When I was nineteen I had my life figured out. I was perhaps slightly behind since I had not locked down a plan when I was eighteen. Still better late than never. Everything was in place: I would go off to college, eventually earn a master's degree in counseling and then move back to the beautiful state of Alaska. I would fall in love, marry a man who was in alignment with my plan and eventually have kids — preferably two. I would build a successful counseling practice, impact my community, and, in general, change the world.
I was full of confidence as I headed to college in Oregon. I put posters all over my dorm room of Alaskan mountains and wild life, determined not to go a day without seeing a glimpse of the Great Land. This strange new state sure didn't feel like home.
But then half way through my sophomore year Oregon did feel like home and my well laid plan fell to pieces.
That summer when I went back to Alaska nothing had changed about the glorious mountains or the pristine air. But I had changed on the inside and my sense of belonging to this ancient land was gone.
I panicked. Not only was Alaska no longer my home but I no longer wanted to be a professional counselor. Oh and it became clear that the guy I had been crushing on since week two of my freshman year was not going to be my future husband. I was having a mid-college crises before I had even archived the second step of my master plan.
Have you ever had God pull a course correction on you? The life trajectory you were on needed a nudge and He happily obliged? For a planner this is not fun or at least it wasn't fun the first, second and third time He has done this to me. I grieve in the process but after the fact I am grateful He cares enough to step in. Always His story turns out better than if I had been leading.
I graduated with just a bachelor's degree, and fell in love twice before the right man asked me to marry him. I've traveled to Asia and back and learned that no matter what people group I find myself in I end up adoring them. Several months ago I looked back and realize a full decade has passed since I moved to Oregon. And I am still in this incredible place. I talked to my husband as the date of my ten year anniversary approached and asked his thoughts on buying something to celebrate. No “celebrate” is not the right word. “Commemorate” is a better fit.
I want to remember that God had me stay a decade in a land I never expected to live in. I need to remember how much I don't know the plan He has and that He wants to bless me with the unexpected. The people I have met down here are amazing, and if I had not stayed I probably would not be married to my wonderful husband. The opportunities for adventure and impact over the past decade have fed the desire of my heart that was initially kindled when I was nineteen.
And so I went out and bought a necklace. A compass pendant. It's a reminder of a decade well spent and that sometimes God changes the sails of your ship. I have come to trust that He knows what He is doing.
What's something in your life that you are grateful for and want to remember?
I was in a season of waiting. Waiting for several large life transitions. Waiting. Waiting. It lasted for months. I’m not very fond of waiting.
Every time I tried to check in with God I would get the strangest sensation inside my soul. It felt like a cold clear night, where you can see the starts and your breath. Like the deep breath before something new. My painting "New Beginnings" was inspired by this sensation. I knew that on the other side of the waiting something amazing was going to happen. Like a star being born.
But I didn’t know when the new beginning would start or when I would paint the picture.
It wasn’t until May 2019, five months after I started seeing the picture that I felt like it was time. I was at the Amazing Grace Women’s Conference painting on stage for over 120 wonderful women. The theme of the event was “reaching” and I could not help but think of reaching into the void of waiting. It’s best to be reaching for God before your star is born.
After I decided on this picture I found out that the theme verse was “For great is your love, reaching to the heavens: your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” Psalm 57:10 (NIV). That made me smile as I started painting this scene in the heavens.
I wanted to finish the painting at the conference but that didn’t happen. In fact, the fiery particles surrounding the new star took two months to finish. Aaron and I had several conversations about my pieces and almost every time he said something along the lines of “the colors are lovely but the painting didn’t look like it’s in space. Light in space doesn’t act that way.” As I continued to work the paint and craft the piece my season of waiting for life circumstance also persisted.
Then two amazing things happened. First, I was able to follow my husband’s artistic advance and finished the painting. Second, I had a revelation about new beginnings that redirected my focus and brought peace to my soul.
