WORDS I LIVE BY
“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I want to follow Jesus closely. I want to know Him deeper and better. And I want people to know Him because they got to know me and saw how faithful He's been to me. He has been so faithful.
I’m from Fishers, Indiana and love writing, books, coffee, traveling, nice pens, pretty-sounding words, painting, giving people so much grace, and being challenged to love Jesus better. I started painting in 2012 and have been exploring its place in my life ever since. I wouldn't have started painting if not for a small series of decisions about what I'm made to do and without God's specific leading. What a ride it has been.
In high school, I came back from a mission trip and was led by God to start Ode to the Forgotten, an organization that used the arts to inform people about physical and emotional poverty. I had the blessing of serving as the Founder and Director of Ode to the Forgotten for 5 years until God led my heart another direction and told me that He had a new adventure for me. I attended one year of school at Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis, but knew after that year that God was calling me out of school. I still loved to learn, but He was calling me to learn differently- by spending a lot of time with Him.
It has been years since He helped me make that decision, and now I have the joy of serving Him through artwork and writing. I published my first book, To You… So You Know That Dreams Happen, within that first year after leaving school. To You.. was a result of my struggles with giving up a full ride scholarship and starting my new life. It is an invitation to dream with God- to follow Him devotedly and trust that the desires that He places in our hearts are worth pursuing- even through the seasons of transition that don’t seem to have much clarity.
Since To You... I've published two more poetry books
In August 2015, God led me to suddenly open this online watercolor print shop called SHensleyArt, where I get to share God’s truth through paintings, in hopes that people see a glimpse of His heart toward them. His Word and truth is so powerful. I hope to remind people of His Word and promises through art.
Now my job is to follow Him day-by-day. To pray and seek Him. I keep having to choose it. To sit in His presence because He calls me there and continues to call me to deeper relationship with Him. Today is His. Every day is His. He is life.
THE FULL STORY
I grew up in Fishers, Indiana, a suburb just north of Indianapolis. My journey with creativity probably began with a large craft closet that gave me a whole new world to explore in our small three-bedroom house. My mom ran an in-home daycare, so, with plenty of company, we were constantly doing crafts- cutting up paper snowflakes and letting them litter the floor with little white specks of paper that would inevitably take too long to clean up, putting food coloring in shaving cream and spreading it with our hands all over white paper to see what designs we could make once we wiped the shaving cream off, and trying to make paper chains so long that we could wrap it around the outside of the house. That’s where the creativity began. I liked to wear rainbow-colored tights with overalls and a big red bow in my hair, and constantly tried to convince my older sister that my purple velvet pants really did match my emerald green shirt. (I’ve since then convinced myself otherwise.)
In fifth grade, I started getting involved in the youth group at Northview Church in Carmel, IN. I soon had a second family and friends that encouraged me to run after Christ with all that was within me. Retreat after retreat and Sunday night after Sunday night encouraged me to keep following God and drawing nearer to Him- to be all about Him.
In high school, my faith journey took a leap when God called me to go on a mission trip to South Africa. When I came back from the trip, He led me to start an organization called Ode to the Forgotten- that used the arts to inform people about physical and emotional (as well as spiritual) poverty. At that time, I loved spoken word poetry and crafting beautiful phrases, and my friends had a heart for music and photography, so we started Ode by producing a CD of poems and songs that benefitted a local homelessness prevention organization (CHIP Indianapolis), and grew to providing interactive arts events for the public that used art, music, poetry, and interactive role-play to open peoples’ eyes to issues like hunger and homelessness.
Around the same time, though, my need for perfectionism and approval led me to a period of about 6 months to a year of orthorexia- extreme unhealthy dieting. God was with me, and definitely used Ode to the Forgotten as a constant in my life- as a way for me to connect with Him and rely on Him and trust Him for provision and leading. I wanted it to be His ministry, and it kept me grounded to have to rely on Him for it.
