Natalie Cherie Campbell
The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul. No matter our talents, education, backgrounds, or abilities, we each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.
—Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
What do you think of when you hear the word creative? I think of being artsy and original. When you hear the word creative, do you think of yourself? For a long time I didn’t.
Looking back, it amazes me that I didn’t. I was 4 years old when I started learning the piano and was very musical in other ways growing up. I wrote songs as a blossoming tween—though, let me tell you, creativity is not bound by quality (those songs were sooo dramatic, they fairly ooze!). For years, I thought music was my one and only “big” talent, which meant it didn’t really count. Being creative meant more than just having one talent, it was . . . a way of being, something I couldn’t be. I thought I couldn’t draw or dance because those were my sister’s talents, and she was the creative one, as though creativity was a zero-sum game and only certain talents counted.
But one day in college, I decided that I was a creative person. It was such a simple paradigm shift. I just decided to count. I could draw and dance if I wanted to. It didn’t matter that my cartoons and watercolors were all imitations. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t choreographing the dances I was learning in my classes. I have a few pictures I’m proud of, and I made it onto a folk-dance team. Every time I finished a cartoon or watercolor painting, I’d go find my husband and flaunt my work, like a kid presenting my masterpiece. Every time I’d dance, I felt connected to myself, the other dancers, God, and the cultures of the world. Dancing was being ecstatically alive.
Still, no matter how creative I have become, there is always something I’m sure I cannot do. Right now, it’s cooking. When I was 14, it was crocheting. My grandma tried to teach me, but my fingers were uncoordinated, and I bungled up the edges and made squares into lopsided triangles, wondering how in the world it got to be that way. So I gave up. Years later, I found her crochet hook and ball of yarn buried in my boxes and decided that I’d try again. I now make blankets, stuffed animals, and hats, whatever catches my fancy. I’m currently making a Cthulhu stuffed animal for a friend’s baby, a friend my husband met through a Dungeons and Dragons group. It looks so cool!
Last year, I made a white blanket, headband, and pair of booties for the blessing day of my older sister’s soon-to-be-born baby. But her baby, Stephanie, was stillborn. Instead, she and her husband dressed Stephanie in the little white dress my sister had sewn and in the booties and headband I had crocheted, and they buried her, swaddled in my white, ruffled, crocheted blanket with its interwoven purple ribbon—my sister’s favorite color. I never got to see Stephanie or to touch her, and I couldn’t comfort my sister at the funeral, but with Stephanie wrapped in the work of my hands, I know that they both felt my love. I had no idea that a passing fancy could become so meaningful. I also made my sister and her husband a scrapbook of the few pictures they had had taken of them with Stephanie. I started scrapbooking during my senior year of high school because I’m deeply nostalgic and hate change. This proved to be another fancy I was grateful for, because my sister and her husband needed the comfort of feeling close to Stephanie, and they needed it fast.
It’s not just that I’ve decided I can be “a creative person.” I’ve chosen to make creativity my mission—to move through this world leaving a trail of beauty. Creativity is foundational to my religious beliefs. It helps me to “find a path to peace, hope, and joy—even during times of trial and distress,” as was so beautifully articulated by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, one of the apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As he expressed it at the October 2008 LDS General Conference:
Creation brings deep satisfaction and fulfillment. We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter into our hands and mold it into something of beauty. . . .
You might say, “I’m not the creative type. When I sing, I’m always half a tone above or below the note. I cannot draw a line without a ruler. And the only practical use for my homemade bread is as a paperweight or as a doorstop.”
If that is how you feel, think again, and remember that you are spirit [children] of the most creative Being in the universe. Isn’t it remarkable to think that your very spirits are fashioned by an endlessly creative and eternally compassionate God? Think about it—your spirit body is a masterpiece, created with a beauty, function, and capacity beyond imagination.
But to what end were we created? We were created with the express purpose and potential of experiencing a fullness of joy.1
The LDS Church created a video to highlight these words. When I saw it for the first time, I knew that my creativity was a heritage and a vocation that I needed to nurture and pass on.
So I am here, trying to make my mark on the world as a creative nonfiction writer and to fulfill my sense of this vocation by speaking, soul to soul, with the written word. Yes, I am a “creative” person, and that fact is stitched into the deepest parts of my identity because I view it as vocation. It’s true that my modes of creativity, although eclectic, are of a traditional brand, giving me an “in” to the creative category. But you don’t need a list of qualifying creative strains to be creative. It doesn’t matter what you can or cannot do, or what is traditionally categorized as “creativity.” You are creative. You count.
We must expand what counts. As Uchtdorf put it: “The bounds of creativity extend far beyond the limits of a canvas or a sheet of paper and do not require a brush, a pen, or the keys of a piano. Creation means bringing into existence something that did not exist before. . . .” For example, we students at Harvard Divinity School preach; we synthesize ideas and present new interpretations of concepts through our research. We care about expanding our abilities or we wouldn’t be here. We are creative because we care—about people, life, compassion, beauty, justice, forward thinking, and changing the world. These are all pursuits of purpose and beauty. These pursuits require creativity—we all must create a space, a community, a world that can support our creative vision.
Uchtdorf preached: “Don’t let fear of failure discourage you. Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you—whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside.” We must not let perfect be the enemy of good, as the saying goes. To that end, he gave the following advice:
If you still feel incapable of creating, start small. Try to see how many smiles you can create, write a letter of appreciation, learn a new skill, identify a space and beautify it. . . .
The more you trust and rely upon the Spirit, the greater your capacity to create. That is your opportunity in this life and your destiny in the life to come. . . . As you take the normal opportunities of your daily life and create something of beauty and helpfulness, you improve not only the world around you but also the world within you.
Uchtdorf inspires us to use “normal opportunities” to create in our “daily life,” adding “helpfulness” to beauty as a manifestation of creativity. He teaches us to believe that what we create can transform not only our external and internal spaces but our relationships and our communities. Such an understanding of creativity allows us to be creative in accessible, meaningful, powerful ways. Therein lies the potential for a crochet stitch to become transformative.
My blessing to us all is that our understanding may ever increase, our vocations always burn bright, and our creative horizons continually broaden so that we can discover creativity within ourselves and make beautiful the world.
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Happiness, Your Heritage,” talk at the October 2008 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/10?lang=eng. All quotations here are from this presentation.
Natalie Cherie Campbell, MTS ’18, studied religion and literature at Harvard Divinity School. She has worked as an editor and writer for various publications, including the Ensign and the Liahona of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was the student editorial assistant in HDS’s Office of Communications for 2016–17 and 2017–18.