Michele's Watercolors

test

Moving Forward Anyway

Moving Forward Anyway

 

Big sigh. I am watching the news as Florida braces for record making Irma. My heart is so heavy as I have family and friends right in the path of the eye of the storm. Some have evacuated, some cannot. I can’t fathom the residents’ emotions as they grapple with what might lie ahead. Times like these it is just so hard to know the mind of God; but we were not fashioned to understand the ways of the God who created and sustains the universe. Of course, that doesn’t stop our human reasoning from trying. The threat of this impending storm along with the utter devastation of Harvey certainly has a way of dwarfing the concerns of those of us who don’t live along the two hurricanes’ paths, and I am well aware of that. Still, I’d like to share a snippet of my week with you in hopes of strengthening you in your story.

 

My parents flew out to Colorado this week because my nephew is going to be baptized tomorrow. Unfortunately, I was not able to go due to the high altitude there. Let me explain… Due to my form of dwarfism, before I was 3 years old the vertebrae in my neck slipped and compressed my spinal cord. While I had a cervical fusion to prevent future slipping and relieve the compression, the damage was already done to my spinal cord. The part of it that is damaged has to do with involuntary breathing, so low oxygen situations can be life threatening for me. Well, my sister and her family live in a suburb of Denver, and the Mile High City has less oxygen to breathe due to the high altitude, so I am unable to visit there. As a result, I have missed 3 of 4 of my nieces’ and nephew’s births and many milestones along the way…and it is HARD. Every time. I don’t have kids of my own, so those 3 nieces and 1 nephew take up an awful lot of space in this heart, not to mention how I’d love to be able to visit my sister and brother-in-law.

 

Last week my friend asked me how I handle not being able to visit them. Laughing, I told her, “I ignore it”. But to a degree, that’s the truth; I don’t think about it very much. I can’t. It’s too painful. I allow myself a few moments at the window as I wave good bye to my parents when they leave for the airport in the early morning hours, but that’s it. It is not a situation that I can change by dwelling on, though dwelling on it could change me. I learned long ago that I am the one who determines how much ‘life’ my disability and limitations are going to rob from me. To that point they say, “Life is 20% what happens to us and 80% how we respond”. Such truth!!!

 

The morning my parents left I found myself singing the old hymn “‘Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus”. The refrain is “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him! How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er; Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! Oh, for grace to trust Him more!” Here’s the thing, I do not understand why of all the places in the country for my sister and her family to live, God would allow it to be one of the few places that I cannot visit. I am not sure that I will ever understand and I am certain that I will never like it – but I don’t have to. I trust God. He has never given me a reason not to. And this I’ve learned… When we get to the place where we truly trust God REGARDLESS of our circumstances, we become immune from those things which the enemy once used to taunt us with. I’m talking about the kind of trust that says, “Even if my worst nightmare happens, I know that You will see me through because You have said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).’” That kind of confidence in His sovereignty and love is all we need to move forward.

 

Wednesday night worship singer/song writer Rita Springer came to our church. She spoke into my life in the few minutes we had together before the service began. One of the key words in all she said was “advance”, saying how the enemy fights us from moving forward. While she was speaking into a completely different area of my life, each of us have something in our lives right now that can be a stepping stone, or a stumbling block – depending on how we respond. Unfortunately, short of God healing my spinal cord or my family moving, my situation is not going to change. My heart will continually be where I cannot go and I will continually be faced with how I will respond. This reminds me, “The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your decisions.” We can kick and scream and sulk, but we would benefit so much more by choosing to draw near to God in the eye of our storms and allow Him to move us forward anyway.

 

*Dear Jesus, I come bringing the state of Florida before You right now. God, I know that our nation has been turning its back on You, pushing You out of our schools and government, yet we are so quick to call on You in our times of crisis. We do not deserve Your hand of protection, but I am asking for mercy. In Mark 4:39 You “got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” I am asking You to do that again, Lord. Stretch out Your hand and say, “No further”. We are at Your mercy Lord and I plead Your protection over life above all. As the storm rages, I pray that Your peace, that passes human understanding, would rule and reign in the hearts and minds of those in harm’s way. And for those who lost everything in Hurricane Harvey, I ask You to be their strength, healer and provider. May Your mercies be new for them every morning. And may we as a nation turn our hearts back to You, Lord. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

 

