Hello, good reader! If you’ve just stumbled upon this page, you can find the first part of today’s story here. Once you’ve read that, you will then be allowed to proceed to the story below. Okay, so you can see the story below no matter what, but…just read part one. You’ll almost for sure not regret it.
I hadn’t given up on our evergreen tree painting, really.
I had just sort of shelved it, that’s all, hoping that someday…somehow…it would happen.
“Someday and somehow” can mean so many things, can it not?
In the worst case, it can mean NEVER.
In the not-great-but-not-the-worst case it can mean 80 years.
In the BEST case, it can mean exactly NOW.
(But that’s not really good for your character, is it?)
And then, in a really-g0od-I’ve-got-no-reason-to-complain case, it can mean…let’s see…approximately two or three months.
Which is, as I’m sure you’ve guessed already, just when my “someday and somehow” came along!
I was mindlessly scrolling through Instagram of a morning, when an illustration caught my eye.
It was actually the cover of a book that Story Warren was recommending, and though the book itself sounded pretty amazing, it was the artwork that stole my breath. Here it is, just so you’ll know I’m not being dramatic (this time)…
See what I mean?
I left a comment about it, and next thing I knew, S.D. Smith (the author of the Green Ember series and the founder of Story Warren) had sent me a message introducing me to Jamin Still, the artist behind the illustration.
By the way, this is just another reason you should be a subscriber to Story Warren; when they say that they are your “allies in imagination” and are on your side, they really mean it.
Anyhow, I immediately hopped over to Jamin’s Instagram page and, once a follower of his work, found myself repeatedly impressed by the magic he was able to bring to life with a paintbrush.
“If Tolkien or Lewis had used paints rather than words”…I thought, delighting in the vibrant and imaginative creations that filled up his Instagram feed.
And I cannot seem to recall what triggered it (pregnancy brain, much?), but I eventually saw something in Jamin’s work that caused the memory of Hosea to resurface, and with it, the painting my husband and I had hoped for.
It was a total lightbulb moment, and this bolt of hope shot through me…
but it was a hope that I quickly squelched.
Because there was no way, right?
Artists have their own stuff going on in their heads, right?
They’ve got things to do and people to see, right?
And you especially can’t just up and ask someone who has beautiful illustrations on the cover of a book to paint a TREE for you, right? Right???
This is the internet, you know. Magical things happen!!!
With this in mind, not feeling SO very optimistic but determined to at least give it a try, I shot Jamin an email asking if he ever did custom paintings.
Imagine my surprise when he messaged me back, completely open to the idea!
And long story short (because this blog story hasn’t been long at ALL), we started discussing my husband’s journey with Hosea, and the probability that a painting of our favorite passage was actually something that could happen before Christmas 2017.
Turns out, it was very probable.
In fact, the entire process came about with such ease and such success that I couldn’t help but feel that the Lord was directing this, and had been all along.
Does God only concern himself with the big things, like our health scares, or who we marry?
Is He confined to a pattern with which to declare His glory and power?
Is He limited in the ways He chooses to care for His children?
HA!! Excuse me while I quote my friend, Cher Horowitz.
Pity the Christian who believes that God is too big for the small stuff; in fact, I think He delights in the small stuff, even, by golly, over the paintings we have on our walls! And when we invite him into the minutiae of our lives, He is more than capable of displaying His glory in every single corner of our hearts and homes.
The most touching thing to me about this part of the process was that Jamin, once entrusted with this gift, took it upon himself to really understand the story we wanted to tell.
Stunning in his professionalism, he listened to my husband’s sermon, and with his tools, he brought it to life.
When he sent me a picture of the painting for my approval, tears burned my eyes.
There it was…
our evergreen tree.
And not just any evergreen tree, but one whose life flowed out rather than in. The greenness of the tree in the painting was extending, taking over the dry, cracked ground of the barren wilderness surrounding it, and, well, we KNOW that greenness very well, don’t we? Because it has spread and it has spread and it has spread until it has crossed oceans, finding us and redeeming us and making us green, too.
Us! The people who were NEVER green!
And this greenness will continue to spread until every tribe, tongue, and nation will know of its life-giving fame.
So the painting felt living to me, in a way. This was no inanimate gift that I had retrieved from the mailbox and had hiding in my closet. It was a story, throbbing from behind cardboard packaging with memories of a church changed by the Word and through the Spirit, with Christian brotherhood that reaches across miles and Instagram accounts, and with wild affection for a husband who loves the Scriptures more than life.
Ah! It’s no wonder that I had a hard time waiting to give my husband this gift! It was basically begging me to every time I walked by its hiding place between my boxes of boots in the closet!
