I was moving horizontally in my career instead of vertically. I seemed to have lost confidence in what I could do as an artist and had lapsed into that old formula of dressing for success instead of actually achieving it. I was too much in debt to go back to school and take up a new career or enhance the one I already had. Much of that debt had been spent on personal “window dressing” to cover the emptiness and debilitating sense of failure inside. I had begun to wonder if my father and art professor had been right.
I went on interviews for better jobs I did not get. But what was worse was that I often had a perverse sense of relief in not getting them on the assumption that I would fail at anything too challenging. My art had become attached in my mind to the negatives of the work place so that I rarely pursued the painting I had once loved. In my spare time I now pursued only the writing. I was pleased with my novels and began sending them to agents and publishers, sometimes with a swell compliment, but no publication. In time I quit that too.
Suddenly the old rug was jerked out from under me. I had a callous removed from my foot which got infected, developed into osteomyelitis, and I nearly lost my leg. By the time I found a doctor who could save it, I had been off my feet for over a year and the muscles had begun to atrophe in addition to the handicap I already had. The doctor saved the foot after a series of surgeries and other treatments, but I was declared disabled in the mean time and retired on disability.
I gained the weight back and could not get into the fancy wardrobe. The silk nails were long gone. I could not wear the pointed toe shoes on my rebuilt foot. I wondered bitterly why God had allowed this to happen to me. What I did not yet see was that this was the end of the bleak old life and the beginning of a wonderful new one.
It was wonderful to be out of the workplace I so hated, but my social life was gone too. I had been doing posters for local community theaters (the one bright spot in my life). This had put me in touch with a glitzy theater crowd with whom I had partied in my swanky clothes. I thought they would all still be there for me now. However only one of them was.
Again the voices – I had done the posters more to be around this clever group than to pursue my art form. Attaching myself to the glory of others rather than self-actualizing. Probably there was some theatrical obsession in me from years before when my father had been an entertainer. All this gets a little Freudian. You get the point.
Now alone with no voices left but my own, I had to sort out the truth from all the lies it had been telling me. I had long before killed off the original person I was the in lieu of a carefully constructed persona. I had received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior a few years before all this, but His still small voice had seemingly been drowned out by louder, brassier ones. Now I began to wonder what He had to say. It was a long, layered process in which little seemed to be happening (but actually was). His presence began replacing the presence of others in a way that made me feel increasing loved and secure and validated. This was the great voice that overpowered all the others, even my own.
Like Gandhi, I lived simply, dressed in long cotton caftans, pursued artistic and literary work with more and more diligence. Now it was increasingly about the work itself rather than what it would lead to or how I would be viewed by others. I did not edge it in between my job and social life and shopping any more. My work had become the commitment it had once been as a child before I learned it could lead to all the other stuff.
In time the work was getting better and better. I enjoyed the compliments when they came, but I did not need them in the hungry way I once had. I knew what I was going for – PERSONAL EXCELLENCE – That means in all things (BODY, MIND, SPIRIT – SEEN OR UNSEEN BY OTHERS). If God saw and liked it, that was enough. I felt a sense of His guidance, sometimes rigorous, too. He is the God of Leonardo and Shakespeare. I recalled “Do each thing thy hand undertakes mightily.” There was a lot of self-discipline in this. SOME VOICES COMPLIMENTED THINGS I DID THAT I LATER DISCOVERED WERE FLAWED. I HAD NOT SEEN THE FLAWS AND NEITHER HAD THEY, BUT GOD DID AND SHOWED THEM TO ME IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS. THIS TOLD ME A LOT ABOUT VOICES!