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The Power of The Ampersand: A Look Toward Collaboration


Posted on December 6th, by Jason Johnson in Uncategorized. No Comments

So grateful to have the thoughts of our friends Ronne and Courtney in this guest post. They are both amazing artists, orphan advocates, kitchen therapists, and friends along with just being flat out incredible people. Glad to have them here on the new and now blog. You can follow some of what they’re up to by checking out @OrphanOutreach on social media or following @RonneRock and @Courtney_Now on Instagram.

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Walk into my office, and you’ll see a theme. It’s subtle, but it’s there – in the décor and in the spirit of the work being done in the corner of the patchwork room that doubles as a space for guests and grandkids.

The ampersand.

I believe God is the God of the ampersand, the God of the “and this too.” The ampersand has the power to beautifully connect two things without diminishing the value of either one.

The ampersand champions what it holds together. It finds balance. It creates something new that would have never existed without its presence, and allows both of the things he connects to celebrate in that creation.

I think about the ampersand a lot when my best friend, Courtney, and I work together. We’ve been collaborating now for almost a decade. What began as a moment of panicked frustration when we were both asked to transform a nondescript tent into a sanctuary for Easter has transformed both of our lives. With a week to create and the directive of “we trust you – just make it happen,” we made crosses of hubcaps and shattered mirrors and happily-ever-after stories written on wood. The goal was to recreate the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania – something we had found in a Google search over coffee. What we didn’t know was that God was revealing something far more important to us.

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He was showing us His purpose in collaboration, His delight in the “and this too.”

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Since that Easter in 2009, we’ve worked together on a lot of things.

Sermon series/Set design

Baking/Catering

Conference Keynotes

Workshops

Mission team leadership and training

Fundraising

And we’re working on our first-ever published work together  – an interactive prayer journal that provides folks with an opportunity to read, reflect, and respond.

My words. Her illustrations. Our God-inspired ampersand.

Courtney laughs when she thinks about all we’ve done together over the years. “Let’s see what else – funerals, weddings, baby showers. I guess we find ourselves doing 800 things that maybe don’t make all the sense in the world – because we are strengthened to those things together. We strengthen each other, you know?”

You might be wondering exactly what it is that Courtney and I both do with our time. She’s a visual artist with an uncanny ability to see fine detail in the biggest of pictures and create masterpieces from garbage bins. She’s also a fifth-degree black belt in Taekwondo. I’m a strategic planner marketing gal who finds her greatest creative expression through writing feature stories for nonprofits. The only degree I have is in journalism. We share a common passion for the orphaned and vulnerable, road trips to small Texas towns, and good food served up with great conversation. Seventeen years separate us in age, she’s raising a daughter while I am tending to grandkids, and we live in very different parts of town. On paper, we wouldn’t have made much sense as a duo.

But that’s the beauty of the ampersand. It doesn’t look for the perfect pairing – rather, it perfects pairings.

Recently we were together in Honduras, and I shared with a woman who runs a children’s home there that collaboration is one of the most powerful things that has ever happened to me. “I’m like you – pretty independent and a little bit sassy,” I said to the ex-nun who felt as if she needed to carry all the weight of things on her shoulders. “And one of the best days in my life was when God placed Courtney in it. We’re so different, but we work well together. I am always full of ideas about how to solve problems. Courtney can see the one of all the options that can get done. I see big, she sees small. Together, we see well.”

We humans deal with the “terrible 2s” all the time – the unseemly partnership of fear and pride. Every idea we have, every adventure we embark on are hit at some point with fear and pride creating a list of caveats.

The power of collaboration is that it’s about more than the actual project or activity – it’s also becoming vulnerable enough to see that it’s about the “ampersand” of our emotions, our fears, our sin nature. It’s realizing that dark moments rarely hit both people at the same time. And if they’re not addressed vulnerably, they can build walls.

And it’s OK to laugh at those moments. Take them captive, address them head-on.

And trust me, we’ve laughed. And cried. And been gut-level honest.

We’ve both confessed to each other that we still struggled at times when the other person receives the praise for work we’ve done. Courtney says, “In my hardest moments, I hear the accuser say ‘Isn’t it nice she lets you along for the ride? You know you’re just the add-on here.’” The accusations for me sound more like, “So clearly your work doesn’t matter – she’s the one with the real talent.” We’ve learned to confess those moments to each other and pray for each other.

True collaboration wants good things for each other.  And sometimes, it looks very different than we imagine it might. Sometimes, collaboration is at its best when it is quiet, working behind-the-scenes, taking the back seat to the gifts of another. It’s always elevating, always allowing creativity to shine.  It’s working within the space that’s been given you, rather than trying to force your space to exist.

We’ve had some really great successes along the way, like when we created all the design elements for a sermon series, called “Revolut10n.” Everything, from sermon titles to set design to the graffiti on sidewalks and buildings, was spot-on.  We also worked together to design a set of stained glass crosses on canvas that were then auctioned off to raise money to install electricity in an orphanage in Guatemala.

But we’ve failed epically too. Sometimes the best designs on paper are nothing short of complete embarrassments in real life. And that baking/catering thing we did together? It was a blast when it was two women preparing delicious things to eat to raise money for charity. But when we decided to create a bonafide business? Every ounce of joy was drained dry.

And yet, we still run headlong into new adventures together, celebrating good moments and embracing failures.

Over time, we’ve learned to celebrate strengths and show grace toward the things that trigger each other. There’s not one project we ever do together than doesn’t include at some point the following statements.

“Are you happy yet?”

“50 feet. Remember, step back 50 feet.”

“Stand down. This is a moment – it’s not all of them.”img_1994

“Take a breath.”

Ampersands give space and yet stay connected. They’ve got a lot to teach us still.

And so we’re still learning to defer.

We have an opportunity to be an example of what partnership looks like, what friendship looks like. There aren’t a lot of great examples out there. There’s a lot of undercurrent stuff – that “everything is awesome” wrapping on the outside, hiding dark undercurrents of competitiveness and conflict.  A collaboration that’s wrapped in divinity can shine light on that darkness and reveal what true mutual submission in love can be.

There it is again. The ampersand. The “and this too.”

Courtney says she thinks she likes what we do the most because we use it to build momentum – it’s not been about elevating our own talent and building a platform. It’s about teaching others that we are all better together, and that each of us on this earth has something to contribute, something to share.

And God awaits with another ampersand.

What does “and this too” mean to you? Who is brought to mind when you reflect on the power and purpose of collaboration? What is He wanting to celebrate in and through you and someone else? Share the story of your God-inspired ampersand with us.





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