Lessons from Fiona

Lessons from Fiona

 

Hi All! I hope summer has been treating each of you well!! It’s been so long since I’ve reached out, so I thought I’d share with you my latest ponderings. I’ve told you before about the wild turkeys that grace our yard every day, but I haven’t told you about one in particular that we named “Fiona”. Ever since she started coming around last winter, Fiona appears to have a broken leg. She walks on her ‘elbow’, so walking is extremely challenging for her. The other turkeys accept her, but of course, go off without her all the time. She’s been hanging around more and more by us, yet no matter how many times I see her struggling, my heart breaks every time. I know, she’s a turkey; but I also know all too well what it is like for walking to be so difficult and to not be able to keep up with others.

 

One day I was watching Fiona walking around, struggling the whole time when all of a sudden she flapped her wings and flew onto the roof of my studio! I was so taken back. I guess I never thought about the fact that just because her leg was broken didn’t mean her wings were too! It reminds me that what sets us apart does not have to hold us back and label us as “unable”. I once heard it said, “Just because a blind person cannot drive doesn’t mean that they cannot reach the same destination.” So it is with you and me. Every one of us has “something” that we can hide behind and use as an excuse as to why we “can’t” do something; but is that the truth? Priscilla Shirer said, “What a shame it would be for the enemy to believe more about our potential than we do.” Ouch. Satan knows that the only way he can steal our potential is to convince us that we don’t have any. He wants us to retreat and forfeit our abilities, so he lies us into insecurity, lulls us into complacency and taunts us into fear.

 

In the Old Testament we read about Moses sending out 12 spies to explore the Promised Land. In Numbers 13:18 Moses told the spies, “See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many.” After exploring the land for 40 days, most of them came back saying, “…the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. … We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are. …All the people we saw there are of great size. … We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:28, 31-33) However, in verse 30 Caleb said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” No doubt, the majority of the spies had their eyes on the giants in the land while Caleb had his eyes on their potential, with God in the equation. With that I ask you and myself, whose report are we believing today? The one that says we “can’t” or the One that says we can “fly”?

 

“If it’s important to you, you will find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.” – Ryan Blair

 

Who Do You See?

Who Do You See?

 

I returned home last weekend from a missions trip to El Salvador that my mom and her friend led. I joined 18 amazing women from my church to host 3 women’s conferences with King’s Castle Ministries. What a privilege it was to love on the Salvadoran women that came. Their life is HARD. The women who attended the first two conferences live in rural areas where there is no running water. In the dry season, some of those women have to walk close to 2 miles down a mountain to get water from the nearby lake and carry it close to 2 miles back up the mountain on their heads. We had the opportunity to feed these women’s stomachs and souls, give them neck, back and hand massages, the opportunity to win gas ovens/stoves and handmade aprons and sent them each home with a tote bag full of food and other goodies.

 

The highlight of the trip for me though was the opportunity to speak at a small Salvadoran country church where my friend is a pastor. I met Wilfredo back in 2001 when my church went down after 2 massive earthquakes devastated the country. Half of Wilfredo’s community was buried alive from a landslide that occurred in the first earthquake. The survivors were displaced to a soccer field which later was built up into their new residence called Nueva Esperanza (New Hope).

 

When my team and I got to Nueva Esperanza back in 2001 I filled my hands with lollipops and was quickly surrounded by many children. While kids’ first reactions to my disability are usually staring, pointing and even laughing, Wilfredo responded very differently to me. Right away he came over and put his arm around me; and wherever I went that day, Wilfredo went with his arm still around me.

 

 

Our team did a program for this community while we were there giving out relief supplies. We did songs, a drama and shared the Gospel message. My Spanish is poor at best, but that day God anointed my language and enabled me the privilege of leading Wilfredo to the Lord! Through the help of my friend who was a missionary down there, this boy and I kept in touch through written letters and I would visit him every time I went back to El Salvador. Well, today Wilfredo is married with 2 kids and as I mentioned above, is a pastor! He had been wanting me to share my testimony at his church for a few years now and I finally got that opportunity!! What a thrill for both of us.

