Like many of you reading this, my story is not perfect and is riddled with ups and downs and twists and turns. But through it all, the Lord remained steadfast by my side.
I grew up in a dysfunctional household. While my parents were both raised Christian, they were not at all walking in relationship with Him or considering His ways. Their issues with each other and themselves impacted me greatly. I was the 4th of 5 children and while my parents always provided for the family, the neglect on an emotional and relational level had the biggest impact on me and left me feeling alone and unloved for many years.
In addition, early on I began to experience sexual abuse from distant relatives. 3 cousins, and later a babysitter. Both male and female. Looking back I can see how so much confusion and fear set in and how I didn’t quite have the tools to understand or work through everything that had come my way at such a young age.
Throughout my childhood I was also taught by my older siblings and relatives to draw, it became a passion of mine as I grew up. I drew the Lion King, I drew Bugs Bunny, I drew trees & dogs and people. I drew whatever I saw. I also began writing, and journaling and found that it was a great way to express myself, and a skill that my mother also was very great at.
Teenage Years & Early Adulthood
At the age of 13 years old I went to a youth camp with my church and gave my life to Him. And He truly turned my life around. It was a moment that would change the course of my world forever. But while I knew I loved the Lord, my heart longed for my family to love Him as well, and for them to love me. But the road ahead was about to get more complicated. My parents soon separated and divorced, depression from the abuse and neglect set in, and at the age of 15 years old I was on my own. I attempted suicide several times because my sadness was so great I didn’t see any hope for my life. Within just 2 short years I moved 15 times, living with family and friends. There was no stability for me, I was on my own and not equipped for it. The road was not easy. But I know looking back that God was always with me.
At the age of 17, God surrounded me with good people and I found stability, and continued to grow in my relationship with the Lord. I heard the Lord speak to me for the first time. He showed me a vision of how He wanted to use my life to impact others to help them to grow closer to Him. I was all in heart and soul. I felt the love of God so strong in my life and wanted others to feel the same. But things again took a turn at the age of 19 when I began struggling with my sexuality and the immense shame that was all too familiar to me. I shut down completely. While I did not go off living in the world, I locked myself inside I shut down, and felt there was no way out. I isolated myself and cried out to God “How will you ever do the things you called me to do, when I am such a mess…you cannot use me.”
And for 8 years I stopped drawing, I stopped writing, and I lived life, apart from the purpose I knew God had once spoken over me. It was like being alive, but not living at the same time. I once tasted of His calling and leading and now I felt so far from what I imagined my life to be like. I was far from where I felt He called me to be. I finally hit a rock bottom, and I decided I needed to get help. I landed in the office of Dr. Allan McCray, a Senior Pastor at my home church Church for the Nation Central campus in Phoenix AZ.
I was terrified as I sat before him and expected him to drop the hammer as I shared my struggles, my past and my failures. But sitting across from him was different. It was the first time I came to understand God’s grace, and compassion. Dr. McCray sat across from me with a father’s soft eyes and helped me to understand where things where things coming from and why I was struggling, and that it is ok to need to heal. No list of to do’s came from the meeting, no shaming, no expectation, no judgement and I left feeling a thousand pounds lighter.
The Gift Unlocked
By the second session I remembered something I had heard him teach before….and that is…that our destiny is tied into our passion…he would then follow it up with…”What where you passionate about as a child.?” I remembered this question, and I remembered my love for drawing once again.
I searched my apartment drawers for a pencil and paper. But all I could find was colored pencils and lined paper. So I used them, and I drew a 5 minute drawing, and it was pretty good. A few days later I went to the store and bought sketch paper and drawing pencils and I did a 45 minute drawing. And it was pretty good. It was better than when I had left off drawing 8 years prior.
The third session came around and I showed Dr. McCray my drawings. He said to me “you are really good!” and I responded to him, “What I really want to do is paint, but I have never done it before. His response to me still sticks with me to this day. He looked me dead in the eye’s with that soft look, but so intently as if he heard a whisper from the Holy Spirit to say a certain thing to me….he said to me “When you sit down to paint, know that it is God’s work flowing through you.”
I went home from that session and set up my paints and painted a Bob Marley painting in 2 ½ hours. It was as if I had been painting my whole life. As if this gift was inside of me, buried beneath so much hurt and sadness, but it had been preserved through it all. I sent him a photo of the painting through text, and he responded asking me if it was a painting of a worship leader. 😂 I told him, no…but maybe….of a different sort.
Within the next 24 hours I completed 4 paintings. I was so excited and couldn’t help but to keep creating.
My First Live Worship Painting
At the time, I was following some very well known speed painters, who did very fast paintings as performance. I wanted to learn to do the same, but when I prayed about it in my heart, I said to the Lord, “Lord, I want to learn to speed paint, but I don’t want to paint and be a distraction from the worship, or a performance. I want my painting to be worship.” At the time, I was struggling, because I was afraid to even lift my arms in worship at church without feeling the insecurities of what others would think of me. But I knew that powerful fearless worship was in my heart. The Lord spoke clearly to me and said “I want you to worship me like you were a child again, without a care in the world, I want you to dance freely before me.” So, I did just that. When I was at home alone, I would put my favorite most impactful worship music on and I would dance before the Lord and paint with all of my heart.
