Passion to Paint

She relied on faith to find happiness after quitting her job.

by
- Posted on Mar 1, 2006

Magnolias. It all started with magnolias. It was early on a weekday morning and instead of going to work with all the other stressed-out commuters, I was headed back home. I'd just quit my job. Just up and quit. I even had to turn in my company car.

I sat in the front seat now, a cardboard box of all my personal things in my lap, while my daughter took me home. Neither of us said a word. It was almost surreal.

I'd always worked hard and had moved up fast in a large medical corporation. I was paid well too. But I was constantly on the road—hardly saw Paul, my husband, and our three daughters. Working overtime became routine. Exhaustion was always a part of me. I can't take it anymore, I'd decided.

So that day I had gone in early and handed the vice president my letter of resignation, fresh from the printer. But what was I going to do now? I hadn't planned anything beyond, "I quit."

The house was empty. My other two daughters were at school, Paul was at work. I put down my box of things, kicked off my heels, flung my suit jacket across the room. Like a kid I lay face down on the beige carpet.

For a long time I just lay there crying, trying to get over the shock of my decision. Finally, when it seemed I couldn't bear it any longer, I stood in the middle of the living room, barefoot, and whispered, "What now, Lord?"

That's when an image came to mind. A long-ago, forgotten scene—one of the happiest times of my life. I was back in first grade and the teacher gave each of us our very own pack of color crayons in a bright yellow box. I loved the names of them: spring green, chili pepper red, princess pink. I even loved the sweet, waxy smell. The smell of colors.

Another memory rushed in. I was six years old, with a ream of typing paper I'd just bought at the five-and-dime and a new paint set. I spread out all those blank white pages on Mama's gray Formica kitchen table, then I dipped my brush into my paint. The most wonderful colors came out: fuchsia, violet, an orange as bright as the sun.

Yes, those colors were beautiful. But there was something even more beautiful to my young eyes. The miracle of color itself, like a gift from God.

Now, standing in the middle of the living room and suddenly jobless—careerless, for all intents and purposes—an inner voice urged me: Just paint the bedroom, Merna. "I need a job," I argued. Just paint, the thought came back. In the white walls, with the brush in your hand, you'll find your purpose.

Well, what else did I have to do? Why not paint the bedroom? Why not heed this inner insistence?

I threw off my office clothes—there was something so liberating about losing the corporate suit—and slipped into a pair of ancient gray sweats and beat-up sneakers, like Cinderella home from the ball.

I lugged Paul's ladder into our bedroom along with a couple cans of paint from the garage, then I looked up at the ceiling. Magnolias, I thought. Whenever I looked up at that white ceiling, full of worries about work or the kids, I imagined magnolias up there. Something to comfort me. Magnolias were my favorite flower. They made everything better. I'll paint magnolias on the ceiling.

I dipped the brush in the green paint and began a pattern of leaves. Then the ivory petals—light and airy, as though they'd be picked up by a spring breeze. I could practically smell their sweet, citrus fragrance, as if I were smelling color, just like when I was a kid.

Brush in hand, I began to sing. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound..." I don't have a great singing voice—I sound more like a frog than a nightingale—but up on that ladder, it didn't matter. I could have been Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. I felt...imbued.

Late in the afternoon I climbed down, cleaned my brushes and headed for the kitchen. I hadn't cooked a real sit-down dinner in I-don't-know-how-long.

Usually Paul and the girls got themselves something and ate in front of the TV or computer. Not tonight. When they came home they would be greeted by the aroma of biscuits in the oven and country steak frying on the stove. And a mom with bits of green paint spattered in her hair.

"What's up?" Paul said when he came through the door and saw me busy in the kitchen with my green hair. The girls were right behind him. "Mom?" they said in unison. I motioned for them to set the table. "After dinner we need to talk," I told Paul.

Paul knew how unhappy I was at work. He totally supported my quitting. What we needed to figure out was how we would manage on only one paycheck.

We sat down with a legal pad. We had some savings and there was Paul's salary. We could do some belt tightening, but we were still coming up several hundred dollars short every month. And that was without any emergencies. My stomach started churning. I tried to imagine magnolias. "How are we going to make it?" I said. "I should look for a job tomorrow."

"Not yet," Paul said. "You seem so happy right now." He took my paint-splotched hand in his. "Someone told you to paint the bedroom today. Let's see what happens next." I squeezed my husband's hand. Paul and I had always lived by our faith. Our marriage was built on trust in God. I would have to trust now more than ever.

I finished up my magnolias—a springtime bower that floated over our bed. It gave me such an incredible feeling that I had to invite some friends over to see it. They oohed and ahhed. One, a neighbor who was expecting, asked if I could do something for her nursery. I jumped at the chance.

Soon I was painting Disney characters on the walls, all in pillowy pastels. To my complete surprise, when the mother-to-be saw the finished product she thrust a check into my hand. "Merna," she said, "you should start a business. You're great at this!"

I walked home staring at the check in amazement. Two hundred dollars! Two hundred dollars for something I was willing to do for free. I showed it to Paul and we both stared at it silently for a long time. We handled it tenderly, almost reverently. It was much more than a check.

Paul put what we both thought into words: "I think God is opening a door for you, Merna." It hit me like a burst of spring color.

Of course!

Everything after that happened so quickly. Word-of-mouth brought me one job after another. I was doing a trellis of roses on one wall, clouds on a ceiling, inspirational quotes beneath a living-room cornice. The extra several hundred dollars we needed every month? I had that covered—and then some.

But it wasn't about the money. I've heard it said that God wants us to be where our gifts meet the world's needs. Well, the world needs beauty and color. I listened for God. Who knew his answer would be to paint the bedroom?

Sometimes I still feel like that girl painting at her mama's kitchen table. It's a good feeling too, like a miraculous burst of color. Like a magnolia, you might say.

View Comments