Laura Husmann, Designer
Lesson 1: Life is what it is, however you want to interpret it: a road, a journey, a story, a mystery.
“Life’s like a road that you travel on, when there’s one day here and the next day gone. Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand, sometimes you turn your back to the wind.” –Tom Cochrane, “Life is a Highway”
Let me preface this story, and I call it a story because it captures dimensions of tragedy and hope and redemption (as a good fairytale does), with a vignette Laura told me about her art school experience years ago. The teacher gave everyone five minutes to draw a sunset. They each focused on their papers, mustering all of their artistic abilities to create something beautiful. After the time was up, the teacher told all the pupils who had drawn a palm tree to move to the side of the room. This was a large chunk of the group. Then the teacher had everyone who had included a beach in their sunset scene join the first group. Again—a number of people left. After them, everyone who had drawn a mountain was removed. The exercise went on until only a very few students remained. This was the point.
The teacher wanted to emphasize that all of us usually have the same first ideas when given a topic, but that she desired for her students to push past those initial ideas in order to get to the truly unique and special discoveries that were lurking beyond, waiting to be chiseled out and breathed into life. I don’t know how to explain this eloquently, but somehow Laura’s life is like one of those ideas way, way, way back in the farthest caverns of your subconscious brain. Her story, her life, is one where the path was not anticipated, nor is it what would first come to mind if you were going to write about a wonderful life, but it is singularly rare because of that. Since we would not want to forget Batman in this discussion, Laura’s life is like that purple flower Bruce Wayne goes searching all over the foggy, green, temple-pocked mountains of China for.
Do you ever wonder what happens when you leave the path your life was supposed to take? When you don’t do what God hoped you would do? I still blame myself for making some dumb decisions in my life and getting sidetracked from what I imagine to have been “God’s original plan”. Nothing huge so far, but choices I should have thought through more carefully or thought about at all. For example, why did I go to college in this freezing, steel city when I could have been somewhere where I could have learned to surf, like San Diego? Why didn’t I take a year off before college in the first place? But the truth is that there wasn’t an ‘original plan.’ There is only your life, no other. There weren’t millions of possibilities for you to choose from or alternate universes where you made the other choices, as I like to imagine. You chose or followed the path, however you philosophically want to explain it, and that’s your life—by the time it has happened, it is time to accept it, make the best of what is behind you and what tools you have been given, and step into what lays ahead…
I imagine that Laura has had more reason to feel this way than many people. In her early twenties, she moved to Chicago straight from small-town Iowa, as a newlywed, to work in the best graphic design firm in the city. She had had a fortuitous meeting with the boss months earlier, before she had even completed her art degree. A friend had a job with the company and she had convinced Laura to bring her portfolio in for fun. That same day, Carlos, the award-winning designer and owner of the company, told Laura she had a job as soon as she was finished with school. Laura did not know of any other classmates who had jobs, or even job possibilities, and she had one waiting for her—in the far-off big city of Chicago.
And again, this job was not just any job. Laura began to realize that people would come from all over the world to work for free for 50-hours-a-week or more for this place, just for the experience. Laura explains that she learned more at the firm than she had in art school, from international, awe-inspiring designers. She learned how to push the envelope and not to be afraid. She learned how to approach problems from different dimensions than ever before. The chance opened up worlds and gave her unprecedented opportunities to learn from her peers. She describes it as “the best place I could be to learn to not be part of the machine.”
However, her colleagues at the design firm were not exactly cut from the same religious, spiritual, or cultural fabric as her. Laura explained that at the time it felt like “the most oppressive spiritual climate I have ever been in.” When her coworkers learned she was a Christian, some were amused and tried to offend the “girl from Iowa.” On one of her first days, for example, she found a magazine with people being crucified upside down on the cover, waiting for her on her desk. The pictures ended up being from a feature on the Burning Man Festival, but they were not the sort of thing Laura had seen much of before back home.
Laura often wondered in her first months why God put her there. One morning as she was coming into the building’s atrium, she thought the rapture was taking place. A voice booming, “Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light and no one gets to heaven but through him,” blasted stereophonically through the halls. At last she realized it was coming for the office of Sun (the business partner and wife of her boss). When Laura went in to see what was going on, she found Sun curiously listening to a Christian radio program. Sun confided in Laura that though her life was full of fame and money, she just wasn’t satisfied—something was missing. It was exactly the kind of situation kids fantasize about when they are learning about witnessing in Sunday school.
So Laura took the cue and asked the question that made the most sense to her, “Do you want to go to church with me?”
Sun studied her calendar for a minute, and then replied, “Yes. You just have to ask Carlos.”
So Laura walked to Carlos’s office. After she explained the situation, Carlos asked, “You go to church!? What do you do there?” He was genuinely intrigued.
Unable to think of any more tantalizing descriptions under the circumstances, Laura gave a simple reply that matched, if not confirmed, her reputation: “We sing songs.” After making fun of her for a while, Carlos agreed that his wife could accompany Laura to church. And thus began a pattern. Every Friday, Sun would make Laura ask Carlos if Sun could go to church with Laura, Carlos would make fun of Laura when she asked, and then Sun and Laura and Laura’s husband would all go to church together.
When she became pregnant a few short years later, Laura assumed it would only be natural to quit her job, in spite of the sacrifice she recognized it would be. She knew she would be giving up not just a great opportunity, but years of developmental knowledge and work that would lead to future design expertise, recognition, money, and likely, fame. On the other hand, her bosses took it for granted that of course she would stay on—that it would be impossible for anyone to give up such a break, much less a girl who had been blessed with the unusual favor to get the job in the first place.
