The Torn Edge ministry heals through art…

Torn Edge ministry heals through art
The Kansas City Star

Michelle Gressel of Gardner creates artwork that represents emotional and spiritual healing, caling her business/ministry The Torn Edge.

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Life, like one of Michelle Gressel’s canvases, starts off blank.

Then stuff happens.

Gressel can’t remember where she got the notion to tear off pieces of paper, scribble on words and then glue the scraps to the canvas as a work of art, therapy and spirituality. God’s idea, she says.

“We all have torn edges that represent the pieces of our lives that we’re not proud of,” the Gardner resident says. “But when we give them to God, he makes them beautiful and purposeful.”

Her own life canvas has not always been smooth. Always a perfectionist, for her nothing was ever quite right. She concedes she had low self-esteem.

The Bible says to love your neighbor as you love yourself. But to Gressel it seemed she had already “given so many pieces of my heart out that I didn’t have any pieces left for myself.”

Among her challenges was an eating disorder. In college, she wanted to end her life. Later there was a divorce.

Not an artist by trade, Gressel works as director of sales for a major chain hotel. She also has served on boards and as a volunteer for many community organizations.

In college she majored in recreational therapy and sees how that background has helped in her business/ministry, the Torn Edge.

Almost two years ago, the husband of a friend who was facing her 40th birthday wanted to do something special for his spouse.

The idea came. Gressel asked him for the words that described his wife. Then she scattered the words on a canvas and decorated the work.

It felt right. So next she did three large pieces, using the themes of grace, love, and compassion and passion.

“This was my therapy,” she says.

A friend with a downtown gallery suggested placing the three pieces there on a First Friday. Gressel says she priced them high because she really didn’t want to lose them to a buyer.

“They were part of me, and I’ll probably never sell them,” she says. Since then she has produced many smaller pieces that she does sell.

A large work may take a dozen hours to complete, mainly between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., Gressel says. She likes the quiet of the night.

“When I start, I have no idea how it will turn out. I rely on God to work through me.

“And I learned that it didn’t have to be my perfection. It’s God’s perfection.”

She started getting invitations to speak at churches.

“This is when I wondered why God would raise me to leadership in my community and then challenge me to become transparent and vulnerable when I wasn’t even remotely ready.”

She has spoken twice at LifeBridge United Methodist Church in western Shawnee during Sunday services. At the close of her first presentation, she invited members to write words or phrases on paper scraps and place them in a basket.

Put down what is holding you back, she told them. Or what you need. Or what you have to give back to God.

The Rev. Mitch Reece saw it all as very positive, especially Gressel’s second visit, when she brought the completed work of art.

“When they saw that come back on a collage, many could find peace in something very beautiful. People were looking for their words,” he says

It was much more than just putting some words on paper, he says. It helped people face their situation and move on.

“You are giving all of this to God and letting God do a work in each individual’s life,” Reece says. “To me this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He came to the broken and hurting, offering hope, healing and new life.”

Last month Gressel spoke to perhaps two dozen women at the Johnson County Community Corrections facility in New Century.

Some came in indifferent or skeptical, says Valerie Meade, a facility official whose job is to reduce repeat offenders.

Gressel shared her story and brought a lot of her artwork.

“Her message gave hope and inspiration,” Meade says. “The main point was that you can be whatever you choose to be.”

Gressel asked the women to write down the things in their lives they couldn’t let go of.

“It seems the clients got from the whole message that they can overcome obstacles and shouldn’t give up,” Meade says. “It was a magical experience.”

Many actively engaged in the presentation and conversation and seemed transformed by the time they left, she says.

“One client, who has had a lot of trouble and comes across as hard and street-wise, was crying and said how wonderful it was to hear that change is possible.”

Gressel’s husband, Brian, regards his role in his wife’s ministry as “labor and support staff,” lugging some of the large pieces to her presentation sites. The couple have three children, two from Michelle’s previous marriage.

He sees how her ministry has helped many and herself as well.

“She is more comfortable and confident in herself and more at peace,” he says.

That sentiment is echoed by one of Michelle’s friends, Lisa Allen, who wrote about her for the Johnson County Lifestyle magazine in May.

Gressel is blossoming and courageous to share the “ugly” parts of her life with her head held high, but with humility and selflessness, Allen says.

“But she’s still the same Michelle in that she’s still sassy and a firecracker,” she says. “She is just alive.

“There is no judgment with Michelle, but she will tell you what she thinks. She’s the girlfriend everybody needs. Like, ‘Girl, I love those shoes, but you really need to change that necklace.’

“She is honest but encouraging at the same time.

“And she believes that by talking about herself and sharing her art, other people can learn and grow.”

To reach Helen Gray, call 816-234-4446 or email

Posted on Fri, Aug. 10, 2012 04:00 PM

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