|"The Hopes of Anne Bradstreet"|
I don't often do still lifes. I am usually a floral kind of girl. But this one mulled around in my mind for literally, three years, waiting to be painted. It was sort of like a puzzle that I slowly collected and put together the pieces to. In 2012 I painted a large painting of a bird nest and a feather - with lots of background. Then I promptly asked myself "What were your thinking?". I set it aside, staring at it occasionally, scratching my head. I knew the idea I wanted to convey. I had painted the nest to convey home life. There were an abundance of eggs - five to represent each of my own kids. But I had nothing else - just a lot of blank space in the back of the painting.
I was tempted to throw it out or paint over it a hundred times. I am beginning to wonder when I will learn that when I am on the verge of pitching a painting, I am also on the verge of a break through.
Some time last fall I began to mentally fill the background. I thought of a bird cage. Not the kind that entraps a bird, but one that provides a home. In our home we are over halfway through with raising kids. Our oldest three are on their own, one is in high school, and one, well, we have a ways to go on the last one. Ha! But with this in mind, I envisioned the colloquial 'flying of the coop' for the better part of my brood. Thus the open door on the bird cage.
As a parent, when you reach that stage when the kids are trying life on their own, you spend lots of time hoping and praying that you, in eighteen or so short years have given them the things that will equip them for life. I am not just talking about how to pay bills and get a job (although these are important). I am talking about the things that will make them a descent human being who chooses a good path to walk down, and doesn't get distracted with everything that glitters in this world, who remembers that we are eternal beings only living on this earth for a short time.
With these things in mind, I mentally filled the background of the painting with the things that I hope my kids have taken and will take with them out of their childhood. In our home, it was the light and wisdom of God's word - without which, I truly don't know how people cope with all that life throws at us.
I felt like I needed one more thing to tie it all together. Two things occurred that really sealed the deal for me:
One, I found myself thinking about the word hope. Isn't that what parenting is really all about? You hope you did it right. You hope they learned all they needed to. You realize that you can have hope, because their Maker loves them and cares for them more than you could ever imagine. I remembered a Bible study I had done years ago in which the word 'hope' first occurs in the Old testament in the book of Ruth. In Hebrew, the word literally means "a cord for attachment (or to hold onto)" and refers to a rope of scarlet red. It is seen quite a few times in the O.T., most often in relation to the stories of women - a woman feeling desperately alone and forgotten, unable to see that God has an amazing plan awaiting her (Naomi). Another woman, who had been wronged, and desperately asks for a sign of deliverance, including a scarlet rope (Tamar). And finally, a woman who wisely sees that destruction is coming to her people and asks for God's help - a scarlet rope hanging from her window to be the sign that she is trusting in Him (Rahab).
I know, I know, you thought you were reading about a painting, not getting a Bible lesson. Ha! But this was my thought process -what can I say!
The second thing that occurred is that I opened up a book from one of my all time favorite poets - Anne Bradstreet. She was a seventeenth century stay at home mom with a creative streak a mile long and lots to say. I adore her writings. She wrote a beautiful poem about her children ("In reference to Her Children"), all eight of them (!) flying the coop. I love her because she is just so real about her hopes and fears. In the poem, she goes through each child and lovingly relays who they were and are and where they "flew" off too (in the poem, she actually refers to them as birds flying from her nest). You can hear in her tone that she, in the 1600s is saying the same things that parents are saying today - 'I hope I did enough". But she has assurance that they things she taught them will see them through - not just because she taught them, but because they are Truth. She ends it this way...
When each of you shall in your nest
Among your young ones take your rest,
In chirping languages oft them tell
You had a Dame that lov'd you well,
That did what could be done for young
And nurst you up till you were strong
And 'fore she once would let you fly
She shew'd you joy and misery,
Taught what was good, and what was ill,
What would save life, and what would kill.
Thus gone, amongst you I may live,
And dead, yet speak and counsel give.
Farewell, my birds, farewell, adieu,
I happy am, if well with you.
And so, with this I had my final element for this still life - that red cord of hope to hold onto, that wound ( and winds) its way through our home throughout the child rearing years and beyond.