Ink, Watercolor, Oil, & Acrylic

Scripture

Run the Race

Run the Race web

copyright 2017 Mollie Bozarth

I am not a runner. In order to get me to run, you have to put a basketball in my hands or a soccer ball at my feet. Then I’ll clock miles up and down court (or the field) without realizing that I’m actually running.

But I know plenty of runners – have cheered on students as they pace through cross-country and track meets; have cheered friends while they push to the finish line in the Chicago marathon; have graciously/carefully avoided hitting runners with my car when die-hards are jogging along our local highways. In my vast experience of watching other people run, here’s what I’ve observed about true runners:

  • they’re in the race to pursue their own best time
  • it’s often more about finishing the race than winning it
  • something in them loves to run and finds the discipline invigorating
  • they strip down to the essentials, neither carrying nor wearing anything that drags them down
  • true runners don’t cut corners or cheat the race marked out for them
  • their focus is forward – not looking back, or stopping to gaze around them, nor looking down
  • when a race gets tough, crowds cheering from the sidelines can give the boost needed to persevere to the end
  • worn out running shoes can be a trophy in themselves, proof of miles well-run

I’ve no idea whether the writer of Hebrews was a runner. But he must have understood something about the discipline, because his analogy 2,000 years ago is still spot-on today. As Christians, we are called to be true runners, to never give up on the race marked out for us. Whether the path God takes us through is desert, rocky terrain, green pastures, or narrow valleys, He’s placed markers along the way to keep us on track. Often times, these are the guidelines laid out in His Word. They may also be the convicting prodding of the Holy Spirit or words of affirmation and/or correction and accountability from family and friends. In the verses following (Hebrews 12:6), the writer quotes Proverbs 3:11,12 saying: “do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves.” In other words, the race markers and corrections we encounter aren’t meant to frustrate or depress us, nor are they meant to be ignored. They are there because we are loved by the God who sees a bigger landscape than we can comprehend…a God who desires to guide us around pitfalls more dangerous than we’d realize.

When I first read Hebrews 12, I pictured familiar faces of friends as the “cloud of witnesses” cheering me on. Those faces certainly are part of the crowd. However, the first verse actually starts with “Therefore” – pointing back to chapter 11, which recounts the lives of several Old Testament men and women. It’s generation upon generation of people who lived by faith and persevered to the end of their race. We aren’t simply cheered on by people like me (people who don’t mind watching a good race but prefer to avoid running whenever possible). We’re cheered on by thousands who endured muscle cramps and shin splints, yet refused to give up. Why did they refuse to give up?…was it sheer stubborn determination, or foolish pride that kept them going? The first verse of chapter 11 tells us why: they refused to give up because they were “sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they could not see.” Having reached their finish-line and found more joy than they could have imagined, they now cheer us on. With those voices shouting encouragement, we can be inspired to strip off everything that slows us down, and keep our eyes on Christ. We can let go of baggage from our past, not looking back. We can ignore temptations around us, not stopping to gaze at the world’s distractions or leave the path to roam “greener pastures”. We can look up at the Son who ran his own race and came out victorious, instead of gazing down at gravel beneath our feet.

Today’s painting was inspired by a young man (Joel) who loves to run. I had the privilege of being one of his middle-school youth leaders many years ago. Then, as he grew up and headed off to college,  he came back as a volunteer leader for the same youth group he’d grown up in. Now the race marked out is taking him in an unexpected direction. Feeling a prodding to leave the corporate world, he has started to apply for youth ministry positions. While this is a career shift, it’s not one that surprises those who know him. His knack for teaching, heart for ministry, and rapport with students have been evident for many years. One of the most memorable lessons Joel taught on a Sunday evening included his running shoes. Holding up a pair of worn out sneakers, he told us about all the miles he’d spent talking to God, worshipping, asking questions, listening…just being in relationship with his Heavenly Father. I’ve seen so many of our kids look up to Joel. They see his steady obedience, sense of humor, love and honor. They hear his honesty about ups and downs, struggles and faith and the overwhelming faithfulness of God. Joel doesn’t simply “talk the talk;” he runs the race. And, he’s one of the cloud of witnesses cheering on other runners, saying: “Don’t give up! Keep your eyes on Christ!” I pray he continues to run his race with perseverance, all the way to the finish line. And, I hope he always hears others’ voices around him, encouraging him to look up and finish strong.

