December 5, 2020

Exquisitely Suited

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money” (Matthew 25:14-18).

Winter's Whites

“Whatever God creates is exquisitely suited to its end.” These words by Andrew Murray have been ringing in my head and heart since I read them a few weeks ago. Packed up in them is so much rich encouragement — something we all hunger for and need. The struggles of life tend to erode any assurance we might have that we are formed in the hands of the Holy One for his pleasure and unique purpose and that in our formation he has fitted us perfectly to accomplish the deepest desires of his heart.

It’s easy to forget or ignore the talents or gifts he has bound up in us when the necessities of earning livings, paying bills and caring for our people press in on us, though he calls us to such practical pursuits in certain seasons of life to be sure. Perhaps we are painfully aware of the thing inside us that keeps demanding to be unburied, but we sheepishly throw a little more dirt over it and turn away. We are busy and besides, bringing it out and investing it will only draw scrutiny and we might fail. Maybe we have gone so far as to have fearlessly cooperated for an extended period in what God gave us to serve him with only to find it hasn’t exactly been a roaring success.

A few years ago at a time when I was tentatively scraping the dirt away from a talent I’d buried years before, I met someone who inspired me in a multitude of ways — from his walk with Christ, to a lengthy perseverance in his art, to a steady humility and a passion for the beauty of God’s creation. I also found him to be a man who did what few do and that is to take the scary, unsure route in life.

Introduced by a mutual friend, I met wildlife artist Greg Beecham at his log cabin studio a block off the main thoroughfare in the small mountain town of Dubois (pronounced Du-boyz), Wyoming. He was friendly and a tad bit shy, maybe nervous to have a stranger enter the prayer closet of his creativity.

He apologized for the mess and pointed to a cardboard sign over the door. Hand-scrawled in black marker, it announced, “Tidiness is the art form of the non-creative.” Testifying to recent inspired outpourings, canvases of varying sizes leaned here and there and empty paint tubes littered the floor. An elaborate easel commanded attention in the center of the room, on it a painting in progress — a mountain lion crouched on a rock, partially camouflaged by surrounding foliage. The big cat’s eyes focused intently on something in the distance — perhaps its prey.

Beecham struggled for nearly three decades to refine his skills before the western art world took notice. Now his stunning wildlife scenes set in Rocky Mountain landscapes garner art show awards and display space in museums and galleries across the country. Collectors scramble for Beecham’s work, both for its beauty and investment potential.

It wasn’t always that way. The road was arduous and began in fits and starts. Beecham’s artistic gift appeared in early childhood and was initially fostered by his father, illustrator Tom Beecham, who began teaching his son to draw in the fifth grade. Beecham, however, neglected his art in high school in favor of sports and admitted to a general laziness.

During his service in the Navy medical corps after high school, interest in art reemerged. After his Naval service he enrolled in an independent art program at a college in Oregon. There he encountered professors who admired his ability and one or two who turned up their noses at his chosen genre — wildlife.

It was in art school where three pivotal events merged. Led by his desire to capture on canvas the elusive wildlife and spectacular scenery that few have the privilege of seeing in actuality, Beecham determined that art was to be his vocation, a definite call from God.

Next, he turned to his father with new admiration and a desire to glean every bit of technical ability and wisdom the man could offer. The elder Beecham, in an effort to finely tune his son’s skills, did not hold back his criticisms. “The summer of 1978 was brutal in that respect,” Beecham says. Nevertheless, he embraced the criticism and followed his father’s advice, studying the work of skilled artists and scrutinizing his own in comparison. It’s something he never stopped doing in the more than thirty years he’s painted full time.

It was also during his college years that he met and married his wife Lu, the woman who has steadfastly encouraged his art vocation in the most practical way. She went to work in the aerospace industry in Seattle so Beecham could paint. “God has overwhelmed me with grace,” he says. “He gave me a wife who is willing to work. I went through so many years where I was only making $2,000 and was totally frustrated because I felt a huge responsibility to be the provider. It was agonizing, but we were able to persevere and she didn’t resent it.”

Thirteen years ago, the couple moved with their two children, Sam and Sarah, to Dubois. Although mountains and wildlife were not far outside Seattle, life in the city forced Beecham to take weeklong treks away from family into the wilderness to do the photography essential to his art.

