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Everyday Spirituality with Lily Li | Everyday Spirituality | connect.faith
Pastor Debbie speaks with Lily Li about the intersections of writing, visual art, motherhood, meditation, and more.
Everyday Spirituality with Lily Li
Debbie Bronkema: [00:00:00] This is Everyday Spirituality, a podcast where we explore the stories of people whose spiritual practices fill them up for the journey of everyday life. I’m Pastor Debbie Bronkema, leader of an online community called connect.faith, where creativity, spirituality, and justice meet. Music and production by Evan Closser.
This is Everyday Spirituality with connect.faith. I am Debbie Bronkema and I’m here today with Lily Li. Lily is a wonderful artist. She’s actually the artist that created the cover art for Writing Toward Wholeness for us through Cyclical Publishing, and I’m just really grateful for that and for getting to connect with her and learn about her work.
She’s also a writer, and she’s a wife and a mom. And she’s married to a graphic artist, so there’s lots of art in her life, and there’s also a [00:01:00] lot of room for creativity and spirituality. So today I’m just very thankful that I get to talk to you and hear about your story. Thanks for being here.
Lily Li: Yeah, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Thank you for inviting me.
Debbie Bronkema: Where did art start in your life? How did you begin as an artist?
Lily Li: Hmm. Yeah, that’s a good question. I think for me, I’ve always been creative, like ever since I was a little girl. My mom would tell me, first thing I picked up was a pencil.
Yeah. And she said that I just really loved drawing. I really liked painting when I was really young and she felt like there was something there for me. So I think as young as I can remember, I’ve been creating visually and that seems to have been kind of the medium that I gravitate towards.
I know some artists are musicians, some artists are our chefs, some are writers. But I think visual [00:02:00] art has always been a little bit more of my thing. I’ve also enjoyed writing. Yeah, so art for me has been something that I just naturally fell into.
Obviously when I was really young, I didn’t know there was this thing called Artist. It was just something you did. Because you enjoyed it. So, yeah!
Debbie Bronkema: So it’s been sort of a lifelong practice for you to just be creative through visual?
Lily Li: Sure. Yeah, exactly.
Debbie Bronkema: So then did you end up going to school for that? Or when did you discover the word artist and realize, "Oh, this is me?"
Lily Li: I actually never received any formal training as an artist. I guess formal in the sense that you pay a lot of money to go to an institution and then they give you some kind of degree that says like, you’re an artist.
Debbie Bronkema: Right.
Lily Li: I never did that. I’m actually trained as a therapist. So I received official training in psychology and [00:03:00] social sciences and things like that, but nothing related to art.
And we can talk a little bit more about that and how my journey has led me back to art and to visual and writing art as I evolved in my story. But basically, art for me has always been this thing that I’ve done or gone back to just through different seasons of my life.
I just enjoy doing it on my own. It’s extremely calming for me and relaxing and it’s something that I just really enjoy. I never really wanted to do art as a commercial practice because I think anything that like really turns it into a job really removes the pleasure aspect of doing art for me.
That’s part of the reason I always saw myself as kind of just something I did on the side and really enjoyed dabbling in. But there’s so much pressure when you have to deliver things for other people. Not to say I haven’t done that in the past. There’s been requests here and [00:04:00] there, you know, the book cover being one of the requests, but it’s definitely not something I do primarily.
Debbie Bronkema: So are you working then primarily as a therapist at this point?
Lily Li: Yes. And actually, it’s interesting that you asked that. I’m not sure if I mentioned, but I recently had a baby boy and he’s about five months old. So I’m currently a mother. And so, I think of like the different identities in my life as an ever evolving cascade of priorities. And I feel like right now, I actually would put my title as mother first.
Debbie Bronkema: Okay, okay.
Lily Li: And, you know, "Artist" has always been there somewhere, but right now I think the priority in my life is raising this little boy and making sure he’s loved. And God knows how much need there is for taking care of an infant
They just have so many needs. It really is a full-time job.
Debbie Bronkema: Yes!
Lily Li: So I guess I see the different roles in my life [00:05:00] as always taking different states of importance I guess? Not to say the artist in me is not important, but it’s just deprioritized at this stage in my life.
