Are You an Artist?

I had the joy and privilege to serve as the art teacher for the sports camp our church does the week of Vacation Bible School.  We have sports camp directly after VBS, so the kids who sign up for that have lunch after VBS and go to two sports activity sessions.  Arguably, art is not a sport, but it makes me happy that we include it, and it makes me even happier to finally feel competent as a coach.  I have coached Upward basketball several times now, and the only thing that qualifies me to coach is my love for kids.  Even my mom laughed and asked why I couldn’t coach something like softball that I was pretty good at or soccer that I at least know and understand the rules.  I was born to coach art – basketball, not so much…

One of my campers last week was a little awestruck at something I demonstrated and then helped her with, and she asked with wonder, “Are you an artist?”  I’m not going to lie; I would have struggled to answer that question in the past.  It’s a lot like when someone asks if I’m a writer.  I have a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to both of those questions.  Neither writing nor art is my occupation.  I’m not sure they could be my day job, and even if they could, I don’t think that’s the path I’m meant to take.  I feel somehow that to call yourself an artist or a writer that it should be your occupation, as in, “I am an artist,” “I am an architect,” or “I am an office manager.”

Obviously, one doesn’t need to be a professional artist to be an artist.  I don’t have to write full time or publish books to be a writer.  I am an artist.  I am a writer.  God gave me those talents, and he created me to be those things, as well as a teacher, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a housekeeper, a Chief Compliance Officer, a dog wrangler…  Like most people, I wear more than one hat.

But what great joy it was to be able to declare to my student, “Yes.  I am an artist.  It’s not what I do for a living, but creating art is something I love to do.”

I often doubt myself and where I am, what I’m doing.  Is it enough?  Am I wrong – is this supposed to be my day job?  Should I be trying harder to make money as a writer or as an artist?  These are all the wrong questions, though.  I should instead be asking if I’m doing what God placed in my heart to do.  Am I developing my skills on a regular basis?  Am I using the talents he gave me to reflect his light and bring glory to him?

When I can answer “yes” to God, then I’m on the right track, whatever that track is.  Hopefully one day soon that path will lead to publishing a book; maybe I will sell a painting someday; now, every day, I will work to be the writer and visual artist God created me to be.

What about you?  Are you an artist?  Most of the people I present with this question say “no,” and they say it rather quickly.  “I don’t know how to paint.”  “I can only draw stick figures.”  “I can’t write a sentence, much less a poem.”  We focus the word “artist” a little too narrowly, maybe.  Or maybe I should be asking, “Are you creative?”  I have a feeling I would still get the same quick “no” most of the time, even if I changed the question.  If you don’t think you’re creative, expand your focus: what are you really good at?  You have something in your life that you excel in or love to do because it feels easy and natural to you.  Now narrow your focus there; I’ll bet you’re creative within that passion.

Congratulations, you are an artist.

So, what is your art genre?  Are you a mathematician?  A baker?  An organizer?  A singer?  An actor?  A pilot?  A basketball coach?  Whatever you have been gifted to do, that is your creative space.  God calls us all to create and thereby reflect his creativity.  Innovate.  Sing a new song.  Praise him with your talents.

If you would like encouragement in finding and developing your God-given talents, join the closed Mabbat FB group here:  I’ll be posting prompts to get you thinking about your creativity and how to use it to grow spiritually and emotionally.  Also, starting this weekend, I’ll be posting a serialized Bible study journal for the book of Colossians if you’d like to read along with me.  There are drawing and writing prompts to help you experience God’s word through creative expression.  I’ll post a new study prompt each week, and we’ll continue the discussion through the week in the Mabbat FB group.

If an online group terrifies you, here are a few suggestions: you can always e-mail me at, and you can join (or start!) a small group to help you discover and use your talents.  Every church I know of has small groups (or life groups or Sunday school classes or…) of people who meet on a regular basis to study God’s word together and to encourage each other to live out his purpose in their lives.  Find one and jump in.  The best way to be consistent on your creative journey with God is to be connected to a community of believers who will lift you up and also hold you accountable.

How are you an artist?  I would love to see your answer in the comments!

