Improvising Life: A Guest Post by Adam Walker Cleaveland

EdenHappy to welcome Adam to The Blue Room today! Adam shares the story of a great new ministry venture, Illustrated Children's Moments, which he began just a few weeks ago. I'm sure it will be of interest to many of you who work in congregations. And for my non-churchy readers, it's a great example of the ways that life doesn't always go according to our best-made plans. We often need to pivot... change course... improvise!  Also, don't miss the special offer for Blue Room readers at the end of the post!

By Adam Walker Cleaveland

It was spring of my senior year of high school. I was Hugo Peabody in our school’s version of Bye Bye Birdie. Life was good. I had a fun date planned for prom. In other words, it was the perfect time to get whooping cough.

While I was stuck at home for a few weeks, I wrote a 10-year plan of my life. Seemed like the obvious thing to do. My 10-year plan looked something like this:

  • Graduate college with a religion major
  • Get married the week after graduation
  • Move to Africa to be a missionary for a year
  • Go to seminary
  • Get a PhD
  • Teach at a seminary for the rest of my career

Thing turned out a bit differently than I had planned. My path has had twists and turns, fun surprises and blessings, deep grief and confusion, joy and much more. The most recent twist and turn was leaving a church I’d been serving for two years. The church wasn’t a great fit for me, and I’m glad to have made the decision. But I didn’t have any concrete plans for what to do.

About two years ago, I decided to spend time focusing on rediscovering my childhood love of drawing. I received a Clergy Self-Care Grant from the Chicago Presbytery, and used it to take some online classes and buy art supplies.

I loved drawing. I could get lost in my doodles, zentangles and watercolors. I was doing some good work. I started looking for ways to incorporate art into my ministry. And one Sunday before worship, I quickly sketched out a drawing to give the kids when I led the children’s moment.

The kids liked getting something to take with them that reminded them of the story, so I did that again the next time I led a children’s moment. And I kept drawing. Parents started telling me their children would put the drawings on the refrigerators and talk about the story throughout the week. Some parents even snagged an extra copy for themselves and placed it in their devotionals.


As ministry at my last call was ending, I started dreaming about how this rediscovered love of drawing could become a part of my ministry, and at the same time, bring in a few bucks. I thought there might be other pastors and Christian educators who could benefit from my illustrations and approach to children’s moments.

Two weeks ago, I launched Illustrated Children’s Moments.

It turns out I was correct.

In the past two weeks, I’ve welcomed over 700 subscribers to my email newsletter, gained some good traction on social media, made 82 sales, and my illustrations have been used in over 50 churches. I’m doing illustrations for both the Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary texts, and I’ve received many positive comments.

I’m sure God was chuckling a bit at me when I sat down to write that 10-year plan. If you had told me, when I was 18, that I’d be an artist/entrepreneur/pastor, I don’t think I would have believed you. But being open to the surprising ways God works has led me to a place where I am now using gifts I had forgotten about, and I’m meeting an important need that people in churches deal with on a weekly basis.

If you are interested in this original artwork that can be used for children’s moments or newsletters, emails or bulletins, please stop by my new website: Illustrated Children’s Moments. You can follow us on all the normal social media channels as well: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr. Or you can shop at our store. When you sign up for our email newsletter, you’ll immediately get a link to 5 free illustrations. Sign up here!

SPECIAL OFFER for Blue Room readers, today only! Adam has offered readers of The Blue Room Blog an offer code for $1 off any current illustration in his store. That means some will be free and some will only be $1. You can find them here. Code is blueroomblog .

Adam Walker Cleaveland is a pastor, artist and entrepreneur who lives in Chicago with his wife Sarah, also a pastor, and their 3-yr old son, Caleb. Adam is a Parish Associate at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, a Program Mentor at a new alternative education opportunity for kids in Evanston called Hackstudio (it’s seriously cool - check it out) and is doing a lot of drawing. You can follow Adam on Twitter at @adamwc or on Facebook here.

Do you know someone who's improvising their life? I'd love to feature them here, so let me know!