In 2001 I turned 40 years old. I was expecting it to be a great year. Up till that time things had been pretty difficult but as a family we had decided to make some major changes.
To be honest life felt like a roller coaster, out of control. Many years of too much work, too much stress and other situations in our family life had taken its toll, in more ways than one.
“When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted” (Luke 6:12)
I had been a Christian since I was a teenager of 17 and in 1984 I married Ian and became a stepmom to two boys and our family grew as we added two daughters of our own to the equation. Like most people I had dreams and hopes for the future, but life doesn’t always work out how we expect or dream.
I had been serving in different areas of ministry for many years with little break but I was not following what God had really placed in my heart, and at that stage I wasn’t even sure what it was. I realize now that my Christian walk had become about pleasing people around me till I no longer knew who I was or what God had really called me to.
A Dark Night of the Soul
One morning, whilst out on my prayer walk I cried out to the Lord, “Father something’s not right but I don’t know how to fix it. Please do what you have to and change it”.
Several days later I awoke unable to get out of bed. My whole body shook, I couldn’t eat, too weak to even sit up all I could do was weep and wonder what on earth was happening. Like Alice in wonderland I felt like I had fallen down a black hole but in fact my body had completely shut down with massive burnout which is a nice way of saying, I was having a breakdown.
Seeing God in the Brokenness
I can’t describe the anguish or the darkness that threatened to consume me. “God where are you? What’s happening”. Years later I can look back and see God there. I can see what happened and why. But at the time I was confused, I had been serving God hard for many years, but in actual fact I was working to try and earn my salvation which is an impossible task.
Over the coming months and years the Lord began to teach me about his mercy, love and grace. It was a time of great anguish and trial but fortunately I had a loving supportive husband, a Bible based church and Christians friends who helped me through and God was able to do a new thing in me.
During those early years I often prayed, “Lord don’t let me become bitter but use this brokenness for your glory”. I went through periods of grief and sometimes even anger, at God and at others. I struggled with thoughts of failure and wondering how God could ever use me. I felt broken and discarded but still I prayed, “God use this for your glory”.
Birth of A Dream
Part of my recovery from burnout was to learn to rest and rediscover who I was. This was a new concept for me as resting in God was not something I had been familiar with. As part of that rest I decide to pick up my pencils and visual diary and start drawing again. Art had been a natural gift all my life but I had largely ignored it thinking it wasn’t spiritual enough for God to use.
I still remember being in such a fragile state but as I began to draw, God the father whispered into my heart that He had something for me in art. Just a tiny flicker at first but it slowly ignited into something bigger. A dream was birthed!
Laying It All Down
Over the past 15 years I have regularly laid my gift of art and myself before God as I am very aware that apart from him I can do nothing. Even trusting him when fatigue overtakes me, a lasting reminder of the damage that burnout can cause and as I wait for him to bring complete physical healing and restoration. Art may not be a platform ministry gift but it is all I have to give him.
“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down”. There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” (John; 6:9-12)
Never would I have imagined he would open the doors he has. I was recently asked in an interview what I most liked about my work. What I most like is that I never know what God is going to do, but it’s also what scares me the most! I have to trust Him and have faith. It’s not easy to make it in the art world and I also need to make an income to live on which is another challenge to my faith.
One day I’m teaching art to a group of women who have suffered childhood sexual abuse, another day I’m ministering by email to someone over the other side of the world whose child is dying of cancer and then on another day I’m in Paris before an audience for several hundred, receiving a coveted award in recognition of my dedication in art.
My Art IS My Gift and So Are the Broken Pieces
There are several ways God uses my art. When I paint I start by writing a prayer of salvation, healing and blessing on the canvas. I work in multiple layers of acrylics, inks and water colours capturing my interpretation of God’s amazing creation. As I paint I fill my studio with praise music and I pray and ask God to guide me and anoint my work. Over the past seven years my artwork has travelled the world, literally and by the Lord’s grace I have been awarded nine international awards.
Doors have also opened for me to teach art to groups in the community who are fragile and vulnerable. Particularly women who have suffered childhood sexual abuse. The Lord used art in my life to help bring healing and give me a voice. Being able to understand and experience brokenness has helped me to use the gift of art with these groups and hopefully show His love in the process.
Give What You Have No Matter How Small
He has done amazing things. Yes, I’ve worked hard to develop my gift but one thing I’ve learnt is to give what you have to God. No matter what your gift is, whether it’s art, music, even cake baking or just having the skill to listen, lay it before God and see where he can take it.
I share my story here in the hope that it will encourage you. Just as Jesus used two small fish and some loaves of bread to feed thousands he can use whatever you give him, no matter how small and he won’t even waste the broken pieces or the failures in your life.
Trust God to do what you can’t.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God”. (Luke 18:27)
Olivia Alexander is an internationally awarded visual artist whose work expresses the glory of God’s creation. Having been a born again Christian for 38 years, Olivia’s faith is fundamental to her art practice and she has witnessed God opening doors around the world for her artistic expression to be seen. Taken from a place of brokenness to an anointed gifting, Olivia shares part of her story here. www.OliviaAlexanderArt.com