Dream with Me

It’s 7:22am and the sky is lightening with the coming of the sun, invisible as it is, hidden behind the clouds on most wintry days. But on this morning, this day, as I don’t mind that invisibility, that absence. A misty fog blankets the park across the street from my house, making the stark, bare trees look like a faded painting and kissing the ground to blend in with the snow. It’s beautiful and it was completely unexpected.

God does some of his best artistic work in the mornings. That’s one reason the early mornings are my favorite time of day—especially the time of year when those mornings come earlier and earlier, filling hearts with the promise of growth, of green, of new things to come. Those days aren’t here quite yet, but so much brightness before daybreak—and before 7:30am—is a welcome sight.

I was going to include a photo, but some of God’s best work is better left to the imagination and the memory than to a camera.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating what it means to be an artist, an artist who’s a Christian. An artist who’s a writer. A writer who is called to, well, write. Write and serve. That is also what I’ve spending my “extra” time doing—that time I have left over from reducing my full-time hours as a writing instructor to part-time. I’ve been watching my instructor-me hours dwindle away, putting the best that I can into those 30 hours a week until they come to an end in the spring, and putting those other ten hours into reading, writing, journaling, and practicing (in private) being a writer. A servant-writer, one who uses her gifts to build up others, whether by writing herself or encouraging other artists to write and to create.

Can I tell you that I’m loving it? I’m loving the hours I’ve been able to spend reading about writing, reading about using the creativity God instilled in each of us to serve his kingdom and to serve him.

Can I also tell you that, sometimes, I’m afraid of it? Afraid of falling flat on my face, of disappointing my family through my efforts (and by family, I’m using both senses of the word—my earthly family and my church family). Afraid of not completing the work God has set aside for me (Ephesians 2:10).

But—but—I’m also excited. So excited to see what God will do. I’m someone who has always loved the excitement of anticipation, and the thought of knowing that God’s dreams are so much more than I could even expect or imagine (Ephesians 3:20) makes that anticipation even better. Because if I’m looking at life through his perspective? I can know, with certainty, that he won’t disappoint. Not that everything will be sunny and bright and full of singing and dancing like my favorite musicals, but knowing that whatever is to be is in God’s hands—that’s what is worth the anticipation.

As I was exploring this morning (reading about writing from a songwriter/author’s perspective), God sparked my imagination. In his book Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making, the author, Andrew Peterson, encouraged readers to practice the craft—to keep practicing, so that perhaps what we create will be used in ways and in hearts that we do not expect to touch. He used the example of a seventeenth-century poet whose work he read and cried over, and then wrote,

Maybe the song you’re writing is for one specific heartbroken soul who won’t be born for another four hundred years. Maybe you won’t meet him or her until the New Creation, and they’ll thank you for opening yourself up to public scrutiny, for striving to arrange the words just so, for learning about what makes for a good melody or tight phrasing. (142-143)

Songwriter, I am not. But a writer, yes. And as I read this, the thought of the future and the new creation hit me, and my imagination strayed into territory that I’ve been hovering around for weeks and months.

An old friend—Mike—used to berate me for speaking in leaps and bounds, and make me explain my train of thought before he would let me go on, and I think that may be appropriate here because my imagination took a giant leap with this one.

Writing and artistry and creativity and servanthood, for me, are wrapped up together in this thing I’ve come to see as God’s call on my life. I can look back and see how the paths I’ve taken have led me here, to where I am about to step out in faith into unknown territory of trusting God with my finances (and, tied in with that, my kids’ education) and my time to create something new, something he has planned just for me. Writers, though? We crave readers. It’s true. We want people to read what we write, and we want to make an impact (thanks, Martha) somehow, some way, even if it’s just a little one (but hopefully it’s a big one). In my case, I am praying and hoping that whatever I do with my writing, God will use it to make an impact in a lasting way, in a way that touches (and maybe even softens) hearts and souls. So the thought of something I write lasting 400 years or more to reach out and touch someone far in the future—that’s a wild thought. Unthinkable. Crazy unimaginable, and crazy thrilling at the same time. And then I thought, What if what I write lasts longer? For all of eternity?

And here’s the point, the dream. But it comes with a disclaimer, one that lets you know my only intent is to dream, and ask you to dream with me. I’m not a theologian and I’m sure there are several of them out there who would argue with what I am about to write, but I’d just like to share a What If with you and ask you to use your own imagination: What If?

