Chapter 5

I Am The Project

Say it to yourself: “I am the project.”

An artist/expert/master is someone who creates, possesses a special skill or knowledge, excels in a specific area. It’s time to become the master/expert/artist of your own life, of you.

Once a project is defined, every project requires the right tools. Unfortunately for you, the tool list isn’t available at the local hardware, garden, automotive, cooking, sewing, craft, art, or whatever store. Some of the tools you thought you had you’ll discover you don’t, or you’ve been using them inefficiently, or you haven’t really been using them at all — only fiddling with them.

All artists express themselves through their own style. I’ve read the blogs of several stonecarvers who feel that the sculpture is within the stone, and their job is to reveal it. I’ve also read the perspective of some woodcarvers, who ask what the wood is meant to be before they begin carving. In bronze, they must first create a basic structure. As one who has created quilts and other needlework, I know that before the sewing begins, the pattern must be created. Potters must decide if the lump of clay will be a bowl, a vase, a pot, a plate, or a cup. A painter must choose a subject, be it a scene, a portrait, or something abstract. A photographer must decide what to shoot and then takes hundreds of pictures in order to capture the right one. Musicians have composers and performers, and sometimes they do both, but whether they are composers or performers, they must hear the music in their head and know how to express it in order to share it with others. Gem cutters must recognize the exact place to cut, or they will ruin the stone. A silversmith knows that if the heat isn’t hot enough, the impurities will remain, but if the heat is too intense, the precious metal they are working with will be destroyed.

One of the difficult elements of your adventure is recognizing that you will need to master a wide-ranging variety of tools: the tools of shaping, revealing, and enhancing your own soul, of discovering how much you are capable of accomplishing — and all without becoming so overwhelmed that you give up on yourself. It’s all right to take a breather, from time to time, but don’t pause so long that you find yourself stuck. You can always adjust your direction. But don’t quit!

You thought you left homework behind, I’m sure — or maybe you’re in school right now and you’re thinking, “Not more homework! I don’t want any more homework.” That’s fine. Always remember that no one is forcing you to choose to change, not even God. God offers opportunities to change. You decide if you will take advantage of the opportunity or not.

This is something you are doing for yourself, and you are worth it, even though you’re probably struggling with that concept. Your sense of self-worth is one of the many tools you’ll need. That being said, you don’t start your first ever cake decorating project with a seven-layer wedding cake requiring rolled fondant, basket weave, marzipan, and air brushing — you start more simply and build on what you learn.

That is where survivors are at a disadvantage, and why I have constantly felt behind the rest of the world. I was. Put simply, there were basic things I never learned. I hope my journey will help you in yours.

Remember that the more you give God to work with, the more He is able to influence and guide you. He might direct you to remove the nail, but if your only tool is the jackhammer, it’s going to be ugly. So, in truth, the tools aren’t so much for your use, as they are for God’s use in your life. God is the executive planner, and He believes in you so wholeheartedly that He has delegated your project to you.

Painters, woodcarvers, stonecarvers, quilters, tailors, chefs, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, architects, potters, glassblowers, athletes, gem cutters, goldsmiths, and silversmiths, the list is endless; all of them have a specific set of tools, a toolkit, to accomplish their desired aims. Out of curiosity, I looked up what some typical toolkits might include, and was amazed by the variety of tools various artists utilize — and especially by those tools I never would have expected them to use.

As an oil painter, if you make mistakes, you can paint right over them, and keep on going. But this is only true if the mistakes are simple ones, such as the blue in a seascape where you can’t tell the difference between the sky and the sea. A little lighter color for one or darker for the other, and suddenly the sea pops out.

In terms of your life, you know what those kinds of mistakes are, nothing malicious or rebellious, only everyday mistakes. For example, you turn in front of a car you didn’t see there, then yell at someone else for doing the same thing to you. You criticize your spouse/child/friend not because they actually did anything wrong but because you’re overtired. You try not to, but you aren’t perfect.

It works in a similar way in your life; the painting that is you will still turn out beautifully, as long as you remain aware of where you need to make corrections, and make them early. The longer you wait, the more difficult it is to change the picture.

In woodcarving, a mistake can be sanded out, but only to a point. The same goes for stonecutting.

Cut the gem wrong, and it may shatter. Cut the pattern in a quilt too small, and it’s useless for that project, though it may be possible to salvage for another.

In sports, a mistake could cost you the game, or your career. If an electrical engineer, plumber, architect, or mechanic makes a mistake, it could be an easy fix with an inexpensive part, or it might mean the destruction of your house or car.

If a cook makes a mistake, it could ruin the meal or poison those eating it. Accountants could bankrupt a company using the wrong accounting method, or using the wrong figures.

Do you find yourself terrified to make a mistake, now?

Take a deep breath. You are remarkably resilient. And remember that what you consider to be a huge flaw, someone else may wonder what you’re so upset about, because they don’t see it. Do what you are able to make corrections, then allow God to work out the mistakes in the final work. You keep trying. You might be surprised how He turns that blob of black paint into a towering mountain of strength or that pot of salty soup into a base that will feed thousands instead of hundreds.

Yep — you don’t even get to decide how your mistakes turn out in the long run! God only asks you for your best, and He understands that sometimes your best isn’t very good, but with God you are enough.