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Total Praise

Total Praise web

copyright 2017 Mollie Bozarth

Why do we lift our hands? In concerts, people will raise up a hand or two, waving along to the music. Several decades ago, that waving hand might have held a lit lighter. Now, people have the flame app, and will wave their raised phone in sync to the band. At sports games, whole crowds will lift their hands in an undulating wave, cheering their team to victory or simply enjoying the collective experience. At theme parks, those same arms are raised in excitement, with hollers or screams, as the roller coaster zips down hills and around curves. In a classroom setting, we raise our hand to be acknowledged because we want to be heard. In the wild west, you’d hear the command, “Stick ’em up!” and you’d raise those hands immediately in submission, for the sparing of your life. The very tradition of waving hello comes from ancient times when you wanted to show a friend (or stranger) that you weren’t holding weapons when you came to greet them…you came in peace.  A child will run to its parent with arms lifted, saying, “Hold me!” The parent swings that baby up into their arms to protect or cuddle or hug. Praise, excitement, acknowledgement, cheering, submission, peace, greeting, desiring comfort – this is why we lift our hands.

The world lifts their hands on a daily basis, for all of these reasons. Yet, I often hear non-Christians say, “That Christian thing of raising your hands in worship is so weird. I don’t get it. You’d never catch me doing that.” Well, all of those reasons listed above are why we Christians lift our hands. We lift them in praise and excitement, cheering for a God who is able to do more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). We lift them in greeting, telling God we come seeking peace between ourselves and Him – especially when we know we’ve done wrong (Psalm 51). We lift our arms like a small child, needing to be held by our Heavenly Father (Psalm 103:13-14; Psalm 46:1-3). And, yes, we lift them in submission – not to a gunman who seeks to harm us, but to the Almighty who knows the best and worst of us and loves us anyway (Psalm 139; Isaiah 55).

A week or so ago, I was at a high school vocal concert featuring an ensemble known for performing gospel music, as well as music from other countries/cultures. They sang a song entitled Total Praise. This song happens to be a favorite of mine! I first sang it in the late 1990s in a vocal ensemble I was part of in college. It’s one of those songs where the harmonies are so tight, and the flats and sharps so difficult, that once you learn them you never forget them. So, I found myself singing along with the high school choir last week. The song lyrics are based off of several themes from the book of Psalms. But the first few lines come directly from Psalm 121:1-2 – “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Musically, the notes rise, as though walking up steps, through that entire first line. I’m guessing this is partly because Psalm 121 is known as a Song of AscentsIn Jewish tradition, it would be sung by the people as they made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, up the steps of the temple, on their way to worship. Minor harmonies interplay in the line, “knowing my help is coming from you.” Then, the voices crescendo triumphantly through the line, “Your peace you give me in time of the storm.” And that word storm is an apex – a moment of dissonance, sung full-voice. Unless you’re very familiar with choral music, it’s tough to describe. But, listen to the link below, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I’ve tried to mimic some of those lifts and harmonies in the visual aspect of the illustration.

This painting is inspired by Elena – one of the young ladies who performed the song Total Praise at the concert I mentioned earlier. She happens to be not only a kid I teach at school, but also someone who helps lead worship at our church youth group each week. Elena relates best to scripture by creating amazing word art of the verses we discuss in youth group on any given Sunday night. She’ll make designs using markers on scraps of paper, emphasizing words or themes through color, style, and font size. Sometimes she’ll create 2 or 3 of these in one evening. After watching her perform, I thought it would be fun to do my own word art with the lyrics from the song. Because Elena likes symmetry, I’ve tried to create a sense of visual symmetry in the artwork, balancing colors and weight of words/shapes throughout the design. The Amens tumbling about at the bottom of the page represent a vocal layering of Amens that build upon each other at the end of the performance. You’ll hear them if you follow the link and listen. There are many versions available on YouTube. I’ve included 2 here for you to choose from. The first one is a goofy group of guys, but once they start singing a cappella, you hear all the tight harmonies I love. The second is a true gospel choir with drums and piano mixed in. Either way, they point you to the God who is worth lifting our hands to in total praise, trust, and submission.


