The Way of the Cross

This devotion guide was created by my friend Tracy Grubbs, Creative Arts Director at Lake Forest Church. I’m so proud of her and the weight that this project bears. because (from what our research shows) it’s the only Protestant “Stations of the Cross” guide taken straight from scripture in existence. Tracy’s mix of ancient text and contemporary prose make for a stunning, poetic blend that comes across gently…almost as a barely spoken whisper.

My hope is that you will make your own way through the images, scripture and prayers and be moved closer to your humanity; closer to the cross; closer to the heart of the One who suffered and died, just for you.

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THE WAY OF THE CROSS:
During the Turkish occupation of the Holy Land in the late Middle Ages, when pilgrims were prevented from visiting its sacred sites, the custom arose of making replicas of those holy places, where the faithful might come to pray. One of the most popular of these devotions was the “Stations of the Way of the Cross,” which were imitations of the “stations,” or stopping places of prayer on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. By the late sixteenth century the fourteen stations, as we know them today, were erected in almost all Catholic churches.

At each of the fourteen stations:

  • Read the Scripture, view the image, pray the accompanying written prayer aloud or silently.
  • Then meditate on the prayer and image, making the prayer your own. Either gently repeat the written prayer or pray your own life into the subject of that prayer,

A Preparatory Prayer – St. Francis:

Most merciful Lord, With a contrite heart and penitent spirit I bow down before Thy divine Majesty. I adore Thee as my supreme Lord and Master. I believe in Thee, I hope in Thee, I love Thee above all things. I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, my only and supreme God. I firmly resolve to amend my life; and although I am unworthy to obtain mercy, yet looking upon Thy holy Cross, I am filled with peace and consolation. I will, therefore, meditate on Thy sufferings, and visit the Stations. O Loving Jesus, inflame my cold heart with Thy love, that I may live and die in union with Thee. Amen.

 i. Jesus prays in garden

Luke 22:39-44 Jesus left and made his way to the Mount of Olives, as was his custom, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived, he said to them, “Pray that you won’t give in to temptation.” He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt and prayed. He said, “Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. Nevertheless, not my will but your will must be done.” Then a heavenly angel appeared to him and strengthened him. He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly. His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.

PRAYER
“Father, please?”
Jesus prayed “Take this cup from me. If you will?”
Sadness in your furrowed face and sorrow in your eyes,
the smell of blood and streaming sweat,
Son of God and Son of Man wrestles with the will of the Father.
“Nevertheless, your will be done,”
“Nevertheless…”
Jesus, may we drink from our cup as you did from yours,
Trusting in the goodness of the Father even in our suffering. Amen 

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.

ii. Jesus betrayed and arrested

Luke 22:47-53 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

PRAYER:
With swords and clubs, they came for You, Son of Man.
Soldiers, priests, religious ones, lead by a beloved friend.
With a kiss, betrayed. Unjustly accused.
And yet, you reject the sword and heal the wound.
Lay down the arms.
Jesus, may we forgive as you do, humbly and completely.
Following in your footsteps, walking in the way of Love. Amen.

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.

iii. Jesus tried by Sanhedrin

Mark 14:53,55-56,60-64 They led Jesus to the high priest. And all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes came together. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they found none. For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree. The high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.

PRAYER:
Christ, here you stand before your accusers,
Pummeled with allegations, with insinuations.
Angry words spoken by threatened, fearful men.
But you stand quietly.
No rush to refute their lies.
Letting the truth of who you are be the Answer they are looking for.
Jesus, may we follow in your example of softly,
yet boldly speaking truth in love.
Amen.

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.

iv. Jesus denied by Peter

Mark 14:66-72 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

PRAYER:
“I will never”
“I will always”
Swearing allegiance unto death.
Peter, impulsive master of misunderstanding
In the dark of night, he disowns, rejects, denies.
As do we, day in and day out.
We are all Peter.
Wanting desperately to follow You but failing,
dismissing you instead.
But morning comes and with the rising of the sun,
You offer forgiveness and redemption.
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.

v. Jesus tried by Pilate

Mark 15: 1-5, 15 The chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, “Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of.” Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed…. Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

PRAYER: 
“Behold your king,” says Pilate.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the people shout, “Away with him.”
And they sent you to your death.
Lord Jesus, Word made flesh, Light for our dark world,
God come to save us, may we never send you away.
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.

vi. Jesus beaten and scourged

John 19:1-3; Luke 22:63-64 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?”

PRAYER:
“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised,
and we held him in low esteem.”
In thorny crown and purple robe Son of God and Son of Man.
Bearing my shame in the presence of scoffers.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities”
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.

vii. Jesus carries the cross

John 19:17-18 So they took Jesus and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

PRAYER:
You were led to Golgotha, Lord,
bearing the cross alone.
Step by agonizing step you walked with the cross and its crushing load,
“Take up your cross,” the Savior says,
“If you would my disciple be;
Forsake the past and come this day,
And humbly follow after me.”
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world

viii. Jesus helped by Simon

Luke 23:26 As they led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a man from Cyrene, who was coming in from the countryside. They put the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus.

