Saturday, August 29, 2015

"These scars will be the artwork etched into my soul." Discussing Suffering, Healing, & Hope with Artist Camille Mica

When I was a freshman in college, there was this one particular woman in my Theology class. She seemed pretty nice, and her big eyes always twinkled with peace and joy. We lived in the same dormitory, studied together a few times, and shared some meals in the cafeteria. Occasionally, I would join in our school's Monday night homeless ministry, and this woman would always be there, totally present and overflowing with love, joy, and grace for all of the people we encountered. Whether in classes, meetings, in the hallway, or at an anti-trafficking event that she organized, an encounter with this woman was always  an experience of God's love. 

The other day, I ordered a print from this woman's Etsy shop as a gift for a friend. I hadn't looked at her art for a while, and I thought, "wow, I bet she has a cool story or two to share." While falling asleep that night, I suddenly had the idea that I wanted to interview this woman, because I wanted to have her words recorded where I could go back to them. I then realized that the whole world-not just myself-can benefit from this woman's story. So, out of the blue, I messaged her, and she was gracious enough to share her heart, soul, and story with vulnerability, humility, and love. 

Today, I bring to all of you the story of Camille, who operates Etched into my SoulThis story is one of suffering, redemption, healing, and hope. It is a story of God's work. We see that God truly equips us with the tools necessary for His work-the young artist I interviewed has only taken one still-life drawing class in her life, yet she creates gorgeous paintings to further God's glory. This story has moved me to tears MANY times, as my heart and soul are touched so profoundly by Camille's words. I pray that you allow God to touch you through this interview, and that you open yourself up to His grace and healing! 

Camille, thank you so much for blessing us with your presence! Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Camille Aubrey Teresa Mica (Teresa is my confirmation saint name, after Blessed Mother Teresa), and I am 22 years old. I am from Texas and have an amazing, loving, supportive, expressive, and quirky family – I have awesome parents, a twin sister, and two younger brothers. I am a Catholic Christian, and I graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2015 with a BA in Clinical Psychology and Theology. I love learning, praying, Scripture, reading, psychology, nature, the arts (visual arts, dance, drama, music, writing), nutrition and natural/holistic healing, and serving others in the small ways that I can.

Along with these other passions, my calling is to work in the anti-human trafficking movement, serving survivors of trafficking, abuse, poverty, and commercial sexual exploitation. I’ve been involved in the movement for a few years now, and in a few months will be starting my new position in San Diego as COO of Children of the Immaculate Heart, a Catholic non-profit anti-trafficking organization, working to oversee and develop a new residential treatment facility for girls (ages 8-18) who are survivors of human trafficking. I hope to continue my education through graduate school in psychology/psychotherapy and/or integrative/natural medicine, along with training in trauma and somatic and expressive arts therapy.

How did God lead you to create gorgeous paintings and start up your business, Etched into my Soul? 
 Well, for about 6 years now, I've been struggling with many health/medical issues (which my newest integrative doctor thinks are due to parasites), and for years have been experiencing intense pain, especially in my abdominal/pelvic areas, along with constant digestive issues and hormonal imbalance. At one point, I even had to leave college in Steubenville for a year, because I was overwhelmed and needed to be home to receive medical treatment for some of the issues. During that time at home, I underwent a surgery, and it took a long time to recover. I had a lot of time in stillness, peace, quiet, reflection, and prayer, despite much discomfort and pain. 

Suddenly, God started giving me images and visions He wanted me to paint, along with Scripture verses. Scripture and art (in all its forms) have always spoken to my heart. So, I had no clue what I was doing, but I started to draw and paint these images and write the Scripture verses in calligraphy. Over the past few years, God has continued to give me more images to paint. Once I had completed quite a few, I decided to assemble them into a collection and start an Etsy art “business.” I’ve donated many, sold just a few on Etsy, and also sold some in person at a festival. 

The name of my art collection, “Etched into My Soul,” comes from a poem I found on a scrap of paper while I was trying to think of a name – I had written it probably months to years earlier, during a time of suffering. Here is the poem:

Oh God,
With this suffering, You
are filling in the gaps of my story
These scars will be
the artwork etched into my soul
Beauty in my brokenness
a heart beating only for You,
A life dependent utterly on You. 

