In the Shadow of Your Wings: Hidden with Christ

In the Shadow of Your Wings, Watercolor and Weeping Cherry Blossoms on Paper, 2020

In the Shadow of Your Wings

“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” (Psalm 57:1)

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)

The idea for this piece began with a weeping cherry tree that I walked past it around the time the pandemic first started. I saw my own sorrow in that tree, as the weight of the pandemic started to overwhelm me. As my carefully constructed hopes and expectations, my false sense of control started to crumble. I didn’t know that this was only the beginning, that weightier sorrow was yet to come. 

And yet, the weeping cherry tree represents Another. I saw the white-pink petals scattered on the ground and glued them to the paper. They poetically speak of the Only One in whom I can find refuge when everything else crumbles, Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), who like the cascading branches of the tree, poured out His life for me.  

The reflection below is a modified version of a journal entry I wrote on 4/16, a time when I was really struggling. If you are struggling, I pray you too would find peace, life, rest and joy in Jesus today!

Hidden with Christ

Apart from you, Jesus, I am an empty vessel–stripped, exposed and bare. Though I have nothing to offer, no good works, no successes, no righteousness, nothing but filthy rags, Lord, You have graciously given Yourself for me. You fill this empty vessel and make me a new creature in You. I am no longer a slave to sin, dead in my transgressions, powerless and hopeless. You have made me alive and set me free to serve You by Your precious blood, which cleanses me from all unrighteousness and sin that leads to death. 

You paid for my sin on the cross and suffered the penalty I deserve–Your Father’s righteous wrath for my iniquities. You were forsaken for my sake, but in You, Jesus, I am found. Because my life is not my own–it is Yours, always, completely, forever. 

The uncertainties of this life, my fears, my doubts, my sin, my failures, my successes, my good deeds–they do not define me, nor can they save. They cannot tell me who I am, though they try. Because I am not my own–I was bought with a price, with the precious blood You spilled out for me on the cross, the life You gave to give me life eternal in You.

Your scars tell me who I am. I see Your nail-pierced hands and feet, the gash in Your side where they broke Your heart with a spear, and the blood and water gushed out. Water from the Rock. For You died for me, and Your sacrifice is enough to save and forgive and cleanse me from my sin. 

“It is finished” (John 19:30), You declared before the end, for sin is defeated, and You are victorious forever. You rose again three days later, confirming who You are, declaring Your victory over sin and death.

My life is not my own. I died with You–died to myself, to my sin. And I was raised with You–my life is hidden with You in God. Like a baby bird with its mother, in the shadow of Your wings, I take refuge both now and forever. For You walked through another shadow–the shadow of death–for me, and in Your shadow, Your sacrifice, Your life, Your love, I find Peace. Life. Rest. Joy.

And when the storms around me–fear of a future unknown, pains of past failures, lies of my heart–threaten to consume me, when the Accuser points his finger at me, reminding me of every prideful thought, every selfish motive, every evil deed, every sin, whispering that I can’t go back to you–You’re too sinful, too dirty, too unworthy. He could never love you. You’ll never be good enough.

Then I will remember the truth and look away from the raging doubts within–turning my eyes towards You. I will look to the cross, to Your face–Your thorn-pierced brow, Your anguished tears, Your arms stretched wide, Your flesh bleeding and mangled, Your heart breaking–and see what my sin cost You, the sinless Lamb. Your punishment should’ve been mine. It is true, I am sinful, I am unworthy. 

And yet, as I look a little longer at your lingering gaze, I see Your love for me. I see why You endured that cross, for the joy set before You. I see that I could never deserve Your love, nor could I ever add to it. For You have given Your love freely to a sinner undeserving by giving Yourself.

Closer still, I look and see Your lips struggling, yet insistent on forming those precious words. I hear the declaration of Your victory even in death, 

“It is finished.”

Sin is defeated.

And the Accuser shrinks back in fear, he trembles in dread, at the sound of the voice that spoke the universe into being, at this eternal, unchangeable word, he falls silent. His doom is sure. His lies have no power anymore.

And now, I look above to see Your glorious face, the crown of thorns replaced by a crown of glory. Your once-lifeless body now risen in spotless glory. As You extend Your arms to embrace me, I see Your hands–You still bear the scars. 

