The Only Thing Scarier Than a Shattered Dream is a Blank Canvas

Even before the “until death do us part” in my early 20’s, I had begun to draw out the sketch of my life. All 20 year olds do it.

My drawing was done on a beautiful white canvas. I took my permanent black marker and drew out my life with the only man I ever loved. My sketch had a house and a few kids. I was careful not to get too fancy on the house. Not too set on how many kids and not too determined how many would be boys and how many would be girls.

I was sort of proud of my little reality check. I knew problems would arise in this life. But I envisioned that the problems would come from the outside in. Like arrows shooting at us from the outside. I didn’t think it would mess up my sketch. He and I would huddle together, back to back. My black permanent lines would be protected and reinforce our love and commitment, keeping the arrows at bay. Protecting the sketch. Nothing was going to ruin our picture…that I sketched out with a black permanent marker.

I really loved that sketch.

But, within the first four years of the “I do’s”, I was wadding up that sketch and tossing it on the floor. The arrows were indeed coming from within. It felt like I was battling life alone. But I began to draw again.

Technically, the outside of the sketch was still the same. Still done in black permanent marker. Still a house, still a few kids, still married to the love of my youth. But this time, the canvas was a little banged up. Dented in a few corners. “That’s ok,” I finally told myself. “No one will know.”  Keep the basic sketch alive. Still in black permanent ink.

It only took a few more years after that to find myself staring down in horror at my permanent ink marker drawing. It had been scribbled it. It had been desecrated by the one I loved. The scribbles were hard and dark and had ruined my dream – well, at least a big portion of it. Soon, that drawing, too, was wadded up and laying on the floor next to the other one. My sketch was unsalvageable.

Okay. New sketch. So my little life wasn’t turning out like I thought. “This time,” I told myself, “I’m drawing in pencil.”  I still have the house and now the kids. I was trying to hang on to the husband of my high school love and keep him as part of the sketch. Parts of the dream were still alive. But this time, my dreams were “penciled-in”. The 30-something me felt good about that. I thought this was a very, very good plan.

It didn’t take long for that sketch to end up wadded up on the floor next to the others. The crumpled up dreams were making quite a pile around my feet. But I was determined. I was proud of the fact that I was still making out my life sketch with a pencil.

But this time, I had an eraser handy.
Yes, I would be able to erase here and there to adjust to the ups and downs of life. There I was, letting God “lead my life” and “surrendering” every bit of it with the eraser in hand.

And I erased and erased and erased for a very long time. But soon, the scribble was so dark and so heavy and so permanent, I had to crumble it up and toss it to the ground too. It laid there next to the other sketches of the way I thought my life should go.

So much of my sketch had died after the divorce. It took me awhile to get my bearings. But eventually, I lifted my weak and wobbly hand and I started to re-draw the sketch of my little family, my life – with a pencil. The one I had loved was being drawn into the sketch in a new way. But no sooner had I laid my pencil down to draw, he shot a bullet straight through the canvas, committing suicide.

I sat and looked at the crumpled mess of dreams for a long time.

But eventually, I dragged myself up and kicked through the rubble of sketches that lay on the floor. As I unfolded them, I was bewildered. “There was nothing wrong with these dreams,” I tried to comfort myself. They were really good sketches. I could see that I had drawn out a good marriage, stable home life, happy kids.

Where had I gone wrong?

I sat before the white canvas of my life with nothing. No permanent marker, no pencil, no eraser. My hands were mangled and broken. All I had to offer to this new dream – this new sketch – was that I was showing up. That’s it. I just showed up.

Every day. I came to the canvas.
I stared at it for a really long time.
I didn’t know what He wanted me to draw for my life.
And many days, I didn’t care.
Too scared to dream. Too tired to draw.
Besides, what happens if this drawing ends up on the floor like the others?

As I sat there before the white canvas, staring at it’s blank-ness, a few thoughts emerged. Like Pop-Rocks in my mind. Startling, annoying and yet delightful.

  1. He’s got me.
  2. It’s all a mess anyway, so why not let Him draw?
  3. Showing up is a big deal. Keep doing it.
  4. The only thing scarier than losing your dreams, is a blank canvas.
  5. Letting someone else draw is what you do when you don’t know what else to do.

And maybe that’s where the miracle happened.

As I stared at the blank canvas, He began to paint. Not draw. He painted.

At first, I didn’t like it. He showed me hurts and wounds from the past. I realized He had remembered and will remember more than I ever did.

He continued to paint, and I saw that He was with me through every tear, every hurt, every piece of me that felt like it was dying over all those years of re-drawing. Every day of confusion, every day alone.

As He continued to work, I saw something that none of my other sketches had:  Color.
My life had color! So different than the black sharpie drawings of my 20’s and definitely better than the pencil sketches with all their erasure marks. He began to layer on top of the black days and added such amazing hues that it popped against the dark background of the past.

Wow. This white canvas was coming alive! I could see mistakes and wounds and hurts, but against all that were blessings and stories with “luck” and “out-of-no-where” and “ironically enough” and “turns out” and “amazingly…”. I started to fall in love with His painting.

There’s a few things I drew in my 20’s that were still there. Pieces of the original dream that have always remained a part of every sketch. Two sons. And although they were innocent victims of the scribbled mess and torn canvas of my life, God fought hard for that dream of mine to survive. He got the three of us through some really rough waters, and healed them when they were sick. I don’t know why that part of the dream was allowed to survive and other parts were not. But I’m glad they did. Maybe I treasure them more because I know how fragile a dream can be.

Every day I show up and watch Him paint on my white canvas. It’s hard not to want to draw myself.  And sometimes I just can’t help it. I grab the paintbrush and start my own thing. I’m not a very good artist, though. Sometimes my best is barely adequate. It’s certainly nothing compared to the skill in which He paints.

I don’t regret that I sketched out my dreams when I was 20. Where would we be if we didn’t sketch something? What would life look like if we never dreamed and re-dreamed? We would have nothing to fight for. Nothing to aspire to. I admire people who dream big, pray big and risk big. And I’m thrilled and sorta jealous when the dreamin’, riskin’ and prayin’ pays off.

But my painting didn’t work that way. Turns out, His painting of my life is better than I could have ever imagined. Harder than I could ever imagined, but more beautiful. I’m starting to see less of me in the painting and more of Him. Less of my own dreams, less heartache and more brilliance.

I’m a lousy artist, but I think He’s painting a masterpiece.



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