Several years ago, the principal at my kiddos school asked me to paint inspirational words in the school bathrooms. Being extra, I said, "what if I also paint a million murals?" At some point, during the months I spent hanging out in elementary school bathrooms painting, I started to feel the Lord's nudge:
What if there's another school that needs your art…
I felt a tug towards schools in lower socioeconomic areas, drawn to invest where there aren't a lot of stay-at-home moms with Pinterest boards or white-collar workers with flexible schedules. What if we just talked about those kinds of differences openly?
Let's be honest; the divide is there.
Let's name it, and let's be raw about it.
I said yes and asked the Lord to open a door if there was a school I wasn't connected to that I could bless with a mural.
The week before I walked into the halls of Georgetown Elementary, a little girl watched as her older brother was shot and killed in her front yard. She was left alone until her mother drove up to the chaos. The schools in the neighborhood went on lockdown for fear of retaliation. I met her in the hall, her first day back, her eyes glazed, a blank stare of raw trauma.
She is my daughter's age: a little girl who was born in a vastly different world, just 15 minutes down the road.
A coffee date and a couple of dreamers throwing outrageous ideas led to this moment, clarifying a three-year-old surrender. Two dreamers sharing their what-ifs, and Jesus connected dots. Tabata would combine her passion for sprinkling words of encouragement, affirmation, and kindness with my passion for art. Artistic Therapy would collaborate with Teen Advisors (TAs): a local organization that impacts and empowers youth by nurturing positive mentorship in schools. In perfect divine timing, Tabata's new role with TAs was to build a pilot program, working with a largely unknown school called Georgetown Elementary.
We set up a meeting with the school counselor, Dr. Sparks, and had only been talking to her for 5 minutes when the Holy Spirit came up. She shared how passionate she was for the kids He had trusted in her care. As she shared about the recent shooting, she boldly declared that even though this neighborhood was rough, the kids were every bit as precious and loved by Jesus as a kid in different circumstances. At that moment, I realized that art is my medium, but the Lord designates my canvas. I couldn't wait to bless this school. Then I met the principal…
Based on my walk through the school, I had some general ideas of what I could create. I was shocked at the fun wall colors that separated the different grades and that someone had not settled for blah concrete walls. It was intentional, but I didn't yet know to what extent. When I met Dr. Forte, I asked what he would like me to do. His answer made me laugh: "How much time do you have?"
"Hand me your wish list," I offered. "Let's see if we can check anything off."
He walked straight to a green hallway: "I would love it if we could have something here that relates to us being the Georgetown Jaguars. Every kid comes through this hall and stops here, and I would love it for there to be learning prompts and art to engage their imagination." I started talking through ideas, and suddenly he stopped me: "How much is all of this going to cost? I've been putting money aside, but I need to slow down and make sure of the budget before I get too excited."
I thought he knew.
"This one is on me. Jesus put in my heart to bless a school, and I believe yours is the one."
He stopped in his tracks, almost in tears. "You're kidding, right?"
"No. I'm for real. Let's make this wall awesome."
I love that the tears and the intense reaction were more than reactions to someone offering to help his school….
Here's where kindness and generosity become divine:
Dr. Forte is a passionate believer in Jesus, and God had given him a vision for this school, an outrageous idea the school couldn't afford. He felt the Lord nudge him to be bold and dream anyway. He was faithfully putting aside money to pay an artist to paint the vision. When the school was repainted, this hall was specifically painted green as a backdrop color for a jungle scene full of learning prompts. When COVID hit, he made the wise choice to use the money he had saved for a mural to help keep his kids from falling behind.
I wish everyone could experience Jesus like this. Dr. Forte stepped out in faith and painted a wall green; he saved and worked to make this dream happen in his own strength. When the world flipped upside down, he used those resources to help the kids in his care, knowing it was more urgent than a mural. When we've worked hard towards the ideas God put on our hearts, and they are hijacked, it can honestly feel like defeat or "did God really say…?"
"For it is God who works in you to will AND to act in order to fulfill His good purpose" Philippians 2:13
When he had reached the end of his resources, THEN it was time for Jesus to send the surrendered artist He had kept in his back pocket for such a time as this. The girl who has spent the last three years improving and refining her skills, so she could show up offering exceedingly and abundantly more.
Dr. Forte, Dr. Sparks, and the teachers of Georgetown love these kids, they pray for their school, and God said, "I see you! Let's do this!" In my week there, I watched teachers who had been there for years teach not only the basics but integrity, respect, and gratitude. They nurtured the kids' character. Over and over, I heard Dr. Forte expect the kids to succeed, to represent themselves and their school well in their character and behavior. More than once, I saw a sad tiny human crumble in his hug when they were hurt or sad.
They know what they are up against and are doing what they can to equip the precious kids in their care to overcome the pull of negative choices in their environment. I had been there a few days when we were put on a soft lockdown, and police came to stand in the gap for whatever was transpiring outside the school walls. Surreal but calmly navigated. Despite the odds, they proudly told me how they are overcoming the pandemic without needing help or intervention from the district. They are working so hard to teach and develop world changers; they have big dreams for these kids and their futures. I can't think of a better situation to encourage.
Here's my takeaway: I left Georgetown Elementary elated. Spending a week turning a hall into a jungle lit me up inside. Chatting with kids, hearing their feedback, watching their reactions as a green wall became a place for imagination to come alive changes you. It inspires you. Giving back is like putting yourself in a bouncy room where joy is flying everywhere.
I am an artist with an undergraduate in psychology and a master's degree I have never been paid to use. Every parent's nightmare is that their kid chooses a path with this level of financial security. The easy jokes are written about each one of my career choices. Yet, I have found a way to use those choices to bless others. I don't say this to cut myself down, but I would imagine everyone reading this has WAY more to offer than an unemployed therapist turned self-taught artist.
What if you reevaluate how you are using your resources?
What strikes me is how anxiety-ridden, depressed, uninspired, tired, critical, and negative people have become, especially over the last couple of years. I want to make a bold statement: I wonder how much of that results from being self-focused and stingy. We are so obsessed with our opinions and meeting our own needs and desires that we have lost the joy that comes from being generous and kind.
Think of the thing you are most critical about: how could you use your gifts and skills to be part of the solution? Think back: when was the last time you felt a nudge to do something extravagant? What if you did it? What could you do to blow someone away with a gift of your time or your resources? No strings attached. Just a gift. How could you mentor someone who doesn't have a father? How could you help a family that is stretched thin? How could you work with the organizations that are already rolling in the work they are doing? How could you help? You don't need to be rich or brilliant, just willing. I had so much fun being a blessing to Georgetown Elementary. I met the nicest people; I got to laugh with the sweetest kids; I got to do what I love on a wall that Jesus had already prepared for me.
I just needed to say yes.
Say yes. It is the most fun word in our language. It opens up doors you didn't even notice were there, and it reveals opportunities and relationships. It may impact the world in ways you won't even see this side of heaven because saying yes puts you in a position to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
You will never feel more alive.