Time-Lapse Nativity

nativity-screen-shot-web

copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

To view the video, click here.

A couple weeks ago I had an opportunity to do something I’ve never tried before: a time-lapse video of painting! I’ve seen videos of sand art that morphs and changes from one scene to the next. I wanted to try that with a series of 3-4 scenes, painted in acrylics. I chose acrylic because it dries quickly. Once finished filming one scene, I could move right on to the next, painting directly overtop of the first scene. When the project was complete, only 1 painting would exist…the other 3 scenes being buried in layers of paint. This concept intrigued me as an artist. Artists usually create with the intent of longevity. It’s rather freeing to paint something that will only exist for 2 minutes. In fact, the snapshot shown above is only a screen-shot of the paused video. I took only footage (no photos) of each completed piece. Thus, this artwork is all about the process and the story that unfolds from scene to scene.

nativity-sketch

Though nothing was sketched out on canvas (I did what we artists call “drawing with a brush”), the process began with an evening of brainstorming and sketching. Looking at reference images from online, I chose 4 traditional nativity scenes and planned the layouts in pencil on computer paper. These pencil sketches were placed in front of me while painting, as a guideline for proportions. A friend helped me set up lights for filming. We used my camera, set on a tripod in front of my workspace. The footage is actually filmed upside-down and flipped during the editing process. This allowed a straight camera shot without trying to film over my shoulder or above my head. The scenes are simple, with stylized characters, partly for the sake of time and partly for the sake of children who would be in the audience. Color was also simplified down to monochromatic blues, white, greys. You’ll see me adjust to a brighter blue or darker grey as I’m painting characters, always working toward a balance of light-on-dark or dark-on-light. This way, forms and details stand out against the surrounding colors.

This project was done for my church’s Christmas choir presentation. Our worship leader planned a Chris Tomlin song (Noel, performed by Lauren Daigle) as the background music. Though I’d heard it on the radio before, I hadn’t noticed the lyrics until now. The 2nd verse says:

Son of God and Son of man
There before the world began
Born to suffer, born to save
Born to raise us from the grave
Christ the everlasting Lord
He shall reign forevermore

Noel, Noel
Come and see what God has done
Noel, Noel
The story of amazing love!
The light of the world, given for us
Noel

Personally, I’ve often pictured in my mind that transition from Creator to creation. Few books or songs talk about it. Christ was there with God, helping to create stars and moon and earth. Now, he slips into fragile human skin: sleepy eyes, tiny toes, and wholly relying on human parents. Meanwhile, his Father sets a new star in the heavens to proclaim the royal birth. “Noel” is from the French for natal – literally: birth. “Born to suffer, born to save” – you’ll see a momentary foreshadowing of this in the final manger scene, though I wasn’t thinking of the song’s lyrics when I painted it. Here, I’ll give a shout out to Jose, who edited footage for me: cropping, adjusting exposure, and timing it all to the music. Watching this video, I hope you’ll enjoy the transformation from scene to scene. More than that, I hope you’ll enjoy the story as a whole: a story woven from before time, when the “light of the world” first made plans to come to earth.


Beauty in Restoration

hope-chest

I paused my Portraits of Scotland series the past few weeks while I’ve been working on projects around my house. Having an October that feels like September inspired me to open my garage door and set up shop where I could see sunshine and breathe fresh air! This resulted in two woodworking projects – one still in process, and another the completion of a mammoth task I began years ago.

