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From coffee stains to amazing grace


"Surrounded by the Spirit," Artwork by Jim Riesberg

Jim is a firm believer in seeing God in the small, everyday things of life. As an artist, he has a keen eye for seeing beauty in most anything – an old, rusty truck, a dilapidated barn, even a coffee stain.


It wasn’t always that way for Jim. He went through a really dark time in his life. In a matter of a few years, his dad had passed away, his oldest daughter committed suicide and his marriage crumbled.


The pain was compounded by an extremely hurtful comment made by one of the priests who was present at his daughter’s funeral. It caused Jim to question and turn away from his faith.


“I was so angry at God. I spent chunks of those years screaming at God. They may have been my best prayers ever because they certainly were sincere.”


Jim sold his business and spent most of his time alone in his 40 acres of woods where he could take out his anger in the solitude.


“On a good day, I would sit under a tree with my binoculars or camera, or maybe a book of Thoreau and try to find a sense of peace or oneness in nature. To this day, I rarely feel as close to God as when I’m alone with Him in the woods.”


Jim admits that he’s not sure how he survived or came out of those dark years. However, he senses the Holy Spirit was at work guiding him to read a variety of religious books from all beliefs.


“I was searching,” said Jim. “Who I was and who God is, that definitely needed refining. I gradually began to feel first the possibility, then the certainty and presence of a caring, loving God. Had God been calling me all along and I was just finally hearing Him? I bet I was making too much noise to hear Him. I wanted to live!”


At 56 years old, Jim went back to college to study photography and graphic design. He became an active fine arts photographer and opened his own gallery.


Jim said he continued to feel the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he moved to central Iowa to be closer to his aging mother. He reconnected with some old friends who were active in the local parish. His friend invited Jim to attend a men’s faith sharing group. Jim was reluctant but he went and was pleasantly surprised to meet a good group of men who were trying to become better men. The group has continued to be a source of joy in Jim’s life.


Jim’s friend eventually invited him to attend a retreat at the parish called, Christian Experience Weekend (CEW).


“I told him, ‘No way!’ but he kept bugging me. I finally told him I would meet with the priest, share with him my remaining frustrations with the Church. Maybe I would get lucky and he would tell me not to go, that my attitude was terrible. That would get me off the hook with my buddy. How was I to know that Father Steve listened to me patiently as I spewed out all of my opinions of organized religion’s failure to be anything but Christ-like. I really felt like he was hearing me. Then, he told me he thought I should go. That it might be God’s way of healing me. Dang it! I didn’t want to but I really liked this Father Steve. I told him I would think about it and asked him to pray for me. He told me he would pray for me and the priest at my daughter’s funeral.”


Jim explained how he went home and continued to stew about the weekend and if he should go. He weighed out the pros and cons. He told himself he was too busy. He worried if he would be able to get a good night’s sleep and if his snoring would keep others awake.


“The night before I needed to make a decision, I was relaxing by playing with Photoshop on my computer. I had noticed a piece of plastic that was on the counter next to my coffee maker had some interesting coffee stains on it. I took the plastic, scanned it, and then played with it. I had no goal in mind – at least not consciously. I was just playing with abstract shapes and colors. Suddenly, to my amazement, I saw what appeared to be a circle of doves.”


Original scan of the coffee stain

"Surrounded by the Spirit"

Jim saw this as his sign from God to attend the weekend and he was so glad he went. Father Steve was right. It was a healing experience and he was able to let go of some of his anger.


The weekend was a spring board for Jim to get involved in other activities. He found Stephen Ministries where he journeyed with others who were going through difficult times. Jim felt it gave his painful experience a purpose.


“While there are still times I struggle and I need to remind myself that I can trust God, I am not the man I used to be. I no longer define success in terms of money, fame or even those fine Gibson guitars. My relationship with God is totally different. Much more personal.”


“Look for God in the small everyday things in life. He might just be talking to you…even in the coffee stains!”


Reflection Questions

1. How have you seen God today? Take time to quiet your heart and listen.


2. Without the invitation and encouragement of a friend, Jim would not have joined a faith sharing group or considered going on the retreat. Who in your life has invited and encouraged you in your faith life? How can you be that person to someone?

3. If your heart is in need of healing, can you take a step towards reconciling it with God this Lent? Perhaps it is spending more time in prayer, attending a retreat, praying for someone, seeking forgiveness, joining a small group, or helping someone in need. What is one step you can take?

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