What if what we create here on earth—our paintings, our drawings, our dances, our songs, our poetry, our writing—those we create with a listening ear, with fingers and hands and bodies and spirits that follow God’s Spirit into the artistic endeavor, are some of the treasures that Jesus encourages us to store up for ourselves in heaven (Matthew 6:20)? What if what’s waiting for me at home is the “best” of what I’ve written here on earth, not because it’s of the highest quality, but because its coauthor was guiding me in the writing? What if some of what makes it through the fire (1 Corinthians 3:13) without turning to ashes are my written words?

Recently, I combed through a chest of memories—treasures—and in it was a packet of materials my mom had saved—my earliest drawings, artwork, and stories. Some of them contained her hand-written notes, dates and descriptions of what they were meant to be. I know this was only a small selection of what I must have produced in my childhood, and I know that she spent hours curating collections that represented the most precious and best of my and my siblings’ work. Someday, Lord-willing, I’ll have the courage and time to sift through my own children’s work. I can imagine God doing the same for us.

In my journal this morning I wrote, “What if God, like a mother who loves to see her children develop and grow and is proud of them at every stage, is keeping some of these things for us—preserving them so that at some time he can take us through his treasure trove and tell us stories of what he loves about them, and us?”

And I imagined.

Rhonda, remember that woman who visited your second-grade class and taught you how to write haiku poetry? Remember how she praised your poem, and from that moment on, when you were being true to yourself and the calling I put on your life, you wanted to be a writer? I kept that poem because it was the first time you heard my whisper clearly, even though at the time you didn’t know it was me. Here it is. This poem that you wrote in second grade is precious.

And guess what else? Here is the woman who inspired you. I know that for you she has remained faceless and nameless for decades, but I’d like you to meet her. She faithfully carried and delivered my message for you. She, also, did her work well.

What if? What if you imagined? What if what we dare to create lasts longer than we dare to dream? Think about it, and if you will come along with me.

Dream with me.

Reassurance Just In Time

God always knows what we need, when we need it, doesn’t he?

I have been working on plans to begin a writing group at my church (I mentioned this before in Dog Walking. But Not Really.) and have given myself a deadline for getting the initial planning done and ready to present to the creative arts pastor for approval and feedback. As I was taking notes, pondering options for the structure, the purpose, the critique method, the everything, I began to have serious doubts.

Pile of writing journals

You’ve called me to do this, Lord, but I’m unsure of myself.

Ahem, Rhonda. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).

But I’m not a published writer. If that’s someone’s goal, I don’t know how to get them there. (Is that even the point? What IS the point?)

Again, Rhonda, think. You’ve been thinking all along about creating a community that can support each other in their faith and grow friendships in the Lord, but do so through the medium of writing. So that is one purpose, perhaps the underlying one. Your obvious purpose is to help each other become better writers (you are well equipped for that). You also want to support the church through collaborative writing.

Give us a collaborative writing project. I’ve been asking all over the church to help as a writer and so far nothing. Nada. Zilch. Except that one time I was asked to write something that was so far outside of my writing realm that I honestly couldn’t do it, even though I tried.

There will be a project. (Maybe this is something you shouldn’t worry about. Maybe someone else will be the ideas person.)

I have a tendency to want to do it myself. I have to remember not to insist on running things alone. This is already difficult, because I already want to call it “mine.” But it’s yours, for YOUR glory. Don’t try to steal that! And if other people are meant to be involved as leaders, who are they? Who else, Lord?



But then today, in a devotional I was reading, God’s timing showed up. It was perfect timing, perfect reassurance about God equipping you to do the work he has chosen you to do. And I know I have been chosen to plan this group, to start it up. I just honestly have no idea what I am doing. But then I read: “Holy Spirit will bring you wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and even skill as you step into the creative tasks God is calling you to. He’ll even bring you a crew!” (p. 144).

Nothing like God telling me he’s got this, right when I am getting anxious about it. He’ll help me with the plans, he’ll send the right people along. So now I’m praying that God will take away my anxiety, help me to trust him, and enable me to do what he needs me to do, as he would have me do it. And if you’re working on something you believe God has called you to, but have no idea how, I pray that he’ll show up just in time with the reassurance you need. Praying for you, friends!

Defining Me: Identity

What if you were asked to write a bio of yourself using 25 words or less—not for any specific context, but simply with a goal to describe yourself? Could you do it?

