Last week, I shared a little bit about my intentions for writing this blog and why creativity matters to God. Now, I think it’s important to share with you how I came to know the Lord and why creativity plays such a significant role in my relationship with Him and ministry to other artists.
I studied creative writing at Ohio Northern University. Writing had been my passion for nearly all my life, and all I wanted to do was get better at my craft. I spent most of my time obsessed with my grades and personal achievements and I didn’t get to know people as much as I wish I would have. But when I did socialize, I would go with my roommate to parties at the house of the Christian fraternity. I felt safe there because there was no alcohol at their events and I knew that I could go to the party without being afraid of things getting out of control.
It was there that God led me to a number of Christian friends who shared their faith with me. I did not have any desire to become a Christian because I still thought my personal achievements were enough to make me “good,” and I told them as much. However, to my surprise, they did not tell me to leave the party or abandon me. Instead, they told me it was okay, and clearly accepted me right where I was. It was the first time I had knowingly met Christians who didn’t just give lip service to their faith. My new friends lived it out. It was clear that to them that Jesus was more than a historical figure or great teacher. It made me start to get very curious about who He really was, not just who I thought He was.
I may not have wanted to become a Christian, but at the time all this was happening, I was also reading the Bible – as research. I was writing a novel for my senior thesis that took place in the southern Appalachians during the 1920s, and one of my characters was a believer in Christ. It became clear to me that in order to accurately write this character, I had to know what she believed. What I didn’t know was that when someone reads the Word of God, God speaks to them, and incredible things can happen.
And then, when I least expected it, everything changed. In October, 2006, I was diagnosed with dermatographic urticaria, an autoimmune disease that primarily attacks the skin. In Latin, the name means “skin writing.” DU basically makes you allergic to the world; everything you touch, everything that scratches your body, everything you wear, embosses its shape on your skin. I constantly broke out in enormous, painful hives, was cold one minute and overheated the next, and experienced severe fatigue. Things got worse when DU’s bestie, angioedema, showed up to join the party. Then, I started ending up in the hospital because my throat, mouth, and other sensitive tissues swelled up.
The worst part was that none of the six doctors I saw during that fall knew what to do about it. I took every antihistamine on the market as well as a course of steroids. Everything only seemed to make things worse. I was angry and depressed, and I felt so awful that I honestly believed this thing would kill me. I had given up everything to get perfect grades to get into graduate school and ultimately graduate in May. Now, none of it seemed to matter.
Eventually, I got to the point where I was so frustrated that I turned to an unexpected place for help: the Bible. I was angry at a God I wasn’t even sure existed, and I wanted answers regarding why He was allowing this to happen to me. After several nights of reading the scriptures, I finally got my answer in Luke 8.
I remember the feeling of shock, of identification with this story. That woman was like me. She was tired of being sick. She was angry and desperate. And, like me, she was reaching out to Jesus, grabbing onto even just His garment for an answer, for healing. Jesus’ response to her made me realize that I did not need to be physically healed. I needed to be spiritually healed. Like the rest of the human race, I was born with the terminal illness of sin, for which the blood of God’s Son shed on the cross for me was the only cure. “Okay Jesus,” I said out loud. “You got me there. Let’s do this thing.”
In spite of this realization, I was still disappointed when God didn’t heal me immediately. However, he made it clear in numerous ways that despite what I had believed about Him not caring about my writing, he quite literally used my passion for language to save me. First of all, He used an illness whose name literally translates to skin writing to show me my need for Him. He spoke to me from His Word in the King James version of the Bible – an unlikely first translation for a new believer, but not for me, a student of the English language who loves archaic forms of such. He taught me about Himself and the human need for Him through the work of Flannery O’Connor, who would become my primary influence as a writer. I finished that novel and aced my presentation of it to the English department faculty with flying colors.
And then, He gave the biggest endorsement of my art of all: He allowed me entrance to graduate school at my first-choice institution, West Virginia University’s Master of Fine Arts program. Once the dust settled and my DU became less of a going concern, getting in to this program was the primary thing I prayed for. MFA programs are tough to get into and I wasn’t sure it would happen, but by His power, it did. My acceptance letter did not offer guarantee of funding, but I believed the Lord would take care of that, too, and I drove to West Virginia the next weekend to sign a lease on an apartment I had no way to pay for. That Sunday, when I arrived back at my apartment, a letter was waiting for me with paperwork to sign for a graduate assistantship.
That was more than ten years ago, and in that time, I have seen His hand in so many aspects of my life as a writer. He has opened doors for publications, for mentorships, for communities with other artists. He has placed my husband and me in a church where the arts are embraced and accepted as a means of ministry rather than pushed away. He is currently using my chapbook, Bone China Girls, to shed light on its real-life subject matter for scholars and women’s rights activists, as well as to capture the interest of poetry readers.
However, I have also gone through dry spells and periods of frustration, of nothing to create. I have learned that most of the time, this happens when I try to hoard my gifts for myself rather than releasing them to God. My writing ultimately works best when He and I partner together in the effort. My prayer for my artistic ministry is that He will show me what I am to write about and what form it should take, and that He will place the final product in the hands of those who, for whatever reason, need it. That’s where I am now. My art was a significant part of my salvation, and now it is a significant part of my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Oh, and by the way – the Lord did choose to heal me of my physical illness. A chance meeting between my mother and the mother of a former classmate who also battled DU led me to a doctor who knew how to cure it. There has been no sign of DU for eleven years.