As I began to write about this painting I got stuck. I was focused so much on the star and the anticipation of the breakthrough that God had to gently nudge my spirit. I believe He said, “New beginnings are never the beginning of the story.”
This caused a long pause in my spirit before I was able to absorb what He was saying. At first I didn't want to look beyond the relief of breakthrough. But the more I pondered the more I started to grasp His point.
Here is what I wrote in my journal 7/21/19.
“New beginnings look like “and Suddenly” from the outside and can often be marked by a moment, an event or a shift. But a new beginning never just happens. There is always a story proceeding it; preparation, thoughts and choices (good or bad). I myself have often prayed for God to break into my circumstances with a drastic change. Most of the time it’s because I wanted deliverance from something without having to do anything. I wanted a change now, with only a prayer as my partnering act with God. But new beginnings are best when you embrace and value the journey leading up to it. The “and suddenly” of God is amazing but it’s a very small part of the story and the relational journey.
There is a process, a story and even a death before the big bang of a new beginning. As we partner with God’s timing we don’t have to be impatient and passive. We can pray and ask God how we can participate in the process leading up to our breakthrough.”
After these reflections here are some questions I have started asking myself and God in the middle of my waiting. Perhaps they can help you as well.
Am I willing to participate in the process before my new beginning?
What can I do while I am waiting that still connects with my new beginning?
What are other examples in my life where there was a new beginning and what was the story of the process leading up to it?
My challenge to myself and to you is to embrace the process before our awaited new beginning and to allow joy to filter through each step of the journey.
"New Beginnings", 24"x30", Acrylic, July 2019
Do you know people who make New Year resolutions? Maybe you are one. More power to you, but I have a slightly different tradition. Instead of picking one or more things I wish to change after December 31st I ask for a word. That's right. A word that will go on to define the new year.
Several years ago I was telling a friend about this practice and she was slightly perplexed. She was used to reflecting back on a year in December and then coming up with a word that marked that season of her life. I asked her if she and ever asked for the word ahead of time. She hadn't, but now she also has adapted this practice because it can be life changing.
You see I believe God still speaks today. I believe He knows what's around the bend in the coming year and that He has provision for anything and everything that we will come up again: the good, the bad and the ugly. For me, the word I hear in my heart before the strike of midnight is encouragement that lasts a long time. It's also a mystery I get to ponder, a treasure I get to guard and a conversation point between God and me all year.
I have a decade of these words under my belt and they have predicted several pivotal moments in my life.
In 2010 I asked for the first time just before midnight. The word I heard quietly inside was "Hope". Less than a month later I was introduced to a church that became my family for the next seven years and was a catalyst for my spiritual growth. That same night I also met my future husband, though we did not start dating until several years later.
In 2012 my word was "Love". I started a romantic relationship and then watched it implode all within that year. It was a painful lesson to learn that sometimes love means letting someone walk away from you. My brother also moved from Alaska to attend the same college as me and our sibling love grew to a whole new level.
In 2013 my word was "Listen". I don't know how well I walked this one out. I started dating Aaron that year and communication was one of our biggest challenges. I had to learn to listen to someone whom I loved but sometimes didn't understand. I also was fresh out of college and eagerly listening to what God wanted me to do with my life. This meant a lot of time praying and being attentive to opportunities He was bringing into my life.
In 2015 my word was "Fulfillment". At the beginning of 2015 I was dating Aaron and wanted to get married, but it seemed like a far off dream. January was tough; between not knowing when my dad would give his blessing and the communication problems Aaron and I were still walking through. Halfway through the year God started bringing everything into place. In June Aaron asked me to marry him. He had a ring and the full backing of my family. By the end of November we were married and in December we moved into a beautiful apartment with a Mt. Hood view. This fulfillment year launched us into the most incredible marriage I could have ever imagined.
In 2019 my word were "New Beginnings." God radically shifted where my spare time and energy was funneling. Art became one of my top focuses, which I was not expecting at all. This website was born and many amazing live art opportunities came my way. I started asking God and myself often "what new doors can I walk through now?" This was a far cry from where I was at the beginning of the year.
