We may begin life with a dream of how we want it to look, only to face trouble, strife, and many obstacles that seem to block our way. Sometimes it seems the harder we try, the more of a mess we make. We keep trying – pressing forward even though we can’t see our way clear. Has anyone had this experience? You get to a point in your life where you are worn out and you start to question everything you’ve ever done – wondering what it’s all about?
The creation of this painting is a reflection of that struggle. It began with such promise and enthusiasm but the vision was obscured. Even though I couldn’t see the way ahead, I took a step in a direction, painting the first thing that popped into my head. It was turning into an ugly painting and I began to question my abilities. A fog descended and I wanted to quit. I just couldn’t see an image! As if projecting the way I was feeling, I painted over it with white and left it alone. Every time I went back to have another go it looked worse. I was tempted to blot out the whole thing with white paint but chose instead to go lightly over it. Then suddenly as if a light had been turned on, hope returned. I added rays of light and brought the garden forward. And now, what I see is a garden illuminated by light which appears to be dancing and praising God!
What I realised through the process of this painting is that as we go through life, our way can only be made clear when God shines a light on it. As we commit our life into his care, and rely on Him to light the way, we find meaning and purpose. This is cause for great joy because it’s at this point that striving dissolves into complete trust that God has a path set before us and He knows the way. He is our guiding Light!
In thinking about what to select from the 30 day art challenge to share with you, I decided on day 21 in which we were to create a piece of art in response to our favourite worship song, hymn or psalm. My new favourite song is “Way Maker” and the chorus goes like this: Way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, Light in the darkness. My God, that is who you are.
This song has come to mean a lot to me lately, and as I look at this picture, I see Moses with the crowd of Israelites – terrified and trapped, with the Egyptian army pursuing them from behind, and the impassible Red Sea in front. This is where the Israelites accused Moses of making a huge mistake. They complained to him saying, “Wasn’t there enough room in Egypt to bury us? Is that why you brought us out here to die in the desert? Why did you bring us out of Egypt anyway? While we were there, didn’t we tell you to leave us alone? We’d rather be slaves in Egypt than die in this desert!” (Exodus 14:11-12)
They didn’t understand why this was happening to them and so turned on the man who had given up everything to follow the call of God to rescue them. Yet God heard their cries and listened to Moses pleading, and told Moses to get moving – towards the Red Sea. At this stage the people probably thought it better to drown than to be killed by an Egyptian sword, so they pressed forward. While the Israelites were standing at the edge of the water terrified and confused with the hours dragging on, Moses was standing at the front line holding onto God’s promises with everything he had! The situation was critical and circumstances were working against them, but God was working under the surface, creating a miracle, making a way to bring them safely through.
I know the feeling of being trapped by circumstances where there seemed to be no way out. Times where situations continually came against any attempts to move forward. If it wasn’t for the promises God has given me, I would have given up trying. Yet it’s often when I’m ready to give up that God shows the way forward and opens up a path before me. I’m sure most of you can relate this story to your own life at times. He has a plan for our lives – a path for us to take – and He will always make a way for us when we put our faith and trust in Him.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the LORD. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)
Day 1 of the 30 day art challenge was to create an art piece expressing God’s love for me.
I decided at the very beginning of this art challenge that if I was to achieve a piece every day for a month, I needed to keep the pieces small and simple. The idea of it for me wasn’t to create a masterpiece, but to gain something out of the challenge. For this one, I knew I had to do pink flowers. It wasn’t until I finished the painting that I realised it was expressing a scripture that was revealed to me at the beginning of the year. I didn’t feel particularly inspired by the Holy Spirit as I was creating this piece, so I was amazed at the fact that God was clearly speaking through it. The scripture is from Song of Songs 2:1-2 (Young woman) “I am the spring crocus blooming on the Sharon Plain, the lily of the valley.” (Young man) “Like a lily among thistles is my darling among young women.”
You might think that’s a bit of a weird scripture to relate God’s love for me, but that’s what I was given, and there’s a story behind it.
Last year was an extremely difficult year as I found myself without any secure housing. I had been living with other people since I left my job and rental home three years prior. Then suddenly I found myself with nowhere to live. I tried for many months to find a room to rent, but there were none available that I could afford. I put my name down for public and community housing. Eventually I was able to board with a family, then near the end of the year a community house became available. So I moved into my new house with only bedroom furniture, then people began giving me things. Provision came from all over the place, and soon my home was filled with everything I needed.
