, and black paints; sea salt to represent so many tears. And I waited. It occurred to me that over the course of our ten rounds of fertility drugs, there had been ten embryos that had been created by Aaron and me. Ten. That number was astounding. Those little bags of milk represented the end of a four year struggle with infertility. They represented seven embryos that never attached. They represented the child lost through miscarriage. They represented the cherished time I nursed two amazing children. Still I waited.

One day, amid packing boxes and looming deadlines, the feeling was overwhelming. It was time. I stood at my dining room table and began to swirl the blues, the purples, the black. I left ten little spaces and while the paint was still very wet, I dropped the breast milk onto the canvas and watched as it swirled and mixed and danced with the colors on the canvas. I sprinkled salt over it all, and whispered prayers for each of those embryos, for the space they would always hold in my soul, for the healing I longed to take place there. Finally, eventually, it was finished. The power of that dance; of paint, milk, tears, salt, and prayers – was unspeakable. I had no idea how much I had needed that dance. When it was finished, I sat in silence with the painting for a long time. There was a powerful connection swirling in the air. Eventually the feeling of connection was replaced by a wide feeling of peace inside me. There was a little milk left over, and I walked outside and sprinkled it over the wild blackberries that grew in our yard, knowing it would feed someone; birds, squirrels, friends, strangers.

That was months ago, and the painting is very dear to me. It went to the book launch party with me, and hung that night in the art gallery as we celebrated. After our move, I hung it in our new home, in our bedroom, and enjoy its nearness. A couple of weeks ago, my hand brushed the bottom of the canvas as I went to turn on the light. My fingers came away damp, and I turned on the light to see streams of paint weaving down the wall. The painting was wet. Aaron said the recent high humidity had caused the salt to soak in the moisture from the air.

But why now, in January? It had not done this through the many humid months of summer in North Carolina. I counted up the months in my head; it has been dry and fine all this time. Chills raised the hairs on my neck as I realized it had been painted nine months ago. I realized it was weeping. I cannot explain the journey of this painting except to say we are connected, and in my eyes it is beautiful beyond measure.

Whatever journey you are walking, honor the connections your soul sees, and allow them to dance.

Rachel Doll

Rachel Whaley Doll is an educator, Biblical Storyteller, and lover of beach sand. She is also the author of two books, The Exquisite Ordinary, 2012, and Beating on the Chest of God; A Faith Journey Though Infertility, 2014. Connect with Rachel at rachelwhaleydoll.com.