Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Master's Hand

Thirteen years ago we met a German couple who sold antiques at a bazaar in Heidelberg. Charming Elias, who was three and a half at the time, initiated our friendship by announcing to Agnes, "My Daddy is deployed. Tomorrow he comes home for one day. It is my Mommy's birthday. Would you like a graham cracker?" Agnes accepted a soggy graham cracker, then reached for a painted shingle from amidst her wares which read, "Gruss Gott" (Go With God). She placed it into my hands and said, "Happy Birthday!" I choked back tears at her kindness, and stepped into the joy of a precious new friendship.

A year later, after countless cups of coffee together, and the purchases of a houseful of lovely antique furniture, we traveled to Agnes' and Manfred's home. Theirs was a transformed farmhouse, drenched in light from expansive windows held in place by huge dark beams and white stucco walls. Lush yellow bouquets of tulips spoke of the bounty of Spring, as did the dining room table, laden with fresh bread, cheese, fruit and bubbly mimosa. Agnes' elegant setting invited Dennis, me and our three children to enjoy hospitality; but the purpose of our visit was Manfred's gift to me. My whole life I had dreamed of painting, this quiet desire lept into words one day while gazing at Manfred's exquisite artwork. You see, as a young man, Manfred painted the ceilings of chapels throughout Europe. His fresh, modern watercolors spoke of a depth and richness whose source one could only discover in time, as this humble
man revealed very little. His work inspired the heart.

So while Agnes and Dennis cared for the children, Manfred and I embarked on a nine hour painting adventure, in the studio, which they had built to resemble a chapel. Manfred's first words to me were these, "In painting one must paint perhaps nine ugly paintings to get to the tenth one that has beauty." Oh the joy of that day! As the sun's rays began to fade, Manfred laid out every painting I'd attempted. Yes, many were ugly indeed, and a few I liked, but there was one I thought was lovely, or at least almost-lovely. The Master stood over the one picture without a hint of judgment on his kind face. "May I?", he asked as he held up a few pastel crayons and a spray bottle. Manfred quickly added a few hard lines and smudges to my painting, then sprayed the paper, drenching it with water. My idea of beauty disappeared into fluid pools of color. I abandoned my fear, trusting the gifted artist to my simple offering of the best of my ability. Thirty minutes later, with fresh coffee and biscotti in our bellies, we entered the beloved studio again. My picture lay before us, completely transformed, and beautiful. Manfred beamed, "Now, you must sign it!" "No," I replied,"It is you who must sign it for us. It was nothing without you."

This painting still hangs in our living room with the signature, "G & M" at the bottom. Yes, Grace and Manfred, but it also represents, Grace and the Master. Daily I am sorted, so many layers of ugly, but that which I surrender to the Lord is transformed and He makes all things beautiful.