What Poverty Means for the Creative Spirit

the creative spirit

I don’t like to talk about poverty. Rather, I don’t like to talk about those months when we had next to nothing. Those months when no church would hire my husband.

When every lead led far away and then to nothing.

When we both tried to find jobs but couldn’t stick with them because the Spirit was clear that we weren’t supposed to be there.

Somehow, between God’s grace, the kindness of others, our family, and the Body of Christ being the Body, we lived on less than $15,000 during Abby’s first year and even into Lily’s first. We worked hard to save money in any way possible while accepting whatever came our way.

I could write posts upon posts on how to save money and scrimp by.

In those days, finding those tricks sucked away most of my creativity. How could I spend less on laundry detergent? How could I cut corners on my beauty routine? Was that can of biscuits really necessary, or could I make my own? How could I keep our cloth diapers clean without buying the fancy detergent?

Things became even more interesting when I had to cut out dairy and soy with Lily. Alternative milk solutions and butter were just the beginning. Finding fairly inexpensive meals that tasted good became so burdensome that I would rather not eat a meal than to be frustrated again. Since I was breastfeeding, my health suffered.

Any creative spark that I had was snuffed out. I became depressed and sullen.

My hope had gone.

And slowly, slowly, I rebuilt it.

I’m gonna’ be real honest, folks. We were following the Spirit’s guidance, but I wasn’t happy about it. I was mad that any hope of leading a decent life and even paying bills on time seemed impossible. I was mad that we had been left there for no apparent reason. I was hurt that God would take away comfort on top of taking away our first two babies.

Admitting that hurt was my first step back to creativity.

After re-reading One Thousand Gifts, I started keeping another “gift list.” Looking for the good, the blessings, even the ugly-beautiful helped me to see more clearly. I also started spending time daily in the Word, specifically the Psalms. I started journaling again, writing out what I felt and thought and prayed.

Creativity kept surprising me. That same year, I tried knitting again and found that I was actually good at it. Before a year had passed, I started crocheting too. I surprised myself again and again with what I was capable of doing.

To feed my soul, I fed my creativity.

My creativity fed my hope.

It still feeds my hope.

And hope is the brightest light in the darkness of poverty.

I realize that there are many who live day in and day out where we have been. It’s hard. It’s heavy. It’s bitter.

But it doesn’t have to be hopeless.

The next phase of this series will have the added tag “creativity on a literal dime.” Some posts will be about handling money while others will be about creative ways to include your kids. All of them will be written with the understanding that money IS an object and that you don’t have to have $20 or even $10 to blow on supplies to add beauty to your life. Join me?

For more on The Creative Spirit, click here.

For more on Creativity on a Literal Dime, click here.

Toil. On.

the creative spirit

My soul is anxious this week. It’s a mixture of running a million thoughts through my mind at once and desperately wanting some peace.

Shalom was my word for 2015. I had several panic attacks and wanted to stop the crazy. But the crazy didn’t stop. I don’t think it ever really does. Instead, I hung onto the Word and learned to abide in a new, deeper way. I learned to set scripture before my eyes, to remind myself of it even and especially when I’m performing the most mundane tasks.

“I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” Psalms 16:8

This is the soul of my art. This setting the Lord always before me, in the ways that He moves and the ways that He speaks to me. This is how my soul was meant to operate, centered in God.

I have let so many foxes come in. I have ushered them into the vineyards to steal the grapes.

Jean Fleming writes in Between Walden and the Whirlwind, “To live for the approval of men is to live with tension and anxiety.” And I have lived looking for the approval of men for so long.

But here, at the edge of our wilderness, we have battles. Not preparation battles. Real battles. Battles not against flesh and blood but against powers, against the princes, against the forces of darkness. Our battles take on human flesh, but they are anything but human. And looking for approval, seeking out likes and comments and shares and pats on the back? Those just aren’t important enough to make me go on or to keep me back.

My goal is faithfulness.

My goal is obedience.

My goal is to take direction from the Father and to please Him.

That can look pretty lonely. It can also fuel community because, hey, it’s not about me. In fact, my biggest prayer right now is for unity in the church. Not the fake smile and the nicety or the politeness that is so often praised. Not the false hospitality that means covering up flaws and hiding wounds instead of allowing someone to come by and tenderly care to them.

And does it have to be one or the other? Does it have to be either fake politeness or overwhelming someone? Are we letting God be our first and foremost Friend or are we intentionally saving it all for those who are also human and hurting?

I have a lot of questions and no answers.

