“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)
In one of his signature works, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis wrote: “The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. . . . Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”
God balances this doctrine of suffering, however, with a covenant of hope. Grounded in this certainty, the Christian faith offers followers experiences of joy in the midst of sorrow, beauty mixed with brokenness, and healing mingled with hurt. Emily LaVelle ’14, who traveled such a painful and perplexing road, discovered, too, this God of hope and His plan for her life.
At 18 months of age, LaVelle contracted spinal meningitis, which left her deaf. But blessed with a godly mother, the two cultivated her emerging passion for nature and art at a young age, photographing and painting scenes of Creation together. LaVelle’s mom was her best friend, teacher, and mentor. But at 16, LaVelle’s world turned upside down when her mom received a pancreatic cancer diagnosis and succumbed to the disease following a brief battle, just a few months before LaVelle graduated high school. In her grief, and almost without noticing, LaVelle closed the door on her love for nature and passion for art. In a way, LaVelle lost a second sense—her ability to see God’s Creation.
Though an exceptional student, LaVelle put college on the back burner while she tended to her broken heart. After a couple years, she realized the best way to honor her mother would be to extend to others that same incredible care her mother experienced at the end of her life. She enrolled in APU’s highly competitive School of Nursing with a noble purpose and soul-deep determination.
At the start of each academic year, President Jon R. Wallace, DBA, challenges every APU student to wrestle with three questions: Who am I? What is my purpose? What difference will I make in the world? LaVelle believed she had these questions answered conclusively, but by her sophomore year she began to wonder. Through chapel messages, faculty mentors, discipleship groups, Bible studies, and friends, LaVelle sensed God nudging her to revisit them.
One day, a friend noticed her artwork and asked her to create a painting as a gift for a friend. Soon faculty and friends began challenging her: Why had she closed the door on art? Was she avoiding being an art major because it was a painful reminder of her loss? What was God’s purpose for her? If He had gifted her as an artist, was she willing to trust Him? What difference could she make in the world as an artist?
Slowly, painfully, LaVelle began to trust God and pick up her paintbrush and camera again, once more seeing God’s Creation, this time with fresh eyes. First, she confronted her anger at God; then she began to see God’s goodness even against the backdrop of pain.
She eventually made a bold decision to change majors, and three years later, graduated from APU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Visual Art (now the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Art). She celebrated her graduation with a three-week hike along the John Muir Trail in the Sierras. “My mom honored and glorified God in life and in death,” LaVelle said. “As an artist, I can honor the gift and memory of my mom in a way that is true to how God made me.” Through trusted friends and faculty, LaVelle rediscovered that artistry and creativity lead us closer to our Creator.
That understanding is the foundation of Azusa Pacific’s rich history of investment in the arts. Honoring that commitment, the Windgate Charitable Foundation recently bestowed upon APU a $3 million matching grant to endow art scholarships and launch new programs if APU can raise $1.5 million by April 2016. LaVelle, one of APU’s first Windgate scholarship recipients, plans to pursue a master’s degree in art therapy to work with children facing significant life trauma. To see more of her work, visit facebook.com/emilylavelleart or watch her story at /stories/emily-lavelle/.
Posted: January 20, 2015