The bible says “A man’s mind plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.”
One day a couple years ago, I went to the Optician to have my glasses prescription filled.
His assistant wanted to know what sort of work I did so that she could prepare my new glasses accordingly.
“I’m an artist,” I said rather absently. Lately I had not felt much like an artist. I hadn’t been able to work as much as I’d liked and I was feeling discouraged.
Only a few years before I had been healthy and strong. I could work hours on end at my desk or easel without pain or fatigue and I hardly knew what a headache was.
I was working as a freelance illustrator, writing and illustrating my own book projects, attending conferences, and I had even created my own website. I walked 6 miles a day and stayed busy all the time.
But then in 2006 all that changed when I caught what seemed to be an ordinary virus. Only three days later when it should have gone away, it didn’t.
After two weeks, my legs were cramping when I tried to walk, my arms were going numb, and my hands were so weak I could barely hold a pen or pencil. If I tried to focus on reading or drawing, my eye muscles would go into spasms and I would immediately get a migraine headache. Anything it seemed; noise, bright light, strong smells, the weather could provoke a migraine. I had rarely ever suffered from any headaches before so this was excruciating for me. I had to sit in my house for months in a darkened room with a mask over my eyes and just be quiet and still. So I listened. I listened to God.
At first I was very upset with Him. I could not understand why God would let this happen to me. Had I not been serving Him faithfully? I loved Him with all my heart. God had given me many gifts and dreams of serving Him along with those gifts. Every day I had prayed that I would glorify Him.
God spoke to my heart. “I’m not punishing you, I love you very much. But I need to teach you the truth. Be still now and patient.”
I saw a vision of God sitting on His beautiful throne. He was majestic! As bright as if clothed with the stars. He said, “I will heal you.”
I sketched the vision with what strength I had in my hands. The lines were very timid and faint though. I wrote His promise and the date. My head hurt like nails were boring through my eyes for the rest of the day but I had to record that vision!
The Lord Jesus drew me very close to Him during that time. He said He broke me for a reason.
I had relied on my strength instead of God’s strength in me to do His work. I valued myself more for what I did than for who I was. I saw myself in terms of my profession, rather than the person inside who God created. I did not love me for myself. Nor did I think anyone else would either. Nor did I think God would. I felt God’s love was performance based, as if He loved me for what I could do for Him.
The parable of the ten talents haunted me. Every time the preacher preached on it I would think, I am not doing enough for God; I might be burying my talents in some way and so I would work all the harder. I was the proverbial workaholic.
Jesus said He wanted my heart more than my works.
He says to those who have done great and mighty works for Him but have not truly known Him or His true will, “…depart from Me you workers of iniquity, for I never knew you…” Matthew 7:23
He told me as I sat a captive audience before Him, “You don’t have to win My love with your good works. You’ve already got it.”
When this happened to me, the last thing I wanted to do was be still.
I had so many unfinished projects I wanted to work on! But God said no.
“Wait on the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. Be still and know I am God!” I learned to truly wait on God during those long months of stillness.
It took 4 months of physical therapy to get my hands back to where I could properly hold a pen or pencil again.
|My first painting after 4 months of illness|
How I praised God when tests came back saying I did not have anything fatal. What Doctors finally did conclude was that I had had the Epstein Barre virus that had triggered an auto-immune disorder in my body called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It would take several more years before neurologists discovered that this disorder also caused a chemical imbalance in my brain that triggers periodic seasons of chronic migraines.
The Lord kept His word and slowly healed me. After about 6 months I went into a period of remission.
I was not completely restored to my former strength though. God told me I was always going to need to be careful to work within my body’s new parameters so that He would be glorified in me. He wanted me to trust Him now. He wanted me to rely on His strength and not my own. He said that I would complete every work that HE had ordained for me to create for His glory. As always, my husband Mark was an invaluable helper and blessing. His patience was amazing. Periodically I might have setbacks when I have worked beyond my body’s limits, but never would I become as ill as I was during that first six months of waiting on God. God has been faithful to His promise.
That afternoon, when the Optician's clerk asked me what I did, I wanted to say I used to work as an artist. But that would not have been true because I still drew and painted and had in fact started my own greeting card company featuring my artwork.