PRAYER: 
Simon, coming in from the fields, was forced to carry your cross.
He had no choice in this; it was his lot.
“Why is this happening to me?”
“I’m not ready for this.”
“I can’t.”
Were these his thoughts? Are these my thoughts?
Lord, when you ask me to pick up the cross and follow you, Am I willing?
Will I walk that way with you?
Give me a willing heart to follow.
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.

ix. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Luke 23:27-29 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’

PRAYER:
O God, may we weep with those who weep.
May we mourn with those who mourn.
In a cynical and despairing world
give us an honest voice to convey your hope.
In a violent and angry world
give us a gentle voice to speak your peace.
In a grieving and weeping world
give us a willing voice to proclaim your joy.
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world

x. Jesus nailed to the cross

Mark 15:22,26-27,31; Luke 23:34 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha… And they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him… In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

PRAYER:
O dying Christ, I hear You speak.
Your body hangs, so pale and weak,
Yet love is strong
And still aware.
Your heart is planning for another’s care.
Tormented Christ, I hear You pray
The words that only love can say:
“Father, forgive!” What selfless prayer!
Your thoughts are mercy as You suffer there!
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.

xi. Jesus promises the kingdom to the thief

Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

PRAYER: 
I looked in Your eyes and saw it for a moment
the passion in Your cry;
the chains of death are broken
Put to death by Your people
You came to bring us life
the only hope for the hopeless
Will You remember me?
I’ve been ashamed
I’ve been put down
Head in my hands, My life on the ground
Left heaven to save sinners like me
Liars and thieves; Your blood sets us free
Who am I that You would remember me?
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world

xii. Jesus talks to his mother and John

John 19:25-27 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

PRAYER: 
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.”
“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths
and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
“for he who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.”
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world

xiii. Jesus dies on the cross

Mark 15:33-37 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

PRAYER: 
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.”
You did undertake for me, for me to death were sold;
Wisdom in a mystery of dying love unfold;
Teach the lesson of your cross, let me die with you to reign;
All things let me count but loss, that you, I may regain.
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world

xiv. Jesus laid in the tomb

Luke 23:50-56 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.

PRAYER:
The tomb is barren, empty.
It has been prepared for the day when Joseph himself would die.
It was to be his burial chamber.
A thought strikes Joseph so violently that he stops in his steps.
Jesus claimed to be God’s Son. And now he is dead.
Joseph knew God couldn’t die. Impossible.
And yet, here was his body, laid in Joseph’s tomb,
on the slab that was to have held Joseph’s body.
Now, forever, Jesus would be there in Joseph’s place.
Jesus, I surrender my tomb to you.
Come and lie on the burial site that was meant for me.
I surrender my tomb to you.
I surrender all my efforts to please you in my own strength to you.
Be my death for me, Jesus.
Swallow up my death in your death,
so that I can be resurrected in your resurrection.
Amen

We adore You, O Christ and we praise you.
Because by your holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.

About the Artist:

Melody Hogan’s series of artwork for the “Stations of the Cross” reflects her love of graphic design and simplified shapes and forms. Her abstractions serve as connection points that invite hearts to earnestly engage in the sacred and solemn observance of Holy Week as if they were hazy memories experienced personally by the viewer.

The materials of reclaimed cardboard, rusted metal and pastel chalk were chosen to represent the earthly, deteriorating nature of our lives as human beings. These mundane materials also highlight the mystery of the incarnation of God: Fully God in all His glory choosing to be Fully Man, subjected to the constraints of a broken and fallen world.

This body of work is intended to offer us a unique opportunity to not only witness but share in the Passions of the Christ (the pain and suffering of the Anointed One). It also serves as a fitting reminder of this verse in Matthew:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21

Beyond The Wall

I painted for a Women’s Worship Night at CityChurch recently.  It was a chance for the ladies to intentionally connect with God and each other before the holiday madness began.

I set up my easel and paints in a back corner of the fellowship hall, as my heart fluttered with anticipation at what God might do.  It just wasn’t like Him to leave us empty-handed.  He always seems so eager to speak to someone…to encourage…or to reveal more of His love and glory.  Even though I’ve grown to expect Him to move in some way, it’s still a little like Christmas Day when He does!

Worship began, and the all-female voices sounded so delicate and light as they sang of God’s faithfulness.  I’m pretty sure that’s gotta be one of God’s favorite sounds of all time…and it was such a lovely setting in which to paint.  It just seemed to flow effortlessly from my heart, through the paint brush, onto the canvas.

The worship time seemed to be over in a blink, and I was asked to come share about the painting I’d done.

Beyond the Wall_cw

It wasn’t complicated:

A brick wall.  Someone feels boxed in or like they’ve been beating their head against a brick wall, and they can’t seem to break through.  But  God sees beyond the wall.  He sees the beauty of the wide open pasture.  So He’s broken through the bricks and created a way of escape from the things that have us imprisoned. Some of us have already made our way through and have landed in a tree to rest, but we’re stuck there.  Our resting place has become a snare for us…because ultimately God intends for us to soar!

