Jesus Doesn’t Cancel Me

I have had an enormously encouraging recurring thought in the tumultuously political past few weeks:

Thank God that Jesus doesn’t cancel me.

In Genesis, God gave Adam and Eve ONE rule in a perfect world; they broke it. Surrounded by goodness, they just had to find out what was being kept from them. There is no doubt in my mind that if I were the Artist who had created the world, I would have called it a failed Round 1 and started over. But I’m not (thank goodness) and He didn’t. He promised Eve a redemption.

God didn’t cancel Adam and Eve.

When I think of the Apostle Paul, it gives me an odd sense of comfort to remember that this man was once a government-mandated murderer. He chased people down and had them executed because he thought their religion was false. The resurrected Jesus Himself met Paul on the road to show him he was wrong. Paul later became a martyr himself.

Jesus didn’t cancel a grossly erroneous Paul.

I next think of a nameless woman. I often wonder about her. She was married five times, and when Jesus met her, the guy she was living with wasn’t one of them. To the religious people of her day, she was anathema; avoided on the streets, at the local well, likely kept from many social gatherings. Jesus waited for her by a well specifically to talk to her.

Jesus didn’t cancel the woman by the well.

There is no forgiveness in the social medias. There is no room for growth or maturity; what is forgiven in person when a foolish high-schooler speaks is not forgiven when it is Tweeted and re-discovered ten years later. There is no forgiveness in a public interview, a public opinion, or a quote out of context. Even without proof, certain kinds of accusations are political and social death knells. But my God doesn’t only forgive me when I ask, for He does something else I cannot do and forgets what I have done against Him. He wants my reconciliation. He has given and gives me every chance to come.

The more broken the world is around us, the lovelier is the God of the Bible. He doesn’t constantly change His mind. He is utterly remarkable and unique in His forgiveness. He is completely perfect in His equity: all are under perfect justice for sin and all are offered forgiveness. We get to choose. Try reading the book of Romans. He doesn’t forgive me and then put my relationship with Him on trial, nor wait for me to perfect myself before He takes me back. He does not surgically remove me from Himself when I am unpleasant or downright toxic. Anyone can come to Him and be changed; everyone is welcome to His forgiveness and grace.  

Thank God He takes me as I am to make me better than I was.

Have You Ever Held a Rainbow?

Have you ever caught a rainbow?

Chased it around the room?

And wondered why

It keeps itself

So shyly back from you?

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But what do you do with a rainbow?

When you can finally call it, “mine”?

Can you eat it or sell it?

Does it stay bright and fresh?

Or does it still fade with time?

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Does the joy that it brought fade with it?

Or can memories build joy on delight?

To joy in its Maker

To delight in this chance

To hold this brief, flickering light?

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Perhaps rainbows are simply meant

To be joyed in from afar

Not to be claimed

Just to say that they’re ours

But to enjoy them where they are.

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Perhaps that is why they appear

On dark days after a rain

And haunt unlovely places

Grace unsought-after spaces

And bring smiles even through pain

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I held a rainbow today

I really caught nothing at all

But I am smiling still

So I pass it along,

This shining memory so small…

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I held a rainbow today.

Compassionate Correction

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I don’t remember much about the class I took with her that semester, but I do remember her. I was somewhere in my undergraduate years, and was coming back to school with a chip on my shoulder and a grudge sitting snugly inside of it. Over the break, someone had managed to hurt me in perhaps the most vulnerable place in my soul, but rather than make it right, I had decided that the thing to do was to settle into a life of despising the person who had hurt me. I arrived back at school in that condition. My teacher met me in a unfrenzied moment in the hallway and invited me into her office to catch up. She was one of those people who managed to know exactly the right questions to ask, and in minutes, my bitterness was dumped out on the desk between us.

What caught me completely off guard was her compassionate correction.

Had I been long-practiced in the twisted art of grudge-holding, I might have still held on, even while she leaned toward me, her voice soft but earnest, immediate tears standing in her eyes. But I was so taken aback by her intensity as she begged me to make it right that I couldn’t resist. Her argument of compassion was too persuasive. She told me in no uncertain terms that bitterness had no place in my heart even while her voice and her eyes told me she cared about me.

