Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rest in Artistic Peace

My friend Cynthia died yesterday. She left behind two gifted children, her husband Jon, and scores of families who took her art classes and fell in love.

Before she died, she posted these words on Facebook: "Life is full of twists and turns, and riddles and puzzles, that call us to figure them out. God is the mysterious giver of wisdom, by which to do this. We must face our challenges bravely, face to face, and learn from what is being given. C.Y."

Y stands for Youngblood. I gave her name to a character in "The Rivers Run Dry."  Fictional Cynthia Youngblood runs a homeless mission in Seattle's Pioneer Square. Not only was that something the real Cynthia might do, I wanted the world to meet her.

She had large eyes, blue and intuitive, full of compassion, and when you spoke to her, she always held her head just-so, as if tuning her mind to the pitch of your words. Although a visual artist of abundant natural gifts, Cynthia also wrote verse. 

One of her ballads struck me as an ideal children's book. It revolved around her husband, Captain Youngblood, an Alaskan fisherman, and a comical pursuit to find matching socks. The poem had everything a great children's book needs -- delight, rhythm, humor, surprises, and love. I asked Cynthia if I could share it with a friend, a multi-published children's book author. Cynthia was thrilled; she was an enormous fan of this writer's books.

What happened next still hurts. 

The author tore Cynthia's poem to shreds. Not formal. Doesn't obey standard publishing rules. What is the poem's point, really?  

On and on it went.  

When Cynthia asked to see the author's comments, I prefaced the criticism: "It's only one person's opinion. I still believe your poem could be published as a children's book, and a great one at that."

The author's opinion stung. It stung Cynthia the way a pinprick punctures a balloon, deflating the contents, sinking the vessel. 

Several days later, I sent Cynthia another note, more forcefully asserting the poem's strengths. And I described my own battles with rejection, including the top NY literary agents who insisted my books "would never make it."

I'm not saying there's a direct connection but sometime later Cynthia stopped writing. She was so busy. Teaching more art classes. Her own children needed her, so did her husband. She would get to it later. 

The following year Cynthia began having stomach pains. She lost weight. When doctors found the cancer, it was deep within her organs. She had lost so much weight that her already large blue eyes became enormous, as if trying to see everything before time ran out.

Time did.

In my grief, I find myself wishing I'd encouraged her more -- and understood better the lancing pain of rejection, particularly for a sensitive soul. But blame and absolution are for God alone, if He so chooses.

But the real point is this: Our time is short. 

"Life is full of twists and turns," she wrote, "and riddles and puzzles, that call us to figure them out." 

Write, paint, speak. Love. Share what you find. Give. "God is the mysterious giver of wisdom, by which to do this."

And I would add: Refuse the mean critics their audience. 

Time flows swiftly,

--the cool, sweet morning of your life-
and hours lie ahead before your sun sets
on the distant horizon.
How you spend these coming hours
cannot be bought again,
nor wound backward,
and choices made yesterday
blend into today, becoming part of who you will become
in the unformed future.

Life's path is strewn with defining moments
that reveal what lies within.
Sadly, we can only choose one thing
in any given moment,
so we must choose carefully,
knowing that this particular breath in time
will not come again.

bless, and you will be blessed;
give, and you will be given to;
love, and you will be loved.

This, God has promised us,
for whatever we give-out returns
like bread upon water.

And as you walk on,
may the good Lord bless
and keep you,
may your years be rich and long,
and may God complete
the patient work

that He's begun in you.

                                                                Cynthia Youngblood--April 4, 2007


  1. This is a beautiful tribute. Thank you for posting it. It's very timely, too, in that I've been thinking through how to develop a thick skin but also allow some criticism to grow me. Because they sting as a writer, and a person, and sometimes they are just wrong. Sometimes they aren't - it can be hard to tell.

    But, I can tell that this was a lovely, wonderful person who was blessed to have you as a friend, as I'm sure you were blessed to have her. I can feel the love you have for her in your writing.

  2. Thanks, Robin. It is difficult for sensitive types to develop thick skins -- will they lose their sensitivity? Does it change who they are? And yes, the critics are sometimes wrong, and sometimes right. Motive can often show the distinction.

    For instance, I later learned that the children's book author who eviscerated Cynthia's poem hated homeschoolers. HATED them. Cynthia was a homeschooler, and taught homeschool families.

    I'm certain that author's venom wasn't about the poem.