That was it.  Nothing earth-shattering.

I went back to my corner of the room as the Prayer Team began ministering to the women in the room.  Only to turn around and see my new friend Patrice Gopo standing there with notebook in hand.  She nervously shared that during  worship, she had spent her time writing out something that God had put on her heart.  I could tell she was stunned. You see, she was in the other back corner of the room…she had no idea what I was painting until I got up in front of the group to share.  And as she read aloud to me, I couldn’t help but weep.  It was so God.  So crazy-unbelievable-perfectly-woven-together-couldn’t-be-anything-BUT God…and He obviously had something on His mind.

Here is what she had written in her notebook:

I remember what it felt like to soar with the wind piercing my back, the sky wide open before me, the power infused from You as my wings cut through the air. I don’t remember first one wall, then the next and next and next. I don’t remember the roof placed atop the cage, the sharp blade of the scissors that cut the tip of my wing, a breath of down and feathers against the ground. But I remember the prison, the darkness, the inability to move, and I remember the hot tears spilled on the cold ground. Were they mine or were they Yours? But I also remember Your hand brushing those steel walls aside. Nothing but paper to You. I remember Your hand reaching down, scooping me up and pushing my brokenness towards the sky, the wind piercing my back just as it should be.

So beautiful, the way God had simultaneously woven together imagery and words so heavy with intent. So like Him to deliver them so delicately to His cherished ones that night.

How about you?  Are there areas in life where you feel like you’re beating your head against a brick wall?  Do you feel entrapped…like you’ll never get free? Do not fear…God has made a way of escape for you.  He sees beyond the wall.  He sees you soaring in the great wide open with the wind piercing your back…just as it should be.

That’s it.  The simple truth. Pretty earth-shattering, if you ask me.
God is just so good.

Brave Wings – Teal Diva

Let’s be honest:  we’ve all lost far too many friends to cancer.  I’ve been to way too many funerals for friends that had so much life yet to live.  A few years ago our neighbor was given the terrifying news that her discomfort and bloating were due to ovarian cancer.  Something none of us ever want to walk through.  But instead of laying down and letting her life come to a grinding halt or feeling sorry for herself, Shannon did something completely counter-intuitive…she reached out instead of turning in.  She decided to make a difference and created Teal Diva.

Her idea for Teal Diva was to rally women who had been diagnosed with gynecologic cancer and create a network that would strengthen, encourage, educate and increase awareness.  And when I say idea, I mean a great big hairy gotta-be-half-crazy kind of idea.  They’ve made men run races in tutus and teal stilettos, done countless 5ks, coaxed area restaurants to serve teal color-inspired fare, organized local salons to offer teal manis & pedis with part of the profits going to the cause, and even gotten the good people at Duke Energy to light up their famous skyscraper with glowing teal neon.  Oh, and did I mention the video?  It’s perhaps one of the most touching videos I’ve ever seen about women who are fighting through this life crisis with depth and dignity.  It’s so good, it’s winning all kinds of awards.  Rightfully so.  Do yourself a favor:  take a little time, grab some tissue and watch the video.  It’s time well spent.  For reals.

Oddly enough, the idea for this painting was birthed on a visit to take food to one of my own friends who was going through chemo.  I was just taking her food…but I was absolutely stunned when she answered the door.  I’m not kidding when I say:  she was breathtakingly beautiful.  Her chemo had caused her hair to fall out, but she had wrapped her bald head in a chic black and white head wrap that draped down over one shoulder.  She looked more like someone from Hollywood than someone fighting the ravages of cancer.  I know she probably felt the most UN-beautiful at that point in her journey, but on my trip home I just couldn’t shake the thought:  SHE WAS SOOOO BEAUTIFUL!!!

So after talking over the hedge with Shannon one night I decided to do a series of paintings featuring BEAUTIFUL Bald Women as a tribute to the women who are fighting the brave fight against all types of cancer…and as a declaration of the truth that they are all beautiful…and brave…and strong.  And as a good neighbor, since I’d hatched the idea with Shannon, I felt it was only fitting that I start with a painting for the Teal Divas.

There was a certain weight about painting this one.  It was personal.  There are people I care for deeply who are in the middle of their survival story…and I’m just so honored to be able to give them tribute with canvas and paint.  Tomorrow it’s going to be auctioned off at a local fundraising event…and I hope it sells for a million dollars.  I mean it.  I wish some philanthropist would see it and throw down a check with lots and lots of zeros at the end of it.  Every single one of the women who have been given a diagnosis deserve that kind of response…that kind of respect.

So if you know someone who is fighting gynecologic cancer, you might want to pass this on to them.  If you like it enough to want one for yourself or for a friend or loved one, I’ll be selling prints…and of course, I’ll be giving a portion of the profits to Teal Diva so that they can help to encourage more women and give them the kind of care and understanding that only comes from people who’ve been through it first hand.

