The train doors shut and a monarch fluttered away, free to go flower hopping. I could relate—not to flowers, but to freedom. Ben and I had quit our desk jobs to pursue our art careers in the city. We moved into a narrow studio apartment downtown Manhattan with high ceilings and roaches, full of hope and high expectations. He had already illustrated articles for top magazines. I came home from my first interview with good news.
“Guess what!” Of course I didn’t give Ben time to guess. “I got the freelance job. I’m going to design the textile pattern for a line of Verdi luggage.”
Ben swirled me in a hug. “That’s awesome!”
“Can you believe she’s going to take my design to her meeting in China?”
“Wow!” Ben’s smile turned down slightly, concerned. “Ah...Sheila, I don’t want to be a downer, but do you know how to design textiles for luggage? You’re talented, but you studied illustrating books...it’s a whole different thing.”
“So what? I’m sure I could figure out how to design patterns. She wants the luggage splashed with ticket stubs from different cities. That couldn’t be too hard.”
Ben kissed me. “Ya, I’m sure you can do it...how much time did she give you?”
“Until Monday morning before her plane leaves...so three and a half days.” My heart danced at the realization of how little time I had. Ben’s jaw dropped like the nutcracker. “I better start now.”
I sketched the sample tickets Marta gave me, worked on thumbnails sketches and practiced dunking paper balls until I had a basic layout. Then I lined up copies of the design like puzzle pieces to see if the repeat pattern lined up correctly.
My first misconception...this wasn’t as easy as I thought. I didn’t sleep Thursday night or Friday. But by Saturday night, I had a finished, working sketch. That left Sunday to paint my design.
At two o’clock PM, with less than a third of the project finished, butterflies wrestled in my stomach. By midnight, my arm felt numb...could I be having a stroke at age twenty-three? I was sure I needed to be hospitalized for exploding head syndrome. I had to stay awake to finish, but my drooping eyes wouldn’t cooperate. So this is life as a freelance artist?
Second mistake...I gave up. At three o’clock, I curled up next to Ben who was sleeping so peacefully I wanted to shake him. I heard Ben trying to wake me up at six, but I refused to open my eyes.
At nine thirty, the phone buzzed in my ear like a horsefly needing to be swat. Clearing my throat, I croaked out: “Hello?”
“Sheila? This is Lisa, Marta’s secretary. What happened?”
Shame pulsed through my veins and latched onto my tongue. “I...uh...I...I just couldn’t finish it on time.” Could she hear me shaking?
“Oh. You should’ve called. Marta was furious. She tried calling you, but couldn’t wait any longer. She had to catch the plane—without your design.”
I felt faint about now. My first big freelance job after four years of art school and I blew it...tarnished my reputation forever. Who would ever hire someone so unprofessional?
My biggest mistake...expecting the freelance art world to be fulfilling separate from the will of God.
I packed the sketches, unfinished work and humiliation into my portfolio. Maybe if I burned it, I’d feel better.
Four month later, I still hadn’t found a job, still wasn’t doing any art, but I did make a discovery: God was creating his own art within me. I was pregnant. Artistic expectations couldn’t compare.
My focus changed; all I cared about was moving out of the polluted city and preparing our home for this child. As I grew rounder, I forgot about my big art blunder...until I was six months huge, when the phone rang.
“Do you still have your design?” Marta asked. Now my mouth dropped.
A golden butterfly followed me down Chester Street, two blocks to the train station. I still didn’t feel like a professional, carrying my mistakes in a case and a beach ball belly. The butterfly stopped to taste the zinnias and fluttered away without a care in the world, expecting to find what she needed. What did I really need?
Maybe Marta would love my design; maybe she wouldn’t. But what mattered was trusting God’s plan for my life. I felt free.
I prayed while cradling my hidden baby; expecting miracles.
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