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Drawing Gratitude

You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”

~ Annie Dillard

How have you recognized a calling? What stirrings of the heart suggested an emerging call?

When my college roommate Donna and I turned 70, we planned a road trip with stops through the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. We chose the location for two reasons. Neither of us had spent time in this part of the country. But more significantly, our getaway included a weekend class in introductory drawing at the John C. Campbell Folk School. The school, which offers stunning mountain vistas, was founded to nurture and preserve the folk arts of the Appalachian Mountains.

Based on a hunch

For my part, the decision to take the class was based on a hunch. The doodles and sketches that pepper my journals over the years were evidence of a latent interest in drawing. This is a chance, I thought, to either confirm or refute this as a possible calling.

The first day our teacher set out an assemblage of objects. Pick one to draw, she said. We were guided through a number of exercises: contour drawing, where your pencil never leaves the paper; “blind” drawing—no looking at the paper, only the object; drawing with your non-dominant hand.

I chose an old-fashioned alarm clock. In one version we were instructed to use watercolor to paint a shape on the paper that roughly approximated the shape of the object. Then we were to pick up a pen and draw, without looking at the paper. I was surprised and delighted by the funky clock that resulted.

Something about it just felt “right”

When I returned home, I took up drawing as a passion. Something about it just felt right. I sought out simple shapes at first: trombone-shaped paperclips, the rounded cube of my cellphone charger, the rubber toilet plunger. Representing household objects in my daily life became a kind of obsession. On many occasions, my husband would call from downstairs: “It’s time for dinner!” An entire day would have passed unnoticed at my drawing table.

It occurred to me later that drawing simple scenes from the everyday was a way to offer gratitude for my life and its quotidian joys. I also wanted to build by illustration skills. At a friend’s suggestion, I opened up an Instagram account in which I posted daily.

“This will help hold you accountable,” said my friend. He was right.

When I had hip replacement surgery at Pennsylvania Hospital, I took my sketchbook along. I drew the plastic “beer stein” nurses gave me to breathe into, the metal picker-up device with a “mouth” like an alligator, the walker that got me from bedside to toilet. The nurses asked if they could share my sketchbook at their nightly rounds, so entertained were they by this story in pictures.

“Will I ever draw again?”

A few years later, when I broke my arm in several places, my dominant hand swelled up like a blowfish. This would be upsetting to anyone but given my emerging passion, it felt particularly cruel.

Panicked, I asked my surgeon: “Will I ever draw again?

“Of course. Eventually,” he added. His answer was not particularly reassuring.

So I started drawing with my non-dominant hand. My sketchbook captured the line-up of medications on the bathroom windowsill, the bottle of MiraLax to counteract constipation, the splint my occupational therapist devised to help straighten my arm. In some ways, I preferred the childlike appearance of these wiggly lines to my more controlled style.

Was it Percocet or the Holy Spirit that inspired a series of drawings showing me flying above our verdant garden? I like to think it was the latter.

When we had to move from our beloved home of 30 years to a retirement community, I was devastated. This was not what I had in mind, but my husband is several years older than me and the maintenance of a 150-year old house and elaborate garden were becoming too much for him. And we would be living on one floor. Safer for both of us. It made sense and yet … We moved from a two-story house to a two-room apartment. How to downsize? How to cope?!

I drew the precious belongings we had to give away. And those we would keep. It was a way of blessing the role they had played in my life.

“I find myself drawing an imaginary room”

Several times over the past four years, when I’ve felt overwhelmed by anxieties, I find myself drawing an imaginary room. It’s always the same: wing-backed armchair, like the one that was in our family growing up; a side table with a mug of tea (the teabag tag always shows,) a standing lamp and a framed photo of my parents on the wall.

I can go there whenever I want. And I have no doubt that I am accompanied there by the Holy Spirit.

A calling, I realize, can be as particular as the way in which God fashioned oh, so particular you in your mother’s womb.

1 Corinthians 12:4

Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit.


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