 

I was honored to be one of the speakers at each of the conferences earlier that week along with my pastor’s wife. I spoke on being confident in who God has made us to be in spite of everything in and around us that speaks to our imperfections. While God has given me a lot of confidence in who He has created me to be and has given me a platform to inspire courage and confidence in others, I still have those times when my insecurities can keep me quiet and withdrawn. I am so glad that the day I met Wilfredo wasn’t one of those days. I never would have met him if I avoided the kids that day because of how they often make me feel. Handing out lollipops sure seemed like an insignificant task, but God had plans of significance through it.

 

 

Sometimes God uses what the world sees as imperfections to make us the perfect candidate for a worthy task. The powerful image above by Alan Wnuk has always resonated with me as it reminds me that my strength lies in how I see myself. Just because the mirror tells me I’m small, it does not mean that I am weak. And just because I look different and struggle physically, it does not mean that I am insignificant. What makes us different makes us uniquely qualified for the plans and purposes that God has for our lives. He doesn’t only use our strengths for His glory, but He uses our weaknesses too. Wow. The world needs you and me just the way we are.

 

I swear, my 11 lb. Yorkie never did look in the mirror. He’d go up to the biggest dogs, including the neighborhood Rottweiler, and bark right in their face. You know what they say, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the fight inside the dog”. Well, that’s true for us too. We need to stop listening to the voices in and around us that call us “less than” and live out of the power of Christ that is in us. If you are a follower of Jesus, then the Lion of Judah is living within you. It’s time to ROAR in the face of the things that hold us back from being all that God has created you and me to be. Now, who do you see when you look in the mirror?

 

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

 

“Be the Light” Note Cards

“Be the Light” Note Cards

 

Well, I was not expecting to write a post this evening (as short as it will be), but earlier today my webmaster added new content to my site upon my request, however, unbeknownst to me it automatically posted the new product to my social media. I share that to apologize for a rather blunt post with absolutely no personal touch!! Yes, the painting that I did earlier this year that I shared all about in my post “You Make Me Brave” (read here) is now available in note cards…in case you haven’t heard. Haha! Additionally, because it posted before I had a chance to review it, the post said that the new cards are Christmas cards, but they are NOT. They are blank note cards. Again, my apologies for the post that slipped by me! And a big “thank you” to those who have already placed an order!  I hope you are all well…I miss you!! I am in the middle of 7 speaking engagements within a 4 week window so I am appropriately distracted, but hopefully you will hear more from me before too long. 🙂

 

Easter: The Strength in Surrender

Easter: The Strength in Surrender

 

I feel like I owe you an apology for my absence.  Sometimes life gets in the way of good intentions.  I’d like to update you on one area of my life since you’ve last heard from me.  It has been almost a year since I last practiced walking with canes in an effort to wean off crutches.  I had to stop last summer due to pain in my elbow that unfortunately, I still battle.  Well, in January my therapist and I revamped my whole program, focusing on one specific muscle that seems most responsible for my dependency on crutches; my glute medius.  This is a muscle that we have worked on for YEARS, but to little avail.  We set March 27th as a target date to try once again to walk with canes.  On that day, after taking about 6 steps with the two canes I stopped and looked at my therapist with what I am sure was a “deer in headlights” look.  She said, “Your pelvis is not dropping on the left when you take a step with your right foot.”  I said, “I know!!!”  That is a direct result of God breathing life and ability into that glute medius that years ago a specialist spoke hopelessness over.

 

I left PT that day with mixed emotions.  I saw how far I have come, and I also saw how far I still have to go (I got tired after the first lap which forced more weight into my arms, flaring up the elbow pain).  While walking is one of the most basic things the body does, it is something that my body cannot do without assistance.  Not even one step.  I have LONGED to walk freely for as long as I can remember.  It could be easy for me to ask, “Why does it all have to be so difficult for me when God could make it so easy with just a word?!”

 

Sitting between Good Friday and Easter, our thoughts are turned to the indescribable sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how Jesus was both God and man.  As man, He felt the brutality and betrayal, the agony and anguish.  Though He was God, He didn’t use His power and authority to avoid pain and injustice.  He didn’t make His life an easy one, but chose to follow the path His Father had laid out for Him.  Jesus not only knew that He could trust His Father, but He also knew that there was purpose and value in all He endured.  God defeated sin and death for all time, for all mankind, through Jesus’ willingness to follow His Father’s plan.

