Themes in Your Spiritual Autobiography

“The most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what's in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that.” ― Norton Juster

Look for Themes Within Your Story

Creative expression has power—power to help us find hope as we wait in life’s most challenging places and spaces. It can give us peace and hope no matter how hard our present place in time and space may seem. By sharing the challenges of your own journey, you can encourage others. Everyone’s story is different and has the unique ability to be a source hope for others. This site is all about releasing that hope. At Journey on Canvas, you will find suggestions to join me on a hope sharing journey. I will share through words and images. I will share things I have painted, written, tried, or considered. Regardless of how I share my story, you will find hope to help you on your journey. Join me in finding ways to share and release the power of your story.

When I think of hope’s role in my spiritual autobiography, I consider my daughter. I am hoping that my daughter, Emily, can keep her innocence. I don’t want her to learn that trusting is foolish. I want her to marvel in little discoveries like the beauty of a butterfly’s wings. I want to stop the broken hearts from lashing out and stealing Emily’s tender young heart. I want the voices in her head to speak of love, joy and happiness. This is what I want.

I’m not in control. I want to dodge every possible cause for Emily’s pain. I wish to show her a beautiful, perfect world. What I want is impossible. I can’t make an imperfect world perfect. I can’t stop Emily from living in a broken world. I can’t control the reality that she will feel pain.

I am not in control of what happens in life. I don’t put my hope in everything working out the way I hope it will. I do trust that God is in my story, and I tell that story to give others hope. When I hear the stories others tell about God, I have hope for them, too.

Sharing My Journey

I paint my sweet Emmy Lou as she sleeps. She looks so incredibly innocent. Her skin is creamy like a peach and her golden hair curls tightly to her sleepy head. Behind her resting eyelids are beautiful blue eyes. Her chubby little body is just like mine was when I was a little girl. She is perfect and safe.

I add some things to my canvas that I fear. I add the things I fear will find my sweet Emmy Lou. Innocence Snatchers swirl around the space where she sleeps so peacefully. The world is too big. So much can go wrong. I can’t always be there when the Innocence Snatchers come. “Jesus, keep her safe,” I pray. “Keep my Emmy Lou safe from pain, tears and innocence lost.”

I wish I could give Emily more. Instead, I must release her heart to God. Only He can be with her all of the time. His quiet and loving voice can console her pain, dry her tears and shield her from the Innocence Snatchers. Sometimes, though, even He will allow Emily to see the ways our broken world, and our broken hearts, fall short of His perfect plan. I want to stop “sometimes,” from coming but I know that’s wrong. I have to let Emily enter this imperfect world on God’s terms, not mine. All I can do is love her, and hold her when I can, just like my mom did for me. That has got to be enough. It’s all I have. It’s the best I have to give her.

I’d love to offer people a story of happiness that didn’t include the realities of a broken world. That’s not my story. What I have to give is a broken world, a broken heart and the reality of pain mixed with the ever present existence of a loving God. I can’t offer others any more than I can offer Emily. All my story really promises is the promise of God. It’s the best I have to give.

Sharing Your Journey

Spiritual autobiography can include themes like brokenness, anger, unforgiveness, and resentment. It can include your battles to overcome addictions, anxieties, and even the ordinary challenges of our lives. You will likely find encouraging themes as well. Perhaps joy or hope is a theme for you? We can understand and share our journey better when we look for themes weaved into our spiritual story.

Grab a small ball of clay. Hold it in your hands and use it as you uncover themes within your story. Squeeze the ball of clay as you notice each theme? How do you handle the clay differently as you consider themes like resentments and anger? How do you respond differently when a theme is positive and encouraging? Do you squeeze the clay harder or more softly as a particular theme comes to mind? Write about these differences in your journal.

List 5 themes that came to mind. Rank them in order of importance within your story. Write about the role of your number one theme. How has your number one theme shaped your spiritual journey?

Find Themes that Changed Your Course

Turn symbol in my composition. I think someone might have made their U-Turn because God reached into their world and made magnificent trees with glowing ember branches. The miracle trees make my painting because they show the power of God. It’s the power that U-Turns are made of.