The girl in this painting is based on the touching story of Talia Castellano, a young girl who became a YouTube sensation amid her fight against cancer…mainly because she had spunk and mad makeup skills…and a “never quit” attitude.  She was one of those extraordinary people who will forever represent bravery, strength and beauty to me.  So this one is for ALL Teal Divas out there…with a loving nod to the sassy Little Miss who wouldn’t even let cancer steal her joy.

Brave Wings_med

Painting at Lake Forest Church | “Believe”

One of my favorite pieces of imagery is from the movie “Gladiator”…when Maximus walks through the wheat field and runs his hand lightly across the top of the soft tassels.  It’s one of those visuals that continues to stick with me over time…so simple, but so rich with emotion.  It’s as though I can feel everything he was feeling.

When I was tasked with painting an interpretation of John 6 for Lake Forest’s “re:Gift” series, and read the entire text, these two passages really jumped out at me:

35-36 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.
47-48 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.

It seems Jesus was trying to drive an important point home: “I’m the bread of life. Believe it.”  And as I let the passage fill my head and heart, the images from The Gladiator sprang to life in a new way…except there were wounds on the wrists of this Loving Warrior, and he touched the wheat with a familiarity only found between created and Creator.

The Bread of Life walking through a wheat field…what a breathtaking metaphor.

How odd that we have no problem believing the common wheat would one day be crushed to become a delicious loaf of bread. But we struggle to truly believe that this unimpressive hometown man would one day be crushed in order to satisfy the hunger of the whole world.  Such a mystery.  Such a leap of faith.

Bread of Life

Believe that I Am the Bread of Life.

So follow the metaphor, if you will, as it develops into The Bread of Life…breaking bread…in the wheat field. I guess you could call it Reversed Foreshadowing, if such a thing exists. 😛 But consider the beauty of the progression…the wheat is cut off and ground up, having it’s form destroyed…but by doing so is transformed into bread, able to feed the thousands.  Then that bread is broken apart by the hands of The Bread of Life…feeding all of mankind, so that they will never go hungry again.

Jesus was cut off from this world, beaten, crucified, buried…and resurrected.  In an ironic act of selfless love–by emptying himself…being broken…and dying–He was able to become the Victor, conquer death, and give us all eternal life.  Such a mystery.  Such a leap of faith.

Broken For You

Believe that this is My body Broken for You.

Are you hungry? Believe that He is The Bread of Life.  Are you thirsty? Believe that His body was Broken for You.  And if you believe, you will never hunger or thirst again. Such a mystery. Such a leap of faith.

But even as He speaks the simple truth, His words are so full of emotion, it’s as though He can feel everything that I’m feeling.

As Lake Forest’s series teachings illustrated, Jesus was the perfect example of re-gifting. So what are you doing with the gift that He has given you? How will you re-gift it so that the people around you will benefit from it?

Such a mystery. Such a leap of faith.

Painting for CharlotteOne | Micah 6:8

My friend David Hickman is a visionary. Years ago my husband and I stood in a church parking lot and talked about dreams, holy burdens, and the heart of God concerning the city of Charlotte.

David had a BIG dream…a GOD-sized dream…a dream of gathering young adults beneath the cross of Jesus…regardless of denominational differences, rhetoric or dogma.  And more importantly, he had the unwavering faith and pit-bull tenacity it takes to transition that vision into a thriving reality.

Today, CharlotteOne stands as a broad-reaching ministry with an exemplary testimony of area churches coming together in unity to worship God, make disciples, and do life.  That’s true New Testament stuff.

This past Spring I was honored to be asked to paint as a part of their corporate worship experience.  The message was on Finding God’s WIll…a topic a lot of us struggle with regularly, regardless of our age.  It was a toughie…one that couldn’t be minimized with any kind of scriptural band aids.  No iconic cross in the corner or nebulous scriptural text would suffice…and so I leaned in.

I leaned in to listen.  It’s so confusing.  I leaned in to hear His voice.  It’s like grasping for smoke.  I leaned in to hear His heart beat.  Who am I? Where do I go? What do I do?  I leaned in…and what I heard was no chaotic or random or unattainable.  It was filled with peace and comfort…and love.

We make it so complicated and heavy…WHAT DOES GOD WANT ME TO DO?!?!?!  But it is quite simple, really:

Micah 6:8 (NKJ)

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God.

I’ve never heard it quite that clear before in all my 29++ years.  🙂  To be honest, it’s my new Life Filter.  These three simple questions have helped my weary heart to silence so much of the white noise…from the media, from friends and family, even from the Church.  There are a million voices telling you what you should or could do.  But God makes it simple.

  1. Does it promote justice for your fellow-man? (check.)
  2. Does it fully embrace and extend mercy? (check.)
  3. Does it compel you to walk humbly before God?  (check.)

What a beautiful little list.  Notice that it’s not perfection-based or performance-based…but completely, undeniably, unregrettably LOVE based.  Nothing else really matters to God in the grand scheme of things.  Nothing catches His attention as much as these.  Nothing reflects His heart the way they do.

