A child stomps down the sidewalk head down, chin tucked, hands in his pockets and dragging his feet along. This child is angrily headed to a piano lesson his mother is insisting he attend and enjoy.
Growing up there are many activities parents insist upon kids trying. Parents maintain that their children will thank them later. For many it is piano lessons, for some it ballet, others choir. Children participate in these events begrudgingly–going to the piano lesson because they have no choice–all the time knowing their parent is wrong and they will never thank their parent later. For me this dreaded activity was Chinese painting lessons.
Born in Dallas, Texas, in Baylor hospital at seven pounds, two ounces, I was feisty from the get-go. I threw tantrums with the best of them. I wanted to do things my way in my time for my reasons. I was very strong-willed and I still am.
At the not-so-tender age of two I moved with my parents to Taipei, Taiwan. After completing language school in Taiwan we moved to Hong Kong, not long after moving into Sichuan province in China. One of the first Chinese friends my mom made was a fairly well-known Chinese painter. This painter sold her artwork to traveling prominent businessmen from Taiwan. My mom continued to develop a friendship with this painter, Long Ju.
My mother arranged for me to take Chinese painting lessons from Long Ju in exchange for me teaching her daughter English. This, taking lessons and giving them, in no way sounded appealing to me. Every time it was time for a lesson I would argue and throw a fit. I was the spitting image of the child described in the first sentence. I went in to the lesson sulky and sour. I could think of a million things I would rather be doing, such as playing with my American Girl doll Addy.
Long Ju’s hand would guide mine as I clumsily clenched the bamboo paintbrush. I imagine many of the valuable and expensive horse hairs fell out of the brush because of my lack of dexterity. I watched Long Ju paint many a beautiful painting, only realizing and recognizing its value later.
Long Ju came to know the Father, but not through me and my resentful attitude, but through my mother who loved her unconditionally. My mother knew I would one day appreciate those lessons. She was right.
Chinese painting lessons did not fit into my world of Pet Shop and Polly Pockets. However, my mom knew as I matured I would realize what an opportunity that was.
After living for two years in Chengdu, my dad accepted a different job in Thailand. This change did not strike any chords with me. I was adamant. I loved China and wanted to stay. Thailand was a nice place to visit for meetings and such, but was definitely not somewhere I was interested in living long term. I would not believe that this move would be for the better later. Once again I was proved wrong. The seven years my family lived in Thailand were amazing, and I would never have traded moving there from China. I grew to love the food, people, shopping, the culture and the scenery. It became home.
Isn’t it annoying how parents tend to always be right?
The summer after my freshman year of college I went to Virginia to work and hang with my family. Many years have passed since I was the rebellious 9 year-old girl who refused to enjoy and appreciate the painting lessons. Later, in middle and high school, I wished I had tried harder. I was determined to look for another chance.
An opportunity arose for me to take lessons from a seasoned Chinese painter living in Richmond. This painter was well-known and her grandfather is a famous painter. I jumped at the opportunity to make up for my previous obstinacy. I learned how to paint bamboo, cherry blossoms, peony flowers, orchids, chrysanthemums and butterflies. It was a great experience. I feel privileged to have had another chance. I valued it a lot more this time ’round.
It occurred to me that this is a painting of life. We now know what we should have known earlier. Hindsight truly is 20/20. If I counted how many opportunities I’ve missed–well, let’s not think about that. God knows things we’ll only know and appreciate later.
Whether it’s painting or piano, the joy is knowing we haven’t finished the painting. We don’t know the value of what we’ve been asked to do until later. That’s where faith and obedience come in. What is faith if there’s no mystery, no risk or reward?
The joy’s in the journey, in knowing that we’ll see the fruits of our painting, or labor, later.
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” 1 Cor. 13:12