Day 7: Minstrels and Bards {A Song + Giveaway}

Welcome to Day 7 of the On Being Creative series! You’ll find links to all the posts as they’re added on the series’ homepage here.

Day 7

To wrap up this series, I’m offering a song I wrote about being a kingdom creative, someone who is a Christ-follower, who knows that ancient longing of every soul- for Home and for his presence.Lengthen-the-steps edit

No matter the manifestation of our creativity (painting, drawing, teaching, writing, parenting, baking, under-water-basket-weaving…), we are all story-tellers. We travel the world, never quite at home, telling about the goodness and glory of God. Kind of like those old-timey traveling bards.

That’s where this song came from. That’s what we are (minus the tights and feathered caps…or not. I don’t know your life). And I make jokes because it makes me nervous any time I share songs I’ve written. So let me straight up ask you for kindness and generosity as you listen and read the lyrics. Maybe- if it stirs you a little- maybe you’d share it with someone else?

We gather and scatter to tell the story
And whether together or apart
our hearts beat in time with glory
That’s how it goes on the road of sacred art

Creation sings haunting melodies
Of what was lost, a garden peace
Harmony turned to sorrow
The only homeland we know
Is the one in tales told
On coldest of nights they shine bright
Like a star we can follow

In rags and shadows we house a great light
We sing of seeing it conquer the night
Minstrels and bards pointing to what’s written in the stars
If you’ve got an ear, you can hear the song in our hearts

Have you heard
The good word
Grace and truth
It’s everywhere
Earth and air
And heavens too

It beats like a drum
Eternity a hum
Resonating
With every little beat
Of the songs we sing
It’s our remaking

Fiery words and holy tones
Hallelujahs burning in my bones
Of all of us the body and the blood of the redeemed
Minstrels and bards pointing to what’s written in the stars
If you’ve got an ear, you can hear the song in our hearts

When we sing our songs we
Fill with ancient longing
Those who stay find their way
When we tell our stories
We tell about his glory
Light has come, light has won
And it’s coming back for us

In rags and shadows we house a great light
We sing of seeing it conquer the night
Fiery words and holy tones
Hallelujahs burning in the bones
Of all of us the body and the blood of the redeemed
Minstrels and bards pointing to what’s written in the stars
If you’ve got an ear, you can hear the song in our hearts

(A little bit of my baby bump made it into this video… Hi baby!)

So what have we learned in this series? We talked about 4 Reasons We Make Artwe learned that it’s ok to ache and that art isn’t about resultswe hushed the word that kills creativity, some tips for cultivating creativity, why believing in yourself doesn’t work (and maybe when it does), and we took a deep breath of good music and encouragement.

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I mean, I know we said art isn’t really about productivity, but man have we been productive or what?! Anyway, if you’ve stuck with me through the whole series, let me just say- THANK YOU. It means so much that you would allow my words to come alongside you in your own story.

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Has this series encouraged you? Have you been reading along? Leave a comment and let me know! Which post most resonated with you? Which was your favorite?

Oh, and you’re probably wondering about that GIVEAWAY, right?

You can enter to win this printable from my shop for FREE!

Art is a Bell Mockup

Here are all the ways you can enter:

  1. Subscribe to the blog- it’s a great way to keep bringing encouragement, community, and inspiration to your creative soul.
  2. Follow me on Instagram @haylieallcott
  3. Like the blog’s Facebook page here.

(Subscribers will soon receive extras like free printables, extra content, + discounts for the shop. Yay!)

If you’re new to this space, here’s what you can expect from the blog:

  • I feature a new, unique artist every month (that’s coming up next week!) to inspire and uplift, as well as to expose more people to some excellent creatives out there!
  • You’ll also find a monthly How I Happy post, to remind you to live artful and unapologetic delight.
  • I also share music as well as illustrations for my Etsy shop, Ebenezer Designs and more! I only post at most 2 times a week, so your inbox will be happy to see me (versus being like, geez this chick AGAIN?!)

My prayer is that this series brought some encouragement and spoke some truth to some discouraged creative soul out there. Keep building that community around you. Keep making your art. Keep telling the story.

Giveaway now closed, but subscribe anyway to keep receiving good stuff for your creative soul!

Day 6: A Creative’s Playlist

Welcome to Day 6 of the On Being Creative series! You’ll find links to all the posts as they’re added on the series’ homepage here.

Day 6

So far, we’ve talked practical questions about creativity and our purpose as creatives, we’ve talked about some of the deep aches and struggles of the creative soul, and what kills our creativity and what cultivates it.

Dang. We sound smart, right?

And since we’ve talked at length about our doubts and discouragement, giving ourselves permission to dig deep and know that a breaking heart can provide breakthrough for our art, let’s take a breather today.

We’ve thoroughly acknowledged our struggles with darkness, so let’s just as ardently and bravely celebrate the light.

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I recently created a playlist on Spotify specifically for encouragement as a creative and to remind me to live life palms toward heaven, continuously worshiping and surrendering. And today I’m sharing the link with you.

Here it is!