Wow. That poem is amazing, and so profoundly beautiful! What an incredible mission and gift from God. Now, I'm really curious-on the practical level, what is the process of creating a painting like? Approximately how long does the process of painting one of your images take? I’m not artistic, so I have no concept as to what this looks like J
 Sometimes, I am given both an image and a Scripture verse. Other times, either the image or passage will come first, and I must pray or think of an image or search for the right Scripture passage. Many of the paintings came out of times of great suffering, moments when I cried out to God, even asking him to just take my life so I wouldn't have to live with the pain anymore, yet clinging to him in everything... or praying and crying out for others who were in great distress and suffering. Sometimes, the images just come to me when I am praying with Scripture. Other times, the ideas come suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere. 

The process of creating a painting is actually very intense at times! I never quite know how I'm doing it (especially because I have no art technique whatsoever) - I just know that it's really hard and intense work, yet I also rely on Him to make it happen, and it often looks quite rough until it's finished. 

I start out by having a family member or friend model for me, and I take photographs. Then, I make a basic sketch on canvas paper, and finally I paint with acrylics. Usually I can only do bits at a time, and I can’t work for more than an hour or two at a time. My eyes get fatigued quickly, and I find myself painting without good focus or eyesight, and then I have to make myself stop for a while. Sometimes, I finish the paintings quickly, in days or weeks. Other times, it might take weeks or months. Often, I will listen to music while I paint. I am talking to God, praying, and depending on Him basically the entire time. I sit down, stand up, make faces, and sometimes get a bit excited or nervous because a few strokes can really make a big mistake that is hard to repair. But despite the intensity, it is so nourishing to my soul. With His grace all things are possible. 

Is there a cool story behind one of your paintings?
 When I was still at home during my year away from college and in the beginning phases of my painting work, I would sometimes imagine my art being used by a Franciscan University household [editorial note: FUS households are faith communities somewhat akin to sororities/fraternities, which place a focus on prayer & ministry] as an image to inspire devotion in a common room on campus. At the time, I didn’t even know I would be returning to Franciscan University. But it was a nice thought, a wish, so to speak. A year or so later, when I was back at Franciscan, I was approached by a member of the Seraphic Valor household, who wanted to buy a poster print of my piece entitled “Inscribed” (which seems to be a favorite of many people). The household actually bought the art print and hung it in their common room! It was a dream come true.

How do you convey hope (healing, redemption, etc.) as you create your paintings? 
 My work captures a profound mystery of suffering that is often difficult to remember when in the midst of suffering. If you observe the art, you see that it is very physical, and very personal. It involves pain and suffering, hands, faces, touching, holding, clinging, carrying, intimacy. It conveys surrender. And here is the reality: God touches us, He carries us and holds us in our suffering. 
Psalm 134:18 says that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” 

He is with us. And furthermore, we in a deep sense touch God in our suffering, we cling to Him, hold onto Him, rest in Him as our hope. And if we accept His hand reached out to us, if we surrender into His arms and allow Him to hold us, we can join with Him in our pain and suffering. Thus, we not only find hope in Him; for, when we are united with Him as members of Christ’s Body, we can also share in the self-sacrificial suffering of Christ, His work of redemption. Here our suffering is transformed into something beautiful, something powerful and meaningful. I believe that finding meaning in our suffering is a profound step toward wholeness, toward healing. This mystery is a truth spoken of by the saints; for example, St. Paul (Col 1:24), St. Maria Faustina, St. Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Mother Teresa, etc.

Are there any particular saints whom you invoke in this process of painting?
I have several saints I try to invoke daily, especially Mother Teresa, Mary, and St. Bernadette. Usually, during the process of painting, I am speaking directly with God and especially the Holy Spirit. Often, I will be using words in my painting from Scripture that were uttered by a particular holy person or saint – for example, David, The Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Paul, Isaiah, St. Peter, or St. John – and I will be praying or thinking these words in my head. In this way, I am in communion with the saints. I find myself praying for those whom the painting may serve (trafficking/abuse survivors, those in depression, despair, or struggling with suicidal thoughts). I also find myself praying the words from Psalm 90:17: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!”

How has art (and specifically, painting) played a role in understanding the process of suffering, healing, and hope?
 Wow, so much. I have had the blessing of seeing how my suffering was transformed, in not just a spiritual but also a literal, tangible way, into beauty. If I had not been home and struggling with health issues, I don’t see how these paintings would have happened… God’s will is so above mine and His plans so far beyond what I could imagine (Is. 55:8-11). Many of my paintings arose during specific times of suffering for me, and they served to help me cope with my pain and find meaning, along with giving expression to the meaning I found in Him. 