As I painted that night, I felt my own chains of bondage falling away.  I felt a spiritual release from things I’d heaped upon my own soul in a lifelong attempt to earn God’s affection and acceptance.  I experienced an internal freedom from worry and strife that I hadn’t even realized was clouding my thinking.  The voices had blared in my head and now there was silence…such a peaceful clarity.

The perfect setting for hearing His soft and gentle whisper.

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

Painting from CharlotteOne's UNCUT series launch

Painting from CharlotteOne’s UNCUT series launch

 

Luttrell Commission | “Passages” (Rhythms of Grace)

There are defining moments in our lives.  Moments where we mark the passage of time.  Already with our 3 1/2-year-old, we’ve experienced several landmarks in what we hope will be a lifetime filled with them.  And already, we are wanting to pull up on the reins a bit to slow time’s passing.  Already, it’s barreling down the road at an unbridled pace.

But that’s the burden of parenting, isn’t it?  Wanting so badly for them to become independent and experience all the good that life has for them, and yet wanting it to take 100 years to happen.  Yep, that’d be just about right.

This week I was honored to participate in a defining moment for one of my husband’s drum students.  His parent’s are being extraordinarily intentional about making a wonderfully big deal out of this year’s birthday for him.  They are celebrating his rite of passage into manhood with a week of thoughtful presents and festivities, all befitting a young man.

My commission was to create a visual for his bedroom that would reflect his love for music, rhythm, and his faith.  I used one of my drummer husband’s life scriptures for the cornerstone of the piece, which comes from Matthew 11:28-30:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Now that’s a rite of passage worth making…for all of us!

Rhythms of Grace

Defining Moments

Last October I was invited to join a group of artists for a video shoot atop one of the uptown high-rises.  We were each asked to paint unique elements on a variety of stained glass panels forming a larger-than-life hourglass filled with sand.  Threads of that day’s shoot have since been woven into a powerful video production of Billy Graham sermon snippets, real life testimonies, and engaging imagery.

It was an honor to work on such an important project…to represent Charlotte’s creative community…and to make some new friends along the way.  This presentation will be a part of a larger initiative from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association to be launched later this year, where people and churches can collaborate to spread the good news of the Gospel.

Please feel free to pass this video around to family and friends…especially ones who need a reminder of The Hope that we find in relationship with Jesus.

This project was definitely a Defining Moment in my creative and spiritual life…

Click here to see video: Defining Moments: A Video from My Hope America

My Bride…My Beloved

Each worship event I paint for is special…because each time is different. Each has it’s own theme, flow and vibe. But last night was one of the most truly special evenings I’ve yet to experience in this God-journey I’ve been on for the past 6 years. The worship, led by the tender hearts of the United Pursuit Band, was so genuine and disarming…the room was filled with some of my favorite 20/30-somethings on the planet…and God’s presence was so weighty, yet so sweet.

But I knew it was going to be just that way. You see, sometimes God shows me ahead of time what to paint, and sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes I have the entire idea, and sometimes I simply choose the first color to load on my brush as the music begins. Sometimes His voice is loud and clear, sometimes He is silent. Yet, for this particular event, He had shared His heart with me early on the day before. (Sometimes I think it’s easier to be clueless…!)

She was a clear as day…this woman who was trying so desperately to cover herself up because of her guilt and shame. Her image haunted me throughout the day, and my heart grew heavy as began to feel the ache of God’s heart, because of her condition. As I pondered her, I felt the Lord lean in and say, “Tell her that she’s beautiful.” Ugh. My heart started to mourn…

Setup went unusually smooth, and since there was worship music already playing in the auditorium, I decided to sit with my sketch book and quite myself just a bit. As I began to draw, her outline took shape quickly…since her image had been burned into my soul from the two days of carrying her around in my heart. But, unexpectedly, words began to pour out onto the page, as well. Words and words and words. I wasn’t thinking, I was just writing. I had no strategy in mind…no idea how it all connected…until the page was full, and I was done writing…and I read it from beginning to end.

It was a love letter. Not from my heart, but from His. Not to the woman caught in adultery, like we envision ourselves to be…but to His bride…to His beloved.

Painting was a flurry of color and brushstrokes as I translated the image in my heart onto the stark white paper in front of me. I was completely unaware of where I was in the painting process…completely disconnected from analysis and technique. It was as if I was following the movement of my paint brush, not the other way around. I do remember thinking to myself that it’d been a long, long time since I’d painted under this intensity of God’s presence…and well, anointing. By anointing, the definition that most resonates with me is, “to choose someone as a lead candidate for a position.”  And on this night, I was a messenger…

I rarely get the opportunity to share about my paintings after they’re done…much less deliver something specific like this…this love letter to God’s Bride. But in an effortless way God wove the opportunity into the flow of the evening, and I knew I was supposed to read His letter out loud over His Beloved. So I choked back the tears, stepped to the mic and shared what was scrawled into my sketchbook.  I excused the somewhat feminine imagery, as I considered the Church as a whole in this declaration…since I know we ALL have it so upside down and backwards…the way we see ourselves, in such high-def contrast to the way He sees us.