It’s a mix of worship and folks songs by some of my favorite artists. Here are my top 10 must-hear songs from the list:

  1. Fool with a Fancy Guitar by Andrew Peterson
  2. Shine by Christa Wells
  3. Meant to Be by Carrollton
  4. No Longer I by Matt Redman
  5. Many Roads by Andrew Peterson
  6. I Shall Not Want by Audrey Assad
  7. The Sower’s Song by Andrew Peterson
  8. Warrior by Hannah Kerr
  9. Break Every Chain by Jesus Culture
  10. Grow by Kolby Koloff

Fool with a Fancy Guitar, Shine, Meant to Be, and Many Roads are especially relevant to the heart of a creative, and if you’re limited on time, I’d at least listen to those first! In the video I linked to Fool, Andrew explains he wrote it after reading someone’s negative review of one of his albums. I love that! Because it’s good to experience a piece of art created in response to struggle, isn’t it?

Armor Shop Pic

I hope this gives you some beauty, some truth, and some powerful encouragement. I hope you can take some time to yourself when you can really pay attention to the lyrics of these songs; let them sink in.

(Did you know that I have my own music page here on the website? It’s at the top of the page under “Music.” Or you can just click here.)

 

 

 

Day 5: Why Believing in Yourself Doesn’t Work {For the Creative Who Can’t Right Now}

Welcome to Day 5 of the On Being Creative series! You’ll find links to all the posts as they’re added on the series’ homepage here.

You don’t have to be a millennial in order for your growing up life to have been saturated by the phrase “Believe in Yourself.” The longer I’ve been alive, the more this phrase fall flat like a cliche. For one thing, it has appeared in so many inspirational sports movies and Disney channel TV shows that it’s become culture’s favorite platitude. Not only that, but whenever I’ve been daunted by a challenge or outright discouraged by a failure, being supplied with the phrase “Believe in yourself” has felt more like a knife than a pat on the back.

Is there something wrong with me? Am I just chronically bad at believing in myself because of my own insecurities? Is this even a biblical concept- believing in yourself?

Day 5 edit


If you’re a creative discouraged by the unwieldy task of living out your art, and if being told to believe in yourself just makes you feel like you’ve failed already, than this one’s for you. It’s a longish one, but stick with me, because I think it’s important. If you’re LeBron James, feel free to skip this post.

Recently, I encountered a week of seemingly out of the blue discouragement, in which I felt overwhelmed by all the negative thoughts my brain could muster. My thoughts consisted of things like None of my creative work matters, and I have no impact nor will I ever; everything I do is merely to soothe my own ego. 

I questioned and judged everything from my motives to my work itself, wondering if the little things I do- my little Etsy shop, this little written space-if they’re just my way of wallpapering over disappointed hopes. Or worse- have I just been trying to give myself an “image?” So I could look at myself and see something of value? Questions like this filled me with fear that all I am is a petty wretch.

424188Sounds pretty melodramatic, right? Well, it didn’t feel like melodrama. It felt much deeper. How did I get to this point, I wondered? What had I let into my spirit that had this kryptonite effect of immobilizing my ability to believe anything true or good about both myself and my gifts?

It must’ve been gradual. Discouragement and all its friends chisel away small breaks at the heart, until all it can do is bleed for awhile.

It’s not fun. It’s not inspiring. It sucks. However, this bleeding of the heart can lead to healing. But you’ve got to find the source first.

Here’s How.

Feel all the feelings. I know it sounds funny, like a hashtag hormonal women might use (not that I’ve ever been or constantly AM one of those), but feelings are important. Maybe this sounds obvious to you, but as someone who has been a lifelong, intense feeler-of-things (aka overly sensitive) I began just wondering if they were just a nuisance this whole time, not to be trusted.

Sometimes, I tend towards the dramatic it’s true, but I promise you that without an ounce of melodrama I found myself thinking- and believing- that none of the creative work I do matters. That the smallness of my abilities and endeavors was matched in proportion to the mass of my pretension (how dare I have thought so highly or dream so greatly as I had thus far). Fueled by feelings of disappointment and frustration, these thoughts fanned themselves into flames that ganged up on me and choked out any breathable truth in the atmosphere.

Let’s pause here. Because I’d had flickers of thoughts like this before, but always reassured myself with the Word or called on friends who reminded me what the voice of God really sounds like.

348070But this time, I didn’t call anyone. At least, not right away. It all felt so heavy that I didn’t think any argument or encouragement could lift the weight. And I also felt a voice telling me not to just dump on others. And more than anything else, I knew I didn’t have the capacity to believe their words.

If any of this is you, let me urge you in the bossiest tone I can muster to CALL YOUR PEOPLE ANYWAY. You are in no state to think helpful thoughts, so find someone who is.

I waited a whole 36 hours before I mentioned a hint of this discouragement to a spiritual mentor of mine. You know what happens when God uses someone to come alongside your breaking heart?

Breakthrough.

I confessed to my mentor the unfamiliar sensation of being so overcome by my thoughts and feelings that I just wanted to bury the deep desires of my heart and the feelings that accompanied them.

I’ve never wanted to not want something anymore. Especially not something that’s hardwired into my being.

Instead of handing platitudes back to me, she handed me truth. She reminded me that feelings are good; just as your physical feelings can indicate something wrong in the physical body, feelings act as tools to gauge the state of the soul.

But she went further by pointing out that feelings are a partial picture if you don’t dig to their roots. Ask yourself- why do I feel this way? Your feelings are probably based on a belief. Arguably, the next step is the most crucial: ask yourself if that belief is based on truth or a lie.

4You probably figured out already what’s taken many years plus a two-hour conversation for me to realize. That many of my feelings were based on lies, lies no one but me allowed myself to believe.

