The Progression of an Unexpected Journey

“Father, you have called me to write today about my journey, use my hands dear Lord to type the words you wish me to share with those who will read my blog. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”

On April 8, 2018, I picked up my bible for the first time in a very long time with the intention of getting to know God. Not the God, I was taught about as a child, or as an adult through the churches I attended. No, I wanted to learn about the true God which is written about in the bible. I wanted to know who he is and the history which is contained within the bible. I was also curious how the history in the bible compares with what archeology has discovered but I knew that would probably come later.

Those who read this are probably wondering what this has to do with my journey as an artist. I had considered creating another blog to write about this journey but in truth, my journey as an artist brought me here, so these are not two separate journeys but one journey. My journey.

This is not the first time, in my 58, soon to be 59 years of life, to have picked up the bible with the intention of reading it from cover to cover. No, I remember at least one other time, but more like at least two other times of attempting to do so. You have probably already surmised that those other attempts, were just that, attempts. Attempts which failed. I have asked myself several times what makes my journey this time different.

I believe there is one significant difference. This time I was called upon to take this journey. The other times, the intent was just to be able to say I did it. This time, I felt a hunger that would not subside. I had to open the bible in my lap and start reading it. This time, that hunger did not subside. It did not dissipate. In fact, it grows. Why now? Why not back then? Maybe because I wasn’t ready for the full impact of what reading the bible would do in my life. But I really don’t know.

I can’t really say that there has been any major changes in my life, external life that is since starting to read the bible. At least not that anyone outside of my home would notice, other than attending church from time to time. Attending church isn’t a major motivation for me right now.  I go when I feel called to do so and when it is possible around my work schedule.

The changes which have occurred in my life are more related to how I see God, the part he has in my life, and how I should be handling my life and decisions. My priorities have changed. My first priority every day is to read the bible. It is the first thing I do, even on the days I have the early shift at work, with the exception of taking a shower first and getting dressed, so I’m not distracted with the possibility of not getting to work on time. I read between 1 to 5 chapters every day. There are not many days in which I didn’t read at least one chapter a day. I finished Isaiah 54 this morning.

I have gone back and forth on what I should do, whether I should just read through the bible and consider deeper study as the next step after I have read the entire bible. Or, should I include deeper study while I’m reading through the entire bible.

I started researching bible study methods and tried a couple of them. One source was from Anne Graham Lotz’s AnGeL Ministries website where I signed up for a daily devotional email. After trying a couple of the study methods, I put them aside for later.

To satisfy some of this desire to dig deeper, I started with a monthly topic prompt list of verses to look up. I type them into my digital journal next to a copy of the list. These help me to get a view of particular topics like the one for this month is “Forgiveness”.

I also type in the daily devotional scripture from AnGeL Ministries email I receive daily.

Then I came across a couple Facebook groups which included some bible study with bible journaling, so I tried including one of them. I did complete one of these studies and went on to the next one. I didn’t complete the next one, as you will see later.

Then another bible study crept in that was a bit different and had a two step study. The first step was writing out scripture that we were reading/studying and the second step was to use a keyword list to focus on particular words in the chapters marking them and then answering some questions about them or writing what we learned. This is called the Inductive Bible study method. To be truthful I didn’t complete that study yet. It is easy to find an excuse why. I don’t like excuses, they are meaningless and usually are not connected to the real reason.  I intend to go back to this study later once I have read the entire bible.  I felt like I was studying something out of context without knowing what transpired before. Then too, I don’t think I am ready yet for that type of in-depth study which is how I felt about the previous study methods I tried.

These two studies also overlapped each other. With the monthly prompts and two different types of bible studies, and my daily reading I was overloading myself. I realized too I was just piling things on possibly as a way to prove to myself that I am a godly person. This was not the right attitude to have so I put them aside for later.

I did love writing out the scripture from the one study so I started writing out a chapter a day when I was in Psalms. This, however, slowed down my progression in reading because I was trying to do it in conjunction with my daily reading. After feeling like I was being held back, I decided to continue my daily reading like I had been doing and not let writing scripture by hand hold me back. I now write scripture by hand when I have time to do so. If I can do it daily, I do. If not, if I skip a day or two, I don’t feel guilty about it.

I knew I was piling a lot on because I was still searching for something. I wasn’t sure what. Something was still missing.

