How a Simple Phrase Changed My Life
The other day, Lucas and Ethan were wrestling and “playing” (also known as dealing with moments of boredom through irritating each other). As usual, someone ended up getting hurt. Lucas came over to the kitchen table and immediately put on his sunglasses so we couldn’t see him tearing up from the collision.
We have a natural tendency to hide. We joke, we distract, we make ourselves unavailable through ear buds, phones, and full planners. We are so uncomfortable with people seeing us when we are vulnerable, hurt, or on the verge of breaking. We often do the same thing when it comes to things that are close to our heart like values, truths, and beliefs. We hide them. We mask them. We deflect and keep everything on the surface because it’s far more comfortable than actually being open and risk being rejected or even worse, ignored.
As I’ve gained more understanding around why I create the art I do, I’ve been stepping into the discomfort of sharing beyond the surface, but I will be honest, it’s uncomfortable. Just like Lucas, I want to don a pair of shades and not let anyone see my heart. I have to fight this tendency and constantly remind myself that what is needed most is to open up and share what makes me tick and what motivates my work, no matter how risky that may feel. Why is this important? Because our hearts long to connect with each other and when we don’t bravely share ours, there is a shallowness and isolation that ends up making us, in CS. Lewis’s words, “half-human.” Our vulnerability, our depth, is our strength, not our weakness. It is what makes us who we are.
What is the most vulnerable, yet strong and enduring thing there is? Love. If we are honest with ourselves, love is what we are after, but it is often masked and shaded in many other things and distractions. We hide this desire because of the fear that pursuing it will destroy us or at least wound us terribly. We toss it to the side in pursuit of lesser things that are far less risky or a whole lot easier to procure. How do I know? I’ve done it many, many times. I also diluted this desire into a fleeting feeling or sought the love I really wanted in people who were never meant to provide it. The love I sought was a perfect, unending, constant love that would handle my failure and faults and still abide. If you’ve noticed that human beings and things or ideas just don’t cut it in this area, you’re not alone. They were never meant to.
When I realized that love was the message or heart behind my artwork, I was afraid. It took my breath away and I immediately wanted to hide because I recognized the exposure this would cause. The potential risk for rejection and disdain. I had tried to come up with less cliche things share like “you’re not alone,” but something didn’t feel right no matter how much I fought. Like a painting on the easel that isn’t quite complete, I felt unsettled. I was sitting in church one Sunday and I was stewing on my incomplete message and it started to come together so clearly. “You are loved.” Not only was it spoken directly to me, it was what I know I needed to share with the world through my art. At that moment, I had such peace and certainty. Just like when I finally found my mixed media style 15 years ago in my Philadelphia studio. Maybe it was time to stop fighting this message and accept it and trust it. What would happen if you stopped fighting it too? Maybe some peace. Maybe some clarity in your life.
My journey in accepting that love is the message of my art started many, many years ago before I even was settled into the style I now use. It started in college when I was struggling with depression and disordered eating and I kept pleading with God to show up. All I ever heard Him tell my heart was “I love you.” So annoying. I was looking for fixes and direction. Not THAT. Little did I know that it’s exactly what I needed to start healing. Until I started to believe that message of love from God, nothing I thought or did, would help me move past the obstacles I faced.
So, I’ve been living with this message since I finally said “ok” to those whispered, heart centered words given to me in a dorm room by a God who does love me perfectly. Now it’s time to accept that message as part of my artwork as well. It’s always been there, but I don’t want to be hiding that message anymore. Why would I hide something that has so transformed who I am and might be just what someone else needs to hear as well? So, I apologize if I come off as cliche or sappy. Anyone who knows me knows I despise both of those things and knows that’s not what I’m about. So, when I speak the message of “You are loved,” it comes from a deep knowing that yearns for you to also deeply know this truth, but those whispers are not just for me. They are for everyone who has ears to hear them. And if you don’t, that’s ok. Keep listening with an open heart. God shows up when you show up. He’s like that.
As you look at my work, I hope you can sense the whisper as well. You are known, you are not alone, you are loved.
I’ve included some books that have really helped me understand the love my heart is after and how to live in that story on a daily basis.
“Love Does” by Bob Goff
“The Sacred Romance” by John Eldridge
“Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis
The Bible (it’s a long one but worth the read)