When my great-grandmother passed away in 2008, I inherited her hope chest. The piece was practically a white elephant. As HGTV would say, it had “good bones.” However, those bones were hidden beneath layers of cream and brown paint, plywood veneer, and contact paper. Yes, contact paper! Apparently, my great-grandfather went through a phase in the 1960s or 70s where he covered everything in brown wood grain contact paper. Whether this was to “protect it” or to make a fashion statement by “updating” the look, I will never know…maybe we’ll have that conversation when I see him in Heaven some day. He also glued a plywood veneer to the top, seemingly to protect the nicer wood beneath. Looking back, I wish I’d taken photos of what it looked like then. I’ve asked family members whether they have any old photos, but no luck so far. The contact paper peeled off easily, leaving several layers of paint to strip. With an orange gel stripper, paint gave way to something that looked more hopeful. Wood grain peeked out from the shell that had encased it for decades. As I sanded down the veneer top, the glue beneath loosened. Thankfully, that veneer came off without damaging what was below. The top left photo you see above is what was below! After weeks of work, now came an even tougher task – the nooks and crannies. I was on my stomach with a toothbrush, toothpicks, and a tiny flat-head screw driver, working cream paint out of old scratches, dents, and joints in the wood’s surface. By now restoring the white elephant had become a labor of love. I knew every inch of that hope chest by the time I’d finished stripping it.

Two more years passed while the chest sat in my garage, looking thirsty and neglected, awaiting the final stages of restoration. Its potential had been revealed. Now came time for an artist to bring it back to life. Mineral spirits cleaned every surface, showing the depth of the natural grain. I chose a gunstock stain for the first coat, bringing a reddish-brown tone to the wood. Then I accented the legs and edges with an ebony stain, deepening almost to black. Finally, I sealed it all with beeswax, rubbing in two coats and buffing to make it shine. The finished piece has a home at the end of my bed, where I can see it and enjoy using it each day.

Restoring this hope chest reminded me of our own need for restoration. Each of us have layers of paint and grime that build up over the years. We become thick-skinned to protect ourselves from harsh realities we’ve experienced. We put on a veneer facade, like a face mask, showing the world only what we’d care for them to see. The potential for true beauty is there, lying just below the surface. But we’re hesitant to expose that potential to the elements. Perhaps we even robe ourselves in wood grain contact paper, trying to keep up with the cultural fashion of the times. If nothing else comes of this, at least our scratches and dings have been covered, hiding hurts and weaknesses. By the end of it all, we’re a mess. So, we sit, wondering whether anything can undo all that’s been done to us, or undo all the choices we’ve made. We cry out silently for an artist, a craftsman to come. We long for One who sees beyond our surface to the beautiful beneath. We hope for One who loves us enough to tackle the hours/weeks/years of restorative labor. Part of us hopes he’ll be able to relate to our wounds and scars…because, (perhaps) if he can relate to them, he’ll understand rather than despise them.

As we head into Thanksgiving and the advent season, I’d like to encourage you that there is One who came into the world just for that purpose. He came as an infant, in vulnerable beauty (Luke 2:1-20). He grew up in the same world we live in, with its harsh realities and ever-changing cultural times (Luke 2:41-52). He stayed true to his purpose, unafraid of harsh words or biting accusations. He never hid behind facades, though he often stripped away (sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully) the facades of those around him (John 4; Matthew 23:27). Finally, he carried scars (our scars) to the grave. All the dings and dents, failures and festering wounds went with him to Sheol. But the grave could not hold him down. He rose in beauty, fully restored (John 20:1-18). Like my hope chest, he is known by his scars (Revelation 5:6). But his aren’t scars of sin. They’re scars of a love so deep it would sacrifice itself for the sake of restoring a broken world.


Deep Waters

deep-waters-web

copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

Says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine! When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, you will not drown…For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.” ~ Isaiah 43:1-3

This painting and post are for Ava – an 8-year-old little girl and her family who have been trudging the deep waters of cancer. I cannot fathom what they are going through. Yet, though I only know them through a mutual friend, their story and faith have brought me to tears and put me on my knees in prayer continually over the past several months. I won’t try here to retell their story. Instead, I encourage you to read it yourselves. Ava’s mom has chronicled much of it through a Facebook page called Team Brighter Days.

