“This is never going to work,” I thought, “but I’m going to keep pushing forward until someone besides myself tells me I can’t move forward. If I never try, I will always wonder if it could have actually worked.”
My wife, Betsy, had long been enamored by the paintings of a man from West Michigan named George Peebles. She loved his style and the vibrant color that often accompanied the moments of nature he would capture on canvas. Many months before Betsy’s 28thbirthday, I got a hair-brained idea. What if I got her one of those paintings for her birthday? At that point in our lives, the budget allowed for $50 towards birthday gifts and a painting about the size of a magazine cover started at $500. Even for a painfully small painting, I was way out of my league.
After seeking help from someone wiser than I, it was clear I had two things I could try in order for this wild idea to work: fund raise amongst friends to bolster the budget and speak with the artist directly to see if anything could be done about the price of his work. The first option seemed silly because I thought people only gave to charities, not crazy birthday presents. The second option seemed foolhardy because I thought artists were a proud breed. Why would I think he would even speak with me, much less give me some magical discount? Plagued with doubt, I decided right then that I would need to stop saying “no” for people while in pursuit of this dream. They would have to tell me “no” themselves and I would keep soldiering on until then.
I set to work. I crafted an email and sent it to every family member, friend, and even distant acquaintance explaining my idea and how to donate whatever money they were willing to give. Next, I tracked down Mr. Peebles’ email address and sent him a message explaining how meaningful this gift would be to Betsy and asking him if there were any deals we could work out. Every time I imagined his reaction to my request, I felt like a fool, but I reminded myself that assumptions that distant are rarely reality.
Soon, responses started filtering in. The first few emails I got back were from friends letting me know that they loved the idea, but had no extra money to give. The meager breath of wind I had in my sails was stolen away instantly because I had little confidence in myself, but…the responses kept coming in. Family and friends started to actually pledge money towards this mad scheme in surprisingly strong fashion. Soon, 50 bucks turned into $400, then $600, then $700 and I still hoped to hear back from several more people. After several weeks I was astounded to think I may raise one thousand dollars towards Betsy’s gift and graduate her painting from the size of a magazine cover to that of a brief case. I was still disappointed with how small the painting would end up, but I began to settle into being grateful for the support that had come in. After all, our family and friends were absolute saints for helping me this much. I had almost accepted the limited height my dream would reach when I finally heard back from the artist.
Despite having a perfect stranger ask him to reduce the price of his life’s work, Mr. Peebles gave what I thought was an encouraging response, until I spoke with another artist friend in town. After updating him on how much money I hoped to raise, he told me that, “If you can get me representation in Colorado Springs, I will give you any size painting at your price of $1,000.” I had precisely zero understanding of what “representation” meant so I sought the counsel of a local friend and artist who said Mr. Peebles was asking me to find a local art gallery to take his paintings and sell them. “I’m not going to tell you this is impossible,” she said, trying to be encouraging, “but local artists stick together and protect their own. It will take a miracle for one of them to let an artist half away across the country into the fold.”
The feedback was very discouraging, but wouldn’t let myself back down just yet. Instead, I mapped out all the local art galleries (well over 20 in total), put together a sales portfolio for Mr. Peebles work complete with business cards, donned my best suit, and started visiting every gallery, one by one. I walked into each, again feeling quite foolish, and told them about my dream for Betsy’s gift and how they could be a part of making that happen. After many strange looks and my first 7 “no” responses, I almost gave up, but then I spoke with the owner of a gallery that actually showed some interest. They said they did not have space for his work currently, but were interested in possibly working with him some day. Effectively, it was just another “no”, but it gave me hope to keep pressing on.
Finally, after visiting 12 different galleries in one day, I was exhausted and only had two faint “maybe” responses to show for it. I updated the artist on my progress, gave him what little contact information I had received, sent thank you letters to those who had taken the time to speak with me, and surrendered the rest to God. Would the gallery and the artist be able to work together? Would Mr. Peebles get his representation despite the painfully negative odds? My dream’s fate was completely out of my hands and it was agonizing. Several weeks passed until one day I opened up my email and saw a message from the artist waiting for me.
In my email correspondence with Mr. Peebles, he had showed a particular distaste for words. Each email was as short as possible and even things requiring explanation received none. I opened his message and it read like this: “Scott, we are good to go. – George” My heart was instantly torn in two, one half drunk with euphoria that my insane dream had actually worked and the other half trying desperately to be reserved because I had no idea what the artist actually meant by his message. I hurriedly emailed him back asking for clarification and had to wait another few days in the agony of unknowing. At long last I got another email from Mr. Peebles confirming my joy. One gallery in town had agreed to take his paintings and sell them. He had his representation and I had my choice in size of painting for one thousand dollars.
During the course of this epic drama, I had successfully kept Betsy in the dark about the whole thing, but once I knew the plan would work, I could barely contain my excitement. I worked closely with the artist about what painting would be the most meaningful to Betsy and I requested he create something that mixed together our old home back in Michigan as well as our new home in Colorado. What Mr. Peebles created was a beautiful blend of the Rocky Mountains and Lake Michigan (pictured at the top of this blog post), the staple landmarks of the two places that held our hearts.
In the end, after lots of hard work and hours of questioning my sanity for trying something like this, I got a three foot by four foot custom piece from Betsy’s favorite painter, valued around $4,000 for free. Did I forget to mention that last part? Yes, after seeing how far I went for him, Mr. Peebles told me the painting would be his “thank you” and would not cost me a single penny. Betsy was beside herself when her gift arrived at the door and is thrilled to have it hanging on our wall today.
This experience taught me a lot about life and myself. I learned that the only limitations in life are those I choose to accept. I learned how quickly I had given up on ideas in the past simply because of how they “looked”. I learned that what I believe to be possible or impossible is not at all the same as what God sees as possible and impossible. It was this experience that encouraged me to begin writing despite my lack of training and experience. My hope is that this story inspires you some how. My hope is that you can read this and begin to believe in the “impossible” things in your own life. May God bless every step you take towards your joy.
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