I am light years away from the busyness and activity that was my world before I was laid low and diagnosed with CFS/ME! Gone are the ‘badges’ I used to wear and polish with pride: ‘engineer’, ‘manager’, ‘chairman of trustees’, ‘counsellor’, ‘prayer minister’, ‘regional leader’, ‘mountain climber’.
The only badge I have now is ‘beloved of Jesus.’ My favourite Bible character then, was Elijah strutting his stuff on the top of Mount Carmel. A more appropriate personality now, would be Amos, sitting under a fruit tree keeping an eye on his sheep.
This is one of my oil paintings. It’s of the source of the River Derwent in the Peak National Park of England. On one of those sort-after sorties into the wilderness. I followed the river as a stream, winding round higher and higher through the moorland heights. The sides of the valley were splashed in heather in bloom and the banks of the tiny stream rippling between banks covered in vivid green moss. A beautiful stimulating scene, it still stirs me when I look at it.
I have since had to learn new ways, working with ‘what is!’. No more assaults on moorland crags and traversing mountain ridges to complete a challenge. I have become content with a few hundred yards gentle amble – at the most, on the flat, with the wind behind me, on a good day – just to ‘be’ and taking in what is close to. There wasn’t time before, I was in too much of a rush. I now appreciate what is ‘under my nose’ so to speak. This was what my heart longed for, what my soul was crying our for. Be still and take it in. The blackthorn blossom on stark black branches, the kestrel poised for the attack, the early powdery willow catkins shaking in the breeze.
I have found that there is life in the solitude. A change from ‘head’ to ‘heart’. Much-needed time for relationship, first with Father, then my wife and family and the occasional friend. To stop and listen and consider.
The transition between the two worlds was hard, even painful, devastating, and at first most unfair. It was like being catapulted into the unknown. The way forward through the fog was only indicated by a signpost with one word, ‘God!’ I am so glad that I was given the grace to go this way.
But note: there came a time for Amos to go in obedience and deliver his message.
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I am learning such a lot from our grandchildren. The girls especially are avid confident painters and apply colour with gay abandon. Our two granddaughters did this for my last birthday. It’s one of their more careful ones.
I was brought up differently and had colouring books, where I had to paint or crayon between the lines. My success was judged upon the neatness. Junior school was the same, self expression was just not on the agenda and art at high school was a disaster.
When I eventually found out in later life that I could ‘do’ art, I became quite good at painting what I could see, whether it was a rolling landscape or a portrait. But given a blank sheet of paper with permission to draw or paint anything, I was totally at sea. I just could not do it. There was a block.
My wife and I were given the opportunity to experiment in someone’s studio. I laid a giant sheet of paper on the floor and got to work with vivid poster paints. I sloshed and splodged. I squirted, flirted and splashed and dabbed, until it began to have a strange effect upon me. I smiled and then laughed, I couldn’t stop because I was so enjoying myself. This was freedom indeed. I felt mischievous, but it didn’t matter.
Now, this isn’t just about painting. It’s about me being me, the person God has made me to be. I’m unique, there is no one else like me. I’m not a copy and my identity is not determined by meeting other people’s expectations. I’m not a clone and especially I am not a cardboard cutout Christian. A divine process began of God removing the blockages and freeing me up to be me. This was accelerated, albeit painfully, after I was diagnosed with ME/CFS. It’s going to be an interesting future!
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Please do not misunderstand me. Chronic fatigue, ME/CFS/CIFDS is a horrible illness and I would not wish it on anybody. I found it devastating at first. In trying to find a way through the illness, I have experienced a whole gamut of emotion; loneliness, anger, helplessness, anguish, grief, including some feelings I didn’t think I had and I’m sure there’s more to come.
However, in looking back, I can now honestly say ‘thank you for chronic fatigue!’ By this I could be implying that God gave me the disease which He certainly did not! But He did allow it or He would have stopped it. He gives me free will, I’m not a puppet on a string. I’m quite sure that to some extent I brought the illness upon myself, because of my adrenalin-fuelled lifestyle. Whereas I don’t minimise the effect of my current difficulties and restrictions, there is a growing underlying gratitude within me because of the benefits. Benefits, that I just do not think would have happened outside the illness.
These are some of them:
Our marriage has benefited and there is a greater understanding between us. My wife and I have more time for each other and are closer together than we ever have been.
I believe I have grown closer to God and learned, in my weakness to lean more on Him for strength and enabling. I have become more dependant upon God.
My creativity has developed, especially in writing, painting and photography.
I have learned more about myself and who I really am in Christ. Also, and this is hard to explain, but God has done something ‘concrete’ inside me.
In the darkness, discomfort and pain I have discovered and experienced surprising blessings that I never would have otherwise.
I am learning to ‘flow’ and pace myself, which uses far less energy. I have developed new ways and am more of a human being than a human ‘doing!’
I can more easily tune in and identify with others who are experiencing brokenness, hardship and disability.
I have experienced a degree of physical, emotional and spiritual healing and several emotional hang-ups have gone. Also, and this is hard to explain, but God has done something ‘concrete’ inside me. I am expectant for more.
I am much clearer as to my real purpose in being alive and feel more prepared for the next phase in my life.
The challenging and sometimes scary journey continues.
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When I was diagnosed with CFS/ME a lot of my activity was curtailed. The ‘doing’ was restricted and I had to learn all over again just to ‘be!’ There was time to consider where I was going in life, to notice the things close to and to pray. Prayer was often difficult at first, with a mind fogged with fatigue. Much of the time it meant sitting silently, accepting in faith that God was with me and waiting for hope to rise.
Gradually, out of the ‘being’ came expression, especially in the form of writing and painting.
This is one of the quickest oil paintings I have done and was almost completely carried out using a palette knife. I had a clear impression of what I wanted to achieve and the very act of getting the paint onto the canvas thick and fast, was in itself very releasing.
The location is down a leafy lane close to our doctor’s surgery. It beats waiting in the waiting room any day! There I can spend a few minutes’ interlude in the cool shade, standing or rather leaning against the old fieldgate, looking out at the glory of the sunlight fields. That’s just ‘being’ – Father and I together.
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When I was slowed right down with fatigue, there were activities that brought me real satisfaction that I didn’t have the strength to do any more.
I had to let them go and find new things. One of those was the rediscovery of my gift of painting.
I had two art teachers at school and they both put me off. In junior school I accidentally tipped over my water pot and the teacher caned me in front of the whole class. In the next school the art master was a tyrant and intimidated us rather than encouraged. This left me believing I just could not do art.
It was years later when a colleague and I attended an evening class for portraiture in oils, that my eyes were opened. Our tutor was not just a good artist, he tuned in with us and was very encouraging. He told me that I had taken to painting “like a duck to water!”
Painting was put on hold for a few years because of family, work pressures and general busyness, until I looked in at a local art gallery. I was fascinated by the landscapes on show and thought to myself “I could do that!” I had a go and I did. Eventually I even exhibited at the same gallery.
The painting above was a first for several reasons. The first time I’d done inland water or boats or architecture. It was too big for our home – it’s four feet long – so it’s now hanging in our local hospital.
This probably wouldn’t have happened without the encouragement or without the illness.