Many of us know children or loved-ones who have faced debilitating illness. As we walk with them through the impossibly hard days/weeks/years, we fear drowning…drowning in sorrow, anger, exhaustion. Hope can either die or become a rock to cling to in those times. There is no training manual that prepares parents for talking with their children about the possibility of death. Ava has already had those conversations with her parents. More than most children her age, she understands that this world is not her ultimate home. And, while she continues to fight for her life, she also manages to sing the lyrics to one of her favorite songs: “You can have all this world. Give me Jesus.” While we plead with God to touch her cells, heal each one, and allow her many more years on this earth, we also pray that she and her family feel His arms carrying them in the midst of this.

No matter our walk, be it easy or heavy, we all need a savior who will walk beside us, able to relate to what we’re going through. One of the last words I painted in this illustration was the word “with”. As I filled in the letters with a flesh-tone brown, the name Immanuel, which means God with us, came to mind. God came in the flesh to be one of us. When Jesus was 8 days old, a man named Simeon took the baby in his arms, spoke of what his life would one day be, and said to Jesus’ mother, Mary: “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:21-35) What words to give to a new mother! I’m sure those words came back during the week of Christ’s crucifixion. Beaten, mocked, stripped, and hung on a tree, her boy (age 33 now) would have been barely recognizable. He had the power to heal, walk on water, raise people from the dead – yet he allowed himself to be overcome by death. Did Mary understand that death could only hold him down for 3 days? I think many mothers can relate to Mary, guessing that she wrestled with warring emotions of hope and despair. Michelangelo, in his sculpture Pieta, depicts Mary holding herpieta son after his body’s been retrieved from the cross. While Jesus’ body seems limp and lifeless, his calf-muscle is tense in the sculpture. Michelangelo, who dissected cadavers and knew muscle tone better than any painter or sculptor of his time, would not have accidently carved that muscle in a flexed/tense position. I believe (as others do) that he used it as a foreshadowing of the resurrection. Yes, Mary’s son was dead. But death could not hold him down. He would soon declare permanent victory over the grave. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

The man Jesus who walked on water, who walked through Hell, and defeated death itself, now walks with us through the deepest waters. Rivers cannot overwhelm us. The grave cannot swallow us. Because when we lack the strength to stand, he carries us. And when we’ve lost even the will to hold on, he won’t let us go.


For the Grads – Sparrows

Sparrows web

copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

The time has come to say goodbye to my 2016 grads. Yes, their graduation was months ago. But this is the week when most of them head off to new states, new adventures, new “freedom,” and new pursuits. Some have already filled their parents’ living room with Rubbermaid storage bins, bedding, perhaps a borrowed mini-fridge. Others have procrastinated (a skill they honed throughout high school) and will pack the day before they leave. Having written a blog post last year For the Grads, I decided to write a post for this year’s group as well. This was a tough class to say goodbye to! Some I’ve known since they were in elementary school…eager, bouncy personalities whose older siblings were in our church youth group at the time. Some I taught in public school for both 6th-grade and various high school art courses. Others I’ve coached, mentored, sponsored in school clubs, helped with portfolios and letters of rec, or all of the above. One of my students once told me she could never be a teacher because it would be too hard to say goodbye to the kids you care about each year. She was right. That aspect of teaching can be bittersweet. But, having poured into these kids for several years, it would be pointless to hold them back when the time comes to let them go.

Appropriately enough, the verse in the painting above comes from a passage where Jesus is sending out his “grads”. The 12 disciples have been following Jesus, listening to him teach, watching him do astounding miracles, praying with him, eating, traveling, hanging out with him. He has been their mentor and they’ve looked up to his example. Now it’s time to apply what they’ve learned. It’s time to step out in faith, leave their comfort-zone, share the gifts they’ve been given. Like a school principal’s address to the student body at a graduation ceremony, Jesus packs words of wisdom and advice into the paragraphs of Matthew 10. But unlike the principal (who tends to paint a gleaming picture of glorious futures for his grads), Jesus knows that his disciples are being sent out into a difficult unknown. People and towns may welcome them. However, many will persecute them for their faith. The reality is that in years to come most of those 12 disciples will be killed for following Christ, even to the point of being hung on a cross as their mentor himself was crucified.

