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The Happy Painter Man

I am not a winter person. I don’t like the cold weather or the layer of clothes. Early sunsets make me tired by seven o’clock, and getting out from under warm covers every morning is nearly impossible. I don’t want to start the day, dreading the cold floor touching my feet, scraping the ice off the car, and waiting for the heater to start working. It’s sometimes even hard to feel passionate about my writing during the winter. I don’t care if there’s a deadline tomorrow; my hands are cold. I’m going to go lie under a blanket on the sofa and wait for spring.

In short, I find it hard to be hopeful in the winter.

Yet I hold onto a sign that even in the cold and dark, God is developing His plans. It started a few years ago, when as a college senior, I faced the darkest winter of my life. Everywhere I turned, something was in chaos: I was about to graduate without a plan, I had suffered a series of unexplained health problems, totaled my car, and my romantic relationship was in turmoil. A thousand miles away, a family crisis shattered my sense of stability, and at home, the relationship between two of my roommates deteriorated to the point where the police were called in. (Did I mention this all happened in the span of three months?)

Every week, my friend Kate and I met in an empty classroom to pray. Kate would listen to me pour out my heart, dumping my disappointments, fears and hurts. Finally one night, after listening to a particularly bitter rant, she made an unexpected observation.

“You know, I think God is sometimes like that Happy Painter Man on TV.” Huh? The unexpectedness of her comment made me stop and listen, and the analogy stuck with me. It goes something like this:

Do you remember Bob Ross, the curly-haired painter on public television? Every week, he set up an easel on an empty stage and produced an original painting. Talking steadily, he squirted paints onto his palate, dabbed and swiped them across the canvas, and created rolling hills and gentle streams. Pink and white clouds floated through blue skies. He worked quickly, and about halfway through the program, I always thought his paintings looked complete, if a little empty.

But then the Happy Painter Man did something that shocked me. He took a glob of black paint and drew a huge, ugly line on the painting. What was he doing? He ruined it! Yet his smile never faded and his tone never changed. The Happy Painter Man knew exactly what he was doing.

Bit by bit, he added colors to shade the black mark. Other, thinner black lines appeared on the sides. Eventually, I recognized a tree emerging on the canvas. A few minutes later, the artist added leaves and flowers, and the tree looked like it had always been part of a landscape that is not so empty anymore.

Sometimes, God treats us the way the Happy Painter Man treats His paintings. In the middle of the beautiful, tranquil life He made for us, He suddenly draws a huge black mark. To us, it doesn’t make sense. God has ruined our lives. We won’t recover from this wound!

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Over time, God continues to work near those ugly areas. Slight shadings appear in the form of new perspectives and new strengths. Smaller lines grow out of our wounds as we reach toward others who are hurting. And finally, small bits of color appear here and there, as God shows us that this ugly black mark on our lives was always meant to be a tree, adding a greater sense of depth to the piece of art that we are becoming.

Okay, so it’s not the most theologically sound analogy, or the deepest explanation of God, but in the darkness of winter, you take what you can get. Eventually, I saw some of my black marks becoming trees that add color to my life today, or at least strength to my character. Others remained pretty ugly plants, and they continue to cast shadows on my painting. Yet even these, when I see them as part of my bigger landscape, can be put in perspective.

Today, when I do finally drag myself out of bed and into the car, I will drive past winter trees without leaves. I will try to look at them with hope, with a passion for what is possible rather than a narrow perspective of what is currently there. Instead of seeing ugly black marks against the sky, I wonder what the “Master” Happy Painter Man has in store for them when spring comes around.

"For I know the plans I have for you,declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”(Jeremiah 29:11).

[Beth Jusino is an editor, aspiring writer, and general “word guru.” She lives in Arvada, CO, with her husband Eric, a classics student. They enjoy stimulating conversations about their tortoise – Cloe – and the proper ways to conjugate verbs in various languages.]

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