creating room for impulse

Written by Shelly Miller

Editor, Living the Story Shelly Miller is smitten with the art of story to transform a life. She writes about her own struggles as a child of divorce and alcoholism, and the way God redeems it all as a clergy wife raising two teens. With experience as a full-time missionary, advocate for orphans in Rwanda and leader of women’s ministries for small and large congregations, she is passionate to help people realize calling despite circumstance. When her husband H isn’t leading a church planting movement in North America, they drive five minutes across the street to take a walk on the Atlantic, with a camera strapped to her shoulder.

September 2, 2013

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I hadn’t left the house in three days. My kids morphed into independence overnight and what I was cooking for dinner became the highlight of my week. When writing turned into a meaningless task, I knew I was in trouble.

In Julia Cameron’s words I had “overfished (my) inner reservoir without having taken the time and care to consciously restock (my) storehouse of images.” A heavy sigh turned into my frequent sentence. For days.

Rummaging through familiar file boxes above my desk, I happened on a stack of forgotten, unfinished watercolor paintings. Perfectionism provided the padlock on my palette five years ago, but now I was seeing them with keen acceptance. They weren’t that bad, I thought. So I shared them on Facebook with abandon and received applause from a chorus of friends.

As I read Cameron’s Right to Write, I took her sage advice of an Artist Date like a prescription – “a once-weekly solitary expedition to something festive that interests (me).” I wanted it to be the miracle cure for the desperate black hole of disconnection, when a trip to London or the laughter of community seemed achingly elusive.

The next morning I walked the aisles of Fresh Market, looking for association to the broader landscape of humanity through the smells of exotic spices. I settled on a bouquet of pink and violet Lisianthus instead; perennials providing an outdoor backdrop for Christmas cards in years past while living in Phoenix. Cultivars that don’t thrive in the place I now call home.

On the way home, I made an impromptu decision, a sporadic swerve into the parking lot of an art gallery I’d driven by a million times but never visited. I’ll be just a few minutes, I said out loud to myself and the cellophane sleeve of connection lying on the passenger seat in the sun.

Perhaps this Artist Date will be the inspiration I need to reopen my paints at the cottage, I thought. We were leaving for vacation in a week.

I returned to the driver’s seat an hour later, thankful my flowers didn’t wilt.

I hadn’t planned on meeting Kelly. Or a potential date to go back with my daughter.

A casual introduction meandered to a generous crescendo of conversation when Kelly and I realized our sons were school friends and we’d never met. Leafing through her small leather sketch book of unfinished paintings inspired in carpool lines, she encouraged me to paint when I could and offered to help my daughter with a college portfolio.

I commented that I admired her compact art book and admitted that I keep a small journal for jotting down writing notes in my car; that I’d surrendered painting to perfectionism.

Two days later, I received an unexpected package at my front door from a friend I’ve only known virtually through blogging. A personalized leather bound book filled with a variety of art papers and tied with extravagantly long ribbons in my favorite color, magenta. “Yes, I believe in you,” the handwritten card started, “I pray that you can find in this gift a place to create.”

She didn’t know about that Artist Date. But God did.

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Bracing myself against the kitchen counter, over an open cardboard box of tissue paper and ribbons, I cupped my hand over my mouth while repeating, “Oh my God,” for ten long minutes.  I was having a conversation with Him when words seemed trite and limiting; a soul declaration at the intersection of secret longing and extravagant riches.

He restocked the pond I was overfishing with an impulsive Artist Date and a lavish gift; a holy invitation to create.

A week later, I lingered under afternoon sun on a bench looking over the muse of a still lake on vacation. Paints and containers of water spread out on a picnic table before me. Taking a deep breath, I dipped the end of the paintbrush into cerulean blue and watched pigment run slow tributaries on damp paper forming clouds in my new book.

And perhaps more than a solitary expedition of courting creative consciousness, an Artist Date is a providential rendezvous to listen; an invitation to quiet the voice of perfectionistic idealism in order to hear the whispers of divine romance.

How is the Creator wooing you?

