What Are You Planting?

What Are You Planting?

Dear friend,

The other day I got the chance to plant some sunflowers and zinnias in a raised bed at The Company. I was only outside for about forty-five minutes, but the satisfying feeling of washing dirt from under my nails and a job well done was unmistakable.

When you’re outside getting fresh air, working on a project that you know will have measurable growth in the coming days, you get to participate in the work of God’s creation. The first thing God did for Adam after He made him, was plant a garden (Genesis 2:8, 15).

Getting dirty and gardening are a simple pleasure that humanity was made for.

You get vitamin D from sunshine, fresh air and exercise.

You get to be close to creation.

But I hated getting dirty!

When I was little, my parents could barely get me outside. They like to tell me that when I was a baby and they would set me down outside, I would curl my feet away from the grass and dirt. I always freaked out whenever there were bugs around (the horror when one landed on me!), and I hated getting dirty.

Thankfully, as I grew older I’ve learned to appreciate being outside, getting dirty, and being uncomfortable. I definitely still don’t enjoy the feeling of dried dirt stuck to my fingers. But it makes washing my hands way more satisfying than an average day.

I still hate being around bugs. But I appreciate the way they interact with the environment and many of them help plants grow (like worms, ladybugs, and bees.)

That is one of the reasons I grow most of my plants indoors. I do like a good outdoor garden (hence the planting of sunflowers.) But growing plants any time of year that are self-contained in pots that I can scatter to any surface relatively near a window, is way easier for me. And seeing my spider-plant make little babies makes me happy.

But I’ve got a brown thumb!

Try a kind of plant you haven’t before. You likely haven’t found the kind of gardening that is right for you. Like I just mentioned, growing plants indoors has been most successful for me.

But for my mom, she prefers the outdoors.

In fact, for the longest time, my mom tried to grow a vegetable garden. Rabbits, bugs, and moles would ravage through it and the little bit of produce just wasn’t worth the time she spent in it. She also just didn’t really enjoy growing vegetables.

But guess what?

My mom has phenomenal landscaping all over her yard. Last year she started a long-stem flower garden and absolutely loved growing it. She was so proud when she brought in her first bouquet of the year.

If you’ve failed miserably before, try something new. It’s not the end of the world when a plant dies. You’ve just got to try again. There are tons of options like succulents, houseplants, porch gardening, flower gardens, and vegetable gardens.

What kind of planting are you going to try?


R. J. Catlin

The Ultimate Source of Creativity

The Ultimate Source of Creativity

Dear friend,

I am in a time of life that makes me uncertain about many things.

It’s a hazard of being a young adult. (Alli Prince has a great article on how to survive being a young adult.)

Heck, it’s a hazard of being human.

“Don’t know what I’m going to do after high school.”

“Don’t know what job I’ll get after college.”

“Don’t know where to settle down.”

Don’t know.

For me, it’s “don’t know if I’ll be creative enough.”

The book

I’ve been reading Secrets of the Secret Place by Bob Sorge for school and something he says in chapter four stood out to me.

“Some people put their best energies into creative thinking… Instead of focusing on being creative, focus on being obedient.” (p. 15)

Sorge goes on to say that it is more productive to sit and listen to what God has to say than try to come up with a solution or plan ourselves. I don’t know the future. A plan that I make today could become completely obsolete by tomorrow. Only God knows the future, so shouldn’t I leave the planning to him?

Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Photo by Rob

(In other words, some people trust in their own strength or success.)

“But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” (Psalm 33:11)

The source

This also means I can trust God with my creativity.

God is infinitely creative. I mean, He created your brain. We still don’t know entirely just how brains work.

If He created my brain, God knows exactly what inspiration will help me when I’m working on a project. He knows what blog post I should write each week. God knows what picture I need to draw or paint. He knows what story I need to tell.

God knows.

So, I can trust Him to give me the perfect amount of creativity exactly when I need it.

That gives me so much relief. It takes the pressure off of me, and helps me relax knowing God has a plan and perfect timing.

What project do you need God’s inspiration for? Ask Him for creativity. He’s got it in spades and loves to give gifts abundantly (Jeremiah 29:11).


R. J. Catlin

What In The World?

What In The World?

Dear friend,

In my freshman year of high school, my end-of-the-year history project was to replicate an antique map. I chose a map of Iceland. I will admit to many moments of frustration, but I absolutely loved that project. It took me four months to finish. As it turns out, cartography is incredibly time-consuming and very detail-oriented.

