One of my favorite games growing up was playing mommy with my dollies. I remember one car my dad had in particular, and the way my favorite doll, Abby, could fit right beside me in the tiny seat. It was perfect. I would buckle her in, smile, and dream about the day that she would be a real daughter.
Later I would pull out all the dishes I could get my hands on, set up place settings for my 5 or 6 favorites, and invite them all to kindly come to dinner. I would change their outfits because I felt like dinner should be more fancy than their playtime outfits. I would giggle and move them in and out of their seats, help them pick up empty milk cartons, and excuse them when they had finished their supper.
I spent a lot of time dreaming then.
Sketching what it would be like when those little babydolls came to life, and came to my real house, with my real husband. And we would giggle then, and set them in their beds and dance beside them, all the while wondering what they would be like when they were 5, 10, or 18. What her first date would be, and how they would break our hearts, because little girls always do, you know.
I shouldn’t say I was a dreamer, for truly I never have been. I don’t say that as a criticism of myself, but simply as an alternative reality. Dreaming sounds far away and impossible, so I think I prefer sketching. I have the gist of it-the outline and form. I don’t know the faces because I haven’t seen them yet, but there is room for hope in all the lines. There isn’t color because I’m not in charge of how things will be-just a girl who has lived her life with a nicely sharpened pencil, and while she goes through today, she is always (always) sketching tomorrow. Dreamers dream big, and I love that. But I don’t, really. And it’s okay. I just want to have an outline and an eraser and a few things to feel like inspire me enough to pull the covers off of me on a cold winter morning.
But it isn’t always easy to be a sketcher. Because it’s art and it’s beautiful, and it’s all heart and love and wishing. And sometimes you get to the frame you’ve imagined one way or another and it isn’t right at all. No matter how you try to erase and redraw, you can’t get it to where it feels like joy.
Do you? Do you sketch, friends?
Before we had children we found this lovely farm very near to our house and we fell in love with it. I imagined taking all of my kids there for giant pumpkins and running around all the while laughing and breathing in Fall. There were games to play, a sun to soak in, and the joy of another long awaited Autumn breeze. And it was just as I had always seen it sketched.
The girls in bright orange, pigtails on either side. Nobody knew who was who and we got mixed up ourselves in some of the photos. They were holding pumpkins, loving the smell of cider, and we were mommy and daddy.
Just mommy and daddy.
Another year passed, and then another. A new baby came along, which changed the sketch. But there had always been room for her. We just didn’t know how to draw her eyes and her lips and her sweet, deep, full laugh. And then, there she was. We went back to the farm the following year, and yes, one more pumpkin please. We smiled, set them on a wagon and waited for three sweet smiles. We got them, despite Ellie being sick. I still love this photo because she is trying so hard to look happy and she isn’t. But then again, she’s like her momma that way.
Years drift in and out, and the farm stays the same. We are pregnant, sketching life, and then the Lord tells us this particular drawing will be altered. And it’s because He loves us. I do know that, but it’s sad. It’s sad because I wanted to bring my new baby to this farm that we always go to, every Fall, because that’s what we do. But He says no and eventually we see that she won’t be ours.I grieve her deeply (so deeply).
But Todd hasn’t sketched his grief. He hasn’t, even from the beginning.
It comes in waves and it comes unexpectedly. He holds it until its time to let go, and like a bird it flies to a place he can’t see, and comes on its own will. There is no plan, no pencil. It is a different grieving for this father who wanted to love, wanted to draw a life with a girl named Audrey who loved his voice and moved when she heard him.
Time slipped away after that and we got lost. But we knew there was the farm and all of the right, normal things that make for photo albums and all that and so we went back. Every year we went back. Because they love Jesus at this little (not-so-little) farm and they love the company that floods it in the Fall. It’s such a happy place.
This Fall was sketched for me before I had the chance to realize. As the days passed I became sad. I realized that for the first time I wasn’t going to get to take them to Gentry’s farm. It wasn’t what I planned. I was so sad because it was something that always was, and you know how beautiful those “always-things” are, don’t you?
I cried one night in my bed. My hotel room bed. Because I knew I was supposed to be there but it wasn’t the way I planned it. I always meant to be at the pumpkin patch and here I was. Alone. Longing for the stability of a pencil so I could just draw it and show my girls how much I love them. How much I would choose them over everything else, and how much I needed them to know they are the light that shows me the beauty of who God is. I love them. I love them. Oh, do they know how I love them?
I didn’t get to go this year, and my heart broke. Not for the farm, but for the mommy who had always had a sketch of family being together and that’s what makes it so special, but I was working, and did I fail them? Did I, girls? I asked them and they shook their heads no and I remember it because I made a new sketch called grace, where I knew they knew. And I let that one be, just as it was. Which is always the way grace should be.
