Making Things Beautiful Or What Might Otherwise Be Called Nesting

I used to paint watercolors.

I was an art major in college. I thought that making things beautiful would be my life’s ambition until the overwhelming fear that I couldn’t hack it as a full time artist set in. I didn’t want to sell myself. I wasn’t interested in marketing beauty. I just wanted to make it but I never imagined that I would stop creating. Even as ministry and the church fostered new expressions of my creativity, I thought that I would still carry my tiny watercolor set into beautiful places to sit and paint.

My watercolors are packed away in some box now. My brushes have long since been dipped into water. I’m not even sure which box I’d find my watercolors and brushes in if I dared to look. Still, the desire to make things beautiful hasn’t gone away.

I make regular visits to my local ACE hardware store to acquire quarts of semi-gloss paint. Stools, tables and chairs are constantly changing hues in my home.

It’s been that way since I moved into my very first apartment. My brother worked for Sherwin-Williams at the time and got me my first quarts of paint that turned my coffee table bright yellow and the my bedside table a brilliant schoolhouse red. Since then, that $10 coffee table acquired at a church’s rummage sale has been green and is now blue and the bedside table no longer functions as a table.

I’m not painting watercolors anymore but I’m still painting. Layers of semi-gloss paint transform the furniture around my home to something eye-catching and surprising but it’s not the kind of beautiful I once dreamed of creating. It’s not something for a gallery wall or even an object that reorients the participants through the brokenness of life to find hope.

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The IKEA bedside table between coats of paint. Oh, and the other table I painted with the surplus paint.

It’s just a set of bedside tables from IKEA in my garage waiting to be slathered in paint. I spent several days this week hunched down on the floor of my garage attempting to add coats of baby blue paint to these tables. Pregnancy made it difficult to stoop and bend to reach the corners of these tables. My back ached and my belly was constantly in the way but it may well have been pregnancy that created the urgency to finally transform my bedroom.

Nesting is what they call it. The American Pregnancy Association claims that there is an old adage that once nesting begins, labor will soon follow. (Lord, hear my prayer.) It’s an old wives tale like most of the common knowledge about pregnancy but nesting is a common experience among pregnant women. It’s the overwhelming desire to make your home ready for baby. It’s the impulse to take on projects like painting and sewing and scrolling through pages and pages of curtains on the countless websites to create the kind of place that you hope your child will love to call home.

Or if you a military family, you spend extra hours agonizing over whether or not the movers will ruin this new thing you’ve just created with their carelessness in the next move. Will it survive that move? Will it survive the move after that? Will my child even remember any of this?

I lamented once to my dear friend Caitlin that I wasn’t making art anymore. We had spent one glorious summer together in upstate New York daydreaming about our future as brilliant artists. She has since realized that dream with gallery shows and exhibits where I was simply repainting the furniture in my home. She laughed and said that she does it too. Her home is her masterpiece. It’s the work that is never finished and so she keeps on adding layers of paint and moving furniture from here to there in search of beauty.

It’s all beautiful, she told me. There is nothing more amazing than making things beautiful. It will never be perfect but that just gives us permission to keep on creating.

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Solitude on the Road

“Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone. “  — Paul Tillich

While my husband is in his classes, learning the next echelon of leadership within the military, I am been alone. I am reading and writing and trying not to feel the pain of this loneliness, but Tillich’s wisdom rings all to true. I find myself in this new and place where nothing is familiar. The landscape is different. The climate is strange and I find myself in this new community in which I feel like a stranger. Or as Stanley Hauerwas might say, I am a resident alien.

I am not on the move. I am here in this place.

When only ten days ago, there was a different kind of solitude that marked my days. For just four days, between Pennsylvania and Kansas, I found myself in solitude on the road — and it was glorious. Just me and my little Prius on the road. My parents (among others) had expressed concern about this plan. They were not sure it was wise for a young woman to travel alone. They feared I might be lonely.

I assured them that I would be stopping to spend nights with dear friends. I would extend my trip to make time for these visits with these dear friends. I would not be totally alone. I wasn’t. I got to eat and walk and talk with these dear friends after hours on the road all by myself. Theses a good thing. It was reassuring for my parents to hear because loneliness is a bad thing. This fact even made the news last week. 72% of people in the United States of America feel isolated. The facts and figures of this study are suspiciously absent from the reports that I’ve found, but the word isolation is not. It is repeated in every article. we are isolated from ourselves and each other. This is what defines our loneliness.

It is not news, however. It is a conclusion that was drawn way back when in 2012 when this article appeared in The Atlantic concluding:

Solitude used to be good for self-reflection and self-reinvention. But now we are left thinking about who we are all the time, without ever really thinking about who we are. Facebook denies us a pleasure whose profundity we had underestimated: the chance to forget about ourselves for a while, the chance to disconnect.

Isolation  or even disconnection is not what I feel on the road. Behind the wheel, careening down the highway, belting out Dixie Chicks lyrics, I don’t feel disconnected from my community or my neighbor, but quite the opposite. I feel connected. I feel like the world is so big and beautiful and there is so much possibility. With every song that comes on the radio, I am flooded with memories of people and places that I have loved. I can’t help but giggle at the wonder of it all.

When my throat has gone hoarse and there is nothing but static on the radio, I roll down the windows and open my heart to pray. Jesus makes a big to do about going to find a quiet place to pray. Or at least, that’s how we think about it. We are the ones that are struggle with the silence and perhaps even the isolation, not Jesus. There is no struggle in him. No fanfare as he withdraws to a deserted place to pray (Luke 5:16, NRSV). He is not isolated, though he may be alone. He does this several more times before he tells anyone how they ought to pray. That’s when he tells them not to forget about themselves. This isn’t a chance to zone out but a chance to see yourself as a part of God’s transformative power.

Like me, I imagine that Jesus needs a little space for this. This is no small potatoes, after all. He needs that time away to sort though all of the thoughts in his head, to be grateful and even to wonder about what might be ahead if he can ever be part of God’s transformation. Even if he doesn’t need that space, I do. Jesus might know his place but I have some questions. So I’ll take the empty road snaking through at the mountains or the deserted road that cuts through a town with empty store fronts to reconnect with God.

There is glory in this. Tillich is right. In this world, where there always seems to be someone grabbing for our attention — something that is apparently being called an attention economy — there is a certain graciousness to allowing ourselves  be alone with our own thoughts and questions. It can be overwhelming, as it feels now that I am settled in one place with too much time to think and ponder by myself. It can surely be painful but there is a certain glory in it — a glory I struggle to name but one I have seen on the road.