There have been many different creative expressions (obsessions) in my life. From sketching to drafting dog farms. From quilting to scrap-booking (how many of us got sucked into that one!) From writing one poem (and only one) to a 400-page novel.
And I think there are life lessons hidden in each one if I were to look hard enough. But the one that stands out to me the most comes from a very, very brief stint with watercolors. I hated them in high school and I still hated them when my mom (an amazing watercolorist) forced my hand at it (lovingly, of course).
I worked on the painting for days … weeks. I threw it away and drew it back out of the trash. Then, threw it away again. It was awful. But it was awful, not because it was truly bad, but because I couldn’t see the finished piece. And here’s why…
If you’ve ever painted at all, you know that with oils and acrylics, you can pick a spot on your canvas and paint exactly how you see something—with all its shadows and highlights, right from the start. All its depths and heights. But not in watercolors. With that medium, you start with your lightest wash and build up layer after layer after painstaking layer.
And the lesson … it’s impossible to see depth without shadow.
The painting was flat and lifeless until the very end. I couldn’t see it. Not at first. Not until the final brush strokes of the darkest layer. And then, and only then, did the painting reveal itself. When the brush strokes of shadow went deeper and brought out the contours of the image, the painting had life. Real, authentic life.
I didn’t realize it then, but I have determined it since. That watercolors are a lot like real life.
When my first child was born two months early at 2 ½ pounds and we fought for her life for six months in the NICU the Lord said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you and you will glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15). All of His promises were right there. He was all I had to hold onto. And I clung with all my might.
The brush stroke of shadow contoured my life, and I went deeper.
When the Lord called us out on the mission field to the desert of Mexico, I left my home, my family, my friends, my language, my country. Everything that grounded me. The Lord said, “See I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making rivers in the desert, streams in the wasteland to bring drink to my people … that they would praise my name” (Isaiah 43:18-21). He called. I followed in obedience because I knew there was no greater, no safer, no better calculated place to be, then in the center of His will.
And I went deeper.
When I was diagnosed with colon cancer at 42 years old, my doctor said if it had moved to my liver, I would have six weeks to live. Six weeks. “Indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us. He on whom we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). Ten years later, I remain cancer free. But in that trial, in that moment of staring death in the face, I knew where my hope came from.
The shadow deepened and the girl grew in faith.
You see, with every brush stroke of our lives, every high and every low, every highlight and every shadow, we have the opportunity to go deeper. To experience the grace of God more fully. More completely.
My friend, if you are in a shadow of life, know this for certain …
And remember … remember this most of all … It’s not easy to see the Master’s work of art because it is not finished. There may still be shadows and contours to reveal in the greater masterpiece.