The Art in Me: A Celebration of Mentoring


By Ruthie Johnson | Twitter: @aquietstrength


Do you remember when you were little and you made a painting for someone you loved? No one could tell what it was. Really, it was just a big blob of brownish-black something because you had mixed all the colors together in the middle. Nonetheless, your loved one took it, exclaimed their excitement and proudly put it on the fridge with a smile.

There’s something about the fridge. There’s deep significance in this small act of display. The fridge: it’s the first billboard of our lives. It proclaims affirmation and excitement about who we are; it speaks to what we’re becoming.

It says, “I’m proud, and you are good.”

When I think about mentoring, it doesn’t stray too far from these early exchanges of creating and giving “fridge art.” It’s the process–the act of making, giving and receiving that makes the art special.

When I was in junior high I had a wonderful art teacher, Kristen Cartwright, who hung out with me. Looking back, she was quite young—about the age I am now. She chatted with me in her classroom after school while I waited for my brother to finish soccer practice. She would ask me questions about my day, my beliefs, and my thoughts; it seemed nothing was off limits. What she did was small, but significant. She was the first person to show me what it looked like to share life with someone. She treated me like an adult. She respected (and wanted) my opinion.

Our relationship became a lot like creating art. We were mixing and swirling, putting color into our world with conversation.

Layer by layer, piece by piece, we figured out life.

Like art, she realized we were both in process.

Our discussions almost always landed on God, our shared faith and the way that impacted how we lived our lives. Kristen wasn’t afraid for me to push back when I questioned what I believed. She challenged me to think about my faith beyond what my school, church, or family taught me. She made my faith personal. Even more importantly, she let me ask her questions.

Through this exchange of questions, she spoke value and potential into my worth as a person. She affirmed not just my ideas, but also my questioning. She was excited about who I was becoming. She was proud. She named my curiosity as “good” instead of turning it away. It was just like when my mom put my art on the fridge.

Sometimes, she didn’t have answers to my questions, and she wasn’t afraid to admit that to me. Those conversations created a foundation of wondering in me. This taught me it was okay to not have things “figured out.” My questions were just more colors that would mix together in wonders, worries, hopes, fears, and laughter.

Identity, like art, is messy.

Now, I have challenging conversations about what it means to understand yourself, and others, in difference. Conversations on things like race, gender, socioeconomics, culture and identity can be scary. Often, people feel lost and these identities can feel ambiguous. When we disagree or get challenged, we feel misunderstood and our soul pleads “Who am I?” I think back to my conversations with Kristen.

Kristen’s mentorship was crucial in grounding me in my faith. I learned how to swim in an ocean of wonder while being anchored to truth. When I question who I am because I’m not measuring up, I learned I only need one answer: my identity in Christ. Who I am in God is constant; nothing else needs to be. This has given me the courage to continue to step into the calling God has had on my life.

Over the years, my passion for art and my faith has grown.

Art continues to remind me of the wonder of process. Art demands me to have more patience than I have for myself. I need to push myself past my points of being “stuck”; I need to take risks, to dare and imagine. I need to know when to stop and walk away. I look at where I am now and what’s ahead. I would have never thought that those days of musing and painting in junior high would have affected me so deeply. I hope that I can do the same for others in a small ways as we share life together. I hope to speak into others that God in the process with them.

Thanks Kristen, for teaching me about art, process and showing me what it looked like to love Jesus in the in-betweens.

Thanks for putting my art on your fridge.


About Ruthie:
despresshoot5Ruthie Johnson has a passion for exploring how our identities reflect Jesus, and for learning what it means to have a Kingdom perspective that values the nations— what does it mean for EVERY tribe, nation, tongue and language to seek and know God? You can join Ruthie as she navigates the blurry lines of Jesus, faith and multiethnic identity at


Image credit: Brendan C