One the most fascinating aspects of growing (a little) older are the ways we learn more about the very specific ways God’s created us, coming into our own through varied seasons of life. I am wowed by this.
In me, motherhood, of course, has revealed and taught and developed so many uniquenesses in my own life, unfolding strengths and certainly weaknesses I was clueless I had. And Uganda has pulled my family’s cross-cultural skills out of the shed, pruning and shaping and dumping Miracle-Gro on them. Or take homeschooling, which if you would have asked me ten years ago if I would attempt, I would have mentally laughed out loud. But now, I can’t believe what a particular need it fills for my family. No, I don’t own any jumpers, and no, I sure don’t plan on my kids winning any national spelling bees. But I would have never seen God blow the doors off all the ways He’d made me and our family that are pitch-perfect for this task.
Sometimes I wish that in a previous season of my life, when I had the opportunity to be trained in ways I was very interested and even gifted—like taking more art classes in high school and college—I’d seized the moment there. Instead I’d been focused on taking the right college-prep classes, or classes I knew would be useful (i.e. New Testament Greek—still glad I took it!) rather than enjoyable. But God had control of that, too.
Now, I’m in a bit more of an “Eric Liddel” phase—as in, understanding the worship-like notes of his quote “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.” I am fascinated by the things in each person that they innately enjoy doing because they were designed to enjoy them. These are ways that we revel in things that aren’t always useful or efficient or practical at first glance, but of course, are useful in other ways. The red or yellow cannas that push themselves from the soil here in Uganda’s rainforests, unseen by any human eye, have fulfilled their purpose in life just by being, flourishing to God. But as for me, the sketchbook I bought at least a decade ago has only a dozen pages filled: not because I don’t love sketching, but because so often I’ve found activities, even hobbies that more directly benefit someone else somehow. (Forget that my enjoyment in something and using those gifts simply honors God, right?)
Maybe that’s why it took a little five-year-old who looks a lot like Shirley Temple at the right moments—and hungers for creativity in all forms, like her momma (ahem, including the occasional disorganization)—to dig out the sketchbook I’d stuffed in one of our bags coming over here. The last two Sundays have found us huddled together on the back porch with our sketchbooks, grinning over a drawing lesson. For five years old, she’s pretty good. And the ways her art “portfolio” continues to overflow out of its pouch and all over her room in messy stacks reminds me of my own love for following the first Creator, for expressing that image buried deep in each of us. Books like Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff have encouraged me to cultivate beauty much like God commanded Adam in the Garden. I find encouragement that Jesus Himself was a carpenter, taking the raw material of wood and “cultivating” its more chaotic form into useable, presumably attractive order. (And it was before Jesus had done any formal ministry that God said He was “well pleased.”) Perhaps it is good that I am learning this here, where the sheer volume of work/ministry to do can be overwhelming, tempting me to be all about what is difficult rather than what also brings God pleasure and follows Him.
So I’ve been tickled pink—salmon? Coral? Carnation?—to now be teaching art not only to my own kids, but also the fourteen-and-growing kids at our newly-minted eMi homeschooling co-op. To demonstrate the “theology of creativity” in sly ways like making a color-wheel gecko has already been a delicious delight, not to mention an excuse to complete an example art project every week. Picking out shades of green from the kids’ box of colored pencils yesterday gave me disproportionate glee, and I admit to wearing long skirts and dangly earrings to look my new part. My younger sister is a (real) art teacher in England, and someday when I grow up maybe I’ll be as creative as she is. As I’ve settled more into the deep, secure love I’ve found my marriage and in God, I have determined that creativity is often composed of the necessary ingredient of courage.
May you have the courage and resources to create today.