Monday, June 11, 2012

"...and what do YOU do?"

Have you ever been asked that question and had no idea how to answer? Although I've been doing the same things for years, I still don't know the answer. I think I've written about it before (here on my blog or maybe it was in a craft group I joined years ago)... something about an identity crisis of sorts. In a way, I didn't want to blog this, but I've thought about it often and decided that maybe by sharing my thoughts and feelings about it, if others felt the same, and read this, they would realize they weren't alone.
So... here you go....

Last year when I went to the doctor (I think it was when 3 out of 4 in the family had the flu), he was asking about the family. He knew us through my husband's work, but we had recently switched to him as a family doctor so he was catching up on everyone. He already knew my husband was a carpenter and I proceeded to tell him our oldest son was a paramedic and our youngest son was in college. My daughter was with me (they took us in at the same time since both of us were sick) and she told him she was a hair stylist.

Then the doctor turned back to me and asked .. "and what do you do?"
When he asked me that question, I didn't know what to say. I thought a minute as I struggled to come up with an answer that sounded important, but I was blank. I think I hum-hawed around and finally stuttered something about staying at home and making dolls, jewelry, doing needlework, and painting. "Oh great," I thought, "that really sounds impressive! He'll be referring me to someone to be treated for multiple personalities!" I think he said something like, "Hmm, that's nice." He certainly didn't seem impressed, or maybe he felt sorry for me when he saw how embarrassed I was.

I could have proudly said I've been a wife and mom for 20 something years, but I felt guilty about being just a wife and mom. In this day and age, lots of wives and moms work outside the home... why didn't I? I did work as a CNA and a PTA (over 20 years ago), after that I subbed part-time at an elementary school while my kids were there, and later (and to the present) I worked from home... as an artist / crafter / designer, etc.

When I faced that question, I felt that I was completely inadequate, totally useless, and a failure.
I know I am not those things.
I know that.

"...for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well." (Psalm 139:14)

But I have to keep telling myself that...
because there are times when that question,
"...and what do YOU do?",
pops back in my head and I have to wrestle with it.
And it hurts every. single. time.

I went home and cried, and cried, and cried some more. I didn't tell my husband what had happened at first, but that evening I just asked him, "What do you tell your friends and the people you work for what it is that I do?" His answer (obviously without thinking), "Well, nobody ever asks."
Silence, I didn't know what to say, but I thought.... "so now I'm an invisible nobody, not even a wife and mom!"...and then I went in the bathroom and cried again. I think I cried again the next day, too. Big-time pity party!

Why do some stay at home parents or work at home artists have such a hard time saying what they are or what they do?
Why do most people think you don't really work or have a job if you stay at home?
Why does this bother me so much?
I don't have the answers.

I'm sure this will be out of my system for a while... but then it will creep back in and I'll re-hash it all over again. Maybe I can come back to this post and read what I've written and what you have written, and something will  finally click and I can better understand what's going on.

I do know that God blessed me with a wonderful husband that wanted me to stay home with our children, as I wanted to do, and later when the kids were older, he was fine with me staying home to follow my dreams of being a creative soul. He even helped me (or I helped him since he did most of the work) transform our garage into a huge workroom for me to follow my dreams. I think I am doing what I'm meant to do at this point in my life... or at least I'm on my way to doing it. I just need to believe in that and move forward.
I'd like to be like the wife in Proverbs:

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
(Proverbs 31:10-31)

But if I fail at some or even all of these, perhaps God will still see fit to bless and "establish the work of my hands" in some small way...

"And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it." Psalm 90:17

Please share any thoughts in the comments section or feel free to email me if you prefer. Not that I want you to feel as insecure as I do at times, but I would like to know there are others out there that feel the same.