History of cartography

Maps have been used for thousands of years, beginning with maps of the night sky and localized maps. These were used for organizing societies around agricultural seasons.

According to this environmental website, “Surveying permitted the building of huge monuments, to plot how much land people owned and charge them tax.”

Maps have been used to show the predominance of religions. They were also used by many countries as propaganda to show political power, even as recently as World War II. It wasn’t until the 14th century A.D. that nautical charts were compiled for navigation.

The earliest known world map is the Imago Mundi. It is a circular Babylonian map on a clay tablet that portrays the Mesopotamian world of the ancient Middle East. The tablet dates back to just under three thousand years ago.

The first paper maps were done by the ancient Greeks. The Chinese were the first to utilize a grid system in mapping which increased the geographical accuracy of their maps significantly.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens

Do you love maps?

In order to thrive in a job like cartography, you should, first of all, love maps. You should also be detail-oriented and organized. The job requires analytical reasoning and technological skills for programs like GIS (geographic information system). If you are both an art and math enthusiast then cartography would be a great job for you to learn.

If you are interested in becoming a cartographer Indeed and bestcollegesonline.org have a list of things to do to become a cartographer. You can pursue a bachelor’s degree in cartography or a related field, like geography, computer science, or surveying.

If going to college is not your cup of tea (Noah Matthews an inspiring article on non-traditional education), there are certifications available like this one. The next step would be getting an initial license, gaining experience (like finding an internship or entry-level job), and then getting your final license.

If you are interested in learning about mapmaking but want to start smaller, there are plenty of resources to get started.

Check out atlases from the library and study them. Sketch your own maps. Or copy a pretty map like I did in high school. There are also plenty of websites that can connect you to the cartography community such as Map of the Week, The Map Room, and Something About Maps.

What are you waiting for?


R. J. Catlin

Drawing Inspiration

Drawing Inspiration

Dear friend,

I don’t know about you, but I hear a lot of people say, “I can’t draw.”

I’m pretty sure they’re talking about realistic pencil drawings, complete with the shading and background. But even if they don’t mean that kind of drawing (just look at Pablo Picasso’s drawings), I would have to disagree.

Anybody can draw

You don’t even need functioning hands to draw. I mean, have you seen Joni Eareckson Tada’s work? And she’s a quadriplegic.

A lot of people believe they can’t draw because our society has taught us to appreciate art from afar and discouraged us from participating in it firsthand. Only about a hundred fifty years ago drawing was taught as an essential skill for a woman to be considered accomplished.

Growing up, I loved drawing. I am so thankful my parents encouraged my interest in the arts. Something my mom did to encourage this was using a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards as part of my homeschool curriculum in high school. The book taught me how to draw realistically and drastically improved my ability.

Ink on Paper German Shepherd Drawing Quote

It also taught me how to look at the world with an artistic eye and really see the world.

Drawing and creating do help us have fun in the otherwise monotonous routines of jobs, but they also rewire our brains to see.

Betty Edwards has some wonderful things to say about psychology and drawing on her website.

The thing about drawing is that anyone can do it. People just aren’t taught the principles of drawing. They aren’t given the opportunity to practice when they are young. When they’re adults they are convinced that they won’t ever be able to draw because they are bad at it right now.

For one thing, whoever said that you should stop doing something because you are bad at it is an ignoramus. For another, Betty has examples of the improvements of her students in one week and they are astounding. Most of her students are adults who believed they couldn’t draw.

Let’s draw right now

Take out a piece of paper. It can be printer paper, sketchbook paper, or lined notebook paper. Get out a pencil.

Now, what is in front of you right now? A pen, a lamp, a tv, a trashcan. It doesn’t matter what it is, pick an object. Forget everything you know about that object. I want you to draw the outline of that object.

No details. No shading. Just follow the outline of the object.

Here’s the catch: you aren’t allowed to look at your hand or the paper. Keep your eyes on the object.

Are you done?

Does it look bad? Good. Sign and date it and stick it on your fridge. You just drew a picture of something from real life. Good job!

Still interested in drawing? There are plenty of beginner drawing videos in addition to drawing exercises on Betty Edwards’ website.


R. J. Catlin

Are You Talented?

Are You Talented?

Dear friend,

Let’s talk about talents.

When most people say talent, they mean the one that the dictionary defines as “Eminent abilities; superior genius.”

But is that what talents actually are?

According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary the word talent, which means to bear in Latin, was originally connected to the weight of money.

