The heART Series // Stephanie May Wilson
Wow, wow, wow! The 7th installment of The heART Series is here!
You guys, when God first put The heART Series on my heart (ha!), I wasn't sure if any artists would participate. I wasn't sure if any artists would even RESPOND. So I made a list of 12 artists, and I chose 5 of them to be my "key artists." I told myself that even if just those 5 key artists responded, accepting my invitation, I would take that as a "Go ahead, already," from God. My key artists did accept, so I added to my original list of 12 and I started sending cold emails to even more artists I looked up to -- artists I admired and was inspired by. More and more accepted. Enough to lock in interviews for over a year.
That's why every month when I get to share another interview, I am just as excited as I was when I started sending those cold emails. Every artist in this series is another confirmation from God that these artists have a message that someone who reads my blog (maybe just me, ha!) needs to hear. Each of these artists has a testimony that will inspire, encourage, or bring peace to someone.
And then, let's begin! Oh and, our next artist was one of the 5 original key artists, if you were curious. You'll understand why in a very short time.
STEPHANIE MAY WILSON
Stephanie May Wilson is a sorority girl, turned missionary, turned author and creator. She's the author of The Lipstick Gospel, which is her story of finding God in heartbreak, the Sistine Chapel, and the perfect cappuccino. She blogs regularly at StephanieMayWilson.com, and describes her blog as a girls' night at your best friend's house — it's a community navigating life and doing it together. She recently released a small group guide designed to help women cultivate soul-mate best friendships, and an online course that's currently helping the most wonderful group of women peel off the lies they've always believed about themselves, and put on (and really believe!) the identity God has for them.
the life in between: When did you first learn to (or realize that you could!) dance, paint, sew, write, style, photograph, etc. What is your heART story?
Stephanie: When I was in college, there's nothing in the world I wanted more than to be a journalist. However, when I met Jesus, all of that changed. I was so passionate about Him that it totally eclipsed the passion I had for journalism. All of a sudden I found myself having no idea what I was made to do in the world. I knew I loved God, but that was about it. I felt stuck, frustrated, directionless. But I wasn't. I was following a path that only God could have imagined.
The first thing He did was put me in the position to lead a small group of sorority girls. What happened was anything BUT a small group, because before I knew it, I was curled up on couches with 27 sorority girls, digging through the real stuff of life together, and pointing each other towards Christ in the messiest areas of our lives. It was beautiful, it was perfect, it was totally what I was meant to do.
But even though I knew I wanted to stay on those couches forever, I also knew that I was feeling this deep call to mission work. God ended up sending me on an 11 month mission trip around the world (called The World Race), and when we signed up, we were given a blog to keep throughout the year.
It had honestly never occurred to me to keep a blog. I didn't read any blogs, and didn't know anything about it. But throughout that year, I began to fall in love with that little corner of the internet. It became an extra large couch for women around the world to curl up on and do exactly what we did in that small group — navigate life together. The craziest part was that people were actually reading it! Women were identifying with my stories, and sharing theirs with me in return. I just knew I had to keep doing it!
tlib: While you're immersed in a project or a piece, what are some things going through your mind? Do you pray? Do you praise?
Steph: Most writers would say that the hardest part of writing is getting yourself to sit down and do it. I find this to be so true. When I know I have a project brewing, I can find any excuse not to do it. My mind wanders, the laundry all of a sudden feels like the most pressing thing in the world, I am overflowing with reasons not to sit down and let the words come.
So the biggest way that I communicate with God in those moments, is asking Him to help me keep going. It honestly feels like running a marathon. It feels too big to tackle on my own (and it is!). When I'm in the midst of it, sometimes it feels like I could write for days, but sometimes it feels like I simply cannot eek out one more word. So I'm usually begging God to sustain me, and to push, pull, and drag me through — whatever it takes.
tlib: Tell us about your creative process. What inspires you to get started? Can you turn your creativity on and off?
Steph: Yes, and no. There are things I can do (like read some of my favorite authors, or go drink a cappuccino in a coffee shop by myself with a journal) that can turn the creativity on, but sometimes I have a hard time turning it off. I can think about creating things, about words, and about my readers at all hours of the day. So I have to be really intentional with saying, "This is rest time, no phone, no email, no nothing." But even then, I'll still have ideas occur to me. So I pull out my phone, jot them in a note, and put it away just as fast. I love that my mind whirrs with ideas as often as it does, but that can make it hard to really rest, so I have to be disciplined with myself to have times when I'm "on" and times when I'm "off."
That really describes my creative process though. I work in seasons. When I'm involved in a project, or creating something, I'm all in. Sometimes I'll work all day every day, even through the weekends. Those are what I call my "writing times." They're the time when I curl up under a blanket in my office and pour out every memory, every thought, every interaction, every bit of wisdom I've collected. But in order to be able to do that, I also have to have the "living times." The living times are when my phone is away, when I'm sitting across the table from my people far into the night. They're the times when I'm wandering through life breathing it in and savoring. They're the conversations I end up writing about. Those living times and writing times really balance themselves out, and when I have a long season of one and then a long season of another is when I feel like I'm really at my best.
tlib: Do you prefer to share your work or do you like to keep it just between yourself and God? Why?
