I keep dreaming that I paint the sky.
or some wide space.
I stand in a cool stillness,
facing an immense and quiet surface.
I look down. My hands are heavy, dripping with gobs of rich color,
Smooth and cool.
I smear it, thick – one delicious handful, and then another –
Sweeping my arms wide,
Heaving my soul onto deep, white space in a joyful birth of creativity.
I stumble back,
Breathing hard, bursting with satisfaction.
I am ready to gaze at my masterpiece.
But before I can even take it in,
The colors leap to vivacious life, and the thing swirls before me, delighted in its own glorious being.
My breath stops in my throat… my belly… my brain.
The beauty almost kills me.
This creature has life I did not give it.
I want to watch it forever.
I startle awake… all is quiet and dull.
It was a beautiful dream.
I look down at my hands… they are empty and tired.
I ache to feel the colors again,
and the holy euphoria of creating.
I feel like I will always feel empty now.
I sigh, and wonder wistfully if my beloved Father will grant me a
Little piece of sky in His peaceful heavens, on which to heave my recovered soul –
In that day
When my sojourn in this sad place is finally over,
And I am free to create in peace and safety.
Where I won’t hurt anyone in my trying.
I try to lay the memory to rest, in a beautiful box on a quiet shelf.
But I keep dreaming that I paint the sky.
Then I walk in the other room,
and she turns her little face up to me, delighted that I am there,
and flings her arms up to be drawn in to my heart.
Her love is crisp and vibrant, intense and demanding,
bursting across the room like a fierce rainbow.
I see the flash of colors spin and twirl in her sparkling eyes.
And I weep –
My soul swirling with joy, and horror…
For I see my broken soul has already hurled itself,
But here, now, in this white space of sorrow and pain.
I don’t know when I first had the strange itch to paint. And “itch” is exactly what it was – like that nagging urge to grab the car keys and go buy your favorite treat? It’s random, silly, and ridiculously powerful – that odd little desire just WON’T leave you be. Well, that’s what I kept feeling… this weird feeling that my hands were full of paint, like, FULL of paint, and I had this strong itch to smear it all over a huge, empty wall.
It would pop into my mind every few months or so, until I started to pay it attention just because of its strangeness… and then it unfolded like magic. First the nice part, when I paint this lovely… thing… barely understanding what it is I’m creating… and then about an hour or so later, my beautiful daughter (then about 10 months old) throws me this incredible smile when I walk into the room, and I SEE her. She and her brother are what I painted, and I did actually cry.
Not happy tears. They were horrified tears. Because what I saw myself painting was lovely and pure and perfect and SAFE… from this terrifying world, it’s evil people, and the destructive evil lurking in my own heart… bitterness, selfishness, irritation, hurt, pride, manipulation. The artful loveliness of her was FREE, and I felt like my daughter was not… because she had me for a mother, in my broken and struggling state. And I did not, deep down where I felt things I didn’t think about, feel that I was really free.
It was all a very strange moment, sudden and hard to understand. I wrote it down because I used to write poetry, before I entered this world of adulting… and it struck me a bit that a poem (of sorts… I still have a hard time accepting poems that don’t rhyme, even my own… hello, traditionalist) had come to mind after all these years. It was like an old and familiar part of my soul was stirring awake again… a part of me that had somehow maybe slept through the pain and difficulty of the recent years.
I wrote it down, but I left it alone for a while… it was uncomfortable.
You see, it has taken me some time to accept a very simple and foundational fact about life: it’s broken. No matter how hard I try, I cannot create heaven here on earth, and I cannot myself be unbroken for my babies.
Somewhere along the line, I had refused to accept these things, and my entire soul was tormented and fighting against reality. Life was rough.