Lifting up Your face in triumph, Your declare that unshakable truth:

“It is finished!” (John 19:30)

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name. You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

And at the sound of your voice, I fall on my face before You, declaring, 

“Worthy is the Lamb.” (Revelation 5:12)

“Come and See”: A Reminder for Christmas

“Come and See,” Acrylic and Crushed Tree Bark on Canvas, 30”x40”, 2019. The Greek and Hebrew text and translations are as follows: ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε (“Come and see” from John 11:34) and אַתָּ֖ה אֵ֣ל רֳאִ֑י (“You are the God who sees me” from Genesis 16:13).

I know Christmas is right around the corner, but I just wanted to take a moment to share my latest painting, which ties into Christmas if you keep reading. This wasn’t necessarily intentional, but I believe that God works everything out according to His perfect will and timing. This is the first painting I’ve completed since my studio residency started in early November, and the only large-scale piece I’ve completed since August. I had been playing with ideas for several months, but I had no concrete direction for my next piece, which began to weigh on me. 

In October, after over a month of wrestling with ideas, I came across Genesis 16 in my daily reading, a passage that spoke to the uncertainty I was facing. It details the plight of Hagar, Sarah’s (Abraham’s wife) maidservant, who after being found pregnant by Abraham (at Sarah’s own scheming, for she was barren) and abused by Sarah, flees to a spring in the desert. There, the angel of the LORD finds her and comforts her in her uncertainty and distress. Hagar did not know how her pregnancy would work out or what would come of her situation, but the LORD told her to return to Sarah and promised that her descendants would be “too numerous to count” and that she would have a child named “Ishmael” (Meaning: “God hears”) because the LORD had heard of her misery (Genesis 16:11). After this personal encounter with the LORD, Hagar says of Him, “You are the God who sees me…I have now seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13). The whole passage really struck me, and I recorded this reflection in my art journal on 10/24, “In the desert of life, You are the God who sees me. You search for me and pursue me, even in that dry place of uncertainty, when I don’t know what to do next.” 

Two days later, my struggles with ideas suddenly became an afterthought as I shockingly learned that a close family friend had passed away earlier that afternoon. The news hit me very hard, especially after having attended a funeral earlier that day for someone else. This piece expresses my personal grief over my friend’s death, but it also affirms to those who mourn that their suffering is real and tangible and it needn’t be ignored or hidden. With this stark, confrontational gaze, I encourage viewers to “come and see,” and acknowledge the reality of suffering and death that confronts us all. The sting of death may not be something we want to talk about or think about on a daily basis, but we need to recognize that there are many around us who are facing it, and no one should have to go through that alone. Yes, the darkness is very real, but is that where it all ends?

 For thousands of years, people had walked in the shadow of death. The darkness was real and piercing and all-consuming. Until one night, unbeknownst to the world, a newborn baby’s cries, so ordinary yet extraordinary, shattered the silence of centuries. In a lowly manger, pure Light pierced through the blackness of the night.

To find true comfort and healing for our souls, we must look outside of ourselves. To the perfect One who voluntarily left His place in heaven and humbled Himself to enter our broken and dark human existence, marred with the reality of sin, pain, and death. Here is where Christmas comes in.

“Come and see…” Who are these words really speaking to? Are they speaking to us? Or are they the words we speak to Another?

“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled: ‘Where have you laid him?” He asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.” 

(John 11:32-35)

When His friend Lazarus died, Jesus did not ignore the pain and suffering of His friends who suffered a very real, tangible loss. Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Jesus knew this. He also knew the work that God would soon do through Him when He would raise Lazarus from the dead. But in that moment, as He watched the people around Him weep at Lazarus’ death, He acknowledged the reality of it with a simple question, “Where have you laid him?” And as they invited Him into their pain with “Come and see, Lord,” Jesus not only came and saw, He did something utterly profound. He entered their suffering and felt the bitter reality of loss they felt, He tasted the sting of death and cried with them, though He held the power over death. 

Jesus wept.

Two short words, yet they carry such weight, such hope. “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…” (Isaiah 53:4a). We are not alone. He is Emmanuel, “God with us.” In our joys and triumphs, but also in our suffering and pain. He who tasted death with the mourners in this moment, also tasted death for us when He, the perfect, righteous sacrifice, who faithfully obeyed every commandment of God that we could not, bore our sins on the cross and died in our place, suffering under the wrath of God. And so the passage continues, “yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed…He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken…Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge, my righteous servant will justify many and He will bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4b-5;8b;10-11).

“Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy Him who holds the power of death–that is the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Here is another verse that has encouraged me during my sorrow, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3). Not only did Jesus suffer and die, He also rose again, thereby securing eternal victory over sin and death! This is the hope of Christmas! 

