This drawing was inspired by one of my favourite songs ‘Every Captive Free’ by Matt Gilman. It’s also inspired by Isaiah 60:1, which is what the song is based on.
I felt like I was in a prison, trapped by life, people, circumstances, and myself. The bars of my prison might look different to other people’s but whatever they are, this song and scripture remind me that God came to set all captives free.
I pictured myself curled up in a ball: a captive to my fear of being a burden, to my self-hatred and pride, to the pressure of living up to expectations, and to the shame that stops me from lifting my head and being able to face people and look them in the eye. I’m in a dark corner: alone, afraid, ashamed, locked behind the bars of my prison.
Then God comes, a shining light that covers me. He breaks the bars, holds out his hand and tells me to, ‘Arise.’ He tells me to, ‘Shine.’ For he is my light and he has come to free me from the darkness, the prison, the captivity. I look up into his face and his light shines on my face. His glory rises upon me because I am his. So I can stand and walk out of that prison: shining, glowing, free. Singing. Dancing.
God sings and dances over me as he shines on me and calls me to shine. This makes me want to sing and dance. He sets me free and because of this, I can now join him and help set others free. I will sing and dance over people, calling them out of their darkness and captivity. I won’t hide; I will shine so others can shine.
22nd December 2014, Prismacolor pencils on A3 cartridge paper
When I moved from Melbourne to Queensland, it felt like I was standing in the middle of chaos. I wasn’t sure of anything and I worried I was in the wrong place.
At the time, the story about Jesus calming a storm while crossing a lake with his disciples came up a lot. For the first time I could relate to the story because I was right in the middle of a storm.
I learnt that when Jesus said, ‘Let’s cross to other side,’ his disciples could trust he would get them safely to the other side. So when God told me I needed to be in Queensland, I could trust he wanted me there for a reason and he would get me safely through the storm.
I learnt that a storm isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I don’t have to worry about anything while I’m in the storm. If God wants me there, then I can know everything is okay because God will keep me safe in it.
Instead of wanting the storm to go away, now I was okay with staying in the storm because God was with me in it. In a way, I wanted the storm to stay because it was just nice being close to God.
At the time I drew this, I was getting viciously attacked by my self-talk. Over and over again I told myself, ‘You’re a freak!’
I was struggling with my thoughts, feelings and behaviour that I thought were silly. I thought other people weren’t silly like me, and I just wanted to be normal like them. But I thought people had a right not to like me because I was such a freak.
Then I remembered to approach my freakishness from a different perspective. I realised I could like myself even if I was a freak, and maybe other people could too. Maybe I could even like myself because of my freakishness, and maybe other people could too.
When I was in Year 9, a friend and I were talking about being a freak. The conclusion we came to was that if you’re not a freak, you’re a freak.
We’re all freaks in some way simply because no two people are exactly alike and no-one will fully be able to understand another person. Everyone has something different about them, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s really cool. It’s only when people make you feel bad for your differences that it isn’t fun.
The correct response to ‘I’m a freak’ is not: ‘No you’re not.’ I want you to see that I’m a freak.
The correct response to ‘I’m a freak’ is not: ‘Get away from me, freak,’ or ‘Come here, freak, so I can tease you.’ I don’t want to be treated differently because I’m a freak.
The correct response to ‘I’m a freak’ is: ‘So am I.’ I like finding things I have in common with others.
The even better response to ‘I’m a freak’ is: ‘I like your freakishness.’ I like that people are different from me, and it’s because people are different from me that I find them interesting and want to get to know them more.
Sometimes I look around and it feels like everyone else has their place. They know who they are and where they belong, and everyone else knows this about them too. They are neat, clearly defined shapes fitting perfectly into holes made just for them.
Then I look at me and I feel like a ridiculous giant, jagged, ugly piece and I don’t fit anywhere. Sometimes I try to mould myself into a different shape and fit into a hole that isn’t mine. I’ll see a circle and want to be a circle and have their personality. I’ll see a triangle and want to be a triangle and have their talent. I’ll see a square and want to be a square and have their status. All the while I keep trying to see what fits.
I wonder: Is there a hole somewhere that fits me or do I need to change to fit a hole? I get the idea I’m supposed to sit in this tension between staying true to who God made me and letting him mould me to fit the holes he wants me to be in.
I’m learning to embrace my jagged edges because they mean I can fit into more than one hole. I’m learning to work with them and fit into the holes for my shape, without comparing myself to others or wanting what they have. Instead, I can appreciate all the different shapes and enjoy everyone’s gifts including my own shape and my own gifts.
18th January 2015, Prismacolor pencils on A3 cartridge paper
For twelve years I was part of a team of Christians that ran a family holiday program at the beach. The team became a family as we did life together, and we would share deeply with each other. One time, we were given the question: what has God been teaching you?
We discussed this in groups and I was with a lady named Ros.
‘Tina the Tree,’ she said. ‘That’s what I’ve been learning.’
Earlier in the week, Ros read us Tina the Tree.* The book begins with Tina sitting beside a river. Tina runs around trying to do all she can to help different animals: building a nest for a galah, catching flies for a spider, finding food for a koala, providing shade for a kangaroo. She gets so exhausted running around until one of the animals gives Tina some advice which went something like this, ‘Tina, the best way you can help us is if you stay beside the water and just be a tree.’
At the end of the book, the animals carry Tina back to the river where her roots grow deep into the water and all the animals enjoy what she has to offer: a hollow nest for the galah, branches for the spider, gum leaves for the koala, and shade for the kangaroo.
Ros said she was reminded of this story when she had a conversation with one of the mums who came to the program. Ros shared that she’d had a hard year and felt like she went into the holiday program with an empty tank and wasn’t able to give as much as she wanted to. The mum said to her, ‘But remember the woman at the temple. She only gave two coins but it was everything.’
The woman at the temple was a lady recorded in the Bible. While people around her had lots of money and gave lots of money, she was poor and only had two coins. But she gave more than everyone else because what she gave was everything she had.
This spoke to Ros and helped her know that even though she felt like she wasn’t giving much, she was giving what she could, and it was everything. She didn’t need to rush around like Tina the Tree trying to do everything. Instead she could just be Ros and do what she could.
I love Ros’ story. I love how it weaves a book, a conversation, and her story together with the Bible, and brings out a helpful truth. This truth gave me a light-bulb moment. It made me see ‘not much’ efforts in a new way. It flipped my thinking from, ‘I’m not giving much’ to ‘Actually, I’m giving everything.’
This reassures me that I don’t have to try to do everything, meet every need, and please everyone. I can be like Tina, the woman at the temple, and Ros, and simply do what I can. Even if it isn’t much, it’s everything I have.
This insight came at the right time.
Heading into that particular year, I felt like I had nothing to give because I was exhausted from living a rushing-around-like-Tina life. So I stepped back from a lot of roles and focused on writing a book that I felt God told me to write. It felt like I wasn’t doing much which made me feel guilty, but Ros’ story showed me that I didn’t have to do everything to be giving everything. I poured out my heart and soul into writing the book and it was enough.
It might not look like I’m giving much, but I know I’m giving everything.