  3. Hi Sibella! First, I wanted to express my greatest sympathy toward the loss of your friend. I will be praying for her family. When we lose such beautiful people so early in this life, I choose to believe that God felt they were just too good for this world. He's decided to bless them by bringing them into His glory all the sooner. What a joy to know that she is with Jesus and can worship and use her many talents without criticism!!!! I guess the "critical author" would hate me too. (I homeschool) I just think it shows the author's true character through her words and actions. "What was Cynthia's point to the poem," the author asked . . . TO GLORIFY GOD with the talents He had given her!!! And sometimes, God uses our talents to bless multitudes . . . sometimes they are used to bless only a few. It is of no concern to us . . . for we are but slaves, bought with a price by a loving Christ. And now, Cynthia can experience unspeakable joy for all eternity. Rest assured, her beautiful soul and her writing that poured from her spirit and soul will be treasured in heaven!

    Be sure and let me know when "The Mountains Bow Down" comes out!!! I would love to review it and post it on my blog!

    How is the GREAT Northwest??? I miss Issaquah beyond words. Don't know if you've seen the new Narnia movie yet, but I felt like Edmond who LONGED to be in Narnia. However, God's will was for him to remain in his world and live out the life he was called to. Seattle is my Narnia. As odd as that might sound . . .it was a magical place for me . . . the place where God stepped into my life, revealed Himself in unbelievable ways, grabbed hold of my spirit, and set me on His course for my life. And then, He asked me to leave. It was one of the most painful moments of my life. And for many years I longed to go back. Yet, God showed me that He is still with me . . . whereever I go. Regardless, of the landscape in my life, He is ever-present. Still, Seattle (My Narnia) has the sweetest place in my heart. My memories are so vivid, so wonderful beyond words. So, knowing you are there fills my heart with warmth. Breathe in the fresh air! Marvel out the beauty of the mountains! And cherish every moment . . . God's majesty surrounds you!

    Okay, so that was probably longer than I expected. Just wanted to catch up with you! My how this year has flown by!!!!
    Praying you have a wonderful Christmas that is consumed with Christ's "Presence!"
    Love in Christ,

  4. Cynthia was a beautiful woman, a gifted artist and a poet. She will be missed so much. I would like to share this poem she wrote for us which we will always treasure.

    For Dennis and Diane/
    > They look so cute together
    > as he shyly holds her hand
    > And the years have flown by swiftly
    > As she helped him make his stand
    > But the tenderness between them
    > Is each day forever new
    > For these hearts still beat together
    > With a love that's pure and true...
    >Cynthia Youngblood October 19, 2008

  5. Halewolf: Thank you for sharing Cynthia's gift to you with us. She is so very, very missed.

  6. I knew Cindy in High School & it sounds like she did not change at all as far as artistic in all she persude. My sympathy! God's Grace.

  7. Cindy is one of my four sisters. Her funeral is today in Seattle WA and I am here in Wisconsin, remembering, grieving, reading her poetry, and thinking of my family, some there and some here. I was fortunate to have seen her the day before she died though. Another Wisconsin sister and I traveled out for a day and a half knowing we needed to say goodbye but not knowing it would be as soon as it was. It was not an easy thing to do as she was no longer the sister I knew and loved. It was clearly time for her to find rest with the Lord. I take some comfort today reading some of the things that she wrote through the years, wishing I had more things to read to help bring her closer...

    One of my favorites to read today was Cindy's Captain Youngblood story-it brought me a smile as
    I remembered sitting in my her living room on one of our trips out to Seattle. She was reading us her tale of Captian Youngblood and the sorting of the socks- with great delight, eyes sparkling with mischief as she let us in on some of the secrets of her household. I can picture her now prancing about the room as she practically acted out the whole thing with a great smile on her face and a pirate's accent in her voice. I belly laughed the whole time and could immediately envision a great watercolor illustrated children's book being born. Cindy and Brenna(her talented daughter) had already begun drafting some great illustrations for it. It would have been one of my favorite storybooks to read to my own children when they were little had my sister penned it or not. I would love to see it published some day still despite what one critic said. She never told any of us about the review or that it was ever looked at by someone...
    My creative, artistic, sensitive sister will be deeply and sorely missed.

  8. Linda -- that was the picture of your sister, reading that poem! That was her! Thank you for painting that image in my mind. The mischief in her eyes, so true, so true.

    I just met your sweet father at Flintoff's Funeral Home this morning (Dec22). What a dear man. He told me about you sisters, and I saw a picture of you all lined up on the stairs. You're all beautiful.

    She had such a warm loving family and you rallied around her to the last day. And you are right: she will be deeply and sorely missed.

    Thank you for sharing your memories.


    PS She is buried in a beautiful spot, on a mountainside, near the evergreen trees. The commitment service was lovely; she would have appreciated it.

  9. Sibella,
    Hi my name is Ashley! I found your blog through another blog, a book review blog, and I just wanted to share my sorrow for your friend. As a cancer survivor, it rapes my heart to hear of those who lost their battle.
    Again I am sorry,
    ashley :)

  10. Thank you, Ashley.

    I am glad you survived your ordeal.