Take care and God bless,


  1. Lana, I wish I could tell you the number of times I have gone through the same conversations, the same thoughts, the same tears...And even worse-feeling pitiful compared to the Proverbs 31 woman.
    Perhaps the thing that makes it very hard for me as an artist is the fact that I am NOT making it as an artist, and I have prayed and thought about just stopping what ever it is I'm doing too many times to count. But every time I pray about it-I feel I am to just keep going.
    That's off your point~but maybe there's a grain of truth in it, and it is about comparisons. Whether it's comparing ourselves to Proverbs 31, or some ideal artist-woman we have in our heads-it's not right. God loves us Just As We Are...
    I too have a very hard time even admitting I am an artist-I have felt actual shame over using that word to describe myself, and shame that I can't really give Him glory in my work like a musician can.
    I guess you can see I have a real struggle in the same areas as you.
    I'm really glad you have brought this to light-I am sure there are so many women who feel the same-and hopefully can write about it better than I!
    One more thing though~God has been working in my heart about knowing who I am -in Him. Maybe as artists, if we start there-we can confidently say, "I am an artist!"

  2. Morning Lana...I have asked myself the same thing a gazillion times. A couple of weeks ago I was at a party and was asked, What do you do?...I went on some elaborate tangent that I worked from home and spent most of my time looking after my husbands needs and that of our household...bla bla bla. What I didn't say was that I am also an artist and I am blessed that my husband can provide for the both of us...bla bla bla! The gal who had asked me the question looked at me like I was some kind alien. From then on I decided to just tell folks that I am presently unemployed...even though every day and every week is filled with chores and the jobs that keep our household running smoothly.(((Try telling folks you make mice for a part time job...LOL that really gets strange looks!)))...or maybe I will tell them I a jet propulsion specialist who works for NASA!!!

    Yes, I am an artist and I to struggle with my identity! I was given a talent and I am proud of that talent. I don't paint like Leonardo or sculpt like some of those famous old world Renaissance artists ...but in my own small way I know that my art has brought comfort and joy, smiles and laughter and that is good enough for me. Just know that you are not alone in your your faith to give you the guidance and comfort you are important!!!and talented and needed by so many!
    Hugs Susan

  3. Dear sweet friend,
    My eyes teared up just reading your precious post...I think as women, we tend to discount ourselves. Maybe it's our nature to do so? I used to feel the same way, floundering to come up with a wonderful response to this question. And now, finally, I proudly proclaim that I am an artist and full-time blogger, sharing and selling my artwork online as well as selling my tutorials teaching others how to create as well. It has taken me YEARS to feel comfortable saying these things but I know they are true!!! I don't march around proclaiming this but if asked I will gladly share.

    Another couple of Bible verses that I love:
    1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
    Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, and to work with your hands just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

    Having raised five sons, cooked thousands of meals, given hundreds of haircuts, sewn hundreds of projects, bathed babies from here to yon, decorated and cleaned our home so my family will be proud to call it so, blogged to share what I do in over 1900 posts and created tons of projects to share with's time to be proud!!!

    You are so incredibly talented Lana, I want you to proudly state all that you are...a full-time artist, mother and wife and inspiration to all through your blog!!!

    Sending you love and hugs dear friend,

  4. Lana,
    What an amazingly beautiful post. Of course you left out "writer and photographer" from your resume ! You are definitely a multi talented woman! With a dear heart as well!

    I too have struggled with "what I do and who I am" . . . . I am fortunate to have many dear friends who "get it" as they too are artists with the same struggles.

    For much of my creative life most of my friends were in similar businesses and I did a lot of shows where you got the recognition respect you needed to feel good. Plus there was such wonderful connection with people just like you!

    I found it most difficult to explain "me" when I remarried and my husbands work people were government computer geeks. I know my husband is very proud of was my own insecurity in social gatherings that got me. As Susan says . . . saying I make bunnies just gets odd looks! Saying I make teddy bears is even harder because of what others perceive. SO usually I would yammer on with some silly description, then they would ask how much are they? At which point I was always quite embarrassed to say. Silly? Yes? Hmmm . . did I ever think to ask them how much they make? Luckily the people who were close to my husband and have actually seen my work have enjoyed what I do. That's nice.
    But there is still the question in social gatherings of "Are you still making your little bears" ? (Me imagining them patting me on the head!) I have learned to just nod and smile . . but deep inside I feel a bit put off... I think it's the word "little" that does it.