Maybe you memorized Hebrews 4:12 like I did as a kid. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. But that was the first time I ever experienced it with such suddenness. Her warm, loving, and swift correction cut me in half. As soon as I got out of her office, I ducked into a bathroom and cried. She was right. I had been ready to sacrifice at least one relationship and all other connected relationships because of a few misplaced words. Did they hurt? Yes. Was my response justified? My ego said yes, but I was ready to cause a crazily disproportionate amount of hurt to satisfy that ego. It was easier to hate someone for the rest of my life than it was to admit I was wrong. So God gave me a teacher who both knew how to love and how to correct.

I have thought of her often over the years since then. It is true that Jesus overturned the money changers’ tables in the temple in what people called righteous anger; it is true that sin does, and often should, make us angry. But He was perfect and angry simultaneously, and at least for myself, I find that seldom does the anger itself draw me to correction. I am repulsed by anger; I respond in kind. But compassion does draw me. When my teacher saw something really ugly inside of me, she didn’t go on a hunt, but a rescue mission.

When I think of compassionate correction, I also think of a certain Jewish man, sitting beside a well. It is blazingly hot; he needs a drink. In the custom of the day, he only needs to wait until someone comes along who has a pitcher to dip out water. But this is a Samaritan well, near a Samaritan city. Jews and Samaritans aren’t friends. So when a Samaritan woman comes to fill her pitcher, cultural bitterness dictates that he remain thirsty. But Jesus doesn’t particularly care about cultural mandates, and asks her for water. The request turns into a conversation; the conversation into a compassionate correction; the compassionate correction into a town gathering where lives are changed forever.

We like to correct people. Very often, if we are honest, correction ever-so-subtly points up our own superiority. If they are wrong, then we are right. Correction without compassion makes a whole lot of assumptions and just goes for the gut. It doesn’t ask questions; it doesn’t seek clarity; it doesn’t wonder gently and thoughtfully where that idea or word came from; it often doesn’t even bother to check whether or not its hearing was working. It is armored. It hunts.

But this compassionate correction of Jesus is restorative. It is on a rescue mission, and is ready to get hurt too, if it has too. It is patient and gentle, knowing how much wounds hurt. It doesn’t assume it knows all or understands, but inquires. This compassionate correction may have to do hurtful things like stitches and medicine and bandages. Rescues can hurt, too. But in the end, the object of this compassionate correction is healed, restored, and home. If this sounds suspiciously like a relationship, that’s because it is. It’s one-on-one. It takes time—maybe years. It’s not looking to gain anything, but looking instead to be spent. It is rarely (can I say never?) accomplished with one withering witticism. If rebuffed, it comes back again, and again, and again.

If we are not already awed by the love of Jesus, then we should be. He alone was fully justified to correct us all in one fell swoop. And yet He chose to correct us by compassion; to seek us in love and gently, kindly, earnestly call us home. And when we seek to practice this kind of compassion in the lives of others, we might just find that they return the correction in kind when we need it most.

The Way of Love

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Let’s say I can see the future, and know exactly when the Corona Virus will end its swath of destruction. Further, I can understand not just when it will end, but also exactly how to end it. Beyond even that, I am so at rest in God and full of faith in Him, that I can ask anything and receive it; I am at rest with whatever happens. But after all of that, if I don’t love the people who should be receiving the benefit of all of my knowledge, but instead sneer ungraciously at what I deem is their foolishness, then it isn’t they who are nothing—I am.

I am, and have achieved, nothing.

If I am the most eloquent of House Speakers, or most the most persuasive of poets, but don’t go about expressing myself with a loving spirit, I am like a full brass band without its sheet music—brash, unpleasant, and out of tune.

What if I do the opposite and go a bit extreme: I give everything I have to people who have more needs than I do, especially at this peculiar and needy time in world-wide history. Not only do I give away all my worldly possessions and money, I donate my entire body to science: blood, bones, organs, etc. But in spite of all this sacrifice, if I don’t do it out of love for those receiving what I’m giving away…then I haven’t gained anything in this life or the next.

