Because He Lives

 

   This has ended up being lengthy, and you run the risk of shedding a tear or two.  I am certain, though, that the Lord wanted me to share all the thoughts and feelings I experienced while working on this piece.  I feel that it is as much a part of my work on this piece as the painting itself was, and I have to be obedient to what I feel He has led me to do.

    This painting is both the most difficult and the sweetest piece that I've ever worked on.  Not the most difficult because the subject is technically different from previous pieces (landscapes, children), but because emotionally, I could not wrap my mind around it.  My friend, Tabitha, mentioned that she'd like me to paint this piece a year ago.  In January of this year, we discussed the details, and I had the go-ahead to get started.  Eleven months later, I finished.  The painting took a day, but the other months I spent planning it, trying to visualize it, worrying about disappointing my friend, trying to charge myself up emotionally, etc.  

    These children in the painting are siblings, yet there isn't one photograph that exists of them together.  The baby in the center is Sully.  He was born in 2007.  Within weeks of his birth, his sweet parents received the devastating news that he had leukemia.  He battled this illness like a mighty warrior, surrounded by an army of troops...his family, loved ones, nurses and doctors.  He spent a good part of his young life at St. Jude.  Many people across the country were praying for him and for his healing.  After 15 months on earth, our Lord called him home to Heaven, where he was ultimately healed.

    His precious big sister is seen here holding him close in her care.  She had the honor of knowing and loving him during his time here.  The playful "big" brother on the right never had the opportunity to know Sully.  He is the youngest child, and was born after Sully was called home.  This is why there is no photograph of these children together.

    Tabitha, the dear mom to these three, wanted a painting to show their three babies together.  I immediately said yes, that I would be honored.  As I started trying to visualize it, though, I couldn't visualize it at all.  She sent me numerous photographs to use as reference, and I spent so much time studying them.  I searched and searched through all of her Facebook photos, as well, trying to form the image of these three together.  I was torn as to how old the youngest brother should appear in the piece.  He was over a year younger than Sully, yet he is older than that now.  His family has spent more time knowing him as a "big boy" and all the energy and activity that comes with that age than they have of him as an infant.  Yet I knew Sully had to be a baby.  I went back and forth so many times.  

    The absolute easiest part of it all was the background.  Tabitha's family's roots are in Pennsylvania, and she sent me a photograph of her family's land.  There was no question in my mind that the children would be enjoying a day of play there, given that the situation was possible.  I could have painted the background a hundred times, though, and the wall I faced in imagining and creating that image of the three children wouldn't come down. 

    I received an email from Tabitha 2 or 3 months ago.  She said she would love to give the painting to Jason, her husband, for his birthday in November.  I felt horrible that I'd let it go that long without completing it, yet excited to have an actual date as my deadline.  I knew I had to buckle down and get it figured out.  I could see the children so vividly in my mind after spending all the time I had looking at those photos.  I just couldn't connect them. 

    I locked myself in my studio a few nights back, and sat before a blank canvas.  I didn't want to let Tabitha or Jason down.  I just started praying that God would help me do this, and that it would be something that would bless this sweet family.  All along, while thinking of this painting, I'd thought I'd title it One Day.  I felt that it would represent a picture of what would happen one day...these children united in Heaven.  As I kept praying and sketching, though, I started singing "Because He Lives."  The words always make me cry, and the story of this family makes me cry.  I prayed that God would help me to quit crying, or else I'd never be able to see to paint!  I knew the title of the piece had changed, and I began painting through the tears.

    It all came together pretty quickly after that.  The Lord was faithful to give me just the scene in my mind that I thought would work.  I kept it light and airy.  I didn't make it detailed at all, because I can't do faces well, and that's what seemed best.  I delivered it in time for Jason's birthday, and am told he was pleased.  Tabitha cried when I took it to her.  I cried.  It's emotional...but here is the part I felt led to share.