In their Wyoming town, the entire family now enjoys their spectacular surroundings where several ranges of the Rockies converge. Here the Teton, Wind River, Big Horn and Absaroka mountains show off their individual geological features and serve as a backdrop to the bountiful wildlife. There is also access to thousands of acres of government land a short hike or horseback ride from the their back door.

For Beecham, God’s call, the early influence of his father, a wife who protected his ability to paint and the inspiration of his surroundings have provided a seemingly idyllic environment. Nevertheless, other more hard fought factors contribute as well.

In spite of youthful inconsistency, Beecham has disciplined himself to work at his

The Tracker

art full-time, whether painting in his studio or tracking and photographing his wild subjects. Sometimes he goes out alone, hiking up the ridge behind his home. Other times, he schedules formal expeditions with artist friends. Together, they’ve photographed bison being harassed by magpies, swans in pristine lakes flapping up sprays of light-infused water, a pack of wolves enjoying a recent elk kill and mountain lions stalking their prey. They even discovered on occasion that they were the prey being stalked by a backtracking mountain lion. Coming upon a grizzly once, they were so overwhelmed with awe at the creature’s size and ferocity that they stopped to thank God for the experience.

Perseverance has also been a defining quality for Beecham. He admits to a multitude of times when he wanted to give up and go to work in order to relieve his wife. In fact, in year 24 of his frustrating pursuit he planned to do exactly that after one final show. He remembers praying, “I thought this is where you wanted me, God, but I can’t make it. I have to provide for my family.” The next show was a turning point for him. Several of his paintings sold there and in year 25 he was off and running.

Since then, a constant rush of sales, along with museum and gallery shows has carried Beecham’s career to notoriety, but the success has not spoiled him. He still works purposefully. “I wish I was better — there are so many lifetimes worth of learning to do that you never get there. God has given us a finite amount of talent. It’s our job to push that as far as we’re able to go.”

Beecham’s lifestyle has not changed either. He helps older neighbors cut and put up firewood for the winter, teaches kids in the AWANA program at church and supports a camp for broken and abused children in an eastern state. He also has his eye on a ranch he thinks would be perfect for a similar camp close to his home.

A few years ago Beecham read The Mind Of The Maker by Dorothy Sayers. What he gleaned changed his thinking about his art. “God’s an artist — so being an artist is a high privilege in terms of that image bearer status,” he says. “That gives what I do a whole new meaning.”

Indeed, we are all created in the image of God. When we discover the particular gifts he has bound up in us and invest in them with abandon, we not only glorify and please him, but we enrich the body of Christ.

Think of the parable of the talents. The two servants who invested their talents and returned them to their master with interest received back twice what they were initially given. The lazy servant who buried his talent received a heavy rebuke. It’s true that when we invest something we risk a total loss, yet the principle here seems to be that God would rather we do that than to risk nothing.

Andrew Murray writes regarding the gifts and powers endowed to us by God, “The path of entire consecration is the path of full salvation. Not only is what is thus given up received back again to become doubly our own, but the forsaking all is followed by the receiving all.”

Greg Beecham

Beecham ended our meeting by quoting his favorite passage of Scripture — one he’d lived by for over three decades. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

It may be tempting to draw the conclusion that God’s will for us is that elusive success at the end of a long perseverance, but the process is part of our refinement. We are in his will even when decades of seeming failure make us question whether we have correctly heard his call. We are in his will when life is hard and we are poor and distraught and feel like quitting. Christ has taken hold of us for that which God has exquisitely suited us — our end. And if he has suited us for the destination, it is reasonable to assume we are equally suited for the painful journey there.

Editor’s note: You can read more about Greg Beecham and view more of his art here.

Comments

  1. Well. I can’t figure out if this exactly what I needed to hear right now, or if I want to run screaming and go to bed. In either case, it’s spot on.

    • I really can’t count the times I’ve felt the same way, Brilliantvapor. But God is good. It wasn’t me who made it to success – it was God in me. I’m blessed by a loving and forgiving God – and a hardheaded woman who never gave up and still loves me – and I her.

  2. I won’t bore anyone with my personal life, but this was something I’ve needed to hear for quite some time. Thanks, Ms. Dye.

