I don't usually start out with a quote, but unless you read this you won't have the foggiest notion of where I'm going in this post...
“In 2006, a high school English teacher asked students to write a famous author and ask for advice. Kurt Vonnegut was the only one to respond; and his response is magnificent: “Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta: I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances anymore because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana. What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow. Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.”
So, what was your first reaction after you read this? Honestly?
Did you scoff? Roll your eyes? Sigh?
Or for one brief second did your heart sing with hope? Hope that maybe this could apply to you?
Yeah, I know, you don't sing well. Remember that audition for the musical in elementary school where you choked on the notes and lost your place and the piano eventually stopped and you knew?
Or how about dancing? Seriously, everyone else can do it, why not you? In your mind you soared like Ginger Rogers, but in the body you looked like a drunk elephant. It would have been more merciful to be put out of your misery than continue on.
Art class? It didn't help that you sat next to one the most talented students in school and though you tried to imitate them, even up to how they held their pencil, the teacher never stopped by your desk. So instead you settled for admiring the works of others.
Oh, and the big one...acting! While others around you got the praise and accolades for their talent, the only kind of acting you perfected was putting on the mask you used to protect yourself...peeking out and watching others but never being brave enough to play the role of YOU.
I know all about these things. Because all of those things are me.
You see, I come from a long line of artists stretching back from the 1800's and straight into today. My great-grandfather and grandfather used oils...my father, watercolors...my kids, pastels and other mediums. I have art in my blood.
God knows over time that I wanted to try something...lithographs and weaving come to mind. I had read about them, studied them, watched others do them. But I never took the first step to actually try them myself. Because I had learned to accept and adapt to failure. I think that's when, in my mind, I put on the big black T-shirt with the bold "F" on the front and decided to stop...stop trying...stop dreaming...just stop. Stick to what I can do. And that's a sad place to be in: The Land of Lost and Dying Dreams.
When Covid invaded my orderly, hidden life I found myself with way too much time to think. Amidst isolation, depression, and feeling terribly, terribly sad a phrase kept running through my mind. I had heard it before, but with so many opportunities to keep busy I had managed to outrun it. The haunting phrase? I can't find my way home. Whenever it invaded my thoughts, my chest would tighten and my eyes would burn with tears. Waves of homesickness would wash over me, so strong at times that I was immobilized. I couldn't keep living like this...it was time to turn around and face this.
So I did. I sat a lot, prayed a lot, thought a lot, and cried a lot. When God finally revealed that I have been enslaved by Failure and Fear all my life, I wept. He showed me that they have held me hostage to condemnation and self-criticism and living in a shallow, self-made, safe world that I tried to control...a world I could probably hide in until I died. And that realization made me terribly, terribly sad. All the years I had wasted...all the opportunities I rejected. Slowly, like George Bailey, the cry of my heart became, I want to live again!
But what does that look like? For me, it means walking up to Fear and Failure and all they breed and saying, Enough! It means, even with trepidation, walking out of my comfort zone and into the unknown, whispering Yes! instead of No. It means opening my tightly closed fist and heart to God...trusting Him to be where I am going.
There are literally days I have to say out loud, I am not a failure. I am a unique daughter of a King who loves me just as I am. He has plans for my good and for my future that I can only arrive at through trust. And stepping out in faith. Help me, Jesus.
Breaking free of the crust around your heart and your thinking is incredibly painful. Summoning up the courage to stare Fear and Failure in the face and watch them lose their grip and power is scary. But what's the alternative? A life that falls short of the way it was meant to be...survived but never lived. And that's not enough. I knew I needed to take a baby step of faith...
When I first saw Elizabeth St Hillaire, the radiant instructor offering a Birds and Blooms online Collage class, I laughed. Really laughed. And God knows the only time I really laugh is with my dog, who is silly and devoted and oh so funny. Elizabeth was dressed in mix-matched flowery, flowing Bohemian clothing and her hair was poppy red. Her joyous smile and joie de vivre was contagious, even through the computer screen.
And I knew...I knew...that deep inside of me was a woman like this...hiding behind all the walls of fear and rejection and failure...waiting to be let out again...waiting to find her way home.
So, I signed up for her class. Before we started we had to share something of why we were taking the course. Me? I said I'm tired of being afraid...of failing. I want to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to do something I have always wanted to do. Her reply? Basically, Welcome Home! You are in a safe place. Failure means you get to learn something. You are going to have fun! And I am!
And you know what? I'm not homesick anymore! Because I've made the choice to turn around and travel...one baby step...one day...one opportunity at a time...towards home...to finding out who God made me to be...what talents and gifts He has given me.
Sometimes it takes years for us to be brave enough to become alive and real...to accept ourselves as we are...the good, the bad, the ugly...with kindness and compassion and not judgement and condemnation. I'm thinking this is true of Vonnegut (a really old geezer (84)... I don’t make public appearances anymore because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana)... Love it!... who has learned a valuable truth (Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.) This is a man who has pressed on and through and arrived with not only a sense of humor, but wisdom to share.
That's how I want to be!
I invite you to come along with me! Find something that you have always wanted to do, but never did, because you were afraid and you didn't want to fail...again. The bar is low, my friend, for we're not after the world's applause or monetary gain, but we get to Become! Find out what's really inside us! Make our souls grow! How exciting is that?!!
May it be so. Amen and Amen. You are dearly precious and loved!
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