I was feeling very discouraged though for I had entered another season of headaches, similar to those I’d experienced before my daughter’s wedding, only these were not nearly as severe, due to the Lord’s mercy and faithfulness.
Still, I was often tired and could not do as much as I wished. The assistant immediately wanted to see a sample of my work. So I gave her an encouraging card.
She then asked me if I would consider making a portrait of her mule of all things!
I looked up at her incredulously. “Your what?”
“My mule; he’s a beloved member of my family and I would love to have his portrait made.”
A portrait was the last thing I wanted to paint. Especially a mule’ s portrait! Nothing could induce me to paint such a thing. Suddenly the Holy Spirit nudged me. Uh oh. No God…please….
“Ask her how much she’s willing to pay for such a portrait….”
“Absolutely NOT!” I wrestled in my heart with God. I have no intentions of painting a mule. You know I can’t paint a mule. Besides, I have not painted anything but flowers in a month. And folks are weird about things they love, they are never satisfied! No! No! No!”
But the Holy Spirit insisted, “Ask her how much!”
Have you ever wrestled with the Lord? You know that story in the Bible about Jacob and the angel wrestling all night in prayer? Oh, I know how that must have felt!
I know how Moses must have felt in his conversations with God about not wanting to go to Egypt and feeling not qualified. God does not give in very easily when He wants you to do something and believes in you even when you don’t believe in yourself.
I reluctantly obeyed the Lord and said to the woman, “So, how much are you willing to pay for a portrait of your mule?”
“How much do you normally charge for portraits?” the woman asked me.
I did not really feel up to painting the mule. “Lord,” I prayed, “I am going to ask for a price to paint her mule's portrait that will totally discourage her-- then I will know it is NOT your will for me to do this!”
I gave the woman the price, which, though a fair price for a "people" portrait which I was comfortable doing, at the time it seemed an amazing amount to ask for an animal portrait. It didn't matter anyway, I knew she would never agree to it so I breathed a sigh of relief.
To my horror she looked at me and said, “I want you to paint my mule! I will pay that price to have you paint him. He's like a beloved member of my family. I want to remember him forever.”
I could not believe my ears. Before I left the optician's shop that day I had a photo of her beloved “pet,” and I’d given my word to paint a portrait of a creature I could barely distinguish from a horse.
“Oh Lord,” I prayed, “how did you get me into this? You know this is too hard for me!”
“Nothing is too difficult for God,” He assured me. “I will help you! Trust Me!”
“I have too many headaches to be painting a portrait... I can paint people…but mules...This is beyond me…I know nothing about such creatures! This is just too stressful.” I felt like crying.
But God whispered in my heart, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Every day I would trust God and invite Him to work with me on the picture. Feeling bad that I charged so much for the commission, I decided to add the owner's portrait in with her mule so that it would be a double portrait. When I finished the first set of preliminary sketches, the woman cried when she saw them. She said I had "captured" her mule whose name was "Stormy." In my heart I knew that it had to have been God’s hand because I could never have drawn him on my own. And every time I worked on Stormy's portrait, I would pray for him.
Some days I had too much pain or fatigue to work, but on those days God just blessed me with prayer songs to comfort me. When I was able to work, God was always faithful. He encouraged me to keep trying even though I felt so inadequate for the task. Even though I kept worrying that the woman was not going to think it was good enough. In the back of my mind I had always heard that no one is ever really satisfied with a portrait.
Every time I went to work I prayed, “God, you broke me for a reason. Work through this broken vessel so your glory and honor can be displayed more brightly.”
God guided my hands. He gave me peace. He gave me joy as I worked with Him on the picture.
Finally after many months and long hours of hard work, perseverance and faith the painting was at last finished.
|Detail of Portrait of A Mule © S.D.Harden All Rights Reserved|
God's faithfulness to see me through was my greatest joy. It was worth the struggle to learn that when God makes a promise to help us do something we think we can’t do because we feel unqualified or inadequate, He makes up for our weakness in every area where we fall short. He will not fail us.
Heavenly Father, Thank you for such love that will never fail nor forsake us.
Thank you that your grace is always sufficient for us. Thank you that though we are weak, Lord Jesus, You are strong through your Holy Spirit within us.
Thank You for that mighty strength that brings us victory in every challenge as we rely on you!
I love you! Amen.
"You Want A Portrait of Your What?" © 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved.
Unto The Least Of These