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During September at Living the Story, we explore the theme Create. On September 30th, author Emily Freeman of Chatting at the Sky, joins us with her story, an opportunity for bloggers to link-up, and a giveaway of her new book, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. We hope you’ll join us on the fifth Monday in the comments for a chance to win and share your stories with us on how the word Create speaks to you.

34 Comments

  1. Kris Camealy

    That gift? From a friend you’ve never laid physical eyes on? That is such a God-thing. I love it when He does stuff like that. I can see you there, unwrapping His goodness for you, by way of a friend,and you knowing that it was really from Him, an invitation, a gentle coaxing of His hands to let yourself dabble again. These things are never coincidence, and it’s such a beautiful sight to see His mark on all the little pieces of our lives where we wonder and sometimes struggle–it reminds me that He HEARS me. He hears our heart longings and when we are still too befuddled to move, He takes the first step, and says, Yes–DO this, here’s something to get you started…

    I am so excited about this series this month!! What a beautiful way to kick it off, Shelly! 😉

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I’ve started waking up to the day knowing it is a gift, expectant that He will reveal Himself to me. In some ways His extravagance in this exchange doesn’t surprise me, I think its more surprising that He chose me to lavish it upon. I’m grateful, really. I’m so excited about this series too Kris. May God use it to bless those who join us in the adventure.

      Reply
  2. Glenda Childers

    Planning an artist date … pronto.

    Fondly,
    Glenda

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      You must Glenda. Go for it!

      Reply
  3. Sandra Heska King

    God’s working something in me this year with this create thing. I don’t know if He’s working on many of us the same way–or if I’m just more attentive to my one-word.

    Here’s to restocking the pond with some artist’s dates and wordless activities–and lots of color.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Yes to restocking our ponds. I actually am overdue for one right now Sandra. I need to take my own advice.

      Reply
  4. kelli woodford

    There are so many beautiful things I could comment on in this story. The one that grabs me most, though, is the thread that connects with John 4:10 MSG,

    “If you knew the generosity of God … ”

    Yes. What a story of the rich and lavish gifts He gives, Shelly. Love it.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I’m not sure why I’m constantly astounded by his generosity. It makes me teary just thinking about it. Mercy does that to me, makes me cry when I see it.

      Reply
      • Kris Camealy

        Oh me too. God’s generosity reduces me to weeping every time. Grace, and redemption. These things are what undo me. Love you both.

        Reply
  5. bluecottonmemory

    Beautiful, Shelly – He has love letters to us everywhere – in play dates and surprise packages – and car lines:) How awesome to be an “artist” – how awesome to be it with God!

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      It’s so true isn’t it, that His love is everywhere? I suppose we don’t often have eyes to see what is right in front of us. May our eyes be open to it today. Thanks for being here in the comments.

      Reply
  6. Elizabeth

    My insides are curning, my heart is pounding triple-time and my soul sings loud and joy-filled praises. This is the power of words, story, friendship, giving and CREATOR GOD. Beautiful my sweet friend. Beaut.I.ful.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I love that this spoke to you Elizabeth because you embody the word create. It’s what makes your soul sing, your reaction is a testament to that. Blessings to you today as you linger long in this holiday.

      Reply
  7. DeanneMoore

    One of the greatest lessons in this time of my life is to act on the impulses that God gives us…not to drive on by when there are flowers in the car, groceries in the back seat. I almost did not act on the God-given impulse to play a part in this story.

    “Spiritual leadership springs forth in grace from our very desire for God’s presence. This does not take effort or striving. It takes courage, a kind of showing up, attentiveness.”—Gerald May

    I saw this quote on Transforming Center’s blog earlier and it really describes the kind of life we must live to allow God to speak to us and turn us in the direction of “living the story” to find ourselves right in the middle of his plan and purpose, to live in the illumination of His love.

    So thankful for you, my friend—for the woman God created, his masterpiece, a blessing to me and to the world.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I wanted to share all the wonderful things you said in that email, the spiritual meaning behind each of the parts of the book Dea but it made it too long for a blog post. Perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to share it somewhere at some point. You are a gift to me, your words and your presence through the phone. I’m trusting God will allow us the luxury of meeting face to face one day before we enter heaven. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about leadership lately and that quote is perfect. Thank you for sharing it.

