When it’s time, I know.
I can tell in my bones, the ways the knees ache, those joints with a clock of their own.
I drag my fingers tired through the hair, back from the temples, and I survey the room of the sprawled out legs, the stacks of books, the balls of yarn, the half deck of Rook scattered, and I sigh smile.
“I think it’s time for bed, folks.”
They cheer wild. Race for their beds. They know when it’s time too. Time for the day’s best hour, the children’s hour, the moon out the window and night studded up with the stars.
I pick up and I return and I lead a few lost things back to their homes and they call from their rooms, the darkened sleep wombs. “Are you coming to tell us a story of when you were little?”
I say yes, but how could I have known that tonight it would be a child who’d tug the curtain, tear down the veil?
Yes, I am coming. I am coming for the prayers, for the page turning of the printed stories and yes, the stories of your roots, of the time before you were born, when you were still a future star and that place in the night sky was black, still waiting for you. (Do all children love to slide their hands down their roots again, again, remembering whence they’ve come? “Tell us that story again when…” )
I read. The wee chair in the hallway creaks. I turn pages. I bookmark. And they squirm happy under quilts, anticipating. “Now tell us a story when you were a kid like us.” (And I smile and I think this is really it: a child’s deep longing to know that they are known, that the old were once young, once saw the world large, that for that one evening hour, a story bridge spans the wide river of decades and for a spell, we are one, children together.)
So every night I grope mad around the memory vault, feeling my way along time, hoping to find one I’ve lost, a memory I haven’t yet told, and wishing I had kept better record but who would have thought that 365 nights of the year, year after year, our children would story beg from my days before them and I never stop fearing that they’ll be disappointed at the blandness of the recollections and I never stop being surprised at how children heartily embrace our feeble efforts at creativity.
What audience is as grateful as a child?
Creativity is the first tongue of the children.
And when the aged ones try to speak it, even haltingly, we return home to happiness and our Creator Father.
“A long, long time ago, when I was about your age….” I don’t even know what the next words will be and I hold them high in the shadowed room, waiting, like a key suspended before the lock of the memory safe, and I so pray that the key fits and I’ll find something… and there it is.
“I drew pictures of pigs and curly-cue flowers and palaces and princesses with blue ball point pens that left inky-sticky gob marks behind and my mama hung on them fridge with lettered magnets and that was the first thing I ever hoped to be.” I remember the smell of the paper and the white expanse of possibilities and I can see even now the rows of flowers with the row of pigs, their tails curling up like blooming vines behind them, and I laugh now the thought and I’m almost too embarrassed to say it.
“The first thing I ever dreamed of doing was drawing. To be an artist. ”
“That’s what everyone first dreams.”
I stop short. I hold the top edge of the quilt in hand, ready for the tucking, but I’m struck.
Levi rolls over and I can see his silhouette clear, his lanky frame backlit from light in the hallway.
These are words of the farming son, the dig in the dirt, don’t hand me a pencil, I just want to go work with Dad son, the I know Jesus said we have to work heartedly on to the Lord but I don’t think Jesus ever had to do Latin son, the practical boy who tells us point blank, “If I can’t be a farmer, I ain’t going to be nothing.”
I am struck and I can only repeat.
“Everyone first dreams this? To be an artist?”
I ask children whose first dreams still shine.
“Yeah…. Of course. ” Levi lies down on the pillow, stares at the ceiling. I hadn’t known.
Do we all first dream of being artists — because that is who our true selves really are? Makers?
“And with colors. Lots of bright colors.” Malakai pipes up, his toothy grin peeking out behind sheets. I remember his drawing this morning of bold sails flapping in wind and the wings of parrots flapping over the waves and I remember the colors.
“But you show your art to someone and they don’t like it. Then you don’t want to show it anymore. Then you start thinking about other stuff to do.”
Ah, yes. I’m unstuck. Child’s told the bedtime stories, all our stories, and I pull the cover up under chins and I smooth.
Every person is made by love and we are love and we can’t stop making. Love makes.
God is Word because He must express and we are made in His image, His poiemas and we must express. I run my finger through little boy hair and I can feel his smile in the dark. This child.
There are no two identical persons on the whole of the planet. Anything created that expresses the essence of a person is wholly and entirely original.
And whenever I look at a creative work, I am looking at the impossible created. Because before those hands created it, it was impossible to have ever have been created before!
Life becomes art when we attend to it. I trace a little boy cheek by the light of the moon.
And Child, know this, I will resuscitate your artist within, Child who’s inherited Father’s creativity. I will not put lips to the dreams and try to breathe life into them. But I will lay the ear down to the dream and I will listen deep.
For all art and artists revive when the dreams are truly heard.
I know it and you speak it, Child: All our lives we all need to create because creativity is the life breath of our Creator Father and if we don’t create we breathe stale air and we wither dry.
Levi cups into Kai and both boys turn towards me and the night white of the window and I lay my hands on both their shoulders and I squeeze and this skin and bone part of them I know that this is the wasting away part and the creative making part deep within these frames is the lasting part, for all creating is out of love and love is the forever eternal expanding through time rippling ring.
I pray. And they close their eyes. And on the way out of their room, I pick up a lost crayon, a lego piece, a piece of paper with a a story begun.
I don’t return them to their places.
Under a winter moon in a still house, I lay them out on the counter for tomorrow.
For tomorrow and all the artists and all the makers and inventors and dreamers and co-creators who will rise under the sun.
“The Bible tells us that we are God’s masterpieces (poiema in Greek); not only creatures, but His creations, His poems (Eph 2:10). We are living epistles (2 Cor 3:3).
And so, our lives are meant to be listened to, because it is God who is speaking into and out of and through the symphony of the years, and the masterpiece of a lifetime.” ~Michael Card
Repost from archives, with new, recent photos
May I just whisper: Creating can be terrifying.
Could we all do this together?
One Thousand Gifts is #11 on the Amazon Bestseller’s List and your landslide of reviews upend me . And leave me utterly hushed. Shaky. Could we be Christ’s Love Body sharing all together? It would make me feel less… of a trembly mess… if I could see how we are all together in this with Him. If you feel comfortable, would you mind sharing a photo of you with your copy of One Thousand Gifts on your Facebook page and tag it with “Ann Morton Voskamp” (For a little cameo slideshow for a surprise over at (in)courage tomorrow?). I wouldn’t feel so alone, seeing your beautiful faces — (…and… um… seeing as you got stuck with a mug of me on the book’s back flap ~weak smile~ *sorry*! ) And I’ll smile a bit easier through all this, knowing that there really are just kind, friendly folks out there…. His Body in community.
(And yes, if you leave a review of the book anywhere, may I send you a signed bookplate, a thank you for your time and honesty? Just email me with “review” in the subject line and your address and I’ll get those out this weekend… Thank you. It’s all only Him and for Him and through Him. I am so grateful that He gave me you … Thank you.)