Betty J. Slade

 

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    The calling is bigger

    In 1986, I began holding yearly Christian Artist and Writers' Retreats. For 21 years, my Sweet Al and I opened our doors here on the Blanco. I was beginning to understand in my own life that my creativity was not sourced from me, but was a gift I had been given. And, as such, would be entrusted to me; it had to be a part of a calling form God. It seemed like everywhere I went I found other "frustrated artists" who were coming to the same understanding.
     
    But therein lay a bigger problem. There didn't seem to be a welcoming venue or even those who understood what to do with the gifts of a creative mind.
     
    Back then, the best the organized church would offer was some "FYI" pin-up space on a bulletin board. That was about the only visibility to be had. Was a creative artist too unconventional to work or produce within the boundaries of a box with a steeple? I'm not even sure I knew I was supposed to stay "inside the box," let alone that I may be frowned upon for coloring outside its lines. Imagine the shock to the creative mind to find they are different simply because they dream in color.
     
    The annual artist retreats began small, but grew over time. My Sweet Al used to call the retreat guests "your flakey friends." He cherished them all, but was not one to hold back in referencing how he viewed them. After all, his idea of artistry is Bondo on a fender. I, of course, called our retreat guests fun, exciting, adventurous, even fearless. We had writers, singers, painters, woodcarvers and sculptors, just to name a few. Some years we averaged upward of 30 to 50 guests.
     
    We had guest speakers who spoke, while attendees showed off their wares, sang their songs or sought critique about ideas for their next masterpiece. It was an interesting thing to be around the people who were like-kind. Even to the stranger who was new to our group, we understood each other at the front door. I suppose it didn't hurt that we would all occasionally brag about how wonderfully creative and awesome we were. I guess you could call it our own inspirational mirror chant.
     
    Those years are long past. When I think back, I'm not sure I actually knew what I was doing - only that there were those who had a voice that wasn't being heard, needed to be heard or just needed to be understood. It may have even seemed to be a silly notion to anyone looking in from the outside. Then again, some callings are so much bigger than really any of us can comprehend. 
     
    I can attest, as would anyone who has taken on a group activity such as this, nothing comes easy. So many times, I wondered if the work outweighed the benefit. Fortunately, there are many moments and people that I will cherish forever. And when I least expect it, the occasional message from a past years' attendee affirms that what was set on course completed its race.
     
    I once wrote that artists are deliciously out of balance. For most people, they map or process a task from start to finish. This is not always the case for the artistic mind. We move from one great idea to the next.
     
    Sometimes we finish what we start, other times we table something because its legacy has to marinate in our soul before we understand the final picture.  The beauty of today is that artists are finding that they can shine brighter than ever before, and even outside of their four walls if so led.
     
    One of my dearest friends who was a frequent guest speaker at our retreats fit the stereotypical mold of an artist - platinum blonde poufy hair, glittery pink clothing adorned in sparkling jewelry and wild print leggings capped with funky, clunky shoes.
     
    During one of her teachings, she went around the room and wrapped each guest in a colorful shawl. She spoke prophetic words into their lives. The shawl was a symbolic way of representing a mantle, an anointing.
     
    God says in His word that each one of us is given a calling. This calling doesn't always match a person's ability, talent or even their faith. It is not meant to fit who we are, but position us directionally. The mantle, on the other hand, allows us to grow into who we are to become and in the direction we are being called.
     
    "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong." - 1 Corinthians 1:26-26.
     
    Final brushstroke: It is not just the artist who is called to produce beyond their ability. Each of us has been positioned in a way that can glorify God once we learn to follow the leading of his path. For this, we can be encouraged. All that is asked of us is to bestow upon the world the gift that has been given us. And, yes, the mantle will be too big for us in the beginning. But if we stay true to the calling, one day we will have grown into who we were always meant to be based on God's anointing.

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