Have you ever wondered what you were like as a small child? I have many memories of my childhood as I’m sure you do. I remember swinging on swings, playing house with my sister and friends, and wandering around my grandparents Iowa farm. But, sometimes I’m curious if I naturally had a certain bent - specific activities I always returned to.
Last week my first child turned thirteen. When she was little, someone gave me an idea to keep a journal as a way to remember. We wrote down her favorites, cute things she’d say and do, and milestones. And then about twice a year, my husband and I would write letters to her, telling her what we see in her and what we see the Lord doing in her life. As she read aloud certain passages to us, I recognized reoccurring stories and themes in her life. She seemed to take every opportunity to imagine a story and act it out from quotidian scenes from home to momentous occasions such as weddings. From the age of two, my daughter began to call us to gather as she led us in worship or gave a sermon. Now at thirteen, she’s writing books and reading them aloud to us, leading worship for children at church, and performing in musical theater shows. As I look back, is some ways it seems obvious that she would continue to do the things she’s always gravitated to.
And yet, these God-given gifts are to be cultivated. That’s (partly) what parents are for. I was reminded of this by a wonderful recent post from Clay Clarkson, called ‘Imaginations Should be Exercised’. Clay writes how reading a particular biography as a family helped them to recognize the qualities which mark each person uniquely, and how the right people and environment can draw out these gifts.
Marguerite Henry’s delightful story of how Benjamin West’s God-given talent sprouted, blossomed, and grew naturally like a wild flower in the forest is told with historical details and dialects, and with great human insight. What enriches this story is not only the progress of Benjamin’s art and how he felt about it, but also the softening of his strict but loving Papa, the encouragement of his quietly supportive Mamma, and the help of his connected uncle Phineas. There is a tenderness and joy in the telling that will warm your family’s heart with the picture of a very different, but still the same, eighteenth century family’s love for their artistically gifted child.
What captured our imaginations in the reading of this story was the true part about Benjamin’s artistic skills and motivation. They were clearly gifts from God, not the result (in modern lingo) of behavioral or environmental conditioning. He did not come to the world as a tabula rasa, a blank slate; rather, he came as a tabula scriptum, with markings on the slate. The finger of God had already written “artist” in Benjamin’s mind and spirit. And isn’t that, in part, what it means that we bear God’s image? We share markings in our person-ness from the Creator and creative God. “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). The story of Benjamin West is a quiet, Quaker testimony to the work of God’s hands in our lives.
As a mom, it’s easy to get distracted, to be more in tune with my own life than the budding lives of our children. It takes considerable intentionality on my part to pray and to be attentive to her life. It also means being willing to re-evaluate-- multiple times a year-- the activities and ministries she commits to, asking the Lord what He has for her this season. These are decisions my husband and I discern together with her. There are times when a blossoming plant needs more sunshine, other times when it needs shade; times when it needs watering and times when it needs heat. We can never put parenting in cruise control mode; there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ plan for our children and the cultivation of their gifts. At least, not for our wild and wonderful four!