I came across another course or maybe it is more like a challenge, called “Time With God” by Robin Sampson. She was the author of one of the monthly prompts I was doing which is how I came across her course. The course is to help, those who want to study the bible, to make a habit out of it. I had already made reading the bible a habit. It was a habit for me from the very first day I picked up the bible on April 8th to begin reading it. I didn’t have to think about it or make an effort to do it. The desire to do it was there every day. In taking the course, I hoped to find a process for my bible study that would work for me. I wasn’t sure if the course would help with that but since it was free, it wouldn’t cost me anything other than time. So, I added it to my daily study/reading plan. I am about half way through it.

I can’t say the “Time With God” course is helping me find a process that works for me, at least not directly. I am learning about things like Asana which helps me in all areas of my life for tracking the things I need and want to do. I have learned about other resources for learning, like torahclass.com, which doesn’t just teach about the bible but puts what happened in ancient times in context with current times. This is what I have always hungered for. Teaching, not preaching.  So this too was added to my studies but not daily.

I have since come across other bible studies online which excite me and I want to try them. One called “Discovering Hope in the Psalms” which I felt I could do since I have read through the Psalms. Hope is something which has disappeared from my life and I want to bring it back. I haven’t started this because of all the things I already have on my plate.

Then I came across “First 5” which is mostly run on an app but can be read from the computer. I’m just not able to make comments from the computer. Their current study is in Psalms, the exact spot where I am in my handwriting of scripture, so I added it as a supplement to my handwritten study, to read for getting another perspective. I don’t have to keep up with the daily post so that works out well for doing it when I have time.

While looking at “First 5”, I discovered it was part of Proverbs 31 Ministries where they also have another bible study. They have a current study which isn’t in alignment with where I am at, I believe it is concerning marriage/relationships and since I’m not married or in a relationship, I looked at some of the ones they have archived.

One caught my eye.

“It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way” And yes, I had to add it to my study schedule. Since it is an archived study, I can do it at my own pace.

I don’t know if it is apparent to the reader the progression of events since I started reading the bible. To me, it is apparent that I am being led. In, other words, shown the way.  In some cases, I am given answers to prayers which I didn’t know I had made. For instance, I knew what had happened three years ago in my life felt all “wrong” to me. So I knew as soon as I saw the title for the bible study “It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way” was an answer to a prayer I never purposefully formed and asked of God. He knew I needed it and in a progression of steps brought me to where I needed to be to find it.

Outside of my bible studies, what is happening in my life hasn’t changed much. I am still in a minimum wage job that doesn’t pay enough to cover my bills so my financial reserves are dwindling.

What has changed is this:

  1. I am no longer stressing daily or panicking daily over this situation.
  2. I am being taught through my bible studies to turn everything over to God and let him stress over my situation.
  3. I know without a doubt he is telling me to “be still” and let him handle things.
  4. I am learning when good and bad things happen, to equally turn to God and thank him.
  5. I have learned to be grateful for what he has already done and what he will do.

I have been given clear messages. I am given exactly what I need when I need it. There are times I am given things I didn’t even know I needed. I remember writing in my journal one day how frustrated I was over my lack of time to do things. The very next day I learned about Asana and now I’m getting more done every day than I did in the past. Not only does it help me know each day what I need to do but I no longer have to worry about whether I will forget something. When I find out I need to do something I put it in Asana, set a due date and when the day comes it is on my list to do. The interesting part is I didn’t pray about it, at least not in the traditional way. I wrote about it in my journal which tells me even when I don’t direct my thoughts to God he knows what I’m thinking and he delivers what I need when I need it.

This means, my financial situation will be fine. He knows what I need and he will deliver it. He knows better than I do. I don’t have to go out looking for it. He will bring it to me as long as I focus on him and make him my priority.

My faith has grown since starting this journey of reading the bible. I know there have been times when I didn’t believe he would provide for me. Stress would eat me alive as I sent application after application to job after job posting and anxiety would overwhelm me when I heard nothing or went through the process of an interview to only hear nothing. I believe this is God’s message to me to “be still”,  learn to make him my priority. Let the rest of this world be and focus upon him. He gives me more than I need when it comes to learning all about him. I have so many resources now I have to use something like Asana to manage them so I won’t lose track of them and I can go work through them learning more and more.

Even in the process, God revealed to me that my last name is Jewish. I may not be officially Jewish but in learning about God, I am also learning about Israel and the Jewish people. To think I could possibly be tied back to being one of Israel’s children gives me a warm feeling inside I can’t explain. I have always been curious about Jerusalem but now I feel its pull even more. I’m discovering something new all the time which brings me a bit closer to God when I do. As much as, I originally set out to learn what I could about the true God when I started reading the bible, I believe the root of that desire was based in a need to feel connected to God, deeply connected. I’m not there yet, but I can see him working to make that happen.

