Life sometimes provides the opportunity to give up something we think we need in exchange for something we truly need. True, it seems like a simple concept, but it took me a great deal of time, and a little bit of pain, to discover the thing I needed to surrender in order to be blessed.
It started as a young woman when I first embraced the joy of the creative process. Freshly mixed paint, charcoal on canvas, pencil shavings on the desk, pastels rubbed into my apron – the medium didn’t matter. I loved making art. I used the canvas to communicate my emotions, thoughts, and questions, and people were moved by my expressions. My teachers praised me. My pieces sold. I won competitions and impressed judges. I found great purpose in creating new pieces and decided I would always, first and foremost, be an artist.
Yet a few years and kids later, I found myself teaching art to bored middle school students. It was a far cry from my dream of being a working artist, but my husband and I both agreed it would be nice to have some extra income for our family. I had my hands full at home with the kids, and the part-time teaching job was a good fit for my schedule.
It’s not your dream, I told myself, but someday you will get to be a real artist. Maybe when the kids leave home or graduate college. Maybe once you get a degree.
I thought about someday a lot but secretly wondered if it would ever come. Would I ever have enough time? Would I ever have the courage to take the risk? Was I good enough to cut it as a professional?
The fear of someday quietly stalked me, and then one night it hit me right in the face.
I was tucking my son into bed when he saw our dog in the hallway. Impulsively, he grabbed a small plastic toy from his side and tried to throw it for a game of fetch. As his arm came forward, the toy slipped from his hand and flew straight into my eye. It was so unexpected, so close, I barely had time to close my eyes.
Instantly an explosion of pain seared my eye, and I doubled over on his bed. All I could see were multicolored sparks firing on a black background. What is happening to my eye? I shouted internally, as the colors danced and mingled in the darkness. My stomach became nauseous, and I stumbled out into the hallway. I called for my husband and then found my way to our bed.
“What happened?” my husband asked, quickly coming to my side.
“My eye. I don’t know what’s happening. All I can see are sparks, and my stomach is in knots.”
My husband called his father, an optometrist, and he rushed over. As he helped me out to his truck, I could hear my husband comforting our children in the background.
“Mommy will be okay; she just has to go with Grandpa for a little while.”
On the way across town, I sat hunched over with my head between my knees and told my father-in-law about the sparks. “Then you better sit up,” he told me. “You might be losing your retina.”
After an examination at his office, he decided my eye would be okay for the night, so he called a colleague and scheduled a follow-up appointment the next morning. After a short night of sleep and a lot of worry, my husband drove me to the appointment and listened with me as the doctor explained my injury.
“You’ve suffered damage to your retina.” His voice was cold and frank, free of emotion or sympathy, as if he had told a thousand patients the exact same news.
“Okay, well, how long will it take to get better?” I asked, hoping for no more than a week.
“That is the thing about retinal damage,” he answered flatly. “There is no guarantee it will heal. Sometimes they heal totally; other times, not at all. It can also partly heal. It’s hard to say, and it’s out of our control. All we can do is wait.”
Is there anything harder than waiting?
I quit my teaching job so I could stay home and rest. But the time seemed far from restful. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t figure out how God was going to work in the situation. Still, I believed he was with me, so I did what I was ordered to do and waited.
In the midst of my waiting, I realized I had been waiting for someday to come for a long time, and suddenly it had arrived.
Almost as though a divine hand were leading me, I dusted off my old easel, unboxed my pencils, and started to draw.
At first I was cautious, faintly touching the page, watching the lead strokes fill the white space with my one good eye. I turned to a clean sheet and filled it with sketches. Another sheet, more sketches. Soon, I was drawing in long, looping arcs and short bursts of tight shading. Amazingly, as I waited for my eye to recover, I rediscovered my passion for art.
In a season of half-darkness I saw more clearly than ever before that God had given me a love and talent for creating. I decided, once and for all, that I would never let my talent and passion be removed. It can be seen and appreciated only when it is used here and now, not someday soon or somewhere else.
Over time my eye and art both improved slowly. Learning to work with limited vision taught me to create at a slower pace, which in turn helped me pay more attention to detail and ultimately led to the best artwork of my life.
My joy was back, and surprisingly, others started taking notice. I was asked to illustrate an original curriculum for a church’s summer children’s program. I partnered with a master painter to create a massive mural celebrating creation. I launched an online resource center for churches and parents who need illustrated children’s material. I even returned to teaching, freshly inspired by the artistic discoveries I was making.
Years after the accident, my right eye still has a blind spot the size of a pencil eraser, directly in the center of my vision. When I look at what I’m typing with just my bad eye open, I can’t see the exact word I’m trying to focus on – but I can see all the surrounding words with my peripheral vision. When I paint and illustrate and draw, I’ve learned to take a second, third, and fourth look, and in the looking again I see more clearly than ever before.
Sometimes I close my good eye to be reminded of the little vision I have lost because it also reminds me of the passion God allowed me to rediscover. He used an innocent accident and a small blind spot to teach me that today, not someday, is the right time to start following our dreams.
Gina Graham and her husband live in the sunny South. Her most important job is keeping her three teenage boys happy, fed, and productive. Visit Gina at ginagraham.com. She hides a heart symbol in all of her art and often draws a Scottie dog in her illustrations.
A successful visual artist with trouble seeing? Only in When God Makes Lemonade! When I spoke with Gina, her eye was doing better than ever, though she’ll always notice a tiny spot there. She was working on an ambitious series of six Easter paintings for her own home – and without the injury she never would have taken the time for it. Her less-than-perfect vision will always remind her of what God took away, and gave, to bring her passion back to life. ~ Don
Excerpted with permission from When God Makes Lemonade by Don Jacobson, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2013.
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Have you experienced God making lemonade in your own life? Have you had a “But now I see” moment? What God-given dream have you been postponing until someday? What do you need to start pursuing today?