It had been a long, frustrating day, trying to balance my website expansion with a desire to clean out closets. My life was changing, but this shift seemed to be taking so long. For several years I’d been re-examining priorities, refocusing my goals and working to make my career dreams a reality. But parts of my life still felt out of sync, and I was still waiting for answers about my future.
One of the dinner groups at Hoboken Grace was hosting a coloring event that evening at the Pilsener Haus & Biergarten. I sounded like fun, and I needed a break from questioning my life’s purpose. Inside the hall, guttering candles, large barrels, and the scent of sausage and wine set the timeless tavern scene. The large room was full of lively patrons, but it wasn’t hard to spot a couple dozen women seated along the sides of two rough-hewn table lengths. There were scattered pages from coloring books among the pitchers and plates that were being passed around.
I found a spot at the table, fished through the pile of printed designs, and pulled out a circular, symmetrical mandala pattern. A server set down full mugs of hard cider and ale. I joined the conversation around me, and considered the many sharpened colored pencils on display in empty beer glasses. For a while, I was pulled into friendly discussions of church events, recent messages and Book Studies. Then I settled in to create my evening’s artwork.
The woman next to me was coloring an intricate design. As we chatted, she pulled out her iPhone and used a flashlight app to tint some tiny circles. My design was not so complicated. After filling in a double-strand red border, and applying a soft dove gray to the curls in one section, I decided to make each quadrant of curls a different, contrasting color. In the dim tavern light, I pulled out my iPhone and used the same app to handpick my color choices from the now brightly lit rainbow selection of pencils. The tiny focused hi-tech beam broke the old German tavern mood, but one must make sacrifices for art’s sake.
At home, I pulled the paper from my coat pocket, unrolled it and hung it on my refrigerator with a magnet. What I saw wasn’t the image I thought I had colored. There was the twisting red border, and the dove gray curls. I recognized the yellow moons and dark blue stars. But all the other curls on the page were spring green. I had made such a point of picking contrasting colors. Maybe with the intriguing conversations and low light, I hadn’t paid much attention to what I was doing. On the paper, I saw an image of many green vines or roots beneath the quieter gray top curls.
A friend, who knows that coloring is my guilty pleasure, had sent me a coloring book of mandalas. The author explained, “Mandala coloring transforms your attitude toward life and develops your consciousness. When you reach this meditative state through coloring, your body becomes more sensitive, your eyes see more deeply, and you will feel more intensely.” What little I know about art therapy also suggests that your subconscious knowledge can be revealed in a craft project – maybe that is what happened. But the image I created made no sense.
The following Sunday before heading out to church, I tuned into a sermon on TV, because apparently one a week is not enough for me. The pastor spoke about God taking time to prepare you for the plans he has for your future, using the image of the Chinese bamboo plant.
“For the first four years, it barely grows above ground,” he explained. “You can hardly see anything happening. But underground, where you can’t see, it is developing a massive root system. In the fifth year, once the roots are firmly established, the plant will take off and shoot up to as high as 80 feet in the air.”
What makes the fifth year possible, he continued, is the four years of preparation.
“You may be ready for what you have in mind, but you don’t know what God has in mind,” he said. “What He has planned for you will be much bigger, much more exciting. He not only knows where He is taking you, He knows what it’s going to take to keep you there. If He took you before you were ready, you wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
With my colored mandala in hand, I stood staring at the television. Is this what I had drawn? Seemingly dormant gray vines above ground, and a huge vibrant expanding root system underneath?
I’d never heard of the Chinese bamboo plant before, and yet I was staring at an image exactly like the one the pastor described.
Will this be my fifth year of rapid growth? Maybe. Whatever happens, I’m now more confident that God is carefully preparing me for whatever is coming.
Barbara is a member of the Writing Team.