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.