 

Though on a very different scale, there is purpose and value in our suffering and struggles too.  God could easily take away the struggle and inability in my life and body, but He has allowed it to continue for a reason.  So often we kick and scream and turn from God because He has not kept us and those we love from hardships.  We want Him to inoculate us from such circumstances, but why should we be kept from things that God’s own Son was exposed to?  Jesus set a powerful example for us on the night he was betrayed.  He knew His death was only hours away and He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  Jesus surrendered His will to His Father’s…even in the face of death.  I love what the very next verse says… “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.”  When we surrender to God’s will above our own, He strengthens us.  He makes us able.

 

I’ve said it before – God is not here for us; we are here for Him. His plans for us and through us are far above our own. While I know what God has promised concerning my body, I surrender to His timing.  And in my surrender, I find peace and faith. This time of year I am reminded by Jeremy Camp that “the same power that rose Jesus from the grave…lives in (me)”.  Easter is coming – and so is my ability to walk. What personal resurrection are you believing for?

 

You Make Me Brave

You Make Me Brave

 

Well, God continues to stretch this artist and her gift. My pastor’s wife asked me a while ago if I would consider painting during the worship at this past weekend’s women’s conference at my church. Now, this may or may not surprise you, but that is something that is FAR outside my comfort zone; but I learned to stop saying “no” to God’s opportunities to stretch me…so I said I’d think and pray about it. Haha! Not exactly a “yes”, but it wasn’t a “no”!! So I wrestled and prayed for a few weeks before telling her that I’d love the opportunity. Nonetheless, I had very mixed emotions as I was excited, yet anxious and insecure. What if I messed up?

 

In God’s provision and perfect timing I was cleaning out my books last week and was thumbing through one entitled “Every Thought Captive” by Jerusha Clark. I had highlighted some things back when I read it probably 15 years ago, so of course my eye was drawn to those sections. One of those sentences caused, what felt like, my heart to stop beating for a moment.

 

Before I share what it said, let me give you a brief behind the scenes look into my ‘heartbeat’. When I was born, my mom’s doctor surmised I had a form of dwarfism, though he was not certain. I can’t begin to fathom the weight on my parents’ hearts and minds at that time. Well, on the evening of my birth, my Aunt Patty and Uncle Ken held a prayer meeting with about 10 – 15 people interceding for me. As they finished, each one walked away with the revelation that “Michele was born to glorify God.” I know beyond all doubt that is my purpose. It is my heartbeat. It is woven into my DNA. It is who I am. It is my passion. It is my desire. With that shared, here’s what I read in that book I “happened” to thumb through…

 

“God showed me that when I struggled to do everything perfectly, I also worked to bring glory to myself.”

 

Whoa. I seriously sat there numb as that truth sank in. In my mind, I felt myself quickly pull my hands away from my work as if not to touch God’s glory. So, with Jerusha’s heavy and convicting words fresh in my spirit I went this past weekend to paint before the Lord, not before the women. Once worship began, peace invaded my spirit as I began to mix my paints, surrounded by close to 400 worshipping women. A few songs in, the worship team led us in the song “You Make Me Brave” by Bethel Music, Amanda Cook. The bridge of that song begins “You make me brave – You make me brave – You call me out beyond the shore into the waves”. I laid my brush down and lifted my hands in worship as I stood in “the waves”, surrounded by my fears, insecurities and my God. I was there because God made me brave…period. It was a very powerful and moving experience for this struggling artist.

 

 

“Coincidentally”, after worship, in the first session one of our speakers, Christa Smith, spoke on Exodus 3 & 4 when God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt, the land of slavery. Then Moses said to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10) As Christa said, in Moses’ insecurity, he was saying that his stuttering was bigger than “I AM”.   She made the point of how our God-pleasing factor must be bigger than our man-pleasing factor. I leave you with a question that Christa asked us… “What if we got brave in God?”

 

 

*The theme of the conference was “Be The Light”, so I chose to paint a sunset with a silhouette of hands in a heart shape to portray us allowing God’s light to shine though our hearts. The painting is appropriately entitled, “Be The Light”. All weekend long there were giveaways, so at the third and final session they gave away my watercolor. With 5 campuses in attendance and a lot of visitors, who won it but one of my closest friends’ mom!

