“The Choice: To Be a Great Artist or a Great Mother?” Ensign, April 2019
I remember feeling uncomfortable as I learned in college about the lives of great artists. It seemed like the truly memorable and remarkable ones had become great artists by neglecting their family and sacrificing their sanity. Great artists painted on Christmas morning while their kids opened presents. One was married six times. Another cut off his ear and sent it to his loved ones. And another even killed someone! I started to wonder if becoming a great artist while also being a great wife and mother (all while keeping my sanity!) was even possible.
My professors taught that if we really wanted to become great, we would have to make sacrifices for it. We would have to work harder than anyone else. We would have to put art first in our lives. My mind would often question, “But if an artist kept the commandments, put first things first, and had the Spirit of the Lord to direct their work, couldn’t they become just as great and possibly even greater?” This question stayed with me throughout my studies.
By the time my husband and I graduated, we had been married for a year. Elder Russell M. Nelson (at the time, he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) came to speak at our graduation. A luncheon followed, and only 16 students were invited to attend. Oddly enough, both my husband I were selected to be there. When the discussion was opened for questions and answers, I raised my hand, looked Elder Nelson in the eye, and expressed my concerns about being both an artist and a mother. I had worked so hard to build my talents in school, and I wanted to continue to work hard and improve, but I also knew that motherhood took precedence. Was there a way to do both? Elder Nelson’s eyes sparkled as he replied, “Absolutely!” He encouraged me to improve upon my talents and to pray to Heavenly Father for help in knowing how I could do both and that with Him, I would be able to do things I once thought impossible. I took that advice to heart.
My husband and I now have four kids. We’ve learned the dance and the juggle of parenthood. In the beginning, I began most days at 4:00 a.m. to get some painting in before my kids woke up. I tried to paint six days a week, even if some days only allowed 30 minutes. I started each painting session with prayer, knowing I wasn’t much without the Lord’s help. I prayed not only to be enabled in my art but also to know what was most important that day and committed to putting His purposes first. Progress wasn’t fast, but it was steady.
Fast forward 12 years from my graduation day. I was having a moment of discouragement. Life seemed too full. Motherhood had been more challenging than I had anticipated. I sat at my easel crying, wondering if I would ever really be able to become the great artist I had dreamed of being. I felt impressed to pull my old journal off the shelf, and I turned to my entry on April 30, 2006, the day after my graduation. I had totally forgotten my remarkable experience with President Nelson! Somehow the whirlwind of life had almost eroded it from my memory. There before me were words from the current prophet, “Absolutely!” The tears turned to ones of gratitude as I looked back at all I had been able to accomplish since that time, and I also looked forward with hope.
A few months later, I got a call from one of the Ensign magazine’s designers, asking if they could use one of my paintings on the inside cover of the November 2018 general conference issue. I was floored! Growing up, the first thing I had always done when getting the Church magazines was to peruse them for paintings. Now one of my pieces would be in there! Then, when I was told that they wanted to pair my painting with words from President Nelson, I could see the hand of God encouraging me forward.
I still have a long way to go on my artistic journey, but I’m so thankful for President Nelson’s hope in the Lord and in us. I’m thankful for his optimism and his confidence. I know that as we exercise faith in the Lord we will be able to do great things, even things we once thought impossible. “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).