Then, what if later that same week, you were asked to capture the word “identity” in a photo—could you do that?

Those were the challenges I faced this week through my small group at church, for which we are using the book Courageous Creative by Jenny Randle (Challenges 21, 22, and 25). And that’s what they were: challenges.

First came the bio. Let me cheat and describe myself, particularly my training as a writer, in more than 25 words: I have degrees in technical writing, in the teaching of writing, and in rhetoric and professional communication. For my research at the Master’s and PhD levels, I focused on writing for audiences. Thus, having some idea about who I’m writing for when I write is pretty important to me, even when it’s not something that falls within the “professional” realm. And there I was facing a generic challenge to describe myself—my “awesome self” to be exact (p. 109).

Ahem, Jenny, not enough info. For whom? Why? For what platform/medium? (These are the first questions of writing! Audience, purpose, context! Especially for a technical writer trained in rhetoric like myself.)

I thought of the people in my small group. Seemed not to fit the bill. Too small. But something like a Facebook or Instagram bio didn’t seem to fit either. I was lost. Since the book we’re using is a Christian devotional, that did provide some direction: What do I think of myself, particularly in relation to God?

The day I read the challenge, all of the above thoughts came to mind, I panicked a bit, and then I put it away. Not today.

The next day, I tried to narrow down the type of info I’d put in this bio. Naturally, I wrote two-and-a-half pages of notes that didn’t come near to covering who I am.

The third day, I came to a draft. By now I had read the devotional and challenge for day 22—to revise the bio—so I knew I could draft it (something I have trouble doing, anyway, being the not-perfect perfectionist that I am). So I drafted it:

I’m a child of God,
imperfect but redeemed,
a sinner but forgiven.
I want to shine like a star in the universe
and glorify HIM.

I liked it, but again, draft. And it seemed like there was so much more that I was missing, even though I managed to put my life verses into it.

The next day, I completely revised it—not yet getting anyone’s input, as the challenge suggested, since I figured I could get input from my small group on Thursday.

child of God
being sanctified
shining like a star
holding out the Word of Life
for the GLORY of GOD

Ehh. I packed a lot more in there, but honestly, who would know it’s supposed to be a bio without any context?

Still struggling with these (and not satisfied), I put off the challenge I came across for Day 25. Jenny cleverly put these close together, not necessarily saying they were related, but still. Days 21 and 22 were write and revise a bio, and then day 25 was to capture the word “identity” in a photo using the negative space around the focus of the photo as something of interest.

Identity. In a photo. I had no clue what to do.

Honestly, I considered pulling out my dictionary (okay, pulling it up on my phone) and looking up the word. But I knew that wasn’t the point, because Jenny had asked her readers to pray about it and encouraged/reminded us that we have a God-given identity, and shouldn’t focus on/believe the lies we tell ourselves (or that are told to us) instead.

But how was I to capture that in a photo? Ideas flitted through my mind, some that I don’t have the resources, skill, or technical know-how to pull off. None of them felt quite right anyway. But today it was rainy and I was given unexpected time to be alone with God and my camera, and I think I did capture it—at least, my rendering of identity.

A cross on a necklace in foreground, chair and bookshelves in background

My savior, Jesus, represented by the empty cross, and in the background is the place in which I meet with him every day. This is my identity—he is my identity. I can’t separate myself from him. And I hope people see him when they look at me, and are drawn to what they see.

I will be the first to admit that when people have seen me in the past they haven’t always seen Jesus. Or, perhaps, they’ve seen me in some of (or only) my worst moments—there have been plenty—and think they’ve seen him and are repulsed by what they’ve seen. I know someone who has rejected even the existence of God because of the example his Christian parents provided as he was growing up. But that’s exactly why I need a savior: I’m a sinner in need of redemption, of someone who can restore my relationship with God and sanctify me (and thank God he is doing that day by day by day and won’t stop until he’s done).

And if I’ve been that bad example for you—shown you the need for a savior rather than the savior himself—I ask that you forgive me. And that you would look beyond me to him.

But I digress. Back to my story. When I took this photo and captured what, to me, encapsulates identity—my identity—it suddenly dawned on me why I couldn’t write that bio. It was because the bio has already been written for me. It’s more than 25 words, but Jenny must have miscounted when she made that request in her book.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, NIV)

I’m thanking God for giving me an identity in him tonight.