Bad Days and Heroes
I must admit that I have been pretty stressed out lately.
A little background information: Most artists don’t survive on just their own art sales. Some do, it’s possible, but most don’t. Most artists I know figure out a way to make it work. For the past few years, I have been employed full time by a company based out of Boise, Idaho. I think that I have had it pretty good, I worked 40 hours a week painting pictures of LDS Temples for them. They paid me a steady paycheck. In return, they own the copyrights to the paintings that I created for them. Many of my artist friends thought that I was selling my soul, but no, just my copyrights. It worked out good for me... It kept my family fed, and kept me doing what I love. In the back of my mind, I knew that I needed to be working on some sort of exit strategy. I knew I needed a plan to be able to break out on my own so that I could grow in both my career and my income, but that was a bit in the future, when I was ready... so I thought. A little while ago I found out that the company I worked for was doing some major restructuring and downsizing. They would no longer need my services. A scary thought, but my wife Jeanette and I decided to look at it as an opportunity. I have always wanted more freedom in my artistic career, and now I have it. We prayed about it as a couple and felt good about the decision to not find another job working for somebody else, but instead focus on being an artist... (easier said than done).
Fast forward a few weeks, and I am signing art at the BYU Women’s conference. A fantastic opportunity, I usually love days like that where I get to meet so many people! But honestly, I was having a rough time. Not a lot had been going right for me in the days previous, and I was just about at the end of my rope. I was really beginning to doubt my decision to be a full time artist. That day specifically was particularly hard. Nothing seemed to be going right. I was having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. The problem was, I was meeting so many people that I had to fake a smile, I had to pretend everything was great. But it wasn’t. That evening, after I was done, I drove to my hotel. There I learned that they had given away my reserved room. They offered me a smoking room, but I definitely didn’t want it. If I could somehow survive the night without choking on the residual fumes, I didn’t think it would be good to show up at BYU Women’s conference the next day smelling like cigarette smoke. I left the hotel frustrated but determined. After calling around and realizing that the cheapest available room cost $140, I drove to Walmart, bought a blanket, and then curled up into the back of my car and I cried. That is something that I haven’t done in a very long time. I didn’t feel like being an artist anymore. I was done. I wanted to quit. I wanted to go home and start applying for dead-end jobs that would make me feel secure while doing nothing important with my life. I wanted no more responsibility. I had been trying so hard to do what I knew I needed to do, but I just wasn’t seeing the success, and I didn’t know how it would come. I just wanted to sleep. I realized that I didn’t need to sleep in my car. Just a few days previous, a cousin offered me a place at her house whenever I was in the area, but the fact is, I wanted to be alone. I wanted to feel sorry for myself, I wanted to cry. As I laid there in the fetal position, I thought back on how terrible my day was. Then, I remembered something. I had a chance encounter earlier that day with somebody that I have always looked up to... one of my heroes. I have already written a blog post about Al Carraway HERE. This particular bad day, as I was heading back to my table after a short lunch break, I noticed that the woman walking right next to me was Al. I mentioned to her that I have never seen her without a line of people waiting to meet her. She mentioned that her book had just sold out. I told her I didn’t know how she did it, always being so busy (being about 8 months pregnant at the time) and that she should go home to sleep. She said “No! I can’t go home yet!”, then she began to ask me questions. What was I doing there (I had a name tag), how was it going, that sort of thing, we didn’t talk long, just long enough to walk down the stairs together, but that quick meeting started me thinking. I wondered if Al ever had bad days like mine. (of course she does, doesn’t everybody?) I wondered how she went on, meeting so many people and always showing genuine interest in others. Always smiling, Always going. How did she do it? What did she do when she had bad days? Well, since I have read her book, I knew the answer:
“I found myself on the floor screaming at Heavenly Father, “I don’t know what else to do! I don’t know what else to do; I’m praying, I’m reading, I’m fasting- I don’t know how many times- and I have nothing to show for it. Why? Why is something so right so hard? Do you still even care about me? Are you even listening to me? Are you even there at all? ... Hours passed, and I was still screaming at Him. For hours I pled for an answer of why I needed to keep going, why, and never received an answer.... Comfort did come, but not until I lost my voice from yelling at God, until I couldn’t even speak anymore and no tears were left to cry, even though I wished there were. It wasn’t until then, when I closed my mouth and listened, that I received, that I heard what God had to say to me. The Spirit always speaks, but it is up to us to actually listen and not just listen for what we want to hear.”
I realized that I needed to follow Al’s example. I needed to pray. I needed to quit feeling sorry for myself, and I needed to talk to my Father. So I did. Right there in the middle of the Orem Walmart parking lot, I spoke aloud a prayer to my Heavenly Father. After a bit of complaining, I stopped and I asked Him if He loved me. I listened. I cried again, but this time in a different way. He let me feel those same feelings that I felt before; that everything would be alright and that I should be an artist. I just laid there feeling those feelings for quite awhile, then I called my wife, went inside the store to buy a cheap sleeping bag (I figured it would get colder than my thin blanket was meant for), and I went to sleep.
That night I slept like a baby. I felt great the next day. I went to Women’s Conference unshowered, unshaven, a bit wrinkled, but feeling refreshed. Thinking back I realize that God didn’t tell me that it would be easy, He didn’t tell me that I wouldn’t have to make sacrifices, He didn’t tell me that my ship has come in... but He did tell me that everything would be OK. And you know what? That is enough. Because it came to me through the Holy Ghost. The Comforter. I was comforted.
I am grateful for modern day heroes. I am grateful for people who tell their story so that I too can learn from their example. I am glad that I was reminded to pray that night... not just to “say my prayers”, but to really pray... to TALK to my Heavenly Father. Al would call that little reminder a "golden nugget" in your life. When you are having a bad day, please slow down enough to receive that bit of gold. Please pray. Please talk, question, argue, scream, plead, whatever you need to do... just pray.