After miracle trees was a miracle sky that was split in two by a beam of light. The light rose from the horizon and shot up towards the heavens as far as our eyes could see. My wonderful friend and I just stared. It was the most unusual sky I have ever seen. Miracle sky reminds me that my God can split the sky in two. He is my safe place and my shelter from the enemy. The devil scans the horizon, but he can’t find me because my God rules the sky. He tells the heavens what to do and they listen. I add the miracle sky to my canvas. The sky’s glowing beam splits my painting in two. It separates the light from the darkness while God keeps me in the shadow of His wings.

My painting reminds me of all the miracle trees and miracle skies of my life. I remember all the incredible moments when God reached into my ordinary life and did something extraordinary for me or someone else. I remember meeting Craig, my miracle prayer team, the respite pink pill, Crazy Kathleen, friends and family who love me, sicknesses healed, hearts softened, marriages mended and the beauty of purple irises. I remember the deer in my parent’s backyard, one rose in a vase, a tiny glass cup of little white and yellow crocuses and dancing with my dad. I recall holding my mom’s hand on the way to the Strawberry Place, playing in the sand with Gerald, trips to the ocean with my friend Maureen and eating potato chips with my oldest brother. I imagine my big sister’s magic canvas bag, Emily’s joyous giggling and nursing A.J. with his sweet, warm body cuddled up to mine. My painting reminds me of all the reasons why the battle is worth the fight. God has loved me. God loves me now. The proof is part of me and all around me. My canvas holds the reasons why I will never stop fighting for the life God has promised me.

Sharing My Journey

I make an angel with wings of possibilities and answers. Her wings are made of what could have been. They are also made from what is. Some of the possibilities became answers, praise God, which are helping me. Today, they are more than answers. They are salvation.

My angel’s dress is made from torn pages from the book of Job. Job had people who gave him lots of possibilities. They were determined to prove their possibilities. Nothing would make them waver. They had all the “proof” they needed. I have some “Job People” in my life. They still see what they have chosen to see despite my new answers. Nothing will change their minds. If I try to change their minds they fight back. They become irritated and angry. They want to see the old darkness instead of the new light. They see what I feared I was instead of who I now know I am.

I love the way a kaleidoscope gives you tiny parts that work together to make a beautiful whole. The parts in themselves aren’t much to look at. In fact, some of them are quite unattractive when they’re seen apart from the whole. I want to learn to look at people like I look through a kaleidoscope. I’d like to see myself this way too. I want to see the whole of who they are, and who I am, instead of picking at our little parts. I don’t want to be defined by labels. Calling someone a “Job Person” gives then a limiting label. I need to figure out how to see people in the same way that I’d like to be seen. I need to figure out how to redefine myself and others. I know that’s what God would prefer.

My Job people left me pretty disappointed at times. I had to learn how to find joy despite life’`s disappointments. For as long as I was chained to what my “Job People” thought, said and did I was not in control of my own life. Instead, my “Job People” reigned and ruled over my feelings, moods and actions. I wasn’t even living my own life: someone else was always living it for me.

There were moments when I felt like the whole world was against me and that there was no hope. My mood only began to shift when I seriously considered God’s truth about what was being done to, said, and believed about me. Once I realized that the truth of my “Job People” was not God’s truth about me, I began to change. Seeing me through God’s eyes, instead of through the eyes of others, shifted my attitudes, feelings, and actions. Hope entered into my story, and I began to have a story of hope to share.

Sharing Your Journey

Like you, I have a life that is full of ups and downs. In the “down moments” I found the theme of hope, and hope changed the direction of my journey. List “down moments” from your life. Circle the lowest low. Consider the choice to find light and beauty in your story’s “down moments.” How does the choice to find light in the “dark moments” fit within your spiritual memoir: as a theme, a desire, or a hope? Write about the ways this choice has influenced your spiritual journey.

Embrace Themes That You Fear

I share my spiritual stories, and they include themes that are challenging to explore. These stories help others know that they are not alone, and they also remind me that my “fear themes” have a place on my journey. Don’t be afraid of shedding light on the darker themes within your story.

I believe certain people have been put in our lives for a reason. I believe God talks to us through people. At the point in my life when I was most afraid, my friends spoke peace to my fears without even realizing they were doing so. They had no idea how powerful their words of encouragement were.

