Tuesday, January 21, 2014

From a Shut-in to Renewal, One Artists Life

This self portrait is quite a relevant work for this writing, as it was done during a time of change, confusion, the loss and results of wrong choices in my life – with just the faintness hope to hope for something better, as expressed by the intense mood. 
It was not very long ago, that as an adult man, I was a shut in. This sounds like an extreme statement and is hard for many to understand. My life was spent with many years indeed - in fact most of my adult life, as well as when I was young - in debilitating social anxiety, anxiety attacks, severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and very dark depression. I passed my days hiding from the world quite literally, consumed in my emotional problems. I lived in terror of others, in terror of social situations of any kind. I stayed in a room by myself for so very many years. I spent years on medications, with some doctors just throwing up their hands not knowing what to do with me. I was in such deep suffering that there were periods that I prayed every day for the Lord to take me home. Not only do I not exaggerate the depths lived in, it merely touches the surface.
I am not alone is this kind of experience in life. There are many who suffer from these kinds of deep pain. You may never know they do, they may hold it all inside and live that part of their lives secretly out of shame. For others you may never see or know them, as they live alone, withdrawn into their own pain. For those who are close to them, or try to be – family, friends – it is all too apparent the things that are overwhelming them. Families are greatly affected. We wonder what we can do for those suffering this way and feel they are often beyond our reach or help. Others refuse to understand and just want them to snap out of it. For family members or spouses, living with someone with these issues can be a trial for them, they may feel hurt too.
There are no easy answers. Often these issues and trials last a very long time, perhaps a lifetime. For me it was most of my life. Rock bottom was an extreme place I lived permanently, a very dark place, not a single event in my life. That is why at the present time, being healed and living a life that is totally new to me is such a joy in the simplest of everyday things.
During the course of my troubled life, art was always a mainstay. Over the years I learned, honed my skill, and grew in my art abilities. Perhaps all that time alone served to somehow allow me to grow as an artist in my work, a touch of grace in the darkness. Yet, even this was not untouched, for my art became an obsessive and perfectionist endeavor that caused major anxiety attacks. Like other things, good became twisted in my unhealthy mind.
For me, healing had everything to do with two words – “But, God….” In the Bible the words “But, God” often follow very stark contrasts of suffering or weaknesses in us. I am no longer a shut in. I am part of the world, married to a wonderful wife, with doors gradually opening up for my art. I do still struggle at times to greater or lesser degrees, but with a freedom of growing and true healing that only a God rich in love and Grace could give me. Where once OCD had me out of any productive functioning at all, in a shut away world few knew, where once the smallest social encounter plunged me into terrible fear, I am now able to take part in life. I have a way to go, but I can see the clear change in healing.
It is hard to say at what point it was that God really grabbed hold of me and brought me out of this pain. You see, I had already been a Christian during most of this – I was saved around age 19 or 20 (I am now 50). One difficult part, quite frankly, is that God had to let me come utterly to and end of myself. I mean an utter end, completely. My only way to relate to Him, or the world, was so broken, unhealthy, and mentally ill. In fact, though I have never shared this publicly, my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder caused a nervous breakdown with my faith due to the severity of the OCD. My OCD here was so extreme it went into the realms of mental illness. Most do not even know, even those close to me. This was a dark period in my life. It was one of the things I never thought would be healed, but nothing is out of God's care.
Later, God had to reshape and completely reform my thinking, my emotions, my deepest innermost places - which was deeply ingrained and terribly strong in its unhealthiness and emotional trauma. Naturally this did not happen overnight.
There was one time that was also significant before this. It was a Christmas Eve service about 5 or 6 years ago, at what would, a couple years later, become the church my wife and I go to. Before we went inside, I had the distinct sense – it was quiet, yet insistent and urgent, while gentle – of God impressing upon me, “I want you to go in there and do nothing. Do not obsess, do not repetitively pray in fear and guilt ridden obsessing, do not get wrapped up in all the OCD trauma – just receive my Son.” The last part was the urgent part, just recieve my Son. I had received Christ already, as I shared - this was an urgent call to my life of healing. It was beautiful in His love and Grace. It is that free gift revealed more brightly to me, one that does not end as a single event as we walk with Him - this continual receiving of His Son that now defines my life. Freely receive, it is called grace. My life has been blessed ever as a daily act of receiving such wonderful blessings, all from His tender Grace. Soon I was finely free to begin receiving God’s wonderful love, without my mental health destroying everything.  
I can look back now and see such transformation to have come to me. To look back, after all I have been through, what a sweet joy this is to my heart. Without God’s grace, both my own brokenness and my own sinful choices would have defeated me entirely.
All my life I thought I would never get better. Indeed, that concept did not even exist to me. If God could heal me of the deepest painful roots inside and bring me to a renewed life – even with the severity of my inner problems - I see now that He can do anything in my life. As I read the Bible, I clearly see that God is not the God of the small, the almost, the nearly, or the maybe – from salvation in His Son, to healing, mercy, forgiveness, and His grace in our lives. Even after a whole lifetime of trials. God is good; God is great – all the time. Both in the deepest pains and utter defeats and the highest joys. His love is beautiful and wonderful.
Why do I share all this? Well, I was once deeply ashamed of who I was. I was filled with guilt because I was different with all these problems. I was deeply ashamed that as a grown man I lived like no one else, certainly not a "normal" life. I am no longer ashamed to be different. I know God loves me. That means everything. I also know that with Him in His grace, even after so long, the next chapters of my life are renewed, with good things I have only begun to see yet to come.

‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. Zechariah 4:6.


  1. Hi Jeffrey, Your story is so encouraging. As one who's also struggled with depression and shame, it is awesome to know personally the joy of God's love and grace to transform us. Your work and website is awesome. Keep on keeping on, brother!

    1. Thank you Kathy. His love transforms us indeed. It is wonderful, :)