Embracing imperfection, part 3 (or how imperfection frees me to create)

I realize I’ve been away from this space for longer than usual. A few good reasons: vacation with extended family in South Carolina, and finishing the first draft of my book (Unashamed: healing our brokenness and finding freedom from shame, Crossway – to be published next June 2016). So I am reposting a favorite from last year in May. It was part of an ongoing series of “embracing perfection.” You can read the others here: part 1, part 2, part 4, and “July edition.”


One of the first assignments was to draw a self-portrait. In crayon, no doubt. Sounds simple, childish even. And is that what paralyzed me in front of the box of 64 Crayolas? I would dare to take one crayon out, only to have to put it back because it didn’t seem quite right. Do I start with the eyes? or the nose? Or the outline of the face?

Trying to create art paralyzes me sometimes. And it’s my drive for perfection, to be perfect and produce perfection that often holds me back. Nestled underneath that desire is a fear of imperfect, of failure, of disapproval and messing up. When the art I’m working on is visual colors on a page, it can be easier to jump over that hurdle of fear mixed with desire – but when the art is words capturing ideas on a screen. Aahh. That can stop me in my tracks. I can honestly say that most times I begin to craft a blog post, I start with beating down the doubts inside of, “you have nothing to say … what new thing can you add to this topic that hasn’t already been written well [better] by someone else …?”

But I am called to show up and to offer myself, my story, my words, my heart. All of those are imperfect. The more you know any of me, the more you’ll see my imperfection. Yet I don’t want that to paralyze me, just like I don’t want that to hold you back from offering yourself either. In fact, when you (my friend, sibling, parent, husband, pastor) admit your imperfection, it frees me to acknowledge mine. And also to find strength not to allow my own imperfection hold me back from my offering. 

Emily Freeman is teaching me through her book A Million Little Ways. I read this yesterday, and inside I said “yes!”

Knowing we can’t fully live the words we call others to live can keep us from ever saying the words at all. … Just because you can’t fully live your life the way you so long to live it doesn’t mean you don’t fully believe it’s possible with all your heart. And it doesn’t mean you are forbidden to share what you’re learning unless you are living it perfectly. Christ is in you and wants to come out through you in a million little ways – through your strength and also your weakness, your abilities and also your lack. … God calls us his poem. And the job of the poem is to inspire. To sing. To express the full spectrum of the human experience – both the bright hope that comes with victory and the profound loss that accompanies defeat. We must make art, even in our weakness.

So what’s your poetry? Your imperfect poem you’re being asked to write today? For me, it’s a poorly rhymed poem expressing thanks to the preschool teachers my girls have learned from and loved this year, their first year of preschool that ends today (sad!). I offer it here, not because I think it’s beautiful art but because it’s imperfect art. Not my best poem and certainly won’t be published anywhere, but here’s to hoping that it will bring big smiles to the two women who have certainly brought big smiles to my three-year-old daughters in their first school experience.

You have taught us our letters,
And now we can count much better;
We know how to spell our names,
And follow the rules of a game.
We have learned to share
Under your tutelage and care.
We stand in line and wait
And can look at a calendar to find the date.
You’ve introduced us to school,
And how to follow its rules.
You’ve welcomed us with love
Reminding us of God above.
For all of this we say THANK YOU –
And that next year we will miss you! 

learning to play

It used to come easy for me. My two younger brothers and I would build blanket forts and lego castles and watch our hamster spin around her clear ball beside us in our “rec room” that I always thought was “wreck room.” Because it was a wreck! The room over the garage with its orange-black industrial-strength carpet, and my mom never had to see it unless she came up to see what we were doing, and so it remained a happy wreck of the detritus of play most of the time. I played school there and my brothers were my reluctant students; we had a comfy beanbag we would fight over until it began to lose its stuffing one small styrofoam ball at a time. An ancient typewriter and I would be the “secretary.” There’s a great picture of a birthday party – maybe my 6th? – where me and all the little ladies are smiling big (with gaps for lost teeth) while sitting atop an old mattress in that room. And two of those girls are friends now with kids who were our age, and we still keep in touch. (Shout out to Shelby and Schelyn!)