Digital Journal + Bible Study

As I work more and more in my digital journal, the question arises, “How can I utilize this in my daily Bible studies?” For the past couple of months, I have been doing some research. This means I’m learning quite a bit and I thought I would share it here.

I remember hearing somewhere (I don’t remember where), that Bibles have a copyright, which means they cannot be copied, or distributed without permission from the copyright owner. I discovered in my research that each translation has its own copyright. All translations are not under the same copyright so it takes a bit of research to discover who owns the copyright for a certain translation. This was a surprise because I have seen scriptures quoted all the time without any reference to translation or copyright source. There is some leeway for quoting the Bible without express permission from the copyright owners, if you are interested there is some information and guidelines here. It is not all-inclusive so a lot of research is required if you plan to quote the Bible on a regular basis or more than a few verses. Some sources say less than 500 verses but don’t quote me on that and don’t take my word for it. DO YOUR OWN DUE DILIGENCE and research it.

One of the reasons I started researching copyright was because of coming across a couple free PDF formatted files of a couple different translations of the Bible. One source claimed the PDF they were distributing was copyright free without mentioning the source of the copyright or that they were given written permission to distribute. Discovery of the PDF file made it easy to insert the scripture I was studying into my digital journal I am using for my Bible study each morning.  Using a digital journal makes it easy to locate my notes and what scripture it is associated with. Much easier than trying to search through my Bible for any handwritten notes I have made. I still use my journaling Bible for notes and artwork but now I don’t have to rely on it or deal with the frustration of trying to find a particular topic when I can’t remember what Book, chapter and verse.

This is where digital journaling/planners have now stepped up to the plate, so to speak. For my own personal use, I can copy scripture and put it into my digital journal and write my thoughts to my heart’s content but I can’t distribute any of what I have done for others to use if it contains scripture. That is the sad part of my tale today. But the good part of the tale is it doesn’t stop individuals from including scripture in their own journals during their bible studies. It just can’t be distributed or used publicly. The digital planners (in PDF format) can then be searched to find any reference to a topic or word or name, etc. to quickly locate what was written or what is in scripture. Now, I just need to find a study method that works best for me.

During my research concerning bible study methods, I was introduced to Ann Graham Lotz. She is the daughter of Billy Graham. He is the only Evangelist which did not lose credit with me over the years. Discovering his daughter and her ministry was like hearing the hallelujah chorus go off in my head. Learning she was just diagnosed with a rather invasive breast cancer was disturbing, especially in light of my own personal experience with breast cancer.

Ann has a website supporting her ministry. On that website she provides information (both written and video) on the Bible study method she refers to as the 3-Question Bible Study Method. I haven’t incorporated it into my studies yet. I held off because in her videos she speaks of taking each verse and breaking it down with this method. My focus right now isn’t to study each verse but to focus on each book at the chapter level since I wanted to read completely through the Bible first before narrowing my focus to individual verses. Then it dawned on me I could use this method at the chapter level instead, so I started working on a page layout for the study method to use in my digital journal. I came up with two layouts:

The first layout provides an area to write the scripture being studied. This would be great for when I get down to studying at the verse level. Since I’m at the chapter level, I decided to use the second layout. You will notice there is an additional question at the bottom of the second layout.

I may alter the first one or create a third, so it includes this last question, as well, since it is included in the printable blank worksheet provided on Ann’s Ministry website. I’m just not sure if I have enough room, since I haven’t technically used either of these layouts yet. I am notorious for wanting to journal all my thoughts (A LOT) so it might be that the last question ends up on my journaling page which I will no doubt have on the opposite page from the layout when I’m studying at the verse level. I probably could have inserted a copy of the blank worksheet provided from AnGel Ministries’ website (Ann Graham Lotz’s ministry) but I wasn’t fond of the layout.

You might be wondering, “what about the scripture” on the 2nd layout but since I’ll be basing it on the whole chapter, I’ll be inserting a copy of the chapter on the opposite page where I can annotate/highlight the scripture if I so desire.

This is what my journal spread will look like before I insert the scripture on the left side of the spread:journaling bible 3-question bible study method 2 page

There is another Bible study method, called SOAP. I haven’t tried it yet even though I have seen many using it. I’m pulled more towards the 3-Question method than I am the SOAP method so I haven’t done any layouts for the SOAP method. I have seen layouts on Pinterest for the SOAP method so if you are interested in it there are layouts to be found online. You can learn about the SOAP method here.

