Me? An Artist? Like a real one?

This is my first self-portrait from 8th grade. Pretty flat, really not much detail. Most people look at it and think it’s pretty all right, though.

This is a self- portrait from 5-6 years ago.

Definitely improved, but some issues drive me crazy. We had to do it in a mirror and I kept moving my head slightly so I could see things more clearly, but it threw off my perspective, causing the image to look skewed.

No one else notices these things quite as much as I do. They’ve informed me of this.

Art scares me sometimes. I don’t know what to make. I don’t think it’s going to turn out as well as what’s in my head. I know it’s a gift God gave me, but I don’t know how to use it to bring him glory without being a cheesy Christianese artist. And I hate cliche.

But the biggest thing is that I don’t always really think I’m an artist. When I haven’t done a piece in awhile, I really think there’s no way I’m as good as people think I am or even I think I am.

But then I do it in spite of my fear. In the middle of feeling like this is going to be the worst thing ever. Or, as all artists know, the middle/end of the project is when it’s the hardest. When everything inside you hates the piece you’re working on and wants to throw it.

In middle school, a little before the original self-portrait, I began knowing that God wanted me to go overseas when I got older. I remember thinking through how this would work. I knew I was a good artist, at least better than most. I knew I enjoyed art even when it drove me nuts. But I was supposed to go overseas. So I just knew that I would never be a real artist, because who could make money selling art while living in impoverished countries?

I’ve known fear my whole life. I can think of lots of things to be afraid of. I watched other people not do things because they were scared and decided early on that I would not let fear control me. I mean early on. Like elementary school.

Fears get bigger as you get older. They get more complex and pieces of them are affirmed as things to be scared of as you experience more life.

I was the kid that my parents considered fearless. You know, the one who at 4 with floaties on her arms climbed up the high dive, literally walked off the end with a huge grin on her face. This is one of my dad’s favorite memories of me. The image that captured ‘Nicole’ in his mind.

But here’s the thing. I did a belly-flop. Off the high dive.

I came up angry. This great adventure did NOT go as planned and the end results weren’t floating through the air and unicorns. The result hurt.

I now have a pretty high level of fear as I think about jumping off high things into water. I worked really hard around 3rd grade to learn how to dive one summer. Like official lessons. I still don’t dive because I want to look where I’m going, untuck my head and I can’t let me knees go away from my stomach because I might belly-flop.

Fear cripples us. 

I have lived overseas twice now. Both times I loved what I was doing there and the people I met who welcomed me and taught me what life there looked like. When I went over, in my mind I knew that things weren’t always pretty, that my experiences wouldn’t be perfect.

But guys, I didn’t expect a revolution to start. I didn’t expect my team to be the people to turn against me. I didn’t expect my roommate  to absolutely hate me and refuse to have mediation and turn the principal against me.

I didn’t expect to experience PTSD ever in my life. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s intense, guys. Like really intense.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love meeting new people. I love just sitting and taking things in, people watching and guessing what they may be like. I like asking questions to get to really understand people on a deeper level. I was laid back and could let things roll off my shoulders most of the time. I didn’t have any real physical issues.

I came back from Egypt in early February 2011 full of fear. My plane ride home I broke down in hysterics multiple times on planes all by myself. My 40 hour trip home, after buying my tickets 2 days before, was the longest trip and the shortest in my memory. I don’t have many memories of it.

When I say hysterics, I don’t mean I softly crying. I mean I was shaking uncontrollably with tears streaming down my face.

I was so thankful for the people who have known me a long time, coming around me to support and encourage me once I was home. I don’t think I would have recovered as well as I have without them.

I was a different person and have never been the same since.

My PTSD manifested itself in racing thoughts that never turned off. Shaking and terror when I met anyone new. Not being able to go to the same church I grew up in because it was so big and I couldn’t be in a corner and someone was always around me. Overwhelming anxiety when there were people talking in front and behind me at the same time.

I compare PTSD to Frodo being trapped in Shelob’s (the spider) web. Every time he got untangled from a small bit, he would be engulfed in twice as much at the next point. I couldn’t escape.

The worst part about PTSD is that it’s all in your head. You literally seem crazy to everyone else around you because they don’t experience even a piece of it.

It also came in many physical ways. I had lots of blood tests done. I was losing hair, had sores that wouldn’t heal, exhaustion, and signs of rheumatoid arthritis.

I felt like I was going crazy. Not in the joking, ‘I’m overwhelmed’ kind of way. I felt like I wasn’t myself anymore. I couldn’t laugh. I was terrified of doing new things. Terrified of change. I was scared of people. I wanted to be around family, but I couldn’t handle it. One day I even hid under couch cushions in the same room so I could be around them. I was GOING CRAZY.

My mom is a nurse. She never overreacts to anything medical, even psych issues. I told her one day, in total seriousness, that I really thought I was going crazy. Her response?

“Do you feel crazier in the morning or at night?”

Night.

“You’re not psychotic, you’re neurotic.”

Well thanks, Mom.

But guys, she was also the person who spoke truths back into the lies that my team leaders threw at me. That I have an authority issue (because I got up while one of them was talking to get more food, was the example I was given). That I have no strengths outside language learning. That I’m not a leader. That I didn’t know what was best for me. That I was incapable of making wise decisions for myself (I was 26, friends).

My mom reminded me that, when I got home, my old boss wanted me to come back to work for her, multiple ministries I had been part of asked me to come help, a family I babysat for for years asked if I would nanny. I had to say no to all of them to recover. But.

All of these people had been leaders over me. All of them saw my value. Would they ask me to come back if they felt like I had huge authority issues? Would they ask if I didn’t have strengths? Would they ask me to lead if I wasn’t a leader?

Guys, the lies that were communicated to me for 3 months without anyone to help me combat them destroyed me. Terror overwhelmed me so many times.

But God is light. And that light still shines in the darkness. 

He has restored me. I am a completely different person from who I used to be. I actually have anxiety almost every day now. I’ve had to learn to be OK writing everything down all the time so my racing thoughts don’t take over, because those scars are still there and threaten to take back control.

How does this all tie in to art? 

While in Egypt, I felt like God wanted me to do art, but I was terrified. I had heard so many times that ‘You are supposed to use your gifts you’re given.’ And they should be used.

Through a friend, God spoke so clearly to that fear of never measuring up to my own expectations or using my gifts like I was supposed to.

He reminded me that He gave me a GIFT. He is my Father. Fathers love watching their children enjoy the gifts they give them. They are presents to enjoy, not simply gifts for others to use. Yes, I’m supposed to share them, but they were given to me for enjoyment. In enjoying what He has given me, I am making God smile.

This, friends, is why I do art. I don’t do it all the time. I’m pretty bad at finishing what I start sometimes. But I’m working on it. I’m seeing what needs improved and moving forward, pushing past the fears that threaten to get in my way. I hope that in getting past them, God smiles.

An almost 40 lb pot in the making. It didn’t end up working, but, hey. It’s another obstacle to overcome.

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