 

**Photos by John Agnello Photography

 

New Year Challenge – Part 4: “Raw Beauty”

New Year Challenge – Part 4:  “Raw Beauty”

 

Well, this post will end my 4 week series, “New Year Challenge”, where I’ve been reflecting on some of the ups and downs of last year’s creative challenge. I am constantly learning through that yearlong experience…as well as through these 4 weeks of reflection. There has been much value in stepping back this month to see a bigger picture, though I learned the benefit of that long ago. When I am struggling in one particular area of a painting, I am so focused on that area that it is all I see. Refusing to step away, I just keep working and working at it. I will forgo a good night’s sleep before I will walk away from my work unsatisfied. However, experience has taught me the benefit of walking away and coming back with a fresh pair of eyes. Each time, one of two things happen: Either that troubled area was not nearly as bad as it was hours earlier, or, I will see it more clearly and am able to resolve the problem quickly, with a different approach than before. So with that shared, I am taking another step back for one final look at the big picture of last year’s challenge.

 

Though my work last year did not reflect the looseness I was shooting for, I still exercised, stretched and strengthened my gift with weekly creations, looser brushwork and the beginning signs of embracing imperfections. I also achieved my goal of filling up those blocks of watercolor paper and sketchbooks with 50 new pieces of art. Fifty pieces that I would not have had if not for committing to create a new work of art each week.

 

Yet, I am still a work in progress. I will indeed continue fighting for freedom from perfectionism, believing that as ‘I’ become freer, my work will too. I read something recently that was encouraging artists who had taken on a 30-day creative challenge. There was a sentence in the article that grabbed my attention… “Keep in mind that this is about sharing rough-drafts and letting go of the preciousness that too often holds us back from experimenting and getting to even better ideas.” While the whole sentence spoke to my struggle and striving, it was the word “rough-drafts” that kept resonating with my spirit. Something about that word lights up my creative spirit. Rough-drafts are just that – “rough”. They are not all neat and tidy with a red bow…they are works in progress. They are raw. They are the place where inspiration first flows out; and there is something so real and beautiful in that to me.

 

I love to see the rough-drafts of things because I enjoy seeing the process; yet I do NOT want anyone to see my rough-drafts. Interesting, right??? Yet, inside I am screaming to get to that place! Through all of this I am learning that it’s more advantageous and adventurous to be real and vulnerable than it is to be perfect. I feel like a “rough-draft” myself right now. The end result will be a masterpiece, but the process requires lots of rough-drafts. However, I cannot forget that rough-drafts have an inherent beauty all their own due to their raw, vulnerable strokes and even imperfections.

 

Are you in the middle of your own transformation? If so, as my pastor would say, “here are your takeaways” from this week’s reflection:

  • Step back every once in a while to view the big picture and asses where you’ve been and where you’re going. I wish I did this at the 6 month mark last year!
  • Be real. If there are times when you feel anxious about being vulnerable or imperfect, think of it as being brave instead. I will be working on that one myself!
  • Stay focused on the purpose of your goal so that you won’t be derailed by distractions. I learned the hard way on that one.

 

I think one of the reasons I am so drawn to the word ‘rough-draft’ is because there is no expectation attached to it. I began each piece of art last year with a level of expectation placed on it…and that was my downfall each week. As I previously shared in Part 2: Overcoming Myself, last year’s challenge was supposed to be practice, not performance…though that is what I had allowed it to become.

 

In “The Greatest Gift” Ann Voskamp says, “There is no need to produce or perform or perfect – simply become a place for God. That is all.” Wow. My most pounding heartbeat has always been to glorify God with my life and gift. That has not changed, but perhaps my focus has. Here’s to moving forward together to become the best version of ourselves!

 

Bless all his skills, Lord, and be pleased with the work of his hands. Strike down those who rise against him, his foes till they rise no more.” Deuteronomy 33:11

 

*The above watercolor, “Spoken For”, was one of my favorites from last year’s challenge.  Though not a rough-draft, below is a shot of the painting in progress.

 

 

 

New Year Challenge – Part 3: “Half Empty or Half Full?”

New Year Challenge – Part 3:  “Half Empty or Half Full?”

 

In last January’s post where I shared about the creative challenge that I was taking on I said, “I am hoping to find freedom in my work, freedom from perfection, freedom to enjoy my gift more and freedom to fail.” As I shared in last week’s post, “Overcoming Myself” (read here), I felt these were goals that I fell short of. As I was working on my final challenge, “He Enables Me” I struggled terribly with the sky; so much so that I believe it took 7 attempts before I ‘got it’. In the middle of one failed attempt after another, I thought, “Did I really think the enemy was going to give up my freedom this final week without a fight???” Did I think he was going to give up my freedom at all without a fight?? I would have been a fool if I thought differently.

