I was five. I was painting with a man in the middle of an anthurium garden. Birds were chirping while the sun drew circles of light on our skin as it peered through the leaves of the tree we were under. We sat on pots and started sketching. That moment was imprinted on my young heart– a moment of communion through art; a tender moment. I didn’t know that this man whom I was painting with would not only be my life mentor, but also my father. I also didn’t know that that moment was of God, telling me who I was: a curly, wide-eyed artist.

Both my biological parents were doctors. Simply said, they were like oil and water. Their separation finally happened when I was about 9 years old (I say finally because we, their children, wanted out also.) My mom married my art teacher. He, Victor Secuya, became my stay-at-home dad who painted, picked up the children, thought and worried about things like laundry and dinner. Amidst the chaos and confusion brought about by an annulment, Uncle Vic, as I fondly call him, brought a lot of care and security into our lives. This change in life also brought about the change in our spirituality. We all committed our lives to the Lord a few years after the proverbial separation. I was 11 by then.

But just like any broken home story, the kids had their share of rebellion. Mine came a little late in life– or so they thought.

I was a straight up A student since high school. Behind all those A’s was a hellion scratching its way to the surface. Fast forward to my twenties… I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Art Studies. I was promiscuous, a heavy drinker and a non-stop smoker. I called myself a Christian, but I figured, if I could graduate with honors, I could justify all my vices. Graduate with honors I did. I felt fine and very dandy. I started teaching and got a scholarship to Indonesia. I took a leadership role in my art program in Indonesia. I finished the program with my writing and performance televised and published nationally. I accomplished all these during my early twenties.

When I got back to the Philippines, I thought I could conquer anything that was put before me. I was single, carefree and …pregnant? During my college days, I knew God was gently knocking on my door. This time, I think he had blown the door open– including the door jam and the wall that came with it– just to get through me. I heard Him alright. In one day, I quit all my vices and made a 180 degree change in my lifestyle. The good thing was, my son’s dad who was a Samoan citizen, supported me all the way through my pregnancy. He even flew to Davao City to support me in child birth. His support ended there, though. He lost interest in our little family two months after he got back to Samoa. After a year, I found out, he already had another child. I didn’t want to push the issue. I was confident that God would be my partner.

After childbirth, everything changed. Single motherhood, I realized, isn’t a walk in the park. My mother worried about me a lot and suggested that I enroll in medical school to secure a better future. I tried doing this for 3 months and had the time of my life studying and being the “mommy” of my med school batch (I was considerably older than most of them). But I had to stop schooling as I had to choose between motherhood and school. So many children have absentee parents due to the rising number of OFWs. Don’t get me wrong. We all have to make hard choices in life, but I was convinced that I wanted to witness my child’s first step, first word, first girlfriend???!!! (ok I’ll cross the bridge when I get there! Hahaha…girlfriends! The thought brings chills to my bones!) So motherhood it is!

One day, I found myself in need of release. I was in the middle of a job hunt and other part-time jobs. I was exhausted. Given the experience I had with men and the darkness of this world, thoughts of the old days started to haunt me. It wasn’t pretty. I started painting. My old friend, the paintbrush, listened to the musings of my heart. I remembered how the paintbrush helped me through my parents’ complicated and painful separation. This time, the canvas was just the space I needed, the peace and quiet I desired for the world I lived in was chaotic, judgmental, and unforgiving. My crayons became my therapists. Every stroke I made had a story behind it–mostly painful ones. Art gave me a way to deal with my issues and change.

I focused on my art from then on and interestingly found myself once again in that anthurium garden but this time, with God. God caused things to fall into place. I had been teaching art workshops since high school, and so I started teaching again to be able to support my son. I taught art in universities again and immersed myself in art creation. Something was missing in the equation.

My creative process felt empty. My art workshop also felt pointless. I thought, if I am a child of God, everything I do should be an act of worship. Alone, I forced myself to find a quiet place. I started singing and worshipping God. In the midst of all of this, I asked God to guide every stroke, every color choice I had to make, every figure I made. Clarity was God’s precious gift to me. He showed me a mirror that reflected my life. In that mirror, He showed me how He was using all my wrong choices, all my pains, all my frustration to fuel what He wanted me to do. I knew then that art was a tool He wanted me to use.

I was fortunate to have been able to take a short course in Art Therapy in Manila. This gave meaning to everything that I was doing. Painting was no longer for profit but for God and for the people God sent to me. I am now able to use art to help my students go through life. I have had many teens who are lost and full of hurt. I use art to assure them that their Creator is their best ally. I ask them to see how complex the venation of a leaf is, and how it works for the benefit of the whole tree. I assure them that God made it that way for you and me, and that He is the ultimate artist. I prod them to allow God to mentor them in His garden.

I am convinced that every student God brings into my small workshop is in need of Him and His art. I introduce art to my students and consider this the line that connects one dot to another…them and God.  I don’t preach to my students, if that’s what you think. I teach them the fundamentals of visual art. I leave it to God to tell me who needs to be ministered. When He gives me the go-signal, I start scouring my brain with things I learned from my Art Therapy class. We start from there and God does the rest. Thus, I firmly believe that God heals through art.

So now, every stroke is a form of worship. I worship and praise God through my art.

I still find myself in that anthurium garden once in a while. When I am in doubt of myself, I take a pot, put it face down on the ground, take my sketch pad, paint and allow God to mentor me.

By: Amanda Fe Echevarria