Portrait of a Life: A Self-portrait

Portrait of a Life John Enslow

I want to tell you the story behind my self-portrait, which I used on the cover of my autobiography, Where Are You, God?. For me it’s dynamic and special, but is this just because it is about me and my life? No, I believe the most dynamic revelation of my painting and book cover is that God can move us into places quite unbeknownst to us. He leads us, as a Shepherd, while we slowly pass through the pastures of our lives. Not only did He prove Himself as Lord of my actions, but He also used those actions to maneuver me to know Him, see Him, and come to Him. This is the most hopeful thing I have ever heard. Jesus Christ is truly Lord and sovereign and we are not simply on a “Mister Toad’s Wild Ride” of human chaos and vague wanderings.

The Portrait of a Life

The Portrait of a Life
My father took this picture of me when I was 11 months old. Not only did he artistically pose me for this image filled with dramatic lighting and meaning, but more importantly, the Lord used my unsaved dad to set up a visual representation of a prophecy for my life. It’s utterly fascinating to me. Let me get through the back-story so I can share with you the wider picture. And maybe then you can see the personal implication for your own life and happenings.

It was real important to me, for some reason, to have a painting of this photograph. My artistic medium has always been photography, so I didn’t have the ability to paint it. But I found another artist who was willing to do an art swap. She received one of my framed fine art photographs and agreed to paint in oil my baby portrait. As a side note, the image she received was later used on the cover of The Mystery of Discipleship. I really like that piece.

Waiting for a Portrait

Anyway, I waited months and then years for my painting to no avail. She wasn’t going to come through for me. Then to stack insult upon injury, she lost my only copy of this photo. All I had was an iPhone snapshot of it and a huge desire to see it painted. So what does a man do with these parameters? Well, I determined to paint myself! Bold I know, but I felt like this was what I was supposed to do. I now praise God that this other artist reneged on our deal. No one else would’ve had the passion to communicate the message but me. And if she had painted this image, I would have gotten a nice oil painting and that would have been it. I’d have hung and enjoyed it, but I would’ve lost the divine journey and message which God had intended from the beginning.

Becoming a Self-portrait Painter

Becoming a Self-portrait Painter
I went to painting classes for over nine years to get to the place where I felt I could paint it. Even when I lost sight of the goal and forgot what I was doing it all for, it turned out that all my paintings and drawings were for this end—get good enough that I could one day paint this image. I refused it have it look amateur. It had to not only have the quality of art but also the message I believe God wanted to communicate through it.

My first art teacher taught me about finding the message behind your painting and how to communicate that through art. Literally every drawing and painting had to have the elements of meaning. This was perfect for what I wanted to accomplish. Then my next teacher taught me how to accomplish this through a painterly feel while giving me the confidence to move forward in my own style. These lessons weren’t just exercises for me; they were a mission with a purpose. And until now I have never told this story. My teachers and fellow students just saw another student. Clandestine, no?! (hehehe)

An Ugly Baby: Self-portrait

An Ugly Baby
Do you remember my post about the ugly baby? Well after all this time of training and preparation, I finally came to the place I believed I could accomplish my painting goal. After I drew the self-portrait out and was ready to proceed with the painting, a fellow student came over and mocked my image. She said, “Well, at least you are drawing well an ugly baby.” Cruel, huh?

Satan tipped his hand with this comment. At this point in the process, I knew that this wasn’t about a mere painting; it truly had a divine purpose. I was shocked by her comment but quickly became excited. If ever before I thought it was just a painting for me to enjoy, now I knew I was motivated the whole time by God. Oh, I praise God for this cruel woman; her attack gave me that much more passion to do it well.

What My Self-portrait Reveals

What My Self-portrait Reveals
You might say, how does this have anything to do with your life? Here’s how. Over the last 50 years of my life, God orchestrated a path for a message and He does the same for us all. All this happened while I was still in the dark about God’s plan: the Lord used my dad to take the picture, then gave me a heart to value it, and finally used others to devalue it so that I would love it that much more.

Jesus gave me passion to learn to paint and the boldness to attempt to paint this image. He gifted me with the ability and teaching to do it His way. He gave me the testimony to put out there, and then called me to use it as the cover. The testimony about my life would be represented by an image that exemplified the message in the testimony. I was being directed as God orchestrated my motives, my actions, and my results.

It wasn’t as if the pain of being cheated didn’t hurt or the horror of having my image lost didn’t make me angry. And the mocking of others caused me pain while the work to learn to paint was costly. But God’s purpose superseded all of that. His plan was in place and it was being played out without my knowing. You see, God weaves in our lives many things to make Himself known. I never knew the picture would reveal my path of seeking God. I can’t even say that my motivation to have this photograph painted emanated from me. Not knowing where any of it would lead, I just walked out my life. But behind the scenes, as always is true, God was maneuvering and bringing about His plan.

Completion of a Self-Portrait

Completion of a Portrait
You may not currently see His movement in your life. You may be questioning, as I was, “Where are You, God?” Our moments and movements sometimes feel random and arbitrary. But it’s my earnest belief that God is weaving a tapestry of our lives to give us every opportunity to know Him. My testimony, “Where Are You, God?: We Seek the God Who Wants to be Found,” is a story which proves God’s sovereign ability to bring us to Himself. It’s a personal story, but it’s so much more than that. Where Are You, God? doesn’t leave you thinking of my experience of God but instead gives you deeper thought of your own.

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    • tammy

      “…God orchestrated a path for a message and He does the same for us all.”
      “God’s purpose superceeded all of that. His plan was in place and it was being played out without my knowing. You see, God weaves in our lives many things to make Himself known.”

      This is it John! This is it! The secret behind all of the joy, all of the hope, and all of the peace we can so lavishly experience! At one time it was a truth I clung to no matter the circumstances – but the longer I look to Jesus the less I cling and the more I REST in this truth. Each day brings new adventures ALL orchestrated by our Sovereign Love.

      Thank you for sharing your story (history) John. I praise Him for the comfort He gives in letting us know we don’t walk alone.


      • shulamite

        Resting in the arms of His amazing love Tammy. The point when we are held more than clinging is a place of peace, joy, and assurance isn’t it?! I love you muches! Thank you for you.

    • Jean

      This post has me weeping! I’ve read your wonderful book and I have known some of the back story, but this pierces me with pain and tenderness for such a precious baby already seeking his Father. Love you

      • shulamite

        Bless you Jean, thank you for celebrating and rejoicing in the story. Love you!

    • Alex

      The portrait is captivating. It is a picture of a relationship- between Father and son. The image captures the seeking and wonder of the child, and the abundance and love of the Father. Every time I see it, I’m drawn into the beauty of this moment.
      I’ve bought the booklet, and waiting for the Lord’s timing to read it. So excited! Thank you, John for sharing your journey! It’s beautiful!

      • shulamite

        Thank you Alex! I am hoping He really blesses you through it. Grateful for your anticipation. Love you!

    • Wanda

      Really enjoying this. By the way, you were certainly not an ugly baby, and I’ve seen lots of babies in my time. Love you all.

      • shulamite

        Beauty sees beauty. Love you Wanda!

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