Wet on Wet

Blotches that became trees, with my formation class in mind.

Blotches that became trees, with my formation class in mind.

I don’t actually paint. But in an effort to spend time with women from other cultures in my painfully mono-cultural Kentucky life, I’ve joined a painting class on Thursday mornings at a large gathering for international women. It was there, a few weeks ago, that I was introduced to painting “wet on wet.” Using water colors and thick, absorbent water color paper, we splashed colors all over and watched them have their way. They bled and smeared and spiraled out of control. We watched and waited. We grew bored and turned our attention to another project while we waited. The paint dried and suddenly we were faced with the real creative work: how to turn these splotches of color into a picture?

Most of us mimicked nature, offering the sincerest flattery to the One who creates beauty from ashes through our imitation. These unremarkable spots of color are transformed—sometimes beautifully and sometimes not—into flowers and trees and landscapes. After some effort, a picture is revealed in more wholeness, a kind of Rorschach transformation of art.

It reminds me of what I’ve learned through the women (and Steve, our lone man) and the readings of my formation class. Not a single one of us knew what we were going to get in this life. We were born into a situation we did not control, not one little bit. We didn’t choose our family or our looks or our generation or our birthplace. That none of us were born on the steppes of Mongolia in the 7th century is only this: God’s gracious choice for us. For others, the steppes of Mongolia were exactly what he graciously chose.

Life unfolded. We grew up. Many of us married. Who knew how it would all turn out? The longer I am married, the less responsible I feel for choosing a man of solid character. I have friends who were divorced within a few years, surprised that a man who showed no signs of it previously was abusive or adulterous or both. We birthed children; we waited for the adoption referral. We chose colleges and careers and spouses and geographies. We chose well. At other times, we didn’t. And life began to resemble those blotches of color—beautiful, confusing, bleeding and spiraling out of control. What would we make of it?

Formation gives me, and us, the space and the vocabulary to begin making art with our lives. In the same way I learned what “wet on wet” meant a few Thursdays ago, I learn from the writers and the leaders and the communities of formation in which I engage how to make beauty out of that which I do not control. On Tuesday evenings, I gather around a table of people who are full of humor and thoughtfulness. Women who are transparent and aware and innocent. People without guile and people full of hope and people who are flourishing. I gain courage as I watch them live and learn the art of grace. I find inner gentleness, a listening heart, an attention to my Creator as I dwell on their lives and their sincerity around the table. They show me how to live wet on wet and create beauty when I can only see blotches.

A Bosch Mixer

I have wanted a Bosch mixer for nearly ten years. These are the Ferraris of kitchen mixers, a bread baker’s delight. These are not for cookies and the occasional loaf of mainly white flour bread. These machines are work horses, the oxen of the whole grain bread-making world (and yes, that world does indeed exist). The problem is not that they are 110 volts and I often find myself living in a world of 220 volts. The problem isn’t that one would take up too much room in my luggage allotment. I hand carried a twenty-two pound grain mill over eight time zones in order to mill my own flour. I love baking bread that much, so I would find a way to get the Bosch mixer wherever I go. The problem is the $400 price tag.

One Christmas, my dearly loved husband gave me enough cash he had squirreled away in his wallet over months to buy me a mixer and then some. I paid the car insurance ahead of schedule. He occasionally instructs me to buy one from a small savings account we have. I can’t. I fret over money although God has clearly shown me in actual experience than He can feed me without my anxiety fueling the provision. Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and neither is wringing their hands fretfully over me.

This season, the longing for a Bosch mixer has awakened from its nap. I have a tab open on my computer that I look at every few days, the order form from a company I trust that sells Bosch mixers. I was nearly ready to put on in my cart and then I decided it is very definitely not a need but a want. I feel encumbered by living with too many wants fulfilled and fear that I could shipwreck the calling I know I have. So I just look at the website and dream about what it would be like to have a Bosch mixer instead of two hands to knead bread. And pizza dough. And so many other things my heart desires.

I was praying about this desire. It seemed silly but it kept bubbling up, so the feet of Jesus seemed like the right place to leave it. I prayed, “God, I would need a $500 check with “Bosch mixer” in the memo to believe that you are offering this gift to me. Otherwise, I’m sticking with my hands to knead bread.” I figured that I had give God an impossible challenge; I would remain Bosch-less.

My husband and I were traveling down I-75 South, home to Kentucky after Thanksgiving weekend at my in-law’s. A text beeped through; I looked down. My mother-in-law texted, “Grammie Pauline is sending you guys $500…especially for the kids.” I told my husband and laughed, more like Sarah than Abraham. I reminded him that God would have to send me $500 ear-marked for a Bosch mixer, not the kids. He, of course, wanted me to buy a Bosch mixer. This prayer of belief married to unbelief surged forth: “You wouldn’t really give me this, would you, Lord? Not when $500 could go so far in helping someone else. Not when $500 could go so far in meeting our bills. No…” I didn’t really expect an answer.

At the moment my eye was caught by a beautifully painted barn. I even craned my neck around to see the other side as we flew past. The far side was white-washed, with a large red rectangle calling attention to words that made me laugh again, this time more like Abraham. “The Father loves you.”

Indeed. He loves me. Right now, he loves me without a Bosch mixer. One day, He might love me with one. I will not be surprised if my husband manages to stash away money again; this time, I might let him grace me with a gift he longs to give to me. I might let go enough to receive grace which would be a better gift even than a Bosch mixer.