For example, once, when I was in so much pain that I asked the Lord to take my life and I wanted to die, I saw myself clinging to God out of the depths of my pain – thus came one of my original paintings, “My Soul Clings” (with a hand reaching out of raging water and holding onto the arm of God).

Another painting came to me when I was lying down in pain at one point this summer, unable to eat or enjoy the family meal, crying to God and seeking to surrender everything to Him. I closed my eyes and saw a face (maybe mine?) with a tear rolling down the cheek, eyes closed, being held by Him, resting in His hand, and He said, "My grace is sufficient for you, ... for my power is made perfect in weakness... (2 Cor. 12:9)" And I knew I had to paint this image – it is now captured in my piece, “My Grace.” Art has helped me find and give expression to the hope and healing Christ brings in the midst of suffering. 

How do you hope to reach others through your paintings?
 I hope that when others see my art, they are drawn in and encounter the healing Word of God spoken in the depths of their soul, in image and color and light, not only verbally. I hope they see how God is working in their own lives in a concrete and unique way; how He is always there, and how Christ has suffered-and is suffering-with them. I hope they recognize and experience how they are being transformed and made new through the pain and the fire and the storm. I hope my art is an opportunity for an experience of surrender, hope, and peace. 

Have you been able to see God work in someone’s life through your paintings?
  So far, I've been able to donate quite a few as gifts to women suffering from commercial sexual exploitation, and to survivors of sex trafficking. What a gift it has been to see so tangibly how He can inspire hope and spiritual insight through my work. My last year at Franciscan University, I was able to give several of my prints away as gifts to some friends of mine from Steubenville: women who had struggled with the commercial sex industry and prostitution, whom I had met through ministry. 

I was amazed that out of the 10 or 12 possibilities, they chose the same print – the painting based on Ezekiel 36, called “Heart of Flesh,” in which God’s hand is holding a broken, stony heart, and recreating it into a heart of flesh: a bleeding, feeling, and living heart. It was so humbling for me to see the Holy Spirit using my art to do what my words alone could not, to minister and speak into their lives and hearts in deep and profound ways, to give hope of re-creation and newness of life in Him. Their hurt and scarred, hardened hearts-and mine too-were being broken and made new. 

You have been a huge example to me in all of the work that you have done to spread awareness of human trafficking. Do you bring your passion for helping these women into your artwork in any way? Does Etched Into My Soul have any kind of connection with your work to fight trafficking? Do any of the proceeds from your work help these women? 
 I think of and pray for the victims and survivors of human trafficking often when I am working on my art. I hope to continue donating art pieces to women struggling in the commercial sex industry and survivors of human trafficking, as I have in the past. 

Furthermore, I have used money earned from Etched into My Soul to help fund previous work and ministry with survivors, especially my internship with Redeemed Ministries. In the future, I might try to write a book compiling Scripture, meditations, poetry, therapeutic expressive arts practices/activities, and possibly my art to help survivors of trauma and abuse, especially sexual abuse and trafficking, on their journey toward healing, wholeness, and integration. I would love to use this work even for the girls in the new residential treatment facility for human trafficking.

Presently, the money I earn helps me to save up for graduate school and for living expenses in San Diego, which will of course help me to fulfill my ministry through my position at the residential treatment facility for survivors of human trafficking. Furthermore, since I have donated so many of my art pieces to victims and survivors of trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, abuse, and poverty, the proceeds I now receive through sales help to cover the costs of all the donations! It is as if purchasing an art print from me helps me be able to donate artwork to survivors of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Wow, your words and story blow me away! Do you have anything else you want to add? 

I just want to say that art has a profound way of speaking and healing. Look at David’s poetry and songwriting, for example! And I also have to say that God desires for us to discover and use our gifts from Him, for His glory and for our growth and for reaching out/ministering to/serving others, especially the poor and vulnerable. There is so much poverty today in many different forms – how are we called to reach out and make a difference? We are called to be co-creators with God – here is one way: To reach into the depth and sacredness of our own personal spiritual experiences, and share them with others through artistic means. 

Thank you so much, Camille, for sharing your message of healing, hope, and redemption with all of us today! I am praying for you and your work, as well as for all of the women you will encounter in San Diego. I ask all of you readers to please send up prayers for Camille as well. I encourage all of you to take a look at Etched Into My Soul (click here) and see the amazing things that God has done through Camille. 

And, because everyone needs to have St. John Paul II in his or her life, here's an awesome quote on suffering & hope from him! 

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