The Painted Cupboard

by Janine Gobeil

 About seven years ago, when I was working in our handicraft department, I was given the task of restoring an antique cupboard. It was not overly large, but it contained two doors and a drawer, and it was covered with many layers of paint. I didn’t know how to restore it, but I was taught what to do from start to finish.

I was looking forward to the task, to stripping off the paint, discovering what lay underneath, and to restoring it to its natural state.

It made me think about my own life, of the many layers of “paint” that had to come off before my own beauty and dignity as a child of God could shine through. That would be my meditation as I began the work.

I had just put the cupboard on a small counter to work on it when in walked Mark Schlingerman, an artist who works with wood. “What an ugly piece of furniture!” he declared.

Even though it was an inanimate object, I went to its defence. “Mark, don’t say that,” I said. “You need to give me a chance. I’m sure it’s very beautiful under all this paint. Come and see it when I’m done.” This incident made me realize that I was identifying with the cupboard.

I painstakingly applied the paint stripper, waited, then with the paint scraper, I began to carefully scrape the layers off, little by little. I had to move slowly and carefully so I wouldn’t gouge the wood.

The first thing I discovered was the fine filigree work on the doors, work that because the paint was so thick, had been totally covered.

As I went layer by layer, the wood began to show through, and I could see that it had a very fine grain. Finally, I sanded down the entire piece, applied a light stain, and when I was done, the cupboard was beautiful. It had been restored to its natural beauty.

When Mark saw the finished work, he couldn’t believe the transformation. I was very proud of that cupboard.

I think that, in varying degrees, we are all like that piece of furniture. We’ve been layered with life’s experiences, pains and memories, some conscious, some now unconscious. We have “layers” on our minds, our hearts, our emotions, and our psyches that can, and do, obscure who God created us to be.

But I, like the cupboard, have a Creator. The cabinet maker who had made the cupboard, whoever he was, put thought into it. He chose a suitable wood. He created the design, he prepared the wood, he constructed the piece of furniture, and he carved the design on it.

He created a work of art, and he built it well so that it would last. It wasn’t until after the piece left his workshop that it became subject to negative changes.

Unlike the inanimate cupboard, we know the Craftsman who created us, individually and uniquely, as works of art, as children of God. But as soon as we came forth from the womb, we began to change and to take on the “layers” that life and circumstances began to cover us with.

We need to discover who we are under those layers, what we are created for, and who we are meant to be.

The cabinet maker who created the cupboard lost sight of it as soon as it left his workshop. Most likely he never saw it again.

That is very different from God who created each of us. He never loses sight of us, no matter what we have done, no matter what happens to us, and no matter how many “layers” are covering us.

He knows exactly where we are, where we are at, and what layers need to be “stripped” off.

With some of us, the layers are few and thin; for others they are many and very thick. This only means that some did not have too much to struggle through, while others have so many layers that just to begin seems to be a daunting task. These latter may not even know how or where to even start.

But neither is worse or better than the other; each life is unique. And our Creator, who continues to shape and form us, is more powerful than any layer.

What are these layers? Some manifest themselves as pain, fear, loss, anger, grief, hatred, judgement, resentment, addiction—the list is endless.

These layers had their purpose. I can look at myself and say that I needed them because they were a protection. They protected me from being hurt by people and situations that were harmful.

Unfortunately, they also prevented good things from coming in—things like affirmations, encouragement, compliments, trust in friendships. These were all foreign to me because I carried so much pain inside.

I needed the layers to come off, but it was not until I joined Madonna House that I felt safe enough to see what needed to be restored, healed, brought back to life.

Years ago I had a dream. I was standing on the edge of a garden. I looked around and everything was covered in ice.

Next to me, I saw a stack of tiles. I tentatively lifted one off and then a second one. Suddenly the tiles began to shift on their own, and they all sort of melted away leaving a hole in the ground.

A warm breeze began to come from the hole, and gradually the warmth melted the ice until the entire garden was lush and green.

I knew that those tiles were what was frozen within me and that God had melted them in order to free me.

In the dream, I asked him why he hadn’t moved them earlier and he responded, “Because, Janine, I had to wait until you removed the first one.”

As the layers began to come off, I realized I had a whole area in my life that I had never lived. I began to discover that I had gifts, talents, a capacity to love, and that there are other ways of moving, thinking and being than the way I was doing it.

I began to experience deep friendships with people who love me “warts” and all.

I have discovered that I don’t want to be sullen, full of self-pity, have a poor self image, or use negative humour. These were all very much a part of what I thought and how I thought.

I carried shame and pain that was buried so deep that only God could help me—which he did through other people.

Does all this mean that at this point I have my life totally together? Even if you had only met me yesterday, you would know that I don’t. There are times even now where I feel so insecure and bound up in fear that I won’t take the smallest risk.

But my Creator has done so much already, and he is continuing to strip off the layers. I have begun to reclaim my dignity as a child of God and more and more of my true self is coming out into the light.