Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cat Food, Popcorn and Setbacks

Maybe art on rainy days…or how to reuse plastic bottles in a creative way…”

My mind whizzed through possible topics as my vacuum whirled away dog fur and debris. Lord, what would you have me write about next? What can I share? What about that snowman thank-you card we made?

Crash! Twelve pounds of cat food on the floor later, I had my answer. I had a plan. I had a mission. And I had a setback. So I thanked God for allowing me to dump a month’s worth of feline fare on the floor, cleaned it up (and used two hands to move it back on the stool it tumbled from), and continued.

Setbacks come in many forms…changes in health, relationship altercations, unexpected occupation alterations, art plans that don’t go as expected and surprising expiration dates on dinner ingredients. They can be small, yet destroy a day. Or they can be huge and feel like they’ve destroyed a life. Yesterday I planned an artsy project with the kids. Funny how even with years of art teaching experience, I didn’t see the setbacks coming. That’s how they work. With blinding surprise.

Here’s the scene. While trying to emphasize the meaning of the word “thankful” with the kids (kind of ironic now, actually), we had a simple, creative plan (which I still recommend, but with a few adjustments…you’ll see). Using white glue on black paper, I spelled out “THANKFUL” and Kaden would use leftover popcorn to fill in the lines. Voila! Creative-learning-experience-with-emphasis-on-character-traits for the day…check!

You can probably imagine the gluey mess that ensued. Popcorn was recognized as a food…not so much an art material. Mostly after being dipped in glue. Baby dolls and army men came over to take a dip in the sticky white rivers. Nayla’s tiny hands laid flat on the glue letters while she reached for more popcorn. Adding paper to the mix to replace the popcorn only made it more confusing. Pretty soon we had to scrap our plan. We had a setback.

A good hand washing and a few wiped toys later,  I found it necessary to reflect on the situation (a much more fun approach than immediately cleaning it up).

What went wrong? Could I change it for next time? Did anything go right? Where do we go from here? Is it worth repeating, but with changes?

So here’s the good news. When you have a setback, you have a chance to change. Oh yes, you can just stew. You can blame. You can cry. You can sulk. But after that, you have an opportunity to make some lemonade out of some lemons.  Even better, we’ve got a God who wants more for us than just frustration.

“How abundant are the good things you have stored up for those who fear you” says Psalm 31:19. So God’s got bigger plans for me than my mistakes, flaws or setbacks. I choose to believe this is true on even the smallest level. So, how ‘bout some good things?!

So we’ve got a setback. Now what? First, make sure you are on the right road. “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3. Whether a project with a toddler or big business deal, this part has to be in place.

Second, where did things go wrong? Reflect and analyze. In my simple messy example, using food for the first time with this project and putting on a little-sister-level table spawned most of our problems.

Third, what could we change? In our case, using paper (cut to the right size) instead of popcorn as an introductory media will be in the next plan. Setting up little sister with a paper of her own (with a smaller amount of glue) and manageable paper scraps should help too. Modeling the project with one of the letters might not be a bad idea either. If your setback involved someone else, ask them what could be changed and make it better. Even my four year old was able to help out with suggestions (“Mom, Nayla needs her OWN paper!!!”) and he had a chance to see how we handle setbacks together.

Setbacks that are mistakes in art are really just opportunities to be more creative. That’s what I tell my art students. And that’s what I believe. Setbacks that are beyond our control are opportunities to grow in faith. That’s what I tell myself. Blessings to you as you tackle your setbacks with a sense of grace and style!


  1. Popped over from Southern Lady's blog. I was expecting lots of art (not quite sure what that means - lots of pictures maybe?) - but I'm enjoying your musings.

  2. Welcome friend! Art Abundant is a work in am I!! Plans include plenty of my personal art (I work mostly in acrylics, usually incorporated with music), ideas for living an abundant life, incorporating art into family life and anything else God has laid on my heart. It seems the later has taken the front seat for the moment! I love that you'll be joining the journey. Cheers!