But Laura went forward with her decision. She quit her job (at her farewell dinner, Carlos claimed she was a sister to him) and shortly thereafter moved out to the suburbs, first Forest Park and then to the edge—Maywood, past all the El stops and Oak Park public schools. It was hard leaving the excitement and buzz and creativity of her community in Chicago behind, especially since her husband continued to commute to the city and experience it every day, but in their minds, moving was the right choice. And for a number of reasons, such as their ideal of classical education, they decided she would homeschool their kids.
Lesson 2: You can’t control everything. Sometimes, you can’t control anything.
“And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.” –John Lennon, “Let it Be”
Life continued, and Laura expressed herself through her home, church, children, and friendships, until the unimaginable unfolded. Laura’s husband left her and their big house on the edge of one of the most crime-ridden parts of Chicagoland with three boys five years and younger. Laura’s courage and faith, which almost suggest naivete to the cynical among us, have already manifested themselves in her story, as she moved from the farmlands to the big city and then quit her gift of a job to venture out to the lonely suburbs as a homemaker. But her story becomes even more fascinating at this point, because again, she did not do what was expected.
Laura’s youngest son was one and a half when her husband left and he is four and a half now. When people ask her what happened, she describes it as “a few years of hell,” but as a friend of hers during that time, I would have to say that is a pretty euphemistic interpretation. I am sure this is not the forum or even season to describe her experience then, but even as an outsider, I felt betrayed, furious, devastated, and helpless. Several other marriages were ruined during that period, and in many ways, my own faith has been off-kilter since then—I still haven’t figured out how to process the fact that good people, beloved and chosen by God, can make horribly stupid and selfish choices. I guess I still don’t know how to forgive when it really matters. And I only share my own perspective to shed light on what this must have been like for Laura and to emphasize how much God has redeemed something so wrong and unjust.
So after the fallout, Laura decided to finally send her oldest to school and then the others, but they are still living in the same beautiful house in Maywood. And her boys are doing fine. She recently had supernatural closure and forgiveness with her ex-husband, who continues to be invested in his sons’ lives, which Laura deeply appreciates. She is now “trying to figure out how to provide for a family of three sons and make space for creativity and earn money and be a good mom.”
And strangely, this is where Laura’s most recent artistic journey began. What had been put on hold indefinitely with the beginning of her family was renewed for her at a more explosive level than ever before. In her words, “God loves to throw you in the deep end.”
After her husband left, Laura went back to visit Carlos and Sun at her old design firm. She has developed a very close bond with them over the years and feels indebted to them for all they have given her. She told them both the whole story of what had happened to her marriage. Laura describes Carlos’s response: “Hearing you say everything you’ve said and stand there with the same smile makes me think there actually could be a God.”
Lesson 3: You really never know what is about to happen or what is around the next corner. Ever.
I fell in love again, all things go, all things go. Drove to Chicago, all things know, all things know. We sold our clothes to the state, I don’t mind, I don’t mind. I made a lot of mistakes in my mind, in my mind. You came to take us. All things go, all things go, to recreate us. –Sufjan Stevens, “Chicago”
Laura’s style, which she expresses in web design, print, logos, recently paintings, photography, and design/illustrations for a friend’s book (featured above),and most recently writing her own book, is hard to describe. It is extravagant, but crisp. It is colorful, but simple. It is words and pictures, lines and organic contours. It captures your imagination, while it engages your attention and focus. She says “communication is what I am passionate about,” but her methods of communicating are not only verbal. She captures your memory, emotions, and subconscious with her collaborations of word, shape, color, pattern and figure.
Laura continues to do freelance design work but she recently had the unusual opportunity to design website ad banners for companies. The work is both artistic and strategic—she chooses the right visuals for the right audiences (one particularly successful ad she created had Carl Sagan’s face on it) and then tweaks them to increase web traffic using strategic analysis. Though the marketing-type work is not her ideal style or field (“I did not go looking for banner ads”), she enjoys it and believes that “for the place I’m in my life where I am raising three kids and trying to be with my kids and work, it’s a blessing.” And, she explained, “This allows me to write my book.”
Laura’s book is part visual, part personal experience, and part teaching, and she believes God gave it to her: “It was like a download.” She let me read one of the first introductory pages. When I begged to see more, she said I was lucky to have looked at what I had since she hadn’t shown it to anyone else. She explained, “God doesn’t want other people’s opinions.” Again, the level of faith with which Laura talks about God is borderline bizarre, particularly after the snaggle-toothed path her life has taken. She talks about him like he is in the next room. “I feel God and I are making a way creatively, financially… I’m trying to be where I am but with anticipation for what’s to come. I won’t ever again have three small people who need me.”
One final detail. Perhaps I am the only one fascinated by gold teeth, but I had to ask Laura about hers. Yes, she has one, or at least newly-appeared gold filigree through an old filling, and she doesn’t act like it is that unusual. This is how she explains it. “I feel like God is so unexpected. He is so unpredictable. I appreciate that instead of analyzing it. It’s like the crazy things about my kids. I don’t understand why they are the way they are, but I love them.” She went on to give another angle. “I’m a recovering Pharisee. I was a religious person, comfortable when all things were under control, specifically my control. I’m now much more comfortable in freedom than in control. I have thoughts about [the mysterious gold] but I’m in a season of not trying to explain God but just enjoy him.”
I can’t stop asking gold teeth questions, so I pushed her a little more to explain why she thinks God gives them to people at all. What’s the deal? “It seems to happen where there’s a filling. There was something wrong, and that something was fixed at some point. But then he took something that was okay and goes beyond that and makes it amazing. He doesn’t just patch up the thing that’s broken, but he does something astonishing.” Again, we’re back to where we started. This sounds like it could be an analogy for what God seems to be doing with Laura’s life.