That’s what love doesn’t look like. People who are full of the love of Christ should act like this:

  1. They are patient with those who don’t agree with them (let’s say, about wearing masks or not, shaking hands or not, holding church services or not). Love is not usurped by opinion.
  2. They are kind to those who don’t act in ways that they think wise and sensible.
  3. They aren’t jealous of what they don’t have, and don’t seek to make others jealous of what they do have. This might include things like: backyards and swimming pools for the children, sweet family relationships under lockdown, dogs, gardens, and hobbies to keep us occupied when we’re all in weird isolation.
  4. This love doesn’t assume it knows all the right answers and isn’t rude in speech, writing, or otherwise–not on the phone, not in person, not on all the social medias.
  5. A person who has this love doesn’t ever insist dogmatically on her own way, and if, in the end, she doesn’t get her own way, she isn’t irritable for days or resentful or months, or years, or lifetimes. In fact, she never even brings it up again in conversation, nor does she let it stew into bitterness in her quiet moments.
  6. He who is full of this love grieves at sin and rejoices when truth is spoken and lived out, and a whole group of people with this kind of love might be described as quietly and sweetly bearing all kinds of unpleasant things;
  7. Of not being constantly skeptical that they aren’t being told the truth (though being wise and not gullible);
  8. Of being so full of the knowledge of the goodness of God that they constantly expect to see that same work happening in others.
  9. These people gently and sweetly endure all things, not becoming weary of doing good in long trials. Regardless of their political preferences, they value practicing the love of Christ far and above anything else.

Knowledge of all kinds does end, but all of this knowledge is imperfect. When the present world ends, and the perfect kingship of God orders the new world, everything imperfect ends. This love we’ve been speaking of never ends.

When we were children, we naturally behaved like children. But wouldn’t it be alarming if adults still behaved as children? So…isn’t it alarming if we, as Christians, don’t act with the love of Christ? It would be as if we had never actually grown up in Him. Heaven forbid.

Right now, future perfection of the world and myself is nearly impossible to imagine. But I do know this: when that day comes, not only will I truly understand the mysteries of this age, but I will be seen and understood myself, never feeling alone or lost or failing, and God be praised, never sinning.

The theological triumvirate–Faith, Hope, and Love—should describe our lives right now. But the greatest of even these three is the love of Christ that has been so beautifully demonstrated to us by our Lord.

~a meditation on 1 Cor. 13

Potlucks Don’t Make the Church Unique

“But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.  For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way.  For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” ~Apostle Paul; 1 Thess. 2:17-20

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For four summers in a row while I was working on a degree, I was away from my church family. I missed them; I was aware for the first time how much I needed them. God gave me another church family in the meantime, and I was so grateful for the community, the communion, the reminders, because I felt like an orphan. In the past few weeks, I have heard in the voices of others that same feeling. It is times like these when we feel distinctly the need for others of like-mind, for fellowship, for reminders. We feel orphaned.

In the perfect scenario of my mind, the virus conveniently starves to death while we’re all self-isolating. When we all emerge and return to jobs, parks, restaurants, stores and farmers markets, there would be no fear of illness. We could hold a special celebration service at church with communion, share our dinners, hug each other, and relieve the burden of loneliness that has been pressing on so many. It would be tiny taste of Heaven to be together again.

But the truth is, that wouldn’t likely be wise, or the best way to love all these people that we miss. For some, it still won’t be wise for them to come and fellowship in person; their health might still forbid it. For those who can, it still wouldn’t be wise to pass a communion plate between a hundred+ people. We really shouldn’t hug the children and squeal over the babies as if none of this had happened and the potential threat was gone—because it isn’t.

The schools won’t suddenly open up and go back to classes as usual; they know better. Restaurants may have to seat only every other table. We might be wearing masks in church and parks and all kinds of places for months to come, because we’re not in Heaven yet. We might have government permission to gather, but the love and wisdom with which we do that is something only we can practice, and for now, that might mean only waving at our church family from across the sanctuary. It might mean not gathering for that good, long, church-wide, catch-up BBQ. It might mean still meeting needs in this more creative, on-line, at-a-distance sort of way.

