InsideToday’s Word: ‘inside’ as in… it’s all about knowing what’s inside.

In the fall of 2017, Nancy Lee and I traveled to the beautiful, creative city of Florence, Italy. As we walked through the streets of this ancient, mythically powerful city, I recalled the story of a little boy who lived in this city known for musicians, poets, painters and stonecutters.

On his way to school each morning he would wander past the studio of a young painter and sculptor whom the world would eventually come to know simply as Michelangelo. On an early spring morning, the little boy stood at the studio doorway and peered into the cluttered workspace. There, to his great wonder and curiosity, on the floor in the middle of the room was an enormous block of marble. Fascinated, he slowly pushed the door open and quietly eased himself into the room. From his vantage point he watched the artist walking slowly around the tons of raw stone, touching the ridges and edges, eyeing the indistinct shapes, making notes and drawing small charcoal images on a tablet of paper. Over the next several weeks, the little boy visited from time to time, wondering what the artist was up to as he stood thoughtful and brooding before this massive stone.

Summer arrived, and the little boy was away on holiday with his family. Months passed. Finally, one autumn afternoon back in Florence, the little boy was on his way home from school when he walked down a familiar side street to the artist’s studio. Standing in the doorway of the studio, he could hardly believe his own eyes. There, on the floor in the middle of the room, where the once massive block of marble rested without any distinct shape, was a magnificently carved lion. Overcome with wonder and awe, he burst into the studio, ran to the artist standing nearby, and asked, “How did you know the lion was inside that stone?”

It seems to me that a significant part of the wonder of creativity is just that: “Knowing what’s inside…”

But how? How do we know what’s inside?




PepToday’s Word: ‘PEP’ as in… I’ve got a pep talk for you today!

If we’re going to keep at it, if we’re going to just keep going, keep making things, keep drawing, playing, writing, practicing and risking, we’re going to need a pep talk. So here’s one of the best creative pep talks I’ve ever heard from Ira Glass:

“Keep at it, just keep going” pep talks I’ve ever heard, comes from Ira Glass on the topic of Creativity. Here’s what Ira said: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

So that’s your pep talk for today!

What are you going to make? What are you going to draw, paint, sing, play? What are you going to create?

Good questions, all of which remind me of a story about Michelangelo.



KeepToday’s Word: ‘Keep’ as in… just keep at it because the more you keep at it, the more you’ll have to give away.

We’ve been exploring creativity for several days, now. There’s something important about keeping at it. Take a moment and consider three things: the ways in which you already know you are creative, the ways in which others see you as creative, and the ways in which you would like to see yourself as a creative person.

Let’s think about the ways you’re already creative.

What seems to get you going, what energizes you? What stirs your heart when you think of creative expression? Is it art, or music, or dance? If music stirs you, you might think about writing a song. If you like to write, make a commitment to keeping a journal. If you like to draw, take a few moments and step outside and look around and notice your surroundings. What are you seeing for the first time? What do you smell, what do you hear? Do you hear traffic? Do you hear birds, or someone mowing a lawn, or shoveling a driveway? Is someone talking with a neighbor? Is someone crying? Is someone laughing?

If you were guaranteed that no one would have the chance to comment or pass judgement on your creative response, what would you draw to convey what you are hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting? Commit to doing this just once a week. Then build some accountability into the process by asking a friend to come alongside to hold you accountable. Get together once a month and create a list of questions to talk through each time you meet together.

Acknowledging that we are already creative then puts us in a mindset to be thankful. When we express gratitude, all kinds of things begin to shake loose! But the important thing is to just keep at it.

Keep making things.

Keep drawing.

Keep playing.

Keep writing.

Keep practicing.

Keep at it. Keep risking. Keep keeping at it.

The more you keep at it, the more you’ll have to give away.




GenerativeToday’s Word: ‘GENERATIVE’ as in… we are filled with a creative agency and generative impulse that goes all the way back to the first moments of creation!

In Psalm 139 the writer uses the language of creation to connect us with the Source of all things:

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; you know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.”

Let’s go back to my conviction that creativity is breathed into us by the Creator! The book of Genesis provides us with the image of a Creator bringing all things together elemental particles of the creation together and weaving and holding it all together—holding us all together, cradling us, shaping us, molding us, and then breathing into us! Just imagine! The Creator of all things breathing the oxygen of life into us! And once the Creator breathes life and aliveness into us, we became animated by, enthused and inspired with the breath and creativity of God. With the breath of the Creator in us, we are filled with a creative agency and generative impulse that goes all the way back to the first moments of creation! The One who shaped us first inside, then out, the One who formed us in our mother’s womb now receives our gratitude, receives our exclamation of joy when we say,

We thank you, High God—you’re both breath-giving and breathtaking at the same time! Body and soul, we are marvelously made! We worship in adoration—what a creation! You know us inside and out, you know every bone in our bodies; you know exactly how we were made, bit by bit, how we were sculpted from nothing into something!”

