Reading the lives of the saints is so inspiring... and bloody frustrating.
I mean, take Joan of Arc, this humble peasant girl who received visions from Heaven that directed her to confront the Dauphin and lead an army against the English and win back her beloved France. Her "voices", as she called them, told her secrets that she couldn't possibly have known, which allowed her to win the Dauphin's favour and make bold tactical moves that actually worked. Joan was very devout, with virtue and strength of character that withstood even the most vicious scrutiny. She was peaceful and articulate, able to resist her enemies even when she was tortured and unjustly tried for months on end. She was eventually burned at the stake under false accusations. Even then, her final words were, "Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames!"
Way to set the bar really high, Joan.
I read her story and I am inspired... and discouraged because I know that my life bears none of the marks that made her a saint. Me? I'm a hot mess of compulsive decisions and crazy emotions. I don't receive visions. And I definitely say "bloody" a little too often to be considered truly holy.
Tearing Down My Idols
Not gonna lie, it's been a really hard year. A lovely cocktail of stress, anxiety, and depression have made it difficult to function many days. I've struggled to manage the business I've built up over the last decade, and my home and my family have suffered for it as I've tried to find the balance. Even my body has become unfamiliar, with a host of vague but uncomfortable health problems nagging at me constantly.
Little by little, God has been stripping away those things that I once thought made me strong. And it's been b.r.u.t.al.
Because you see, I've been looking for evidence of my strength in the exterior. Starting and running my own business... I thought that made me strong. Keeping my house clean and living a healthy lifestyle... I thought that made me strong. Praying multiple times a day and controlling my emotions... I thought that made me strong.
So when I simply couldn't keep up with the demands of my business, and my house always felt messy, when I could no longer trust my body and depression made it difficult to do things I once loved, when my prayer felt dry and distracted and every month I was riding an emotional rollercoaster... all the "proof" of my strength vanished like fog in the morning sun.
And yet, and yet... God keeps impressing on my heart this call to be a saint. In a very low moment a few months ago, I literally screamed at God, "Why me?! Why would you call someone as weak and as flawed as me??"
Then I wept, for there is nothing I have desired more deeply than to be a saint, and if God is allowing me to feel so weak, it is because he wants to show me a still more wonderful way.
So I sit in the rubble of my shattered idols, the illusions of my strength stripped away. Gently, gently, God has been showing me what it means to be truly strong.
My Grace is Sufficient for You...
Joan rose up in a time when the world most needed her, and God equipped her for a task that would convince many hearts of his power and glory. It was by his grace alone that she kept her composure before tribunals of vindictive men. It was by his grace alone that their investigations uncovered only the most blameless and virtuous life.
Had she been born in this day and age, Joan would not have had the impact that she did. It's kind of funny when you think about it, but some of her battles were won simply because the very idea of her struck fear into the hearts of superstitious men who thought she was a witch. She also lived in a time when women usually didn't take an interest (or weren't given a place) in politics, and they certainly didn't lead armies. Her mission was unprecedented and unrepeatable.
So, as much as I admire her, I won't be the next Joan of Arc.
I can only trust that if God is actually calling me to be a saint, then he is going to make me into the kind of saint that the world needs right now. That he will equip me with a strength that will get me through a very different kind of battle.
...For My Power is Made Perfect in Weakness
I will admit that when the storms of life begin to stir about me, all too often I react like Peter did after Jesus called him out of the boat. I look at the waves that are crashing around me and I become frightened and dismayed... and I start to sink.
So I don't write this blog post as someone who's like, "Guysssss. I've totally got this figured out." I write this as someone who frequently and pitifully cries out, "Lord, save me!" (Matthew 14:30)
The last few months as I've read the stories of several different female saints and women of the bible, whilst grappling with my own weakness, God has presented me with the same theme over and over again: that saints are not made on the front lines of battle, like Joan of Arc, or in echoing Vatican halls, like Catherine of Sienna—but before all the drama, within the quiet of your heart.
The saints are not saints because they did amazing things. Lots of people have done amazing things who were not canonized. It wasn't because they lived totally perfect lives—they were the last ones to think of themselves as perfect.
No, the saints became saints because, at the core of their being, they allowed themselves to rest in God, allowing him to work through them. Surrendering their weakness and faults—and gifts and talents—they trusted in him like a child in their Father's arms. In that stillness, they could hear him speak. In that stillness, they could believe that everything he says is true: that we are loved, we have been forgiven, we have been redeemed. That he will be our strength.
And from that solid foundation—like a house built on rock—that peace was able to radiate into the rest of their lives so that even when the storms of temptation or persecution or trial came, they knew who they were and where they were going—and persevered to the end.
So, God has been reminding me, over and over again, to surrender all the things I'm trying to "do" to prove my strength, and just rest with him. Practically speaking, I intentionally take time for silence first thing in the morning and again at night before I fall asleep, and many other times in the day when I am reminded of it. I visualize picking up each of the worries and failures and expectations that clog my heart like little stones and cast them away, leaving myself open and ready to accept God's rejuvenating love. (Who am I kidding, I have to pick up a freaking shovel and scrape 'em out of there.) My brother recently described it as a "spiritual neutrality", whereby God is allowed to come in and do the work that he wants to do.
I find myself tapping back into a deep interior peace that I hadn't realized I'd been neglecting in all these years of busyness and adulting. I've found it ready and waiting to grow within me, slowly but steadily, like a blossom that just needed sunshine. So on days, like yesterday, when bad news and ugly hormones and big expenses come crashing down in one big tidal wave of Awful, beneath the frustration and tears lies the steady knowledge that I will get through this, I have not been abandoned. I can begin again.
So, no, I am not the next Joan of Arc. But maybe, just maybe, this peace that God desires to cultivate within me will radiate into the rest of my life. Perhaps he will form me into a little saint, one who found her strength, not in her own abilities, but from resting within the heart of God... to accomplish a mission unique to me and the times we live in. A mission so much greater than I ever could have imagined.
I am not afraid... I was born to do this.
— Joan of Arc
About this painting
I've been wanting to paint Joan of Arc since reading the novel by Mark Twain (I HIGHLY recommend it!) this past summer. I found my inspiration rather unexpectedly when I came across a basic 3D rendering of the Jeanne d'Arc statue that stands in Paris. I was instantly captivated by the idea of an exaggerated perspective, of emphasizing just how epic her story was.
This painting was a unique challenge. While I'm used to having precise photo reference (or at least a photo compilation) to work from, for this painting I had to imagine most of the details. I had never painted armour before, for one. I also "revamped" some of the elements that I thought were lack-lustre in the original statue, such as the dorky head-piece the horse was wearing. But the two things I really wanted to get right were the flag—which held great meaning for Joan—and her face. In the end, I am quite satisfied with how it all turned out and I feel like it captures (at least in part) the hope and excitement of her mission. My own confidence has grown in leaps and bounds, and I feel ready to begin considering paintings of other saints for whom we don't have photographic records.
If you would like to see the making of this painting, you can watch the time-lapse video below! And be sure to turn up the volume! My extremely talented brother, Levi, composed this song specifically for this video—in a mere day and a half. It was truly anointed!
Watch the time-lapse video for "Joan of Arc"
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Thank you and God bless!