HOW THE PORTRAIT OF GRANDMA ARRIVED -- AN EXCERPT FROM CHASING GOD

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So what is the connection between writing and painting and this inner listening?

Of the many roles I’d lived, motherhood was especially precious and now, that role was changing. My son had caught me off guard by finding an apartment with an early move-in discount, and it was about to happen. My only son was about to launch. I’d miss seeing this kid every day. Once Kel was out, to forestall my blues, I went into action. I’d been splattering the walls of my small, windowless ironing room for the last year, painting my way through some unknown inner world as I recovered from the trauma of breast cancer and its treatment.

Now I had the luxury of a spacious room with a window, Kelly’s room. I bought an art table and chair, assembled them and abracadabra! I had my new art studio! Next, I covered the walls with my paintings--free swirls of vivid blues, yellows and purples.

Stepping back to survey the wildness that had somehow sprung from my paintbrush over the months, I was eager to paint more. I sorted the bottles of paint lined up on my desk: teal, lavender, bright pink, dark pine. The colors vibrated with energy. I couldn’t wait to start.

Hurriedly filling my water jar, I settled myself before a large, stiff sheet of watercolor paper ready for the paint to come to life. Then, suddenly I didn’t feel like painting. Surprised and confused, I sat in my silent art room, gazing at the blank paper before me.

Then something came to me: Portraits. Do pencil portraits.

“No,” I argued with the quiet thought. “I know how to do that. I can control the pencil. I want to paint. Paint gets out of control. I want to break out of the fetters.”

Never mind, the urging continued. Just draw. Do Grandma Cunningham.

The only photo I had of Florence Cunningham was Mom and Dad’s wedding picture, both sets of parents flanking the bridal couple. I loved that shot of Grandma wearing the large, lacy hat that matched her dark elegant dress.

Just draw.

The feeling grew stronger.

I knew exactly where to find the photo. I placed it next to the large white page I’d thought I’d be covering with paint, sharpened my pencil and began.

The drawing that emerged amazed me. I sat perched on the stool at my drawing board looking down at my grandmother. Though I hadn’t drawn a portrait in years and thought I was rusty, this vibrant drawing was possibly the best of my entire life. It spoke to me of the many drawings I’d so proudly offered as a child for her unfailing praise so long ago.

All these years, that little girl who loved to draw had been locked away, neglected and languishing. Heaviness ached in my heart. Why had I allowed work to push her out of my life?

As I sat studying the drawing of my dear grandmother, gratitude washed over the heartache. The little girl who loved to draw was still alive, after all! Grandma had set her free.

I carefully thumb tacked Grandma to the corkboard above my art table. Maybe it was her looking down at me like a guardian angel that made it easier to follow the prompting to draw more. I dug out the wedding picture again. Soon portraits of my mother and father smiled encouragement at me from their place on the wall near Grandma.

Day by day over the weeks of my recovery, the urge to draw returned again and again. One face after another appeared on the blank white sheets in front of me, effortlessly, as if they had been politely lined up, waiting for me to release them with my pencil. Why was I drawing all these relatives, my maternal grandparents, and even Ben, my father-in-law? I didn’t know. As the urge came to draw yet another relative, I simply drew.

This art stuff seemed to be about being led...the way was wide open. I began to see my encounter with cancer and the time of my recovery as a gift. I knew I was changing, learning to slow down, to trust, and to surrender. I wasn’t sure why I’d needed the illness, but some part of me knew that more than my body was healing.....