There is power in having people see the opposite of what I fear in me. When I see weakness they see strength. When I see fear they see courage. When I see instability they see confidence. When I struggled people didn’t quietly remove me from the scene. Instead, they called me out to be something more than I already was. Fully knowing the challenges and difficulties of my life, I had friends who spoke of my giftedness, insight, and potential. When I saw darkness creeping in they saw greatness. They saw light. They spoke of promise and potential when I saw nothing. They spoke to every fear and shed light on those fears. They turned my fears into courage.

Does God speak to you through people? Have you ever had someone speak words of courage as you faced your fears? Did they do this without even comprehending the timeliness of their words? Did someone’s stories about facing fear make all the difference? Consider how the words and experiences of others have helped you overcome your fears. Speak of the ways your “fear themes” became themes of hope and light as you tell your spiritual story.

Sharing My Journey

I make a painting of darkness and light. The angels in my painting compete with the darkness. They’re winning. Scary cellar stairs, spiders and dark, dank crawl spaces fill the darkness. Some places are so dark you can’t even see what’s hiding there. Some places should be dark but they’re not. The light exposes them and strips them of their power. You might notice the places that should be dark, but you can’t miss the angels that surround them. The angels are like cutouts with hard edges that contrast with the darkness around them. They’re like the puzzle pieces from my dream

I like them. I like my angel pieces. They remind me that I’m seizing what God has for me. One day I’ll get all the pieces, and I’ll have peace in every corner where there is now fear. I’m going to finish this journey. I will fearlessly collect all the pieces. I will collect them one God given piece at a time.

My paintings show me how to beat my fear. I just need to stay focused on the truth: God is in even the scariest of places. I need to remember that my own stories about facing fear offer freedom to me and others. When I remember that God is with me in the darkness, I don’t fear that things will fall apart. The controlling power of fear loses its control. The physical and emotional effects of fear diminish. I am confident that God is with me. I see there is power over fear within my life story and the life stories of others.

Sharing Your Journey

Your journal can become a place for exploring challenging themes. What difficult realities have you had to face throughout your journey? Think of what you fear the most. Pick your biggest fear, and write it down within the center of a circle. What color, or colors, could help you describe the fear? Fill the circle with the colors that help you describe your fear.

Imagine a life without this fear. What colors would best describe a life free of this fear? Fill the area outside the circle with these colors. Consider the contrast between what is inside and outside your circle. What does the contrast say about the power of fear in your spiritual life? How do your discoveries fit within your spiritual memoir.

Fear is among our normal human emotions. Sharing a journey that’s free of fear wouldn’t be honest. Sharing a journey that’s honest about your “fear themes” helps tell your whole story. Consider stories about facing fear: yours and those of others. Don’t fear including fear in your story.

Relationships as Themes Within Your Spiritual Story

Explore the nature of your relationships. Make a list of a few people that have both blessed you and brought you pain. List a few of the ups and downs of each of these “mixed bag” relationships. How are relationships a part of your spiritual story?

Sharing My Journey

I put some more paintings on the walls of our new home. They’re new paintings of my childhood home. They reconnect me with the good things I have left behind. I try to paint every space I can remember. I paint the nooks and crannies, corners, and special places that could be forgotten one day if I don’t paint them. I paint a beautiful bunch of wildflowers that I picked for my mom from the backyard.

I put them in a familiar vase that’s next to a familiar table which is on a familiar rug. It’s all the details and nuances that make meaning for me. I call forward the goodness of the past. I want to go back and there’s a way I can. I paint.

I can hold on to some of the pieces of my past. I can remember the people and places that shaped me and the moments that grew me and formed me. I can invite people into my life with sensitivity and enjoy them in ways that stay with me. I can reach out and remember how good it felt to move beyond myself. I can recall the people who haven’t pushed me away and have always made me feel welcome. I do my best to remember all of these things, so the past doesn’t slip away. I paint so I won’t forget.

Sharing Your Journey

Grab a small ball of clay. Hold it in your hands and reflect on relationships with family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and others. Give the clay a squeeze as each person comes to mind. Notice how your hand reacts to the clay as memories, emotions, and thoughts come to mind. Jot down how you react and what you notice. Consider the role of relationships within your spiritual story.

Forgiveness is a Theme in All Our Stories

Consider that loving those who are hard to love is central to your story.