The first time I did a live worship painting, was at a first Friday art walk in downtown Phoenix. Not exactly the environment for a worship painting, but people crowded in from all walks of life to see… I was terrified…as I was painting the time came to lift up my hand in worship…I scooted off to the side of the painting and lifted my hand as I practically hid behind the 4 foot canvas…then I went back to painting. It was a good step, but I still held back because of fear.
When I completed the painting…I was satisfied. But to be honest…my painting was not the greatest, in fact, Jesus looked like a llama. To be more specific He looked like the llama from The Emperors New Groove. But, to me, I was pleased, I was encouraged, and I was ready to learn more and to get better at how I did things.
Growing in Freedom Worshiping the Lord
It was nearly 3 years into painting that I finally let go, and became completely free. I was at a women’s conference and worshiped the Lord without reservation. I felt in that moment, that the presence of the Holy Spirit, was more tangible the more that I let go. He was always there, at the end of my full surrender, He was there waiting to be given the space to show up in a new and powerful way. I heard the Lord speak to me in that moment…”The break through that you just experienced…will help countless others to find the same freedom in worship.”
I went all in and never looked back. Worshipping the Lord for me is the single most powerful and impactful thing I have ever experienced in life. To be so connected to Him, that I can feel Him, sense Him, and hear from Him so clearly. When I worship and paint, I do not do it alone, I am guided by His hands. I realize that being a vessel of the Holy Spirit, is much more about being in relationship to Him than about being an empty jar. It is more like a dance, where He gently leads, and I gracefully follow. And for me, being in tuned with Him is like being in tuned to Heaven itself, it makes me feel like here on earth, somehow, some way, I can touch Heaven with my worship and feel Heaven come down. There is nothing like it. And I realize, all along, this is what the enemy tries to stop in all of our lives. He tries to cut the relationship before it has a chance to flourish. We were made for this, to worship the Lord and to be in unfiltered, unadulterated relationship with Him. Is there anything else so beautiful as the connection we can have with the Living God, our Father and Creator.
I believe we were all created to worship God in this powerful and intimate way. I also believe that the enemy will use any means necessary to try to stop God’s people from knowing who they are, and that we were created to worship Him in such a powerful way.
God is the Master Artist
Art is a visual representation of a long journey over the past 10 years, since I first started painting. But the learning and growing in my personal life, is just as drastic. I have healed, I have overcome, I have dug in deep and given the Lord my ‘Yes” and in return He has given me His Faithfulness to see me through and to keep every word He ever spoke. He is my strength, He is my refuge, my best friend and the Light of my Life.
Healing in this life has become a reality, but the refinement didn’t come through fields of flowers, it often came from the trenches of life. The journey was riddled with unseen and unexpected trials, and failures, and disappointments…But through those things, God taught me patiently, helping me to grow more and more in His likeness.
Our lives are like a masterpiece that God is actively creating. In the beginning, we might feel great expectations, but as life goes on, we might not understand why things are happening the way they are.
“Why is that stroke on the canvas? This doesn’t look like a masterpiece! How is God going to make this right when it is so messy?” The strokes continue to stack one on top of the other, different colors going different directions, we struggle to make out what He is planning. Our mistakes, stack up against us one by one, pain and loss make their way to the canvas of our lives and we struggle with what we see unfolding. “This doesn’t look right! My life doesn’t look like it’s supposed to look!” We rage in despair not understanding how this can all come together. But if we can hold on, if we can trust God, and stay on that easel of life. If we can allow Him to continue to work on us, in due time, we will see how these strokes all work together to bring out a beauty that could never be created by human hands.
The work that the Lord does, is truly spectacular. He is faithful and in due time, He will work out all of the messes in our lives to bring about the finished work that He promised. And the beauty of His work, the pricelessness of it all, is why He sent His Son to die for our sins…so that the masterpieces of lives redeemed by Him, these priceless works of art…would be with Him for all eternity. So no matter what, stay on the easel and let Him finish the work he started in you. I promise you it will be worth it.
The Lord Restores
I hope in some way my story has encouraged you. Your life is a beautiful masterpiece and the gifts inside of you are straight from the hand of God. He loves you, His plans for you are so good. I pray that you are reminded that the Lord is faithful, He keeps His word, and nothing is too difficult for Him. May your life be like a symphony played out before Him, may your walk with Him be more like a dance, and may your heart always be aware of the great love He has for you.
Thank you for taking the time to read a little bit about my story. The Lord, is the Love of My Life. My best friend, My God and my Creator. May my life be my love note to Him. For all the messes, greater is His compassion, for all of the mistakes, greater is His grace, and for all of the pain, greater still is His healing.
May God bless and keep you always, may He cause His face to shine upon you all of your days.
Sincerely, Vanessa Horabuena