Thankfully, none (or few) of my grads will face the persecution and hardships that Jesus’ disciples faced. They’re headed to reasonably safe college campuses, pursuing structured career-paths. They’ll return home every 4-6 weeks carrying a bag the size of Santa’s sack, bulging with dirty laundry. They’ll meet new people who expand their understanding of life and the world we live in. They’ll make friends – some who will be there for them for a few months and others who will be there for them for the rest of their lives. If wise, they’ll avoid pitfalls and temptations that can come with their newfound freedom. Or they’ll make mistakes and grow from those mistakes. The most important thing I hope my grads will take from the Matthew 10 passage is that the God who knows them intimately goes with them on this new journey…”Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

God’s sovereignty is one of those big churchy concepts I can’t fully do justice to here. But the line, “not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father,” hints at that concept of sovereignty. Claude Monet puts it into perspective when he says: “Your mistake is to want to reduce the world to your own scale, whereas with a greater understanding of things you would find a greater understanding of yourselves.” We get so caught up in the immediacy of our circumstances, that we forget to zoom out and see the bigger picture. God, being outside of time and outside of space, is able to orchestrate both macro and micro details in our lives and world. Micro: He has constant track of the number of hairs on our head; knows where our keys are when we lose them; knows our thoughts/fears/joys before we speak of them; can even rearrange the cells in our body should He so choose. Macro: He knows who will come into power and who will be dethroned; allows both the beauty of a sunrise and the destruction of a tidal wave; is at work in the joys of birth and the sorrows of death. He does not want us to live in fear, driven by anxiety because of the uncertainty of our circumstances (Isaiah 41:10). When we let fear dictate our actions we are forgetting the depth of our God’s love for us. He sees a bigger picture than what we can comprehend! And, knowing our need, He is proactive. He does not leave us to fend for ourselves but sent His son to rescue us from the brokenness of a fallen world. “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) As Jesus sent his “grads” on their way, he spoke as a friend who would give his very life for them. His words, “you are worth more than many sparrows,” were meant to remind them of that love. The better we understand his steadfast love, the better we understand ourselves and our place in this world.

About the artwork:

This painting was a graduation gift for a young lady who loves math. Her favorite “colors” are black and white. According to her mom, the only place she’d use bright colors was in her math notebook at school. A rainbow of pens brought those notebook pages to life. When I mentored her several years ago we’d play a dice game called Farkle. I’d sit with pen and paper, struggling to add up the score while she’d do the complicated sums in her head and tell me instantly. I’d laugh and say, “Why am I keeping score when you can do it all in your head!?” The Matthew 10 design was one of my favorites to create because it brought back many sweet memories. It also posed a fun challenge for me: to design a space using numbers as the focal point, with limited color palette. The sparrows are based off photos of sparrows, but simplified down to as few lines as possible. Since most of my work is photo realistic, I enjoyed the graphic-design aspect of this illustration. To throw an art term out there, the color scheme is what we’d call an accented neutral. Meaning: black, white, and brown are the main colors with a splash of aqua to accent them.


Portraits of Scotland – Near Neighbors

Sheep web

copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

When you’re in the highlands, you may live in a village with houses clustered together, or your home may be tucked into a hillside at the end of a cart-track. Whichever the case, your nearest neighbors are bound to be hundreds of sheep. These neighbors can be found gamboling down the road next to (or in front of) your car. They camouflage with boulders on the hillsides, making you think: “I could have sworn that was a rock, but it just moved!” In rain or sun, high wind or gentle breeze, they seem to be forever grazing, head down, munching and roaming and munching again. If no sheep is within view at the moment, just listen. You’ll hear the “maaa” carrying across from a loch or hill behind you. After visiting the highlands, I now understand why streets in Edinburgh are lined with shops advertising Harris Tweed, lamb’s wool scarves, cashmere sweaters, and haggis. In a land of rocks, boulders, and turf (where even houses, walls, and barns are built from those very materials) farming sheep is both a way of life and a necessity.