WIP Wednesday

It’s still *technically* Wednesday…

In an effort to share my creative journey as promised, I propose Work In Progress Wednesdays, or “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” if you prefer. Some weeks it may be sketches; some weeks may be scribbling in my poetry journal. The point is to be creating on a regular basis. If you want a safer space than online comments to share, please head over to the closed Mabbat FB group, or email me at if you want to share directly.

As a former dancer and forever ballet aficionado, I am fascinated with the lines and movement of ballerinas. Here’s where that’s taken me in my sketchbook lately.

I really love the idea of the shapes in the last one, so maybe that will turn into a painting soon.

What are you working on?

Wasting Time

Have you ever known you should be doing something – something that calls you, begs you to give it a voice – but you just can’t.

20180611 Wasting Time-PicI can’t even put words to why I am procrastinating, but in spite of hearing God call me to write and paint, I will often actively ignore that gentle nudge and do something else.  It may be a good thing I’m doing (decluttering the house, catching up on work, solving crossword puzzles, searching Pinterest for tiny human craft ideas…), but it is not what I should be doing.  And I know it because whatever I’m doing doesn’t satisfy the longing I’m feeling, and I add to that longing a small unsettled feeling in my soul.  I need to keep house and work and take care of my people and myself, but I also must answer God when he prompts me to write or draw or glue (just as long as he doesn’t tell me to glitter – pretty sure glitter is the tiny human’s spiritual gift anyway).

The thing about me avoiding what I know I should do is ridiculous in so many ways because I love “to art.” (Why isn’t art a verb??  It is now for me.)  I love writing, I love creating, and I love putting all of that together.  Yet I have put off relaunching the blog for over a year.  I’m just getting back to completing paintings I started over a year ago, and I have two books that I need to sit down with and finish so I can decide how to proceed with publishing.  Why am I putting off these things that I love and very much want to do?

I have two answers that both apply to my procrastination.  First, I am afraid.

You may not believe me, but I am very much an introvert, and I fit very neatly into the INFJ category every time I take the Meyers-Briggs personality test.  I take criticism super personally, so putting anything out for public viewing is nerve-wracking every time.  Every post.  Every sketch.  Every word.  They all become so easy to obsess over and put my value in: if people like this blog post, then they like me.  I know it’s a mental and spiritual trap, but it’s an easy one to get caught up in.  Which leads me to…

Second, I get caught in Satan’s plans to distract me from what really matters.

If I’m not arting when I know I should, I’m not using a gift God gave me to glorify him.  If I hang any of my value on what someone else thinks of what I create, I am letting Satan take away my God-given value as a child of God.  And I am wasting the time I’ve been given here on earth.

When God gives you a gift, you will be called to use it; everything you do to avoid it is just wasting time.  Very carefully notice that I am not saying that everything else that you do is a waste of time.  If you are a functional adult, you know that there are other things that will occupy your time – earning a paycheck, for instance  – and none of those things are a waste of time.  All of us are given a gift of some kind to use, and we will all be accountable to God for the way that we used them.  If you just read that and thought, “I don’t have a gift,” or, “I’m not good at anything,” STOP.  Stop it.  You have a gift, and I will be dedicating some time to helping you discover your gift in future posts.  But for now, rest assured that you are gifted.  You may not be a painter or a writer or a musician, but you might be an engineer, a baker, an organizer, a mathematician, a runner, a listener…  God made us each unique, and the gifts he gives are as varied as we are.  Don’t let comparison convince you that you are not equally gifted because your gift is less publicly obvious than someone else’s.  That, too, is a waste of time.

If you’ve noticed that I so far am mostly confessing that I’m currently guilty of wasting time, you’re right.  Now that I’ve written this far, I realize that I’m not offering any solutions or practical admonitions or observations.  I am simply confessing.  And committing.  I commit to change the way I approach my arting and blogging, and I am asking you to join me on the journey.  My commitment to you is that I will art somehow daily, and I will be working on the blog continuously as I do so.  I have a few plans ready to implement now and a few ideas that are kind of huge and scary.  I want you to keep me accountable.  I am publicly proclaiming these plans so that I will be bound to complete them, having now committed to doing so.  If you notice me slacking off, please call me on it – hold my feet to the fire, as it were.  I’m tired of wasting time.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

This wasn’t the topic I had planned to write about today, but I know I can’t shake this without writing it out.  This week has been full of loss all around me, and, even though I have known none of the people who died personally, I find myself grieving nonetheless.  Several of my friends lost fathers.  Two famous creators died of suicide.  I feel the weight of grief in my communities, both locally and online, and it is heavy on my soul right now.  The bell is tolling for me.

