Painting in the Garden
I was five years old. I was drawing flowers with a man in the middle of an anthurium garden. Birds were chirping, while the sun drew circles of light on our skin—light that peeked through the foliage. We sat on flowerpots and started sketching.
That moment is imprinted on my young impressionable heart. It was a moment of communion through art—a moment I treasure until now. I didn’t know that this man whom I was painting with would not only be my art mentor, but also my stepfather. I also didn’t know that that moment was of God. It was a whisper from Him telling me who I was and who I still am: a curly-haired, wide-eyed artist whom He loves.
Both my biological parents were doctors. In a nutshell, they were like oil and water. They simply didn’t and couldn’t mix. Their separation finally happened when I was about nine years old.
My mom eventually married my art teacher. He, Victor Secuya, became my stay-at-home dad who painted, picked up the children, and thought and worried about things like laundry and dinner. Amidst the chaos and confusion brought about by the separation, Uncle Vic, as I fondly called him, brought a lot of care and security into our lives. This shift in our lives also brought about a change in our spirituality. After the proverbial separation, my mom, together with my step-dad, led me and my siblings to commit our lives to the Lord. I was eleven years old by then.
But just like any broken home story, the kids had their share of rebellion. Mine came a little late in life.
I have always been a straight-A student. Behind all those A’s, however, was a hellion scratching its way to the surface. It erupted when I reached my twenties. I graduated with honors and a Bachelor’s degree in Art Studies under my belt, but I was promiscuous. I was also a heavy drinker who smoked like a chimney. I called myself a Christian, but I figured, if I could graduate with honors, I could justify all my vices. So, graduate I did. I then started teaching and got a scholarship to Indonesia. I took leadership roles in the program and finished it 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 and everything. I was single, confident and…pregnant?
A Wake Up Call
During my college days, I knew God was gently knocking on my door. This time, with news of my pregnancy, I think He blew the door wide open–including the door jamb and the wall that came with it! I heard Him alright. In one day, I quit all my vices and made a 180-degree turn.
My son’s dad, a Samoan citizen, supported me all the way through my pregnancy. He even flew to Davao City to be present during my delivery. His support ended there, though. He lost interest in our little family two months after he returned to Samoa. In a year’s time, I found out that he already had another child.
I didn’t want to push the issue. On hindsight, a relationship with this man would have been rocky—boulder-ridden, even. Quietly, 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 and suggested that I enroll in medical school to secure a better future. I tried doing this for three months but had to stop. I realized that having a child and being in medical school was a choice between being present during my child’s formative years, or becoming a doctor with a steady salary but with absences in my son’s life.
Many children have absentee parents; I didn’t want to be one of them. It was a hard choice, but I wanted to witness my child’s first step, first word, even first girlfriend! So, motherhood it was!
One day, I found myself in so much pressure from everything. I was in the middle of a job hunt and other part-time jobs. I was exhausted. I began to spiral downwards into that rabbit hole of negativity. It wasn’t pretty.
Doing What I Love
I started painting again.
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; it gave me the peace and quiet I desired because the world I lived in was chaotic, judgmental, and unforgiving. In my mind, I was transported once again to that anthurium garden. This time, I was with God. I was sitting on my flowerpot while He was on His.
I asked God to guide every stroke, every color choice I had to make as a visual artist. 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—to use my art to worship Him.
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 and how it works for the benefit of the whole tree. I assure them that God made it that way for them and me, and that He is the ultimate artist. He has a purpose for all of us. I prod my students 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, to them and to God. I don’t preach to my students; I teach them the fundamentals of visual art. I leave it to God to tell me who needs to be ministered to. When He gives me the go-signal, I start scouring my brain for 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.
I still find myself in that anthurium garden once in a while. When I am in doubt, I take a pot, put it face down on the ground, take my sketch pad, paint, and allow God to mentor me.
This is a revised version of the article, “Mentored in the Anthurium Garden,” first published online on June 3, 2017, in One Voice Magazine.