I’ve discovered that I want to apologize to the people I have not loved well. I have expected much and given little. Please forgive me. I was much afraid. I was trying to be perfect and I was demanding perfection in return. I’m not perfect. I’m really very messed up. I’ve tried to hide so much from you. It’s OK that you’ve hurt me. I’ve hurt you too. I’ll do my best to accept the pain you’ve given me. I want to love you anyway. I want to love you even if the best you can do is push me away. Please know that your heart, and your name, is safe with me. Even if we’re not friends I still love you. Even if you hate me, I’m still your friend.

When people are really terrible I don’t feel like loving them. I’m not even very sure of what loving them would look like. All I really know for sure is that I’m supposed to love.

Isn’t it time for me to figure out how to love the sick and messed up people that surround me? People have had to figure out how to love me when I’ve been sick and messed up. A lot of the time our stories are pretty complicated: they make it hard to love and they make it hard for us to love others. Somehow in all of that we’re supposed to figure out how to share love with others. What we have before us is a huge challenge. I’m almost forty. I think it’s time for me to be up to the challenge. How about joining me in the challenge? I’d like some company.

Share Your Journey

Write five sentences that describe you well. Use this paragraph to help yourself choose five adjectives that best describe you. List these adjectives in your journal. Do you like who you are? Are you able to love and forgive yourself?

Now think of someone extremely difficult to love. Choose five adjectives to describe that person and list them in your journal. Consider some adjectives that describe you (and others) which are negative. Make a list of them in your journal. Spend some time pondering how you forgive yourself and others. What role does forgiveness play in your spiritual autobiography?

Make a list of the people you find hard to love. Consider the ways these relationships have helped, or hindered, your spiritual development. Get a red crayon and write the word “surrender” over the top of your list. Pray for insight as you work to understand the role of forgiveness in your spiritual story.

Place your hands on a blank page in your journal. Trace their shape and fill them with the names of all the people you would like to forgive. Take some time to consider all the people your hands now hold. Consider their place in your story.

Read a Spiritual Autobiography

Hopeful Work

Textured Work

Tomorrow’s Door,

Things Otherwise Unseen,

Stay and Go,

No Idea,

Satisfying Work

Fancy Chair,
Age 47

For the longest time, I couldn’t look at my art and be satisfied. Most of the people around me like my work from 20 years ago better than they like what I make today. That’s because I stuck to the rules back then. I believe these people don’t understand the artistic maturity behind how I made this painting work. You try using all these elements (lace, paper, glitter, oil pastels, found objects, ink and acrylics) together and see what you can make. Chances are, you will have Macaroni Art. There’s no shame in that: you have to start somewhere. But, you are remiss if you think that’s what you see here. It took me a long time to get here and I’m done being ashamed.

Collage Work

Peacock Feather Collage 2,
Age 46

Peacock feathers, glitter, yarn, tissue and torn papers. I am a child again: creating using whatever I can find before me.

Yarn Work

Yarn Swirl Collage,
Age 46

Yarn can keep a child amused for hours at a time. I remember that being true for me. I made pom poms, dolls, and collages out of yarn. I was pretty small when I made my first yarn creations. Today I use what I remember from that time to create.

Prayerful Work

What if We All Held Hands?
Age 42

I forget about the power of holding hands. I isolate myself and pray: my door locked, a private candle lit, and in silence. Others are praying at the same time but I don’t know who they are, what they are asking God for and what they need for restoration. I have to ask the question, “What If We All Held Hands?” What if we all held hands and prayed: in unison, holding hands, and calling out to God together. Alone life just seems too hard sometimes. It appears that our prayers don’t make it to their destination. Together our prayers are an explosion that drives the advancement of God’s kingdom. Together we make a prayer explosion in our life and in the lives of those whose hands we hold. Consider what would happen if we all held hands and prayed.

"Not Enough" Work

I am Blessed,
Age 35

I consider my baby growing inside of me. With the 3rd it will be even harder to dodge the possibilities. No matter how hard I try to eliminate the risks they will still exist. With only one of me, and three of them, it’s impossible to manage all sources of harm. Even if I’m the most selfless mom ever, I can’t be everywhere at once. I am simply not enough. I see that having children is no assurance that I get to keep them for my lifetime. It’s a miracle that I’ve managed to keep them for as long as I have. They’re not safe and well because I’m a good mother. They’re safe and well because I am blessed. I don’t deserve the blessings but I am, most definitely, blessed.