Among other things, I discovered that I was holding myself to an impossible and wrong-headed standard.

Take songwriting for example. Without exactly knowing it, I’d been supplying myself with every sort of reason why I wasn’t or am not a professional singer/songwriter. Everything from physical appearance to assuming my talent is subpar to heaping shame on my soul by declaring that those who ARE professionals simply must have a deeper and better relationship with God than I do.

(We wouldn’t say things like this to our worst enemies- why do we say it to ourselves?!)

It became clear I’d taken a desire and let it morph into an impossible standard that hung impossibly far above me. And then I read this:

You fear you’ll wreck it all up if you dare to reach for it. So you leave it up there in the clouds, sparkling just out of reach. And it looks pretty and you cower beneath it as if it were something too important for you to handle. What do we call things that are placed up high, things we bow down low beneath? We call them idols . And in a way I’m sure we don’t intend, denying the art and the dream may be the very thing that opens the door to making the art the god rather than God himself. You revere and respect the artistic potential of a dream rather than recognizing God as the Creator who gives the gift of co-creation to us.
– Emily P. Freeman,  A Million Little Ways

Yes! A thousand times yes! My thoughts of burying the dream and desire were just as mistaken as those that placed them on a pedestal far above me. In either situation, believing in myself was just something I couldn’t do.

So ithis idea of believing in yourself even valid? I wondered this aloud to my husband. After all, God doesn’t call us to believe in ourselves; he calls us to believe in him. Right? But my husband pushed back a little on this and I came away from the conversation realizing (somewhat begrudgingly) that there IS truth to it. Maybe it can be more than a nebulous, feel-good hallmark bandaid over life’s gaping broken-hearted discouragement.

I searched the Word for evidence, and found this:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he[b]predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. – Ephesians 1:5-6

And this…
 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. – Romans 8:14-16

And also:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy,which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. – Colossians 2:8-10

 
And we can’t forget this:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. – 1 Timothy 2:6-7

What I hear from these verses is that there is strength in us; there IS something worth believing in inside of us- because of Christ. (I love the version of that 1 Timothy verse which says “sound mind” instead of “self-discipline.”) In fact, in light of our identity in Christ, doesn’t the phrase “Believe in yourself”  hold MORE truth and become less of a cliche?

Maybe this believing is more of a partnership, like co-creation is a partnership. God graciously extends an invitation for us to be part of his infinitely beautiful, superior, good creating process through our own small creations. Their smallness is made big somehow through his life in us.

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Remember, You are a poem written inside the person of Jesus Christ. You exist to carry out his inner desire. This is your good work. So this is our job, to carry out the inner desire of Christ. And the inner desire of Christ is to bring glory to the Father

So, if the idea of believing in yourself is still valid through our identity in Christ, if we’re truly given a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind; if we’re image-bearers and all the glorious truth that goes with that, why is it so hard to do?

Why doesn’t it work?

Well, can it really be any surprise that we can’t properly believe in ourselves when we feed our belief a steady stream of lies? In that case, it becomes not a matter of SHOULD we believe in ourselves, but CAN we believe in ourselves?

If you’ve built something with rotten wood, renovation is inevitable. If you’ve built up yourself and your dreams with lies, that house is going to fall.

If you find it impossible to believe in yourself right now, if the weight of a broken heart threatens to crush you and bleed you dry, know that there is hope.

Because a breaking heart can provide breakthrough for your art.

And here I mean the art you create not only with your gifts, but with your life, relationships, successes and failures. Let yourself be hidden in Christ again, hidden in his creative work, which the Trinity is continuously accomplishing. Remember you are his poiema. That is something I can believe in.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19
 
Realizing I am the poem and not the Poet reminds me of one other key part of this. Poems have limits. They have a start and finish. God does not. He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. If I have limits, then certainly my gifts have limits too. Yet I have viewed my limits as a handicap instead of a holy boundary. Instead of an opportunity. 
 
This place of feeling our limits? It’s a sacred place to be. Instead of beating ourselves up and merely trying harder, let’s take off our shoes on this holy ground and worship. God can handle the seas of our can’ts. And through the Holy Spirit, he empowers us to part the waters and walk right through them.
 
One of my favorite verses is Psalm 44:4-8 which says:
 
You are my King and my God,
    who decrees[c] victories for Jacob.
Through you we push back our enemies;
    through your name we trample our foes.
I put no trust in my bow,
    my sword does not bring me victory;
but you give us victory over our enemies,
    you put our adversaries to shame.
In God we make our boast all day long,
    and we will praise your name forever.[d]
 
Strong words from David, who through faith killed Goliath with a sling and a stone. King Saul outfitted him in armor, but he didn’t wear it because he wasn’t used to it. Saul didn’t even want to let him fight Goliath, except that David made this appeal.
 