For Whom the Bell Tolls - Web SizeTwo of my friends who lost their fathers are Christ followers who are comforted by the fact that they will see their fathers soon enough in heaven with Jesus.  They are embarking on a new chapter in their stories without main characters who played vital roles in their lives up to now.  No doubt the new chapters will continue to tell their fathers’ stories in the legacies that they left in these two beautiful souls.  That may eventually be some earthly comfort after the shock and pain fade a bit.

The world’s loss of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in a week’s time is certainly tragic, as are some of the public’s reactions in the comments sections of the news articles reporting their deaths.  I am by no means a mental health expert, but I am a person who is surviving the mental illness of depression.  Some people are quick to point out that suicide is a selfish act, leaving devastated loved ones in its wake.  While that may be accurate from a mentally healthy perspective, healthy, rational people do not commit suicide.  Sick people do.  Others have pointed out that both Spade and Bourdain had much to live for with successful careers and wealth.  Depression is not a disease that discriminates between rich and poor, successful and not.  You may be more prone to depression if your circumstances are difficult, but you are not exempt because your circumstances are better.

Depression that isn’t a passing reaction to loss or life upheavals is just as much a chemical, physical illness as cancer or diabetes.  Depression isn’t simply a mental state one can just snap out of.  Maybe it’s hard to think of as a disease because we can’t physically see its effects like we can with cancer.  It’s easy to assume someone is lazy or unmotivated or has anger management issues or drinks too much without seeing the underlying disease because the sick person appears physically whole.  We also use the same word to name episodic depression and chronic depression, major depression and mild depression.  We don’t do this with diseases like cancer that have specific names for specific types of cancer, even though they all float under the header of “cancer.”

Someone can tell you that they had melanoma or breast cancer, but they can’t tell you they had liver or kidney depression; they can’t even narrow it to a physical place in the brain, even though major and chronic depression physically and chemically alter your brain.

The symptoms of depression are generally not physical and are not often recognized as depression.  Some of the symptoms even appear to be character flaws rather than signs of a disease: sadness, anger, sleeping too much, isolation, overeating, not eating at all, drinking too much, misusing prescription drugs, lack of motivation…  One at a time, these problems may be a character flaw that can be corrected, but more than one symptom or symptoms that linger for more than a few weeks may be a serious mental health issue.

My opinion is that because so many symptoms of depression are seen as character flaws individually, the stigma surrounding depression is rooted in the belief that one could just start forming new habits and counteract the bad stuff.

We tend to think the same thing about alcoholics and drug users: “Just stop drinking. That’ll fix it.”  Except it won’t.  Behavior modifications and the development of healthy coping skills will help depression symptoms, but it may not be enough to keep the disease in check.  You may need medication – I did – or therapy – I do that, too – or maybe you need inpatient care for a while.  Never feel ashamed for seeking help.  If you are depressed, tell someone.  At least tell a friend if seeking medical help feels impossible.  There is no shame in seeking to treat a medical condition, which is exactly what depression is.  We would never tell someone with cancer to just get up and exercise and eat healthier and expect them to be okay.  We wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to skip the insulin and eat all the sugar they want because their disease is all in their head.  We wouldn’t tell someone with scoliosis to stand up straight and get over it.

We don’t vilify people who die of cancer: we talk about them in warrior terms.  “He fought to the end, but it was too advanced.”  Why are we willing to vilify people who die of depression?  We are fighting for our lives, too.

Of course, suicide isn’t a solution, and it’s selfish, and it’s probably more painful for the surviving loved ones who will face some hard questions and issues in their grief.  But depression lies.  It tells you that you don’t matter – that nothing matters – and suicidal depression is more insidious in its lies because it tells you that the world will be better off without you, and you will be better off dead.  We don’t blame someone with a physical disease when their body is ravaged, but we will not hesitate to comment when someone’s mind is ravaged enough to quit fighting the disease.  Do you see the problem with the general public’s thinking here?

