The Short Story
Born just outside of Chicago, I grew up drawing and painting, inspired by my artist father as well as my math teacher mother. Yes, that side of the brain can be used in art! I studied painting and illustration in college under artists such as Ron Mazellan and Rod Crossman. After university, I began working as a graphic designer and slowly began plein-air painting in the Sierra Nevada. In 2012 I was married to my beautiful wife Kallie, who, apart from God, is the biggest help for me to keep painting. Exactly five months after our wedding day we moved to the amazing country of the UAE where we both are grateful to live and work.
Since childhood, I have been interested in the process of observing truth. When painting or drawing, I want to faithfully represent the shapes which make up the appearance before me. I don’t care as much about what I have to say; what does the subject say? It excites me to travel into nature and among the constantly changing colors, and, by God’s grace, record these displays of His beauty. Currently, I have been enjoying painting in the desert, a place full of ever changing colors and conditions and occasional critters.
Art is not an easy job, however. My challenges include, but are not limited to: lack of a business mindset :/ and perfectionism and the debilitating voice of discouragement which often follows me into the studio or the wilderness. But I am thankful that God is my helper. As Psalm 30:1 says, “I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths…”
The Long Story
From as early as I can remember I was drawing. My parents, Lew and Gina Hubbard, raised my brother and sister and I in the suburbs of Chicago. My father studied at the American Academy of Art and began work as a graphic artist and fine art painter on the side. My mother, a math teacher, stayed home to raise us kids and help us with our math homework. My father’s watercolor paintings and graphite drawings filled our home with inspiration and beauty. Books on the work of N.C. Wyeth, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent lined the shelves. At an early age, my dad began teaching me the fundamentals of art, instilling in me a desire for excellence and perfection.
Ours was a warm and loving home, unlike so many others around us. My parents loved each other and were sacrificially devoted to their children, making us their priority over many other things. They were also very involved in their church and hosted a group of friends in their home every week to study the Bible together and pray for one another. They often encouraged and longed for their children to trust in and know God as they did. Every night my mom gave us snacks and sat with us on the couch, reading to us stories from God’s Word. I felt very safe, secure, and loved as a child, though I didn’t necessarily value it at the time.
Despite my knowledge about God, my heart and mind constantly hungered for anything but God. He was not on my radar. Though I knew about God, I did not know Him, nor did I care. I certainly did not obey Him, love Him, or ever pray to Him. My eyes were on the world outside and all it had to offer.
Our family regularly attended church, but I only paid attention to my distracted friends and girls. My loving family, on the other hand, was repulsive to me. There was always a sense in me that I was the rebellious child in the family and though I had a conscience, I was incapable of even liking good behavior. All I loved was what was wrong it seemed! I was full of hatred for my innocent little brother, often cursing and beating him, making his life a nightmare – for no reason other than it was natural to hate. I drove my dad crazy as well and was unable to talk to him or look him in the eyes.
In elementary school, I was quickly enticed by the immoral ways of the media and my friends. I became enslaved to lust and pleasure. Year after year I became more controlled by impure and shameful desires. I tried hiding them, but they ran my life. People were not people to me – they were objects either in the way or for my pleasure.
Then in high school, spurred on by new ambition and a desire for fulfillment, I set my eyes on making a name for myself through success in bodybuilding and baseball. I became obsessed, working harder than anyone so that I could reach the top. I was confident that I could do whatever I set my mind to – anything was possible for me. I was going to build a perfect physique, play professional baseball, become rich and famous, and find true satisfaction once I got there. Life was all about me getting what I wanted!
On The Outside
Despite my confidence, I became weary of carrying these heavy burdens. I found myself far from the goals and the satisfaction I longed for. My poor performance in baseball was a constant discouragement, though I kept trying harder to improve. My lustful ways were dragging me further than I could control, defiling my mind, isolating me in guilt and shame, and killing my hopes for a true relationship. Life was beyond my reach. It was evident that I was on the outside of life, enslaved in darkness.
At the same time, I began to notice a contrast between my family and myself. They were happy together, full of love – I was alone, hiding in darkness in order to indulge my shameful desires and selfish ambitions. My life was all about me – there was no ability to love anyone. This contrast was further accentuated by a girl in my sophomore high school English class. There was something different about her – something she had that I did not. She was pure, which only emphasized my impurity and darkness. But whatever it was she had, I hungered for it.
A Surprising Introduction
Throughout this time I continued in art and found that during my times of drawing, I increasingly felt sensitized to something deeper in life. During this same sophomore year, I was assigned an oil pastel drawing for a drawing class. I somehow waited until the night before the deadline to begin working. The drawing started terribly and I became profoundly distressed as I looked at the garbage I had produced. I was in anguish, knowing the drawing was due the next day and I would have nothing to show. To me perfection was everything and I was lost. I hopelessly left the drawing and, for some strange reason, I did something I never did. I prayed. I cried out in utter desperation to the God I never cared about nor payed attention to. I asked for His help.
As I returned to the drawing, strangely I began drawing in a way I had never drawn before. I watched in awe as the piece began to effortlessly bloom like a flower. All the frustration and turmoil inside me was suddenly gone and in its place was a calm and quiet peace that came over me as I worked. It felt as though God Himself had reached down, silenced the raging storm inside me, and was drawing through my arm! When it was finished, the drawing was beautiful and I realized at that moment that God is real! He had just answered me! Not only that, but to my amazement, God was actually interested in me – despite how evil and uninterested in Him I was! And through that drawing, my eyes were opened to see that He can do for me what I cannot do for myself.
