The force is strong in my family. My mother has it. My husband and I both have it. And, bless their hearts, it's pretty much epidemic in our children. The "force" to which I'm referring is, of course, the Doodling Gene.
If you have this gene you will immediately sympathize. Any margin or grocery list or -- in the case of my sons -- patch of exposed skin becomes an empty canvas waiting to be filled with lightning bolts, swirling designs, shooting stars, winding vines, and countless other doodles.
Psychiatrists and psychologists have long understood that traumatized people sometimes best express themselves through art, and Art Therapy is gaining popularity and respect as a legitimate form of treatment. I think this is great, but I confess I'd be a little concerned if a professional therapist were asked to diagnose my family based on some of our "art."
Of course, there are no professional therapists in our reading audience (as far as I know), so there's no danger in my letting you take a peek.
Let's start with my mother. I have a photocopy of a page torn from Mom's spiral notebook and sent home by her penmanship teacher in 1942. Mom was barely ten at the time. She'd titled the page "Earl & Betty" with a subtitle of "LOVE." Below that she drew two rectangles with cartoonish thumbtacks in their corners. The first contains a couple passionately kissing. Indeed, the woman is leaning forward toward the man -- obviously the aggressor in this moment of unbridled affection. Betty's hair flows down her back in cascading curls. Earl's eyes are open wide, a slight smile on his puckered lips beneath his dashing mustache. Below this drawing are the words, First Kiss. (By the way, the artwork is quite impressive for a ten year old. Mom went on to major in art. Even then she had the gift.) The second tacked up paper is a love letter. It reads: "Dear Love, Earl, How I love you! You will be mine, eh? I sure hope so!"
The teacher added this note (in cursive which I swear looks EXACTLY like the samples in penmanship books): "Mrs. Harper, Patsy spends part of her time in Writing Class doing this sort of thing. I would appreciate your suggestions."
Unfortunately we have no abiding record of the suggestions offered. But the fact that my grandmother dated this, saved it, and eventually gave it to my mom tells me she was more amused than upset.
Next let's consider a drawing my sister did at eleven. One can easily surmise the content of the conversation that prompted this bit of therapeutic release. In large, bold letters she wrote across the top: MOTHER DOES NOT WANT TO BE PUSHED. The drawing depicts two stick figures near the edge of a cliff. One, who is wearing a mischievous grin, is pushing the other toward the edge. The victim's eyes are wide with fright and she's screaming "NO NO." In the water at the base of the cliff a shark with jagged teeth awaits the arrival of the poor victim, who we can only assume is "mother."
We'll never know what nagging behavior on my sister's part prompted the "Don't push me!" parental reaction. What we do know is that Mom found the drawing, cracked up, and saved it in her treasures file.
Which brings me to March of 1998. I'm sitting in church next to my fourteen-year-old daughter, who is doodling on the Children's Worship Bulletin -- an insert aimed at 3-6 year olds. The bulletin's theme that Sunday was The Temptation of Jesus, and it contained a maze, a fill-in-the-missing-letters game, and two hidden picture activities.
If anyone needed art therapy at this point, we did. Almost two years had passed since Jacob's near drowning. Our hearts had been pulverized in the meat grinder of suffering, and we were just learning how to breathe again. I'd worried a lot and prayed even more for Grace and Luke, who were entering the turbulent adolescent years in the midst of a trial that had taxed our faith and much of our emotional, physical, and mental strength.
I glance at Grace bent over her drawing and wonder if I should nudge her and encourage her to listen. Shouldn't she be focused on the sermon? More than anything, doesn't she need to hear the Word of God? But I leave her alone.
After church I examine her work. And I laugh -- a deep, cleansing laugh like medicine for my tear-weary soul.
As you've probably guessed, I saved this bit of creativity in my treasure file, and it's sitting on the desk beside me now. I won't try to describe all the alterations she made to the bulletin, but here's a little taste. The fill-in-the-missing-letters page had a pre-printed drawing of Jesus at the top, smiling with his hands outstretched. The clue to the puzzle read, "Jesus was tempted with hunger. What did Jesus say?"
Grace drew a rectangular object in Jesus' outstretched hands and added a speech bubble to accommodate the answer to the puzzle's question. So . . . what did Jesus say?
"Watch me bust this board with my head."
(Did I mention that the Bizarre Sense of Humor Gene is also strong in our family? Or, better question, did I have to?)
About now you may be wondering what this post has to do with Girls, God, and the Good Life. Well, I'll tell you.
Christianity is serious business. Evil is real. We can't live in this world without at least brushing against it, and sometimes we find ourselves being sucked into its slimy pit. Add to this the promise of our Lord that we will suffer. (Not one of those promises we're fond of claiming, is it?) So, how do we cope? And how do we show a hardened, hurting world that there's a loving God who abides in the midst of all this chaos, lifting our heads above the flood, binding our wounds, giving us daily bread?
We do it by living real. By looking the whole big mess straight in the eye, seeing it for what it is, and then sketching a Jesus who can bust a board with His head. We give the world a picture of our God they'll want to save in their treasure file.
Was God offended that Grace doodled during the sermon? Was her drawing sacrilegious? You tell me. But if you want to know what I think (and I know her heart), when she stands in His presence someday, I imagine He'll say two things. "Well done, good and faithful servant."
"Now, watch me bust this board with my head."