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 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

 

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.

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.