Finding strength

“Why do you waste your time drawing?” my mom said. “Why can’t you be like Sam and study instead? He makes straight As on his report card. Maybe you’re just not smart enough.”

“Sam has no friends because he has to spend four hours a day studying,” I thought about telling her. “Sam gets paid $100 bucks for each A, but gets threatened with punishment if he makes anything less.” But I didn’t go down those roads because I knew it wouldn’t have made a difference.

I sighed and walked away. It’s how I grew up.

Everything revolved around “Why can’t you?” instead of my accomplishments.

It wasn’t constructive criticism, it was just a barrage of implications that I was not now, nor would I ever be, good enough. If I was playing baseball, there was always another player better. If I was playing music, there was always a better musician. If I was drawing, well, drawing was just a waste of time.

tippyTo prove the point, my mom had me draw Tippy the Turtle. It was a drawing contest. “If you think you’re so good then prove it,” she said. The unstated subtext was “If you don’t get a letter back then quit wasting your time drawing.”

So my drawing of Tippy the Turtle was mailed off and I was hopeful I’d win one of the cash prizes. I checked the mailbox eagerly, but as time passed my hopes faded. Eventually I felt sure my mom was right and must be bad at art too, but I kept drawing anyway because I enjoyed it too much to quit.

My parents could always see the good in other kids without understanding the cost that came with it. With me they never seemed to see the good, or at least to acknowledge it.

It might have been different if I really was a failure, but I wasn’t. I had a shelf full of trophies from sports – division champions in baseball, beating my coach’s score in bowling, second place basketball team – not the gratuitous awards handed out for merely showing up.

I was a professional musician before I turned 10.

Because I never stopped drawing, I won first place in a statewide art competition, earning $1,000 for my school. I graduated with honors, too.

But it wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t the valedictorian and even if I had been, I feel confident my parents would have found fault in it somehow. As far as the $1,000 win, well, I simply never heard anything at all.

They were all little things, but they made me feel like a failure overall.

They made me feel like wanting to give up.

And in many ways I did.

I quit playing sports because they convinced me I was horrible.

I quit playing music, quit worrying about my grades and quit worrying about trying to aspire to anything.

The only thing I didn’t give up on was drawing.

As an adult I can look back on Tippy the Turtle and realize the competition was intended to find prospective students to attend Art Instruction Schools and not to waste their time with the doodles of six-year-old kids. I’m sure my mom realized it too and just wanted to set me up for failure.

Christians always seem to be drawing Tippy the Turtle – not literally, but you get my drift.

Every day there’s so much good that comes from the efforts of churches and individual Christians. They feed the hungry, they help the poor, they fight disease, they hold the hands of the dying and do more good than I could hope to list.

“If you’re so good then why do all of you hate the LGBT community,” I can hear my mom saying. Or if not that, then politicians who are willing to speak for all Christians … or the radical protesters … or the hypocrites … or any number of things.

The criticisms are often isolated. Maybe it’s the guy who insisted you can’t really be saved unless you attended his church. Maybe it’s reading about child abuse that appeared prominently in a certain denomination.

Sometimes they’re locked in history like the crusades, inquisitions or wars the church was associated with.

Perhaps it’s the Religious Right. The Huffington Post says in an article that the Religious Right has influenced many people to equate Christianity with “intolerance, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, exclusion, rigidity, stinginess, lack of compassion–you get the picture.”

The Bible itself doesn’t always help with passages about slavery or human sacrifice or women, such as 1 Timothy 2:12 “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”

And I’m sure it makes many Christians want to quit or at least not be vocal about who they follow. So often I find Christians who are apologetic. “I’m Christian, but I’m not one of those kinds of Christians,” they say.

When you add up all the things individuals have done combined with the long, sometimes dark, history of Christianity it can make you feel like being a Christian isn’t such a great thing. It may be more than some individuals can handle without becoming discouraged, but the church will always continue drawing because that’s what it’s compelled to do.

Even though I’m a professional illustrator now, my mom still believes drawing is a waste of time. I think the trick is to stand by one’s convictions and to not yield – even through the name calling, the attempts to discredit and the blows to your self esteem.

I’ve come to realize that even though my folks wanted me to be Sam, I never did. Turns out not even Sam wanted to be who he was. After going through law school and passing the bar exam he took his life in a completely different direction. And just because I don’t always live up to others’ expectations of me, it doesn’t mean my whole life is worthless.

Once you find the real meaning in your life, it’s hard to let others shake you up.

Don’t put down your brush. Don’t close your Bible. Don’t stop reaching out as Christ would.
They don’t win unless you take their words to heart. They don’t win until you quit.


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