giving yourself permission to create

Written by Ashley Larkin

Ashley Larkin is a story collector, wife to Michael and mother of three shining daughters. She longs to be a place of welcome and seeks hard after the hope in broken things. Ashley and her family live in an old house in Portland, Oregon with a grove of horse chestnut trees that has clearly taken over. Find her writing about living awake to the glorious mess of the everyday on her blog Draw Near and on Twitter.

September 9, 2013

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My mother helped make me an artist because she taught me to see as one struck by wonder. Through her eyes, I first treasured thistle’s down and oak’s curved limb, leaf’s shadow and bird’s wing, the shapes of clouds and the kind of smiles made only with eyes.

My mother also showed me I was not an artist, not because of what she taught me, definitely not, but because I simply could not see the potential of the creativity in myself. I was blinded by the beauty of her art.

For it moved through genres and mediums and dotted the landscape of my childhood — from oils to colored pencils, yarn and thread to bubbling yeast, from words to photographs.

Her creativity became the fullness of art’s very definition. When I saw I did not possess her patience, spacial intelligence or light touch, when I saw I could not draw or weave or bake like she did, I believed the lie that art did not exist in me, that I was not creative.

I struggled for years under the weight known to sensitive people-pleasers and perfectionists — that I could not do or be enough — while I longed for the freedom of creativity and a life walked in wonder.

I found it in glimmers, when I gathered flowers for the table, decorated my home with touches of the unexpected or jotted down an occasional poetic line in fall’s fresh air. But creativity as I envisioned it seemed like something outside my abilities and the stuff of someday. Maybe with training, after I’d gotten my life together, after the kids grew older, I’d be able to produce real art.

But then, without knowing exactly what I was doing, I let myself feel the nudges to slow, to leave life details undone and come away with my Beloved to a holy place, also known as the desk in my basement, where I could write.

Once a week for a year and a half, during my baby’s nap, I wrote. I did not press “publish,” and no one saw the words. Instead, I simply listened in God’s presence and tapped out joyfully what I felt in response. And more and more I left behind self-criticism, that harsh editor who’d followed me for years with her sharp little pencil.

I started to let go and I felt the freedom of one waking up, the very stuff of alive unfurling in me.

A created being lives out its creation; one who walks with Jesus creates from the uniqueness of identity enveloped in him and in grace, that is both nourishment and overflow to others.

So whether grilled vegetables and risotto, black notes on a staff, paint pressed on canvas or bare feet gliding across floor — when you live out the unique picture of the Creator within, you release creativity, this pent up glory.

A few days ago, I walked through our neighborhood park and watched from the path as a teenager dribbled alone on the basketball court. He spun a tight circle with a ball cradled in his arm, rolled it to his hand and pushed the ball up through air and toward the hoop. The ball bounced at the boy’s feet as he twirled arms wide and free above his head in dance.

And then he repeated the exact same sequence of moves again.

As I walked closer, I heard the low rumbles of the teenager’s voice and then saw the white cord connected to his ear phones.

They played music only he could hear, the song’s rhythm informing his unique movement, his art, this freedom.

And I thought, Yes, this is just what it’s like.

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How has comparison or a specific definition of creativity caused you to doubt your own? In what ways do you make excuses or excuse yourself from the freedom of creativity?

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During September at Living the Story, we explore the theme Create. On September 30th, author Emily Freeman of Chatting at the Sky, joins us with her story, an opportunity for bloggers to link-up, and a giveaway of her new book, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. We hope you’ll join us on the fifth Monday in the comments for a chance to win and share your stories with us on how the word Create speaks to you.

29 Comments

  1. Christie Purifoy

    “You release creativity, this pent up glory.” Love those words.
    Thank you for this – I relate so much to you story, your journey.

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Christie, it’s so good to know I’ve got kindred spirits on this journey of discovering creative voice. So glad to be getting to know you, too. You are a gem.