But the wait was totally worth it.
For the most amazing thing happened on Christmas Eve.
Gathering our children around him before bed, he opened up the Bible to read to them one of his favorite Christmas passages, not from the book of Luke, but from the book of Isaiah, where God promises to judge the proud.
How exciting this decree of doom must have been to the Israelites. Finally, the Assyrians were going to GET it! God was going to destroy all their enemies!
But then, in what must have been a horrifying twist, those words of judgement swing right back around to the Israelites, themselves. Their own idolatry and pride had found them out, and a great purging was on their horizon: “Behold, the Lord God of hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the great in height will be hewn down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One.”
Israel’s deserved future was a landscape of stumps, dead, lifeless, and hopeless.
Sounds like someone we know, doesn’t it?
(cough, cough, GOMER)
“But wait…” my husband told the kids. “There is good news!”
He then took them to the next chapter of Isaiah, where the story takes a truly amazing turn: from one of those dead old stumps, “the stump of Jesse”, to be exact, a shoot was going to spring forth! And this tree…this tree that was dead…this tree that was a STUMP…it would bear fruit.
What a beautiful prelude to the Christmas story!
And what a beautiful way to start our own Christmas that evening; if you find it striking that my husband was talking about TREES two hours before I was going to give him our TREE PAINTING, you are not alone.
I was struck.
But wait, it gets better. For he then proceeded to sum it all up with these exact words to our family…
“And the tree that grows forth from that stump? It’s going to be EVERGREEN! For a people like us who are never green…Jesus, the promised Savior, will be evergreen…”
My friends, I was just quietly sitting across the room from him with our baby asleep on my lap, and I was thinking that I might could just die on the spot.
“Is this really happening?” I thought.
I mean, it had been such a long time since he had mentioned that tree!
And now with the painting in the box under the wrapping paper right there next to us he’s basically quoting his sermon from Hosea?
And so the belated Christmas gift that I want to send your way this January morning is a testimony from a pastor’s wife in Oklahoma who has done more faith wrestling than she cares to admit: God is real.
And this God who is real declares His glory in millions of ways in millions of homes every single day, and the testimonies of His work could stack up and reach the sky where His glory is already declared ‘round the clock.
Was this painting really a gift for my husband, then?
Or was it a gift for me?
Funny how that all gets blurry sometimes.
Our Christmas Eve devotional concluded and, sending the children off to bed, we began getting the house and presents ready for the next morning. And as we worked, my heart was thumping in anticipation, along with a fair amount of trepidation.
I thought the painting was perfect, but what if it didn’t translate to my husband? What if he had wanted something different? What if he didn’t know what it was?
But when the time finally came and we were sitting by the light of the Christmas tree and he tore off the wrapping paper and he pulled out that small but mighty painting, his eyes landed on the tree, and he looked immediately over at me in speechless wonder…
“This is Hosea…” he whispered.
If I had worried before that the gift wouldn’t be as special to him as I hoped, I’d wasted my time, and if I had wondered at all whether this gift truly was Spirit-led or not, I’d been wondering in vain. Our living room, so often a scene of disorder and Cheerios and video games, had turned sacred all of a sudden, and the man that I love held the painting that we’d wanted and he stared at it, shaking his head in amazement.
I don’t have any compunction at ALL saying out loud that God wanted us to have this painting.
He wanted this tree to be on our wall.
And I don’t know how He will use it or how it will impact our family, but I do know without a doubt that one of the best things that happened to me this Christmas was seeing first-hand YET AGAIN, in this world full of sin and suffering that can reduce faith to a flicker, that God is near.
That He cares.
That He writes our desires and hears our prayers for them, even the smallest ones about paintings of trees that make us think of Him.
Ah, He truly is evergreen.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that now.
But if I do…
I can’t thank you enough for sticking around to hear my Christmas story! I thank God for you. And I also thank God for the brothers He used in this story. If you’d like to see more of Jamin’s work (which is truly incredible – I already have my eye on another painting for my eldest’s upcoming birthday!), follow him on Instagram and then be sure to check out his website. You’ll get lost there, in a good way. And if you’d like to find an amazing new resource for your family, look no further than Story Warren (and follow them on Facebook and Instagram, too!). I could write a completely different two-part blog post about the ways they have impacted our family, but I guess I’ll have to save that for another day. Lastly, if you’ve not read the Green Ember series by S.D. Smith, you are missing out! Find them at Amazon here (affiliated link), and keep up with Sam and his family on Facebook and Instagram; they are sure to bless you!