 

My gift does not come easily for me; it is something that I have to fight for, especially in watercolors. Yes, I am often trying to get the medium to do things that it is not intrinsically meant to do, nonetheless, I so want to be able to approach my art without striving. Yet, while the enemy no doubt uses my constant struggle against me, God uses it for me…

  • My ongoing struggle keeps me both dependent and humble.
  • It’s through my weakness that God’s power and glory can most clearly been seen. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7

 

As a perfectionist, I want you to see me and my work in my best light, but something that I am learning through my experience last year is that being vulnerable IS allowing others to see me in my best light. How is a façade my “best light”? It’s not. The truth is, it is easy for me to get discouraged over what feels like weakness of character and a hopeless pursuit of freedom, but how about I change my perspective and focus?

 

It is intriguing to me how the very thing I enjoy most in art, and that I am best at, is what the enemy has been using most against me. Detail. Yes, with detail comes control; and control is the opposite of freedom. I will not deny that truth for one moment, but I will continue to fight for the freedom I am longing for. However, God has been shining light on this darkness, exposing how I have been so focused on my lack that I have been undermining and devaluing my gifts and strengths. Wow. God created me the way I am for His purposes…period. Though the enemy uses my perfectionism against me, I cannot get caught up in the web of his lies and condemnation. I cannot neglect who Jesus has called me to be and what He has equipped me to do…as I am.  Indeed, my glass is not half empty, rather half full.

 

I will indeed continue to fight for the freedom I so desire, but I will not be forsaking my strengths along the way. Every one of us have areas of our lives that we would like to overcome and improve on, but in your pursuit please watch out for the traps that can trip you up: Traps that cause you to lose perspective and forget God’s gifts. Your enemy and mine is NOT for us. He wants to derail us. He wants to imprison us. I leave you with Jesus’s words… “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

 

*The painting above, “Friday’s Snack”, was week four’s challenge last year.

 

New Year Challenge – Part 2: “Overcoming Myself”

New Year Challenge – Part 2:  “Overcoming Myself”

 

If you missed Part 1 of this four-week blog series, “New Year Challenge”, please read that one here before reading this one. I have a lot of being vulnerable to do this week, so I’m going to jump right in. Through 2016’s yearlong creative challenge I learned (again) that God’s ways are not my ways. I thought that challenge was about changing my style, but God purposed it to be about changing me.

 

If you will recall, this time last year I wrote a post that laid out my personal challenge of creating a new piece of art each week. In that post I said, “Please keep in mind, these will be small, quick works of art…nothing like my big, detailed watercolors. I may spend 5 minutes on some and 5 hours on others, depending on my week and the subject matter. This year-long challenge is not about sharing great work (though I hope to!), but about further developing and expanding my gift. It will be about more expression and less perfection.”

 

Big sigh. So, it is no secret that I am a perfectionist; but what I didn’t realize was just how deep rooted perfectionism is in me. The grip of it can be painful, debilitating and far reaching at times. I get so down on myself for the way I need things to be perfect. There are days that I long for the ability to live outside the confines of perfectionism; for the self-control to rule over it rather than the other way around.

 

Why am I sharing all of this? To help you understand why I drifted so far from my original vision of spending “5 minutes on some and 5 hours on others”. Very few pieces last year took me less than 5 hours and NONE of them took 5 minutes. As a result, almost every piece was overworked, thus falling short of my goals. While several factors played into that, if I am very honest with myself, the biggest reason was my fear of posting less than perfect work; THE VERY THING I WAS TRYING TO AVOID!!! It’s true.

 

While I chose to walk that challenge out publicly to keep me accountable each week (which it did), I’ve been very curious over just how different each piece would have looked if I knew I wasn’t posting them. I am confident those works would have been far looser simply because the weeks I did a quick sample piece just to get a feel of the colors or technique, those 60 second pieces had the looseness I was craving for when I was ‘trying’. Interesting, right? Yes, there was a LOT less time invested in those quick references, but there was also freedom to fail.