Steph: I really love sharing my work! Honestly, I don't consider myself an artist. I sometimes don't even really consider myself a pure writer. I think a mark of the artist/writer is the love of the craft. I have some wonderful writer friends who could talk about the craft of writing, or read the true greats all day every day. They love the artistry of it, the process of the writing, the words and their formation themselves.That's not me. I'm not a traditional writer, I don't think. And I'm definitely not an artist. My passion is communication. It's the stories traded between sisters walking through life together. My husband is a designer and always talks about how design is the combination of form and function. I'd say I'm more of a designer than an artist. I care about the form, certainly, but the form doesn't mean much to me without the function.
So that being said, other than my journaling time, there's not much I create that's just between me and God. I feel like my worship and our time together comes in different forms. But I feel like He's given me the ability to create to bring truth, and comfort, and connectedness to His daughters. So that's really why I create. It's the way I pass on what God's given me, so the sharing of the work is the whole point for me.
tlib: If you share your work, how do you promote your art in a way that glorifies God?
Steph: I think as Christians, it's really easy for us to fall in one of two camps when it comes to promoting our work. For some of us, we get caught up in promoting our work so much that we forget about God. We forget that He's the purpose, the heart, the soul, the meaning behind everything we do. We start finding our worth in approval from others, and take God right out of the equation. But the other side I think is just as sad. That's the side where we get so worried about not wanting to promote ourselves over God that we don't share what we've created. This is just as sad to me, because the skills, talents, and gifts God has given us are from Him, for the purpose of making His world more beautiful, and bringing love to His kiddos who are lost or alone. And if we don't share what we've made, nobody gets to benefit from it! The way I think about sharing my work is that I'm extending an invitation. It's an invitation to come and sit across the table from each other, and talk about what God is doing in our lives. Those conversations bring so much life to our lives, but they don't happen without an invitation. So that's the way I think about it. It's not about promoting me, or not promoting God, or not promoting myself so I can promote God. It's an invitation to join me at the table so we can talk about what God's up to in our lives, and how to get closer to Him together.
tlib: How do you take compliments? How do you stay humble without denying your unique skill?
Steph: I just say "Thank you!" We as women are terrible at receiving compliments. Someone says, "I love your hair," and we instantly say, "Oh my gosh, I really need to get it cut!" or "what a beautiful home you have!" and we respond with, "I hate the curtains, I'm dying to replace them!" I think we just need to get better at saying "Thank you!" and letting that be that!
The thing that keeps me humble isn't how I receive compliments. It's God, and the fact that if I start getting a bit overly confident, He allows something to come in and remind me that I'm not doing any of this out of my own strength. I've also learned that being humbled is FAR more painful than humbling myself, so I do my very best to humble myself and remind myself of that truth before it gets to the point to where He needs to help me. (It's kind of like heading to your room for a "timeout" when you're younger, because you know it's just nicer to come to that conclusion yourself before you're really in trouble. :-) )
tlib: Do you believe that God can be glorified through secular art? How can secular work still point to Jesus?
Steph: Yes. I absolutely do. I believe that a painting doesn't have to have a cross in it to show the viewer more about God, and I believe a song doesn't have to be a specific worship song to bring us to our knees for love of the Father. God used the book Eat, Pray, Love to bring me to Him, and that book is not about Jesus at all. In fact, it's about other religions entirely.
God is bigger than the intention behind art, and He can use anything to glorify Himself. If God can demonstrate His glory in the aftermath of a national tragedy, or a natural disaster, He can certainly take a secular song and use it to teach us something about Him.
In fact, I prefer to erase the line between secular and religious entirely, because I don't feel like Jesus kept that line. He hung out with the non-religious people, and reprimanded the religious. I prefer to see us — all of us — as God's kids who need more of Him. And I prefer to celebrate great art, religious or not.
tlib: What is a dream or vision you have in regards to how your work may impact hearts and souls for Christ?
Steph: My biggest dream is that women around the world would be able to stand tall in the fullness of who God has made them to be. We have so many things holding us back — fear, doubt, insecurity — there is so much working against us and trying to convince us that we can't do what God made us to do.
So that's my greatest dream. My dream is that we would all curl up on the couch together (that's the space I strive to create through my writing), pouring into one another, listening to each other's stories, navigating life together, and that we would get up from that couch and change the world in the way that God created only us to do. I can't imagine what our world could look like with strong, confident, Christ-filled women making it a better place.
tlib: Lastly, for fun, who (living or dead, and besides God) are you most inspired by when it comes to your art?
Steph: Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown, Glennon Melton, and Shauna Niequist. They're real, wonderful women who are striving to use their stories to make the world a better, more beautiful place.
Steph, thank you so much for participating. Seriously. You make me want to be one of those girls across the table from or curled up on a couch with you! Your story has breathed life into me, and some of your answers in this interview brought tears to my eyes. You are walking in your purpose, my friend. You are RIGHT THERE.
READERS: I'm sure you understand now why Steph was one of my 5 key artists (even though she technically doesn't consider herself an artist, I absolutely do!). Leave her some love in the comments!! ⤵︎