Once again, where something wasn’t…is!

All of this, of course, raises yet another great question: What can we do with all of this?



ReclaimToday’s Word: ‘RECLAIM’ as in… there comes a time when we must reclaim our creative impulse. Might as well be today.

Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, theologian and prolific author of nearly 40 books, once wrote about the why people don’t write:

“One of the arguments we often use for not writing is this: “I have nothing original to say. Whatever I might say, someone else has already said it, and better than I will ever be able to.” This, however, is not a good argument for not writing. Each human person is unique and original, and nobody has lived what we have lived. Furthermore, what we have lived, we have lived not just for ourselves but for others as well. Writing can be a very creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others. We have to trust that our stories deserve to be told. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to live them.”

Henri was writing about barriers to writing. But what he wrote about writing in particular, could just as easily be said of the creative process in general. Here’s my paraphrase of Henri Nouwen’s sentiment:

“One of the arguments we often use for not creating something is this: “I have nothing original to create. Whatever I might draw, paint, photograph, or make, someone else has already drawn it, painted it, photographed it, made it, said it, and better than I will ever be able to. This, however, is not a good argument for not being creative. Each human person is unique and original, and nobody has lived what we have lived. Furthermore, what we have lived, we have lived not just for ourselves but for others as well. Making something can be a very creative and invigorating way to make our lives available to ourselves and to others. We have to trust that what we have to offer deserves to be shared. We may discover that the better we tell our stories the better we will want to believe them.”

There comes a time when we must reclaim our creative impulse. And that begins with acknowledging that we’ve been created in order to be creative. Might as well be today.



ColorsToday’s Word: ‘COLORS’ as in… keep your crayons close, you’ll need them.

Something happened somewhere between “wasn’t…” and “is…” and everything changed.

But what happened?

At some point, someone, a teacher perhaps, handed us a large piece of paper and invited us to draw whatever we wanted to draw. So we drew clouds. And as we sat back and looked at what we’d created, we saw things in those clouds. We saw high chairs and sky scrapers, we saw boats and fish, we saw antelopes and automobiles. The longer we stared at those clouds on our canvas, the more we were certain that we were seeing our friends and family members; brothers, sisters, grandparents, dads, moms. We were seeing fish chasing rabbits and dogs covered with spaghetti noodles. It was a wonderful, mystical, revealing, enlightening, freeing, exhilarating experience.

But that’s not what others saw.

As people looked over our shoulders they asked us, “What is that?” and “What are those?”

(You know how it is when people ask those questions – they sort of emphasize the “this” and the “that.”)

And when we told them what that is and what those are, they couldn’t see it. When what we had “made in our image of what we were making,” and they didn’t understand, and they questioned it, then we began to question it. We began to hold back, a little at first, and then a lot. And soon our generative impulse was less an impulse and more of something that had to be coaxed out of us.

When we were five years old most of us were brimming with confidence. We knew intuitively that we could draw a shape, paint a picture, sing a song, do some kind of dance. It came so naturally and we were brimming with confidence. But within only a few years that would change. Confidence began to wane and our imaginations, once clear and fertile, became clouded and calloused with self-doubt. And we quietly put our crayons down. We put our colored pencils away. We stopped singing out loud.

And we decided to just …

skip …

the …


But something way down deep inside of us reminded us this was not the end of this story.




OriginToday’s Word: ‘ORIGIN’ as in… where does creativity come from?

I’m working on a couple of beliefs…

First, each of us has been created to be creative. Moment by moment we’re being created for the purpose of being creative. There is intention, movement and trajectory in both our creation and creativity.

Second, this creativity was breathed into us from the beginning. Our creativity has a Source.

In the beginning we had little if any trouble expressing this gift of creativity. Inside, we sat in our high chairs and made boats, fish and other creatures with our spaghetti noodles. We made rivers, lakes and streams with the sauce. Outside, we imagined new opportunities during rain showers which turned dirt into a remarkably useful artistic medium: mud. With that mud we made forts, houses, neighborhoods. We took handfuls of the dust of the ground and created old family members and even imagined new ones. And with a strange Impulse coming from who-knows-where-at-that-age, we took those lumps of earth and dirt and breathed life into pets and parents, buffalos and brothers, snakes and sisters, fish and friends. Then continuing to follow that strange but Generative Impulse, we gave each of them names. And as we looked at those creations that we had made in our image of them—made in the image we had in our creative minds, we declared out loud, right then and there: “It is good, it is very good.”

When we got a little older and went off to school, we explored new shapes and patterns with finger paint. As many of us moved through elementary and middle school into high school, we used our hands to create things with wood, fabrics, metals, glass. Beyond the classroom and on into young adulthood, our creativity continued with computers and words and phrases and music and songs and on and on it went. Indeed!

Where something wasn’t… is!

Think about that for another moment: Where something wasn’t… is!

But something happened somewhere in between “wasn’t” and “is” and everything changed.

What happened?