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  • Robert Kingdom

Two Years In...

The New Year, 2024, has just clocked over. It has been roughly two years since stepping out of mainstream teaching to start my own art and art teaching business. So much has happened during these past two years - and even since my last full update. It's amazing to reflect on how much learning, growth and change has happened in this time. It's no wonder that while most people were staying up for the countdown on New Year's Eve, I was sound asleep by 10:30 with earplugs firmly in place. My body is telling me it's time to rest and recharge.

It's been a journey I never expected to take - and one that I would not have taken if circumstances (or the Divine Hand of Providence) had not forced my hand. The start of the journey, though begun in a state of shock, was perhaps easier in some ways than the past several months leading up to this point. Finding myself without employment but with a healthy bank balance saw me launch into my new venture with an air of excitement and reasonable peace of mind. Yet, as many new business owners have discovered, the road becomes far more challenging when the once comforting bank balance is quite the opposite and the reality of one's situation and day-to-day choices is driven home. To persevere or to re-route becomes the question and the lustre of those early, dreamy days wears thin.

When our supports are stripped away from us, it can be very sobering. Things that once seemed secure, steadfast and a given prove to be sinking sand. Faith is tested and refined. Many times in recent months I have reminded myself that if God feeds the sparrows, He will surely meet my needs. Often, I have recalled George Muller of Bristol and his many, many orphans - and God's faithfulness in supplying their needs, reminding myself that if He can supply the needs of an entire orphanage based on prayer and faith alone, then surely He will take care of little ol' me. It is not in the times of plenty that we tend to experience the wonders of faith but in the lean times, the hard times and the times when we just feel like giving up. This is where the adventure of faith lies. Much in me cries against it, longing for comfort and ease but deep within there is a yearning to walk the path of wonders - perhaps like Bilbo Baggins resigned to a life of doilies and home comforts and yet drawn to the adventure of the unknown beyond his front door.

And so, two years into my adventure, I do not regret stepping out that door into the unknown. It has often been, and will continue to be, hard but I know that upon entering Heaven's gates, I will be glad I made the journey - even if I end up with more cuts and bruises than were necessary.

To make it two years without taking any government assistance to help me stay afloat is a feat worth celebrating. Also worth celebrating is the fact that my art school which began with a small handful of primary age students has blossomed into three after-school online classes for primary/secondary students (including a 6-9 year old class), three homeschool art classes (two face-to-face and one online), two fortnightly adult classes (face-to-face), a weekly online tutorial with a university student and a number of other classes/students along the way and rumblings of more to come. On the art sales front, I am grateful to have sold a number of significant artworks (including several commissions) fetching prices that honour the amount of time and effort that goes into making each piece.

I am very thankful for the growing number of patrons who truly value my work enough to invest in it and enable me to continue creating more art. And I am very thankful for all my students - and in many cases, their parents - who value me as a teacher and choose to take classes with me when other options may well be available. In my work, I am very much reliant on those around me for support and patronage. The task set before me cannot be accomplished on my own or in my own strength. This thought had been weighing heavily upon me in recent months and spurred me to create a "prayer card" relating to my business needs and other needs in general. I see my work - and indeed my whole life - as sacred or set apart for God's glory and pleasure. If missionaries heading off to foreign lands can hand out prayer cards outlining their needs then why can't I (or anyone else for that matter)? Just before I set off to attend Capernwray Bible School in the UK in 2007, I gave out prayer cards in the form of bookmarks to people close to me. It was a big leap of faith going there and I knew I couldn't do it in my own strength. By the conclusion of my time at Capernwray, I was amazed to note that every single prayer point had been clearly answered in one way or another. And so, I have printed off a batch of prayer cards to send out to people happy to support me in this way (If you would like to support me in prayer, please email me your postal address - or I can send a digital copy if preferred).

Much learning, discovering, trying, failing, recovering and growth has taken place in these past two years. There have been many ups and downs. A blessing has been that I have been able to see the things that didn't work out - what some might perceive as failures - as victories. Victories in the sense that I am richer for the experience, that I actually tried things and didn't just think or talk about them, that I have a clearer path ahead because of what has gone before. I have discovered through this process that I prefer to talk to a real person rather than to a video-camera lens. I feel more alive when my attention is focused on the real person I am interacting with and not on myself and how I look or sound. I have discovered that I can paint with oils! That my mediocre attempts with oils at university have not warranted twenty years or so of ignoring them. I never realised how fun teaching adults can be until this past year or so. I have learnt that there are limitations to my time, attention, resources and energy and that I can't pursue every business opportunity and creative whim that presents itself. There is no point trying to squeeze myself into a cookie-cutter mould - no point trying to follow someone else's path or emulate their precise strategies. I am a unique creation with a unique set of gifts and challenges. I can learn and glean from others but that can only go so far before it becomes someone else's journey - someone else's path.

