Perfectly Scripted

For one hour each week, everyone in the room had to acknowledge my amazingness. For sixty minutes I lived in celebrity. Elevated and set apart from every other classmate. I was a fourth-grade prodigy. Not of math or music or English, but penmanship.

I was the King of Curves. The Sultan of Script. A veritable Michelangelo of the big fat pencil.

My mastery bought me exemption from those monotonous, mind-numbing exercises of tracing-out row upon row of alphabet soup. While my buddies toiled, their hands cramping from the perplexities of capital ‘Q’ and lower case ‘b’, I sat aloof. Distanced by my special skill, I contentedly surveyed the hoard of scribblers, peacefully counting the minutes until recess.

I remember those moments with satisfaction. An appropriate pride in something I could do well. I felt special, distinct, unique. And those feelings were legitimized through peer review and an authoritative declaration from Mr. Olthoff. I had achieved success!

Now here I sit, thirty-five years later, reliving tales from fourth grade that mean…nothing? The spotlight is gone. My calligraphic skill has atrophied. And the memory of my triumph lives only in the annals of my mind. But those elementary school experiences affect me still. Through those recollected scenes I interact with what’s true and good about me.

I’d like to dwell there.

But juxtaposed against my scripting finesse is a string of disappointments and embarrassments. Frustrations and regrets. Moments of remorse and shame. And a collection of caustic words that cling to me like hot tar.

Is there sense to be made of life’s dichotomy?

In his Institutes, John Calvin said, “…we are impelled by our miseries to reflect on the Lord’s good gifts, and we cannot sincerely yearn for him until we have first begun to cease being pleased with ourselves.”* I would enjoy walking around this day, acknowledged repeatedly for my neat handwriting. To hear from random strangers, “Hey! I’ve heard you can craft a sweet lower case ‘z’!” Instead, reality is a blend of good coffee and dirty diapers. Sunset walks and orthodontics. Birthday parties and chemotherapy.

Why? Because both grace and misery lead us to majesty.

Calvin reminds us that we were made to live for more than accomplishments or accolades. Certainly, it is right to celebrate beautiful handwriting. But such things should be not an end, but touch points that propel us higher, and farther, and deeper into our desire for God. After all, what’s pleasurable about my penmanship is sourced from Who is truly pleasurable. And through enjoyment of Him and his generous gifting we learn to love Him. To trust Him. To give back to Him as we persevere through frustration and sickness, discouragement and tragedy, name-calling and lies.

I’ve never learned so much by not doing schoolwork. Don’t tell my kids…

*John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translation by Robert White, p.1


Shortening shadows.
Lengthening days.

Waking to life,
an arboreal yawn.
Truest colored tendrils —
freshly born.
Joyfully rooted.

An ornithological chorus,
pitch-perfect in cacophonous harmony.
Serene undulations of oratory pleasure,
Nature’s soft call to a new day’s dawn.
Miraculous feathered levity.

Bladed soldiers —
a chlorophyll platoon.
Cut-to-length obsession.
An ever-cool
barefoot temptation.

Coating chins and noses,
a sticky tributary.
Spread-legged postures and seed-sorting tongues.
Striped, watery sweetness.
O happy, heavy fruit!

Sun brewed leaves,
cubed with ice,
captive to moisture wrapped vessels.
Humidity’s antidote —
sweet or not.

Straw hat lady,
smiling at the sun.
Resting in reclined absorption,
relinquishing winter’s pale coat
for human color.

Waves on feet —
a delightful rhythmic torment.
Squawking sand-steps and angry Gull croons.
Gritty snacking.
Crowded solitude.

Alive — again.


Copyright © 2014 Chris De Man. All rights reserved.

Finger-Painted Turkeys

“If I love the Lover, I love what the Lover has made. Perhaps this is the reason why so many Christians feel an unreality in their Christian lives. If I don’t love what the Lover has made – in the area of man, in the area of nature – and really love it because He made it, do I really love the Lover?” 
~ Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man, p.93

It’s on my desk. And the bookshelves – both at home and the office. Some hangs in my workshop. I’ve stuffed pieces in my wallet and tucked remnants in my journal.

What is ‘it’?

Drawings. Paintings. Clay sculptures and handmade cards. Paper-Mache masks and glue-soaked construction paper collages. A thoughtful note. A lumpy figurine. Gestures of grace from my children, my wife, and my friends. Items imbued with the personality and affection of their creator.

A critic’s eye might judge some of it weird. Unbalanced. Random. Kitschy. Disproportionate. Novice. Not good. Who can argue that a multi-colored handprint transformed into a Thanksgiving turkey lacks the technical mastery of Van Gogh or Rembrandt? And that sacred sandwich bag of rug wool I have on display? Even Picasso would raise an eyebrow at such quirkiness.

But I treasure every bit. Such things – artistically right or wrong or strange – are born from love. They are the out-worked expressions of joy and pleasure whose value is granted by their maker.

