How to Draw a Really Good Self-Portrait

She draws a cartoon of herself during art class, and it looks just like her, so true to life: the freckles, the flipped hair, the flip-flops. But the sketch falls short of capturing all of her, how she captivates all of me and takes my breath away at least a thousand times before breakfast.


But it’s hard to draw what the mind can’t see, what the heart fights to believe, no matter how big the light bulb over her head, no matter how gifted an artist.

Because it’s tough being ten, trying to “be yourself” when she doesn’t know yet who that is, if she even likes her.

We go shopping, a little back-to-school date between mother and daughter, and she thinks out loud as we comb through the clothing aisles, “I wonder if Cece would like this shirt?”

And I think, Who cares? But I was ten once, too, and I understand the weight of a friend’s opinion. So I bite down and continue clicking through the hangers.

We see another shirt, this one with several black sheep on the front, and one ewe standing in the middle of them all, decked out in polka-dots and a tiara, with a thought bubble overhead that reads, “Awkward!” And it’s perfect for her. She knows it. I know it. And she doesn’t contemplate anyone else’s approval this time. She just drops it in the cart.

But then, on a different day, we’re driving to drawing class, and a stranger is riding in the backseat, a girl who looks like my daughter but sounds like Someone Else spewing lies. She’s browbeating herself again, the bully and the victim occupying the same sixty-pound body.

“Everybody hates me in art class. They look at me funny.”

I raise an eyebrow high, search for an explanation from the foreigner glaring at me in the rearview mirror.

“They think I’m too young and stupid and I don’t belong there,” she surmises.

And it’s true, she’s younger than most, by three or four years at least (which is, like, a lot in kid years), but she’s been invited to attend the class, having proven herself to the instructors a long time ago. And I reassure her with this, militantly, but it flies out the sunroof. So we drive more winding backroads, riding a rollercoaster of emotions along the way.

I tell her we become what we believe, and if her ears are listening, then she’s learning to accept the ugliness coming from her mouth. And I say it’s a lie straight from the pit of Hell, this notion that she’s stupid and doesn’t belong, because I know who she really is, I know she is beautifully and brilliantly made, created by the God of the universe who doesn’t make mistakes only masterpieces. And she does belong. To Him, to me, to us, and that’s all that matters.

She looks out the window, watches the valley a mile below us come into breathtaking view through the trees, and it’s perfect timing. Like a cue card from Heaven prompting her to believe. And an hour and a half later, we ride home in peace. She tells me she’s made a friend in class, a girl who makes contraptions out of string and duct tape and sticks in her bedoom, too, and who daydreams about treehouses, and people do like her. And I wink at my prodigal daughter and say, “Well of course they do.”

But if she’s like me, like the rest of us, it might take some more time, maybe even a lifetime, to believe it, to sketch that complete picture. And I wish I could do it for her, but I’m no artist, just a mother.

She’s drawing in her sketchbook again, a pair of wooden salt and pepper shakers. She’s practicing the shading technique she learned in class last week. She arranges them on the floor, but they don’t cast the necessary shadows, so I grab a flashlight and shine it on her props. Suddenly the shadows appear, giving her subjects the depth and dimension they need. And I watch her work, I watch how lines, volume and values take shape. And I’m amazed at how the the beam of light in my hand helps her, how it helps define the objects she’s drawing.

And it makes me think about the Light of the World and how He defines us, how He’s assigned me as a mother to shine His Light directly on my children so they can see themselves for who they really are: loved, accepted, wonderful works of art.

She keeps sketching, her portrait becoming more real, and while holding the light source steady a little longer, I lower my head to pray:

Lord Jesus, thank you that in you we have our identity. All our significance and purpose and value comes from you and what you did on the cross. Help me to hold your Light out to my daughter, teaching her that before she can draw a realistic picture of herself, she must first train her eyes to see herself the way you do, as someone worth dying for. In your name, I pray, Amen. 


  1. Love the drawings Rainey!

  2. Erin Richer says:

    Amen, sister. Could you come hold the flashlight for me? Especially on Tuesdays. 🙂

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