But I do have this answer. I do have this hope, a light for my soul. I have His Word.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who had qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:11-12, ESV

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. Colossians 1:28-29, ESV

These are the verses that are charging me to keep the faith these days. These are the words that encourage, uplift, and inspire me. This is the message that I want to impart to anyone who will listen: You are qualified. You can be given endurance and patience with joy, so stop fighting for it! You do the toiling and the struggling and He will powerfully give you the energy that you desperately need. Keep. Going.

ToilOn

Whatever it is that you wish were gone or destroyed or broken, just keep fighting through it. Keep His Word nearby. Take every thought captive and focus it all back to the One who knows our thoughts.

Toil. On.

For more on The Creative Spirit, click here.

How to Take the Next Step

the creative spirit

So far, we’ve talked a lot about making sure that you’re in the right spirit when you ask the Holy Spirit to help you create, whether it’s combating lies or being comfortable in your own skin. The right spirit is necessary, but it’s only part of what it’s like to create with the Creator.

There’s this other part, though. A part that doesn’t change, no matter how much fun it isn’t or how frustrated you get with it.

Obedience.

Yes, I just said the “O” word.

In an age where our culture likes to trick us into thinking that it’s confining and detrimental to a creative spirit, I’m going to stand up and shout this one, so bear with me.

OBEDIENCE IS NECESSARY!!

Did you hear that? It’s necessary. Not because we serve a demanding God. If that were the case, then creativity would have died out long ago. No, it’s because we serve a creative God.

He is creative in that He has plans for our lives that even we can’t imagine.

He is creative in that the way He has designed for us to be part of His plans are incomprehensible.

He is creative in that His perfect will for our lives just might look completely opposite of how we had envisioned it.

And best of all? He is creative in how He shows us that we can truly trust and rely on Him.

Today, obedience looked like putting a painting for sale on Etsy. It looked like quieting the fears and squashing them by walking in obedience.

Today, obedience also looked like printing off a free preschool program so that I can work on it with my girls.

Two weeks ago, it looked like squashing lies one by one until I realized that I didn’t have to hang onto them anymore.

Yesterday, it looked like learning a yoga pose that relieved my aching young mama back (something that even Tylenol wasn’t touching!)

Obedience brings amazing joy. It seems crazy, but it really does work that way.

Obedience brings joy. And when I’m walking in joy, I’ll gladly walk in obedience.

Obedience brings joy. Not obedience to others or to the list of doing things because the Bible says so, but I guarantee that if you start with what the Bible says is living in obedience, you’ll start living in joy.

In Nehemiah, we find that God’s people had been starved from the Word. In this instance, they had not been taught what the Scriptures (the Law of Moses, recorded mostly in Exodus) required of them. Ezra, the priest, read the Scriptures to them…and they listened. They were hungry for the Word, guys, in ways that we in America just don’t see.

Here’s my favorite part: “So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness” (Nehemiah 8:17, NKJV, emphasis mine).

There was very great gladness. They obeyed the teachings of the Law…and there was very great gladness.

I want to encourage you today to walk in obedience. Not for the sake of the church leaders you’d like to impress. Not for the sake of the men and women who have taught you along the way. No, only for the sake of Christ. Only for Him and His relationship with you.

Obedience brings joy. It really is that simple. It is also necessary if you’re going to create with the Spirit.

For more on The Creative Spirit, click here.

 

 

Loving Big When Your World is Little(s)

So this Internet chick I found over the summer? She talks about living small and loving big. She starts saying things like love well where you are. She admits that she has no idea where she is or what she’s really doing except loving her neighbors, the people God placed in her life, well. Well. Not a little bit. Not in passing. But well.

My spirit stirs as I hear her say these things. So many of them are echoes of my heart. Sometimes they’re the answers that my heart wishes that it knew.

This is what my heart does know, though. I need hospitality.

As a mom of 3 girls under 4 years, I need to welcome people into my life and my home without the fear of judgement or alienation. I need for older women and younger to show me that it’s okay to be myself. To be comfortable in my own skin.

Look, the ugly, messy truth is that I can mess up dishes and clean floors and let my littles do the same. I can zone out, take mental vacations, and forget to interfere when things get thrown around and disheveled. I can also spend hours cleaning just to have it undone in 10 minutes.

I choose my battles.

And I feel awful for not choosing the household chores because ohmyword who will do the dishes if I don’t?! {No dishwasher here, folks, unless you mean the one named Jeniffer.}

Today was grocery day. I really could do without this day. It's usually filled with the chorus of, "You've got your hands full!" and honestly just trying to make it through before we all collapse. And then sometimes there's an older lady who's been there, done that. Or an older man who is extra sweet to my girls. Today, it was a lady who helped get these girls back into their taxi and encouraged my mama heart by saying that I'm doing a good job. And today? God whispered to my heart that, like Hagar, He sees me, even here. Here in the mess of Thursdays and the knowing that I'll be "on" until late tonight. Here in my exhaustion and my brain shutting down because OH MY WORD the processor is backed up. Here in the "PLEASE don't let me burn the tacos" and here in the "they won't even eat tacos." Like Hagar, I ask, "Would I have looked even here for Him who sees me?" I usually don't. But I'm glad He's here.

