The Grace of Daily Obligations

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Simple pencil sketches became charcoal drawings. From charcoal, the media evolved to pastels. But watercolor emerged as her true love. While juggling time with her kids, full-time work, widowhood, and financial uncertainty, she'd find time to take a random class in various watercolor techniques. She would never be a money-making artist, but her love of fine arts was a passionate avocation.

She eked out space for a studio of sorts, first in a garage, later in a utility room, but art supplies and old lawnmowers and ironing boards aren't the best of roommates. Finally, in her sixties, fully retired and remarried, she had time and space for her own studio in a corner in her new husband's tool shop.

"I have all my supplies in one place!" she told her daughter, with a voice bordering on giddy. "I don't have to put everything away each time I want to paint!"

This was her time. Time to explore the artist within, the creativity sidelined while she devoted her sixty-plus years to family, church, work, and friends.

At her daughter's suggestion, she bought the book, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, began taking "play dates" as prescribed in the book, each time reporting in to her daughter on what she had done with her creative excursions.

But a lifetime practice of devotion to duty—what author Renita Weems calls "performing the routine, unspectacular acts of trying to serve faithfully those you love"—is not readily or easily changed.

The new family into which she married came as a package deal: three grown daughters, seventeen grandchildren, and a growing number of great-grandchildren. Old habits die hard. Phone calls to her daughter gradually became news briefings of grandchildren and great-grandbabies. She gave fewer and fewer reports about art classes and outings to museums and time spent in her studio. Once again, she found herself enmeshed in nurturing and caring, giving generously of her love. Time in her studio dipping paint into washes of color became a rare extravagance, not part of the ordinary rhythm of her life. Instead, she made picnics fun, even when it rained. She offered encouragement to everyone, even the likes of Scrooge.

Some writers call the distractions and interruptions that crowd our best intentions the "tyranny of the urgent." Some advocate setting boundaries, claiming our right to pursue our dreams. But others have called that inner tug-of-war "the grace of daily obligation," wisely recognizing that we experience God in the day-to-day stuff of life. This woman could do nothing less than fling her arms open wide and receive the opportunity to love and care.

The longing to bring life to color on paper never diminished, though her health did. Widowed once again, she began to face the expanding limitations that come with age. Privately, she lamented the familiar tug-of-war between the longing to paint and the constant challenge to find time and energy to do so.

Against the backdrop of failing health, she confided to her daughter the deep disappointment of so little time given to her painting. The daughter shared her tears, then quietly spoke.

"Mother, but you did paint. The people you loved were the colors you chose and we are the shape, color, and texture of the landscape of your life. We are your living watercolor."

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