    This family is precious.  They are Christians.  This didn't make their hurt, grief, or devastating heartbreak any different than any other human would feel.  The sweet spirit that Tabitha has had every time I've seen her, or even seen her words, throughout the entire ordeal has been possible because she knows that Jesus overcame death and sin when He rose from death after His crucifixion.  She knows that God is sovereign, and all things must pass through Him...even when we don't understand and it is unbelievably hard.  Because He, Jesus, lives, they have the hope of knowing this picture of their children together can be reality.  As believers, placing their faith and trust in Jesus and making Him the Lord of their lives, they know they'll spend eternity in Heaven!  Sully just went on ahead of them.

    I know we all experience trials and hard things that can upset or even devastate our lives.  I've had my own share.  I won't pretend to know or understand, though, what it's like to be in Tabitha's or Jason's shoes.  I can't begin to imagine what it's like to watch your baby suffer for months and then to lose him.  Truly, only those who've experienced it would know.  As a mother, I think it would be the greatest heartbreak one could possibly experience.  Because Jesus lives, though, and because the Holy Spirit lives and works in those who are His, we are never alone!  No matter now hard our trials, how seemingly impossible one more day can appear to be, He is alive, well, all-powerful, all-comforting, all-knowing, and He LOVES and cares for us!!!  He lives, and that...He, is our hope!  He is bigger than our pain, our problems, our hurts.  He longs for us to draw close to Him in all times, but often we don't really realize the need and desperation for this until these hard things come.  He sees the plans He has for us, but the parts we see often don't seem to make sense.  He's God, though, and He works all things together for good.  I love this passage of scripture, and I like this translation for the last verse:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 
(New English Translation)

For everything there is an appointed time,
And an appropriate for every activity on earth:

A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to uproot what was planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to search, and a time to give something up as lost;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;

A time to rip, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silent, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace.

What benefit can a worker gain from his toil?

I have observed the burden that God has given to people
To keep them occupied.

God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time,
But He has also placed ignorance in the human heart
So that people cannot discover what God has ordained,
From the beginning to the end of their lives.


    We are the creation, and can't possibly understand God's ways and purposes, or the perfect plans He has for each one of us.  I'm reading through Genesis, and last week got to the story of Joseph.  He was treated so wrongly and hurtful...by his own family!  It was a heartbreaking event in his life...a devastating trial.  When I read the part later on when he had been put in charge of things in Egypt and his brothers were before him, I read his response to them over and over again:
   
    (Genesis 45:5-8) "but now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.  For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting.  And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt."

    When sin entered the garden back with Adam and Eve, our world became a fallen and sinful place.  It still is a fallen and sinful place.  It is filled with sicknesses, illnesses, death, sinful dark souls of humans, evil.  Things will happen to each of us, but God is a perfect, sinless, loving, blameless God.  Because of this, His children can trust His promises that He will work ALL things together for the good of those who love Him, and that He knows the plans He has for us...  

Jeremiah 29:11-13
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.


    Our perfect God, Joseph's God, didn't allow the tragic events of Joseph's young life to be for meanness or evil.  He knew the big plan...that there would be famine, that Joseph was His man to save those thousands of people, that God needed Joseph in Egypt for this plan...God allowed this horrible thing to happen for the ultimate good.  Our human hearts and minds think of a perfect life, and in our understanding, perfect can't possibly include a terminal illness to strike ourselves or our child; death or murder to take a loved one; mental illness to tear our world apart; physical, sexual, mental, or emotional abuse to happen to us or anyone we know; fire or disaster to take all our earthly possessions; tragic injury crippling us or a loved one, forever changing our day-to-day way of living; abandonment or rejection by those who are supposed to love us.  Joseph's idea of a perfect life prior to his brothers' betrayal would probably NOT have included those events that took place.  But right there in chapter 45 we see that he understood part of God's perfect plan for his life.  He wasn't angry at those who had wronged him.  He had forgiven them, and knew that they were used by God to accomplish what needed to take place.  

