. . . is the face of a friend. My friend Beth was here in the Upstate to visit her son for Family Weekend at Furman University. She was able to come by (bearing sunflowers) for a precious hour of visiting face to face. We had only met once before in real life, at the Image of the Maker retreat, and it was truly a joy to share a cup of coffee and conversation. She has such a gentle and encouraging spirit. The best part of a home is truly who we share it with.
Ripe from Image of the Maker, the words flowed fresh and cool and the images framed themselves and I was ready and there to catch every drop, every spill of light, and serve them up here.
But then as quickly as the inspiration came, it fled. In its place a quiet descended, a quilted cloak of boys’ busyness from early until late, baskets and baskets of laundry and meals to plan, cook, eat, clean up from, repeat. This summer’s trademark pursuit of trying new recipes for homemade ice cream, playing word games, and origami. Darker patches of extended family worries, a sad but honorable journey we’re anticipating, and the days speeding relentlessly it seems to me toward the start of school and an end to lazy mornings and long read aloud afternoons.
I’ve been trying to hold up that frame, to see the art. But there’s been a creeping sadness to it and the words would not come.
I’ve learned to ride out such seasons, that the eye and the fingertips on clicking keys will come back. So lately I’ve been letting my other senses take over, for art tasted and felt and heard and not necessarily made by me. A kind of rest.
- A first taste of Honey Vanilla Ice Cream– all sweet on the front with a complex, pleasant bitterness on the back end.
- Percy singing “Wade in the Water” on Sunday. Mercy indeed.
- Boys’ bristly heads fresh from haircuts, boys’ smooth cheeks to kiss at bedtime.
- An amazing art exhibition that left me filled to the brim with wonder.
- The new-spine creak from a library book I got first dibs on.
- Galloping through Peterson’s latest installment of the Wingfeather adventure, a rush of wonder through the last chapters.
- Ten years old, but new to me, McCracken’s Gypsy Flat Road. Oh. My. Goodness.
“What was incurable, desperate blindness
has been bound up from all sides with lovingkindness
comfort for sorrow,
rivers for dryness
come and drink you who have no money
And it rained all day
With the bounty of new wine.”
In these quiet weeks, art still happened. My making has been more like supper and less like poetry, and the art has yet come spilling, from a sister’s voice on the phone, from the speakers, from the children with their nimble fingers and colored paper, from the front of an over-warm sanctuary and the side of a blueberry hill. There’s a good humility that comes clearer when my hands are cupped rather than creating, that it is all gift, that we are just bearing witness, to His Image on us, in other voices, other faces, other hands.
The first glad this year was sending a geyser of pointed buds straight up through the tangle of roses, and I saw it there, but my mission that morning was trimming the spent, not gathering glorious. Later, my sweetheart clipped it and brought it in to me with a smile. Creator-arithmatic has multiplied that joy many-fold from a five-dollar Wal Mart sack of bulbs.
Glads are a flower of my childhood, remembered first along with iris and dinnerplate dahlias and dripping wisteria and a prickly little tea rose. For years I could not recall them without that bitter root, braided of sadness and shame and trouble and yes even anger in those early years, choking any good or pretty. The red clay seemed sown with curses and questions- what lovely could spring from it?
But this woman, she said to see the art in life we have to frame it. We get to, we can participate with our Creator Father in making life an artful journey, breathed into by Him. So over my shoulder, I can look back and see that sad and broken child. I can sketch her tangled hair and trembling chin and set her in a frame. And at the same time I can know.
There were glads too.
That child was sad and things were not as they should have been but she was surrounded by beauty, and had a God-given and keen appreciation for it. And THAT, that is what I hand down to my boys, as we pause over the ruffled petal and smooth fingers over a river stone and mix paints and make make make. My life in a frame shows that though fed ugly somehow I grow to see blessing, though my vision is weak I see artistry. And all this is His gift, that I can hold up a frame, a four-cornered measure of unmeasurable grace.
My glads in my own grown-up garden were fairly panting in the heat last year when Ann wrote this, remembering her mother-in-law, framing the grief and the emptiness. She wrote:
“I will leave her August spoon out on the sill and come her day I will cut glads and everything may be gone but love can always still grow old.
You can always quietly go on loving what is already gone and this is the way the emptiness fills.” Ann Voskamp
I thought of this when I slipped this first glad into water. Despite the emptiness of loss, the loss of what-never-was or what-has-slipped-away, we can go on loving, perhaps the most patient art of all. When we frame this rugged, ragged life in His love, somehow, the landscape. . . blooms.
I was sitting in a rocker on an upstairs porch of the retreat center, with my small group at the Image of the Maker retreat. We were talking about giftedness, and all the conflicting feelings we have about exploring and sharing our gifts.
As clear in my mind as a photograph not yet taken, an image of two bowls surfaced, one full and one empty.
