Promise of the Painting

Her husband was twice comforted by a painting in a hospital—and a heavenly voice.

Posted in , Feb 11, 2015

Artist Jan Mayer's painting of a family on a beach

It was just a watercolor portrait of a family at the beach. A mother and father barefoot on the sand, looking out over the ocean with their four children, the youngest perched on the father’s shoulders.

Yet this painting had somehow taken a powerful hold over my husband, Tim. He claimed it had saved him twice.

It wasn’t hanging in an art gallery. No, it was in Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn, Michigan. The same hospital where we’d spent the saddest day of our lives.

That morning, 16 weeks pregnant with our fourth child, I’d had a miscarriage. I lay in the hospital bed, staring at the bare white walls, as stark as my family’s future seemed after this terrible loss. I needed Tim to be strong, to help get us through this. But he sat in the chair next to me, his eyes red from crying, looking just as torn apart as I felt.

“I could use a cup of coffee,” he finally said, standing up wearily. “Be back soon.”

I thought of our three young children, who were at home with the babysitter—seven-year-old Timmy, six-year-old Katie, and Liam, who’d just turned one. My husband and I had hoped to bring another little Mulligan into the family. Now that seemed unlikely.

Tim didn’t return for a full hour. I was starting to get concerned.

“I thought you were just getting coffee,” I said when he came back. Then I glanced up. His eyes were clear and bright, and he had an air of confidence. He sat down beside me, clasped my hand in his and smiled.

“We’ll get through this,” he said. “I know we will.”

“And you know this how?” I asked.

He took a moment to gather his thoughts. Big, deep breaths.

“I saw something in the hallway,” he said.

Tim explained that he’d wandered the hospital corridors. He didn’t even really want coffee. He needed somewhere to think. He ended up at the hospital atrium, found a low ledge and sat down.

Framed watercolor paintings lined the wall across from him. One painting caught his eye, a beach scene of a family, a mother and father and their kids. Four kids.

He stared hard at that youngest child, enjoying the view from his father’s shoulders. Our family will never bring our fourth child to the beach, he thought. He closed his eyes and prayed, asking God to help him through this loss.

“That’s when I heard it,” Tim told me. “A voice.” His eyebrows furrowed in disbelief. “You know me. I don’t hear voices. This was like an inner voice, a thought with sound. I couldn’t ignore it: You will have a fourth child.

He tried to dismiss it, he said, but he couldn’t. He looked at that painting again, and suddenly, it seemed like a divine promise. “I believed it.”

I listened to the story wide-eyed. Tim believed that a painting had talked to him? It sounded crazy. Maybe it was the stress. Yet he seemed so certain. We went home late that afternoon, tired and still grieving.

Before we knew it, I was pregnant again. Nine months later, we welcomed baby Joseph into our family.

Tim and I were ecstatic...but soon we had something new to worry about. Tim was losing weight, fast, more than 50 pounds in three months. His face grew pale and gaunt, like an old man’s. Every morning he woke up exhausted. He was too weak even to lift little Joseph. We feared the worst. Cancer?

Finally Tim’s doctor gave us a diagnosis: Graves’ disease, an overactive thyroid. A quick, noninvasive procedure at the hospital would shut Tim’s thyroid gland down, the doctor said, and he’d have to take hormones for the rest of his life. Within a few months, though, he would feel better again. I was relieved. But Tim still seemed worried.

The day of the procedure arrived. Tim drove himself to Oakwood Hospital while I stayed home with the kids. When he came home, he had a strange look in his eyes, a calmness I’d seen before.

“I saw that painting again,” he told me. “I wasn’t even looking for it, but I got there early and was wandering the halls.” Again he found himself sitting on the ledge in front of the watercolor of the family, fixated on the boy held by his father.

Suddenly, Tim felt an overwhelming sense of peace. He heard that inner voice again, passing through him like a gentle breeze: You will soon have the strength to hold your child just like that.

I looked into his eyes. They blazed with hope and certainty. I didn’t understand the painting’s power over him, but I got an idea. What if I bought the painting for him? His birthday was just two days away, and I’d racked my brain for the perfect gift. This painting was it. I knew it would mean so much for him to have it. I needed to get it. But how?

First thing the next morning, I called the hospital about the painting. It wasn’t for sale, but the hospital staffer who ordered the art offered to put me in touch with the artist. Would she even respond to such a crazy request?

Within the hour, my phone rang. The artist! Her name was Jan Mayer. I told her our story—my miscarriage, my husband’s operation, and the voice he’d heard both times while looking at her watercolor.

“Do you have another copy of it?” I asked.

“I’m sorry,” Jan said. “Each of my paintings is unique. Before I make a brushstroke, I stare at the blank canvas and pray for inspiration. I ask God to use the finished work in whatever way he chooses to help whoever is in need.

“It was odd. For that painting, I prayed for days before I knew what direction to take. Then it came to me. It’s a portrait of my son, my daughter-in-law and their four children. The boy on my son’s shoulders is my youngest grandson, Joseph.”

“Joseph?” I blurted out. “That’s our youngest son’s name!”

Jan was silent for a moment. Then she whispered, “I believe God wants your family to have that painting.”

Jan contacted the hospital and cut a deal to exchange the beach scene for another painting. I met her outside the hospital the very next day and we made our swap, just in time for Tim’s birthday.

Not long after, we took a Mulligan family trip to Pawleys Island in South Carolina. We couldn’t resist posing for a photograph on the beach, with Joseph in his father’s arms. A reminder of the painting that had assured us our family’s dreams would come true.

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