In the last weeks of the old year, the fog descended, threatening my perspective and patience.
What didn’t help was the insomnia that arrived again at the same time. They were probably related.
Months ago I had a conversation with someone that left me feeling cold and lonely. Truth be told, I’ve fought to regain my balance after that, trying not to entertain the old demons in my head, of inadequacy and hopelessness and isolation.
To have the artist calling is to walk around feeling far more than can be reasonably endured without God’s grace and wisdom. It is a calling to sensitivity and joy and vision, and if not properly understood, can lead to ulcers and cancer of the heart and soul.
But I have fought. What helped was remembering that there was another conversation years ago, when I was spending my spare time creating commissioned art – handmade paper items – that shut my art down cold.
A friend had been disappointed with me and had not minced words. Having worked hard on some pieces for her – while my kids were playing and sleeping and asking me to play with them, I was stung to the core. Thin skinned I am, and back then, even more so.
I stopped creating after that. I ignored custom requests, and turned down invitations to art fairs. I stopped sitting down to my tools for the simple joy of making something lovely. I let that conversation worm its way into my heart. It poisoned my view, made me bitter. Back then I struggled a lot more with making people like me, being easily wounded, and with perspective.
Massive Achilles heels if you are led to be a brave creator.
That was four years ago. Much has been learned since then, about who He has made me to be, the capacity in my soul that I should respect, the unavoidable sensitivity – a good strength and a bad weakness, the pace I have peace with, the boundaries I must set with others.
He has spoken to me again and again, reassuring me that none of this was a mistake. Just as I am, He wants me. He’ll use it for good. He can be trusted to lead me toward change in His way and timing. With love and truth.
But then, this summer, out of the blue, it happened again. A conversation with someone that sent me staggering through my soul, reaching for the old handholds of defensiveness, self-pity and anger.
Bitterness, that old teat, hung large and heavy.
And in November and December I wrestled, searching for humility and good. Waiting for Him to speak to me. Hoping for assurance.
He took His time, building patience into my walls, strengthening my roots. Allowing me to question everything. Giving me room to explore this difficulty, find the meaning. To send roots down deep in search of water.
Maybe it was so that I could help you too.
I talked with another friend, called it a fog, and she reached out with her own story of fog. We decided that it is weather, of the soul. Of this murky world, attempting to steal our joy and fortitude. I found Scripture that spoke to this, started to pray its living words for myself.
And then I told my daughter the other day, while we drove in the rain toward basketball practice, about the clouds. It was cold and gray that afternoon, gloomy. The air was feeling sorry for itself, the Florida palms hunched down dismal and silent. I told her about going up in a plane, on a rainy day, through the thick wet, climbing higher and higher until suddenly, we were above it all, the passengers and the crew, and the sunshine was so sudden and happy and gloried that it was like an instant joy that drenched our faces and soaked into our bones. A completely different atmosphere.
The sun was always there, above the weather, shining faithfully, warm and dazzling. I told her, as the windshield wipers danced sideways, and I was really telling me.
That same foggy weather friend also spoke of breakthrough, of waiting out the fog, knowing. Trusting, beyond feeling. Praying through, which is different than praying for. She sent me a text that said KNOW He is there. He won’t leave you.
And I read about Jesus, going to the cross in spite of rejection, despite what seemed futile, the mocking and misunderstanding crowds, and the rejection of God. How He was willing to endure some very bad weather in order to get to the sunshine. How the weather didn’t change His knowledge. He had faith that the good sun was still there, though it abandoned Him for a while.
He waited it out, stayed faithful and loving, and it cost a great deal, but it worked perfectly.
And I think that if you are called to create and shed light, like I am, and if you are called to make sense and refresh, like me, and that if inspiration is the ware of your trade, and mercy your gift, that your nemesis will almost always have something to do with darkness, confusion, staleness, a critical heart, discouragement.
Sometime toward the very end of the year, in the middle of Advent, I stumbled upon a medical article about people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I was astonished to read of the use of light as medicine. Light therapy, it’s called, and the patients are given either a contraption called a light box, which shines out non-ultraviolet rays of synthetic sunshine, or they are told to sit in the sun for an allotted amount of time each day. Often, it works beautifully for them.
And then a week into the new year, I had muscled through and was slowly feeling encouraged again, and He had spoken to me with stars and tree snails while I was camping in the Everglades, and let me know that He was still ever-present and unfathomably big, and that’s when I realized that all of it is an attempt to distract.
All of it a big, noisy look over there! While the real thievery happens.
The weather comes, in the form of mangled conversations and internal chemistry and lack of understanding and sometimes hormones, and it is an opportunity to eat the lotus flowers. To fall asleep and lose focus, to stop caring about the tiny, real things, to harden and lose sensitivity. To entertain regret and insecurity, to judge and mock and worst of all, to forget.
The good purposes of our lives. The reality of our hope.
And I opened up Oswald randomly the other day, playing page-roulette with that dear friend of a book, and He said it, on September 21, plainly and at the very end, the very last sentence. My hungry eyes found it and it was the final stanza of this difficult fog. And it was like coming out of the clouds again.
“Beware lest you forget God’s purpose for your life.”