Maybe I should have known it was a Godsend from the beginning, but I didn’t.
I was pleased with the new painting I had done of a barn in Texas, for I had created paintings of lots of barns before. Most of them were in Kentucky or Iowa, where I had lived and knew many people. Only four of my barn paintings hung in the homes of people in other states. So when the thought came to me — seemingly out of nowhere — that I should see if I could paint a picture of a barn in all 50 states before my 90th birthday, it made me smile. I thought it unlikely because that birthday was less than six years away. Besides that, where would I get photos of barns in the states where I had not traveled or was not likely to know anyone? At age 84, the chances of me traveling and taking photos was very limited. I would have cast the thought aside quickly, but it simply wouldn’t go away. So for several days I prayed about it, and asked God for guidance.
Then I mentioned the barn-painting idea to my four adult children. All were very supportive, and their comments often seemed to say, “You will never know if you don’t try.” That line of thinking had been a strong influence for me at difficult times earlier in my life. So my decision to see if I could do it was made! I began by telling a few friends and family members of my new challenge.
I was very surprised by the sudden encouragement I received. It seemed nobody had ever heard of anyone anywhere ever doing such a project, and they felt sure I would get the job done before I was 90. Almost immediately I had folk in far away states sending me photos of barns. Some were photos of barns near to them, others were old barns that had a family history to preserve. Soon I found I had been given a brand new reason for getting up each morning, and I loved what I was doing.
At the beginning, I had thought each painting would one day be owned by the person who sent the photo. But it only took creating a few paintings for me to become aware that each painting was a major part of a unit or a single series; therefore, should not be given or sold to anyone until my task was completed. After all, each painting (new or old) when added to the others, helped me feel that I really could do the rest of the states.
Having this big project going on during my elderly years had become a terrific personal bonus, for I had been connected again with people of my past, even people I only knew for a short time, or some far distant relatives. Part of the overwhelming support I received came through friends of friends, or friends of acquaintances, or others who simply seemed to be impressed with my challenge and wanted to help me reach my goal. Some were from organizations that had heard what I was doing or had seen and admired some of my work. It seemed strange that so many learned of my endeavor so quickly. Or that they went to so much trouble taking pictures to send my way.
Once I got started, there was nothing that could stop me from finishing. Even a heart attack, in late 2020, slowed me down for only a short time. For I believed this task was sent from above, and was a project given to me for a reason. I hope the reason is to bring enjoyment and pleasant memories to all who view my work. I also hope, in some way, it encourages others in their final years not to be afraid to set difficult goals.
All the wonderful things that have come about, since I chose to follow the challenge, continue to amaze me. They are things I never had dreamed of before, so God is still in charge.
- A book of my “Barns in 50 States” has been published, and sales are good.
- A totally unexpected connection of a first cousin I had lost contact with for over 50 years has been renewed.
- One of the paintings my mother created probably 75 years ago that I had never seen, has been given to me.
- The county history museum displayed all 50 of my barn paintings during a three-month exhibition. The exhibit has drawn visitors from as far as 2,000 miles away.
- Since visiting the museum, a stranger has commissioned me to paint (from his memory) a painting of his family’s barn.
So if you hear the quote, “Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be,” frequently attributed to folk artist Grandma Moses; consider changing it to: “Life is what we make it, when we ask daily for and receive, God’s guidance.”
God always listens. He knows the desires of our heart.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. – Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)