You are my bride…my Beloved.
You feel shame…I see beauty.
You feel weak…I see strength.
You feel wicked…I see holiness.
You feel timid…I see boldness.
You feel forgotten…I see the one I could NEVER forget.
You feel empty…I see the fullness.
You feel dead…I see life.
You feel broken…I see whole.
You feel darkness…I see my light.
You feel passed over…I see great promise.
You feel worthless…I see my prized possession.
You feel dirty…I see spotless.
You feel despair…I see boundless hope.
You feel fear…I see a courage that won’t back down.
You feel deceitful…I see honesty.
You feel lost…I see the way.
You feel confused…I see my peace in you.
You feel confined…I see freedom.
You feel dead ends…I see fresh starts.
You feel cheap…I see you as a priceless treasure.
You feel banished…I see you wrapped in my embrace.
You are my Bride…my Beloved.

When I finished the room stood silent.

No music to lighten the atmosphere in the room. No quick segue into a second round of worship songs. No attempt to tidy up, brush over or shrug off. Just beautiful, heavenly, awe-filled silence. And I knew that the message had found its home in the heart of someone present.  The weight was gone…and all that remained was a delicate awe.

But here’s the kicker:  immediately after the worship concluded, I turned around to meet eye-to-eye with a young lady from the audience, and she gingerly told me her story:

“I’ve been in such a bad place lately.  I’ve been feeling every single thing that you read out loud tonight.  But I feel like I’m supposed to tell you something else:  On my way here, I was really struggling, and in desperation I just asked God, ‘could you please just write me a letter to tell me how you see me?…I think it’s the only way I can hear you right now.'”

 

I was so overcome, I started weeping before she’d even finished her sentence.  I cried.  She cried.  We hung onto each other and cried for a while…both of us just so amazed by what had just happened.  I was completely undone by the lengths that God had gone to, to speak His truth into his precious Bride’s heart. She was beautiful.

And just as I finished sharing with her, I turned, only to see the face of another young lady standing in front of me:

“I was the woman at the well…and everyone knew it. But the Bride that you wrote about was me…God’s wanting me to let go of the way I’ve defined myself–by my past–and receive a new identity…the one that was in your letter.”

Another stunning story of God capturing the heart of His beloved.  And she was beautiful.

And yet another face, another story:

“I’ve struggled with an eating disorder for years now.  I feel just like the things that you wrote.  Especially the part about being confined…and I want so desperately to know God’s freedom.”

Another intimate invitation sent directly to yet another world-worn lover from her eager, expectant Groom.  And she was beautiful.

Each sweet face, radiant with the permeating revelation of God’s lavish love for her.

It is not a night that I will soon forget.  I hope that my heart holds on to it forever.  I hope that my own shame will be undeniably altered, as I let His love-speak wash over me.  I hope that as a collective tribe of the broken and yet betrothed, we will surrender to God’s passionate pursuit…and begin to let our distorted identity be consumed by a definitive innocence and purity that comes straight from the heart of a love-sick God.

…because we are all His Bride…His Beloved.
And we are beautiful.

Painting at The Gathering

Sunday my husband and I were honored to serve the fantastic people of The Gathering: he  let God speak through his rhythms on the drum kit, I let God speak through my paint and brushes on canvas.  I can’t tell you how amazing it is to bring our different forms worship to the Lord together.  It re-confirms what we were truly created to do, and reminds us how much God wants us to partner with him in it.

Th only directive I was given for the painting was that the message would be centered around things that crowd into our lives and distract us from our main focus: God. As the band practiced for worship that morning, I wrote out a list of things that can be the worst culprits.  As I completed the list, I realized how upside-down our thinking is…we let our lives get consumed by obligations, chaos and insanity…when really, if our heart’s focus was simply on God, He would bring peace into our chaos, and become our source of sanity.

I felt the edges of vision for the painting starting to materialize: two hearts in juxtaposition…one filled with the list of words I’d written out…but there was one missing element: what to put inside the other heart.  I talked it over with the hubs, and we batted a few things around.  But as I leaned in and positioned my heart to really “listen”, I felt a strength and clarity begin to take shape.  The words that kept rattling through my soul?  ONLY YOU.

It was only the second time I’d painted during the sermon and not during worship, but there was such a sweet peace about this being the visual representation of the word being given.  I finished the first heart, flipped the canvas and began to paint the second heart…only to hear the pastor emphatically say, “The thing we should be saying to God is: ‘ONLY YOU, God…ONLY YOU!’”  There it was.  The kind of moment that only the Holy Spirit can orchestrate.  In sports, the refer to it as the “sweet spot”…in photography, it’s “the money shot”.  In this situation, it was the undeniable realization that God truly is the source of all inspiration and creativity.

Not to overstate the obvious, but I entitled the piece, “Only You”.  I’m posting the painting in both positions, so that you can read the words of distraction that crowd God out of our hearts.

Barnes & Kennedy Commissions | “For the Love of…”

I have some customers who have become more like friends.  They’ve followed my creative journey, showed up at my art shows, and even invited me to paint as their group served at the Mooresville Soup Kitchen.

