People think the Johnsons are crazy for following their dreams — for Adam, colored-pencil drawings and music composition, for Laura, writing a novel.
To take this path, Adam Johnson had to resign from a steady paycheck as a USD 408 music teacher.
“A lot of people don’t understand why we didn’t make the choice they would make,” Adam said.
But, there is also a sect of people who envy the Johnsons — people who wish they could follow their dreams but feel trapped in their current situation, slave to a job they hate with a family depending on them for food.
The Johnsons’ reaction to this second response is to tell people that it is never too late to pursue their dreams. Actually, they feel it would be in defiance of God’s will for them to not explore their talents.
“We’re taking a calculated risk knowing God gave us a talent,” Adam said.
The Johnsons agree that they received a wake-up call from God, a catalyst to make a life-altering decision, in the form of a job proposal, an e-mail from Bangkok. It informed Adam of a job offer, an open teaching position at an international school in the capitol of Thailand.
Adam pondered the option extensively. The teaching position would have changed the young couple’s lives drastically, Adam said, for the better.
“I felt like it could have gone either way,” Adam said. “Teaching there was more of a lifestyle.”
However, Adam also knew he would be uprooting the family for the second time. This time, Laura was working for Great Plains computers as a bookkeeper. Adam said it is the first job Laura has enjoyed in five years of marriage.
With one seemingly unthinkable career option on the table, Laura proposed they think about staying in Marion. He could resign as band director to pursue drawing and composition full-time. She would continue to work and serve as the primary earner for the family.
“If we’re crazy enough to think about moving halfway around the world,” Laura said, “why can’t we pursue composition and art? That’s a crazy idea, too.”
Adam decided to turn down the job offer from Thailand. He wanted to see if he has the talent to earn money for his art and music.
“It’s an amazing thing for me that Laura is willing to be the breadwinner, and that is rare,” Adam said. “I’m on the hot spot.”
In response to one of the consistent questions Adam has fielded from people in Marion, he said works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day on his art. Laura has set up a schedule at Adam’s request to keep him focused.
“People are getting the impression that I’m going to be sitting around drawing smiley faces,” Adam said. “It’s building up ability.”
Adam’s ambition for his drawings is simple — he wants to expand the foundation he has created over the past two years with his drawings. He has sold some drawings at art festivals like Art in the Park.
This means gaining commissions from patrons. He has successfully obtained one commission for a large piece.
Local horse breeders, a couple, want Adam to draw five of their horses in a horizontal panoramic that will hang over their couch in their living room. The size of the project will be a unique challenge for Adam.
“I think it’s one part skill, being able to represent an image correctly, without flaw,” Adam said. “I rely on God’s touch on what I do. Some memory is awoken.”
Adam is also looking to gain commissions for portraits.
“I need to do people,” Adam said. “There’s always something about the face that makes it hard to recreate.”
Adam’s vision for his music composition is less grounded and thus a question mark in his mind.
“For my composition, I don’t know what to expect,” Adam said. “I might spend six months, and I might have to go find a job.”
Adam is starting his composition career practically. He is composing a choral piece for the Marion High School choir, under the guidance of choir director David Clarke.
Adam is also planning to write music for hymns, using solos, and instrumental accompaniment to update the songs for younger churchgoers.
Composing is a different process for Adam. He does not have the safety net of a photograph; his inspiration comes from his mind.
“I have a symphony in here,” Adam said pointing to his head. “I lack the focus to bring that to fruition.”
Because he questions his composition ability, Adam has enlisted some assistance. He will be working with seasoned pianist and composer Jackson Berkey who is one half of the Manheim Steamroller partnership that has created 30 albums. Berkey lives in Omaha, Neb. They will communicate over the Internet sending music in e-mails.
While Adam spends his days working to expand his talents, Laura chases her dream after work. She is developing her writing with her blog “Specializing in the Impossible” and perfecting scenes for her novel.
Once he has completed his “work day,” Adam takes the time to cook, clean, do dishes, and complete other household tasks so Laura can write.
“I love seeing her write,” Adam said. “Every page she’s written it makes me excited to read the next one.”
Laura took multiple classes through the Christian Writers Guild. Recently she has teamed with Shelley Plett of Hillsboro. They work together as writing partners as they both attempt to write novels individually.
“You always hear everyone wants to write a book,” Laura said. “I have my doubts I’ll be able to complete it.”
So far, the two authors have shared scenes and bounced ideas off each other on how to make those scenes more realistic or powerful.
“’You really creeped me out with that one,’” Laura said was one of Plett’s responses to a particular scene.
Laura has the plot of the novel outlined and has crafted several scenes. Her goal is to create a character-driven Christian novel.
At some point, Laura will conduct research for the book, hopefully following an urban-area police officer.
In spite of their extraordinary lifestyle direction, the Johnsons describe themselves as practical people. A concern of many practical people, money is a frequent topic of conversation.
Adam attributed the opportunity to pursue their dreams to Laura’s financial and organizational skill. He said they rented apartments instead of investing in a home; they share a used vehicle instead o keeping two.
They said they sacrifice more now with one income — no cable and fewer trips out to eat as examples.
“At times, there’s certain parts of friends’ lives that we’re envious of,” Adam said.
But, they have only gained confidence in their decision over the past months.
When they had to leave their rental home June 1, they frantically searched Marion for a new place to live. They came up empty searching for rental options. They moved to ownership opportunities, but every home was out of their price range. That is until a foreclosure came up on North Cedar Street, a house with an upstairs area where Adam can draw and there is an office space where they can both work.
The easy house-hunting conclusion is an affirmation that they made the proper career choice; they said God provided when they were in need.
“Overall, we’re very sure about what we’re doing,” Adam said.