After that night, things began to gradually change as I began to recognize God was actually pursuing me and stirring in me a hunger for Him. Shortly after that experience, I mysteriously developed a blood clot in my right subclavian vein – which, years later, was found to have been caused by a condition I have called Tourette’s Syndrome. The clot stopped all my weightlifting and baseball for a time as I was now on blood thinner. This was a big turning point as I began focusing less on my frustrated ambitions and more on the God who was calling me to Himself.
During this time I began reading a book my parents had given me years earlier, entitled Dangerous Devotions by Jackie Perseghetti. This book led me through the New Testament – the second half of the Bible – and explained short sections at a time so I could understand. Every night I would randomly open this book and start reading, just to find that what I was reading directly applied to the exact things I had been dealing with that day! I knew it was more than just a coincidence. The God I was reading about – whom I had only known about before – began to personally reveal Himself to me through this time of reading. I didn’t literally see or hear Him, but the words I was reading were alive, speaking directly to me beyond explanation. The Jesus I discovered in the Bible was actually for me – He wanted me and He wasn’t against me. This Jesus I began to encounter was full of love for me despite the sinful person I had always been – it was a deep, satisfying, compelling love beyond explanation. It was a love I wanted to stay in, a love that wanted me and was drawing me out of my old life, my sinful ways, and the world around me to Himself. Everything I had been searching for in so many places was being found in this new relationship with God. Truth, satisfaction, peace, love, fulfillment, contentment – one moment in His presence was fuller life than I had ever known.
Despite all of this, sin was still pulling me in the opposite direction, demanding my allegiance like before. But Jesus was simply better – and the more time I spent reading His Word, the more His truth began opening my spiritually blind eyes, changing my thinking and my life. I found that Jesus was walking with me now, helping me in the struggle against my sinful ways I no longer wanted.
Soon afterwards, I followed my brother to a weekly meeting of other youth from the church. There they were studying the New Testament book of John in an inductive method. This allowed me to personally discover and own what the book said, rather than reading into the text what I might want it to say or relying on someone else’s biased interpretation. As we studied the book together, I was struck by the powerful words of Jesus. I knew how wicked my sin was and so did He. Yet this Jesus died to take away my sins, to take the punishment I so much deserved from God. I was dead, empty, thirsty – and this Jesus said “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water'” John 7:37-38.
During these meetings, I again felt a peace and satisfaction I could not find elsewhere. As I studied the words of Jesus, it was like He was right there speaking with me, calling me to follow Him. That meant the old Ben needed to die because my life was going the opposite direction. But Jesus promised, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” John 8:31-32. I longed for freedom from the sin I was enslaved to. I longed for life. I longed to be walking in the light, not darkness. I longed to be in that family of God that others were in. In a metaphor about sheep, Jesus said, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” John 10:9-10. I gave Him complete control over my life, knowing He alone could save me from my sin, make me a new person, open my eyes, and enable me to live a life pleasing to God. I asked Him to do whatever it takes to keep me close to Him. I never want to leave Him!
When I went back to the world, it was like going into a battlefield with the devil. Sin was everywhere around me – in school, on TV, among my friends – constantly in my face, pulling me, pleading with me, demanding my obedience. In order to avoid temptations to lust, I would hide in the library during lunch, reading and memorizing different sections of God’s Word to remind myself of truth. Sin was advertising freedom and pleasure; God promised true joy and life. Yet I still was falling back into lust again and again. I was miserable in my shame, my guilt, and my despair.
One day I came home from school and reluctantly went to the computer to indulge in lust again. But as the battle raged in my mind, I remembered all the misery that awaited me on the other side. I left the computer and ran to my room where I began reciting every word I had memorized from the Bible, desperately crying out to God for His help. In the same place as that first drawing where God met me, I began drawing a picture of the battle in my mind. Here was the devil looking powerful and threatening, demanding that I fall into the lust that was burning in my heart. But I was standing like a warrior in armor in defiance against Him. Suddenly I was filled with a realization that no longer did I belong to sin, but rather Jesus, who died for me, taking my sin upon Himself. The devil did not own me – Jesus owned me! If I was a new person like the Bible said I was, if I belonged to Jesus, then I didn’t owe sin anything! Jesus set me free! As David said in Psalm 18:16-17, “He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.” And in Psalm 107:15-16, it says, “Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! For He has shattered gates of bronze and cut bars of iron asunder.” Again in Psalm 18:48-49, “He delivers me from my enemies; surely You lift me above those who rise up against me; You rescue me from the violent man. Therefore I will give thanks to You among the nations, O LORD, and I will sing praises to Your name.”
This moment represented a turning point in my life as God brought complete victory over that sin in my life. I was filled with excitement and joy as I saw God’s mighty power displayed in my life. Despite the desires and temptations, I was no longer a slave to them and was able to walk in freedom from the sins that once ruled my life by His power and His Word in my heart! As I walked with Him in the light, those desires began to lessen. I found that He was changing me, replacing old thought patterns with new, giving me new desires to actually please God! The temptations to sin may still come, but there is a way of escape now. This doesn’t mean I have been perfected in every area of course. There were and still are other areas of my life that I struggle with as I learn to depend upon Him, but Jesus now provides me power to live a life I could not do on my own. And He promises to complete the work that He began in me.
Because of what Jesus did for me, dying for my sins, calling me out of my sin and death, and giving me eternal life, my life is His. Art is not my life – Jesus is. It is my desire that my entire life, including art, will be used by Him to bring Him glory. He is everything. I hope and pray you also will come to know and “believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” John 20:31.