Yesterday, they declared their undying love for each other and made life-changing promises as they exchanged rings before God, family & friends.  I couldn’t be happier!  From what I saw in their togetherness as a dating couple, I am convinced that God has brought these two together!

Funny thing, both of them contacted me privately asking if they could commission a painting for the other…as their wedding gifts to each other.  At first I felt awkward, like I should say something…but quickly my initial feelings took a back seat to the overwhelming sense that this was just a fun, quirky way to confirm that these two were DEFINITELY meant for each other!

I took some time to listen.  I listened to them.  I listened to God.  I listened to scripture and the Creative Spirit of God inside of me, and I came up two painting ideas that I though expressed their heart for each other, and God’s heart for them…and in a creative way, my heart for their marriage.

As a part of the celebration, I thought I’d share the paintings with you!  Enjoy!
(just click on the image for a larger view, so that you can read the text/sentiments involved):

Faithful and True

My Whole Heart

 

HAPPY MARRIAGE DAY, Justin & Rachael Barnes!

©2012 Melody Hogan.  All rights reserved.

The Creative Booty Call

Creative Booty CallWritten by
Melody Hogan

Chances are, at some point in your creative career, you’ve fallen prey to the Creative Booty Call…
maybe without even realizing it.

To define Creative Booty Call we’ll use the same characteristics as those used in the cultural reference:

 

  • the phone rings late at night or there’s a 3 a.m. knock on your door
  • the person on the other end is looking for services they might otherwise pay for, but in this instance they are wanting it for free
  • being with them always leaves you feeling empty and used
  • you spend days kicking yourself for letting it happen YET AGAIN, and swear that next time, you’ll be smarter
  • they’ve never publicly acknowledged your relationship, except maybe casual friendship…and they make a point to not socialize with you outside of this “arrangement”
  • and when they DO choose to enter into a serious relationship, it’s always with someone else

I’ve fallen prey to this scenario more times than I’d like to admit in my creative career. Out of nowhere, I’ll get a frantic phone call or text…sometimes it’ll even be from people on my client list. They’re in desperate need of a last-minute design service from me.  The excuses for not planning ahead or not contacting me sooner are always in bountiful supply, as an attempt to somehow soften the blow of what they’re really getting ready to ask me for…but buried beneath that pile heap is still the same audacious request: drop everything, forget your life or your obligations or other clients, and give them what they need…while they wait impatiently for it.

So you cancel the appointments that have been on your schedule for weeks, you put off the current project you’ve been working on that is paying full price, you sacrifice time with your family, physical resources (like sleep…and food…and hygiene..and your last bit of sanity) to run to the aid of your comrade who is in critical need.

In the end, you’ve given them the best that you have to give, for nothing in return. Nothing beyond a rushed “attaboy”…not a referral, not a mention on Twitter or Facebook…and certainly not a penny of actual generated income.

For many, it is even more dastardly than that:  You’re called or emailed because of your creative expertise in a particular area. You give the advice willingly, even joyfully, because it’s your passion…and you LOVE to talk about your passion. Suuuure you could be a professional consultant, making thousands of dollars per project for all of the wisdom and insight you have to give…but of course, they’re simply looking for a little free advice.  You hang up the phone with a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach…and emptiness that’s hard to describe…I don’t know, kinda like you’ve been used.  Oh, and by the way…they’ll never publicly acknowledge the great ideas you provided for them.  And the kicker is, when they DO choose to invest in a professional relationship regarding your topic of discussion, it’ll undoubtably be with someone else.

Does any of this sound familiar?  Sadly, I knew it would.  But the reality regarding Booty Calls, which ever kind they might be, is that we’re the ones that set the parameters…and if I might be so bold as to say it this way:  If you’re tired of being a Creative Booty Call…the solution starts with YOU!

Steps to help you avoid the Creative Booty Call:

