I'm Sheila Atchley: artist-author, wisdom-chaser, preacher's wife, and silver-haired ordinary mystic.
I'm a celebrant, a congregant, and a flagrant creative.
I have a semi-empty nest, a pet husband, and five adorable grand-wildlings.
And I over-use the hyphen.
While I am equally drawn to words and art, words are my defining first love, and a big part of my art form. I'm here to encourage you with paint, prose, and poetry. I'm here to unleash an army of women whose metric is grace.
One of my passions is the middle age woman. This beautiful season of life is under-celebrated and under-valued. Middle aged women do not get enough support, by and large. I aim to change that, when and where I can. I believe that, just like Abraham and Joshua of scripture, “everywhere the soles of your feet tread shall be yours…the Lord will extend your boundaries…”.
Middle age is a vast and gracious land, a land where many of us now find ourselves walking, a land where the potential fruit is enormous if you are willing to slay some giants. I’m busy doing just that, in my personal life, in my art, and in my writing and speaking ministry. I want to help you extend your boundaries, and to inherit what’s yours, in every season.
After all, if I encourage the women, I encourage the world.
So sit down, relax, and please overlook my hair (it is its own light source, my apologies.). Let's talk about the things that really matter, and laugh about the things that really don't.
There was a time when I thought I was above any kind of crisis...much less a "mid-life crisis".
I hadn't yet learned that a mid-life crisis has nothing to do with how old I am. It has everything to do with how I handle dropping my plates.
A mid-life crisis has far less (almost nothing) to do with age, and far more to do with the fact that so very many, many people are aptly able to keep a whole lot of plates spinning for a whole lot of years...
...but no human being can keep that up indefinitely. We just so happen to be about 50 or so when the breakage begins, because plates have an average life-spin-span of about 25-30 adult years. Then a plate falls. And it is a cherished and heirloom plate that ends up crashing, always. And then the other plates just tend to start falling by themselves when...
...you straight-up fail...
...a child fails...
...a child succeeds...then leaves...
...you get "that" diagnosis...
...a parent dies...
...a dream dies...
...a husband is unfaithful...
...there is an ongoing health issue...
...we discover we no longer love being plate spinners.
The true-truth is that this sort of mess and calamity is no respecter of age or gender or socio-economic status. I know an eighteen year old who is dealing with crippling regret. Is this person having a teenage crisis? I know a seventy-something person who is wildly unhappy. Are they having a geriatric crisis?
Of course not. "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards", it says in the book of Job.
And so my plates started hitting the concrete almost the day I turned 40. Seriously, I turned 40, and the next day I had to buy readers, the next day my back went out, ushering in a years-long stint of chronic pain, and the day after that all hell broke loose.
I found myself wanting to fall asleep and never...as in, never-ever...wake up. I didn't think of ways I could end my life. I just didn't want to wake up to my life. I was camped out at what professionals will tell you is the lesser manifestation of suicidal depression. I didn't feel this way for days...or weeks...or even months. The months turned into a year, and then it all kept going. Longer. Longer still.
To make a long litany short, I found myself in a place I had never been. A place where I cried daily and violently. A place where I didn't want to wake up, which really means I didn't want to live.
I would run a hot bath and crawl into my tub in the wee hours of the morning to weep and pray and hope that my legs would stop wanting to kick and squirm.
I lived every.single.day. with a burning sensation in the pit of my stomach, with no appetite. I also had inexplicable urges to rock back and forth sometimes (I suppressed them) and developed a weird sensitivity to handling certain fabric - folding my laundry was a misery.
Then...in the middle of all that...my two identical twin daughters married in the space of one year (such joy...and stress!), but then my sons turned into quasi-prodigals. I call them "quasi-prodigals" because my sons would never deny the faith, but they weren't - and aren't - living for Christ at all.
Life. Became. Very. Hard.
I was riding the Transition Train with no one to tell me that it would all eventually be okay. And you know what? There is more. But I will stop right there. Because it bothers me to this very day to talk about that dark season. I would be a fool not to hate it like I would hate any other destroyer. May even the memories rest in peace. It was at that point, and from that place, that I picked up a paintbrush for the very first time.
To say I am a "late bloomer", is the understatement of all understatements. God had begun opening my eyes to the truths of grace, in scripture. I began to see the "finished work of Christ" as being truly finished. I took up art as a means of processing everything I was coming to understand in a fresh, new way. Lo' and behold, my art began selling, and has sold ever since.
Suffice it to say, I have overcome overwhelming odds to be sitting here right now, this minute - not to mention laughing and mentoring and grandmothering and speaking and writing and making art and running a creative small business.
So who the heck cares if I say a replacement word occasionally, or that I like country music on days, or that I don't recycle like I should, or check my food for GMO's, or that my hashtag should be #givemeallthegluten or that I eat junk food on Tuesdays? For heaven's sake, I am here and I am blessed and I know I am fully loved!
You pick your battles, honey, and let me pick mine. I might go back to rabid self improvement later in life, or I may never (because that just about did me in, and that's no figure of speech). But for now, I am a full-on Sola Gracia Girl.
By. Grace. Alone.
I'm just happy to be here.
And happy to wake up, every single day.
It was nothing short of a radical message of grace that could crush my bondage.
Me. Who never thought I would ever know what slavery felt like.