Having grown up in the church, I’ve long been familiar with passages comparing humanity to sheep. Jesus grew up in a land like Scotland, with rough, rocky terrain well-suited to sheep-farming. I grew up in the wilds of Naperville, where soybeans and sod farms are pushed aside by shopping centers. Sheep are scarce, if non-existent. If you pause and listen, you’ll hear the rumble of a semi-truck, not the bleating of lambs. So, while Jesus’ listeners could easily relate to his parables about sheep, I’ve had to use my imagination. Visiting the highlands has breathed fresh life into the realities of his comparison.

This Sunday my family visited a church in Carloway (Isle of Lewis), where the pastor was preaching on Matthew 18:1-14 & 19:13-15. The passages focus on Jesus’ interactions with children and how we must become like children (as regards faith) in order to enter God’s kingdom. Pastor Davis talked about how children don’t know what they need, but they know who they need. A baby may refuse to eat because she’s gotten so worked up about being hungry. In her anger, she doesn’t realize that what she needs is being offered to her. Yet, from her earliest weeks she knows her mother and father’s voices (she’s been listening to them for 9 months in the womb). So, even if she’s too upset to know what she needs, she knows who to go to for comfort and provision. Pastor said that as adults, we have a pretty good idea of what we need. But we don’t know where to look or who to go to for provision. Instead of going to our heavenly Father (who knows and has what we truly need) we look for fulfillment in relationships, success, binges, etc. I confess I’m guilty of looking/searching for the next ____________ (fill in the blank) of life…the next stage (marriage/family), the next success, or the next book publisher. I often feel God tapping me on the shoulder, saying, “Mollie, slow down. What’s right in front of you – what I’ve provided – is all you need for now. Enjoy it! Be still in the midst of it. Stop searching for more when you’re not even sure what ‘more’ implies.”

In the midst of Jesus’ teaching on childlike faith, he interweaves a comparison to sheep (18:12-14). This comparison got me thinking about the similarities between sheep and children. Children implicitly trust the parent who loves them. Sheep implicitly trust the shepherd who cares for them. Children wander off, need guidelines/boundaries to feel safe, and sometimes need rescuing from foolish mistakes. Sheep are the same way. Children can identify their parents from across a crowded store, simply by hearing mom or dad cough. A sheep knows the shepherd’s voice and will ignore or run away from a stranger’s voice (John 10:4-5). This last comparison has gained new meaning for me here in Scotland. I’ve always heard that sheep run from a stranger’s voice. Yet, I will stand with my camera on the hills of Skye and call out to a sheep…trying to get it to look up from its munching so that I can take a good photo. I’ve even tried talking the sheep’s language (not Gaelic but “maaa”…and, yes, I’ve seen tourists from Germany and China doing the same thing). Inevitably, the sheep ignores me. If I approach her, she shows me her backside and walks away. That sheep knows I care little for her, beyond a photo opportunity. On the flip-side, I met a shepherdess last week. When I asked Linda if she would be sheering any sheep in the next day or so, she replied that the weather was awful and “the girls wouldn’t like it.” Linda knows her sheep. She loves, protects, provides for each one. Just as a trusting child, those sheep could identify her voice in any crowd.

In wrapping up his sermon, Pastor Davis concluded: as we approach God, our mindset must be that of a child. We should approach Him in humility, understanding our inability to supply our own needs. We should approach with a trusting heart, as children run with open arms to their parents’ protective embrace. We should seek to obey our Father’s voice as children who understand that rules aren’t about constriction but simply provide safety. And we should honor our heavenly Father as a child would brag about the strength of his dad. May I have the childlike (and sheeplike) faith to always trust that voice I know so well. May I always remember who to look to, even when I think I know what I need.