Play was never work; it wasn’t “have-to;” it was our life. We lived for play. We came home looking forward to play, having to be coaxed to do homework at some point; but then it was always the return to play. My parents didn’t put us in lots of programs or schedules when we were in elementary school. They innately understood that play and family-at-home-with-nothing-to-do time was what we needed the most in those early years. They entered into our play as they could. Cultivating our creativity with frequent trips to playgrounds and parks and outdoor picnics and bedtime stories where we traveled with Susan, Peter, Lucy, and Edmund into the magical land of Narnia at the back of the wardrobe. When we wanted to have our own backyard putt-putt course, my parents trucked us around to the local putt-putt establishments asking to purchase/donate the green carpet for our course. And we did it – “Pine Acres Putt-Putt” – our 9-hole wonder – lives on, featured in a local newspaper where the archives from the ’80s hold our proudly displayed homemade sign.

Somewhere along the way, play became work. How? When? Why? I don’t know. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint, but I suspect for me it got buried in the “big work” of academic pursuit and the stress of working my first job and the angst of learning how to navigate relationships as a young adult. Add to that the pressure/dream I had to do big things for God, and somehow I forgot that big things for God must start with learning to be little with God. For that’s who we are as people – we are as small as a child splashing in the waves before the eternal horizon of an ocean, as blessedly tiny as the way I feel each time I drive into the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am small. I am meant to be small, and therein lies the greatness of any person – embracing the small, learning to play where I am and in accord with who I am.

My children are teaching me. Brene Brown  and Gretchen Rubin are teaching me. To play (again). I am learning to be as free to play as a child in a sandbox. For I am not God – HE is. I am free to play because the world does not rest on my shoulders. I am free to play because it’s the only way I can manage the weight of the small corner of the world that does rest on my shoulders. I’ll end by asking you (and by sharing with you) one of the best questions of this e-course on The Gifts of Imperfection – what’s on your “play list”? Not your iTunes one, but the list of things that fit the “properties of play” (from Stuart Brown):

1. Fun for the sake of fun
2. Not required.
3. Awakens my heart.
4. Lose track of time.
5. Able to lose myself in it.
6. Exponential creative potential.
7. Hard to stop.

I’m hoping a picture of my “play list” will inspire you to create your own.



Five Minute Friday: “mess”

Ah, the irony of writing about “mess” as I’m in my favorite coffee shop, surrounded by happy chatter and no mess except that of my own creation … which right now, is nothing. But here goes. Jumping into Five Minute Friday for my favorite of blog activities. It’s been a long week, one where I didn’t recover from last weekend’s illness till Thursday really. One of feeling drained, exhausted, “just making it.” I don’t like weeks like this, yet they seem inevitable to living in this cracked-jar world. Meaning I’m a cracked-jar of humanity whose weaknesses show up even when I try to glaze them over, and yet whose glory shines through in the midst of those places. There’s a verse about that in one of Paul’s letters (2 Corinthians chapter 4, verses 6-7) …

For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. …

Ok – on to five minutes about “mess.”


Many days I feel like that’s all I am – a manager of mess.

“Clean up the toys! Put those shoes in the basket! Take your plate to the sink! Where do the Legos belong? How many times do I have to tell you not to throw your food on the floor?!”

But, really, what’s wrong with mess? Yes, orderliness breeds peace and calm. Clean creates mental space. A messy home for me is visual chaos (and thus mental as well).

photo credit: homestrong.net

But what’s wrong with mess, if mess is evidence of life lived fully and creatively? If mess is evidence of life? For, true, our home pre-kids certainly had less uncontainable mess. I’m sure my husband’s rooms pre-me were much more organized, picked up, neat. His car certainly was clutter-free before I came along.