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lionand the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” – 1 Samuel 17: 34-37
 
At this, Saul relents. The Bible says David took with him just his staff, his shepherd’s bag (into which he put 5 smooth stones), and his sling. That’s it. David approaches what no one dares to with what look like the standards of limits- of his limits as a shepherd specifically. But what is unseen is the path he walked in holy confidence in the Lord, the knowledge of who God is and what God has done (God had saved him from multiple dangers already). In this confidence- this belief in what is true and Who is true- David’s limits become a banner, his apparent weakness proclaiming God’s strength to the enemy of unbelief looming large before him. And you know what followed…
 
Lucy LightDid David believe in God? Obviously, yes. Did he also believe in himself? Yes. So in God’s upside-down kingdom, believing in yourself is not contrary to believing in God, but it is instead a healthy result of believing in God.
Much of the beauty in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.” – Henri Matisse
I love this quote. I think it pertains to our relationship with God, too, in that much of the beauty of knowing God happens when we come to the end of ourselves and begin to know the unending fullness of his Spirit, his love, his grace, his character.
Our limits leave room for his limitlessness.
I think it’s a gift God wants to give us, this coming to the end of ourselves. Not so that we dwell in discouragement, mourning our insufficiency. Instead, here is the place we meet his all-sufficiency. We’re hemmed in by holy limits so we can become true worshippers, so we can be set free. That is where we learn real courage.
 
Courage isn’t just ‘believing in yourself’…It happens in the deep, secret place of the spirit, the place where my life is joined with God’s.” – Emily P. Freeman, A Million Little Ways
 
I know there have been so many quotes from that book in this post alone, you’d think I was getting a cut of the profits. (I assure you I’m not.) But God used this book as one of several lights piercing a time of discouraging darkness for me. It’s something I’ve felt compelled to share ever since.
This post is something I labored over, postponed, wrote multiple versions of, and finally hit publish on today. It’s not perfect, but I hope it can be a companion to you, my fellow kingdom creative.
 
If you’re reading these words just knowing that you just can’t believe in yourself right now, I’m telling you it’s ok. I’m also telling you to go find your people. Let them remind you of the truth- the truest truth. The kind that sets you free.
Day
My prayer for you is this:
May you learn to believe in yourself again- in the gift of who you are as one of God’s walking poems.
May you remember that a breaking heart can provide breakthrough for your art.
May you learn to walk confidently within your limits, rejoicing in the glory God is bringing himself through them.

Five Tips to Cultivating Creativity {Day 4}

Welcome to Day 4 of the On Being Creative series! You’ll find links to all the posts as they’re added on the series’ homepage here.

 

Let’s talk about cultivating and maintaining our creative gifts. I imagine it to be like tending a garden (of which I have little knowledge and even less skill; don’t entrust your plants to me). Because it takes time, patience, and continued investment of resources. But also like a garden, the stuff of our creativity lives within boundaries. We can only do so much as creatives just as we can only do so much as humans. (How many times can I say “creative” in this series? Place your bets now…)

So how do we bear the fruit of our creative work well? (There it is again…) Today, I’m sharing a brief list on some tips to cultivating creativity. Five tips to be exact.

Day 4

 

Give Yourself Margin

Maybe you didn’t know this, but creating is work, not rest.

I’ve discovered that when I try to just keep creating- unless it’s one of those rare river-of-creative-juices-rushing type of things- I end up creating crap. And/or I don’t like what I’ve created. And I’m grouchy and thoroughly useless to my family. Hmmm this is what happens when I’m overworked or burned out too. Interesting…

Processed with VSCOcam with n1 presetSo I’ve had to discover what fills me up when the creative tank runs dry. Mostly, it’s the following:

  • An uninterrupted hour (or two) walking around Target + Starbucks in hand
  • Shopping with my mom.
  • Taking Lucy to story time at a local coffee shop.
  • Writing letters to Ella.
  • Planning Girls’ Weekend.
  • Or fun projects like how to make my rental laundry room more exciting or at least less chaotic…

Basically, I give myself permission to stop creating for awhile.

It’s kind of like music. Have you ever heard someone point out that music is both sound AND silence? It sounds obvious, but when you think about it, those silent moments are just as important as the sounding notes. If there’s no silence or pause at all in an entire song, no change in dynamic, then it can sometimes not only sound monotone, but can also grate on the senses. And- for those unfamiliar with reading music- did you know the silent moments are actually called rests? 

So find your margin. Figure out a few things that replenish you, even if it’s just a very slow walk through the Target Dollar Spot.

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Say No

I don’t know why this is such a hard thing to do. But it’s so life-giving when you own your No’s. It’s also kind of rough, because of course when you say no, you might be missing out on something really cool, but missing out on that thing strengthens your commitment to your Yes’s.

The Nester wrote a post called Why the World Needs the Makers to Say No Boldly, in which she says the following:

I’ve learned that I am the ONLY person who will protect my own creativity and livelihood…I’m learning what it means to be intentional with both my life-givers and creativity-killers. I don’t have a lot of answers but I no longer see the personality and scheduling ability of a Maker as a weakness.

And in a recent post, Emily P. Freeman (her sister) said on her blog,

I’m learning the language of my own yeses, and they tend to speak with excitement, not dread.”

Learning the language of your yeses (isn’t that brilliant?) means you’ll also therefore learn the language of you no’s. Sometimes there’s nuance in deciphering them, but it’s worth it. I’m just beginning to experience the gratification of saying no to something that doesn’t fall within my right-now capacity, capability, calling and/or competence.

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Do the Work

 

There’s not much I can add to that. Except to say that every time this video pops up somewhere, I listen to it again. Because I need to keep hearing his words encouraging me to essentially keep on keeping’ on. I need to hear that my taste is good and my work will catch up to it one day.

Plus, it makes me breathe a sigh of relief that yes- sometimes I do feel that disappointment in things I create. But to keep going serves your art and your audience, while quitting serves neither.