So how do we shift our culture?  How do we combat depression as a public health issue?  Honestly, I don’t know how to do that systemically.  I do know how to begin locally: be kind, be present.

God created us as social beings; we were made for connection to each other.  We can’t screen for depression and suicidal thoughts like we can for colon cancer and high blood pressure, but we can maintain connections with other people.  If you’d like to prevent depression and suicide as issues in your own mental health, plug in somewhere.  Find a group of people you can relate to and start relating.  Find at least one person that you can share anything with and not fear judgment.

If you already have those connections, good job.  You have one more job, though – go out and make connections and be a friend for those who are struggling to connect.  How can you recognize someone struggling to connect?  You probably can’t.  You should just assume everyone is in need of a friend.  That’s the gig if you want to be a decent human.

Once you start connecting well, you should start to recognize when someone you know is acting differently.  It doesn’t always mean mental instability, but it might be the only visible sign of trouble.  We humans don’t like to admit our weaknesses to each other.  I am in no way saying that you are responsible for preventing suicide in your network of connections and that you should be on constant alert for tiny shifts in behavior among your loved ones.  Just as someone with cancer must be responsible for adhering to a treatment program, someone with depression must be responsible for getting treatment and following their prescribed protocols.

But we are all responsible to each other as the body of Christ to care for our wounded and ill.  We are called to support each other if we are to thrive.  Suicide is preventable, and we can all do our part to lift one another up.

Here are some general resources for more information about suicide prevention:


Sailing, Sailing

My small group has been challenging me in my reading of scripture to pay more attention to the details when I read – to look deeper into what the text is saying through the little things.  As I’ve answered that challenge, I’ve spent more time scouring the commentary in my study Bible, and the extra attention to detail has really livened up my Bible reading.  God has drawn my eyes to fresh insights.

One night I was trying to decide what to read since I had just finished the book I had been studying in for a while, so I flipped to one of my bookmarks and just decided to read that page.  I opened to the passage in Mark where Jesus walks on water and calms the wind.  It’s a familiar passage, and I must admit that I often skim something I’ve read hundreds of times.  But this time was different.

The story is in Mark 6:45-53.  The short version is that after Jesus had fed the crowd of people with five loaves of bread and two fishes (and had enough left over for each of the twelve disciples to have a doggy basket), Jesus sent his disciples by boat across the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida.  Once the disciples were in the boat, he sent the crowds home, and he went up on the mountain to pray.  In the middle of the night, he could see that the disciples were straining against the wind.  He walked out on the water and got into the boat, and the wind immediately calmed.  When they crossed over the sea, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there.

20180530-Pic1The study Bible commentary points out that there are no less than three miracles in this short passage.  First, Jesus sees the disciples in the middle of the sea from a long distance away while he’s on the mountain praying.  Then he walks on the water, and then he controls the weather.  As many times as I’ve read this story, it never occurred to me that being able to see miles away was a miracle; I’ve always focused on the walking on water and the calming of the sea.

The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost when they saw him, which, added to fear and stress of straining against the wind, terrified the disciples.  Seeing ghosts was considered a bad omen (when is it ever a good omen??), so they began to think the worst.  Can you hear Thomas?  “I knew this was a bad idea.  Now look, we’re seeing the ghost of Jesus, so he must be dead, and now we’re all going to die in this boat.”  Maybe James and John, the experienced fishermen, were arguing about how to handle the boat in such bad conditions.  You know at least one of the disciples had assumed a crash position, and Peter was probably yelling at the wind to knock it off.

Jesus got in the boat, and the wind stopped.

20180530-Pic2Can you see the scene on the boat?  They have experienced complete pandemonium fighting against the wind and probably each other, they get scared out of their minds when they see a ghost, and then suddenly it just stops.  Everything goes quiet.  How long do you think it was silent on the boat while they all processed what they’d just witnessed?  Who would believe them?  Of course they’d seen Jesus heal people, and they’d just participated in feeding over 5,000 people with one person’s lunch, but controlling the weather was a new kind of power for them to see from Jesus.  How many of his teachings were they reconsidering in light of this new development?  How were they still failing to see exactly who Jesus was and why he had come?