And my desk, when rarely used, is immaculate.

Life requires mess though. Art requires mess. Life is living out the art of who we are, therefore it’s inevitable that life will be/look/feel messy. And I haven’t begun talking about the relational mess all of us create and contribute to when seeking to love and be loved. That will be for another post … or maybe another retreat … or my next counseling session?


Five Minute “Friday”: paint

Another week of catching my breath while juggling preschool drop-offs and pick-ups with a busy counseling schedule, and not one but two kids’ Easter parties, and hosting a small appetizer & dessert thank-you for the missions team at our church last night, and in the midst of it all, seeking to create time and space for soul-art. How fitting that this week’s word is “paint”!


Paint is just too messy. This has been proven over and over again in the short 3.5 years I’ve had with my twin daughters. The handful of times I’ve allowed us to “take the plunge” over the precipice into paint, we have all come out quite colorful. And usually that includes my language (inside my head), with notes to self pasted across my brain like post-its of “why it’s NEVER worth it to paint with twins,” “better NOT to be creative in this way,” “reasons why to keep the painting at preschool with the experts,” etc etc. Can you relate? So in reality, our house rule is that we’ll be creative with anything but paint. When it comes to my kids.

my little artists

my little artists


But how ironic! For I still love to have a paint brush in my hands, whether to repaint a room or to dabble with words and color on a canvas. Art was always a favorite subject, and it was an elective of mine through high school. Somewhere along the way, I learned that art is too messy; that it’s inefficient; that mine isn’t as good as ____. And how those lies squelch the creativity of a creative being! 

We are all artists. I am learning that anew through A Million Little Ways and The Gifts of Imperfection e-course and my own soul when I take time to step off the treadmill of performance and simply be.

I am a creative being. And so are you. Even if paint isn’t your medium, what is? Paint the art of who you are across the canvas of your life today. Without shame. With abandon. Regardless of the mess. Maybe, just maybe, I might have the courage to do the same for my preschoolers!


what keeps me from creativity

In reading through Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, her chapter on creativity was particularly thought-provoking and inspiring. [The mark of a great author is to do both, and Brown does this so well!] I began last week with my thoughts on “why a non-crafty mom needs creativity” and wrote it as “part 1” of my creativity thoughts. Here is part two.

First, my experiments with creativity over the past week:

a “thankful” banner for this Thanksgiving season20131030-142731.jpg

I ventured into the mess; bought craft paint for my girls to paint a pumpkin with; and let them go to it. We all had fun, and the mess was less than I thought it would be.

I also bought glue sticks for them. (yes, small step – but really a big leap forward for me) They are the look purple-dry clear type. Which meant my girls used them as paint. And while I sipped my morning coffee on Sunday, I looked up to find purple glue everywhere. On the tile floor, on the refrigerator … you get the picture. I was reminded why I often don’t venture into the arts and crafts realm with twin three-year-olds. The good thing is that they’re old enough now to consider it fun to clean up their mess. Which they did.

And then perhaps a less conventional expression of creativity happened when I stuffed the dirty pots and pans into the kitchen cabinets because I had 12 dinner guests from my neighborhood bunco group arriving in 2 minutes. When I texted my mom this picture, she said – “See, look! You are creative, Heather!”20131030-142809.jpg

But back to my original question – of what keeps me from creativity? Fear of mess is an obvious one, but that really isn’t the main obstacle. Brown speaks about creativity’s opposite as depression. And quite frankly, I think that depression can cause lack of creativity just as much as lack of creativity can cause depression. One is a symptom of the other. The motherhood season between 18-month-old and two-and-a-half year old twin girls was not my favorite. Along with living what felt like a depressed version of myself, there was an accompanying lack of creativity. Survival seemed to be all I could do day-in and day-out, trying to muster up enough energy to make it till naptime was my daily goal. Creativity? Forget it! I couldn’t even “creatively” choose anything besides the same exact lunch every day.

