You Can Make A Difference by Natalie Buske Thomas

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Natalie Buske Thomas
In my heart of hearts I’ve always been an artist. I was also a hard worker and a student of Scripture. I won a Bible from my church when I was five years old for memorizing Psalm 23. I was an AWANA scholar and attended scholarship camp three years running. As a teen I attended Youth Congress in Washington, D.C. where a young Michael W. Smith performed. The theme was “You Can Make a Difference” and I came away from that conference believing that indeed, I could make a difference. What I hadn’t yet figured out was how.
The summer of the conference was the week of my 16th birthday. It was also the summer that my father was dying from cancer. He was just thirty-seven years old. My best friend’s church was sending youth to the conference in Washington, D.C. One of the youth had suddenly come down with something and his family wanted to donate his trip to anyone who could go. It was last minute, quite. My family didn’t have much money, but the conference was all paid for. Washington, D.C. was far from our home in Warsaw, Indiana. And yes, it meant spending my birthday away from home – a birthday that would have been nearly ignored if I had stayed home. Could I go? Please?
That conference changed my life. Our youth chaperone helped the girls plan a surprise birthday party for me. I have never forgotten how good that felt! Yes, I knew that the incentive for showing me such love and kindness was because they knew that my father was dying, and that made this experience all the more special. Most of them barely knew me, but they had compassion for a skinny young girl who was living through a season of sadness. When the ugliness of the world gets me down, I can remember my surprise 16th birthday limo ride, and my moonlit journey to the Lincoln Memorial, the cake in the hotel room, and the looks on the girls’ faces when they saw how delighted I was by the kind acts that they had performed for a girl they barely knew.
And yet, it would take over twenty-five years for me to begin to understand how I could “Make a Difference”. What difference could my writing make? There were already so many writers out there, and I was a nobody from nowhere. How could I make a difference with my art? Again, there were so many artists. What did I have to contribute that would make a difference?
I focused on making a difference as a wife and mother. I still wrote, worked, and challenged my brain, but how my artistic talent fit into God’s plan for me was as muddy as ever. Meanwhile, my kids were growing up. My son was now sixteen, the same age that I was when I attended the life-changing conference. And, wow, did he look a lot like my dad! And suddenly, it all came together. I knew what my purpose was. It was in front of me all along! I was to do as I had done naturally when I was a little girl – I was to write and do my art together! Why had I insisted that these were two separate careers?
My book “Grandpa Smiles” is about loss, and faith that the boy (my son) will see his grandpa (my dad) again one day. Every illustration is one of my original oil paintings. It is a healing and beautiful celebration of love that lives forever, and the hope that we’ll see our loved ones again one day soon. It is encouragement to meanwhile live our lives fully and joyfully. This book is a way that I can make a difference.
Grandpa Smiles
And you can make a difference too! Don’t worry if you haven’t yet found your purpose, have patience. Work hard at what you’ve been given to do. The answers will come to you at the right time. I want to wrap up with article with a thank you to all who work with young people. You never know when your influence will plant a seed that won’t fully blossom until twenty-five or more years have passed! And yet, the seed has been planted in a heart yearning for love, kindness, and encouragement.
Thriving in a Hateful World
Natalie Buske Thomas
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