The Civil War changed America, including Art. Artists during this time didn’t want to glamorize the soldier on the battlefield so instead they depicted impactful images of the war through landscapes, pictures of specific scenes, or an individual to tell more of the story. This was very forward thinking for their time as we face very similar issues in our country today. They produced these scenes through the eyes of an individual or a familiar place, allowing the subject of the piece to resonate more deeply.
The featured piece
The featured painting for this month is called, The Girl I Left Behind Me. Just like the movie, Gone With The Wind, there seems to be a reoccurring theme during this end of an era. The main characters have a choice, long for things that will never return (people, places), or to move forward.
The girl in this painting was at a crossroads. She stands with her back foot planted firmly but as you look at her front foot, it’s direction of where its headed hasn’t committed to a path. Both of her feet are placed at right angles. The path behind her is as just as unknown as what is in front of her, so when she steps forward, she must make a new path, one all her own. As she looks ahead, the wind captures her hair and as she gazes into a hazy landscape it gives the vibe that there is a gloomy yet unresolved feeling as you study her more and more.
Barren landscape surrounds her, which could symbolize what she has lost or so many traditions that has “gone with the wind,” if you will. All that’s visible to our eye is a broken rail fence which could symbolize the state of American was in, divided. The girl in this painting, clutches books in her hands, while the wedding band glistens. The wedding band could suggest that she may be in a struggle with her commitment to a marriage covenant or did the artist want to suggest it was a struggle within the union of the nation?
When looking at this girl, I see passion and will. Adorned in a black dress(some would say she’s mourning) and the wind is blowing against her hair and face, drawing you to her expression and down the line of her dress where see a trace of scarlet red. The wind and storm surrounding her loose its momentum when you focus on her figure. Her bravery expressed is fierce and one that wrecked me emotionally.
Eastman Johnson, the painter, leaves us with a lot to the imagination when he made this oil painting in 1870-1875. The title of the painting gives homage to an Irish Folk Song. I’ll let you goggle the lyrics and make your own correlations between the two.
Eastman’s painting hangs in the National Museum of American Art. I’ve had the privilege to see it and study it first hand and I will say something about this somber piece dug its heels into my memory when recounting a personal experience.
The Call of Abram
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Genesis 12:1-4
The Call to Oklahoma
Over 8 years ago, my husband and I got the call to move to Oklahoma from South Carolina, just a year after we were married. And if you would of asked me then, I didn’t think I resembles anything like the girl. But as I gaze at it now, I’m far too familiar with how this resonates when I see her expression and gaze. I won’t go into great detail (if you’ve met me, this is a first) but a year after we were here, the path looked bleak and very unknown and the future of the church we were ministers at was looking more grim than the storm of this painting. I wasn’t physically alone. I met some very sweet and caring people and had my husband of course, but everything I had ever known before was gone. Securities had gone away and the Pastor of the church left to go serve in another state, shortly after our one year anniversary there. We knew we couldn’t stay on the path were were on.
The Call of Shame to Promise
I always identified to Abram in this. He had to trust. It seemed daring, and odd, and unconventional, leaving everything he had ever known. But just like the Lord does, He promised Abram for his obedience that HE WOULD MAKE His name great. That He would bless him and that He would be a blessing, but He also promised there would be a cost. That Abram would have to trust and be confident in the one who was secure. Abram left the comfort, the idols, and from his land of birth to the land of promise. And when he did it was epic, but how God blessed Him always has blown me away and given me comfort in the really dark days (miscarriages, loneliness, struggling with my calling).
If you want what NORMAL people have, do what normal people DO. If you want what FEW people have, do what few people do.Craig Groeschel
That’s what I see when I look at this girl in the painting. The Lord had to move me from my land of birth to the land where I could see His promise. So that I could see the fullness of Christ, not fixating on my comforts that risk us giving up unspeakable blessing. God asked Abram to leave his old life behind and what would come next, I’ll put some Scriptures below for further reading. James and I knew God was going to do something within our sweet church. Out of the faithfulness of so many who have served, in February of 2021, it will be year seven of a service that helped revive the church.
As for me, I had to leave behind guilt, shame, and never feeling enough. This isn’t to insinuate that all relationships were cut off or that the people I around were toxic. Rather, I am a people pleaser, an Enneagram 2 (Wing 3- deadly combo), and a helper. I will put everyones needs ahead of mine. I will exhaust myself and wear it like a medal to make myself feel of worth, of purpose, of need. I will use other needs to not deal with my emotions because ALL of my life I based all of my emotions on everyone else’s or their needs.
A dear friend of mine said in her book, “Shame propels us.” She wasn’t talking about the things that merit shame like “murder, betrayal, or adultery.” But The shame I was feeling was more of a fear of I’m not who I was called to be. I carried that shame and hid it so well because I felt so unworthy. You can read more about that here and here. And because I felt unworthy, it created a cycle just like this:
I was afraid of letting people see the real me. I was afraid of them seeing me as needy or inadequate so if I was busy and in control, I could never be any of those things. And I was. I was busy and exhausted and in demand and absolutely empty on the inside.Let’s Be Real. Emily Katherine Dalton (69-70).
I had to cast away all the typical models of ministry because re-planting a church is a lot of unchartered waters. I had to let go of my career expectations for myself and be okay with filling a real life need rather than making copies for an event or checking off a program box. I was forced to listen to my calling, to die to myself, and leave all the comforts (Chick-fil-A and Target included). We faced a lot of criticism and hard questions because we weren’t close in proximity and to others it seemed we went rogue or wasn’t honoring the tradition or models set before us career wise.
I’m sure Abram felt that. Although, I’m semi-salty because it says he got to take all his people (HA).
This passage, this story is not something that is unique to me or because I’m special. Throughout Scripture, Christ calls us to part with the old things, the things most dear to us, for the sake of turning our gaze towards Him (storm swirling around us and all). As we walk away leaving everything we may have ever known, holding our earthly possessions loosely in order to free us to walk without shame or burden towards the land of life and blessing and a union that is ETERNAL.
The shame and guilt was making me be stuck between a path that had no future and the storm was not stopping. So when I look at this picture, I weep. I weep with gratitude because I see the girl that NO LONGER IS scared to forge a new path. She is brave, happy, has a secure support system who love her in her neediness and never complain. But it didn’t come easily. It came with lots of vulnerability (asking people for help), wise counsel, more appointed times in being a student of His word, and professional therapy. The path now is FULL days of bravery, passion, and filled with JOY knowing that HIS PROMISE cannot be matched. And in the end, Abram received a new name, Abraham, “father of many.” God trusted him to have more offspring than starts in the sky because He was willing, obedient, and
God’s Covenant with Abraham, Genesis 12:1-13:4
God’s Faithfulness in Renewing His Covenant, Genesis 13:5-17:27
Abraham’s Obedience in Responding to the Covenant, Genesis 18:1-25:18
Emily Katherine Dalton. “Let’s Be Real: Cultivating Authenticity in a Journey from Loss to LIFE”
You can see my review of the whole book here.
For an Advent read, check out this book here with the story, Son of Laughter: Issac and the Promise.