And their daddy, they have to know…when he saw the tour schedule, and their Birthday there on the calendar…they have to know that it wasn’t going to be in that city at the beginning and we were going to all be together. That’s how we sketched it and we trusted it would work but it didn’t and so now mommy is with you and daddy is not. There are as many tears from parents as there are from children, and I can’t see straight because everywhere I look there are more mistakes on all these drawings and I’m feeling like I have failed. That we have failed. Do they know the way we love them? Do they? Oh, Lord…I must know.
And then today, as we celebrated 9 years of life and good friends and of all things, painting. And we talked about what they would paint and why they chose those colors and shapes and I saw in them the same thing I see in myself. This is what I want it to look like…
But I know that it might not turn out that way. I want them to know that the beauty is in the work and the love, and not the perfect lines. The lines, well, they will never be perfect.
I talk to Todd on the phone and he is whispering about the night before. Telling me that he sings “Broken Praise” as Job on the Story tour, and I knew that but I didn’t know he would cry. I didn’t know that when God put him on this tour, He wasn’t stealing our sketch, but he was adding the grief process that Todd needed.
He needed to sing his sadness to God.
And he is. For really, the first time since she left us.
And I am painting with the girls and we are telling stories and all I want them to know is that they are loved and we would always choose them, but do they see the beauty of what God is doing with the brushes we have given over.
They say yes, and they mean it. I’m happy because I see that they really do. But I’m sad because I was a little girl with little dolls and I thought things looked a certain way but now I’m big, and I can see the way we hurt each other. I didn’t see that before, when I was little and she sat beside me. Perfectly, in the seat.
As we gather our things to leave our painting adventure, I am wistful. I’ve been watching their eyes as they paint, and they are so intent. So convinced and purposeful. Just how I am. And I do hope that once those beautiful pieces are put through the fire they will come out how they imagined them. But they probably won’t, and that’s ok too. They always get brighter and shinier anyway I tell them.
The girls have run out of the shop and are speaking to a sweet man when I leave. I hear one of them say, “It’s us,” only I don’t know what is, so I lean over and see the most exquisite sketch. He has been here a few minutes and saw my sweet children and their friends and decided to draw them and give it to me. He has a twinkle in his eye like he’s an angel and all of my kids hug him and I don’t know why but I want to cry. All I manage to get out is to tell him that their father is a musician and he is on the road and it’s the first time he’s missed their birthday and we’re all so sad. I tell him we have been working and we both missed things this year and it was hard and I get quieter. The girls love him so we talk for a bit, and he’s a very, very good artist. He hands me the drawing when it’s done and I see his name, very small, on the bottom of the image. But it’s a last name, so I ask his first.
“Jimmy.” he says with a smile.
I look back down and then I can see the letters come into focus.
He speaks, explaining I might have heard of his farm, and I forget that I can’t really see God with my own eyes because I know in this moment that He Himself has chosen to speak to me.
I am weak with love, knock-kneed and speechless that I am being wooed by the King. Mr. Gentry doesn’t even know that Jesus is speaking with his pencil and his twinkling eyes, but I do. I do.
“Yes sir. I do know your farm. And this is the first year I haven’t been able to come with my children. We love it there.”
He smiles. It’s a very popular place in this area, with thousands of visitors. I couldn’t put all of it into words before I got to my car, but when I did I got choked up and I stilled myself. Stilled the thoughts that had been haunting me about my mothering and all of my sketches, and I just listened. He spoke. I didn’t hear Him, I just felt the words enter my mind and heart and I knew them to be true.
When you are doing what I’ve asked you to do, love, you don’t have to worry about getting them to the farm. I’ll bring you the farmer instead. And when you think you have lost sight of all your sketches, just know that it’s alright. I know where they go, and what is right, and I will never leave you. Not in a hundred tomorrows or a thousand yesterdays.
I stared at the image, with its smeared edges and minimal detail, and in a way I can’t articulate, I felt something in my spirit that shook me so hard I cried.
Let go the grief. The sorrow. Release the anger and the plans set in stone and all the things you whispered, “never” to. Because I hold this in my hand the way he did in his. I watch and I draw, even when you don’t know. And I am concerned with all things that concern you.
My tight grip has loosened, Lord, and I surrender this season to you. You have shown me in such a magnificent way that I don’t want to sketch the way I used to. I saw something much more powerful today, and Lord if it’s your will, would you allow me, every now and then, to see a corner of one of your masterpieces? From your view, looking in?
Because I was so blessed to know I was watched over. And the sketches from an all-knowing, all-consuming, all-loving and mighty God must be rather spectacular.
How much I feel like a little girl again tonight.
Not planning, not drawing. Just sitting and enjoying the drive with my Father.
You make all things beautiful, Lord, and I love you. Thank you for letting me touch your hem this afternoon…
It will never, never, be forgotten.
~Soli Deo Gloria~