I'll go first.
Once you have resigned yourself to the artist category in life, the road does not magically lay down yellow and lead you straight to the coveted Emerald City. In fact, I would venture to say that once you have resigned yourself to the _________ category in life, that road doesn't immediately (or possibly ever) turn yellow, bloom flowers and lead you to the mythic green city either.
Most roads aren't that predictable or generous.
They are potholes, detours, weeds and prison crews in bright orange vests picking up trash in the wings.
Today I had one of those days where my career-road felt wobbly, weak and worrisome. It was no sparkly, golden yellow path with poppies and bluebonnets rising to greet me. It was dead-ends and I-give-up's. I will go first and tell you that I have my fair share of these days. And by "fair share" I mean I contemplate never stepping on stage, writing a song or a book ever again- about once a week. I assume this number is a bit disproportionate in comparison to people with "real" jobs. By their very nature, an artist has to wake up each day and assume their painting, sculpting, drawing, music, writing, acting, poetry or other contribution to the world is indeed a contribution and indeed worth pursuing even when there seems to be no discernible road at hand. At the very least, it seems that if I were a nurse, I would know that I was needed in society. Whether I enjoyed or tolerated well my job would not take away from the fact that at the end of the day, my job was necessary in society. An artist doesn't get that satisfaction. An artist just hopes what they are doing is necessary to someone- anyone's- sanity and joy. But it's all one big guessing game. Madeleine L'Engle says in Walking on Water, that the artist is simply called to faithfully bring forth their art- whether they know it brings someone sanity and joy or not. I would rather bring forth a colonoscopy bag. There is no question whether this is vitally important to the patient.
I stared at my computer a good bit this morning. It was sacred writing time, but I couldn't write. I only kept looking at the blank dates on the calendar. Why weren't more show offers coming in? People want to know if I will do a book tour when the book releases on September 1st. I have no idea. Who books a book tour? Shows are hard these days. I am not "on tour" in any sense of the word and don't wish to be. I did my years of three months on an RV or tour bus at a time... and it is not for me. Not as a momma and a wife and all the other things I hold dear. So these days I travel on weekends. Often with Annie. And always with the same, small tribe of musicians. We go to women's conferences and lead worship. We go to college campuses and churches who open wide the doors to their community. And I tell stories of the many ways I have seen God's faithfulness, his grace, mercy and miraculous provisions in my tatteredy-redemptive-life. I read pages from my book and sing songs, old and new, of hope now and what little I know about Holy. I pray with people, laugh, guide, celebrate, cry and then I come back home. And if I am lucky? I do it all over again the next weekend with new brothers and sisters in a different nook and cranny of the country.
This morning I feared the end of those precious moments spent sharing song and story. Anger is a by-product of fear and I felt myself getting angry. Angry that some churches have become so corporate they have lost their ability to be spontaneous. They are well-oiled machines with no room for outsiders. Angry that I wasn't more social-media driven; a hustler; a mover and shaker and connector. Angry that I hadn't worked harder at promoting myself. How does one even do this? Frustrated that big tours blow through towns now with a slew of artists for only $10! and all other concert options seem ludicrously priced to the average concert goer who assumes a $10 ticket price should be normal. Frustrated that I am still faithfully creating art and still frustrated by the madness of it all!!!!! Seriously?!? Will puberty ever end? Being an artist is like living in the angst of forever puberty.
And these are the things you shouldn't say online because you want to be the "it" person so that the conferences, churches and colleges who are bringing in the "it" people will clearly see that YOU ARE IT!!! But today I felt so not "it."
And the most maddening part of it all is that I don't want to be "it." I just want to keep faithfully bringing forth the music and stories that are deep inside of me. I want to keep telling people that they are becoming and that is ok and God is good at deserts and even better at promised-lands.
So I told God I was frustrated. I told God I wanted opportunities. Not because I want to be "it" but because all I know to do is keep faithfully putting these stories of beauty and redemption out there. I told God I would absolutely learn to be a nurse and figure out that whole colonoscopy thing if that were a better road.
Instead He responded, in my soul, with a story. No audible words. Just a vision. A memory. The story of the wealthy man in Luke 14 who prepares a great dinner and invites many to come but is met with excuses for the excessive reasons they could not. The man becomes angry and sends out his helpers and says invite everyone else then! Go the streets! Compel them to come.
"When you are butting your head against the wall, Jenny, and the dinner guests politely decline... maybe you are asking the wrong guests," God whispered deep inside me.
"Well, where do I find the right guests?" I snapped back.
There was no answer.
Moments later I opened up my email. There was a letter from a church of misfits, 12-steppers and broken people wondering if they might have permission to use my song lyrics in a book. A teeny-tiny small church for really broken people? That sounded like the exact kind of people the man in Luke 14 compelled to come to his party. And my kind of people at any rate. I clicked on the church's link to see where they were located. What do you know. Right next to the place I had been banging my head against and being politely declined (or ignored) as I tried to line up shows in the area. I immediately wrote the man back and said, "Yes you can use the lyrics AND I know this is weird, but this is my message and my heart and can I come play these songs and share these stories for your people on this specific date? I promise I don't usually invite myself. But I guess God kind of told me to this time. I don't need money. This is just what I am made to do and I would love to pour into your people, so...."
He wrote back immediately and said, "Welcome home."
Of course I sobbed on my couch. Who knew "welcome home" could mean so much? But after being politely pushed aside and wondering if the dinner party will ever happen...welcome home feels so welcoming.
I was so amazed by the response that I wrote another person. And then another. Not the people who had been checking their budgets, checking their calendars, seeing if I was a good fit or if they might be able to get a bigger "it". No, I just went straight to people in cities that I knew loved on others well. A pastor and volunteer firefighter, a teacher, and a tiny-small church full of recovering-everything's. And by the end of the day today I booked three concerts of sorts. And each person that I approached said a whole-hearted, welcome-home, yes. Yes to their couch, their back-yard, their church of broken-beautifuls.
And maybe you are on the not-so-yellow-brick-road feeling the same wobbly, weak and worrisome feelings I have been having. You are inviting people to a banquet who don't seem to care- or might possibly, eventually care if nothing better comes along- and you wonder if maybe, just maybe it might be better for you to do _________ instead. I would challenge you to remember that the colonoscopy guy or gal probably feels the same way from time to time too. But more importantly, I would challenge you to remember Luke 14. Go to the streets. The mom that no one else includes. The co-workers on the fringe. The not-who-you-imagined next door neighbors. The guys or girls on the team who are waiting, hoping to be invited. The small church that can't afford to bring in an artist and may only be able to pay you in sweet-tea and mashed potatoes. Go there. To the places that won't give you any status in the "it" world but with people who are compelled to join you at the dinner table and break bread with you all the same. Forgo the original invitation list. Think bigger. Or smaller. Or out of the box and into a giant circle. Draw broader lines and compel them to join you. They are not mind readers. You might have to go to the streets and invite them. You might have to invite yourself. And I know that is scary. I did it holding my breath today- wondering if I might look insane or worse- if they, too, might politely decline.
But you may be surprised, friend. Because their answer just might be
and welcome home IS the yellow-brick-road.