Right now I would probably categorize it as Lily Li, mother first, then maybe therapist, then maybe artist. And then within artist, there’s so many different ways you can create, right? Like, so for me it’s like visual art and writing. Lately I’ve been getting this inkling to write a book. And I’m exploring kind of this idea of what it would be like to create a children’s book for my son. So I kind of see all of the identities that I have blending and integrating into one and trying to figure out for each season of my life, that could change and the outcome of that can change if that makes?
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah, that there are chapters and there are times and I love the way that you described different pieces getting louder and different times [00:06:00] and coming first.
Lily Li: Exactly. Yeah.
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah. Have you ever done some kind of combinations of art and therapy? Has that been something that you’ve tried?
Lily Li: I think one thing that’s been really interesting is I realized that there aren’t that many therapists out there that are also visual artists. If you know any, please let me know! But yeah, so I’ve been exploring kind of what this unique avenue that I feel like God has given me in these two areas could look like.
And so it kind of turned into this like illustrative psychotherapy. I don’t really know how to explain that, but I’ve been doing these abstract illustrations that try to help people understand and see things that they’re dealing with. So, for example, working with clients with depression.
Or anxiety, which is a very [00:07:00] common mental health condition these days with all that’s happening in the world. I’ve been exploring what it could look like to have visualized elements in treating clients with depression or anxiety through watercolor .
Debbie Bronkema: Oh, really? That’s interesting.
Lily Li: It’s something that I’ve been experimenting with and I just really need to find time to do it because obviously "Mother" is first right now in my life. So I think at some point down the road when I get some more of my time back, I would love to do more of this and show you a little bit about what that looks like.
Cause there’s something really, really unique about watercolor. So I do a lot of watercolor paintings that are quite abstract and I use a lot of shapes. I think colors really speak to emotion in different ways that people experience emotion and different ways people [00:08:00] identify in themselves, of like what they’re feeling.
Because it’s so abstract, people can kind of come up with their own interpretations of what that color means to them and how they can have a new experience through looking at something on the page. And so for me, it’s really interesting to kind of play with that.
Different tones and different shapes. So yeah, that’s what I’ve been currently exploring.
Debbie Bronkema: I love that. And so how do you, during this… where "mom phase" is the highest priority, how do you continue to get filled up in your own spirit? Your own soul. What do you notice helping?
Lily Li: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think for me, just like carving out time to meditate and to just go into nature and get inspired by the things that bring me life. Like carving the little five minutes, 10 minutes here and there that [00:09:00] I have to go and do some of these things and to be able to create something. I used to have a lot more time to sit down with paintbrush and paper, but lately it’s been kind of just Post-Its
Debbie Bronkema: Okay.
Lily Li: So I have like a scrapbook or of like different Post-Its of ideas that come to me throughout the day. And you know, I would say like a lot of my creation has been inspired by my new role as mother.
So I think a lot about you know, what is human life, and what is this child I have to care for, that I have to steward and show hospitality too. And, you know, what is the Mother and how does Mother work in this society that we live in. And how has motherhood changed for people and how has motherhood changed my life?
And I think a lot about the role of God in all of this. And all of that really comes through in like the different shapes and colors that I have on the page. And like how I [00:10:00] interpret that and I hope to be able to share some of those insights cuz I think like artists are really just about capturing like a moment. Like being able to capture like an experience in whatever ways that we’re able to bring that to share with others.
So for me it’s like, how can I use this process and this journey of being a mother and share it with the world and be able to capture it in the unique ways that I can. So for me that’s water color and maybe writing.
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah. So when you write, what is it that you write?
Lily Li: My favorite genre of writing is like memoirs.
I think there’s something really unique about like, stories and our own unique stories. So, I jot down a lot of like, my own insights and thoughts around the seasons in my life that I’m going through.
So lately it’s been a lot about like, my feelings around motherhood and how unique it is, how [00:11:00] challenging it is, how many people in the world just can’t relate to it.
But at the same time how so many can. So it’s this really unique, yeah, interesting point in my life that I think I’d like to capture for people and so that I don’t waste all of the experiences that I’m currently having.
Debbie Bronkema: That’s true cuz I think you’re right that a lot of times people don’t talk about what it actually is and how consuming it is and how it fills you up, but it also takes everything you have to continue to be that hospitable person that you were describing. So yeah, I think people might feel not alone if they read about somebody else’s journey through that time.
Lily Li: Yeah,
Debbie Bronkema: I think that could be helpful.