This makes my soul sigh, but potlucks aren’t what makes the church unique. Pushing each other to love the unlovely, respond like Jesus under stress, and to sacrifice for others is. We are intended to gently remind each other of what is right and true when we forget; not merely socialize bi-weekly. If, during that socializing, we learn of a need that we can meet and then go on to fulfill it, then we are a church that looks like Jesus.

In all my fondest hopes for whatever “after” all this looks like, I hope that these purposes are more distilled. I hope that our eyes are little brighter with the hope before us; I hope that we hold our breath in anticipation a little more often; I hope that we open our mouths with a little more sweetness, a little more boldness, a lot more thought.

At least, that is what I hope for me.

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FINISHED: a word meditation

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Finished.

This is not a word we really have the luxury of using in its wholeness. We don’t really finish anything; we have to concede because we’ve run out of time. We’ve done our best, so we call it good. Most of the time, if asked, we would say that we could have said it better, done it better, accomplished more if only we had more time, more resources, more talent, more knowledge, etc. Leonardo da Vinci famously remarked that “Art is never finished; only abandoned.” The same is true of most of what we do. When we say something is finished, we mean we have done all we can or intend. We either lay down or lose our ability to interact in a powerful or useful way.

But when the dying God-man announced to the universe from His cross that the job He set out to do was finished, He meant it.

He had brought all of His power, perfection, omniscience, and love to the job He set out to do. He knew exactly how much time He needed to do all of it—the growing up, the learning, the gathering of disciples, the teaching, the dying. He knew exactly how to do it: he loved the people around Him as they had never been loved before.

He answered His disciples questions, pointed out their faithlessness, showed them His power, taught them to pray, showed them how to love the children and the outcasts. He loved them.

He loved the religious leaders by answering their questions with questions, pointing out their sinful hearts, showing them His power over disease and death, and teaching them their own sacred texts. He loved them, too.He did all of that in the three years of His official ministry; we aren’t told everything He did all those thirty years before that, but whatever it was, it was all the time He needed.

When He announced “It is finished!” He meant it like it had never been meant before.  It was perfectly completed, absolutely done. It was beautiful, miraculous, incredible and only could have been done by Him. Even better, it was no loss of power; He laid it down for a moment…and then picked it back up again.

My life is made of countless beginnings and endings, but no real finishes–excepting the one done for me by this Jesus. I take great comfort in each new project by the knowledge that somehow, He will finish these, too. He intends to finish all good work He starts, and if He uses me along the way, then that is all I need.

Finished.

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Certainty

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Uncertain.

I have heard that word over and over the last couple of weeks. As many have observed, to be human is to be uncertain; in that sense, nothing now is new. It is just that, at this particular time in history, most members of the planet would refer to themselves as “uncertain.” Together, this time, we feel a collective sense of being off-balance.

Uncertain.

To be uncertain is to suspect strongly that the next thing isn’t good; it is more likely to unpleasant rather than not.

Uncertain.

Easily synonymous with being fearful, to be uncertain for many at the moment means wobbling precariously between the fear and wisdom. Do I go grocery shopping? If I do, do I wear a mask; use hand-sanitizer; take Airborne? Do I stay at home biting my nails because I might get it? Do I frustrate my sanity, my health, and my relationship with my God by forgetting all I know about Him when I suddenly cannot rely on myself, or in truth, anything else?

Uncertainty is the not the enemy of the soul; forgetfulness and faithlessness are. I have spent the last months thinking more specifically on Jesus than I ever have before. This week especially, I am thinking on the utter certainty with which He walked into Jerusalem. Even though He later prayed so fervently that the “cup pass from me”, it was not a prayer of hope for a better outcome like you and I might pray. It was prayer knowing the separation and torture that was to come; to both ask and know. This is the week that, in His knowing, He gave us communion by which to remember what He was going to do. This is the week which secured Hosanna! as the word of a soul-saver; Redeemer. This is the week that would tear the old covenant from top to bottom; this is the week in which He would give us access to the Father.

