By Shelia Erwin
Do you know how to nurture your kids in their God-given talents so even when they’re little, they can be big dreamers?
One morning in 2014, my husband, Hank, and I were standing together and looking out our hotel window at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. It was one of the big “worth it” moments for us as parents. That night we would walk the red carpet for the world premiere of our two sons’ newest movie.
I’m often asked how I responded when Andy and Jon said they believed God wanted them to make movies. Well, I believed my boys, and I believed in them. I also believed that God wanted me to be part of that process.
As parents, we can easily become stressed and discouraged as we juggle the many tasks of raising kids, especially highly creative children. Yet I believe that God equips those He has called. When we help cultivate our children’s God-given gifts, He in turn equips them for the work He has in mind.
Parent the children God gives you
Early on, I saw some issues in my sons’ temperaments that, if left unbridled, could someday rise up to destroy them. They could show such ferocity at times, and in such different ways. I had believed that it was my job as
a parent to tame these wild stallions.
But I began to recognize that these traits were part of my sons’ unique personalities, and if they could be brought under the control of God’s wisdom and direction, they would be the making of creative, passionate thoroughbreds. That doesn’t mean Hank and I avoided teaching discipline and responsibility, or helping our boys recognize sin and try to steer clear of it. But it did require a worldview adjustment, an understanding that some of our boys’ qualities didn’t need to be diminished but given direction.
We asked God for wisdom, trusting Him that it would be given (James 1:5). And God showed up, helping us direct our boys’ inner fire, guiding our parenting decisions to nurture curiosity, creativity and compassion without extinguishing their passion.
I was recently talking with Jon, now a parent himself. I mentioned that the character traits that I had to discipline him and his brother for—the ones that drove me crazy!—are the very traits that God is using in their lives in accomplishing His will. The Creator of all things can take our weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
Instead of asking why God made your little big dreamer the way He did, ask Him, “What guidance and direction do You have for this child?” Be thankful for how He has made your children, always seeking wisdom in how you can best equip them.
Grace through mistakes for little big dreamers
I was a creative child myself, which generally drove my mother up the wall. When I was about 12 years old, I spent many hours painting a portrait of my mom while she was in the hospital. When she arrived home, I met her at the door with my gift, but she could only see the oil paint all over her kitchen table. As a mom, I can understand her response. How often do we look past those surges of childhood creativity and see only the mess, the broken camera, the tools left out in the rain? In those moments with my sons, I remembered the pain I felt over my mother’s lack of acknowledging my creative efforts. And I wanted to be better with my boys.
Yet I also recognized that my mom taught me how to live a more disciplined, responsible life, to not let my creativity control and consume me. And so there is a balance here, between nurturing a child’s creative spirit and helping him or her understand that we must still operate within certain practicalities and responsibilities.
As I encountered the mess and complications of raising two creative boys, I stuck to a principle of first seeing things through my sons’ eyes, not just my grown-up eyes. I wanted my boys to know that I treasured their unique, fiery spirits and creativity. One of the most important things we all need to see is that we are unique creations of God who have been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
Let your children know that God has a special plan for that uniqueness. Ask God to give them a clear understanding of the work He designed them to accomplish.
Teach what you know; trust God for the rest
Hank encouraged the boys to dream big, even when they were little. He taught them a key principle that would make the difference in everything they tried to do. He called it “The Wow Factor.” If someone sees your work and says, “That’s nice,” you’re not done. Go back and work some more until they say, “Wow!”
Our sons’ journey into filmmaking began with Hank’s love for radio and television. Hank worked at a Dallas TV station to help pay for seminary. After a year, the news director asked him to join their news team. Our sons grew up thinking all fathers were on TV.
As teens, they were allowed to work on their dad’s set, and they caught the same bug their father had. They also became cameramen for high school games, edited video and learned how to work in the production booth. From there, they branched out into making short films for summer camps. They used their maturing storytelling skills to integrate the Gospel message into every video the campers took home. Through these projects, they learned that God could take limited resources and do mighty work.
Step by step, God began to teach my little big dreamers how to make a movie. He did this by opening doors for projects that were just a little bit out of their existing skill set. As they were willing to learn new skills, other assignments would come. God was faithful to enable our sons to do what He had called them to do. And He will do the same for your children.
At some point, the active role of parents starts to fade from this picture. But as God equips children to grow their skills, parents have a chance for a new role: to come alongside them. We waited to be asked into our sons’ world of filmmaking. And when they outgrew our ability to help, we stepped aside. Now we stand on the sidelines and cheer them on.
Prepare little big dreamers for disappointment
Following God’s plan doesn’t mean we get to pursue our dreams without failure and disappointment. When our boys were young, we taught these little big dreamers that God has His plan. Even if it is different from our plan, we will submit to it. Yes, there might be pain and disappointment and long periods of waiting. But we can thank Him for His wisdom and presence in the midst of the journey. He directs and instructs us by both giving and withholding.
My sons encountered a major obstacle and disappointment with their first big film. Everything was going great. The movie was finished. Then came the low point. They were told that because of the subject matter, no one wanted to distribute the movie in theaters. Even though promises had been made, they were told to just put it out on DVD.
Encourage them to be flexible
With this heartbreaking news, Andy and Jon sought God’s direction in prayer. They decided that the Lord really did want this movie to be seen by a broader audience. While Andy edited the movie, Jon set out to raise the $2 million needed to market and distribute the film.
So we all prayed. Eventually, the money began to arrive. But God first had to take them to the end of their human resources before He began to provide. In October of 2012, October Baby opened nationwide. It broke into the top 10 movies that first weekend, though it was only on a limited number of screens.
As parents, we need to start early in teaching our little big dreamers how to face disappointments. They are bound to encounter obstacles on the way to their dreams. There will be times of heartache, times when they don’t get in the band or their artwork isn’t selected for exhibit. Show them how to keep trying, to keep improving, to continue turning to God and trusting His guidance. So often God uses failure, and none of us ever know what He is planning.
Only part of the masterpiece
“Instead of being soloists, can we become a symphony?” Those were the words of my son Jon as he and his brother announced the co-founding of their new movie studio, Kingdom Story Company. It was a reminder that I am only part of this masterpiece. Over the years, as I did what I could to contribute to my sons’ journey, I had only been one brush in the hand of a powerful God. I certainly hadn’t been the only brush. He had used many brushes.
God had given my sons His creative ambition. He had prepared them for His dream for such a day as this, and that kingdom story has only just begun.
©2020 by Shelia Erwin. Used by permission. All rights reserved. This article was adapted from Raising Up Dreamers and first appeared in the August/September 2020 issue of Focus on the Family Magazine. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/little-big-dreamers-nurture-their-talents/