Learning to create, learning to unlie

When was the last time you tried something new? Or retried something you had already decided you were bad at? I am just now learning to paint with watercolors. What sparked my interest was a gift of innovative watercolor markers. No mixing paints required. No cup of water. Just jump in and shape bold objects with each colorful stroke. Pretty sappy outcomes at first, by trying to paint the expected–flowers and sunsets, and water reflecting sunsets. Sugary even. I needed to expand my imagination. I started looking through travel magazines and online photos by my favorite floral artists and photographers.

Painting may also involve sketching as a base. Each time I begin, I have to talk myself into trying it “just this once”, into putting pencil to paper “even though.” I’ve often joked about my being able to draw fantastic stick figures. At each pediatric doctor check-up, I would cartoon on the examining table paper for my kids to color while waiting and waiting for the doc–they were sure I only figures I knew how to draw were puppies and rabbits, race cars, and “beautiful girls wearing beautiful dresses.” And I was sure that was my repertoire, too. The stories we tell ourselves sometimes lie. I’m actually not so bad, not so limited. Who knew?

Stories we tell ourselves sometimes lie.

Painting is captivating, all-engrossing for me. I cannot think of one person who bugs me while I sketch and paint. For a high-functioning, always-planning leader, that’s a win–and it helps with COVID anxieties we all carry. Yesterday, even though I was sitting at my favorite lake spot, I was restless, perseverating on what ifs and whethers and whens… until I looked out the window and really saw the view before me. An amazingly, ordinary display of light and shadow, color and shape reflected on a lake. I agreed with myself to “just try” to paint it.

Two hours zipped by. I felt calmer than I had in two days, entering into God’s creation in a fresh way. More aware. Spotting a favorite shade of purple hiding in plain sight in the world. Noticing the play of shapes and sunlight, water pooling, squiggling in the wind and reflecting.

Daughter + lake = the best day!

My physicist niece explained to me recently that water atoms don’t really move across the entire lake one by one. They cohere. I look out in wonder at what I hardly understand. I pay attention to light and shading, pondering how one would impossibly capture it on paper. If I am barely beginning see the world to paint it, how did God create it? Each atom linked in a spectacular design, connected with each other atom in a wonder of purpose.

I had to pull over to watch this sunset! Not able to paint it yet.

I am discovering new ways that I am a creator also, working out of the image of God. This “seeing” leads me to praising and thanking God for the incredible gifts right before me. It leads straight to joy. I “unlie”–I tell a new truth–about who I am as a creator. And I get caught up in possibility.

What about you? What new thing might you try or try again “anyway”? What do you need to “unlie” about?

Gorillas on the Couch

“Every one of us has a gorilla on our couch.” It one of the funny phrases my mom says. I’m guessing her “gorilla” is my dad—or maybe me? Nah, what she actually means is every one of us is dealing with a big issue that dominates our living space—or our brains space–whether acknowledged aloud by us or not.

Ten years ago, I remember visiting long-time friends in Seattle, a city where we last lived 23 years ago. Along with great memories, we returned home with a long list of prayer requests. More than that, my eyes were opened to the possibility that most families I meet are also dealing with an ongoing struggle or issue in their lives. And most of us are doing the best we can at coping and carrying on in the midst of struggle. For many the “gorilla” lives within their own skin or within a child’s–and is named cancer, or depression, or alcoholism, or a dream deferred, or chronic illness, or ADHD, or gender identity, or dyslexia, or dementia, or lost hope, or teenage rebellion, or midlife crisis, or….

Last week we joyfully revisited Seattle after a five-year absence. With most dear friends, we picked up right where we had left off. We laughed and talked 100-miles-an-hour to catch up. These great conversations happened in extraordinary pacific northwest settings such as on a sailboat, a kayak, a golf course, a seaside deck, a fishing boat, an NFL game, a picnic table in the forest, or at a local pub.

Even though we hadn’t spoken often in recent months, we knew the questions to ask one another: about our kids, of course, about job changes, about future plans, and about that “gorilla.” In talking it out, we learned from one another.

In these conversations, at some point it dawned on me that it really isn’t accurate to name each struggle a “gorilla.” Perhaps the “gorilla” on the couch could better be called a surprise “visitor” or a “roommate”—because it brings change along with challenge, diverse thinking, differently-abled possibilities, or necessary progress. A “visitor” who offers a fresh perspective on life, points out new paths, and maybe, just maybe, opens up our minds, hearts, and arms for good.

“Who is your “gorilla” on the couch? Your 500-pound, surprise “visitor”? Your 20-year “roommate”? Might we offer a listening ear? Sit with you in silence? Pray with you? We are this holy struggle together and we’re each doing the best we can. I’m hopeful we do better together.