In my life, I have not been a stranger to grief, and I imagine many of us could say the same. However, how do you cope with this process in a healthy, positive way? I am a visual artist, more specifically a ceramicist. I learned to use my own personal narrative in my art, and at the same time, using those experiences to speak and connect to my audience.
A few years ago I attended graduate school, something my 18-year-old self never imagined. It was a crazy new beginning for a “non-traditional” student. Wanting a new experience, I purposely applied to schools elsewhere than Illinois, leaving my family, friends, a job, flat landscapes, and everything familiar behind, even livingly separately from my husband. This was going to be hard, it was something I had never done before, and it was loaded with unknowns. Trying to prepare myself for this felt scary and unstable, yet exciting, with new possibilities!
Unfortunately, while away from home, a childhood friend was in a fatal car accident, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma, and someone close to me was struggling with addiction. Being by myself, my emotions began to pile up, and not to mention Graduate school was hard…really freaking hard. I felt alone and overwhelmed by everything, and that was all in my first semester. Experiencing constant migraines, panic attacks, and insomnia I began to seclude myself, embarrassed by how bad I felt both mentally and physically. I no longer could keep a happy face, and people began to back away, talk to me less, and told me to get over it. My happiness, my confidence, everything that was familiar had disappeared. Students and faculty surrounded me almost every day, but I still felt isolated, anxious, and depressed. Luckily, after that first semester, seeking out help I found a therapist to whom I am ever so grateful for helping me find myself again.
Music has always been my prayer with God, my expression of spiritual love. In singing I often can feel his presence. Gungor’s song “Beautiful Things” has been a favorite for a while, but it became even more so. One day, I felt like giving up, decided to listen to this song, and this time…it felt different. It spoke to my new beginnings. I used to believe it for others but had never applied it to myself. I thought “I was doing ok,” but at this point in my life I wasn’t. I mentioned before I am a visual person. I envisioned the phrase “You make beautiful things out of DUST. You make beautiful things out of US.”
This is what I saw: D(US)T and I immediately drew it right on my wall. I thought about my own artwork, specifically clay. It’s essentially dust, dirt, the earth. In Genesis 3:19: for you are dust. I found this sort of kinship of being a maker with God. In Job 33:4: the spirit of God has made me. I started thinking about ceramics. In Jeremiah 18:6: as the clay is in the potter’s hands, so are you in my hands. I remembered, he had given me an incredible gift and I felt his presence in my studio.
Immediately, I realized he was guiding me through one of my hardest circumstances. A phrase I try to remember often is, “This is my situation now, and it’s not permanent.” I encourage you to think about how God is helping you grow. How is he reassuring you in some of your hardest times? Who is he putting in your path to help? The work can be tough and difficult to maintain, but I also will be revisiting these thoughts in my newest adventures of motherhood and teaching.
Shannon Slaight-Brown lives in Peoria with her husband, Derek, their son Lincoln “Link”, their corgi, Olly, and their cat, River. She is an adjunct professor at ICC, teaching Ceramics and Art History. In her spare time, she practices many types of art but enjoys working in her ceramic studio the most. Her family enjoys music, art, anime, wrestling, and most things nerd. If you are a fellow Whovian, come find us!