Heal The Land: Montgomery, AL
2019, Oil on Canvas
We left home, friends, church, community, and essentially all our worldly belongings to move to a culture we’ve never experienced. Moving to Montgomery, Alabama for a short two months, I couldn’t have asked for nor predicted the blessings we would receive during our time there. It wasn’t just a new address, a new job, and new food. We were made new. We left transformed people with renewed dependence on the Lord, a deeper intimacy in our marriage, and a closer family unit.
It had been almost a year since I had picked up my pallet knife and paints and I never imagined this would be the place I would begin again. I also never expected to find friends who immediately became like family. And I definitely didn’t anticipate a calling to pray for healing in this city, but the sweetness of the Lord began a work in our hearts the moment we arrived. Leaning fully into the arms of our Savior as we navigated our new “normal” His voice became clearer and louder. God’s word is living and active and as we pressed further into the Spirit’s promptings we stepped into this journey of listening and obeying without full understanding as He daily revealed his will for us.
“The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Six years ago, a group of strong believers placed hands on me and prayed. Their only request to God was for Him to reveal anything that He may be speaking over me and my life. I believe wholeheartedly that the Lord speaks to us today through His Word first and foremost but also through prayer and other believers in Jesus Christ. I believe that the God, who numbers the hairs on my head and ordained every one of my days before I was born, is able to speak to His children. During this particular time of prayer, three different people had heard the Lord speaking the words “heal the land.” More specifically they believed that God was commissioning me to heal the land through my paintings. It was a word from God that I cherished but didn’t understand. It was a message I set up on the shelf until the Holy Spirit was ready to reveal it to me.
Six years later, sitting in the sanctuary on our first Sunday at Church of the Highlands in Montgomery, the campus pastor began to pray. The theme of his prayer was for the Lord to heal the land. He said the phrase “heal the land” at least four times in his short two minute prayer. I couldn’t ignore the overwhelming prompting of the Holy Spirit. I had not heard those three words strung together since that prayer six years ago. The Spirit was moving and I was excited to be along for the ride.
After service, we met the Hufhams. They changed everything for us. The light of Christ was a beacon from every person in their family and we immediately felt hospitality and generosity like we’ve never experienced before. Within the first five minutes of meeting Amy and Coleman, they offered their pool house as a studio for me to paint and a sanctuary to worship. God was providing and I celebrated this incredible gift.
I spent the following week in prayer and in God’s Word seeking revelation to the meaning of this prayer to “heal the land.” This land…Montgomery…my first time in the “deep south”…capital of Alabama…history of civil war and racial divide…remnants of segregation and racism still prevailing in parts of the city. I was new, naive, and open to all that the Lord wanted to reveal to me. I eventually landed in 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 and it was as if the words were illuminated on the page. These verses were the cornerstone of the painting I was commissioned to paint for the Lord.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” 2 Chronicles 7:14-15
The image of a steam engine continually came up as I meditated on God’s Word and searched for what He had in store for this city. It accurately embodied the words like liberty, freedom, unity, and movement that rang in my ears. A train. That’s where I would begin, trusting the Lord would continue revealing more as I began painting.
I had never painted a train before and doubt quickly filled my mind as I stared at the blank canvas in front of me. Is this right? Am I really following the Lord? What authority do I have to think I could make a painting about a city I know close to nothing about?
I had already painted the entire canvas a bright, loud, and slightly obnoxious color as is my process for challenging me to paint quickly, trusting less in myself and more on the Spirit’s leading. This time I had chosen turquoise and I was ready to cover it up.
As I began painting the outline of the train, the music faded and I heard the sound of a train approaching, getting louder and louder. I stopped and ran outside looking around to see if I had missed seeing train tracks in the Hufham’s backyard. To my surprise there was no train. Then the noise of a steam engine faded as the music escalated back over the speakers in the pool house. It was the song “Kingdom” by Will Reagan & United Pursuit and the introduction to the song was the sound of a moving train. It was such a sweet moment between my Savior and me. The Lord knew my doubt and reassured me of His presence. I was praying for His Kingdom to come into this city and I felt He was on board!
I continued to process and seek deeper understanding of this image of a steam engine and the prayer of healing this land. Once I hit 40 weeks pregnant with both our boys, I was assured that real labor contractions were like a train; once they started, they would increases in intensity and speed and close to nothing would stop them. We can trust that when the Lord begins a work in us, He alone will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). I believed the Lord had begun a work in Montgomery; the train was picking up speed and His kingdom was coming.
“For your Maker is your husband - the LORD Almighty is his name, - the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. The Lord will call you back…
‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the LORD your Redeemer. …
Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise, your foundations with lapis lazuli. …
All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace. In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you.” Isaiah 54:5-6, 7-8, 11, 13-14
As I prayed for the city of Montgomery and listened to what the Lord wanted to communicate through this painting, I began to see the city as this Isaiah passage speaks of Israel. Words and phrases that stuck out to me were “call you back,” “afflicted city,” “rebuild with stones of turquoise,” “great will be their peace,” “tyranny will be far from you.” I began praying these things as I continued painting, covering more and more turquoise as I worked.
During the span of one short week, I heard of three deaths by gun shot in the “rough” part of Montgomery. The first two deaths were told to me by a mother in my group at Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). She described the murders of her two children and her trust in the Lord through all of it but I sensed a desensitization to both death and violence that allowed her to move on with life so quickly. This violence had somehow been established as a norm in her neighborhood. Pain was not removed but thick emotional walls had been erected for survival. She told me about their deaths so casually, though her daughter had been shot two years ago and her son only two months ago. Tyranny, violence, and terror were evident in this afflicted city, but I felt a change of momentum coming.
