The Broken Artist
New art is created.
In February 2010, my aging mother began complaining of stomach pains and other abdominal issues that were making her life uncomfortable. She visited our family doctor on several occasions, but they offered no definitive diagnosis. She began losing weight quite rapidly, so we admitted her into the largest hospital in town.
My mother and I have always had a close relationship. I was the firstborn son, and there’s always a special connection there. She came from an abusive situation as a young girl. She was hell-bent on turning that situation around with her generation, and she did.
She married a man who loved her deeply, and whom she would eventually lead into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Both of my parents had carried loads of baggage into their relationship, but they discovered in each other a willingness to help the other unpack. My brother and I were shaped and formed by an environment where two people with a lot of love and acceptance distributed collaboratively were figuring it all out. It wasn’t perfect, and there were some full-scale arguments that caused me to run for cover. But, there was never a single moment at any point in my young life when I wasn’t completely secure in my parent’s love for me. And when it came to my mom, that love was deep and unwavering.
By March, my mother had gone back and forth between her assisted-living apartment and the ER at least five times. By the beginning of April, she could no longer lift herself out of her hospital bed, and had finally been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease.
During that same time in April, the media company I had founded in 2006 was going under. We began having difficult conversations that eventually led to staff layoffs, restructured guaranteed payments for the owners, and many sleepless nights. I was trying to save my mom’s life with most of my waking hours, while trying to save a dying business in my off time. Many times, those things got reversed.
One would survive. One would not.
By the end of May, my mother had been moved into intensive care for some last-ditch efforts to save her life. She had wasted away to nearly nothing, and nothing the doctors tried was working.
On May 31, my brother and I wheel-chaired my father into her sterile hospital room to say goodbye to his wife of nearly 50 years. It was an emotionally charged moment for all of us. As we were leaving the room, my dad looked at me and, through his garbled and difficult-to-understand soft voice said, “Gary. She saved me.” I completely lost it and had to excuse myself from the moment – finding a public bathroom’s floor to collapse onto. My beautiful mother collapsed into the arms of her Savior that night.
In the days following my mother’s death, I became obsessed with pulling off a funeral fit for a queen. While my brother took care of our newly-widower father, I put together the elements for my mother’s funeral service. After experiencing the graveside service, and then the memorial service, I went home and collapsed. It was the perfect storm for me. I was physically exhausted, emotionally spent, and spiritually tender.
The Fruit of Brokenness
One week after my mom passed, I felt God telling me to go back to El Salvador. The previous year, I had dug a clean water well in a remote area two hours outside the capitol city of San Salvador. God was stirring me to go back and ask the more difficult question to some local villages: “Now that you have clean water, what’s the next thing you need?” My intention was to use my existing ministry and governmental connections (two great Christian men whom I had formed friendships with) to meet with local village leaders, and simply ask them what they needed.
So I bought two plane tickets from Fresno to San Salvador – One for myself, and one for Tony, a dear friend of mine who wanted to join me. Two months later, Tony and I found ourselves walking through several remote dirt roads, tribally connecting one El Salvadorian village to another. We sat with an interpreter in front of several groups of village leaders, allowing them to answer one question we posed: “What can we do for your village that would transform it?” Every answer involved funding a small business. I came back to California, in love with the people I had met, and excited to fund the businesses they dreamed of creating. My heart was still very sensitive from my mother’s untimely death, so the emotions of this grand possibility continued to run high.
My father was going downhill at an alarming rate. One week after I arrived home from El Salvador, we took my father to the hospital. Four weeks later, we were burying him. My father lasted three full months without his bride. Once again, my brother and I prepared for a funeral service.
Our Response to Brokenness
Too bad for us.
I could bring this whole thing back around, and I could implore you to learn to create art from your own personal brokenness. And I’d be accurate in encouraging you to do that. But I think there’s something far greater at stake here. God not only wants us to learn to create art from our personal brokenness, He wants us to learn to create life from our brokenness.
And isn’t that what it’s all about? Living an authentic, abundant, overflowing, life – a life that’s not safe, but is overwhelmingly good. Because in the middle of that kind of life – in the middle of those mostly unplanned and unforeseen interludes – art will be birthed. And that art will cause the world to catch a visual glimpse of the Invisible.
More Fruit to Come
My trip with Tony birthed what is now known as The Floodgate Foundation. Working with pastors and key community leaders, we’ve funded three small business efforts in El Salvador. Those small businesses are shaping and forming the culture of their villages.
In 2012, the Foundation expanded after Floodgate’s Jason Rowe and Dave Wilkins went on a one-week missions trip to Haiti. After their week in Haiti, they came home (you guessed it) broken. The fruit of their own broken lives resulted in funding nineteen small businesses in Haiti.
There is no formula here. There is no plan. I’m not writing this script. There is only an odd space where His divinity pushes into our humanity, and we respond. And somewhere, somehow, in some strange way, a new life is born, and new art is created.