Lily Li: Absolutely. And I think a lot about this idea that motherhood is such a huge transformation in any woman’s life, but [00:12:00] parenthood in general, like, not to distract from the dad’s roles in this, I think the spirit has been stirring in me this idea that there’s something about the journey of bringing life into this world that needs to be captured in the art that I do.
Debbie Bronkema: Okay.
Lily Li: If that makes sense.
Debbie Bronkema: So you’re trying to bring life into the art.
Lily Li: Yeah.
Debbie Bronkema: And bring that into the world? Yeah?
Lily Li: Yeah. Or just something that helps people see how extremely transformative it is to be, to become a mother and how we’re all brought to this world through our mothers.
And there’s something really spiritual about that. And there’s something that’s really incredible, like I really just don’t have a word for it, but there’s something really powerful about the fact that God calls us to do this with [00:13:00] life. That we are able to do this.
I think I’m still in the process of figuring it out. And so for me the painting and the writing kind of helped me process that as well.
Debbie Bronkema: Right, right. So I love what you said about now sometimes you have to do the "post-it" creative process instead of the longer way, but still making sure you’re making space to do that is really, really cool.
Lily Li: Yeah. Yeah.
Debbie Bronkema: What was your creative process like prior to being a mom?
Lily Li: Yeah. I would describe it as like a co-creative process with God. Like, I think I always start with prayer, like, there’s something that’s happening, like I can feel like there’s something I have to get out.
Right? And then I’m kind of like, "Okay, what is it?" Like, what is this message that has to go out there? I don’t know. Like I feel like there’s something that God wants to communicate through me to others. And so I’m [00:14:00] always like conscious, "Okay, I have to go and pray to God so that I can then hear from God and then incorporate that into my work." So it usually kind of starts out with like, okay, there’s this inkling of like something I need to create. I’m not quite sure what it’s gonna look like. And then I spend some time in prayer, just kind of like praying, like speaking to God, and then listening to what He wants to say to me. And then I just kinda wait. It sounds silly, but I just wait. I wait until something happens and then suddenly I just know what I’m going to make.
Debbie Bronkema: Wow, yeah!
Lily Li: Yes. And I would say like, that process was kind of what happened even with the book cover that I created.
There was a process of like, "Okay, what is it that you want people to see?" You know, not you specific, but like what does God [00:15:00] want of this book and what kind of feelings and emotions. Do these colors and how do these colors come together and which colors do I even pick?
I mean, there’s so many colors! There’s really a lot to work with. So it kind of, you know, what colors do I pick? Is it this color or that color? And then does it feel right? Does it look right? And then there’s a lot of just waiting for it to kind of come together. And then there’s like this part where I sometimes wonder like, is it gonna come together?
Like I really don’t know. Like, at a certain point I sometimes feel stuck, you know? Where I’m in that middle part of like, "Okay, I need to like paint something and it needs to look good and it needs to come together with all of the things that I wanted to communicate, but I don’t know if it’s gonna get there."
So there’s always this kind of like faith component.
Debbie Bronkema: Right, right, right.
Lily Li: Where I have to like sit on the edge and be like, "Okay God, I’m just like waiting [00:16:00] for you to deliver this image. So I just know that this is it and I can just go forward with it. I’m gonna say like, He’s never let me down.
Like it’s always…
Debbie Bronkema: You’ve always listened and heard something.
Lily Li: I’ve always been really surprised by how it turns out. Like sometimes after I create something, I step back and I’m like, "Yeah, this is so much better with God in it. Like, it’s so much better because I cannot create something like this on my own.
I don’t know, like sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised by, "Oh, it turned out well!"
Debbie Bronkema: So there’s this real… you’re very clearly connected with your creative and your spiritual side. I love hearing that, that it’s so connected for you. Yeah.
Lily Li: Yeah. I just feel like, "Oh wow, I don’t know how it turned out this way." Like, sometimes I show my husband and I’m like, "Hey! Look at this! Like, it’s, it’s [00:17:00] awesome! Like, ah!! So I love it, but I’m not sure like how I did it, but…"
Debbie Bronkema: But it came together. Oh, that’s cool!