I wrote this poem when my daughter was 10 months old. My husband was working at an oppressive job, and was often heart-heavy himself, though he did an amazing job at cheering me up. We were living in low-income housing, most of the time had only one barely-functioning car, and a first child (my daughter was our 2nd) with multiple hospitalizations and a recent DCF investigation because of our natural-minded tendencies. I was suffering some significant postpartum depression and denying it, and a lot of other past unfinished emotional business was coming to the surface. I was oppressed by enormous feelings of guilt and obligation to family members, friends, and perfect strangers… I had a strange addiction to saying “I’m sorry” for anything and everything… I dreaded church, I didn’t know what kind of clothes I liked, what colors I liked, what my style was… I was afraid to be who I wanted to be… totally consumed and scared of what the people in my life thought of me… and I rarely made it through a single day without lots of tears, raging, and great frustration with my sweet babies, for… get this… for crying. I hated it when they cried, and was truly convinced I could keep them from crying, if I just did all the right nurturing things.
I bet you moms are laughing at me right now. Yes, life had gotten truly miserable… but what can you expect from a strong-willed young idealist, 2 children under 2, and a belief that she could actually control life enough to keep babies from crying?
I was a mess.
But I am in love with and desperately dependent on a God who has a divine sort of knack with messes. I was terrified and angry and in over my head, but He knew exactly what He was doing.
And He did something absolutely miraculous with my tormented heart, in that awful season of pain.
He healed me.
I know now, that there is no book out there, nor could I ever write one, that would give you any kind of 12 step plan to make your life better. Human hearts are so much deeper and more complex than that. But there is this amazing Creator I know, the one who fashioned my heart and soul in the first place, and if you stick it out for the journey? There will come this sudden moment of… I’m here.
Like a quiet whisper, a frozen scene of silence, when the last stitch is sewn, the last puzzle piece nestled in place, and the camera pans back… and you finally understand.
It was all part of the creating.
God is not done creating.
Bear with me here: God is not done creating.
In my story, the postpartum depression, the clingy daughter, the hospitalizations, the DCF attacks on my character, the financial struggles, the emotional baggage back from before my marriage and mothering even began? It was all part of the creating. It was the clearing of white space, it was the crushing of flowers and plants and dyes, the mixing of paints… it was the gentle hands of the Divine, reaching over and filling my hands with heavy and beautiful color, whispering in my ears, “You know you want to…”
And yes, I wept when I saw my daughter. Because I still had another four months of shlogging through the quicksand. But then one day, the last puzzle piece nestled quietly in place. I felt it, and the burden slipped off my shoulders like a physical weight. There was a quiet murmur in my house, and my heart was suddenly, changed.
I loved my life.
All of a sudden. True, the pieces had already been falling into place, during those four months: I was becoming confident in my own skin, at peace with the past, forgiving of my wounds, and understanding of my own shortcomings. But four things happened very quickly one week, and they formed that last puzzle piece. These were the four things:
- My husband surprised me with a belated birthday night, complete with flowers, chocolate, time alone, and lots of sappy things to say to me. 🙂 It filled my cup, big time, and in some way, opened a lot of doors in my heart for God to bring other things through.
- I realized that I was an introvert, and needed DAILY time, without any other human being in the room. Literally, clock time. So I started staying up an hour or two after the kids and the hubby went to bed, and it really helped me maintain my sanity.
- I stopped looking at God as merely a higher power in whose direction I could fling my desperate pleas and cries for help, and I started understanding Jesus as a friend… someone who actually walks with me and hears me and is present with me in my daily work, as a friend.
- The game changer: I accepted the season of life that I was in at this moment, as beautiful and productive and the “writing of my story,” (as Sally Clarkson puts it).
And with those four things, the last puzzle piece completed the picture… and the picture was this: a woman who loves her life.
And I mean, LOVES HER LIFE. She takes joy in her funny, unique little children, and in the constant work before her. She accepts the challenges and loves them, cherishing the uniqueness of her family’s needs. She understands, finally, that the home she’s building is not meant to be a perfect shelter to hide from the storm of life, but a place of miraculous restoration and recreation, of beauty, joy, and love. She finally sees her role: to pick up when the enemy has destroyed… and rebuild. She lets God crush the flowers, the plants, the dye… mix the paint… and clear the white space.
And she creates… and she paints… and God breathes life.