Into this certainty He rode; He prayed; He waited; He was tried; He died. He died with utter certainty that He would be back. His body would decay like any other for three days, and then He would inexplicably and gloriously return. The same body glorified, life in the same eyes, breath flowing through the lungs, and blood that redeemed flowing again. He would eat with His friends and disciples. He would enjoy long, uninterrupted conversations with them. No curious crowds would gather to see Him–the populace who had been interested in a show were convinced He was dead and there was no more to see; followers were in hiding, afraid they would join Him in death. He came to His closest ones, and they shared precious moments together…and then He ascended, telling them all that He was going to be about preparing a place for them.

We are invited into this certainty. We are invited into it every day. We are invited into the Light of Himself; into the peace of His presence; into the promises He gives to His own—and these things are never uncertain. He both acknowledges our griefs and losses and offers Himself. He does not leave us hungry while offering us mere pictures of a feast; He gives us both.

He gives us certainty.

Stained Glass

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Masking tape on our glass door.

I remember admiring the stained glass windows at church as a kid, wondering how they got all those pieces of glass together, wondering how the windows didn’t buckle in the wind, and wondering how someone discovered a way to use the broken pieces to make something so beautiful. On migraine days, I feel my brokenness keenly; when the migraine leaves, I feel fragile as cracked glass. Truthfully, on these days, I am just more aware that I am not yet whole. How do you make something lovely out of brokenness?

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Washable paint: 2/3 acrylic paint, 1/3 soap. Mix. Apply. Washes off with just water and cleans the glass to boot.

Usually, our idea is something along the lines of recycling. Stained glass window artists don’t, as I thought as a child, make their artistic pieces out of scavenged broken pieces. But when you’re done with a newspaper, it can be so many other things made out of paper maché; potato peelings can be composted to grow your tomatoes and zucchini; broken mugs and plates can become a mosaic. But people are a different matter.

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Dries in seconds.

Easter is coming. The day we celebrate the completion of the only thing that could fix us: the Resurrection of Messiah. We may be singing songs of rejoicing in our living rooms; perhaps there will be no large gatherings over Easter dinner; but we are delighted in the One who heals our souls. Our brokenness is not merely fixed, but made whole. Further, we can look forward to a day when this will be true of our bodies as well.

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I took the tape off–the crisp edges please me–but leaving them on might be just as nice. Now we have an Easter stained glass door.

He makes something lovely out of something broken.

Safe

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Someone asked me a few years ago what kind of music I listened to, and I had one of those sudden epiphany sorts of moments.

One of the enormous privileges of western wealth and culture is that we no longer have to play an instrument or know someone who does in order to hear music. We can turn on any number of devices and get any kind of music we want. Music is played free gratis while we dine, shop, and get our teeth drilled. It’s eerie if there isn’t music playing in the background of our films and sometimes audio books. I used to make or find a soundtrack to accompany every drama I was writing; just listening to it got me in the “zone” to sit down and work. I used to turn on music every time I came home; our 25-CD player was filled and when it got to the end, I’d start it over again. I used to sit in my office and hum along with show tunes and hymns and fall asleep with them turning over in my head. I used to have trouble falling asleep unless there was music playing.

But when I was confronted with the question, I realized that I don’t anymore. I just…rarely listen to music. I’ll enjoy it if someone else has it on; I like a good theme song that sticks with you. I love singing at church and with people and for people, but my internal monologue rarely includes music anymore. It just got too…noisy. There’s enough going on in my head; I don’t need MORE to drown it out. I want to really listen if it’s there at all; I don’t want white noise. Just once, I’d like to browse the lettuces without a saxophone wailing away; I’d like to wait for the doctor to see me without listening to a country break-up song; I’d like to pump gas without the tinny, echoing radio music bouncing off the concrete. My mental database for songs is vast; most people have one. But unlike some people, who always seem to have a song floating through their minds, mine don’t play anymore. They wait quietly until they are asked for.

Except for one. I only realized it today.