  1. Business hours are business hours.  After hours are, well…after.  One of the biggest challenges of creative work, especially freelance, is the setting of boundaries between your business and personal life.  But if you don’t set some working parameters, then you will always be working…that’s just how creative careers are.  All work and no play makes Jack a cranky, burned out, uninspired so-in-so that no one wants to be around.  So do yourself a favor:  clock in and clock out.
  2. Healthy professional relationships are beneficial to both parties.  If you feel tapped after every meeting you have with a client or you feel empty and used each time you deliver advice to an associate, it may be time to have the D.T.R. talk over coffee.  Defining the relationship can go a long way to increase your productivity and your sense of satisfaction on the job.
  3. Give yourself permission to set and communicate strong boundaries. While it may feel like your being fussy or a tad bit diva, strong boundaries will simply enable you to enjoy the different parts of your life in deeper richer ways without the build-up of resentment or the cause for conflict with opposing parties.  Think about what you want and need from the relationship, and communicate that clearly to your contact.  If met with resistance,  let it be a clear indication of the other person’s lack of value or honor for your expertise or services.  While we all want to “give back” and help out where we can, even Scripture says that a workman is worthy of his wages.  In the least, consider working out some kind of barter that wouldn’t be such a financial drain on them, but that would also provide some kind of positive benefit for you as well.
  4. You don’t have to answer the door.  You’ve seen it all before on some agonizingly anemic chick flick, where in the middle of the night there’s a knock on the door…and as the actress stumbles and bumbles her way through her dark apartment, you almost feel like shouting, “Don’t be stupid!  Girl, don’t you EVEN answer that door!”…but she always does.  And the guy on the other side of that door knows that she always will.  She is the one that allows it to be a Booty Call in the first place.  If she had only stood up to him and said, “no” or never opened the door, she would be quickly be removed from the BC list.
  5. Don’t be afraid to lose out.  I think many of us mean well.  We think: maybe it’ll lead to more business…maybe it’ll garner some kind of recognition…maybe I’ll feel like I’ve contributed something or shared my knowledge.  But the stinging truth is: very rarely does a Booty Call become a long-term relationship. There are the BC’s, and then there are the one’s you take home to meet your mama.  Don’t be afraid to lose out on a few casual relationships in order to save your best for Mr. Right. It’ll be worth a little silence on the phone or a few less email requests in the inbox to be able to focus your best efforts on your best clients.  You know that the best professional relationships are worth the wait.  And they’ll treat you with integrity, respect and honor.
  6. Be ready to move on.  This is where it takes some emotional fortitude.  It’s one step in the right direction to have an awareness that things just aren’t right…that you aren’t happy with the current arrangement…and that there’s nothing about this that’s healthy.  But it’s another step…and a huge on at that…to actually muster up the guts to do something about it.  It takes a lot of guts to NOT open the door…or NOT answer the frantic voicemail…or NOT respond to the do-or-die email.  But it’s the only way to begin to set the healthy boundaries you need to sustain and grow a thriving creative career.  Trust yourself enough to know what is right for you and for your well-being.

Some things to consider:

  • It might be time to do an assessment on the services you have to offer.  Do you have valuable advice to offer people?  Do you give it the value it deserves?  Do you have healthy boundaries in place that allow you to enjoy your life and your career, separately?
  • If you find yourself offering advice regularly, it might be time to organize your experience and knowledge into a product or program that can be marketed to people in need of your expertise.  Considering other options to the “freebie” could open new professional opportunities for you that you never knew were there before.  Consultancy and other avenues may offer you that same sense of satisfaction you were finding in giving away “free advice”…but with personal ad financial rewards for you, as well.  Maybe it’s time to be paid for what you know, and not just for what you do.
  • You may need to wrestle down that pesky need to be liked in order to truly free yourself from the lure of the Creative Booty Call.  We all love to be loved.  But it’s not really love when it comes at our expense.  The more emotionally healthy you get, the more freedom you will experience creatively…and the stronger your creative career will be.

 Some ways to re-establish a healthy sense of yourself:

  • make a list of all of the things that are special and unique about your creativity or your services.  Not only will this provide you with some killer copy to use in your marketing pieces, but it will help you define who you are and what you want out of your career and professional relationships.
  • request client testimonials…you’ll discover some of your biggest fans, and be reminded of the great ideas you had and the fantastic work you did…and don’t forget:  they were happy to pay full price for it!
  • post the testimonials around your office for added encouragement on those days when it’s hard to say “no” to the freebie fix.
  • consider writing a “manifesto” for your creative enterprise that clearly states what you value most, how you want to represent those values, and who you want to be in the process.

Never forget:  you are an active participant in defining your creative relationships. Choose the kind of relationships that build you up, support you, and inspire you to be your creative best.  Don’t settle for the Booty Call.  Have the courage to wait for Mr. Right.

Originally featured on http://www.SacredMuse.us our website supporting creative community.  (If you would like to feature this post on your website, please ask permission and offer the proper credits.

Robles Commission

This is a series of pieces I painted for my friends Rich & Jenny Robles.  Each canvas represents a principle they value and hope to foster in their family.

©2012 Melody Hogan.  All rights reserved.

Clark Rogers Benefit | “Hope” & “Love”

 

These paintings were done in honor of our great friend and best man, Clark Rogers, during a benefit concert held on his behalf.

The “Hope” painting was auctioned off…and in an act of selfless generosity, the winning bidder donated his bid, letting the next bidder in line take home the painting, so the piece brought in DOUBLE the value! The “Love” painting was given as a gift to Clark’s bride of 3 yrs., Lisa, in memory of the extraordinary event.

Churches from all over the community came out to show their love & support,, with over 1,000 people giving testimony of Clark’s influence on their lives. Over $25,000 was raised that night to help offset the huge medical debt they’d incurred in battling Clark’s rare form of cancer. It was a beautiful reminder of what the body of Christ should look and operate like in this world.

The night’s festivities were simulcasted into his hospital room in Mexico, where he and his family were able to witness the countless lives that he’d touched in attendance. Three days later, Clark received his ultimate healing, and went home to be with Jesus. Our faith and lives were forever changed because of this ardent worshiper of God.