Years and years ago I was 23, I lived on my own in a big old apartment with french doors that had skeleton keys and I worked three part time jobs to pay for the luxury of my very own personal space. I ate ramin noodles and ice cream most days and learned to be grateful for the nutritious meals I ate at my parents house on weekends (you know the ones I scoffed at as a child).
It was during those tween-like, early twenties years, full of angst that I wrote poetry and taught myself moderately to play guitar and worked on my “art”, all with the backdrop of my mother striving to live through the biggest fight of her life. Her battle with stage 4 cancer.
I had always had a dark side, I remember feeling bouts of melancholy since early grade school, not knowing exactly how I fit into the world. It wasn’t till college that I learned I could or even should use those feeling to fuel my art. I remember a friend saying after seeing one of my pieces: “It looks really well done, but why does everything have to be so gloomy!”.
Anyway, I remember this day, a few years after I had graduated from college, it was a stormy day in my soul and nature seemed to feel the same. I was sitting at the Gut, the tip of the peninsula where I grew up, with an ocean that reflected my mood. I watched the seagulls sitting on the waves keeping their equilibrium while everything rocked and rolled. After being planted on my bum on that stony beach for a while drinking it all in, I drove the half hour back home to my apartment, pulled out my oil pastels and drew with fervor on a piece of cardboard I had.
There is something I’ve always been drawn to about this piece and while some of my artwork has gone the way of scissors and tossed, painted over, or put away, this one has stuck around. I named it “Seagulls in a Storm”.
It has been on a few different walls in our house, but the last few years it has lived above our wood stove. I never meant for it to stay there that long. I have a big canvas I put together 3 years ago to replace it. The only problem is I just can’t seem to figure out what to paint on that canvas.
And lately the angst-ee-ness of “Seagulls in a Storm” has really started to itch at me. It just doesn’t seem to fit anymore, the melancholy that always came calling for such a large part of my life, has been calmed…
So I decided to look for a way to change the story.
Rummaging through some of my art, I found a collage I put together about 5 years ago from pieces of a painting I made in the dizzying months after giving birth to my very first son 15 years ago. Sleep deprived and hungry for something other than diaper changes, nursing, and rocking a colicky baby, being lost in paint was such a relief. The frenetic swirls of color from my early 30’s reflect another sort of storm and another effort at painting it out.
The collage looked nice on the wall, but didn’t do much to change the conversation.
Then I thought about Jesus and His fishermen friends and that wild night out on the sea of Gallilee when He was napping in the stern of the boat they were on and all His friends started freaking out thinking they were going to die as the waves swelled and the wind blew. Waking Him up in terror the first thing Jesus does is shame them for having so little faith and then he did his Jesus-ee thing and stood at the stern and stopped all the swell.
So a few weeks ago I painted this and placed it under “Seagulls in a Storm”:
Then I grabbed a statue that one of my sons bought me for Christmas 2 years ago at a church bazaar. It is of the Infant Jesus at Prague, I never really knew where to put it until now.
And last night I spent the evening hours (thanks to my husband Kevin who made dinner and took care of bedtime) painting an excerpt from Matthew 8:24-26 on a canvas and a framed piece of cardboard.
Voila! Story. Changed.
But, it wasn’t till tonight while writing this post that I actually saw how those seagulls I observed in my early twenties behaved just how Jesus wanted his disciples to act that night on the boat. I always thought of the storm and the motion of those seagulls like the turmoil in my soul. But, the ocean rocked and the ocean rolled and those seagulls didn’t flail about frantic, they just moved right along with it, peaceful as could be. It was my eyes and my soul that couldn’t SEE it.
I always saw the storm, instead of how the birds were reacting to it.
I now have a new story above our wood stove, a hopeful reminder when it is all breaking loose and 7 boys from teen to toddlers are screaming for my attention, or at each other, or when the world outside our door seems to be insanity, that we are called to find peace in the noise knowing that asleep at the stern or comfortably atop the waves like those seagulls, God calls us to faith and it is faith alone that will calm our storm.
With love from the not very ocean-ee but still sometimes stormy Green Mountains of Vermont,