My health has been intrinsically linked with my art journey. Stepping out of mainstream teaching into smaller classes with students keen to learn art - as well as having much more time to make art myself - has played a very significant role in healing many years of adrenal fatigue and mental health issues related to stress. I have shared specific details at length in previous posts so there is no need to thrash it out again now but I would like to give an update on things nonetheless. The past year has seen me move from regularly taking natural sleep supplements to only needing them occasionally. My mental state has been much improved overall. The anxiety symptoms have subsided on the whole. I do however, continue to feel flat whenever the skies are grey and the sun fails to appear. The most frustrating health challenges in 2023 were allergies and sinus congestion/infections (which have been undergirding the other issues of the previous several years. Working closely with my naturopath, we have tried multiple avenues to help pinpoint the key causes of the problems. A few months ago, I came to see that all this was related to the earlier health challenges and that the more my whole system rebalanced and settled, the more my allergies and sinus health would naturally settle too. In the past month I have noticed that I have been able to get out into my beloved garden with minimal reaction. I'm hoping that this is a sign that my system is truly settling and that the natural treatments are proving effective. A year ago, I did a three-month stint with a personal trainer - Isaiah Cuzzupe - and made good progress with my physical fitness, gaining a better understanding of how to perform certain exercises and how to construct a suitable food plan. Sadly, due to my dwindling funds, I was unable to keep going with the excellent training. I have, however, tried to stick to my goal of doing resistance-training three times a week. Looking forward, I know I need to set myself more challenges so that I'm not simply maintaining muscle but building on the progress so far. Working out/exercise continues to be a key factor in my overall well-being. It's hard to find time some days when I'm busy with teaching and various commitments but I'm always glad when able to fit it in and it really does make a difference.

For over a year now, I have been attending Altona Evangelical Church. As someone who struggles with high sensitivity to noise and can feel overwhelmed in large gatherings it has been refreshing to worship among a smaller congregation with more traditional music. I play violin regularly and am blessed to be able to use my musical gifts to in turn bless others. My spirit is nourished each week too with teaching that is reminiscent of what I was privileged to hear when studying at Capernwray Bible School in the UK. Earlier in 2023 the church paid for the use of one of my images of the Werribee River at the Cliffs in Werribee South - having it professionally printed onto three separate soundproofing panels to help reduce the noise levels in the foyer during after-service cuppas (which now are served up in mugs featuring various artworks of mine). I'm encouraged to be part of a church that values the gifts of its members and values the Arts.

The biggest highlight for me in 2023 was traveling up to Caloundra in Queensland (first time ever in QLD) to visit my younger brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece. I loved spending time at the beach, exploring some nearby hills and seeing the natural beauty but my favourite part was drawing monster trucks with my young nephew. When my nephew and niece were born I gave them soft toys made by the Jellycat company - a dinosaur called 'Bash' for my nephew and a cat called 'Tumbletuft' for my niece. I took photos of them during my visit and surprised the family with watercolour paintings featuring the soft toys.

For World Teacher's Day, Heathdale Christian College commissioned me to create a bookmark design that would speak of steadfastness and endurance. I chose to go with a lighthouse poised on top of cliffs with crashing waves about and swirling clouds above. I incorporated the school colours in the beams from the lighthouse - but giving them a more vintage feel.

Looking ahead now, into 2024, not much will change (Lord willing) from the latter part of last year through to the months ahead. The plan is to continue working two days a week at the Christian school doing Casual Relief (Substitute) Teaching. Hopefully the day will come before too long when I can afford to cut back on this and devote more time to my own business - teaching and making art. I'm hoping to expand the number of adult classes that I run and to try to fill some of the existing children's classes with additional students. A desire of mine for the past several months has been to host an all-day "drop in" art exhibition at my house. I have many artworks available for sale and would love to see them move on to bless others in their homes. I've been waiting on the fencing at my house (where I'm a tenant) to be replaced. Currently, it's not safe for people to walk through the garden (the fence literally fell flat on the ground) and I do want my guests to be able to enjoy the garden as well as the interior spaces. Further developing my website so that people can directly order and pay for prints - or setting up an Etsy shop or something along those lines - has been on my mind for a while. There are some mental blockages to work through there but I'm hoping that soon this might open up an additional stream of income. (If any of you have good experience with setting up such things I'd love to hear from you!) It has been a challenge in the past two years shifting from a life of bells, timetables and routines to waking up many days unsure precisely what the day would hold and this has brought about some levels of mental fatigue. Learning to manage this better will be helpful moving forward. Planning times of rest and recreation - and times of reflection - will be important to help lift - and hopefully prevent - the general feeling of weariness that has often been my companion. Regarding my art itself, oil painting is very much on my radar as something I wish to continue and develop. Creating small - perhaps postcard size - artworks that are more affordable/accessible for those on a tighter budget is on my list of things to do (you may have already seen the tiny watercolour 'Frog Bathing' that I completed late last year).

No doubt my garden will continue to develop and become even more of place of inspiration and sanctuary (both for myself and for others). And my longing is to have enough mental/physical energy and well-being to practice the gift of hospitality more frequently within my home -providing a sacred, nurturing space for conversations that foster life, healing, growth and encouragement.

I already have two commissioned artworks on the go with the possibility of more later in the year. This is another area that I would like to see growth in.

With a whole year ahead of me, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But I know I am only expected to love one day at a time and I have strong, loving arms from above ready to shepherd me through all that lies ahead.

Thank you for taking time to read through my reflections and projections. My prayer for you is that your year would be a blessed one and your path full of creative expressions that bring the beauty of heaven into everyday life.


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