  3. What a beautiful post. Thank you for this.

  4. In our success-driven, follow-your-dreams culture, I don’t think that hiding our talents is the only danger. The error in the opposite direction is to let one’s talents, interests, abilities, goals, or dreams become idols of worship and obsession — a self-made trap in which we pursue our dreams and desires at the expense of anything or anyone else. There are a lot of people in this country who have destroyed or utterly neglected their families in the name of realizing a dream. And there are a lot of people who have developed tunnel vision to such a degree that they have lost the ability to appreciate or value anything or anyone outside the express lane toward their goals and aspirations. In my opinion, far too many people in Christian ministry suffer from that disease.
    And it’s not that they are necessarily chasing after false dreams, and it’s not that God hasn’t planted cetain desires and abilities in their lives. It’s just that, like those who hide their talents in the ground, they’ve let fear get the best of them — the fear of not being successful by the world’s measuring stick and the fear of not living up to a certain image of themselves they feel they must attain in order to have true worth.
    I believe that the healthy balance is found in centering our sense of worth in the revelation that God loves us — and that His love is not contingent on our achieving a certain level of success or even on our becoming everything He intends for us to be. He loves us thoroughly and completely just as we are. And it is His love that liberates us from fear and frees us to pursue the dreams and utilize the talents He has planted within us. But we have to keep Him at the center of our aspirations and ambitions and proceed step by step and day by day with His permission and guidance. Otherwise, we’ll end up either doing nothing or doing a whole lot of damage.

    • Well said, humanslug. The temptation to make the gift an idol is present, I think, for all. If you ask my wife she’d probably tell you there were times when she felt she was in competition with my career.
      I did one thing right, though. Because my Dad worked seven days a week, and then played a game of checkers with me after dinner – just to see if he had enough brain power left to go back to wrok in the evening, I recognized from the start that one could realize the dream and forfeit what is really important. That certainly is not God’s will. From the start of our marriage I determined to keep regular workers hours and not work weekends. That was a practical way of guarding against idolatry. But it also has to come from the heart – and personal commitment to God first and to family.
      You are right, the gift can be a destroyer if we are not walking in God’s Spirit. I’ve come way to close to the line, but God has been full of grace.

  5. one more Mike says

    This one’s a keeper. Thanks Lisa and Greg for sharing this inspirational post.

    Now, back to the book I’ve been trying to finish for 25 years…

  6. lol at Mike…..sticking with that book surely qualifies for what Lisa describes as that painful journey that he has been exquisitely suited for.

  7. I so needed to read this! I’ve struggled for years with the idea that in order for a talent to be useful to God it must be used within the “church” or be obviously religious. I know in my heart this is not true, but the messages from childhood are hard to shake. I am becoming free from that prison, free to explore and share those gifts God has given. With that freedom has come a new sense of connection with God and a new energy in so many areas of life.

    • Godspeed Amy! Go for it!
      And you’ve touched on something that has become a real fly in my ointment when it comes to many church leaders and church institutions. What I mean is this jealous and covetous tendency to try to keep people’s gifts, talents, energy, time, and resources funnelled exclusively through the channels of established church ministries and programs. One way they do this is to devalue or even demonize anything that falls outside the norm of established ministries and programs. Another way is by vainly attempting to expand church programs and ministries to include everything under the sun. Either way, it boils down to a system of control that tries to keep God (and people’s relationships with God) confined to a premeasured box, so that the scope of God’s workings and activities and the workings and activities of the church can be portrayed as perfectly synonymous.
      Admittedly, I may be a bit too harsh in the above assessment. I don’t really think that most church leaders are malevolent control freaks seeking to create their own theocratic totalitarian states — though there are some out there who fit that bill. I suspect it’s mostly an unconscious thing resulting from narrow thinking, limited background and experience, a natural human tendency to stay in comfortable and familiar territory, and a sort of tunnel vision or home-team loyalty when it comes to one’s church or denomination. And I think we sheep have contributed to these limited and enclosed church environments just as much as the shepherds. Heck, a universe in which God can and does act outside the boundaries of our religious preconceptions, imaginations, and experiences can take some getting used to — and most people have to take that kind of revelation in small doses.
      Still, to all those in church leadership, I strongly encourage you to give some serious thought and prayer to the matter. In what ways are you encouraging those in your charge to venture outside the box and explore new frontiers in their walk with Christ? In what ways might you be discouraging that or holding them back? (Most importantly) Do you really want them to develop an appetite for things of God that aren’t on the menu of what you and your church dish out on a weekly basis? I think those are questions that everyone in church leadership should ask themselves on a regular basis.

  8. Thank you for introducing me to such beautiful paintings, Lisa! And thank you, Grege Beecham, for painting them.