A Life Spent Creating

“Art, really, is never about applause. It is about coming to an altar. Its about laying it down for God to choose what He does with it.” -- Ann Voskamp

From the time we are small, we are creative. We build architectural masterpieces with blocks and paint Starry Nights and Mona Lisa’s with our fingers. We’re born that way, with ingenuity and interest. We come into the world with the desire to study everything from the minute to the majestic, all things bright and beautiful. We grow up to affect culture. And this intrinsic curiosity is no accident. When the Godhead spoke of our existence, they said “let us make man in our image,” meaning that we were fashioned to take on the very form of the divine Creative.  This desire to make and craft and build dates back to the beginning of time, and its purpose is to draw us to the Source of our being.

In the beginning, our creativity was solely inspired by God. But the slithering, hissing serpent had something to say about that, and after the Fall, our entire motivation shifted from bringing glory to the Lord to bringing glory to ourselves. Satan knew that if he could succeed at controlling how we view ourselves, he would find a way to destroy everything.

Whether we choose to believe it about ourselves or not, our lives are still very much about art: a lover’s knowing glance, singing our babies to sleep, creating and presenting business proposals, excelling in sports, decorating a space, cooking the perfect eggplant parmesan.  Every moment of our lives, our very day to day, is art. Which means every moment is an opportunity to meet God, and bring Him glory.

Having grown up in church, I thought I was fairly familiar with the concept of altars. I had heard the stories, at least. In the Old Testament, the Israelites built altars on which to sacrifice the best of their livestock in order to atone for their sins. Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, the son he had longed for, and at the last moment, the Lord provided a lamb to be bled out in his place. Elijah, proving to the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel that Yahweh was the one true God, and so on. Even if you have no experience with the church whatsoever, it is likely that you’ve at least heard of these stories. As such, they’re all well and good. But as my faith grew, I began to wonder how altars translated to my life, much removed from the times written about in scripture. How does this tower of stones, however metaphorical now, grow a faith and a relationship with Christ? Moreover, how can altar building be practiced in the middle of the seemingly mundane everyday?

I don’t have to tell you that life is often messy, chaotic, and sometimes painful. Surely, there are moments when we doubt if we have the strength to make it another day. But I believe that if we come to understand the altar, we can discover a life of peace and joy and gratitude and security.

For as long as I can remember, even before I realized what was happening, words have been my personal, primary way to meet with the Lord. Before I truly grasped that God could be encountered outside the four walls of a church, and that faith was far more expansive than what song or sermon could contain, I knew words. I journaled throughout middle and high school, and began blogging with intent in college. Words were my source of comfort in trying times, and I found that they were also a means of connecting with the people around me. And I've found that as my faith has deepened, so has my capacity for expression.

The primary definition of the altar has always been the place at which we encounter God. I pray that as you read these chapters, you would discover your own ground on which to meet with the Lord, and not only that you begin to see the art of your life, but that you fall in love with the Artist whose image you bear.

Coming to the AltarLinking up with The Nester and a host of other amazing bloggers for {31 Days}.

for me and my sister and women everywhere.

Today, you are seventeen. You’ve finished high school, and you’re preparing to move on to everything you believe will be bigger and better and everything that is yes. You are in the most beautiful season of life, just beginning to get a glimpse of who you are and the great passion that lies within your heart. This morning, I woke up to a text message from you, asking what Peter meant when he said that women should have quiet and gentle spirits. And while I feebly attempted to offer some thoughts on the matter, the truth is, I am still learning, and that is hardly the kind of conversation that can flourish in the world of 140 characters. “but let [beauty] be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of the Lord.” -- 1 Peter 3:4