So what's in store for 2020 for me and for you? I would start asking God or contemplating if you don't have a word yet. It doesn't have to be a fancy word or even a new thought. Just give your heart time to quiet down and see what the first word is that comes to mind. Then write it down some place you can see it or get a painting commission about it. You will want to see it all year to keep it as something to ponder and act on.
If you are reading this post and we are far into the new year you can jump in at any time. If you haven't already listen for your word it's not too late.
What's my 2020 word? Grace. I'm sure as my readers you will hear more about this as the journey into 2020 unfolds.
It was February 2014.
I wrinkled my face in disgust and put my paintbrush down. Slowly I sat and then lay on my back facing the painting. My gaze was locked on the fresh brushstrokes, but my thoughts were racing past the canvas and out the window to the perceived crises eating at my inner peace.
Less than a year after graduating with a BA in psychology I was not where I had expected to be in life. Although I had a loving boyfriend and great community in Portland health complications had forced me to take an extended leave of absence. For months I had been “stuck” at my parents' home in Alaska where doctors struggled to give me clear answers. At this point my health was tolerable and I had finally bought my return ticket to Oregon.
But a recent phone call threatened to shatter my return plans. The family I had been living with needed to move and they no longer had room for me and all my stuff. They would be out of the house before I even landed in Portland and my back up living arrangements had also fallen through.
Some people would not panic at the thought of landing in an airport without knowing where they were going to living but at this stage in my life that idea terrified me. I toyed with the idea of staying in Alaska longer. Deep down I didn't want to stay but fear was clouding my vision to see past my housing situation.
My focus came back to my bedroom and the canvas in front of me. So far it was a painting of a bridge only partly built. The ropes extended across the canyon but the planks where not all in place. They were coming down from heaven one at a time. There was also an alternative path to the left of the bridge, a stair that snaked down the side of the canyon. When I first saw this picture during a prayer time I knew that the seemingly safer path would not get the view to their desired destination. I would call this piece “Choices”. Would my views choose the safer route or chose to step out before all the pieces were in place?
And then it hit me. "That was my life right now!"
I started to cry. I had seen the picture of the rope bridge several weeks earlier. Before the plane ticket was bought and before my housing had fallen through. I thought it was for a friend I knew who also had an important life decision ahead of her. But no. This was one of those moments that God had a message for me in my painting that I didn’t realize until the piece was almost finished.
I felt convicted by God's timing but also comforted. He had already given me a word about my situation through my artwork. I could choose to stay in Alaska which was the safer route but it would not get me where I wanted to go. Or I could take a leap of faith with a half built bridge and trust God would put down the planks when I needed them.
Based on my knowledge of God's character and an art piece I chose not the cancel my flight.
Many years later I now have several personal examples of when God has used paintings to confirm where I am in life or where He is directing me. I have also watched other people experience the same guidance. I call this inspired art and it's normally not the kind of pictures you find at IKEA.
How do you know that an art piece is aligning with your life? It's that moment when you encounter a painting or another art form and your heart cries out "That is my life" or "I need that message in my life." It can happen during any season and it will happen more often if you look for it. Connecting with art on a spiritual level is something I pray all of you get to experience many times in life.
How did my leap of faith end?
Two days after I realized the connection with the bridge and I made the decision to still go to Oregon I got a phone call out of the blue. It was the family that I had been living with. Through a chance conversation they discovered that their neighbors needed someone to watch their house for a month, right when I was getting into town. They had a guest bedroom for me and were willing to house all my stuff in their garage. And the icing on the cake? They were both artists and had converted part of their house into an art studio. God had handpicked a temporary home for me to finish four paintings I had promised a friend and He invited me into a deep experience of His provision. I am glad I accepted His offer to cross the bridge.
"Choices," 24"x30", Acrylic, February 2014
I like to write as well as paint. Often times the story behind a piece brings more life to the work. - Jessica Broich