 

Don’t Be a Helicopter Mom to Your Art.

I first heard Glennon over at Momastery talk about the fact that hovering around your art and making sure people are being nice to it is not your job. And also, it’s an exhausting misuse of your energy and creative juices. Your job to survive a creative life is instead the following:

  1. Create!
  2. Call it Good!
  3. Rest.

She also shared this quote which you may have heard before: “What others think of me is none of my business. “ – Dr. Wayne Dyer

And to that, I would add this articulate demonstration of artistic philosophy:

 

But seriously. If Taylor can do it. You can too.

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Keep Surrendering Your Art to God

Remember that Ecclesiastes verse I love?

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Verses like this remind me of the beauty both in margin and in work, in stillness and in action. More importantly, they remind me of the steadfast and supremely creative character of God. Have you ever thought about how creative God must be, that he has made everything beautiful in its time?

Even me. Even my laundry days. Even the days when no matter how I try, the lines don’t leave my pen right, the strokes baffle my brush, and the keys sound trite and spiritless no matter how I arrange them.

I think of the times I’ve failed or been rejected, creatively or otherwise. The thing is, with God nothing is wasted. That’s how much we can trust him.

He’s so creative, he brings beauty even out of failure- even out of nothing. So keep surrendering your art to God- remember it belongs to him anyway. He has put us in charge of our efforts, but not our outcomes.

I put it to you, creative kindred spirits- what else would you add to this list? So far, to cultivate our creativity well, here’s what we’ve got:

  1. Give Yourself Margin
  2. Say No
  3. Do the Work
  4. Don’t Be a Helicopter Mom to Your Art
  5. Keep Surrendering Your Art to God

 

Next Up: Day 4: Why Believing in Yourself Doesn’t Work {For the Creative Who Can’t Right Now}

Day 3: The One Word that Kills Creativity {And Everything Else}

Welcome to Day 3 of the On Being Creative series! You’ll find links to all the posts as they’re added on the series’ homepage here.

Day 3

There is one word with which I’ve noticed myself fighting some of my most frequent battles. Actually, I look around and see a whole world of people fighting battles with this word. And it’s not just creatives. It’s pretty much everyone to some degree at some point in their life.

We’ve allowed it to become utterly welcome in our vernacular. And I’m here to tell you it must be eradicated. Because it’s gotten WAY too comfortable. It promised a short visit, but in fact, we’ve let it unpack it’s belongings and freeload off of all our emotional, mental, physical, and often spiritual resources until everything we do serves this word.

That word is should.

Never has a guest been so unwanted in my life as Should- especially recently. Maybe it’s because I’m a creative person and there are just SO many people out there doing amazing creative things and offering creative advice and courses and spreading their work all over the internet until they seem ubiquitous and I think- I Should too.

Should reminds me like a judgy, toxic friend that there’s barely enough of me to spread over a dry piece of toast. I say it reminds me because it’s been telling me that for years. 

Let me be clear here. Because you might be hesitant, wondering about the times when Should is an appropriate guest. What about when we Should do the right thing or some other example like that? I thought that myself. And it’s true, there is a time for conviction. But Conviction is a friend that empowers; it enters to do holy, healing work. Should on the other hand speaks the language of guilt, and guilt is not of God. The difference between Should and Conviction is like the gap between east and west. Should yields death, but Conviction yields life. Should is the work of Satan, but Conviction is the work of the Spirit.

That is a monumental difference, friends.

In the book Wild and Free by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan, they had this to say about Conviction:

Conviction brought about by the Holy Spirit is not to be confused with shame. Holy conviction leads to repentance, while shame only leads to bondage and hiding. Shame cannot exist in the light, though it flourishes in the darkness.” (Connolly/Morgan, p. 56)

Should is really just Shame dressed up in it’s Sunday best, pretending it totally belongs here. I think if anyone embodied what Should personified would look like, it would be Professor Umbridge, with her pink, frilly everything and her coifed hair and her tightly wound, ready-to-pounce-on-your-every-move stance. There’s no grace in Should. Just a lot of destruction and pain and judgement living under a thin visage of goodness.

Let’s just have a moment right now ok? A big, loud moment where we tell Should to shove it and GET OUT OF HERE. Take your prissy, know-it-all attitude and your unwanted frilly pillows and NEVER COME BACK.

But batten down the hatches, friends, because Should might look like it’s leaving for good, but it’ll be back, banging on the door at 3:00 AM to screech its tired but timeless methods of breaking our spirits once more.

You mustn’t let it in. Don’t let it come in and tend the soil of your soul, because it has a grey thumb that only grows painful, choky thorns that tell you nothing good can grow here inside you.

Brennan Manning once said, “Don’t should on yourself.” Amen, Mr. Manning.

Should will kill your creativity by telling you you’re not doing enough, you’re not talented enough, and you’ll never reach any level of “enough.” But God is more than enough, and it turns out, talking about your talents as enough or not enough misses the entire point.

Remember the boy with loaves and fish? If there ever was an instance of something not being enough, that was it. But just as God turned meager crumbs into a feast, he turns our talents into beautiful, powerful ambassadors of his kingdom.

Don’t clothe yourself in rags anymore. You are a child of the Most High God. They call him the Almighty, and we bear his image. So, wear the might of your Father’s love, and be mastered by Should no longer.