A gentle and quiet spirit. What does that even mean in today’s world, where choices and opinions and the pressure to conform are heaped on us in heavy and unmerciful doses. Too often, it is difficult to discern. I come empty, and I pray for words.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit is always creating. It doesn't matter if you‘re dancing on pointe across a brilliantly lit stage or dancing with your little brother after he wins his first little league game. It doesn't matter if you have watercolor paintings in some hip art gallery, or finger paintings on the fridge. It doesn't matter if you write best selling novels, or encouraging post it notes for your coworkers. It doesn't matter if you sing opera, or sing the Barney song fifty-six times to get your toddler to go to sleep. Whether you believe that you are creative or not, you are always creating. Because God in heaven who crafted you did so lovingly in His own image, therefore allowing you to take part in this grand adventure of creating life. Every moment of your life is spent creating something. How you live will determine what you create and what is left behind when you are no longer walking on the earth.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit is a woman who knows who she is. Have you ever noticed that the people who scream the loudest tend to be the most uncomfortable with themselves? It takes security to live a quiet and gentle life. It takes not only knowing who you are, but whose you are. Sister, you belong to the Lord. Your worth comes from the image you bear and the work of the cross. When you allow others to determine your worth, your life will become about proving yourself, whether they see the whore or the saint. And that passion and spark inside you? God gave that to you, and wherever you are in your life, He will equip you to minister through that passion. Don’t you dare fall prey to the belief that He cannot use you right where you are. Resolve to know deep in your bones that He is able. Even if you have to write it on your bathroom mirror and repeat it to yourself every day.  This is beauty hidden in the heart.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit knows the importance of godly counsel. I think as women we often battle feelings of self sufficiency and believing not only that you can go it alone, but maybe even that you should go it alone. This is not true. We need other women (and men, too) who are firmly rooted in scripture and who speak truth into our lives on a consistent basis. Seek these people. Ask God to reveal them to you. And not only that, but ask God to mold your heart in such a way that you can serve others this way.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit has the ability to think critically for herself.  The lack of sound mind present in the world and in the church today burdens me. Some in the church have gone so far as to say that we as women should only endorse the thoughts of our husbands or our parents or our pastors and receive what they say as absolute. But you have been given the ability to discern what is good and pleasing to the Lord and how to live your life in a way that is healthy. Take your thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. You have been given the responsibility of creating boundaries for your conduct. Perhaps those boundaries won't be exactly what your parents or youth pastor or friends at work think they should be. This is something that you must work through for yourself. And that is not just okay, its really and truly beautiful.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit is a woman who serves others. The heart of Christ is the heart of a servant. When you bless others, your life becomes rich and full. Be quick to assist those who are in need. Do your work in such a way that the Lord would use you to draw those around you to Himself. You are the light of the world, called to be an ambassador. Service is often messy and awkward and it might mean you’re the first person there and the last one to leave. Usually, messy awkward heart service doesn’t come with accolades. But the true heart of service does not seek to make a name for itself. Rather, it strives solely to make Christ the center of attention.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit lives a life of gratitude. Every moment we have on this earth is a gift. Sometimes it seems extraordinary and beautiful and exciting, and sometimes it feels devastating and like we can’t make it another day. But we have been promised that nothing is impossible for the Lord, and that when we are faithful to the small things and obey His commandments, He will enlarge our hearts. In the presence of the Lord, there is fullness of joy, and we enter His presence through the gates of thanksgiving. This is the will of the Father for those in Christ.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit knows how to live grace. This might be the scariest of all, because grace moves you. Living grace means letting go. A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit is often described as being gracious toward others, but if you’re anything like me, receiving grace can be terrifying. A woman who lives grace understands that the soul requires room to breathe. It is okay to admit that you don’t have every answer. You will make many mistakes along the way, and those are okay to admit, too. The beautiful thing about grace is that it was completed at the cross. You don’t have to try so hard to do everything right, you simply have to be.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit lives abundantly. You have been given this amazing, wild life. Fill it well. Never be afraid to go out on a limb, because the limb experiences are the most gratifying and rich. Don’t shy away from the excitement for fear of how others might see you. This time in your life, especially, is one of the most fun and adventure filled that you will ever have. Embrace the wide eyed wonder and enthusiasm.

A woman with a quiet and gentle spirit lives out her purpose. I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was so young, and engaged to be married. She had dreams and plans and ideas of what her life would be that never included becoming pregnant with the Son of God. The consequences of her pregnancy would be severe. Yet when the angel spoke that the Lord had found favor with her, she said "I am the Lord's servant, may it be as you have said." Scripture says she treasured these things and pondered them in her heart. A quiet and gentle spirit accepts the mystery that He gives, knowing that what might seem like inconvenience or bring about fear could also be the thing that births the saving grace.

Sister, you are strong. You are beautiful. You have wonderful things to offer the world. You are loved more than you can imagine.