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The prettiest     

Posted by Katherine Putnam on March 7th, 2012

“Your art is the prettiest art of all the art.”

Recently I spent an afternoon making play-dough snowmen and cakes with my niece, Celene. (We made other masterpieces too, but those are the only two I can remember.) As I was making a top hat for my snowman, Celene looked over at me and–with all the solemnity of a five year old–asked, “Are you an artist?”

I was flattered, surprised, taken off guard, amused, and just a smidge saddened, all at the same time. I said no and explained that right now I work for a church and what it is that I do there. I then asked why she thought I was an artist. She paid some pretty compliments to my snowman-in-progress and made much appreciated references to the book I made for her and her sisters for their Christmas present. (Curious? I’ll include it–as best I can–below.)

Flattery will get you everywhere, really, and Celene definitely earned some brownie points with her sincere and unintended compliments.

Yet, something about the exchange still made me a little sad. I’m not an artist (not that I want to be, really). I’m not a writer, or an actress, or any of the other glamorous, creative roles that I may have wanted or daydreamed (okay, okay, daydream, present tense) about at one point or another. I’m not a film critic. Not professionally, anyway. And frankly, I’m still not sure if that’s just a hobby that I enjoy on the side (you know me, I love expressing my opinion) or a career path that I truly want to pursue. I’m a secretary. It’s not glamorous or exciting, but it allows me to make my little contribution to our family. Not to mention I only have a ten minute commute, flexible hours, a great boss, coworkers that I can talk to, etc etc. And why should I fret over the job I have when I don’t really have a clear idea of what I would pursue instead?

As I wrestled with this feeling of…disappointment, shall we say, that I did not, in fact, have the far more interesting occupation that my niece suspected me of hiding, I found myself thinking of a little note that Aunt Sherry sent me out of the blue. She wrote (and I hope she does not mind me quoting a section of it here):

“Thanks for using your creative talents to bless our family. Growing up in a Christian environment you often hear that God has plans for you. That is true but can create images of fame and greatness that aren’t part of the plan. Most of us are called to be loyal duds: faithfully exhibiting Christ in us to a small circle of people whom we love. We use our gifts to bless family and friends and our church. So your talents may not have gotten your name in lights, but your name does shine in our family.”

I don’t believe I gave her words the attention they deserved at the time, but my interaction with Celene sent me back to look at the note again. I meditated on Aunt Sherry’s words a little more before tucking the card away a second time. Then this past Sunday I heard a sermon (and some lovely songs) that packed a wallop and (in the long run) sent me back to reread the card a third time.

It was a simple sermon really, a variation on one I’ve heard over and over again throughout my life: we’re saved by grace, not works. I cannot count how many times I have heard this truth throughout my life, but on that day it struck me in a way it hasn’t in a long, long time. The pastor reminded us that we can’t do anything through our own strength alone: we can’t earn salvation; we can’t overcome our sin; we can’t even plan or achieve anything in our lives without His grace and strength. The pastor spoke about surrender, how only by surrendering ourselves to Christ can we gain salvation. This brought Philippians 4:13 to the forefront of my mind: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Only this time I saw the flip side: “I can do nothing without Christ to strengthen me.”

This isn’t an easy thing for a young American girl–who likes to think that she can do it all by her own steam, pull herself up by bootstraps and whatnot–to hear. It wasn’t easy, but it is so true. I was struck by how little I am able to control or conquer in my own life. Sin? I’m mired in it. That surrender the pastor spoke of? I finally realized that, without God’s help, I can’t even manage complete surrender on my own.

What on earth does this have to do with that note, you ask? Or my conversation with Celene? Everything, in a way. Aunt Sherry wrote that God has a plan for me. True. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13-14). Why does this all connect in my mind? Because I didn’t make me; God made me. What talent (meager or mighty) can I claim credit for? None. What inner strength can I praise myself for? None. What accomplishments can I boast of, what recognition can I demand? Absolutely none. God deserves all the glory; whatever is good in me belongs to God. He is my strength and my creator.

So I’m not an artist or an actress or a writer. So what? God gave me talents and abilities so I can serve Him and serve others. I am made according to His plan, not my own. Why should I care if I have a career or talents that I can boast about? If I had them it would be because of God’s grace, not my own merit. I can no more earn praise than I can earn salvation. I can no more deserve praise than I can deserve salvation.

So if Celene wants to think I’m an artist, I should let her. Moreover, if it happens again I need to remember not only to thank her, but to thank God.

This series of revelations I experienced is far from over. I don’t write this with the confidence that I “got” it; I write this with the confidence that I’ll need to reread this daily. I write this with the understanding that, as soon as I step away from the keyboard, I’ll stumble and forget: pride will return and precede a fall. So this is my reminder to myself to surrender daily. Surrender every minute of every hour. (And, in my remaining free time, remind myself to never assume that I’m spiritually mature. One of the pastors I work for just gave us a little preview of what he will be preaching on in a few weeks. You guessed it: spiritual maturity. If his brief summary made me cringe with renewed awareness of my own immaturity, I’m curious to see what I feel after hearing the whole message!) Throw myself on God’s mercy and trust His grace to cover me.

There just isn’t any other way.

And now for something not-quite-completely-different: a bit of levity brought to you by my first attempt at a children’s book. (Complete with scintillating writing along the lines of “see Jack run.” The aforementioned riveting lines will follow the picture–or pictures–they accompanied in the finished book.)

I used a program called MyPicTales to turn my doodles into a book. (Why MyPicTales? We had a Groupon, that’s why.) This was the cover option I liked the most.

No line accompanied this picture. Instead I used the crafty put-the-girl’s-name-next-to-the-doodle-that’s-supposed-to-be-her ploy, that way my readers did not have to tax themselves trying to figure out what they were supposed to be looking at.

“Meet Celene, Shelby, and Ginetta. They are three sisters who love to play games together.”

(**The four pictures above were all on the same page.)

“Today they’re playing hide and seek, but Ginetta is just too good at hiding.”

“Can you help us find her? Is she behind the counter?”

“Maybe she’s under the couch. Is she?”

“Perhaps she’s in the sewing room. Do you see her?”

“Could she be hiding under the covers?”

“Where could she be hiding?”

“Celene and Shelby are looking everywhere! Where’s Ginetta?”

“Could she be in the old kitchen?”

“Maybe she went outside to hide. Do you see her?”

“We’ve checked the whole house! Where, oh where could she be?”

“We haven’t found her anywhere. Maybe we should just give up. Unless…”

“Can you find her for us?”

“There she is! You found her!”

“Thank you so much for your help!”

And that’s the end. Well, I actually filled the last few pages with a thank you note (for being my flower girls) and some pictures of the girls and me. I think I’m quite satisfied to let my name “shine in our family.”


Katherine Elyse


P.S.- Why yes, I did spend part of my youth watching anime. And yes, I did frequently attempt to draw my favorite characters. Why do you ask?

One Response to “The prettiest”     

  • aliza says:

    Thanks for sharing what the Lord is teaching you! It was so good I had to read this post twice :)

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