My new decor became pink and cream. The curtains, towels, sheets are all various shades of pink! My dinner set, sheets, table runners, cushions, lounge suite, pictures, coasters, place mats, and even the shower curtain, have various types of pink flowers on them. There was so much of it given to me that you could not call it coincidence! As I looked around, I was amazed at these things that now occupied my home. I couldn’t help but know that God was trying to tell me something. He was expressing to me how much he deeply loves and cares for me!
Recently I participated in a 30 day art challenge in which each day we were given something we had to achieve that day. Before this, I was completely ‘stuck’ and had lost all motivation to create anything. I had become depressed because of pain and the pressures of life. It was preventing me from doing anything creative. But this challenge broke the daily grind, brought joy, a new focus, and made me realise what’s important in life.
So I’m writing this blog for you Dad, because you have been an amazing artist for most of your life. You were a carpenter by trade, working with your hands to provide for a fast growing family. Your early married years were challenging, and there were many dramas, but you got through with humour, enthusiasm, and passion. Your creativity was so strong, it was expressed in whatever was available at the time.
You sang us songs, recited radio plays and told jokes. You taught yourself how to play the guitar. You took many family photos, even developing your own photos at one time. When I was four and you were sick in hospital, I sat on your bed playing, as you sketched my portrait in pencil. You built a cubbyhouse for us with love and care. You got hold of resources and taught us how to draw and paint.
On Christmas Eve you organised us to perform our own nativity play and we sang carols around the Christmas tree. One year you made exquisitely handcrafted horses and built a racetrack for our family Christmas present because you couldn’t afford to buy us anything. Another year you painted bikes, that had been donated to us for Christmas, and made them look brand new. Christmas night at the Day’s was a creative event, in which all the cousins would gather and sing carols while Grandpa played the mouth-organ. You organised everyone to create a piece of art to be displayed and judged (of which Grandpa won with his simple midnight painting…Huh!), and another year we had a singing competition.
As we all left home, you pursued art, developing your craft as you worked with different mediums such as pencil, crayon, charcoal, acrylics, oils, and wood burning (which you called pyro-art). You worked for hours perfecting your craft. Some were beautiful and detailed, and others were fun caricatures and cartoons. You participated in art shows, and did commission work. Even in your nursing home you created portraits for people and gave them away.
What you have achieved, and who you are, has not been wasted. I have inherited from you a drive to pursue something that has meaning. You have passed on a wonderful legacy of creativity with faith. After reflecting on your life, I’ve learnt that creativity is something that can be passed on to others, in whatever form it comes. It is something I’ve discovered that can give depth and meaning to things that are otherwise hard to express. It’s a medium that God uses to speak directly to people’s hearts. What I found from doing this art challenge is that whatever your circumstances, creativity is already planted in us from birth. And it can find it’s expression through whatever is available if we are willing to allow God to speak to us and through us. It has taught me that art can be fun, and helped me realise that even if it just puts a smile on someone’s face, it has done its job.
I am going to put up some of my art pieces from the 30 day art challenge over the coming days. But for now, I just want to honour you Dad by displaying this beautiful art piece you did with coloured pencil (sorry its behind glass).
Feeling a strong urge to paint, but no money and very little resources, I set out to find anything to create something!
Determination drove me forward, and I thought of an idea…use the backing board of an old frame. Seeing that the backing board was not in good shape, I found a piece of rubber backed curtain off-cut, then taped it to the backing board, and prepared it with Gesso Primer.
With no inspiration yet, I though I’d start by squirting some cobalt blue and titanium white at the top half, raw sienna and cadmium yellow on the bottom half, and smeared it on with my hands. I felt a little better that at least I’d made a start!
But I had trouble forming a picture in my mind, and there the painting sat with no form, seeming to reflect my mood. A cloud had gathered around me…refusing to budge. It seemed to reflect the things that were going on around me. Every day I sought God for breakthrough, but nothing was coming.
Then finally, after two weeks of frustration, a scripture burst through – as if a light had been turned on – and there it was! Isaiah 60:1-2 “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.”