      Reply
  2. Mia

    Dear Ahley
    Oh, your words reminds me so much on how we measure our creativity or talents with another’s. it is so wrong when we think of the fact that we were created so unique that our Pappa painted our own set of fingerprints on the tips of our fingers. He is even the Creator of our creative talents and you, dear fiend, can paint beauty with using only words and your heart!
    Blessings and much love XX
    Mia

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Absolutely. Comparison has robbed much of my creative joy over the years (and not just in the example I mentioned here). Thank you for your thoughts, Mia. It IS such a testament to God’s creativity, the Master’s artists touch that he chose such care and attention to the smallest details — those marks that make us unique and also speak to his infinite, attentive, most specific care. Bless you, friend.

      Reply
  3. Mia

    Sorry Ashley, but please don’t forget the uniqueness of something so ” small” as your DNA- structures!

    Reply
  4. Barbara Isaac Croce

    I so very much needed this today. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      I’m thankful to hear that, Barbara. Be encouraged, sister…you are made for beauty.

      Reply
  5. kelli woodford

    This is fine craftmanship, Ashley. From your mother’s aprons to the cobwebby basement desk to the boy-next-door shooting hoops. I walked with you through each image.

    Ooh, and THIS: ” … one who walks with Jesus creates from the uniqueness of identity enveloped in him and in grace, that is both nourishment and overflow to others.” YES.

    Thank you for sharing the gift of who you are with the world. (And we’re SOOO happy to have you with us here at LTS!!)

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      So thrilled and thankful to be a part of this team and to know you personally. I am continually inspired in the craft through this large and beautiful community of writers. And thank YOU, Kelli, personally for cheering me on and inspiring me to grow in creativity.

      Reply
  6. Kelly Greer

    Beautiful reminder Ashley that we were created to be ourselves and express that through the very unique and special gifts and talents that we were given especially for us by the Master Artist himself! Love the way you spin a story and paint the canvas with your words…you move me to dance on my toes with a smile on my face! To God be the glory!
    Hugs,
    Kelly

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Dance on your toes with a smile on your face…what an incredible picture of the joy that comes from knowing you are treasured & purposefully created in all your parts by a most creative & loving God! Yes indeed, Kelly, to God be the glory!

      Reply
  7. Ali

    What you write of here is so relatable (maybe in part since we shared life with the same ridiculously and beautifully creative mother), but also because I believe it takes each one time to see our own gifts as unique and enough, putting aside the filter of comparison. Honestly, I’m still in that process, trying to figure out how to live out my own unique creativity, releasing this “pent up glory” as you say. Praying that my gifts, your gifts, would all be used for his glory. I love you sis.

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Amen, Sis. I am praying this with you. I know we have walked much of this journey together both physically and spiritually…and how I wish you could see the overflowing creativity that I see in you. It’s in your gestures of love, the ways you teach, the meals you make, the parties you host, the ways you bring life and joy and energy to all you do. It’s easy to compare my gifts to yours and still see myself coming up short and yet I know that’s not what God is asking of his daughters. May we, all of us rejoice in these creative gifts he’s given — both our own and each others! Yes, to him be the glory. I love you, Sis.

      Reply
  8. Kris Camealy

    I love the way you have grown to see the artistry in both yourself and in the every day. This is really beautiful, Ashley, and I feel as if you have reminded me to look for the art beyond what seems most obvious…. Thank you, and welcome to Living the Story. So thankful for you.

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      So thankful to be a part of the Living the Story team and grateful for you, Kris! It’s a journey, isn’t it, this seeking out the art, but it’s amazing just how tied it is to my own walk of gratitude and faith in the Creator. Thank you for all the love.

      Reply
  9. Kim Jamieson

    I am sorry this is such a long post but your words have blessed me so richly today. What an encouragement and inspiration your beautiful words are to me Ashley. I am so happy to have just discovered your blog. The art you write are masterpieces in words! I especially love what you said today “Instead, I simply listened in God’s presence and tapped out joyfully what I felt in response. And more and more I left behind self-criticism”…