      Reply
  8. Janel A

    I am starting into the Made ecourse today. One of the things that has kept me from applying for it originally is my fear that I just can`t do it. And I had a bit of a conversation with Kris Camealy about it..and she challenged me to let that go…so I`m stepping out in faith, fighting perfectionism and fear and looking for the ways God will speak to me in those moments and show me His heart. I love this friend…love this. Those God moments always blow us away don`t they.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Looking forward to hearing about how God uses this course to speak to you Janel. Be brave my friend, its about more than the moment. It’s always about Jesus loving us.

      Reply
    • Kris Camealy

      Janel, I am ridiculously excited for you. 😀

      Reply
  9. Being Woven

    This is such a special piece that I so needed to read. God has been quiet but He is waiting for me to be ready to reach out to Him about the creativity that He placed in me. Parts and pieces have been dormant a long time. And maybe there is a portion that I have never explored. I don’t know. But I want to be open to this Artist Date. Thanks, ~ linda

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Linda, praying God will breathe new life into those places you’ve let go dormant for reasons only you know. Perhaps it takes a bit of dogged determination and trust to open up that hard ground to make it fallow again. I believe you can do it.

      Reply
  10. Nancy Ruegg

    Such wisdom for attending to our creative selves: 1) Avoid the depletion of “overfishing”; risk spur-of-the-moment decisions that can revive the spirit; plan an Artist Date (on the calendar, like any other appointment) to generate creativity and passion. Several ideas are taking shape in my mind as I type. Thank you, Shelley!

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Nancy, love the way you are open to think differently. Let me know if you take an artist date!

      Reply
  11. Ashley Tolins Larkin

    Shelly, thank you for sharing such beautifully inspired and inspiring words! I love God’s tenderness to you — this grace — and this gift from a dear friend and this invitation to play. For freedom, Christ has set us free! Thank you for sharing this story….I, too, am all stirred up and shouting yes in my insides!

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Yay, for being stirred up Ashley! Freedom is pure pleasure isn’t it, when it comes from Christ.

      Reply
  12. pastordt

    What a magnificent story, Shelly. Oh my goodness! That perfectionism can be a real killer – so glad you’ve broken through and are enjoying all your good gifts.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I know Diana, I’ve been savoring the story waiting to share it and this just seemed to be the perfect time with our Create theme. It makes it even more special that my girl got accepted to an art and design school this week.

      Reply
  13. Margo

    I have just stumbled upon this site via Kris Camealy (whom I stumblied upon via someone else!! I’ve started to like my stumbling!!!) and this post is so great in many ways. This: an invitation to quiet the voice of perfectionistic idealism in order to hear the whispers of divine romance.
    mostly. Art is so healing in so many ways; it has brought me closer to myt Lord. And that book….such a God thing!!! I love when He reaches out to us in the form of a surprise from another! Such grace!!

    I’m looking forward to claiming this site as one of my “Go to’s”.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Oh Margo we would love to have you here with us as a regular. I think you’ll find a lot of heart in this community. I’m so glad you stumbled on Kris and then here, Iove the way the blogging becomes a serendipitous divine appointment. Glad you stopped by!

      Reply
      • Margo

        Yay!! 🙂

        Reply
  14. Pamela

    This makes me teary in its beauty…and makes me feel like I need an artist date!

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      I know you won’t be sorry if you make an artist date Pamela.

      Reply
  15. Laura Boggess

    Oh, Shelly, this feeds. It sure does. Don’t we all need those dates? My muse is the Holy Spirit, and he inspires when he wants to, but unless I am primed to see the gifts he leaves for me…it’s just that empty well. What a lovely gift Dea gave to you–the journal and the vote of faith. To have someone say “I believe in you”…it means so much. And I do. Believe in you :). Thanks for inviting me along on your artist date.

    Reply
    • Shelly Miller

      Thank you for believing in me Laura, the feeling is mutual friend. Glad you stopped by.

      Reply
  16. Michele-Lyn

    This has awakened something deep. It’s stirring, and I’m not sure exactly what it is. But I do know it’s not supposed to stay hidden. This is not just beautiful, Shelly, it’s powerful.

    Reply

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creating room for impulse

by Shelly Miller time to read: 4 min
34