Yet slowly, surely, quietly, step-by-step, God brought me out of that hard season. And as depression dissipated, I noticed the resurgence of creativity. In small ways, like being spontaneous instead of needing to plan every minute of every day, and in returning to life-giving creative pursuits. For me, highest on that list is writing. And so I began to blog regularly, starting with my personal June challenge of daily blogging inspired by Grethen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. As I wrote more, I began to notice and savor life and those I love more. And then I had more to write about, and on and on it goes …

The one thing that still can threaten my creativity is what Brown identifies as the trap of comparison. When we begin comparing to others, we cease creating. I feel either false pride in being “better than” or (way more often) paralyzed by my perception of another’s creativity as much more inspired/better/talented than mine. Take this small example of doing a group craft project at a friend’s house a few weeks ago. We were painting wooden spoons, using painting tape to make stripes/etc. Overall, I had a great time. Making art is fun; getting to chat with other friends while doing so – even better. But then the insidious lie of comparison crept into my head. I looked at the other spoons and concluded that theirs were better – more creative – more beautiful. Mine just seemed so … plain. 

How ironic that is was the day after, in my “post-comparison hangover,” that I first read these words that Brown wrote in reflecting on how creativity slowly dissipated in her home as her parents shifted focus from living to acquiring:

My parents were launched on the accomplishments and acquisitions track, and creativity gave way to that stifling combination of fitting in and being better than, also known as comparison.

I’ll close here for today, as a poignant reminder to us that begs the question: am I focused more on fitting in with others or creating as an outflow of who I am, where I am?

why a self-described non-crafty mom needs creativity

“I just am not a craft-type mom.” I’ve said this many times, so many times that I actually believe it and actively avoid most art projects with my preschoolers (at home). But in reading Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, I was confronted with my suppressed creativity and my need to rediscover the creative side of my life as part of who I am. You see, I have been described as “creative” for most of my life, until about 10 years ago when I started seminary (no coincidence, I’m sure … ha!). I always loved our weekly art class in elementary and middle school, so much so that I chose to take a few years of art in high school as electives. All throughout growing up, I was usually cultivating some sort of project, whether a school project or one of my own making – like the time I bought a book on how to draw flowers and practiced all summer, or the scrapbook I made of important people and newspaper clippings as a 4th grader. [interesting to look back on these and read them!] Part of the appeal of my undergraduate elementary education degree was the opportunity to put creativity into practice with teaching children how to learn. Not to mention how many fun projects I got to work on (like preparing a unit on how to teach 4th graders about the rainforest) while my fellow college students labored in their organic chem labs and philosophy term papers.

But then I graduated from college, worked as a teacher, and lost some creativity amidst the work that it was to teach and to pay bills and to manage relationships. And then I went to seminary for a counseling degree, and creativity was further suppressed by deep thoughts on theology and the brokenness of our world and relationships. But it shouldn’t have been. Because this is exactly where creativity is most needed: at the intersection of God’s beauty and the world’s brokenness. How else do we bridge that gap without some redemptive creativity? How else can we image our Creator, who made light out of darkness and brought order and beauty from chaos?  I certainly had glimpses of this, through a few professors who creatively taught instead of rotely lectured; and in my “counseling children” course where we learned creative methods (even play) as a way to unlock a child’s emotions and thought life.

Personally though, I seemed to put creativity on the back burner once I became a mom to twins. Survival was the name of each hour of each day for the first six months especially, and probably up until the past six months (they are three years old now). I just didn’t have time. And then the MESS of getting my kids involved in creative pursuits? No, thank you. I was already sweeping up daily and spending more time than I wanted to in household chores. Add cleaning up paint or glitter or glue to this? I don’t think so.

Enter these words I read today:

‘I’m not the creative type ‘ doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.

There will be more on this topic. Let’s call today “part 1 of Heather’s rediscovery of creativity.” Part 2 to follow. After I go do something creative … any suggestions? What do you enjoy as a creative pursuit?