Those two bowls hovered around the back of my mind, behind the sharing and the music and the tears and the prayers: two white bowls. One heaped abundant, and one quiet in its beautiful, bare curve.
Their meaning is one of the things that has come to me slowly over these last days. It seems to me we all travel with two bowls through life. One is filled with our art, our making– the gifts we bring to our world. Our children and the way we make our homes, food and scarves, photos and poems, paintings and sculpture and melodies. The stuff of life.
But we also carry an empty bowl, the space our questions and worries and struggles and pain have hollowed out lonely.
God, the Giver, filled the full bowl sure and certain, with all its color and texture and noise, the stitches and pixels and notes. He made us, we make in Him. And He could in a flash fill all our empty spaces splashing, our formerly empty bowl flooding over with Himself.
And He does, often, minister directly just that way.
But the exquisite privilege of community is that sometimes, He allows us to do that for each other. Because we never know how what we have in our bowl might minister to another, pour sweet relief, understanding, recognition into another’s emptiness. Sometimes He uses us.
I squeeze the hand knitted dishcloth between my fingers, and my friend Rachel is there with me in that moment, and I remember that giving glory to God can be twisted with yarn and soapsuds even for this tired Mamma. Slipped from her needles and into my hands– grace in a depleted evening. Christa’s song opens locked parts of my heart and lets His love flood in. Paint on canvas breathes new life into me. And the empty bowl is less empty, and God is glorified in a thousand sounds and colors, His Image flashing over the walls and ceilings of life like Light split by a prism. Divided yet multiplied.
And when I swallow back the fear and worry, when I remember that a bowl can an altar make, I lay my full one down in the hope the words and images, the meals and makings within will fill someone else’s bowl, and God’s name be written all over it.
Some shy from the title artist, and even the more homey “maker.” Allow me to remind you, as I was reminded that such is our birthright, and in your bowl, whether you acknowledge the art of it or not, is the story your life tells. What you have survived and celebrated, roads you’ve traveled and rides you’ve missed, and all along, the signposts of God’s faithfulness. Stitched into sweaters, laid on set tables and made beds, framed on the wall or hidden in the attic, it might not seem pretty or lovely or artful. And ten to one, you don’t know the power of that story.
The woman next to you in church, in traffic, the one who looks like she’s got it all together, has an empty bowl. And into it could tumble the story your life and art whisper, of your loves and losses, of His goodness and grace.
So what’s heaped in your life that you could hold out as gift? And what is your empty bowl yearning to receive? Both can be offered up, for the use of the wisest Giver.
I’ve never struggled with ego about my art-making with the lens. I’ve long known Other Hands and Eyes are at work when I lift the camera. I’ve always been sure that I’m just supposed to show up. The rest is His. But I’ve still struggled in my making, in my very living, with fear, a sense of unworthiness, sand slipping from beneath my steps as I tried to find my footing.
It turns out that God had a simple yet profound Truth for me to hear again in North Carolina.
“All that you need, all that you need
He’s all that you need
There’s no way to earn
What you’ve already got
Nothing to lose
When you’re loved from the start”
“All That You Need”
I stand firm, I lift the camera, I tap the keyboard with the confidence that His love cannot be lost, and His love plus my brokenness makes art that reflects back to Him. I did not earn it, I cannot lose it.
And today, as I continue to process all He was speaking to me during the retreat, I’m singing it.
I have returned from a twenty-four hour retreat in North Carolina with Ann Voskamp, Christa Wells and Nicole Witt called Image of the Maker. I registered in February and have long anticipated this weekend. Now I am home, and the laundry is on the line, and the meal planning needs doing, and the boys and I have only a couple of chapters left in our read aloud. The current continues, the one in which I walk, and I am back ankle deep in it.
But different, oh, I pray, different.
Before I left, I asked God to break me open if needed, make me ready to receive what He might do with this focused time to consider being a follower of Jesus who creates. For some months, through the loss our family has experienced braided with the continued pace of the living, I’ve felt a hard crust grow. One through which it is hard for photo taking, word shaping, art making, or wholehearted worship to crack.
I asked. And gently, He broke me open that He might come in. Laid bare in talk and song and the silences between all my pieces were there, all the lonely places my frenzied seeking for approval, acceptance, love have only injured and re-injured.
I did not know I could shed so many tears.
What Ann would tell me, what she did tell us in that room, what Christa and Nicole sang to us by that lake, is that our brokenness is what our art is made of, that when we show our wounds, others will reveal theirs and in that authentic space, art is made where a wounded Savior is revealed.
And by His Wounds, we are all healed.
I’ll be processing this weekend for a long time, asking God what He would make of me with it, what I would make for Him with it.
Today I am shaky and timid and tired and thankful.
And longing to live the giftedness for the glory of the Giver.