In a quest to fill my days with something productive, now that my health has led me to leave the workforce, I have taken up creating mosaics. So far, I’ve completed three 6 x 6-inch squares with fairly simple designs. A couple have gone to friends as gifts. The creative process has been quite therapeutic, and each step is meaningful in its own way.
Step 1: Break things. The first step for any mosaic is taking tiles and ceramics and breaking them into small pieces. These pieces become my medium. I try to nip the tiles into the shapes I’ll need to create my vision, but there’s a lot of randomness to the breaking, too. Even when I have a shape in mind, the tile or dish in my hand may have a different plan for how it will crack. The therapeutic part here is that I can take out some of my frustration, anger, or anxiety on the tile and ceramics rather than directing it at people around me or bottling it up inside. And the randomness of the tiles breaking is a good reminder that I am not in control—and yet, in the end, I still wind up with what I need to complete a project.
Step 2: Bring the design to life. Once I have a collection of pieces to work with in the colors of my design, I start applying broken bits to the surface, fitting them together into the shapes I’ve designed—a landscape or a flower or maybe just a pattern of colors. This part of the process is almost like meditation. I can spend a couple hours at a time, focused solely on where to place each piece, trimming or reshaping a piece if needed, and readjusting bits when I run into a challenge. It’s like assembling a puzzle I’ve created in my own mind.
During this time, everything else seems to wash away. Thoughts of my illness, treatment side effects, or the next doctor’s appointment disappear. Worries about my boys off at school subside. Questions and fears and doubts flee. My mind is engaged in a single task—creating the art before me.
Step 3: Fill the gaps. Once the mosaic has taken its final shape, it’s time for grout. Although the image is fairly clear at this point, there are gaps between all the pieces. The grout fills those gaps and brings all the pieces together into a cohesive whole. It is this step that’s perhaps most meaningful to me. All of the individual, broken pieces are still evident, but they are held together by a unifying element that not only serves to fill the empty spaces but also becomes an integral part of the art itself.
I feel these days much like the tile and ceramic pieces, fractured and dislocated. My body is broken by disease and side effects of the medications meant to treat disease. My family is split by distance as my boys pursue their education away at college. My vocation is no longer in tact. Yet, within all that brokenness, there are unifying forces that hold me together and fill my gaps: a God who holds me tightly (though I sometimes fight against Him), a loving husband and family who are always there for me, and a group of friends who encircle me closely. They lasso the broken bits of my self, re-assemble them, and help patch me back up—but often not before challenging me to sit and examine the pieces and acknowledge the pain, fear, or confusion in them. And just as the grout between the mosaic pieces is part of the artwork, those people in my circle become more and more a part of who I am.
Step 4: Reveal the final shine. The last step in creating mosaics is buffing them. As you wipe away the excess grout, it leaves behind a residue, which results in a hazy film on the pieces. A careful polishing of each piece ensures that viewers see the mosaic in all its shine and shimmer. Here, too, is a metaphor. The same people who support me and help wrangle my broken pieces also play a role in shining up the creation that is ME—helping to remove the mental, emotional, and spiritual film and filth that can accumulate and obscure my true self.
Step 5: Admire my handiwork. I said buffing was the final step, but that’s not quite right. There is one last step—to admire for a moment what I’ve created. By no means are these mosaics masterpieces, but they reflect a God-given creativity that’s recently been loosed within me. I’m not sure if it’s a new quality that developed for this time when I need something to do with my mind and hands, or whether it was there all along, lying dormant while I was busy with other things, but it is a part of me that begs for expression these days. Stopping to inspect each mosaic and appreciate the work of my hands is a vital part of the process and an opportunity to be grateful in this season. With all its challenges and frustrations and fears (I will never say cancer is a blessing in disguise), this season has also brought great joys, deeper relationships, new friendships, new opportunities, beauty, and exploration.