Let’s no longer be slaves to something as meager and puny and mewling as Should, not in our creativity nor in any other capacity of our lives.

Let’s sing this song instead.

 

Next Up: Five Tips to Cultivate Creativity {Day 4}

The Impossible Ache of the Creative Soul {Day 2}

Welcome to Day 2 of the On Being Creative series! You’ll find links to all the posts as they’re added on the series’ homepage here.

Day 2Sometimes the calling to create just feels like you’re carrying around an impossible ache. If you feel your belief in the calling to create being squashed by discouragement and doubt, if another day goes by and you feel the sting of wondering what on earth you’re supposed to be doing with this passion of yours, if dreaming has left you downright broken-hearted, this is for you.

This is living in the tension of where you are and where you want to be. This is a hard place to live. It’s easy to get lost here. Lost in the swarm of questions that repeatedly surface, and the fear of both failing AND succeeding (whatever that means).

Sometimes it’s helpful to hear how others answer those questions. Like Ann Voskamp. In her post on why everyone needs to make art every day, she says,

The only trees that ever grow tall keep relentlessly stretching into unknown territory. She’s all limbs reaching up. When did I forget how to be a child?” … You either bury your fear in faith. Otherwise you bury your talents.”

I had forgotten this line. In the midst of my own storm of discouragement that snuck up behind and swept me up recently, I forgot the truth of this brave, faithful reaching- raising my head heavenward. And I felt a forceful urge to bury all my dreams and desires. I thought to myself- I wish I didn’t even want this anymore. I wish I could be rid of it. 

It sounds strange- or maybe acutely familiar- but wrestling with the purpose of our art, the frustration with not knowing the practicality and place for it can leave mounds of mental debris in its wake. For too long that debris accumulated, until the weight felt too much for me any longer.

Maybe I wouldn’t feel such a desperate, insatiable need for my art to have a tangible place in the world if I first lived from the transcending assurance of my place before God. If I instead lived singing “No longer I, it is Christ who lives in me,” and declared it to my art, my soul, my laundry, my everything, then art could just be what it is intended to be again- a tool.

A talent. A servant. 

As much as in that moment I wanted to bury any trace of desire or talent, the fact is, I know I can’t. It’s a fire that won’t go out. It’s a flame shut up in my bones, like Jeremiah’s. Maybe that’s what the hard road of calling is- a fire you feel compelled to walk through, a long inconvenient, and heart-breaking (maybe even sometimes joyful) journey.

But fire is also a place of refining.

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. – 1 Peter 1:7

Here, Peter is talking about the grief and suffering we deal with now, along with the “living hope” (v3) through the resurrection of Christ, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, and the untouchable inheritance waiting for us.

He goes on to say,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. – 1 Peter 1:10-12

Maybe he’s not talking explicitly about art, and maybe it’s unclear why this is relevant to a heart broken by the calling to create. But I share it to remind us that we are part of a glorious mystery, something we both do and do not comprehend.

Art takes part of that mystery, too. And just like the prophets, we are called to serve. I don’t know how. I don’t know who.

But I’m here to tell you, it’s ok if you’re heartbroken. It’s ok if you have your own pile of mental debris, if you feel like your art is an exercise in futility. Let’s both remember- art is not about results. (It’s ok if you need to declare it outloud.) Creating and sharing what we create is about serving. And serving is about planting seeds- investing in beauty, in pain, in story, in others.

Results belong to God {and by the way, so does our art}. Because of Christ dwelling in us, everything we do is a wonder- even when we “do” nothing! We are a wonder because we are his, made by his hands, redeemed by his death and resurrection, and miraculously mobilized by his Spirit. This is part of that glorious mystery, the true tall tale into which we are invited.

If you’re so preoccupied by results or the lack thereof, remember: you’re primary calling is to belong to him. Remember that series about enjoyment? Where we remembered that Westminster catechism that says the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever? That. That is your job.

My hope for today’s post is that it would break through the barrier of swarming questions to speak a truth you can receive in the midst of brokenness, doubt, and discouragement.

I love the song below, because it sings courage and cheer into broken places of the creative soul. Give it a listen.

 

Keep creating, friend. You are the beloved of God. You were made for this. Right now. You’re not missing it. And neither am I. God is too big for that to happen.

 

Next Up: The One Word that Kills Creativity

Creativity: Practicality + Purpose + Place {Day 1}

Welcome to Day 1 of the On Being Creative series! You’ll find links to all the posts as they’re added on the series’ homepage here.

 

Day 1

 

If you’re a creative, chances are you’ve run into the sticky wicket that is- what is the point of art? Or even worse, what is the point of MY art? Whether wrestling with the question yourself or hearing it postulated by others, it inevitably comes up.

Put another way, what does art do? Is it really necessary for life? After all, you can’t harvest crops from art, art doesn’t cure cancer, you can’t end world hunger by creating more art just in and of itself. Are “starving artists” just creating more problems with all their creating?

Is such indulgent pursuit practical?

I’m going to go ahead and say yes. I’m also going to say, it’s not only practical, it’s an innate part of being human; we can’t help but make art.

Before going further, we may want to stop and ask- what is art? Arguably an even better question is who is an artist? 

I like Emily P. Freeman’s definition of an artist in her book A Million Little Ways: Uncovering the Art You Were Made to Live, so we’re going to use that one. She says,

In coming up with a working definition of an artist for the purposes of this book, perhaps we could say, then, that being an artist has something to do with being brave enough to move toward what makes you come alive. Art means believing that the God who created the world with words alone creates with words still, through us—whether it be on a stage to thousands or in a corner with one.