My junior year of high school- on March 26th, 2010- Ode to the Forgotten put on an event at our church to raise awareness about homelessness, and the next day my family was homeless. My dad had been out of work for over a year. Our house was sold in a short-sale that day, and we frantically and, thankfully with help from a few families we knew, moved all we had into a storage unit and the basement of a family from church that we were acquaintances with. We were so thankful for their willingness to share their house with us. We lived there for a year and a half. We learned a lot about food pantries, growing food, and living in small spaces, which was frustrating, but we were thankful that we had a place to stay and people who were patient with us.
While staying in their house, I completed high school online (I stopped attending public school my junior year so that I could continue running Ode to the Forgotten and do school at the same time. It was such a blessing to get to do both.) January of my senior year of high school, I was invited to be a Bepko Scholar with the Honors College at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis as a Philanthropic Studies major, and I began attending there in the fall.
The summer after my freshman year at IUPUI, I was painting in my room in a house that we were renting, and I knew I needed to spend time listening to God. I felt led to kneel beside my bed, and while I was praying I knew God was telling me to leave school. I just knew. And I knew that I would just have to rip the Band-Aid off- that God was calling me to be confident in Him and not delay or convince myself out of His will. Worried and very afraid that they would think I was ungrateful, about a week after my moment in my room with God, I called the Honors College to explain that I wouldn’t be returning the next year but that I was so thankful for the opportunity they gave me.
This is where God’s faithfulness is really to be seen. He just asked me to give up a full-ride scholarship. To do what? I wasn’t exactly sure. I knew it had something to do with painting. And, at that point, I still had plans to move forward with Ode to the Forgotten events, but otherwise I was very unsure of what God was doing. I just knew I needed to obey Him.
The next semester began and, as others were in charge of their schoolwork and grades, I had a beta fish to be in charge of. And painting. I felt lame, to be honest. But God kept on assuring me to trust Him. And throughout the days of not knowing what to do with my days, He drew me nearer to Himself. I had more than enough time to spend with Him. And journal. And listen. And write. And figure out how to hear His voice and fight the spiritual battle constantly raging in my head about what to do with my life.
Leaving school was His gift to me. He gave me the boldness. Looking back, I would not be as close to Him as I am today. In His grace, He gave me a huge opening and so much time to focus on Him. And in this time, I started writing my first book. (I had no idea it was going to be a book. Honestly, I was just jotting down little truths that I was learning day-in and day-out. But God had a big-picture that would make sense of my small-seeming days.) I continued painting and, after putting on an event about hunger in Indianapolis in January, I was led to stop doing Ode to the Forgotten. Whereas I used to feel extremely passionate about running Ode to the Forgotten full-time, God was shaping my heart to like things like writing and peace and quiet. And dogs and growing flowers and painting beautiful things that declare His glory and share His truth.
I self-published my book, To You… So You Know that Dreams Happen, in January one year later (2014). God was faithful. And since then two more poetry books have come, Not What I Thought and Brave Good Secrets.
In August 2015, I opened up this online watercolor painting shop, SHensley Art, where I get to declare His truth through beauty and share paintings and prints with people for His glory. His Word is alive and active, and I constantly pray that the paintings He calls me to make give people a glimpse of His love for them and remind them of truths that they need to hold onto each day. I pray He speaks so personally to people through what I paint.
I now live in St. Louis and am going back to school. Ha. For graphic design. God doesn't always lead us away from things forever. He's more about the process than the destination. He wants to do it all with us.
I’m finding that God’s plans sometimes appear to us as spontaneous. They appear to me as a surprise, when He has planned them all along. I started watercolor painting in July 2015, and He called me to open my watercolor shop the next month. I started writing just about my life in a stage where I felt unsure of what God was doing- and He launched the writings into a book that encourages people to keep dreaming with God and listen to Him in times of transition. To take each day as His.
I am His. All that I am is His. I can’t say there is a specific time that I accepted Christ, although there have definitely been defining moments in our relationship where He has called me closer and given me the grace to say “yes” and draw near to Him and be more faithful. He has led me. And He leads me each day.
What does “now” look like?
Following. And delight and joy and knowing Him and asking Him to help me enter in deeper into who He is and how I can love Him. He is faithful. He is with me. I still struggle with anxiety. And perfectionism. And some days I struggle with whether I hear Him or not. And what others think about me. But He works all for good. I am His. And He is with me.