    Joseph was able to see the plan unfold.  We may not all see the big plan...the ending come to fruition.  That doesn't mean it isn't God's perfect plan.  It just means we may not ever know.  That's where the faith and trust that God means it for good fits in.  What's expected of us is simple, I think.  If we believe that God loves us so much that he gave His own perfect precious son for us, so that we can have a personal relationship with Him now AND spend eternity with Him in Heaven, then shouldn't we be overflowing with love and gratitude towards Him?  If so, we should give Him the only thing we have...live our lives for Him.  And if our life is a special and perfect plan He has just for us, even though it may require walking through the events we would NEVER have chosen for ourselves, shouldn't we want to seek His will daily so that we are certain we are on the path we are supposed to be on?  And when He shows us His will, shouldn't we love Him enough to obey it, and to trust Him to carry us through?  I'm speaking to myself...I tell myself these things daily.  I've had things happen to upset what I imagined my life would and should be.  Things that have required me to give up all control...things that I couldn't possibly fix or solve...but things that I know are in God's control.  It's a hard place to come to.  The sweetness in knowing Him and trusting Him daily are irreplaceable.  I'd never have chosen my life's obstacles, but at this moment I can say with all sincerity that I wouldn't change one thing that has happened, because the ways in which God has revealed himself and shown His faithfulness are treasures to me.  Also, believing that it is all part of His perfect plan for my life makes it okay with me, even if I never know the reason or the result here on earth.  It's not for me to know or understand.  If I'm obedient to Him, I know He is using me for the ultimate good, which is so much bigger than my human idea of a perfect life.  

    There is one last promise I want to share with you about walking these paths that contain heartbreaks and obstacles in this life.  God knows His plan for us, the paths we will face, and has given us what we need to journey through.  

Hebrews 13:20-21
(NIV)
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

II Peter 1:2-4
(ESV))
May the grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
By which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

II Timothy 3:16-17
(Easy-to-Read Version)
All Scripture is given by God.  And all Scripture is useful for teaching and for showing people what is wrong in their lives.  It is useful for correcting faults and teaching the right way to live.
Using the Scriptures, those who serve God will be prepared and will have everything they need to do every good work. 

I Corinthians 6:19
(NLV)
Do you not know that your body is a house of God where the Holy Spirit lives? God gave you His Holy Spirit.  Now you belong to God.  You do not belong to yourselves.

Romans 8:26-27
(NASB)
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

    As Christians, our lives should be about serving God and doing His good work, even though it may very well include these hard times.  We have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  The Holy Spirit is God, and all the power and might that is God.  That is impossible for me to wrap my mind around, but I believe it and have witnessed His presence in my own life.  This means, for the Christian, that the Holy Spirit is very much a present and mighty help for what we face.  We also have God's Word, and the promises, help, and instruction in it to help us through this journey.  Study it, grab hold of what He has for you, claim it!  His grace, comfort, and indescribable peace will help you through whatever it is you may face.  

    I want to leave you with the words to the song that became the title of this painting.  

"Because He Lives"

God sent His son, they called Him Jesus
He came to love, heal and forgive
He lived and died to buy my pardon
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives
But greater still, the calm assurance
This child can face uncertain days because He lives

And then one day I'll cross that river
I'll fight life's final war with pain
But then, as death gives way to victory
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know 
He reigns


    God had a perfect plan for little Sully's life, the same as He does for each of His children.    His plan for Sully wouldn't have been what his parents would have chosen.  At the same time, God's plan for Sully's parents and each of those who loved and knew him included the loss of this child.  I can't understand that in my human thinking, but I believe with all my heart that Sully's birth, his illness, and his death have been and will be be used for God's good work.  I'm so thankful that Sully's family members, or at least the ones I've met or seen testimony of, are Christians.  They will be with him again one day and see him in a perfect and new body!  We can each have this hope!

Comments

Because He Lives

Julie, thank you for painting this beautiful painting of our precious grandchildren. Thank you for the beautiful words you wrote concerning the paintings.

God's blessings,
David Fisher, Sully's Paw, forever

I think this is beautiful.

I think this is beautiful. The picture is perfect in depicting the children together.

Stunning

I think this is stunning - Angela Weddings

Because He Lives

It is Good Friday, 2021, and there is no greater message than this, a beautiful testimony of God's timeless love, faithfulness and promises. You are right, it made me cry... Your painting is so beautiful, so perfect - thank you for sharing such a moving story of this family's journey and yours in painting the children.

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