I have no affiliation with any of the websites mentioned here. They are sites I came across in my research and bookmarked for further reference.

In case you were wondering where I am in my reading through the Bible, I started reading Psalms this morning. Job was a very interesting book to read and study. It brought up many mixed emotions for me.  I don’t compare myself to Job at all but since I have been going through a very difficult period in my life these past three years I can relate to many of the feelings expressed in Job. Where Job had friends who didn’t believe him. I have a rather short list of friends who do not live close by and do not have the means to help in my situation. My faith is the only thing sustaining me and in that I can relate rather well to Job.

 

Experimenting, seeking, and blessings…

I have been playing around with watercolor pencils and my watercolor paints. I have been watching some youtube videos to get some ideas for what I can do artistically to support my bible studies and my spiritual journey.

First, I learned how to highlight text in my bible and then use the same highlighter color to mark my notes I make in the border of my journaling bible, so it is easy to find my notes which refer to the text. This is great because it not only makes it easy to reference the scripture with my notes, it also adds some marvelous color to my bible.

I also have a notebook where I write down notes regarding the chapter I read in my daily bible study. But the notebook is rather plain and uninspiring since it is written using black ink and in a cheap composition notebook. I decided to start making changes:

  1. The first thing I changed was the format so what I read daily was grouped together and each day was separated by a date.
  2. The next thing I did was use a different color of ink each day. I have about 6 different colored gel pens so I started using them to write my notes changing to a different color the next day. This created an obvious division between each day’s studies.
  3. The third thing I did was see if I could use watercolor pencils on the paper and a waterbrush to activate them. This is where I started to run into issues. The watercolor pencils didn’t move hardly at all on the untreated paper of the composition notebook. This also caused the paper to wrinkle.
  4. The next step, I tried some watercolor paint but that also didn’t move very much. Below is a picture of the watercolor paint layered over the watercolor pencils and you can see how splotchy it appears. I wasn’t crazy about it at all, although when I started writing my notes over it, I kind of liked it. This page has an interesting crinkling sound to it and it is wrinkly, an effect from becoming wet which I sometimes like and sometimes don’t.IMG_1613
  5. The next thing I did was try treating a page front and back with clear gesso and applying watercolor pencils to it and activating it again with a waterbrush. This worked better but still had issues with getting it to blend out the way I wanted it, so I put a wash of watercolor paint over it. This is still blotchy but better than the one above and the page doesn’t wrinkle or crinkle like the untreated page above. I actually love the texture of the page from the clear gesso I’m using. The gesso isn’t gritty and it gives the page what my touch and mind can only interpret as an almost leather type feel to it on both the surface and when bending and turning the page. It feels sturdier and not at all like paper in how it bends.IMG_1614
  6. On the other side of the treated page, I used just watercolor wash of paint over the clear gesso. This is by far my favorite and is what I plan on doing going forward in my bible study notebook.

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I expect my next change will be to decorate the cover of my notebook, after watching a video today on youtube of someone covering their composition notebook, it made me want to do something similar.

The thing I am most pleased about is finding a way to work with a cheap composition notebook. I have seen other people on youtube and in some art courses I’ve taken who use composition notebooks for their art journals, junk journals, bullet journals and so forth but when I tried to use one in the way they did, it just didn’t appeal to me. Most of them didn’t treat their pages, some of them glued pages together to make them sturdier.

As you read above, I don’t generally like the page when it gets all crinkly after it dries, though the sound is pleasing the results of the medium on the untreated page isn’t.  As I learned in my creative journaling bible and now in this notebook, treating the page with clear gesso is what I like best because it gives me a broader range of options for anything I might want to do on the page. Consequently, I’m going through clear gesso quite quickly, luckily the clear gesso I can get locally isn’t expensive and I like it.

I only have a couple pages done with watercolor in my journal, even so, when I flip back through my journal, I definitely like the ones with color more. I am hoping to add some doodles or some variations in my writing to help make my notes more visual so I might be able to have instant recall on what was in the text I was studying. Right now my notes just run together. I am intrigued by those who are able to create doodles in their notes as they go and have them make so much sense. I have never been a doodler, so trying to come up with simple images to draw that would emphasize what I’m learning doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. I think I’m more of a word person, so creating changes in my writing may be what I need to do.

