A Bright Red Mistake

red vein on paintingI’m back in therapy. One of the things we’ve talked about recently is the unrealistic and unreasonable expectations I have of myself. We’ve discussed my fear of being “found out” when people around me realize I’m not all that great. I give myself no grace and no freedom to make mistakes or come up short.

One of my first assignments from my new therapist was to mess something up. Just mess something up. Not work or anything detrimental of course. Just something that I’d usually try to make perfect. My instructions were to make a “mistake” and then not fix it.

At first I thought, “This is too simple. Why am I paying for this?!” Then as the week began passing, I couldn’t decide what to mess up. To be honest, two (maybe three) weeks came and left and I didn’t do that homework. I didn’t intentionally mess up anything. I considered a few different options, like scratching through a page in my planner, and yet I did nothing. Then, one night I stood up and saw this painting behind my couch.

First of all, this painting is only here because I had to take down the “real art” by Chad Schoonmaker that had hung there previously. I threw this canvas up there as a placeholder until I decided what to really put there.

Secondly, this canvas has its own significance in my story. I never finished it and was therefore embarrassed by it because it hadn’t quite looked how I’d planned. It has since served as a reminder of my tendency to not finish things that are purely for myself and of my insecurities with the things I make. I’d look at it and think about my disappointment with myself, about how I can’t create pretty things.

This particular canvas is also a symbol of my failed marriage in a way. I painted it with leftover samples from the remodel of our home that flooded. I used the different shades of blue that I tested for the exterior and the cabinets. Gray from the wall colors and a little teal from something I tried in the hall bath. My only rule was that I’d create something using only the sample paint containers from the remodel.

Then, not only did I not love it, we divorced and sold the house shortly after. After the battle of surviving the flood, recovering our home, and building it into something I loved, it was all over. I hung this canvas there over my couch as a temporary placeholder and it has unintentionally reminded my of the brokenness from which it was built and the brokenness that followed.

And then I messed it up. I grabbed a paintbrush and red paint and on a whim, drug it across the canvas. A stark red line that screamed at me that it didn’t belong. A red line that went against everything this canvas has said to me lately. It spoke out against the rule I set for myself for the piece to begin with — use only paint samples from the house. It insisted that I notice it more than I’d noticed its previous story. It forced me to see the entire picture differently.

As I stood on the couch, wearing the dress I wore to work and not even being bothered by taking the canvas off the wall, I wasn’t even concerned about dripping paint on the the couch. It was as if something came over me, insisting that a little red paint dripped somewhere wasn’t going to hurt anyone. I drug paint back and forth, smearing this bright red line across the surface in front of me. Candles were burning and fresh flowers were nearby. It was almost perfect. Completely unintentional and unplanned, but perfect.

red vein painting in living roomAs I continued to paint this line, it started to look like an artery to me. It began to represent the pure hell my heart has been though the last year and a half. It became an artery bleeding out from damage, spilling its blood on everything around me. And then —  it slowly became an artery that belonged to a heart that’s still beating. A heart that has pounded on, no matter how it’s been hurt. It’s still there. Still doing its job. Still beating and carrying me on through life. It became an artery that started in despair and that has somehow persevered.

As I painted, I  saw the pain and the beauty of it all poured right on top of this “pretty picture” I’d once built. There it was in front of me — something broken and something beautiful. Something standing out from the ashes and demanding attention. Something screaming out for love and for healing and something shining despite the troubles of its past. Something just like me. I stepped back to see this bright red line, this mistake on my painting, and it showed me that I’m still here. I’m still fighting through the ups and downs. I’m still learning and growing and becoming my best self. I can make mistakes and it still turn out beautifully. I can bleed out and still survive. It’s a messy red line on a big canvas and yet in the evening hours of that day, it became so much more.

5 thoughts on “A Bright Red Mistake”

  1. This is beautiful — heart-wrenching, but beautiful. (“Brutiful” is how one writer I know would describe it!) It reminded me of a post that has resonated with me for four or five years now – about kintsugi. I’ve used and referenced it dozens of times in teaching and leading and I wanted to share it with you but the original post appears to have been taken down. (There have been dozens more written by others in the meantime, but I couldn’t find the one I wanted!) The short version is that kintsugi is a Japanese art form in which broken pottery is remade and rejoined using gold resin. The broken places are not hidden, but highlighted and the remade pieces are more beautiful than they were before they were broken. What an amazing metaphor for grace! Here’s an abridged version by the original writer. Thought you’d enjoy it! https://godspacelight.com/2014/03/07/remaking-beauty-james-prescott/

  2. Pamela! I am so proud to know you. It’s as if you painted with the colors of my exact life. Even the visual of the artery bleeding. Just thank you for putting into words some of the emotion that will forever live with me about my own failed marriage.

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