The third death I was informed of that week occurred in the same part of town and was the mentee of my BSF teaching leader. He was a teenage boy shot through his bedroom window in the middle of the night. They later found out the shot was meant for someone else in his house. The response by a group from Church of the Highlands was to go and walk the streets of that neighborhood ending in front of that broken bedroom window where the pastor gave a short sermon on unity and togetherness. The train of restoration and reconciliation between races, ethnicities, denominations, and socio-economic statuses was moving. Where violence, retribution, and revenge was the most common response to loss, a group from the community across town chose peace, unity, and compassion. And there was a ripple effect. Others joined that movement. God was working. I kept praying as I painted. Lord, keep breaking the chains that keep people from you.
One night as I was driving to pick up my sister from the Montgomery Airport, I was overwhelmed with worry and anxiety. I began praying out loud asking God to reassure me of his presence and his sovereignty. Not a minute later a song came on the radio and the chorus caught my attention, “You hold my head up. You remind me who I am. You hold my head up. I’m alive in You again. I’m made new! I’m made new!” And as I am listening to these lyrics I pull up behind a car at the stop light with a license plate “MADENU.” In that moment it was as if I’d felt a kiss from my Father in Heaven and I burst out laughing and praising Him all at the same time. God is so near. He is incredibly personal. And He wants nothing more than for us to bring all of our anxiety, burdens, and brokenness to Him so He can lift our head up and make us new.
When I began this painting I felt a strong urge to paint with only two colors, violet and white. As I painted, I prayed specifically for those in the city afflicted by the racial divide. It was evident as an outsider that deep roots of segregation and racism remained in several areas of town. I focused on painting the light and dark, gradually blending the two where they met. I wanted to begin adding color to the train, but something held me back. There was more praying and worship needed over the chains of the past.
“You have shaken the land and torn it open; mend its fractures, for it is quaking. You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger. But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner to be unfurled against the bow. Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered. … With God we will gain victory.” Psalm 60: 2-5, 12
I prayed for victory. I prayed for chains to be broken. I prayed for revival in the city. I prayed for hearts to be made new. Just as the invention of the train changed history forever by transporting natural resources across the nation, I prayed the storehouses of heaven’s resources would transform the city. That the light of Christ would reach to every corner and crevasse where darkness seemed to reign. With God there will be victory.
“The is what the LORD says: ‘ In the time of my favor I will answer you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritance, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness ‘Be free!’” Isaiah 49:8-9
Every night before bed while we were in Montgomery, David, our two year old, began asking us to sing “There is power in the name of Jesus! There is power in the name of Jesus! There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain!” He had latched on to this chorus from the song “Break Every Chain” by Will Reagan & United Pursuit. We sang this song over and over again and each time we sang it, I prayed more fervently for the city of Montgomery. Come Lord Jesus. Let’s take back what the enemy has stollen!
I was finally ready to add color to the train. Using the three primary colors and white, I began mixing. My pallet looked like a war zone. And it was. While I painted I engaged in the spiritual battle waging war over my own heart and the hearts in this city. We know through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that believers already stand in victory. The devil knows he has already lost and when Jesus comes again he will be eliminated forever. With each stroke of paint I declared that victory and claimed that truth over this city.
“They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Isaiah 61:4
It is a choice to rebuild and to restore. We live in a broken world. Believers in Jesus Christ have the power through the Holy Spirit to usher in the healing that comes from the Kingdom of God. I’ve often struggled with the question: What authority do I have to bring about transformation? The answer lies in John 14:12-14. Not only am I able to do the work Jesus did on earth, but even greater things through Him who was raised from the dead. What would this world look like if all believers engaged with this power and believed wholeheartedly they could bring healing and restoration in Jesus name?
Jesus promised “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” John 14:12-14
I meditated on this promise as I continued painting thick layers of color onto the front of the steam engine. Midway, I stopped. There was a natural progression of steps leading down the canvas and I followed them. I began painting a simple, two dimensional staircase, cutting through the middle of the train. I knew God was moving in mighty ways in Montgomery, but it was only the beginning. If you look closely you will see the staircase beginning in the top left corner of the painting, working its way down to the bottom right corner. Everything on the left of the line is layered with light and a variety of colors; everything on the right of the line remains the way I began painting with my simple pallet of two colors, violet and white. Just like the small group chose to walk for peace instead of further promoting hatred when the young teenage boy was shot, change begins with taking a step. The vibrance and depth of color on the left side of the staircase is symbolic of the healing of hearts and ultimately healing of the land. The light of Christ exposes our deepest sin, but in that vulnerability and humility He comes in with grace, mercy, and healing. I prayed that believers would rise up and join the movement to unite the city and shine the light of Christ in its darkest places.
Because Jesus rose from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Father we can ask anything in his name and he will do it. What authority do I have to bring healing? None. What authority do I have in the name of Jesus Christ? All. It is for Him, to Him, because of Him and only Him who brings the transformation.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61: 1-3
This was and is my prayer for Montgomery. I believe it is a prayer that the Lord desires to answer. May the prayers and the joy in this oil painting permeate the space it inhabits and may the Lord bring to completion the work He began.
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace, the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” Isaiah 55:8-13
Heal the land for your great renown, O LORD.