Lily Li: It came together and like, I knew I could count on God, like I knew, like I could trust this process. But sometimes it is frustrating because you’re waiting that time and you’re like, "Nothing is happening." And I’m like in this zone where I don’t know what to do and I’m kind of stuck and like, "Will I ever get there?" And I have this timeline and blah, blah, blah…
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah, so it’s hard to trust, but it sounds like you continue to trust even when it’s hard. Yeah.
Lily Li: Yeah. So I definitely think like faith is a big component in the process of how I create.
Debbie Bronkema: And so, at this point in your life, you’re focused on the "Mom" piece of who you are and you are really thinking that maybe putting together a book for your child would be a good way to put your faith and art and motherhood together.[00:18:00]
Do you have a vision for that or are you just beginning?
Lily Li: Yes. So I really feel like God wants me to do this and I just really need, and I’ve been praying for time. Because that’s really what I’m lacking. I spend a lot of time reading these books to my child. And one thing that I’ve been thinking about is how do I share my faith? And how do I disciple my son? And how do I really bring something that is really significant to me to my son, and how do I even introduce the topic of God and Jesus to my son.
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah.
Lily Li: I’ve been finding these tiny board books.
Debbie Bronkema: Okay.
Lily Li: You know, trying to help him read. But one thing I notice is actually like when I walk my son around my house, he really likes my paintings.
Debbie Bronkema: Oh, cool!
Lily Li: So he’s really interested in colors and shapes, and that makes sense developmentally for where he’s at. But what I’ve noticed is like when he picks up, and he’s only five months [00:19:00] old, so like when he picks up on different colors in the house, he kind of just stops at the paintings that I’ve hung up on my wall.
He’ll gravitate towards like all these circles, like really basic shapes, like those circles and, um, maybe lines and strokes. And then he’ll be like looking very intently at these paintings. And I thought, like, "I wonder if I can communicate to him like and tell him like how fearfully and wonderfully made he is."
And tell him that he’s this like miracle, you know? And tell him all these wonderful things about his identity. Because this is largely the kind of work I do in therapy anyway. Like just with big people. And I wonder if I can make a book out of it and so I can read the book to him at bedtime.
So I would really, really like to do this. And just with colors and shapes and being able to communicate all that I just [00:20:00] shared in these very large words that I used to explain this to you, but just with color and shapes. If I could communicate the same thing to my son, and maybe other kids too about their like identities and the important things that I want them to know at that age without having to say it all, you know? Because I realize he’s communicating with me even now, and I’m communicating with him. It’s just he doesn’t understand these words that that we’ve socially agreed upon as a symbolic meaning.
Debbie Bronkema: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Lily Li: So yeah, that’s what’s been kind of stirring in my heart lately is like, okay, I have this idea for a book, I’ve gotta translate them from this Post-It stack that’s a building, onto something else.
And I really don’t know how that’s gonna happen. And so I guess I’m in that like, "Okay, like the faith zone" right now.
Debbie Bronkema: Right? We’re you’re waiting. Well, I can’t wait to see. [00:21:00]
Lily Li: Maybe in like a year. Maybe in a year I’ll be like, "Debbie it happened! I don’t know how it happened!"
Debbie Bronkema: I can’t wait to see! And so are there other things that you wanna tell us about today or other messages you wanna to share?
Lily Li: I can’t think of anything right now, but just generally feel like being able to create is something that is so integral to like the human condition. Like I feel like we’re all creative in different ways. And that I think the Spirit’s always kind of leading people to create different things.
And sometimes we may be sensitive to that and sometimes we may not be. But if we’re listening for it, there’s always something that I think God wants us to share with the world. So I hope people can tap into that and be able to bring more of creation to the world because somebody needs it.
It’s just working through us towards something else.
Debbie Bronkema: I [00:22:00] love that, that we’re all connected through creativity and somebody needs what you have to share. That’s very beautiful!
Lily, where can people find out more about you and your work?
Lily Li: Yeah! I have a website that I can share with you. So if anyone is interested in connecting with me to learn more about my art or collaborate on anything in the future my website is
That’s spelled "c- a- r- r- d"
So again that is http://LilyYxLi.carrd.co.
Debbie Bronkema: Thank you so much! This has been Everyday Spirituality with connect.faith. You can find us at all the places you regularly subscribe to podcasts.
I’m really grateful to have had Lily Li here with us today. And if there’s someone you know that might like to hear the [00:23:00] stories you heard, please feel free to share the podcast with them.
Lily Li: Thank you!