Emily’s definition resonates deeply within me, and I hazard a guess it resonates with you too. Doesn’t it just feel right? You know from creating your own “art” (put into quotes only for the purpose of hinting that your art might not be a traditional idea of art such as painting, photography, music etc.) the sense of being more fully who you’re meant to be.

Because we will be operating from this definition of who an artist is, we will not for the moment bother with the vast ocean of answers- and likely, the arguments- to the question of what art is.

If only we could live in the freedom of the place of being most fully ourselves. Instead, I often find myself living in a state of discomfort and struggle, especially when I either a) feel like someone is doing something more crucial like solving world hunger and doubt that my art serves any worthy purpose, or b) encounter someone whose art far surpasses my own…and doubt that my art serves any worthy purpose.

Regardless of either scenario, I question the practicality and worth of my art. And that is probably what holds me back in my journey as a creative more than anything else.

Why is my default to question something that is so clearly part of the way I’m hardwired to be? And if I doubt it so much, why do I keep creating? I’ve asked myself this countless times, and I’m certainly not the first to do so.

Arguably, even more troubling is wrestling with this issue within the context of the church. Does creativity have a place in the church? Does all creativity have a place in the church? And what does that look like?

Surely, we serve a creative God, and if we’re made in his image our own creativity should feel at home, natural, and worthy– right?

If this question of practicality and purpose of art is so troublesome, we probably had better find an answer. However, I find myself wholly lacking in the ability to articulate one, most likely because my own struggle with doubt is so fresh (and frequent). So recently, I looked at what people I admire, or whose work I admire, had to say about the reason we make art- specifically, as followers of Christ.

1. We make art so we can see.  

Whether it’s realizing what God is doing in and through us or through each other; art helps us connect the dots of our own story, of our own identity to him whose image we bear. In an interview, Ann Voskamp said the following of how art gives her eyes to see,

Writing for me is seeing the hand of God in my life, and being able to put the parts and pieces together. I see it as a handicap in lots of ways. Lots of people can live their life once and understand what’s happening; I have to go back and live it in writing to understand and to see God moving and weaving.

I really believe that all art is sacrifice; it’s coming to an altar and laying yourself down bare and exposed and saying, ‘This is my sin. This is where God met me and did surgery on me. And maybe it can bless and minister some missionary in Indonesia, some mom who’s up over her eyeballs in Minnesota. It can be our ministry back in some kind of way, but it’s an exposing humbling thing that does make you go lower and not higher.”

Maybe you think it’s easy for Ann to say; she’s a published author, so her work already seems tangibly validated, which is what so many artists wrestle with because if we aren’t known, published, praised, if the impact isn’t visible to us… does our art matter?
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However, Ann is also a photographer, and not a professional one. Here are her words in the same interview about the part photography has played in healing some of her broken places, in leading her closer to the Lord:
The year I was diagnosed with agoraphobia and was struggling so desperately with just racing inside all the time, photography was a way to slow me down. Frame the moments, and look for light and glory and the beauty of God. So, photography has been for me since my early 20’s just a way of really- Philippians- whatever is good, whatever is pure, whatever is holy, look for those things. Concentrate and focus on those things. And even the ugly, look at the ugly and see- can you frame that up, can you subtract that up outside of the frame and get the right angle to see beauty even in the midst of the ugly? So, for me it’s been another way of slowing down and looking for the hand of God in little things… Photography really is the art of looking for light, and for me that’s spiritual.”

Looking for light. Seeing the hand of God through what we create. Along with seeing comes hearing what he’s saying to us. In light of this, doesn’t it at least begin to answer the question of art’s practicality in the context of the church? In an article entitled “How to Discourage Artists within the Church” was this quote.

“Artist Makoto Fujimura answers the following question in an interview at The High Calling: “How then do you see art as evangelism?” He says:

There are many attempts to use the arts as a tool for evangelism. I understand the need to do that; but, again, it’s going back to commoditizing things. When we are so consumer-driven, we want to put price tags on everything; and we want to add value to art, as if that was necessary. We say if it’s useful for evangelism, then it has value.

And, there are two problems with that. One, it makes art so much less than what it can be potentially. But also, you’re communicating to the world that the gospel is not art. The gospel is this information that needs to be used by something to carry it.

Only, that’s not the gospel at all. The gospel is life. The gospel is about the Creator God, who is an artist, who is trying to communicate. And his art is the church. We are the artwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works. If we don’t realize that fully, then the gospel itself is truncated and art itself suffers.”
Reading his words about our need to put price tags on everything and call it a commodity, I feel a sense of relief. Anxiety loosens its white-knuckled grip, because maybe we’ve been approaching this all wrong? Maybe we’re not even  asking the right question? After all, what we do know of art is that it’s a vast, fluid, subjective thing to a large degree; why would we expect it to fit into a nice bin with a lid and a label, something we can safely categorize? It’s kind of like expecting a wild beast to behave like a house cat.
This means it’s normal for us (and here I’m referring to people who like things in a safe little category) to struggle with creativity’s place in the church. Often, we misunderstand and mishandle it as well as we misunderstand and mishandle God.
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In that same article, I love these words by N.T. Wright:

In my experience the Christian painter or poet, sculptor or dancer, is regularly regarded as something of a curiosity, to be tolerated, humoured even, maybe even allowed to put on a show once in a while. But the idea that they are, or could be, anything more than that—that they have a vocation to re-imagine and re-express the beauty of God, to lift our sights and change our vision of reality—is often not even considered.