But then again, how many times do we see God work in our own lives and then still question who he is when we’re in the midst of a storm in our own lives?

How often do we just assume the crash position or curse the wind or try to manage something far beyond our control?  If we let Jesus into our boat – into whatever storm we are fighting – he will come aboard and silence the wind and the waves.  We can come to him and calm our hearts in his perfect peace, even if the storm continues or blows us off course.  In his presence there is perfect quiet.  There is space and time to focus.  We can trust him to guide us safely back to shore and to be the voice of calm and reason that shows us what to do next once we anchor in him.

Here’s the biggest thing I’ve never noticed about this story: they landed off course.  They set out for Bethsaida, but they ended up anchored in Gennesaret, which is several cities to the west of their intended destination.

Jesus let them be blown off course.  He was with them in the boat, and he could have easily put them back on course when he calmed the wind.  But he didn’t.  Even though he was the one who told them to get in in the boat and go to Bethsaida.  He gave them a specific destination, they encountered an obstacle that Jesus overcame, their course was changed by the obstacle, and even though Jesus was physically with them they still ended up in a different place than what they planned on.

And Jesus was obviously just fine with that because he continued to heal people in Gennesaret; his ministry was unchanged in spite of the change in destination.

To be honest, this is both freeing and frustrating.  I have been blown off course in my life by so many obstacles I’ve lost count.  It’s hard to accept that a good and worthy goal, perhaps even a God-given goal, could change completely.  If Jesus is in my boat, calming the storm, why is he letting anything get in the way?  Why isn’t he just making it happen instead of letting us get blown off course?

20180530-Pic3I forget that the objective of any obstacle is to draw my attention back to Jesus, to make me cry out to him for salvation and direction.  The storm was just another way Jesus could reveal himself to his disciples, and maybe that was the point of sending them out to cross the sea.  From the verses that follow their landfall, it’s obvious that getting to Bethsaida wasn’t an immediate priority.  That’s the frustrating part.

The freeing part is that the destination change didn’t alter the work of Jesus one bit.  They just kept right on teaching and healing folks.

Maybe that was also the point – to show the disciples that the destination had no bearing on the good news they were spreading.  It was for everyone, everywhere, so it’s impossible to ever really be off course unless you quit relying on Jesus.

I can’t tell you how many times my course has changed – the target has moved – but I’ve found myself exactly where I need to be to serve God.  That’s freedom that only faith can provide.  I can let go (Jesus take the wheel!) of even the worthiest of goals and chase a new one as long as I’m following Jesus.

Let’s Get on with It

com·mence  [kəˈmens]


commences (third person present) · commenced (past tense) · commenced (past participle) · commencing (present participle)

  1. begin; start.

“his design team commenced work” · “a public inquiry is due to commence on the 16th”

synonyms: begin · start · start off · get down to business · get the ball rolling · get going · get under way · get off the ground · make a start on · set about · go about · enter on · embark on · launch into · lead off · get down to · set in motion · ring up the curtain on · open · initiate · institute · inaugurate · go ahead · get cracking on · get stuck into · kick off · get the show on the road · get weaving (on)

from the Oxford Dictionaries


In this season of commencement addresses, I realize that I most often see graduations – commencements – as an ending.  In my own life, commencement speeches have marked the end of high school, the end of college, the end…  But “the end” is the antonym listed in the Oxford Dictionaries under “commencement.”

I find the synonyms to be much more lively: “begin, start off, get down to business, get the ball rolling…”  I have let my writing ball drift of late.  The last few years have been full of wonderful projects, but I keep longing to write and to finish some long overdue projects – to get back to work on Mabbat and shape it into a better tool – not just for me, but for other people who are working through their own baggage.

So today marks a commencement: I am commencing the blog again, and I am commencing with my editorial schedule to finish the works that have been languishing in idea purgatory.