I have a box full of such expressions. Years of crayon-colored papers, pipe cleaner people, and stationery with handwritten notes that have enhanced relationships and deepened friendships. Simple items that have sealed my heart to a child and fortified my marriage covenant. Tokens that celebrate rich legacies and challenge toward a noble future. Friendship ebenezers. No matter the quality or shape, I love those who have created on my behalf. Their love for me flows through their handmade expressions.

Just like God.

Granite outcroppings and cumulus clouds. Canyon cutting rivers and hot springs. Dandelion seeds. A rolling fog. Frolicking Gold Finches and Sequoia trees. A water strider. A kernel of wheat. The buzzing fly. All joyful expressions of God’s creative pleasure. Gifts to be savored and experienced and enjoyed.

And so are we.

We have worth because our Maker formed us in love. Crafted and shaped with grace and truth, He infused us with identity. His verdict? Good – no, very good!

The lead-in quote to this post challenges me to be a better lover. To seek deep satisfaction in God’s creative mastery. To handle with care and discernment all of His creative progeny. To love Him by loving what He’s made. 

Like my children’s penciled stickmen and water colored rainbows, I treasure the fruit of God’s creativity. I celebrate his animate and inanimate and human handiwork. I honor His work, and love Him better when I celebrate how He’s made me – even with my shortcomings and defects and disproportions and failures. Whether I feel like a messy finger painting or Michelangelo’s David, my value can never be blemished.

 “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the Lord!”
~ Psalm 148 ~

Clothing Optional?

Our September Saturday mornings have been blissful.
Our bliss comes via art classes at a local college. Being the savvy homeschooling mom she is, Katrina enrolled our children (yes, every last one of them) in Saturday morning art classes. So, while our kids get artsy and educated, we practice being empty nesters for two and a half glorious hours.
Our empty nest practice-runs revolve around coffee and conversation. Lately I’m finding myself day-dreaming of Saturday morning. A Costa Rican pour-over for me. A decaf latte for her. A scone to share. Ah, breathe in the peaceful, uninterrupted bliss.
But in the midst of our pleasure came a shocking dose of reality.
Like any school, the walls of the art college our children attend serve as displays. Some walls are pleasantly draped with images of trees, horses, birds and butterflies. Others hold Picasso-like paintings with noses and eyes free-floating amidst brightly colored shapes. One corridor is home to a collection of digital art. Another has pencil and charcoal drawings. There are self portraits, as well as the many variations of the ever popular “bowl of fruit.”
Then there’s the hallway that causes parents with young children to break-out in a cold sweat. You know the one. It has “that” type of “art.” Art with lots of anatomy – and I’m not talking ears.
A couple Saturdays ago we unknowingly wandered down the hallway of “ears.” Like walking into an unseen spider web, we were captured by scenes of the obscene. It took only seconds for naïve little minds to react with giggles, snorts, squeals and gasps. Fingers pointed. Mouths gaped. Eyes widened. Katrina and I moved with the speed of a SWAT team, closing gaped mouths and nudging frozen legs quickly past renderings of “ears” and other bits of anatomy.
We did some quick parental clean-up, dressing wounded psyches and toning-down rapid-fire jokes from our man-children who can’t help themselves. Unfortunately, there we more spider webs waiting.
After class, we took the opportunity to view some artwork that was part of a local competition called ArtPrize. Well, ArtPrize became a Sur-Prise as the very first exhibit had – you guessed it, “ears.” Since we had recently viewed sons of Adam and daughters of Eve sans fig leaves, this encounter was met with more levity than shock. The work we were viewing was compromised of digital images depicting people engaged in everyday activities. In a corner of the montage, there was a man taking a shower. Oh, boy. My son commented, “Well, at least he’s wearing a shower cap.” Small consolation, but I appreciate the optimism.
The parade of “ears” has been a distraction to my Saturday bliss. But in the distraction I’ve been forced to think more about art, innocence, beauty – even my marriage.
I can’t deny the human body is amazing. Attractive. Inspiring. Yet the appeal of our bodies is not permission for lingering looks, boundless exploration or public exposé. The human form is divinely crafted. In the fullness of body and soul it is imaged after God. This origin gifts humanity with intrinsic worth. A sacred quality. And what’s sacred should be honored, respected and protected. Held close and with care. To wantonly unmask the human form robs it of its sacredness. Outside of marriage, the revealed body becomes tragically common. For some, commodity.  
Like our bodies, marriage has a sacred quality. September Saturdays with Katrina have been wonderful because our relationship is divinely bound. Over coffee and a scone we solidify our bond and experience the beauty of marriage as we laugh, listen and share – with clothes on. The mystery of what’s veiled creates a wonderful, binding tension. Nude art breaks that tension with an undignified lifting of the veil. It grabs for something it inherently destroys. It’s an unfortunate expression of misplaced affections.
Perhaps I’m thinking too much about a few pieces of art. But then, maybe not.