Out of the Depths - the Story
"Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cries for mercy."
This painting has been hanging on my living room wall since 2005. It has journeyed with me through multiple moves, including two across the country. After all this time, I still catch myself staring at it, reflecting in the message and meaning and memories that it holds.
You see, when I was nineteen I lost my brother to suicide. At the time I was a freshman in college, majoring in fine art. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that my world essentially flipped upside down with that phone call.
During the months that followed I felt lost. I met with pastors and counselors. I sought answers. I went through the first few stages of grief in a blur. I wanted to drop out of school.
But then I was given some advice different than what everyone else had been offering; my painting professor told me to "use it."
So I did. I bought the biggest canvas that would fit in my little 2-door car, and in the evenings after classes I would haul my paint and brushes across campus to the art room. It was almost always empty, so I'd blare some "Simon and Garfunkel" and paint.
It started out rather raw, much like my emotions were:
During the process of reworking this painting I kept thinking about everything. I thought about Mike's life and everything he'd gone through. I remembered our childhood together and I thought about his interests and likes, and how he'd ticked. I thought a lot about his journey through this broken world and the mental illnesses that he struggled with.
I thought about God, too, and His role in all this. I read a lot of Bible passages and found several that helped me piece things together and find comfort. The one that has really stayed with me regarding Mike is this:
"Because he loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him and show my salvation.
God was with him though every moment of his life, even the last one. God knew his sufferings. He knew his thoughts. He knew what was in his heart. Some people within the church view suicide as an ultimate end, but I cling to God's mercy and trust that he granted Mike salvation.
These are some of the passages that carried me through my grief:
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.
For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
How personal is our relationship with God, that he invites us to throw the weight - that terrible HEAVY weight - of our grief onto Him. He'll carry it on His shoulders so we don't suffocate under it. And while doing that, He still takes the time to bandage our wounds and listen to every little painful cry we have. Every single time we need to talk. He hears it all.
And of course the passage behind the painting, the one that I feels applies to both my brother and I:
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cries for mercy.
God heard him. God heard me. And God hears you. He knows our hardships and constantly lifts us up to Him. Don't let the significance of that slip away.
By the time I set the completed painting on the easel in front of the class for its critique, it had transformed from the raw image to the completed piece you see today. It's journey literally mirrored the journey my mind had been on. It was a part of me. That peer review remains vivid in my memory... I remember how silent the room was, for what seemed like an eternity, until a young man on the other side of the room uttered a loud "Whoa!" He went on to explain his outburst, saying that he'd been admiring the flower when he suddenly noticed the hands in the flames and realized this was much more than a floral piece. And I realized that, for the first time in my life, I had created something original that had real meaning, which could be recognized as such by others.
The story of this painting doesn't end with it hanging on my living room wall. The same professor who helped me use art to process my grief asked if I would like to leave the painting behind to be added to the hallway displays on campus. His reasoning? "It might help someone else." I couldn't bear the idea of leaving my painting, but his words have stuck with me and are the reason why I finally made prints available thirteen years after I first completed the original, and why I now create prints of many of my pieces.
Prints of this piece are available in my Etsy shop. The archival print, produced by CG Pro Prints, is hand-stretched on a 16x16* canvas. I repaint the flower and cross in acrylic on each print, to capture the strength of the original piece. This process makes each print unique.
I have a feeling that whoever purchases a print of "Out of the Depths" has a story behind why this painting spoke to them. I'd love to listen to your story, just as you've listened to mine. Please feel free to share it in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember that whatever your journey has been, God is with you. He's got this. <3
*Also available as 10x10.
**A portion of proceeds from these prints will be added to a memorial fund with save.org, an organization that focuses on mental health education and support for survivors.**