What does it mean to be an artist? Consider the following words from St. John Paul the Great, in excerpts from his Letter to Artists:
The human (craftswoman) mirrors the image of God as Creator…(she) accomplishes this task…in shaping the wondrous “material” of (her) own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe…
The divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of His own surpassing wisdom, calling (her) to share in His creative power…As Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece…
January Donovan, the founder of The Art of Being a Woman Project, could not agree more.
“Art’s purpose is to elevate culture,” she said, and she believes true femininity is an art form.
“Our Lord is the master Creator and everything he created was beautiful,” explains January. “We participate with our creator when we receive the gift of our sexuality and create something beautiful with our lives. By doing so, we intention to nourish this world.“
“Collectively, women have an incredible capacity to elevate this culture by the way they choose to live and love; this is The Art of Being a Woman,” she said.
January offers “a bold training program to prepare women to enter into the different stages of being a woman.”
“We have to acknowledge that just because we are born a woman, it does not mean we automatically know how to be a woman,” she explains. “We must discover who we are, why we are here and spend our days engaging the magnitude of the gifts of being a woman. It is time we teach women how to truly be women.”
The ABW Project aims to provide information and formation so women can create a community to lead our world into the next generation.
Combating a Toxic Culture
“It is both a privilege and a difficult time to be a woman today,” said January. “We have more freedom than most women ever experienced in our history, but we are far more exhausted, lonelier and living lives of perpetual anxiety. We have become incarcerated by the false expectations from the demands and contradictions of this ‘toxic’ culture.”
She likens the culture to swimming in a pool full of poison — a poison of “contradictions and false expectations.”
“How do we know what is truly good when our culture does not show us what ‘good’ looks like?” she asks. “Our culture is full of vague and subtle but conflicting expectations. They are in the movies, magazines, work atmosphere, our homes and in our daily conversations. Our culture robs women of the abundant life they deserve.”
January explains women are trapped into a cycle of comparison, competition, cynicism and judgment. “From a very young age, we are told competition is rooted in our system. We are rewarded not for our efforts but for our production. We are simply as good as our grades, our degrees and our titles. We have forgotten the joy of the journey and the wisdom that comes from being chiseled in the process of discovery.”
“We are made to feel inadequate if we do not accomplish enough,” she said. “We live our lives guilty, doubtful and resentful of one another.”
The culture shows women a “fractured” image, she says.
“There is an imbalance of emphasis. We are overly concerned about the external woman and not giving notice to the internal woman. But the internal woman is the driving force of the external. Unless we recognize that we are simultaneously living our daily moments in an internal and external reality, we might miss the value of feeding both.”
Combating the culture starts with “owning our story,” says January. “We must examine our lives with clarity and determine the effects of the culture on our relationships, our work, our hearts and our spirits.”
“Unless we own our story, there is a grave temptation to blame and walk in a life of guilt. We have to study our own history so we can understand the context in which we have made good or poor choices; this will help us navigate our future. We must gain wisdom for our past so we can direct our future.”
A Time for Healing
To get the ball rolling, January shares her own story of a failed relationship in her teenage years that led to two abortions and afterward, to the suffering of depression, and the loss self-worth and even her own identity.
“I share my story because it is a common story of the wounds that so many women suffer,” she said. “My story shows how a journey from ‘death to life’ is attainable. In the sheer agony of where I was at 17 to where I am now ….I found hope.”
“But even more…I found the abundance of my faith, I found, joy, peace, love, passion and my worthiness as a child of God. Not only is God merciful, he showers the sinners with generosity when we give the little that we have to love him. My desires paled in comparison to his dreams in my life. I am living his dream for me now; in the heart of the struggle of day to day life. Life with our Lord is beautiful. There is not only peace in our Lord’s holy will, but Joy!”
While January was attending college in Steubenville, Ohio, she would meet a Regnum Christi consecrated women who she said altered the course of her life. “She trained me in ways I never imagined were possible,” said January. “I do not think I will have enough words of gratitude for what she has done in my life.”
January became involved in the RC Mission Corps (at that time called being a co-worker). Every six months, while she was at Franciscan University, she had the opportunity to go on an RC silent retreat. She would serve in the Mission Corps in Washington DC where she had the opportunity to meet and become friends with another former coworker, Chelsea Niemiec Gheesling, who today is the founder of Good Girl Comeback.
“There a lot of chiseling happened and this is where I came to love the active life of formation,” she said. “This is where our Lord taught me how to love Him.”
January calls her days in the Mission Corps as “hard, but joy filled.”
“It was hard because I was out of college, ready to explore the world, but I was living a life of daily formation.
“It was hard because I refused the life at first. Discipline can be so painful but yet a life without discipline is even more excruciating. I am most grateful for the privilege to be formed in ways I didn’t realize I needed.”
January thanks God “every day” for her coworker experience. She said the priests and consecrated women showed her what it means to truly love.