For the next two weeks as the painting came to life, hope rose again within me! The Light of Christ was pushing back the oppressive darkness and then the atmosphere around me began to change. I realised that it’s only Jesus – the Light of the World – who can push back the darkness. His Light and Truth can set people free, if they chose to believe in Him!
2017 has been the most difficult yet rewarding year I have ever had. Some parts of it I do not wish to repeat, but others were amazing experiences brought on by the wonderful provision of my God.
It was one year ago that I found myself without a home to live in, and so began the journey of applying for Government and Community Housing, and moving around from place to place (by the end of 2017 I’d moved four times). I was also in the middle of studying for my Diploma in Christian Leadership, and my new situation put at risk being able to complete it. But I found a way and kept going.
An opportunity became available through Bible College to go on a Go Trip to Indonesia. I really wanted to go, but I had no money whatsoever. I decided that if God could provide the deposit needed within two weeks, then I would take it as a sign that I was meant to go. Within a few days, the deposit was secured by a generous donation, so I started a GoFundMe page and the funds began to pour in. I was also given six painting commissions, and the rest came through people in my church giving gift donations. It was an amazing miracle that I was able to go on this trip! Definitely the absolute highlight of my year, and completely life-changing.
From the time I got back from Indonesia, my life was a whirl of activity. And in the middle of the frantic busyness, I was notified by a community housing organisation that a one-bedroom attached house had become available should I wish to have a look. It was right in the city! By November, I was moving in with my few belongings and bedroom furniture. The house echoed, but it was mine – forever if I wanted.
A couple of days after I moved, I attended my graduation ceremony and obtained my Diploma. After such an incredibly difficult year, it was a proud moment. One which had to be celebrated, and my kids and mentor were there to witness my achievement.
The support I have received as I prepared to move into my new home has been mind boggling. Friends helped me move. People from church offered me furniture, crockery, saucepans, cutlery, TV, DVD player, washing machine and so much more. Another person took me grocery shopping the week before Christmas. The Salvo’s and St Vincent de Paul provided assistance as well.
I have been so incredibly blessed by the amazing support of my friends and family, that I am absolutely blown away! And I feel very much loved by my God who has a plan and purpose for my life and never ever fails me.
My house now feels like a home, and I love it! What a great way to finish the year. 2017 will be one that I will never forget, and I can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring!
It was 21 December 2013 when I left my home and started on a new venture without knowing where it would lead. But I set the time aside to write a book and see where God would lead me. I gave away most of my possessions, and everything I owned was in my small Laser Lynx car. This photo is the first night of my new life. The following is an excerpt from my journal.
“Today I packed up all my worldly goods into my car. I have left my job so I can be free to go wherever God wants me to go and most of my household goods I gave to my son and his friend. I don’t know where God is leading me, but I am so confident that this is the right time to go and this is the way he wants it.
I’m too tired to know how to feel right now. I have a few coins in my purse and not a whole lot in the bank. I’m sleeping in a tent, that my brother gave me, at Semaphore Caravan Park. The tent is comfortable and I feel a great sense of the presence of God with me. Tomorrow I start my first house-sitting job for two weeks. I believe God will provide all my needs. And I wish to not go on Centrelink benefits.”
“Anxiety wells up within me. How do I start this journey that the Lord wants me to go on? I have left my home and all my worldly possessions now fit into my small car. I am staying in a stranger’s house for two weeks. Everything is so unfamiliar. “How do I walk this road Lord?”…….
……..So here I am finally making my own decision to listen to God rather than man, and to trust the Lord with my future. It wasn’t an easy choice to leave the security of a job and the comfort of a home to walk an unknown path. I found that people felt really uncomfortable with this and again tried to control the situation. It was suggested that I wouldn’t be able to sustain this type of lifestyle for long. There was a steady supply of suggestions with regards to what I should be doing. I had to learn to ignore the advice that sounded good but wasn’t what God had asked me to do. Contrary to popular opinion I chose to go all the way with God, follow his plan, and live a life out of the ordinary.”
It was 1973 when revival came to my family. I was the oldest of nine children, and had seen my fair share of struggles. Mum and Dad had come to a crisis in their faith, and they hoped to find the answers they were looking for as they took a leap of faith into the unknown. Brought up in the Catholic tradition we certainly did not know what a Christian convention was, but we were promised that this would be a life-changing event.
