I am. Two words. Two words which proclaim identity. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a woman. I am a teacher. I am a friend. I am a sister. I am a daughter. I am a believer. All of these things define me. All proceeded by two words, which connect me with a state of being. Over a lifetime I have added many things to my ‘I am’ list, some are roles I play, and others are characteristics and personality traits.
However, I have found that when I am on the verge of a new ‘I am’ statement sometimes I hesitate. For example, when I first started writing I did it for fun. It wasn’t for people. I was playing with words and phrases as I was processing my life. My computer held all my feelings, heartaches, and triumphs as secrets. Before the digital age, it was my journals and note pads, tucked into a night stand drawer far from anyone’s eyes but my own.
It wasn’t until much later that I found out people related to my words, and that in some way what I wrote touched hearts. Even as I bashfully put stuff out there and I got more and more comments that my words expressed the feelings people felt, I never considered calling myself a writer. To say ‘I am a writer’ was not something I was comfortable with. Somehow I felt like to do so would make me an imposter. I could never be a “real” writer…I just piddled with words. It wasn’t until I had an article in the paper and I saw the byline with a short statement following that said, “Michelle Gunnin is a writer, mother of four, and a teacher,” that I began to believe it was so. Somehow having an editor write it validated it in my mind, though it was still quite a while before I said the words myself. Saying them was an identity statement…an acceptance and a proclamation. I had to see myself as a writer before I could truly be one. With time, experience, and much support from many people, my confidence grew which fueled my vision of myself as a writer.
Now I find myself facing a new ‘I am’ statement with the same hesitation. It has to do with my artwork. I have always had an interest in art. I had a fabulous high school art teacher who gave us the freedom to create. We experimented with every medium there is. I have thrown pots, woven fibers, casted jewelry, painted, fired, melted, drawn, glued, soldered, carved, and inlayed. I have enough experience to garner a huge amount of respect for anyone who does art well. I admire talent. I appreciate skill. I enjoy being an observer of art. In watching, I have developed an eye for color and balance. I have found a love of texture. I even relish creating art myself. I picked it back up a couple of years ago as a stress reliever. It is as much fun as I remember. I love the process of discovery…the experimentation…the stumbling into new forms…even the blockages that lead to breakthroughs. But that is what I do…I stumble and piddle, and mess up. “Real” artists don’t. They know and plan and execute with precision and technique.
Once again I find myself with people who like the things I make…connecting to each piece, touching them and seeming to FEEL them with both hands and heart. And once again, I feel like an imposter. I was invited to display my pieces at a fundraiser as a cancer survivor artist. I almost canceled twice. When we arrived and I saw the caliber of art at the show, I told Bill not to even get my stuff out of the car. “I don’t belong here,” I said. But always my cheerleader, Bill told me that I had just as much right to be there as anyone else, and he forced me to look him in the eye as he said it. Then he brushed away my tears, and promptly got my art out of the car and helped me set it up. I sold $400 of art in 5 hours. Neither of the people on either side of me sold anything. What? Are you kidding me? Still I keep wondering when they are going to call and say it was a mistake and that these people want their money back.
Yet, there was a spark deep inside me that caught fire. It was a whisper in my soul that said, “Maybe you are an artist.” The spark of an idea grew into a flame, and I was inspired to create more pieces. Then I had this crazy idea to take my work to be juried at a local gallery…meaning that I was submitting it for 3 “real” artists to look at for consideration to be displayed. When I walked into the room lined with beautiful, stunning artwork I nearly turned around and walked out again, but I heard those words…’you have just as much right to be here as anyone.’ I remembered that to grow I have to put myself in situations that stretch me. I swallowed hard and left it all there for the jury to decide.
The next day I got a call that I had been accepted for the holiday show in November. Once again, I had this feeling that any minute they would call and say they had made a mistake and called me by accident. Yet, when I finally talked to them they acted like I was an artist…they even called me one! Bolstered by this turn of events, I submitted my art to another jury at another gallery. Once again I was accepted, and left three pieces there THAT DAY. So I am going to just say it…I am an artist. There. Done. Now to learn how to fit into this new skin and get comfortable here.
All of this caused me to ponder…as usual. My significant wrestling and even fighting against these ‘I am’ statements has me wondering…how many ‘I ams’ are you avoiding? Surely I am not the only one who has trouble seeing myself as God made me. But here’s the thing I seem to forget, he is I AM…the one and only. HE is the one who calls us out into our own I ams. Only he can proclaim something over us. I can fight it, or listen to the voice of the true imposter who says what I am not. This enemy uses my own voice to accuse me! I am not good enough. I am not valuable…on and on ad nauseam. It is crazy to listen to his lies…but somehow he has twisted things up to the point that I believe his voice first.
The amazing thing is that I AM is patient. He does not give up on me. He woos me, and he whispers to my heart…YOU ARE. YOU ARE my beloved. YOU ARE beautiful. YOU ARE mine. He imparts himself to me and waits for me to discover it. I AM lives inside of me after all. He longs for me to believe him.
So why is it so hard for me to believe? I think I know. To believe him I have to say what he says about me. I cannot just listen to him say it…I have to repeat it and think it until my heart agrees with him. Just as I have to say “I am an artist” or “I am a writer” to declare it, I also have to say… I am loved. I am cherished. I am worthy. I am valued. Because I AM says so. He is the authority proclaiming the truth about me. I simply have to believe it and step into it. I am.