In ancient times, people paid for things by weight. A merchant’s tools were a set of scales and weights instead of a barcode scanner and cash register. Later, when money became standardized, a talent became the name of a coin that weighed a specific amount.

Talent noun
“Faculty; skill; natural gift or endowment; a metaphorical application of the word, said to be borrowed from the Scriptural parable of the talents (Matthew 25:24 KJV).”

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

The story about talents

In the parable referenced, a rich man travels to another country and leaves three sums of money (Hebrew talents in the King James Version) to the charge of three employees.

Two employees invested the money, doubling it. The third employee buried the money he was given because he was either too lazy or too afraid to do something with it.

When the rich man came home, he rewarded the first two employees with more responsibilities, but he fired the last employee.

I highly recommend reading the story for yourself. It’ll take you three minutes.

The conclusion Webster makes is that God has given everyone talents, or skills, as the case may be.

How you choose to nurture and invest those skills will determine your success.

Talents are skills.

How you choose to nurture and invest your skills will determine your success.

Don’t have talent or won’t try?

How many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t ________.” Or, “I don’t have the talent for it.” Or perhaps, “I could never _________.”

Perhaps you have said those words yourself.

“I can’t” is an interesting phrase. People often use it as an excuse for why they don’t do some particular thing.

If I don’t have a natural inclination towards a particular skill, like carpentry, it does not mean I cannot do it. It means I can’t do it right now because I haven’t taken the time to learn and practice.

I could learn how to build a house or fly a plane if I wished or had the passion to.

I don’t. And that is where the “could never” turns into “won’t.”

Now, I am not accusing you.

There are only so many things we can spend our time on. We tend to spend our time on the things we enjoy. And we enjoy the things we are good at naturally. That’s where our passions come from. Each of us was built in a particular way for particular tasks.

When we lean into things we are good at, we become passionate. When we lean into the things we are not good at, we grow.

There is a time and place for both.

What will you do now?

Here’s an exercise.

Take out three sheets of paper and a pen.

List 10 things that you are good at on one paper. List 10 things you aren’t good at on another. On the last paper, list 10 things you want to be good at.

How many of those things on that third paper overlap with the first and second?

Take one of those things on the third paper and find one way to grow that skill. If you don’t know where to start, message me. Let’s come up with a plan together.

You can do it.


R. J. Catlin

Are You Bored Yet?

Are You Bored Yet?

Dear friend,

Have you ever been bored? I was bored once.

I was fifteen and in a car with a bunch of friends driving to Michigan from Tennessee, which is a long drive.

Like all-day kind of long.

Mid-afternoon, everyone decided to take a nap. So there I was stuck in the car with sleeping friends and just a notebook and pen and the window I was sitting by. After a half hour of staring out the window, I’d had enough of just my thoughts and the passing billboards.

I just wanted to read a book. I didn’t have a book.

But I did have my notebook. I decided to challenge myself and try to write the most descriptive sentence I could come up with. I took one look at that sentence and said to myself, “This could be a really interesting story.”

And thus began my first novel.

Photo by cottonbro studio

Be bored

Boredom sucks. I get that. But boredom is also really good for you.

It creates an opening for your mind to process things that it hasn’t processed yet. Boredom opens an opportunity for you to think about things you want to think about that you haven’t thought about before. It also creates a drive to do things you haven’t previously had the motivation for.

Boredom gives the left side of your brain (the logic side) a break and lets the right side (the creative side) do a bit of work. This video on boredom notes that we are more creative when our minds are allowed to wander.

If you’re interested in how boredom works scientifically and how to use it to the best advantage this video by YouTuber Pete Judo is pretty helpful. Pete talks about how our brain responds to boredom and the conclusion he comes to is to shake up your routine. To read more about changing up your routine check out my post on inspiration.

We are more creative when we

allow our minds to wander.

The moral of the story

So, what was the point of my story?

Boredom creates opportunities.

My boring car ride turned into many opportunities I would not have otherwise had. My love of storytelling would likely still be hidden. I wouldn’t have become as good of friends with many of my closest friends who are also writers.

I certainly would not have moved to Ohio to learn how to become an author.

Boredom might be uncomfortable for a little while, but the impact it has when we allow a little of it into our lives is irreplaceable.

Go try it. Lie on the living room floor for an hour with your phone turned off. Go for a drive with nothing to listen to. Be bored for a bit and see what comes of it.

Maybe you’ll find something you’re passionate about from the experience.


R. J. Catlin

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