The boys fought as usual for the prized front seat between Mum and Dad. And the rest of us piled into the back of our old Commer van, seated on two bench seats, and headed off for the trip to Mildura. It was a trip that we all hoped would be the catalyst for a brighter future.
When we arrived at the camp ground, the place was abuzz with anticipation of what the next four days would bring. My grandparents were there waiting for us, and I noticed that people seemed to treat each other like family. It was the first time I had ever experienced such a gathering, and I felt right at home. The night rally’s were my favourite part of the convention as we sang, clapped, danced, played various percussion instruments, and listened to the preachers animated sermons. I drank it all in, and I didn’t want it to finish.
As the camp was nearing an end, we stocked up on several buckets of grapes for the trip home. Turns out that we really needed those grapes to keep us hydrated, because the old van overheated numerous times. The only way Dad was able to keep the van going was to drive real slow. What should have been a 4 hour trip back home took us 12 hours. What I will never forget is the vision my little two year old brother praising the Lord along with us and singing the new songs we had learnt all the way home. It was certainly a trip to remember!
If I ever wondered where I got my adventurous spirit from, all I need to do is look at this photo of my Dad. A young, fit, handsome, and funny guy who loved hiking and camping. God knew he had to be because he was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. He had just married a beautiful, charming, witty and strong-willed girl, and he was going to be a Dad.
My grandparents didn’t like this young Catholic who was too idealistic, that had taken their daughter away from the Protestant faith to also become a Catholic. Her father was so upset that he didn’t even attend their wedding. But my parents were in love and looked forward to their future. They dreamed of having a large family and talked about a house with a white-picket fence. There was so much to look forward to.
They felt strongly about their faith and thought carefully about our names, selecting them from either the Bible or from one of the Saints. So our names became Julie Maree, Robyn Louis, Peter Anthony, Stephen John, Paul Gerard, Simon Christopher, Martin James, Joseph Bernard and Aaron Mathew. We went to Mass and confession every week, had family bible studies every night, and every Christmas Eve we played out the nativity scene in our lounge-room with one of our own as baby Jesus.
We had very little money and only a few toys. But Dad’s natural talent for art, photography, music and singing were our inheritance. Both my parents were always looking for purpose, searching for more, while at the same time trying to do the best with what they had. This was the best part of their lives. There’s so much more I could tell you…..but that’s for another blog.
No wonder I am strong, determined and creative. My mother showed me faith and tenacity. I always give something a go, and if that doesn’t work I’ll try something else. But at times this meant that I jumped ahead too quick and made some pretty major mistakes. Yet these have taught me to rely on God’s wisdom, and seek His council before forging ahead.
What I love about my Dad is his great sense of humour, which he still maintains even though he has gone through some serious health issues. He has shown strength through suffering. And he still loves to study the Bible.
Much of the journey of writing my book were met with difficulties. I spent a lot of time in someone else’s home looking after pets. Some places were dark and cold or too hot. Other times I had no access to a computer. I had some periods when after writing a couple of chapters I had to take time off to process what I’d just written and allow healing to come.
One house I stayed had no computer or internet access. So I borrowed a friends old Toshiba XP laptop with the ‘m’ button missing. Because the computer was so old it was slow to work with, and every time I took a break, the thing would go to sleep and fail to load up again. Or it would freeze causing me to force a shut down and start it up again and then it would take a long time to get going.
Some of the paintings I created for the book were met with trials as well, often working in cold rooms with poor lighting. The other problem I had was that I was well overdue for new glasses and my eyesight was failing. But what could I do? Funding was not available at this time to sort that problem out. And because of the lack of money, some of my paintings were produced in frustration taking much longer than it should have because of the inferior paper I was using.
Because I was house-sitting through the whole process, I could only write or paint according to the conditions…or the animals I had to take care of. If they were cats that were allowed to walk on the benches and tables then I had to forget painting altogether. If the animals demanded a lot of attention there was no point writing either. Some places just didn’t allow for that kind of activity.
I am so thankful for my close friends who kept encouraging and urging me to push through. As well as being driven by a God-given steely determination and compulsion to get my story out.