Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Lesson in Obedience

(One of my few surviving paintings from 2010 of my sweet husband)

Well, a lot has gone on since my post where I outed where I am truly at with my artistic journey. A lot.

A disclaimer about the super long blog posts. I think about blogging all the time, but post infrequently. I've discovered that the more important something is to me, the harder it is for me to articulate. Words can be cheap, when they are, it is easy for me to post all over the place and talk a ton. When I get up the nerve to post these days about things that are hidden down deep, I tend to have 2 months of back story to catch up on. Hence the novella. 

Looking back, 2010 was one of my most difficult years as an artist. Despite the fact that very few paintings survived, I would say that my growth as an artist was probably as great, if not more than when I was in school. My technical proficiency did not gain anything. I had moments where I dare say I was actually rusty.

What changed for me was my outlook and attitude. God brought me to a place where I really had to prioritize what I was doing vs. what I was supposed to be doing. Living your whole life as someone who wants to be an artist when they grow up to the point of eating, breathing, living it makes it tough when you get called to something different.

When I got the pastoral call, I will admit that I was a little confounded by that. Not only was it tough for me to accept that job with all of my inadequacies to take that job, it was tough to not call myself "artist" when someone asked me what I did for a living. I rebelled for a long time. People sure warm up to you at social events when they ask you what you do for a living and the answer is "artist". Try going to a corporate Christmas party and throw "pastor" out there as an occupation.... everyone is suddenly on their best behaviour lest you judge and smote them. (PS I'm not out to judge and smote you)

Then a funny thing happened. I began to see how my other job made a difference in a far more tangible way. Doors started to open for more opportunities to help people. That was exciting! Other doors sadly began to shut. All the painting related doors. That kind of depressed me.

I began to try and think of all the ways I could make change with painting and found that it was coming up short. Donating a painting for a charity cause is a good and noble thing to do in theory. When it nets you clients, your name in the paper and is as hands on as writing a cheque... I found it lacking and felt kind of guilty that I was benefiting more than the organization sometimes. (disclaimer - donating things and writing cheques are not bad things. This didn't do anything to satisfy that urge I had deep down to make change).

"Inspiring people" through my work or subject matter was too broad and airy fairy, and I felt really presumptuous that that could be my end goal. "Reflecting God" is too big a job and quite frankly, God did just fine without me messing around with His work. I had already established that painting pretty pictures for the rest of my life wasn't interesting me anymore. I needed a reason and a focus and I couldn't figure it out.

Right before I wrote that post in November, I hit a deep low. When I am inspired with an idea, I can see the finished painting in my head. The skills I had been working on over the years made it easier and faster to make it look super close to what was in my head. When I hit my low, there were no pictures in my head. I would try to paint and it was terrible and ham fisted. It was like trying to speak and not knowing language anymore.

I realized that God wanted to know if I was prepared to never paint again. The price perhaps of seeing change and helping people. I had a choice, but the choice frustrated me. I asked God why He chose to give me these artistic gifts and not let me use them. Then I questioned my motivations on how I was using them. Especially when they were under the guise of church or helping people. Ouch.

So I chose after a lot of painful reflection. I chose to be okay if those doors shut. Honestly, I felt peace. Stopped twitching when people called me "Pastor". I am not exaggerating when I say when I chose that, doors opened. New exciting doors that would not have been possible if I was only "artist" or only "pastor". It really humbles me to think about that. Pictures in my head came. New and very interesting pictures that I never ever thought of before. Relief. Huge, huge relief.

Anyways. One of those doors leads to Africa. This place, Bulembu, Swaziland. I leave in March to join a team of creative professionals who will be there to uncover the stories found in the people and the changes that are taking place. I know those stories are going to be filled with hope for the future. I'm starting to think about it now that the plane tickets are bought. What to pack, what to plan for, how to practice in my painting,  what to leave up to the experience that is waiting for me.


yarnambition said...

It's so good to see what God has been doing in your life Michelle! I can't wait to hear more about your upcoming Africa trip!

Anonymous said...

I'm so excited for you. It's funny...I went throught something similar but I went the opposite direction (my 'dark night of the soul'). Gave up my 'meaningless' art to work for the church but it almost broke me. Not the working for the church part (though the finance was touch) but the giving up the art. I got on my knees and prayed, and sobbed and offered myself up for whatever t was that I was supposed to do and the next day I was contacted for an interview by Ellen Kelly who felt like a kindred spirit and whose response to my work touched me deeply. And I literally felt the touch of grace.
**Call me whenever you'd like to come over for tea or if you'd like to meet somewhere, I'd really like that.

KerStitch said...

Good luck with your trip! Sounds like an adventure! I'm glad you are finding peace with your decisions. :)

Joanne said...

I can hardly wait to see where God is leading you, and how He will enable you to use all that He has placed in you, of which your artistic skill is only one part of the whole.

Cheryl said...

Cool, Michelle! Doors always open when we find a place of acceptance. Resistance on the other hand always creates more angst. So glad you found that vibe that allowed you to find a new that appears to marry ALL your gifts. Looking forward to hearing more of the journey.

Anonymous said...

I'm so thankful I got to read this post because I can relate to it so well. All of the emotions that come from being a writer and wanting to use the talents to glorify God and help people (or inspire them, as we artists like to call it!) were verbalized on my behalf in this post! For me, though, it was fear of success that kept me from writing. My 9/11 experience held me back from doing what God intended for me to do, and I hid in a corner, unsure of what to do next. Once I released the fear and allowed myself to write again, I found freedom and peace and, like you, doors began to open. Thankfully I am now seeing how my giftedness is also my ministry. And I'm so thankful I got to share the trip in Bulembu with you. You touched my heart in many ways. God bless you, dear friend!