    But even after 25 years I still have a difficult time telling anyone new what I do. Oddly enough at times I almost feel shamed to try and explain. This really is silly...I am very proud of my work and the fact that I raised a child as a single parent doing so!

    I honestly try to just go with the flow and know that the important people in my life do "get it". For myself it will always be a struggle, not just the labels, but my work as well . . . I am insecure about it . . . I LOVE what I do, but I am inwardly insecure, I still worry so much that what I'm making no one will like. (Bless those wonderful customers who make me feel better by liking them!) But each piece I create I go through it all over again.

    Such a torrent of mixed emotions we all deal with. . . being proud of our creativity and accomplishments, yet insecure as well.

    Just a note from one who understands . . .
    Bless you,
    Lori Ann

  5. Lana, I could have written this post. I feel the same way, so often. Our society values people for what we do, rather than for who we are. Asking someone what they do enables the questioner to put the person into a slot - this person is interesting, impressive, wealthy, influential, etc, all based on jobs.
    As a woman, finding my identity in Christ is where I want to find it, but often, I'm confused and embarrassed as you are.

    A good solution for me has been to come up with a standard line such as "I'm an artist" which would work well for you. And practice saying it to yourself, say it proudly and you might find it leads to other questions. Somehow, our culture values those labels.

    For me, I recently completed a degree in French and have begun working as a teacher-on-call. Now I say "I'm a teacher" but I know that is just a small part of who I am and what I do.

  6. Lana, this post touched me so much. I agree with Lorrie - the answer is "I'm an artist" - but also a quick note about doctors asking that question - a good and thoughtful doctor asks this to know more about what kind of physicality you have in your day-to-day.

    My stock answer for this is "My partner and I make gift items based on high resolution photographs of antique needlework", because that's basically what our products are. But when my doc asked and I told him that, he said, yes, but what do you DO? The light bulb came on - do you do close-up work with your hands? Are you straining your eyes? Your back? Do you design all day long at the computer, etc. These are clues for a good doctor. So, maybe that's what he was doing.

    I hear ya, though - it can be hard to come up with the answer on short notice, which is why I have my "rehearsed" answer - then usually someone asks questions and I can answer them.



  7. I know you as an incredible folk artist!!!

  8. This is another Donna...You really touched some hearts. When I first read your blog just now, I thought ARTIST, tell people are you are an artist, you are also an author, or a writer. Thank you for your wonderful thoughts and comments, and all you share!

    Donna H

  9. You are a true artist with many talents God has given you!

  10. Mom,just so you know...when I think of the Proverbs woman..I think of you. And I am inspired EVERYDAY to be more like YOU! Love you. :)

  11. Dear Lana~ I'm not sure that i have replied to any of your posts or not, but so glad I read this one. It is the world/culture that makes us think that "if" we do this or that, then we are successful. Even in Christian circles - we have to do things a "certain" way. You know, Jesus was not a crowd follower. In fact, He went against what others were saying often times. That's one of the things I think we miss. I love that He did that and I too need to remind myself of that. I think the Scripture you highlighted is perfect - that is so true! Think of the verse about the man they went out and got to help with the temple. Think of the detail that went into everything - they were gifted through their hands. You have a great gift, Lana. You have inspired me. You were the first to do that amazing book page wreath and wings and inspired those of us around you to do the same.
    I think you are right, it seems good right now to do what you are doing. If He leads you to do something else at another time, He will show you that too. I am glad that He gifted you with that. And, think of all that you have blessed through your posts as well as those that surround you. You just blessed me today.
    blessings to you!

  12. That quote from Proverbs is my favorite! If I were you, I would tell people that you are an artist and craftswoman, because that is what you are! And very talented too!

    Come by and visit me at Home In Douglas!

  13. God made you they way you are. He placed the desire in your heart to be and do those things which you are doing and they are beautiful to Him. Mothers that love and create beautiful things are maybe even more special to him because it comes from the heart. Blessings and happiness and joy to you.