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

In the midst of deepest sorrow, when I cry, “Come and see, Lord”, like Hagar, I can say, “You are the God who sees me.” While death still stings now, I know the One who feels my pain, weeps with me, and tasted death for me. The One who came “to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve” (Isaiah 61:2-3). He is my Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3). 

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). 

The Story Behind My Latest Piece

GreatIsYourFaithfulnessSAVE

“Though the Waters Rage and Foam, You are my Ever-Present Help–Great is Your Faithfulness”

“Though the Waters Roar and Foam, You are my Ever-Present Help—Great is Your Faithfulness.” Acrylic on canvas. 30”x40”. 2019.

I have good news to share today! After nearly 11 months of searching, struggling, and waiting, God has answered my prayer and provided me a paid, 12-month position as the Arts and Humanities Intern at the City of Takoma Park! I just received confirmation that my background check and paperwork all went through this morning, so everything is official now! Praise the LORD! “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits—…who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:2;4-5)

“I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

It is fitting that on this day of rejoicing God also allowed me to finish this piece—His timing is perfect! I started planning this piece over a month ago (March 30th), back when I was still in a time of waiting and uncertainty. The initial idea came while I was reflecting on my Bible reading in the Psalms. That day was supposed to have been Day 2 of Regeneration Who, a Doctor Who convention that I had reserved an artist alley table for back in October and had been working hard to prepare for ever since. However, less than a week beforehand, the convention was shockingly cancelled with little notice from the staff and no word on refunds. I thought I had trusted God to get me this far, but as I processed the news, I felt the walls crumbling down and the waters raging around me as my plans shattered. Like so many times I had been rejected from jobs and art shows over the past year, I felt my heart sink and wondered why God was allowing these things to happen again and again.

But as I reflected more, I realized that He was stripping me bare and exposing the hidden areas of my heart. My reaction to this cancellation, although not complete devastation, proved that I had indeed put a little of my hope in this event, rather than putting it ALL in God. Through these many trials, He has taught me that I cannot trust in anything or anyone other than Him—not a job offer, not an acceptance email, not a planned convention, not even well-meaning words from someone I love. When everything else crumbles, “He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:6). When my soul is dismayed, He is my hope, and “I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11). When my plans are shattered and the waters rage around me, “God is [my] refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…The LORD Almighty is with [me]; the God of Jacob is my fortress” (Psalm 46:1;7). When I am rejected by others, in Christ I can rejoice, for He is “a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed” (Isaiah 28:16). Christ is sufficient in every circumstance; He is the bread of life, in Him, my soul will be satisfied (John 6:36; Psalm 63:5), not in the things of this world.

The Hebrew text comes from these meditations on God’s Word, specifically the Psalms. As the Psalmist wrote, “Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens…If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life” (Psalm 119:89;92,93). God has preserved my life through His Word. Day after day. Though trials come, His Word stands firm, as the Hebrew text does in the piece. The text, though crisp and bright, still carries the weathered texture of the raging water, because God doesn’t just leave us with His truth to remember and force us to bear the hardships alone, He literally stands with us in the midst of the storm and bears our burdens and scars, upholding and sustaining us through it all.  The text reads like a prayer (see the following numbers for corresponding rows and keep in mind that Hebrew is read from right to left), 1.) “Hope in God (Psalm 42:11), 2.) “My Strength and Song” (Psalm 118:14), 3.) “My Rock” (Psalm 62:6) and “Refuge” (Psalm 46:1), 4.) “My Fortress” (Psalm 91:2); 5.) “And my Salvation” (Psalm 62:6); 6.) “In You (Psalm 31:1) I will not be shaken” (Psalm 62:6).  It is also a testimony—my strength in these hardships was not found in myself or my own abilities, but in God alone. And I know that the gift of this internship was not due to my own endurance or patience (for I have fallen short many times and grown weary), but God’s love and faithfulness. To Him alone be the glory!

I’ll leave off with these verses, from which I took part of the title, “Great is your faithfulness.” Spoken as a lament by the prophet Jeremiah, who had suffered great persecution and witnessed the destruction of his beloved Jerusalem, they still ring very true today, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’ The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:19-26)

“Boldly Go”- UMD Art Honors Exhibition: February 10-24

So, I am one of seven UMD Art Honors students and our upcoming exhibition, “Boldly Go,” runs from February 10th through the 24th at he 39th Street Gallery in Brentwood, MD (see details below). We have been working very hard this past semester (and over break) and are excited to share our work with you. If you can make it, the free opening reception is Saturday, February 10th from 6-8pm. Hope to see you there!

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