 

Somewhere along the way I had allowed what was supposed to be ‘practice’ each week to become ‘performance’. Through that realization, God exposed my need to refocus my gift on His purposes and not the applause of man. My reason for painting must remain pure to carry God’s anointing. At my core, my heart is not to ‘impress’ people with my work, but to ‘move’ them. Unfortunately, my focus got off last year and as a result, I got extremely burned out at the end.

 

I was down on myself for not ending the challenge as strongly as I desperately wanted to, but my friend Amy helped me to look at it from a different perspective. Remember how I said I originally wanted to paint a sunset on my final piece, “He Enables Me” (painting above), to represent the close of the year-long challenge? Well, here’s what she told me… “The sky – I actually personally love that it wasn’t a sunset, but a blue sky. I see it as a fresh beginning! It is not the end of a challenge, but a fresh start as you are carried into a New Year, a new freedom. Every struggle, every sleepless night, every tear you might have shed over a week was not for nothing, but has carried you to a new place as an artist. The artist he continues to call you to be.”

 

God saw a greater need to change me than to change my art last year, and it’s a change that is still taking place to make me into the artist He wants me to be. Not a perfect one. Not a pretending one. Not a performance-based one. Rather an artist, as Lysa TerKeurst says, “…whose character has been developed to carry the weight of (my) calling.”

 

So as you pursue your own goals and challenges this year, I’d like to remind you of two things: First, resistance (even if that resistance is you) can be good if you don’t give in to it. It brings revelation and builds the ‘muscle’ and character that is needed to fulfill God’s purposes in our lives. Second, keep your focus on Him as you move forward in your goals, remembering that we should be living for an audience of One.

 

New Year’s Challenge – Part 1: “Flap Those Wings”

New Year’s Challenge – Part 1:  “Flap Those Wings”

 

I just reread the post I wrote last January, You’re Invited To The Unveilings. I have mixed emotions sitting on this side of that yearlong challenge as I reflect on all the goals I achieved and the ones I feel I fell short of. I sure learned a lot about myself and gleaned several life lessons along the way that I plan to share over the next 4 weeks. My hope in doing so is to pass on helpful tools as you start out the New Year with your own hopes and goals.

 

First off, I learned the power of our own initiative. I talked and whined about and wished for years to broaden my gift and use it more, yet I did nothing about it. Results came when I finally acted; but that happen only after I stopped focusing on all the obstacles and focused instead on the possibilities. It reminds me of a time when I was sitting at my desk watching a flock of wild turkeys in our backyard. They got separated and half were on the far side of our fence and the other half were still in our backyard. One was just distraught, wanting desperately to get to the other side of the fence. He kept pacing along it incessantly for over 5 minutes. I felt so bad for him as I watched, so my mom went out to open the gate to the fence for the turkey to be able to get to the other side. What was so fascinating and intriguing to me was that when the turkey saw my mom he was frightened and quickly flapped his big wings and flew over the fence!! I couldn’t help but wonder why he didn’t do that in the first place. But wasn’t that just like me (and maybe you), wanting something desperately, yet for years I didn’t ‘flap my wings’ to achieve it – even though it was well within my power.

 

Secondly, I learned the power of commitment. Once I had the thought to do a weekly challenge, I was filled with excitement and inspiration (and fear)! But it was the passion and determination to become who I wanted to be that drove me to commit to creating a new piece of art each week. Dawn Chere once said, “Your commitment is your strength.” She was right. I created new art the week my dad had a heart attack, the weeks I was traveling and even the week I had surgery. Without that resolve in my spirit each week, which came from an upfront commitment, I would have easily said, “Not this week”. I learned that it’s not about being strong, but being faithful. Its diligent persistence that yields the results we want; it’s what filled my blocks of watercolor paper and sketchbooks with 50 new paintings and drawings last year.

 

Lastly (for this post), Holley Gerth helped me to see that we don’t have to feel ready to take on challenges, we just have to show up. She says, “(God) will give to us and then He’ll give through us. We’re simply asked to be willing and brave enough to do it as we are and not as we’d like to be”. Those are just such powerful words to me. They remove the power of lies and excuses that keep us bound from pursuing and achieving more…now. Each week it didn’t matter if I was exhausted or uninspired, I just had to be present. So, might I encourage you to “show up” and “flap your wings” today?

 

“When you pray, work to achieve what you pray for.” – William Carey