Continuing in our interview series with author Lanier Ivester
LES: How have the deep losses of life shaped how you create and what you cultivate?
LI: I hope I can say that they have helped me to create more honestly. I really think that the losses I’ve experienced have stung my soul awake to the preciousness of life and the brooding tenderness of God in all things. We all have dark places to walk through, nights of the soul in which we can’t see our hand in front of our face. But there is one thing I can say with all certainty—God is there. There is not a valley I’ve walked through that has not been made precious to me by His presence. It’s not something I could ever really describe to another person, but I’d stake my life on its verity. The older I get, the less answers I have—but the more confidence I’ve got in the redemptive love of God. This confidence carries me along in an almost irresistible tide—and in the face of all appearances to the contrary at times. It’s in the light of that love that won’t let me go that I try to look at life and celebrate all the ways in which I see His grace breaking through.
When you are hurting, the last things you want are platitudes and pat answers. I know from personal experience that God has used unlikely sources to comfort me when well-meaning others have literally seared me with their ‘good advice’.
Beauty touches a place where advice can never reach; a story can articulate a hurt and heal it in the same stroke; music stirs an answering chord when words have utterly failed. The power and the love of God can be in all of these things, and He can meet us in them in ways we can’t even explain.
I used to think I needed an agenda for my art: a good, godly set-up and delivery. I don’t have an agenda anymore—I just want to be honest about how good God is, and how lovely His love for us.
LES: You wrote in one of your blog posts that “Believing that God is Himself the author of beauty, and that our own individual means of creating it is both a gift from Him and a glory to Him, I cannot think that devoting a whole day to preparing and serving a meal is a waste of time.” How has your faith influenced your pursuit of what is good, true and beautiful and your motivation for creating Beauty?
LI: Oh, it’s completely validated it. I remember that I went through a period in my early twenties in which I seriously despaired of the world and the life I longed to live in it. It just seemed like it was no use; the dreariness and ugliness of sin’s ravages were too much for the beauty I dreamed of creating. God in His mercy didn’t let me stay there—through the events of my life and my own particular journey with Him.
He has underscored again and again the very essence of His character in those three transcendentals, Beauty, Truth and Goodness, and has literally proven that they are alive and well, not only in eternity, but in the endearingly imperfect world around me.
LES: All artists have demons they fight and usually alone. What are some of the difficulties and obstacles that you confront as an artist and how do you overcome the darkness that threatens you?
LI: Fear. First and foremost. I stumble over that one all the time. I agonize over my words and tremble at the thought of them being misunderstood or misrepresented. It really seems unbearable at times to push that ‘publish’ button, silly as that sounds. One thing that helped me in that area was actually being misunderstood and misrepresented—the very thing I feared. “The reproaches of those that reproached You have fallen on me”—I felt that in my own small, scarcely-to-be-compared way. Just as if the Lord were grinning down on me: “So what? They made fun of you; they hated me.” Also, it’s made me examine my words so carefully, to be sure that they are saying what I want them to say. I hope it’s made me a better writer.
Another help is the enlistment of trusted friends. We all need people to whom we can confess our fears. Sometimes hearing the very words in my own mouth has made me laugh that demon in the face. And other times it’s been the Truth spoken out by one of my friends or the ‘effectual, fervent prayers’ they have said on my behalf that have driven out fear. Regardless, we need each other. Desperately.
LES: On your website you have a lovely dedication to “A Saint among Book Sellers – Kathrine Downs”. It explains how you came to do an online bookstore for old print books of a certain grace and genre. It leads me to think about how we are inspired by various people in our lives who serve as heroes or guides. Who are your heroes and how do they influence, inspire or guide you?
LI: A lot of my heroes are writers, of course. I cherish the way that they help me to see life and God and myself, and the value they place on things I’d otherwise think I was alone in noticing or hoping for. L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott were among the first to speak to me on such a deep level, and their influence remains steady and unflagging to this day. The fact that they both created against such desperate odds, and in the face of unique personal challenges, only makes their example more revered to me. Montgomery, in particular, gave voice to that beautiful ache which is the fleeting deposit of joy, and the sheer glory of the commonplace. When I learned that she had written under increasing shadows of clinical depression, my esteem for her was magnified tenfold. What a brave woman, to keep tenaciously putting down words to the good of more souls than she could ever imagine, in the very face of such darkness! It takes a whole lot more courage to write of beauty in this world, than to concede her cause with the masses (and the publishers!) and throw in the towel to cynicism and despair—that’s something the Lord impressed on me several years ago, when I stood quaking on the brink of my own calling. But Lucy Maud made me brave. Her example, and the imprint of her words and stories, inspire me on a daily basis.
Singer/ songwriter Karen Peris of the Innocence Mission is another heroine. She puts things into words and music that literally tear my soul open. It is a curiously beautiful and healing thing, and I love her for it. Sheldon Vanauken and his wife, Davy, of A Severe Mercy, are other friends Philip and I look forward to meeting in heaven (I keep a picture of Davy on my desk to remind me of the high adventure of the life in Christ and of the beauty of the ‘low door’ of service.) Lewis and Tolkien go without saying, I imagine. And Tasha Tudor sparked a vision in me long ago for the kind of life I wanted to live. I owe her so much.
I would have to honestly say, though, that my biggest hero is my husband. I admire his practical faith, his calm, quiet grasp on the character of God, his perspective on eternal realities. Life with him is an adventure and a joy.
Ironically, it was Katherine Downs would told me—so emphatically—never to marry a man I didn’t look up to above all others. By the unbelievable grace of God, I was able to do just that. Karen Peris said it for me when she wrote, “Seeing you, I know what is right and what is true/and I see the way I want to be, oh I see the way I want to be.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.