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“Live Your Story” Series- Jenny White

May 15, 2011

Have you ever heard of Art House America?  It was started in Nashville in 1991 by husband and wife duo Charlie Peacock and Andi Ashworth.  Both have a real heart for life, ministry, the arts and seeing them combined well.  Andi is an author and has been key in bringing about the environment of hospitality within Art House.  Charlie is a musician and has produced the likes of Amy Grant, Switchfoot and most recently, The Civil Wars.  For many years Art House America has been a vibrant place for people of all walks of life to share ideas and resources for the common good.

Recently, Art House decided to expand and Dallas was their pick.  Jenny White was entrusted with the keys to the new Dallas branch and she has big plans.  She sees artists traveling through relaxing and recharging, she sees workshops,  recording studios, a wide variety of small groups for gardeners to deep thinkers, and a big kitchen for communal cooking.  Also, the last Thursday of each month Art House hosts an exchange where folks interested in creative and faithful living come for conversation and good drink.  Sometimes it’s dialogue, sometimes it’s teaching, sometimes it’s doing-  Art House is interested in cultivating creative community for the common good while encouraging everyone to live imaginative and meaningful lives.  So let’s meet the culture maker whose vision and hard work is showing communities all over Dallas how to live better stories.

1.  Name a person, book, and moment that served as a catalyst for the pursuit of your passion?

For years I tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and then I walked into the kitchen of the Art House in Nashville. It was September 9, 2008, a day (moment) which would hugely affect the trajectory of my vocation.  I was there for a musician retreat co-hosted by Art House America (Charlie Peacock and Andi Ashworth) and Wedgwood Circle. The retreat gathered together musicians who had received financial support from Wedgwood to connect with Christians from all over the country who were writing secular music for the common good. There was incredible teaching, decadent meals, live music, and long conversations on porch swings where musicians eye lit up with the realization of “you feel that way too?” I spent two days at the Art House watching the work of hospitality, mentoring and vocational teaching refresh the thirsty hearts of musicians, and my eyes were opened to a job I didn’t know existed. But the fact is, a job didn’t exist at the time, and wouldn’t for almost two more years.  However, it planted in me a passion for creating a place for traveling musicians to find rest, a warm meal, and some good conversation. I never thought about the possibility of actually working for the Art House since it was a small organization in Nashville, so I looked at how I could live out this new found desires and callings right where I was. Through my job at the Wedgwood Circle, we set up a network of host families who would take in some of the same musicians at the Art House retreat when they had shows in Washington, DC.  My greatest cheerleader and mentor, Elizabeth Fitch, served as the guinea pig for this program, and took in our first beneficiary, Katie Herzig and her band, for a night. She was thrilled to see my small dream of providing hospitality for musicians become a reality. Two years later, Elizabeth would serve as the catalyst who actually helped me pursue this passion to take the job to start Art House in Dallas.  I was afraid to leave DC, and all I had known, but Elizabeth reminded me of the first time we talked in her kitchen about serving musicians to the first time she hosted, and helped me realize what an incredible opportunity God had provided to give me a job I didn’t know existed.  A couple months later, in preparation for taking this Art House job, I read Andi Ashworth’s book, Real Love for Real Life,and it was hugely influential in increasing my understanding of the meaning of caretaking as a vocation. For someone who is so often focused on completing agendas and staying on task, her book was a refreshing perspective on the ‘job’ of caring for people through the way we listen, give time, cook meals, share wisdom and take extra time to show people we care. As someone who loves to cook, spend time in long conversations and write notes, this was a huge realization for me that God could use these desires as part of a vocation and not just every once in a while.

 

2.  What risks did you have to take along the way and how did they interact with your fears?

 I felt a lot of risk in leaving a job that I loved and a city that had become home after five years. I loved the pace and energy of Washington, DC and was a little nervous about moving back to Dallas and figuring out my place in a new city.  The excitement of being near my family again paired with the confidence that God had led me directly to this job with Art House propelled me forward.  I think that my biggest fear was wrapped up in not meeting the founders expectations, as Dallas was the first new branch of Art House America after 20 years of being only in Nashville.  On top of these fears, it felt risky to leave a job I knew I could do well, to start an organization from scratch… especially considering I wasn’t a famous music producer like our organization’s founder.  I kept drawing on all the folks in the bible who felt so unqualified, and yet God used them anyways.

3. What was the biggest and most unexpected pain (a blind side moment) in your journey?  How has it changed you and your process?

A year and a half ago, I got one of those phone calls that makes your heart drop and forever changes you.  I found out my sister had been rushed to the hospital for lung failure and was in the ICU on a breathing machine. She was in critical condition, and we were unsure of how long she would have to be on a breathing machine as well as the long term effects of her condition. I was still living in DC at the time, and through the two weeks I spent at home in Dallas waiting for her health to return, I realized that life is too short to be living so far from my family.  Of course my parents didn’t want me to move home for this reason, but in God’s great kindness, I was given a job offer five months after these scary couple of weeks. My sister is healthy now, but that blindside moment helped me to realize what an incredible support system that God had provided in Dallas through old friends and family that have known me my whole life. I loved my friends in DC, but this painful season was a catalyst in helping me realize that there were too many people in Dallas that I loved to not be walking alongside them in everyday life for the long term.

4. What has been the most joyful part of your journey that needs to be celebrated?

The most joyful part of my journey over the last year has been to see the faithfulness of God in renewing and providing so many amazing relationships for me upon moving back to Dallas. One of the greatest challenges in living in Washington, DC was how quickly folks moved in and out of the city.  I can count on one hand the friendships that I had from beginning to end in the five years that I lived there. As much as I miss those dear friendships that shaped me in many ways over my time away from Texas, I love the fact that most of my friends here in Dallas don’t have any plans to leave the area anytime soon. It’s a beautiful thing to put down roots with old and new friends alike, and know that that they aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future. I am celebrating the fact that my heart, for the first time in about 10 years, is finally at rest right where God has me.  From the time I started to decide where I was going to college (Texas A&M) to where I was going to live after graduation (Washington, DC) I have always wondered at what point I would live somewhere and feel completely at rest.  It wasn’t until about six months into moving back to Dallas that I looked around and realized how wonderful it is to be near to my parents, three sisters, two brother in laws and numerous other extended family members and friends who are incredibly supportive. I am also incredibly grateful for my boyfriend who is nothing short of a provision from God. When I was leaving the Northeast, I fought everyone who said that I would start dating a Texas boy within six months of moving back to the Lone Star State. I guess that I can celebrate that they were right and I was wrong. While God may have plans to move me somewhere else in years to come, I truly celebrate the fact that for right now, He has me in a place that I am so content to work and play and love all these wonderful people around me for many years to come.

5.  What is a question that you don’t get asked but wish you would?  Now, please answer that desired question.

I don’t generally like this question asked by strangers, but if I know you pretty well, I’d be pretty happy if you came up to me and asked:
Would you like me to give you a back rub?

And I would answer: Yes, Please !

You can follow Charlie Peacock on Twitter  @charliepeacock  or Art House America @arthouseamerica

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