School Spirit Week: Creativity and Self Esteem, Part Two

I did not have an excessive amount of school spirit in high school. In fact, I only participated once in Spirit Week that I can recall. Because it was Superhero Day and my senior year and why not?

That day, the halls of Warsaw Community High School were jammed with Batmen, Spidermen, and Supermen, and one each of Super Mario, Underdog, and Wonder Woman with a skirt that totally did not follow the dress code.

And also me.

I think we should pause to appreciate how very cool I think I am in this picture.

No, I was not wearing red contacts. Unfortunately, it was just the camera flash.

A guy in my first class stared at me when I came in. “Who are you supposed to be?”

Instantly, I could feel my cheeks turning as red as my shirt. “I haven’t come up with a name yet.” Had he asked me my superpowers, I would have said mind reading. (Because that’s clearly the best choice for an already-manipulative amateur people-watcher.)

“What movie are you from?”

“I’m not from a movie,” I said, wishing suddenly that my power was invisibility.

We had attracted the half-hearted attention of the girl who sat across from me, the one from the Goth crowd whose disturbing artwork won prizes but who looked like she’d kill you if you tried to talk to her. She was, not surprisingly, not participating in Spirit Week.

“Well, that’s dumb,” the guy said.

I almost shrugged. Almost. But then I said, “The way I figured, I could dress up like a superhero that already exists. But why bother? I mean, it’s not like I could be a better Superman than Superman. I’d rather be my own superhero than a bad imitation of one that already exists.”

And, for the first time that I could remember, my neighbor looked at me, eyes sharply outlined with dark, thick eyeliner. “Huh,” she said. And there was a hint of something like a smile before our teacher started taking attendance and she turned away.

I still consider that the highest compliment I got in high school.

Why do I tell you this story, you ask? Well, it has to do with a question my friend Ronni asked on my blog post about The Lego Movie and creativity. She said, “What are some practical ways to evoke creativity? You say that giving someone a chance to create something is worthwhile. But how do we help a person find that niche?”

And I say…you let them be their own superhero.

No, seriously. My peers, my teachers, and my family had hundreds of chances to tell me my creativity was a bad thing. And occasionally they did (mostly teenagers who felt threatened by anyone who was different). But mostly, they didn’t.

Half of my fifth grade class joined in a game of “Transcontinental Railroad” I organized on the playground. My youth group friends pretended it was perfectly normal to play party games that involved paper boat competitions, marshmallow peep sculptures, and interpretative dances about the first Thanksgiving. My history teacher let me write an essay in the form of a one-act play. My college roommates held a funeral for our invisible piranha (long story).

Little-known fact: my friends and I are secretly ring-wraiths

Little-known fact: my friends and I are secretly ring-wraiths

Maybe the way to encourage people, especially kids, to be creative is to not tell them they can’t be. Let them be smart or artistic or social or athletic or whatever it is that God has gifted them with without worrying about whether it’s cool. Love them unconditionally so they have the confidence to do what they’re good at (and not feel worthless when they find things they aren’t good at).

When you love someone, you’ll compliment them and say what you appreciate about them—and you’ll also call them out when they’re being a jerk and be honest with them about what they need to work on. That gives your praise context.

A gold star doesn’t stand out very much in a sea of glitter. If you think society should be a machine churning out affirmation and appreciation for kids, that’s what you’re going to get. But that doesn’t mean affirmation and appreciation themselves are bad things.

Which leads me to Ronni’s other question: “How can Christians promote an idea that a person is valuable as a child of God and not based on works, while maintaining the view that it is what we create that is worthwhile?”

This has been a big one in my life in the past, as you’ll find out here. I was taught all of the right things: that my identity should be in Christ and that creating could be an act of worship.

The disconnect was: I wanted my identity to be in what I accomplished. Especially when I was good at it. And I wanted creativity to be an act of worship…of myself. No matter what I was taught, I’m still selfish…but I learned, and I am learning still.

I think it’s important to continue to teach kids two seemingly contradictory things: you are not what you accomplish. But accomplish things anyway out of love for God and joy in the gifts he gave you.

There will be times when they get that message wrong. They will put their dreams before God or think that Christian art and good art cannot coincide or that some talents are more valuable than others. And they might have to learn some things the hard way.

But keep telling them they can be their own superheroes, that they can create. It matters.

What’s something creative (even borderline weird) you did as a kid? What was your favorite way to play?


  1. One of my proudest moments in elementary school was the creation of the “Yuck-Yuck Cafe.” I think it just started with myself and a couple other friends, but at its peak nearly my whole second grade class was involved. During recess, we’d make completely inedible culinary creations. Our signature dish was Wild Onion Souffle, which was basically wild onion greens pounded into a paste and shaped into a small green patty.

    Ooh, and in Pre-Kindergarten my best friend and I would play slaves in Egypt and plot ways to escape from our fenced-in playground. For some reason (gosh, I was weird as a kid) we also pretended to go to the bathroom behind the play equipment, because I guess that’s what we thought slaves in Egypt would do. Thank heavens we kept our pants on.

    There were a lot of imaginative people in my class, though our imaginations didn’t always run the same direction. I recall in–4th grade, I think?–the majority of the class got involved in planning a wedding for our most visible “couple,” Andrea and Tanner. They set a date, appointed people to various roles, managed to get hold of flower petals, and then actually carried the darn thing out.

    Meanwhile, my best friend Melina and I plotted to crash the wedding, which we ultimately did by running yelling through the middle of it.

    Gosh, the memories. Thanks for bringing them back!

  2. My best friend, her brother, and I used to pretend my cat was a “beautiful African lion.” and we pretended to be Pokemon when we played in our garden. my backyard was absolutely perfect for a girl with a huge imagination. 🙂

  3. Over spring break last week my van pretended during one of the short legs of the trip that it was was military vehicle and each of us had a different job, like pilot and captain and navigator. It didn’t get too elaborate, but we hadn’t done anything like that in a long time.

    As an aside, your costume does somewhat resemble Scarlet Witch in Avengers 2.

  4. When living in the Belgian Congo in the late forties and fifties as a young teenager I would go into the forest, close to the mission station, and collect all kinds of berries, leaves, bark and sap from trees and plants, take them back home and make up experimental concoctions, put them in jars with water, alcohol and other liquids, leaving them to brew, sometimes for weeks. I pretended to be a budding scientist who would, after much trial and error and great patience, discover a wonderful remedy to cure some disease. (But once I got lost for several hours while on a herb hunt before I found my way back to the mission station…I wasn’t an aspiring scientist anymore, just a scared and worried kid!) I remember walking nonchalantly into the house as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. And I never told anyone about it.

  5. Ahh I love reading these! For me the difference between reality and imagination was very blurry as a child… there were the millions of imaginary animals I had as pets and I even convinced my friends to adopt their offspring because it was getting crowded (cats, rainbow macaws, spider monkeys, a horse, dogs…) there was the 2 year long “Princess Game” in 4th grade involving my friends and I being heirs to the British crown hiding from the evil Madam Tatiosa (it involved much secret code communication during class time, I can assure you). I have not mentioned the times that “stephanie” would leave and “Cuddly Grover” would appear instead. Or the times I would just dress up as different people for supper. There was also the fairy-kingdom game (wars over the throne, evil fairy Veronika)… and lots more. 🙂

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