Blessed. Imperfect. Authentic. Grateful.
Steal a few moments with Michelle Gressel and you’ll hear those words; you’ll also witness an ebullient spirit, a heart for community and an infectious laugh that instantly makes you feel as if you’re privy to a sensational inside joke.
Known in Olathe as a former Olathe Chamber of Commerce Board Member as well as an Ambassador and the emcee of hundreds of Chamber coffees, chair of countless community events, volunteer for numerous organizations and Leadership Olathe graduate, Gressel spends her days not unlike a typical Johnson County working mother of three. She shuttles children to wrestling, T-ball and dance class while juggling a high octane position as director of sales at Residence Inn Olathe and marriage to a law enforcement officer.
It’s what happens in the wee small hours of the morning, though, that fuels Gressel’s passion driven business called The Torn Edge. It started as she stared down the prospect of turning 40; grateful to be sharing the milestone with a friend, Gressel was enlisted by that friend’s husband to create a piece of art to gift his wife on her big day.
It began with her suggestion to write down words that described his wife, but then Gressel began tearing. She ripped beautifully patterned papers into random shapes, leaving the edges raw and ignoring their mismatched form. Eventually, she put it all back together into a work of art that celebrated the unique beauty of her friend.
That paved the way to a second piece called “Love,” which still hangs in her bedroom. Every piece since then has featured words that matters to Gressel; ‘compassion and passion’ was next, with ‘grace’ right after that. At that time, she entertained a fleeting thought that she might be able to sell a few of her creations in local boutiques.
“I had no idea what God was starting to put on my plate, and what was starting to unfold in my own life. God is perfect with this plan,” she says, sharing how a business connection led to her first art showing at First Friday. Frustrated with the process of trying to create the perfect pieces for her debut, Gressel recounts how her mother-in-law saw through the “not pretty mess” of jumbled intentions on her dining room table to the true core of what Gressel’s art is about: learning to love, and forgive, herself as much as she does others.
“I don’t know that I like the word broken,” she says, “but I am. I am far from perfect and have battled the same demons so many others struggle with.” Gressel’s art has led her to local churches, where she shares those demons with congregants. Through tears and quivering voice, she speaks candidly of her lagging self-esteem, an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts and other challenges that left her broken but not beaten.
It is her art, she says, that has allowed her to embrace herself again and to share her story with those who hold fast to their own secrets and the inherent shame that always follows. Through the art she stands transparently before everyone, welcoming them in and providing a safe place in which to release their own burdens.
At every church, she encourages those listening to join her in writing a word or sentiment on a torn piece of paper that she takes home and turns into a unique piece of art. She then returns that canvas to the church, a constant reminder of God’s grace and our ability to love again. “This art has become a ministry for me,” she says. “The art allowed me the outlet to be still at night, to tear up these pieces of paper, and to know that He is God. He spoke to me in the deepest, darkest hours of my night. I am so thankful for paper, for glue and for the blank canvas that allows me to make something beautiful again out of the torn and ragged edges of my life.”
Even though she intentionally priced her initial pieces so high that they wouldn’t sell, Gressel has since designed products for Naomi’s Hallmark in Shawnee and is also in preliminary talks with a major gift manufacturing company. She is downright giddy at the possibility that she sees ahead.
“There is so much in store,” she says, sharing that a book about the torn edges of our lives as well as a unique product line, more videos and inspired music are all ‘simmering in her crock-pot’.