The Breath of Creation: From Your Purpose to Your Story
on May 11th, 2022
As a coach, I often pick up beautifully strange little images from various clients who tell me about their lives. I like to hold on to the pieces from every person’s account that spark something within me, like a patchwork quilt of life spoken over me.
Recently, a woman offered me a small detail of her life. After the loss of her father, her mother created these dark paintings in her studio, encapsulating the grief of her lost husband. In the grand scope of our sixty-minute conversation, she unveiled such an image to me in only three seconds, but the image has lingered long after.
Because it sparked an image of my own: The death of my grandmother, and the bright floral painting I created thereafter—a bouquet of hot pink, sunset orange, canary yellow, cerulean blue, aquamarine, and lime green. The color was cheerfully unlike anything I had painted before, but it was the image my grief navigated toward. Looking back, it memorialized so much of my grandmother’s appearance—she had a pair of shoes with brightly colored faux daisies at the toes, which she wore on special occasions in the summertime. I didn’t make that connection while painting. Rather, I only felt the agony of my soul, eager to pull back the beauty that once was present.
During our coaching conversation, this woman went on to say that her father’s death became the catalyst for her leadership journey today and her purpose for the work she does in the world. She had pinpointed that exact moment in time as the origin of her purpose, but the reality was that her reason for the work she does today—and the reason for the work I do today—has an entire story surrounding it just waiting for us to connect the dots and shine a light on the origins of who we are and how we came to be.
Digging Deeper into the Origins of Purpose
For a long time, I knew I wanted to work in the realm of artmaking. Quite honestly, I knew ever since I was a little girl. I also grew up in a childhood home that was filled with faith and stood on the firm foundation of following Christ. And while I loved making art, rarely would I have ever described myself as a “Christian artist.” In my mind, being “Christian” and being “an artist” were two separate spheres.
An equally separate sphere was the plague of loss. Some of my most painful memories involve the shape of loss—either grief, heartache, or defeat. Losing loved ones too soon and too fast, not being able to process the change, feeling the ever-present emotion of longing, waiting to see someone’s face just one more time. These painful moments of loss permeated my soul deeply to the same depth as my passion for artmaking or my zeal for God.
Like I said before, I believed these were separate spheres of myself because I couldn’t quite connect the dots between them. I knew I often turned to art when I was upset or grieving, and I knew I often turned to my faith in God during those times as well, but I couldn’t figure out how all three were intertwined as a single driving force for what I do in this world.
Much like my coaching client, I knew my purpose was grounded in artmaking (as hers was in leadership) and an event like losing my grandmother was the catalyst to connecting those dots between art and grief (such as her father’s passing).
But where was my faith in all of this?
It wasn’t until I was well into my master’s program—two years after my grandmother Pippi had passed away—that I created a dress in her honor to display at an art gallery. I used bright floral fabric for the body of the dress and hemmed the neck and skirt with white and gold. Beyond sewing a dress from a pattern she often wore—and in her exact measurements—I wanted to capture her spirit within the folds of fabric, the voice of who she was. So I interviewed those closest to her to say something about her, printing those words across the body of her dress. Included in those quotations of others were her favorite bible verses.
On opening night of the gallery, I stood next to her dress displayed on a mannequin, with her bright floral daisy shoes propped up beside it. The intent behind my project, which was one of many in the exhibit named Art and Social Transformation, was to capture memory in objects—the memory of those we loved. Throughout the night, I had strangers come up and talk to me about objects they kept from people they loved who were long gone from this world. A handmade quilt, a family ring, a pocketknife—someone even told me they kept their ancestor’s wagon wheel! All of them said the same thing about those objects. “It reminds me of them. I feel their presence with me.” They smiled, talking about their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings, and friends. They held their memories close in the objects they loved. The radiance—the joy—that was shown that night in the art gallery reminded me of why I make art. Although not considered overtly “Christian,” the art I made that night reminded people of those they loved who loved them back, an echo of God’s love, a sliver of the great love of Christ.
This was my purpose. But did it really begin there?
Your Purpose Is Your Story — and Your Story Is Worth Telling
I knew my purpose was to help others grow closer to God by healing their grief through artmaking, but I never knew where that passion for my purpose came from. I arrived at this purpose recently through both the work that I do today as a writer and story coach and through that moment in time at the art gallery. That was my catalyst moment. That was the moment I was sure I knew my purpose.
Until one day, I was chatting on a phone call with Corey, my mentor, my boss, and my friend, and we landed on this very subject of understanding the origins of one’s purpose.
“Is there a time in your childhood where you made art to soothe that pain of loss?” he asked.
“I don’t think so. It must have been my grandmother.”
He urged me to let go of my resistance and think back to times in my life where—before I even knew my purpose—I had used art to strengthen my faith and heal my wounds. And so I thought, and I started going back into the recesses of my memory.
“Well, there was the time I painted flowers for my Granny Hala right before she died.”
Corey waited patiently in the silence.
“And when I was ten or eleven or so, I wrote a poem for my Uncle Johnny who passed away. It was an elegy, actually.”
And suddenly, I realized—I had been doing this a long, long time.
Throughout my life, even as a little girl, I turned to art to encapsulate loss. In sharing that elegy with others—including my teacher, my classmates, and my family—I was planting the smallest steppingstone for people to see a glimpse of God’s good grace and love. It wasn’t so much about being a “Christian artist” as it was about showing the love of Christ by helping others let go of grief and hold on to beauty through art. Of course, we all see art through our own lens. What I see as God, someone else might see as the Universe, the Spirit, and so on. Art doesn’t influence us to see only our side of the conversation. Regardless of our faith backgrounds and whenever our journeys are taking us when we encounter this kind of art, we are experiencing the breath of creation touching our face.
That is the expansiveness of purpose. Even from my smallest of memories, I could imagine an entire narrative where time and again, these three cornerstones of my life intersected in powerful, undeniable ways. Sharing my story woven of grief, art, and faith has become a newfound flame within me because it helps define my goals and objectives for my time on earth and how I can contribute to the world in meaningful ways. It fuels the fire of the work I do today as a writer, artist, and story coach and how I show up in service to my clients. Understanding the story behind my purpose motivates me to create art, foster healing, and strengthen faith with all my relationships.
That’s what the power of storytelling can do for your purpose too.
When you start digging deeper into the reasons behind your purpose for what you do today, you will start to excavate the heroic nature of your own life’s journey. Your story will shape how your purpose originated, grew, and evolved and perhaps even give you clarity into a path for the future. After all, stories always come with endings.
Knowing your purpose is only the beginning.