The retreat booklet read:

900P — Paint Prep (not stressful)




100P — SESSION/Paint (not stressful)

The “(not stressful)” was somewhat concerning, but at 9 Friday night, as we divided ourselves around six canvasses of various sizes, I tried to be obediently not stressed. The person who created the schedule for this women’s retreat is one of My People and I’m an obliger anyway, so I waited for instruction.

The plan was this: each table got a set of plastic cutlery, a spatula, a Styrofoam cup. Somebody would come to dump a blob of plaster mixed with water and glue on our canvas. We were to play with it and create texture.

Oh, also, each of the canvasses was to correspond to a particular character trait. (We got “unity.”)

My obliging nature goes only so far. My trust in my friend’s planning goes much farther, but still. When somebody glops runny goo onto a canvas in front of me and hands me a spatula and tells me to make unity with a handful of people previously unknown to me, I’m way outside of comfort. I concentrated on my breathing and playing with the corner of the canvas that was mine. (Yes, for unity, we sort of ended up each playing with our own segregated quarter of the canvas with our various tools. The irony was not lost on us.) The goo was fun, and at the end of prep, it actually looked pretty cool. Plus, with the swirl we added, somewhat communicated unity, so I held it together and even enjoyed myself.

The following afternoon, we gathered again around our now-textured canvases. We were handed three tubes of acrylic paint (red, dark red, red-orange at our table), a variety of paintbrushes, a cup of water, some paper towels and told to have fun. Again, I came in “not stressed” in compliance with instructions, but somewhere between the near-identical tubes of paint and the “have fun” my anxiety started rise.

Let me just spoil it for you: it was fine. And, once I got into it, fun.

And there was no way for it to not work out.

See, my friend delegated the art segments of the retreat to somebody with far more knowledge than I have. She knew she was working with a bunch of women who may or may not have any experience at all (many of whom are mothers who reflexively panic when goop and paint end up where they weren’t before) and prepared accordingly.

Something that felt weird and messy and stressful to me turned out to be lovely.

How often does this happen?

I have a bunch of seemingly random circumstances in front of me. I have no idea how they’re going to come together, but I’m pretty sure it’s a mess waiting to happen and I’m going to destroy this lovely blank canvas (of  a project or a day or a child or whatever I tend to put in the “blank canvas that I’m going to screw up” spot).

But as I listen to the One giving instructions and just do the thing He tells me to do, even if it’s a gooey mess, something lovely happens. The outcome depends less on me than it the One who designed the project. Yes, I’m involved. The end product looks different because I contributed, and I can be pleased with it. But the success is ultimately not mine—I’m just happy I get to be here.

Maybe next time, I can actually be not stressed.

Published by robininalaska

Robin Chapman is a part-time writer, editor, and birth photographer and a full-time imperfect mama, wife, Jesus follower, and normalizer of failure. She’s trying hard to learn how to do this motherhood thing in a way that doesn’t land the whole family in intensive therapy. She has a heart for helping other mamas buried in the little years with hope, humor, and solidarity. You can find her hiding out in the bathroom with an iced dirty chai, writing and editing and making spreadsheets for where she is a cheerleader for mamas, or online looking for grace in her mundane and weird life. She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska with her four delightful (crazy) kids—some homeschooled, some public schooled, some too young for school at all—and her ridiculously good looking husband, Andrew.

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