That’s the other thing: much of art consists of soul-work. That kind of work is largely unseen, and therefore often doesn’t compute when we discuss the practicality of art. Yet, how can we ignore such important work?

In our church, a man recently passed away from a number of debilitating health issues. We felt both sorrow in the loss and victory in the gain- the gain being who he became in his last year of life, how he came to Christ and was transformed. Who can say how many seeds were planted over time before something broke through the soil of his heart?

But we were told of a moment, a spark, a shift that happened when he attended a youth event and heard our worship leader’s band sing a song. Somehow, it reached all the way into his soul, and he began to see. Though his body was dying, his being was coming more fully alive. God used art as a crucial part of his journey.

This seeing, this unveiling? That’s what art does. And we realize that maybe art isn’t merely practical, it’s indispensable.

2. We make art because we ARE art.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Other translations say, “masterpiece” or “handiwork.”

In her book Million Little Ways: Uncovering the Art You Were Made to Live, Emily P. Freeman expounds on this verse- specifically, this word “workmanship.”

“These English words used in the text- masterpiece, sometimes translated workmanship– these are translations of the original word used in the letter to the church at Ephesus, the Greek word poiema. Our English word poem comes from this same Greek word. Workmanship, masterpiece, poem—all these words in Scripture are used to describe God’s work—you and me.

God calls you his workmanship, his poiema. What happens when God writes poetry? We do. We happen. We are walking poetry, the kind that moves, the kind who has hands and feet, the kind with mind and will and emotion. We are what happens when God expresses himself. If we are made the poem of God, then what is the job he gave us to do? What is the job of a poem?

…This word for “work” is the type that assumes the completion of an inner desire. When a poet writes a poem, he isn’t writing a technical manual or a how-to booklet. A poet writes to express an inner desire. We see that same idea here in Ephesians 2:10, where it essentially says, You are a poem written inside the person of Jesus Christ. You exist to carry out his inner desire. This is your good work. So this is our job, to carry out the inner desire of Christ. And the inner desire of Christ is to bring glory to the Father.” (emphasis mine)

I know it’s a long quote, but it’s integral to this conversation. This concept of being written inside the person of Jesus Christ clarified both the meaning of Christ dwelling in me as well as the knowledge that I am his masterpiece more fully than I’ve ever understood before.

You and I are walking glories, made to live like arrows pointing heavenward. We often do this by simply being, just by image-bearing. Like many paradoxes in our faith, we also do this by cultivating those gifts which God has instilled in us- by accepting the Spirit’s invitation to be a creative and active part in his great Story.

3. We make art because God makes art.

This is closely connected with point number 2, because as you know, we’re made in God’s image, and he is a creative God. He’s THE creative God. Ann wrote a post awhile back, called “Why Everybody Needs to Make Art Every Day” and had this to say about creating:

Creativity, it’s good theology; it’s what God did in the beginning.

The essence of creativity is essentially risk, believing enough to leap into the yet unseen. The theological term for this is faith.”

That soul-work we discussed reveals that art requires faith in order to create it or benefit from it.
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We make art not because we know we are capable, but because we are made in God’s image- the image of the First and Ultimate Creator. As believers, this thought should empower us to boldly create, shouldn’t it? We create because we’re meant to. Because we must.
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So maybe it’s ok- or even necessary- to just tell the questions and the doubts to hush for a little while. Doubts demand results. They demand statistics. And that is neither promised nor productive when it comes to creating well.
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What happens when we don’t live from this powerful place of being walking poems and image-bearers of God? We’ll talk more about that in future posts.
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4. We make art to make sacred space.
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Why is music such a huge part of our worship services? Why is lighting important? Why do we put so much effort into creating excellent visuals?
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Why do we sing songs with our children and rejoice over their macaroni necklaces and finger-paintings?
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Why do beautiful cathedrals and stained glass windows take our breath away? Why was the Renaissance so important? Why do we get excited about pretty accent pillows?
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Making room for art, for beauty, for something that seems impractical, is an opportunity to make room for the sacred. What is a better example of childlike faith than to enter into a space with wonder?
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This wonder is worship, and that glorifies God.
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At Christmas, we sing, “Let every heart prepare him room.” Making room is not just for Christmas time, but a lifelong posture- making room with arms and hearts wide open. Art helps us make sacred the space in our lives over and over again, whether we’re in the slums or the suburbs.
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Have you made it this far? Hey, you deserve a medal or something! This first post is a long one, but they won’t all be. Just to recap, here’s where we’ve been:
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1. We make art so we can see.
2. We make art because we ARE art.
3. We make art because God makes art.
4. We make art to make sacred space.
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Four broad reasons why we make art, why we create. As we’ve realized, they’re not comprehensive answers, but knowing them can quiet our questions and remind us that regardless of the reason, we must create. We must wonder. We must worship. And becoming more fully alive, fully ourselves fulfills that worship.
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Let’s ask God to help us live in that place- satisfied being walking glories- poems written inside the person of Christ.
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Next up: The Impossible Ache of the Creative Soul {Day 2}