“They loved my soul enough to challenge the women in me. There was that tender balance between firm and tenderness that I received; firm in challenging me to alter my ways, but tender in delivery and love.”
“It as an incredible time,” she said. “Now in my daily life as a wife, mother and apostle, I continue to draw from the resources I learned in those days.”
Today January is married and has 5 beautiful children. Her husband is truly the “joy of her heart,” she said. “He walks with me, takes care of me and carries me when courage is low. He is the face of Christ to me. His ability to take his daily formation seriously give so much life to our marriage.”
“When women look at my life today, they see a woman who is loved tenderly by her husband, a woman who loves life, is at peace and living her dream…which is true,” she explained. “Some assume that this life was handed to me. What they have not seen are the many internal battles I had to fight, and continually fight everyday in order to gain such peace. Formation only ends when we no longer desire transformation. We never quite arrive as a woman, we only evolve into many stages of being a woman, that is the beauty of being a pilgrim on earth. I want them to see that I fought for my life, and they too can fight for it too. Grace makes all things good possible”
A Calling to Help Others Heal
January feels a tremendous amount of gratitude and a “pulsating sense of responsibility” to share what she has learned. She has helped mentor many women over the last few decades.
“I feel the burden of the call (to help other women) every single day. It actually hurts not to do something. I often wish I could silence this passion because quite frankly, it would be an easier path, but I cannot. I have tried many times.”
Ironically, she said, taking the “easy” path is more difficult because “it’s settling for a life of mediocrity.”
January helps women “rediscover the true desires of their heart by becoming a light to others in our society, contributing the best of who we can be.” She helps them to see with eyes of compassion the agonies that their own story has brought, and how it can bring great healing to the division in the world.
“We all have been wounded, but our wounds carry with it a compass to our freedom,” she said. “We must not be defined by them, but rather we must use our wounds to redefine our lives.”
A Need for Role Models
“It is crucial that we lay the foundation of teaching our very young women how to think for themselves,” she explains. “Unless we have parents, adults, teachers and intentional adults guiding us in the simple basic skills in order grow healthy, mentally, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically…we are left to the media and our culture to discover these basic human principles.”
“We often miss the most valuable moments, people and opportunities that aide us in our growth because we don’t know how to be still enough to pause and observe. Women have to be more intentional about being a role model, and learning from our own role models. We have to teach other women how to observe, study and apply the wisdom that every moment teaches. There is abundant grace with every second we are alive, we just need to have eyes to recognize it.”
This is the whole vision of the Art of Being a Woman project.
What the ABW Project Offers
January’s project provides women with skills “to process the inundation of information we receive daily. This requires a tremendous amount of focus, prioritizing, simplifying and boundaries, all of which are seldom taught within our communities.”
“We have to be intentional about formation because it is the foundation of femininity.”
“We want to prepare the woman to live in this culture, to take her out of reaction mode and give her the freedom to thrive in a wholesome life. Our focus has to be building a strong foundation for women and prepare them to propel into their purpose. Living their purpose is the key to woman’s joy; we must prepare women for that privilege.”
In simple, bite-size pieces, the ABW project helps women to “master the basics” through exercises “to help us gain perspective and not stray from our path.”
“Our goal for the visual is to really simplify the process so that we cut out the infatuation of information and focus on actual formation…in other words – application.”
ABW fosters for women a community life, something to do together. One of the many tools is the Admiration Box, involving creating a list of other women to admire and why they should be admired.
“It is an exercise of gratitude,” she said. “We must be overflowing in gratitude in order to give back. Generosity must come from a place of abundance, not depletion. Gratitude is an active practice in seeing the good that surrounds us.”
“We are living in the ‘information age’ yet, we have not been show how to apply this information through formation; women tend to get overwhelmed and end up exhausted.”
Women involved in the ABW project are offered a free weekly video training blog on a specific, common topic explored in layers of depth and providing practical and attainable ways to apply the information.
All women have to do to participate is sign up at the ABWProject.com website.
“We offer free templates along with the trainings that they can use personally or with friends.”
Subscribers will have access to all ABW social media including Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube.
“Ultimately, we invite women to sign up for our active trainings through the ABW Academy, a virtual classroom where we will have our trainings on the stages of being a woman.”
“Here we offer a more concentrated class and video blog-based trainings that they can have for life. This is for women who would want further training and really diving into some practical application. The trainings can also use it in small group settings.”
In 2015 the ABW Academy hopes to release classes such as:
-How to Treat Men
-How to Prepare to be a Wife
-How to Prepare to be a Mother
January is also currently working on a book. “A truly bold move for me,” she said.
The working title is: “How to be a Woman in a Culture that has forgotten to show us how. This is a working title and truly the work of our Lady. I ask for your prayers of both protection and courage to remain faithful to the call that our Lord has placed in my heart.“