My plans for Mabbat include writing about dealing with loss and depression and how to work through them with healthy coping skills.  I also can’t write without sharing my faith, so I plan to continue to share posts about what I’m reading in my Bible study and how it applies to our daily lives.  And I want to share my passion for developing artistic work in everyone’s life.  God calls us all to create, and I have not been living up to my creative potential by using well the gifts he has given me to write and to paint and to do the “artsy-fartsy stuff,” as my husband so eloquently describes it.

I’d like to stand boldly in my best super hero pose and say that my floundering and procrastinating ends here and will never return, but this is real life.  I know there will be ebbs and flows, but I do want to look back and say that this commencement moment is where I really honed the discipline it takes to write well and productively.  I’m asking you to join me on your own journey.  Find your artistic gift, develop it, and share it.  That’s what Mabbat will be about.  We’re going to get the ball rolling now.

If you’d like to jump in, I have created a Mabbat Facebook group that you can join where I will share daily prompts.  It is a closed group, so it will be moderated, and I hope you feel confident enough to share your work in progress.  You are always welcome to post in the comments here on the blog as well, but that is public domain, so I understand if you’re hesitant to interact much here.  My door is always open, and on the web, that looks like an e-mail address and a FB group for now.  (Maybe soon that will look like some live gathering events to meet face to face and share in person.)  So let’s get down to business!


Bible study is enlightening, but sometimes it’s also hard, or downright weird. Have you ever read something and stopped to wonder just why that detail was included? Have you ever read something and just laughed at how absurd something sounds? I cannot stop laughing when I read in Exodus about Moses confronting Pharaoh with the plague of frogs, “Frogs will jump on you.” This is what it says in almost every translation I have read. “Frogs will jump on you.” Frogs everywhere sounds like a pretty gross problem, and smelling their rotting carcasses sounds even more disgusting, but, “Frogs will jump on you,” just sounds a little hilarious. You’re just walking down the street, minding your own business, and out of nowhere… (Welcome to my brain. It is a terrifying jumble of stuff, but it’s never boring here.)

Another Moses story that always grabs my imagination is when Moses must hold his arms up during an entire battle against the Amalekites: “As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset.” Exodus 17:11-12 NLT

This sounds like a terrible battle plan. Why would the outcome rest entirely on the arm strength and physical endurance of one man? Why is this detail important enough for it to be included in the Bible account? Can you see Moses standing at a vantage point overlooking the battle, already tired from traveling and incessant complaints from his people but holding the staff up over his head? This sounds like a simple task, but after a few minutes, it gets hard. Your arms start shaking, your shoulders ache, and you just want to put your arms down to rest for a moment to stop the ache. But if Moses put his staff down, his people died. Can you imagine the despair he must have felt at such an impossible task? Do the physically impossible, and your people win; fail, even for a second, and people you are responsible for will die. I have no idea why God would choose such a strange setup. I imagine it was to teach Moses and the people around him an object lesson.

Not even Moses could do it alone. His entire leadership of the Israelite people depended on the people around him, sometimes because of his fear, but mostly because the job was too big for any one person. When he first went back to Egypt, God gave him Aaron to be his speaker because he was afraid to go to the Israelites alone. When he was judging disputes among the Israelites after they fled Egypt, his father-in-law Jethro told him he was doing too much and suggested appointing judges to handle small disputes so that Moses himself only had to handle difficult cases. In this battle against the Amalekites, the job was again too big – impossible to accomplish without help. He physically needed Aaron and Hur to lift him up. One man alone cannot accomplish God’s work, however simple the task may appear.

We all need Jethros and Aarons and Hurs in our lives. We need a reminder not to try to do everything ourselves. We need people to come alongside us and lift us up, or rather we need to allow people to help us. We must be willing to admit that we cannot do life alone, and we must be willing to be vulnerable enough to accept the help. I am horrible at this. I hate to admit defeat. I hate to admit that I can’t possibly accomplish my to-do list, and I hate to be a burden to someone else. You know what? I am an idiot. I can’t expect to only offer help without also being helped. If you ever find me being obstinate about this fact, please be my Jethro. And if you are my Aaron and Hur, thank you, and I’m sorry I’m such a pain in the rump about letting you do the task God has given you.