Art Lessons … From My Daughter and Her Father
Sunday afternoons at my house have had some perks lately. They have found me on my back porch with a little 5-year-old who looks a lot like Shirley Temple at the right moments, especially when the afternoon sun glints off those brunette curls. She hungers for creativity in all forms, like her momma. We’ve been huddled together on the back porch with our sketchbooks, grinning at each other over a drawing lesson while a quiet African rain taps on the sidewalk.
For five years old, she’s got a great eye. And the ways her art “portfolio” continues to overflow out of its pouch and all over her room in tilting stacks reminds me of my own for following the first Creator—for expressing that image, His unique poem nestled deep in each of the seven billion people on the planet.
To me, one of the most intriguing aspects of growing (a little) older are the ways we learn more about the very specific ways God has created us. It’s how we come into our own through varied seasons of life.
In me, motherhood, of course, has whittled and guided and sculpted so many uniquenesses. It has yanked out strengths and certainly weaknesses to which I’d been blind. Africa, too, has pulled my family’s cross-cultural skills out of the shed, pruning and seeding and pouring Miracle-Gro on them. Or take homeschooling, which if you would have asked me 10 years ago if I would attempt, I would have mentally guffawed. But now, I can’t believe what a particular need it fills for my family. Please do not plan on my kids winning national spelling bees. But I would have never seen God blow the roof off all the ways He’d made me and our family which are pitch-perfect for this task.
Sometimes I wish that in high school or college, when I had the opportunity to be educated in an interest or even gifting, I’d seized the moment. Instead I took classes to suit an ideal college application, or something more useful than enjoyable (i.e. New Testament Greek—still glad I took it!). But even at that point, God was writing my story.
Now, I am finding myself in what I’ve dubbed an “Eric Liddel” phase—as in, contemplating the worship-like notes of his quote “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.” I am enthralled by what each person innately enjoys doing because they were designed that way. (Like making spreadsheets, for example. Woe be to the person who trusts me with mathematics.) There are activities in which we revel that may not even be useful or efficient or practical at first glance, but of course, are valuable in other ways. The jewel-toned birds that craft their nests deep here in Uganda’s rain forests, unseen by any human eye, have fulfilled their purpose in life just by being, flourishing to God.
But for me, the sketchbook I purchased before I had kids has only a dozen pages filled: not because I don’t love sketching, but because so often I’ve found activities, even pastimes that more directly benefit someone else somehow. (Forget that my enjoyment in something and using those gifts simply honors my Creator, right?) My daughter’s and my Sunday afternoon rendezvous have been a good reason to dig out that sketchbook and enjoy just following my God, even listening to His image in me.
Slowly, I’m learning to cultivate beauty as God instructed Adam in the Garden. I am cheered on that Jesus was Himself a carpenter, appreciating the raw material of wood and “cultivating” its more natural form into usable presumably attractive order. Looking at God’s handiwork, I’m not guessing Jesus loved sanding and planing strictly utilitarian furniture that just got the job done. (Interestingly enough, it was prior to Jesus’ formal ministry that God said He was “well pleased.”) It is beneficial that I am learning this here in Africa, where the sheer volume of opportunities for God’s work can topple me in waves of poverty and neediness, tempting me to be all about what is difficult rather than what also brings God pleasure and follows His example.
So I’ve been tickled pink—cotton candy? sunset? magenta?—to now not only to be instructing my own kids in art, but also the kiddos at our newly-minted homeschooling co-op.
To demonstrate the “theology of creativity” in sneaky ways like water-coloring and pencil sketching, over quiet conversation, has been a delicious delight.
It is also unabashedly an excuse to complete an example art project every week. Selecting shades of brown from the kids’ plastic colored-pencil box gave me disproportionate glee. I also admit to wearing swishy skirts and dangling earrings to look my jaunty new part. As I’ve gently extended roots into the deep, secure love of my husband and my God, I have concluded that creativity often requires many shades of courage.
May you have the courage and resources to create today.