A post shared by Jeniffer Smith (@smith_jeniffer) on

So last week, amid the craziness of getting ready for our first ENcore night, a once-a-month gathering of students in a coffee house atmosphere with lots of pastries, my third-trimester-pregnant friend came over and talked a lot of grace into my soul. And then she insisted that I get ready while she got my girls ready, gave them pizza, and cleaned my floor off.

God smacked me pretty hard with that one, not gonna lie. Without her, I would not have been ready to go on time. I wouldn’t have been there for Drew as he prepared. Things would not have ended well. At all.

Then Sunday, a dear girl whom we’ve known since she was in 6th grade came over with her fiancé. We opened our home, and she washed my mountain of dishes for me.

Again, I felt that smack from God.

I put so much pressure on myself to do ALL THE THINGS. I berate and belittle myself for not being good enough. For not doing “what I’m supposed to do,” whatever that even means.

But the truth? I have friends who actually love doing these things that I  hate. They don’t do them because they feel bad for me or because they think I can’t handle my load. No, they want to help me because they love me. They enjoy doing something that I hate.

You know what? I enjoy doing things that they hate, too. And one day, I’ll be able to share their loads.

It’s taken me a while, but I think I’m finally understanding what community really is. How it can really look when we stop acting like we have all things put together perfectly.

It looks pretty good, to be honest.

Sometimes hospitality is reaching out and loving others. And sometimes it’s opening your home, disheveled and messed up as it is, and just remembering that you are not alone.

Linking up with Lori Harris today and her first ever Live Small, Love Big linky! <–Click here to read more and join up!

Lies

the creative spirit

As I’m writing this series, most of what I share is what I’m learning. Not things I’ve had a handle on for years or topics that I’ve considered and mulled over for months (or even weeks!)

Today I’m sharing something that has been brewing for a few days but came out this morning.

Yikes.

Like many of you, I listen to lies. Some of the lies I’ve made up myself. Some of them were once-truths that I continue to use to define myself. And some? I don’t know where they came from, but they linger.

And these lies really throw off my creative groove.

This morning, I asked God to show me the lies that I believe about myself. I found myself writing out this lie: I am a bad mother. No one has ever told me this lie. No one has ever even insinuated it. But I listen to it just the same.

Another lie? I am alone. This weekend proved otherwise, but I often forget or ignore others, telling myself that they don’t really care. How could they? So much self-deprecating here, folks.

Anything I do in reaction to this lie that isn’t proclaiming truth? That’s my cover-up. For me, that includes listing all the ways that I fail as a mom each day, believing that I’ll never do any better, and even avoiding my kids so that I don’t mess up their lives.

All of my parenting decisions are based around not being my own definition of a “bad mom” instead of honestly looking at what would be best for my kids or even, Heaven forbid, what God wants for them.

Healthy, yes?

Writing out my “cover-up” helped me to see that the attitudes that I’ve harbored and the ways that I’ve acted that frustrate me have most of their roots in this lie. By outing my lie and my cover-up, I uncovered the truth.

The truth? I mess up, but I apologize for it. I love my girls, so I can’t be a bad mom. And? I will never be everything my girls need or want. Only Christ will, so I point them to Him and rest in Him. Whether or not I “win” at motherhood isn’t the point. The point is that I only, ever, always point to Christ. No matter what parenting methods or mindset I adopt.

Y’all, I can’t even begin to explain how good today has felt. Just admitting these lies has been a huge burden lifted off of my shoulders.

And I want to let you in on a secret. You can be free of the lies too.

You can unmask them and start living in the truth.

You can remember that the One who created you made you for a purpose, for those good works that He prepared for you to do.

Here’s the deal, though. You have to keep reminding yourself of the truth. You have to continue to walk in freedom.

To help you (and me) remember the lies, I drew up this worksheet. And I’m excited to offer it as a PDF download for you! For free!

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Click on the picture above and, if you’d like, you can print it off. I encourage you to pray about what lies you’re believing and then write the first one down. Then pray about the ways that you try to cover up your lie. And then? Let the Spirit show you the truth. The honest-to-goodness truth here. And then? Keep reading over it.

I’m learning that I can’t be very creative if I keep listening to the lies that bog me down. I can’t grasp the rope if I’m afraid of it, either.

And if I truly believe that He created all things, if I believe that He is working all things for my good and His glory, then I can believe that, yes, in this He is being glorified.

For more on The Creative Spirit, click here.