Every morning, when I say goodbye to my husband, I pray for him as he walks to his car. And as I think on him and his day and where he might be going, I also think of my dad…and my brother…and my sister…and my nephew and niece…and as the circle of my family widens, I pray for them. And every morning, quite without me really knowing it, a little song has been the soundtrack for these little loved-one prayers:

  1. Safe in the arms of Jesus,
    Safe on His gentle breast;
    There by His love o’ershaded,
    Sweetly my soul shall rest.
    Hark! ’tis the voice of angels
    Borne in a song to me,
    Over the fields of glory,
    Over the jasper sea.
  2. Safe in the arms of Jesus,
    Safe from corroding care,
    Safe from the world’s temptations;
    Sin cannot harm me there.
    Free from the blight of sorrow,
    Free from my doubts and fears;
    Only a few more trials,
    Only a few more tears!
  3. Jesus, my heart’s dear Refuge,
    Jesus has died for me;
    Firm on the Rock of Ages
    Ever my trust shall be.
    Here let me wait with patience,
    Wait till the night is o’er;
    Wait till I see the morning
    Break on the golden shore.

Refrain:
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast;
There by His love o’ershaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.

~Fanny Crosby

It’s like a lullaby; gentle, thoughtful, and full of rest. All my dear ones are safe in the arms of my Jesus, and so am I.

So today, I am deliberately singing this little gift. I hope you can, too.

P.S.~I looked for a video link to share with you that had the original tune but they were all played on a nasally digital organ, a bit too country gospel, or something else that really doesn’t carry the words well. I’ll let you do the searching.

The Care and Feeding of Artists

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“Mom! I made you a picture!”

Mom stops what she’s doing and looks at the wild scribbles. There’s definitely a person on that paper, but who they are and what they’re doing is debatable. Mom takes the democratic approach. “Thank you! It’s so colorful! Who is it?”

The artist is slightly offended. “It’s you! See your curly hair?” Mom looks at the wild nest of purple curls on the top of the stick figure and smiles. She finds an unused portion of the refrigerator and puts it up there with the rest of the art.

You were that kid, once, and so was I. It was deeply meaningful to see our work displayed in a public place like the refrigerator. We also knew all too well what it felt like when it didn’t make it up there. Mom never failed me; other people did. I gave them my art, and they set it down and forgot about it, or even outright told me “No thank you.” Ouch. Usually, though, people gladly accept the worst-looking offerings from the children in their lives. Since they love the kid, they love whatever the kid makes. Grown up artists aren’t really all that different. Here’s a few guidelines to caring for them:

  1. If they give you the product of their artistic endeavors, understand that they are telling you that they love you in one of the most personal ways that they know how. So accept it, and do your best to use it as intended! Loving their art means loving them. You know, hang it on the fridge.(Note: Loving the art and liking the art are similar to loving vs. liking a person. They ain’t the same.)
  2. Voluntarily read their writings, hang their paintings, buy their cakes from time to time…you get the idea. It will means tons to them if you just…show up at their art show.
  3. Speak of their creative endeavors as the genuine, useful work that it is. You might have pandered to the child’s early attempts; the adult would appreciate genuine encouragement. Art is really, truly useful in the world; it is not merely playing in a sand-pile.
  4. Understand that they might need time alone to accomplish some art. Lack of such time will play havoc with their emotions, so much so that you might need to step in and say, “Hey, I’ve got this. You go paint for awhile.” If they don’t actually smooch you, just know that they will probably really want to.
  5. If they ask you for critiques, be diplomatic but honest. It’s unfortunate but true that some artists are looking for compliments instead of critiques; know which one your artist is. Are they ready for that genuine critique to push them forward? Are you the one to give it?
  6. If you wish to give them supplies, ASK them about their preferences in notebook, brushes, charcoal brands, etc. They won’t use supplies that they don’t like.
    1. I have written before about a ring-bound, lined-paper notebook festooned with naked, glittery, butterfly-winged cherubs that some sweet soul gave me to encourage my writing. I wrote, but not in that.
    2. My father knows all my picky notebook preferences. God bless him!
  7. Introduce them to your favorite artists; they will love learning new things with you. Then it will be something that you share.

Make no mistake: EVERYONE is creative. Not everyone chooses to devote their creative urges to hours of artistry. Maybe you and a friend support each other in your different endeavors—they music, you ceramics. Maybe you consider yourself a supporter of the arts: you buy and read the books, the paintings, the music. But all the quirky little personalities in our lives could use a little knowledgeable love.

Blessings on all those people who have knowledgeably loved on me.