I don’t know how long I wandered, searching for the right clue, the perfect key, to make my life turn out right. I don’t know when it occurred to me that I didn’t have the right tools for the job I needed to do. I only know that there came a point in my life, not so very long ago, that despite my best efforts to find my way, I realized I was still lost and struggling with the same things I’d struggled with years ago. (It’s truly discouraging to read a journal entry from five years previous, and to find the exact same problems written about there.)

In my third round of counseling, I began to learn that all my tools had been geared toward surviving, few of which are actually useful in the creative process. Though jackhammers and sledgehammers are really great for tearing down things — such as bad habits, misinformation, lies, and breaking the chains that bind me to the past — I found I hadn’t been using them as intended but instead for stirring up the big mess that already existed. By using the jackhammer, I’d at least look like I was doing something, but I was only moving the mess around.

A jackhammer and a chisel are not interchangeable. And you can’t go straight from the jackhammer to the one-inch chisel and expect it to be effective, or to produce great results.

Another problem I discovered was that some of the tools I’d been using had been warped beyond recognition. I’d think I was using a saw when I was really using a hammer; for example, love equals sex. Yes, I learned that one; you may be familiar with that lie, too. I knew in my head that it was a lie. But more confusing yet was that even as I was told at church and at school that love and sex were not interchangeable, one of my abusers that molested me gave me more attention than those who said they loved me. It’s hard to ignore that kind of message.

I was punished for lying, even as those responsible for me lied. (I can’t imagine where I learned to lie.) Doing the right thing is supposed to be good, but I was repeatedly punished for doing something right, as well as for doing something wrong. I wanted to give a donation at church and found myself on the wrong end of a blistering lecture. Respect was nonexistent. Honor was meaningless. Virtue was a word used in church that meant little to me except as something precious, but beyond my reach. After all, as a sexual abuse survivor, my virtue was already in tatters. Wasn’t it?

With all the healthy basic concepts having been violated or ignored, my world was in perpetual chaos of one form or another. Is it any wonder I’ve always felt like such a mess?

Gradually, I came to feel that my life was cast in concrete, beyond hope or redemption. No matter which direction I turned, I was wrong. Add to that, habits and beliefs, cultivated from my birth, left me with little hope of dreams of love and happiness. Instead of growing and developing a healthy sense of self, I spent every day, every moment, wrapped in the need to survive, sometimes for the next five minutes. This was especially true at those times when I so desperately wanted to give up. Allowing myself to be buried in cement meant I didn’t have to make sense of nonsense. Things simply were what they were. It seemed the best path to surviving. It isn’t.

However, the damage had been done. Layers of dirt had built up over the years to the point that whatever it was that lay at the core of me was hidden so deeply as to be unrecognizable, at least to me.

It has taken me years to come to the understanding that the shell I thought so awful and disgusting was only an outer layer, covering a core of marble. Marble that was waiting to be revealed. And that marble is what made it possible for me to survive. That solid stone core meant that no matter how severe the storm, I still stood; battered, and the worse for wear, but still standing. I often referred to it as my core of steel, because I did not see the beauty there, the marble waiting to be revealed as Art.

Now that I am much healthier, I am able to look back and see that I wasn’t buried in concrete, unbreakable but by the severest of means, only buried in the flimsiest layer of silt and clay. Granted, it built up over many years, until I didn’t even recognize myself, but that core never goes away. And there is the occasional tremor that shifts the top layers, creating little cracks and breaks, here and there, hinting at the marble beneath.

Over and over, I heard messages of being valued by God, and wondered why God would love me. Of what value was I to Him? How could I be of any value at all? I’d made so many mistakes. Because of what had happened to me, I’d made choices and followed paths I never would have considered if I’d grown up in a healthy environment.

God has a way of leading us along, even when we think we are rebelling and going our own way. As long as we never smother the Light of Christ within us, the sense of right and wrong, there is always hope, because God is there. As long as God is there, there is Hope. God is Hope; God is Love.

No matter how many times I have wanted to give up and throw down my chisel, I find myself putting one foot in front of the other, one more time. The fight to find the living marble sculpture within is an ongoing project. I am learning. And what I am learning helps me to be better able to pursue God’s plan for me.

I still have no clear vision of myself, but I know that God is the Master Creator, and He will guide me if I turn the process over to Him. And yes, sometimes that thought scares me silly.

I know, I’ve said that God has turned the project over to you. This is a partnership. There are things He is willing to do, and things you must learn to do yourself. It’s even more difficult when you consider that often God’s help isn’t obvious, and trust is not high on the list of usable tools, not yet.

I needed to learn to not only recognize the tools He is asking me to use, but how to use them. I’m all too aware that not only do I not always recognize my God-given tools for what they are, but that I also have absolutely no clue about how to use them correctly, even when I do recognize them! That lack of knowledge does not change the fact that I am the one who has to do the work, no one else.

Wallowing is useless.

Get over it.

Move on.

You have what it takes within you.

Think positively.

Count your blessings.

These are all things I’ve told myself over and over and over, but they don’t seem to help all the time. Keep reading! It is time to start learning about what tools we need in our toolkit of self-discovery, tools we will use all our lives, and use them in a more effective manner, with God’s help, to reveal YOU.

© 2010 The Project: The Tools I Wish I’d Known About Sooner / My Abuse Survivor’s Basic Toolkit by Judy

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