    It is during my morning, alone times with God, before the race of the day begins, when I sit in His presence and listen, talk and sometimes question what I cannot fathom… when words fill and spill, and through my pen flow words from Him that I need desperately to hear or be reminded of or may need to pour out again for others. Lately I find that through the ‘busy’ness of my days, words drop into my heart & I am compelled to stop and scribble them down so I don’t lose them. I experience such a deeper sense of purpose & joy in life when I have spent time with the Lord not only learning from Him but also listening and writing. However, writing only flows when I am daily feeding on His Word. and living life in continual awareness of Him, with eyes wide open to His amazing blessings, big and exceptional or ordinary and everyday-like. I have learned that our creative ventures can never replace time spent knowing Him thru the Word. or even time spent serving Him by loving like Jesus does…..It is in that place of quietness that I most freely express my heart to God & hear His heart. I grew up, as many people do, in a very negative environment where nothing good I did was ever ‘good enough’ and neither was I, no matter how hard I tried. My husband & others have greatly encouraged me and your words today have moved and motivated me to continue to write & begin to share more, as you so wonder-fully do ..Our God does not pour out His life and creativity into us only for our own blessing but for the health & well being of His whole body! Keep creating this incredible art to enrich our lives! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Kim, I cannot tell you how much YOUR words here blessed me! Truly, thank you, thank you for this comment…for sharing your process of “fill and spill,” for telling how you stop to write a string of words for the possibility that God may use them to bless another later. What a beautiful expression of worship. And you’re right, these gifts are not just for ourselves, but to contribute to the health and joy of the body. That is the very same process I went through. After that stretch of time in which I simply received God’s presence and his words, I did feel him nudge me (gradually stronger and stronger) to share those words. It has been a process of trust for me. Allowing him to be the one who continually builds me up, believing that he has purposes for my words that I could never know. How thankful I am, Kim, that you are receiving encouragement to share this gift God has and is giving you. I am praying right now for you…that your roots would continue to go down deep and that you might fathom how long, wide, high and deep is the love of Christ for you. That the knowledge of his love and tender seeing of you through the words he gives would go forth in light and freedom. Bless you, dear one.

      Reply
  10. ML

    Pent up Glory indeed. The releasing of your gift and partnering in His work, that defines Art. Your words reach out and touch those who desire to see His reflection and not the constant shadows we live in and chase after.

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      ML, thank you for helping me more clearly see his reflection. I am forever grateful not only for your love — which is such a powerful representation of Christ’s — but also for the ways you chase the shadows away with me. This journey would not have been possible without your faithfulness, grace and wisdom. I adore you.

      Reply
  11. pastordt

    Beautifully done, Ashley. Truly. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Thank you, Diana. I appreciate your presence here and all the ways I see you cheering fellow artist/writers on. Bless you.

      Reply
  12. angela severson

    Ashley,

    To be reminded of our creativity is like a warm hug.
    We are explicitly so unique in our gifts, right?
    Even the way we use our hands to talk, or raise our eyebrows, the way we yawn and giggle….it’s so wonderful, no?

    I am one of the many whom are blessed by your creativity Ashley, in so many ways, and especially in the way you use words and tell stories and provide language for truth…
    Thank you, Thank you!!!
    Angela

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Thank you, dear friend. I’m grateful that God chose to weave us together on this road. Thank you for all the ways you call out the best, all the ways you celebrate, all the ways you make a place, all the ways you remind what is true, all the ways you encourage me to go forth and create. And I love what you say — yes indeed, to know we are creative, unique and beautiful…such gifts from God himself. I love you.

      Reply
  13. Elizabeth Stewart

    I savored each and every delicious word of this beautiful post. I always find myself humming happily when I give myself over to creating.

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Humming happily…if that doesn’t just express the joy and freedom of creativity. Thank you, dear Elizabeth.

      Reply
  14. Elizabeth

    Oh Ashley, this is so beautiful indeed. You have written here a familiar story, one that was repeated in my home, with my mother, with my fear and a limping halting dance into creativity. Thank you for telling your story. Yet something else between us that strikes a beautiful chord of sameness. This just sings.

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      I agree, friend. Yes, our journeys do seem to have much in common. Ugh, the fear and the limping halting dance. I count it such joy to see your own creativity unfolding — your poetry making music — and the very way you build up others an art unto itself. So grateful for you, dear friend.

      Reply
  15. Michele-Lyn

    You are a beautiful writer. This is not a post that can be read only once. Each line holds so much depth.

    Reply
    • Ashley Tolins Larkin

      Thank you so much for your encouragement, Michele-Lyn. I’m grateful for the heart echoes.

      Reply

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giving yourself permission to create

by Ashley Larkin time to read: 4 min
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