What I’m learning is experimenting, trying different things, is helping me to find what works for me. This is being driven home even more so in my play with watercolor paint. These next two images are from practicing on two pieces of 4 1/2″ x 5″ watercolor paper. I have watched a number of artists on youtube paint with watercolor and each time I try to do something without following a lesson or what they are doing and just try to do something on my own, it ends up something like these. Then I don’t know what to do with them.

The first one looks like an out of focus picture of flowers that have no connection with the earth or each other.

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I have no idea where I was headed with this one, I just started putting paint down where I felt like placing it and letting it run. I think when I was letting the paint run we had a bit of thunder and lightening happening outside which doesn’t occur very often.

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Basically, I was just playing. I think I should try a challenge of doing one of these small watercolor practice squares a day for 30 days and see what happens. I’m just feeling a bit overwhelmed with other things I feel I should be doing and not progressing as fast as I think I should be so to add something like a challenge right now might be a bit too much.

It is hard to justify playing with my art when I feel I should be focusing on things to improve our financial situation. I have to keep myself open to what God wants me to do. After winning a spot in “Paint Your Heart and Soul 2019” and another spot in “Life Book 2019”, I have to believe that God wants me to continue pursuing my art and including it as often as I can in my day-to-day activities.

I started a prayer journal and I’m using my artistic skills to bring prayer to life for me. That may sound strange so below is an image of a page in my prayer journal. I don’t want to confuse anyone and have them think the artwork or text is mine. I got both from Pinterest.  If you want to look up the text graphic you can find it here. If you want to look up the image you can find it here.  The footnote to the image states, “Praying is a painting by Dorina Costras which was uploaded on April 11th, 2017.” I had the background painted long before I found the text or image so to find an image which spoke to me so deeply and blended so well with my background and also the text is wonderful. I would love to have this image on canvas or print for my wall but in my present circumstances I can’t afford it so I opted for a small printout to put in my prayer journal.

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The image and the words together bring prayer to life for me. It has been difficult to have faith that my prayers will be answered. Throughout my life, I have prayed more times than I can count where I felt like no one was listening and nothing came of my prayers. The more I read my bible, the more I realize there was a very important element missing in my life when I accepted Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior. Learning was disjointed, had no cohesion, there was no direction given to me as a new child of God. Would things have been different if there had been a more structured teaching to help someone like me? I can’t answer that. I would like to think so but God does things a certain way for a good reason. Maybe after being saved, I needed to become lost and lose almost everything so I would truly seek him for the right reasons. Seeking God for one’s own personal gain is wrong. I originally sought him and accepted him because I feared for my life that I might die and go to hell. I didn’t seek him to glorify him or out of fear of him. In April, when I decided to start reading the bible, I did so because I wanted to get to know God and who he really is. Not the God I was taught about as a child because I felt what I was being taught was a bastardized version of him and not the real HIM.

It is hard to sit back and study the bible at the pace I am studying it. I want to fly through it learning all I can as fast as I can.  Even though I’m moving through it chapter by chapter instead of verse by verse which is what is recommended by Anne Graham Lotz in her 3-Question Bible Study method, I feel like I’m learning at a snail’s pace.

I came across Anne’s method a couple weeks ago when I was searching different ways of studying the bible. I also discovered she has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and has just started chemo treatments. From what she writes it sounds like her diagnosis is more severe than mine and her treatments will last a lot longer. I pray for her every day for God to give her strength and healing. I used to listen to her father Billy Graham many years ago but had no idea she had her own ministry. From what little I have read and listened to so far, she may become a rather important source of inspiration for me.

I am slowly finding my way in this life, this new life which is developing out of the ashes of my old life. I often feel as though I am no longer standing on solid ground, so unstable it might dissolve completely leaving nothing to stand on, or that I’m standing on the edge of a cliff where the slightest breeze could push me over the edge. God is the only one who is keeping me grounded. He is answering my prayers and giving me hope. When I am left to my own devices, and I try to rely on just myself, everything just feels like it is falling apart and there is no hope left in me.

I am learning to lean on God, and he is showing me in amazing ways that he is listening and answering my prayers in his own way and in his own time. It is hard to be patient. It is hard to change from my old ways. It is hard not to let doubt bubble up and overwhelm me. But each time I witness God’s helping hand in my life, my faith grows a bit more, a bit stronger and becomes a bit more rooted. I am glad my art has a part in my life. I love how it is becoming entwined with my spiritual growth.

Maybe one day I’ll discover my true purpose which God has for me.